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.
The leading figures on the two sides of the split were Marx and Bakunin.
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.
The leading writer of the anarchist movement after Bakunin's death, Peter Kropotkin, would expand further on the supposed "Jacobin" sins of 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.
As well as analysing the Commune positively, Marx explained how he thought it refuted the anarchist schemes.
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.
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".
In sum, then, what were the essential defining points of "anarchism" as represented by Bakunin, Brousse, Guillaume, and others in 1872?