The Paris Commune, the First International, and the origins of anarchism

Submitted by martin on 29 April, 2011 - 4:24

Notes for a workshop at the London AWL "Paris Commune" event on 30 April 2011

The Paris Commune of March-May 1871 was the high point of the surge of the workers' movement also expressed in the First International, founded in 1864. But the backlash following the defeat of the Paris Commune also broke up the International in 1872, splitting it into two factions, "Marxist" and "anarchist", neither of which survived long. The Paris Commune is thus also the background to the origins of the anarchist movement.

Click here: the First International.

The leading figures on the two sides of the split were Marx and Bakunin.

Click here: Marx and Bakunin in the First International.

Both Marx and Bakunin supported and hailed the Commune - unlike some of the English trade unionists in the International, who recoiled in horror and withdrew from the International. Bakunin and his followers would use the word "commune" a lot, saying that the state could be immediately abolished by transforming society into a federation of free communes. But in more detail Bakunin was uneasy about the Commune.

Click here: Bakunin and the Commune.

The leading writer of the anarchist movement after Bakunin's death, Peter Kropotkin, would expand further on the supposed "Jacobin" sins of the Commune.

Click here: Kropotkin on the Commune

Marx's pamphlet on the Commune, "The Civil War in France", was his major writing of the period of the First International, and so the defining text of "Marxism" at the time of the split with anarchism. In it Marx made it very clear that working-class revolution could not be a matter of just taking over the existing state. The workers would break up the bourgeois state and create a new form of state.

Click here: Marx on what the Commune had showed about the existing state

Click here: Marx on the Commune as the prototype of working-class government

Click here: Marx on the structure which the Commune had to take as a working-class government.

As well as analysing the Commune positively, Marx explained how he thought it refuted the anarchist schemes.

Click here: Marx on the Commune not being a revival of an idealised ancient system of loosely-linked communes

Marx also argued that the needs of the Commune's fight against counter-revolution had shown how wrong the anarchists were in saying that workers' organisation must be modelled on a future stateless society, and that it was an error to organise in a "Jacobin" way to resist.

Click here: Marx on the Commune and counter-revolution

Bakunin's scheme of the future society was based on what he considered the natural form of human cooperation which, he said, had been disrupted in the Middle Ages by the imposition of the State, which in its turn had brought capitalism - but still (he claimed) existed in the peasant communes of countries like Russia. Thus he looked to peasants and "lumpenproletariat" (people living from begging, theft, dole, etc.) as forces of revolution, more than to workers "corrupted by bourgeois civilisation".

Click here: Marx's criticism of Bakunin

In sum, then, what were the essential defining points of "anarchism" as represented by Bakunin, Brousse, Guillaume, and others in 1872?

Click here: anarchism as defined in 1872.

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