THE COMMUNE OF PARIS (1871)
The Commune lasted just twelve weeks: from 18 March to 28 May 1871. From its inception it was the object of controversy and debate. Almost 130 years later, many aspects of its record are still unclear, and new interpretations of aspects of the Commune's history are still emerging. One simple point to bear in mind here is that the Commune was too short-lived to establish a clear political identity. During its brief life, it was a constant work of improvisation.
Even almost three decades since its publication Stewart Edwards, The Paris Commune, 1871 (London, 1971) remains the best English-language introduction to the Commune. It takes a broadly libertarian socialist perspective, and includes a discussion of Paris before the Commune, a detailed and lively examination of both the history of the Commune and the underlying themes in the revolt. It includes some well-drawn maps, a chronology, and photographs of the best-known Communards. Although the work has not been re-printed since 1971, an extraordinary number of copies can still be found in second-hand bookshops.
Non-historians may want to start their reading with a biography. Edith Thomas, Louise Michel translated by Penelope Williams (Montréal, 1980) is a well-written, lively biography of one of the most prominent female Communards. It is written from a loosely Marxist and feminist perspective. While acknowledging Michel's faults and mistakes, Thomas brings out the real heroism of this woman. Her book also serves to introduce key political issues.
Alistair Horne, The Fall of Paris; the Siege and the Commune, 1870-71 (Bungay, 1965; many re-prints) is a more old-fashioned work. As the title suggests, it concentrates on the military history of the siege of Paris during the Franco-Prussian war (1870-71), and sees the Commune merely as a chapter, almost as an after-thought, within this conflict. Horne's political perspective could be described as 'moderate': there is broad sympathy for the victims, but little attempt to analyse the political ideas of the Communards. However, this work does have one great strength: Horne is a master story-teller, and his book does present a clear - and often exciting - narrative.
Everything written by Jacques Rougerie is highly recommended; regrettably none of his works (to my knowledge) have been published in English. Rougerie has been researching this topic for over twenty years. As yet, he has not written a full-length analysis. However, his short books and long articles are some of the most vivid, most exciting evocations of the Commune. Of particular interest are his: Le Procès des Communards (Paris, 1971); 'L'AIT et le mouvement ouvrier à Paris pendant les événements de 1870-71', International Review of Social History 27 (1972), pp.3-102; and 'Sur l'histoire de la Première Internationale', Mouvement Social 51 (1965), pp.23-46.
Martin P. Johnson, The Paradise of Association; Political Culture and Popular Organization in the Paris Commune of 1871 (Michigan, 1996) is an unusual recent history. The first chapters nod in the direction of post-modernism (almost obligatory for anyone writing history today). The work then stresses the role played by political organizations, and argues that a coherent political agenda lay behind the Commune's revolt. In particular, Johnson argues that Blanquist conspirators constructed an effective political organization, which he terms 'the revolutionary socialist party'. Much of this work seems based on fundamental misunderstanding of the word 'party', which in the late nineteenth century meant a body of opinion, not a organized political movement.
Gay Gullickson, Unruly Women of Paris; Images of the Commune (Ithaca, 1996), is an excellent analysis of both the historiography surrounding the Commune and of women's participation in it: it is essential reading for any serious historian. Her work also includes a moving account on trial of the Communards. Also on women's history, see: Eugene Schulkind, 'Socialist Women during the 1871 Paris Commune', Past and Present 106 (1985), pp.124-63 and David Shafer, 'Plus que des ambulancières; Women in Articulation and Defence of their Ideals during the Paris Commune', French History 7:1 (1993), pp.85-101.
Bakunin wrote a short text which has since been entitled 'the Paris Commune and the Idea of the State'. It can be found in the original French in Vol IV of James Guillaume's Oeuvres (Paris, 1910) and in translation in Arthur Lehning Michael Bakunin, Selected Writings (New York, 1973). This is useful in capturing the excitement felt in 1871, but weak as an analysis or a record of the Commune.
Kropotkin wrote a short essay entitled The Commune of Paris in 1880. This presents a clearer analysis than that given by Bakunin, and can be related to the themes which emerge in his Mutual Aid. The essay in re-printed in Martin Miller's edited Selected Writings on Anarchism and Revolution (Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1970).
Marx and the Commune
Marx's Civil War in France is a rushed essay; essentially a justification of the revolt and a denunciation of the savagery of the repression. It suggests that class conflict was the essential cause of the Commune. The most interesting point about the essay is the analysis which it presents of the state: the Commune inspires Marx to adopt something resembling a federalist approach. Rather more signifcant as an analysis of the Commune is the contemporary interview with Marx published in the World - both texts can be found in David Fernbach, The First International and After (Harmondsworth, 1974). Engels's 1891 introduction to Marx's essay ends with the famous and misleading sentences: 'Do you want to know what this dictatorship [of the proletariat] looks like? Look at the Paris Commune. That was the dictatorhip of the proletariat.' A copy of this essay can be found Marx and Engels, Selected Works Vol II (Moscow, 1977), there are many other re-prints. Some of the themes of Marx's essay are re-examined in Lenin's State and Revolution.
Other Secondary Works
Madeleine Rebérioux, 'Le mur des fédérés; rouge, "sang craché"' in P. Nora (ed), Les Lieux de Mémoire Vol I (Paris, 1997), pp. 535-58 is a sensitive essay on the memory of the Commune. Two useful local studies of a radical and a moderate arrondissement are presented by Robert Wolfe, 'The Parisian "Club de la Révolution" of the 18th arrondissement, 1870-71', Past and Present 39 (1968), pp. 81-119 and Robert Tombs, 'Prudent Rebels; the 2nd arrondissement during the Paris Commune of 1871', French History 5:4 (1991), pp. 393-413. Gonzalo J. Sánchez, Organizing Independence; the Artists' Federation of the Paris Commune and Its Legacy (Lincoln, 1997) analyses artists' participation: it presents some detailed information about individual biographies, but is weak in making connections with wider political movements.
Alain Dalotel, Alain Faure and Jean-Claude Freiermuth, Aux Origines de la Commune; le mouvement des réunions publiques à Paris (1868-1870) (Paris, 1980) is a detailed and well-researched marxist analysis of the public meetings movement which arose in Paris in the 1860s; parts of this work are translated in Adrian Rifkin and Roger Thomas (eds), Voices of the People; the Politics and Life of 'La Sociale' at the End of the Second Empire translated by John Moore (London, 1988).
The Commune has also been analysed and debated by urban historians. David Harvey, Consciousness and the Urban Experience (Oxford, 1985) is a detailed Marxist analysis of Haussmannization (the re-building of Paris in the 1850s and 1860s); Roger Gould, Insurgent Identities; Class, Community and Protest in Paris from 1848 to the Commune (Chicago, 1995) a critique of Harvey's work. Anne-Louis Shapiro, Housing the Poor of Paris, 1850-1902 (Madison, 1985) details the conditions of the working class in the new suburbs. Maxime du Camp, Paris; Ses Origines, Ses Fondateurs et Sa Vie jusqu'en 1870 (Monaco, 1993): an enormous work, started in 1870, which provides a wealth of details on administration of Paris. The best analysis of Haussmannization can be found in the work by the marxist art historian T. J. Clark, The Painting of Modern Life; Paris in the Art of Manet and His Followers (London, 1990)
There have been a number of excellent studies of working-class history and politicization in this period. Among others, readers are recommended: Joan W. Scott, The Glassworkers of Carmaux; French Craftsmen and Political Action in a Nineteenth Century City (Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1974); Michael P. Hanagan, The Logic of Solidarity; Artisans and Industrial Workers in Three French Towns, 1871-1914 (London, 1980) and Nascent Proletarians; Class Formation in Post-Revolutionary France (Oxford, 1989); Judith G. Coffin, The Politics of Women's Work; the Paris Garment Trades, 1750-1915 (Princeton, 1996). Lastly, Michelle Perrot, Workers on Strike; France, 1871-1890 (Leamington Spa, 1984) is particularly recommended: an extremely vivid, sensitive account of the angry, de-politicized working class in the years after the repression of the Commune.
There have been a flood of works on the late nineteenth century growth of socialism in France. Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, De la Capacité Politique des Classes Ouvrières, 2 Vols (Paris, 1977), and his Du Principe Fédératif et de la nécessité de reconstituer le parti de la Révolution (Anthony, 1997) give an insight into pre-1871 French socialism. Proudhon's influence is considered by Maria Fitzpatrick, 'Proudhon and the French Labour Movement; the Problem of Proudhon's Prominence', European History Quarterly 15 (1985), 407-30. Sudhir K. Hazareesingh, From Subject to Citizen; the Second Empire and the Emergence of Modern French Democracy (Princeton, 1998) and his article 'Defining the Republican Good Life; Second Empire Municipalism and the Emergence of the Third Republic', French History 11:3 (1997), pp.310-38: both of these are detailed accounts of the complex political debates at the end of the Second Empire (1852-70). Hazareesingh concentrates on textual analysis of press and official debates: his works say little directly about working class or popular political culture, but he does consider the left-wing, Republican and Proudhonist ideas on municipal self-government. Patrick H. Hutton, The Cult of Revolutionary Tradition; the Blanquists in French Politics, 1864-1893 (Berkeley, 1981) is the only full-length study of the Blanquists.
The right-wing and Republican opposition to the Commune is an important topic which deserves further analysis. Paul Lidsky, Les Ecrivains contre la Commune (Paris, 1982) is a detailed and well-written analysis of the hostile literary reaction to the Commune; Robert Tombs, The War Against Paris, 1871 (Cambridge, 1981) is principally an analysis of the military campaign.
Eugene Schulkind (ed), The Paris Commune of 1871; the View from the Left (London, 1972) is an excellent collection of translated texts from the Commune, and also includes edited versions of essays on the Commune by Marx, Bakunin, Kropotkin, and Lenin.
Many of the Communards who survived went on to record their memories. A complete list of all such works would be enormous (and too long for this web-site). Some of the most interesting are:
Jules Andrieu, Notes pour Servir à l'histoire de la Commune de Paris de 1871 (Paris, 1984) - notes by an independent-minded Republican.
Victorine B..., Souvenirs d'une morte vivante (Paris, 1976) - a quite exceptional memoir by a working-class woman who moved from Republicanism, through participation in the First International to the Commune. Extremely useful as a record of working-class and lower-middle class experience.
Louise Michel, La Commune (Paris, 1978) - written almost thirty years after the event, this is a lyrical, idealistic celebration of the Commune.
Gustave Lefrançais, Souvenirs d'un Révolutionnaire (Paris, 1972) - Lefrançais was a member of the First International and sympathized with Bakunin's stance against Marx. The early sections of this work are very useful in describing the pre-1870 left; the last section is a realistic account of life under the Commune.
Hippolyte Prosper Lissagaray, Histoire de la Commune de 1871 (Paris, 1983) - this work has acquired almost semi-official status, and was translated into English as the History of the Paris Commune of 1871 by Eleanor Marx. Lissagaray was a middle-class Republican who came to sympathize with the Communards. His work is clear and precise, but lacks some of the freshness and attention to detail shown by other accounts.
Francisque Sarcey, Le siège de Paris (Paris, nd [1871?]) - journal kept by a right-wing writer, concerning the siege of Paris by the Prussians. It was clearly re-edited after the Commune, and includes observations about the condition of the working-class and the rise of radical Republicanism.
Emile Zola: moderate Republican and critic of the Commune. Zola was one of the greatest novelists in nineteenth century France. His most impressive achievement was the 20 novel cycle, the Rougon Macquart. This work attempted to portray the whole of the society of the Second Empire (1852-70). The great bulk of this cycle was written after 1870, and many of the works clearly point toward the Commune. The only work which refers to it explicitly is The Debacle, which is principally an account of the Franco-Prussian war, but which includes a rather summary chapter on the Commune. Also relevant are Germinal, an account of a strike in a coal mining village in north-east France, and Assommoir, a powerfully written account of working-class poverty and alcoholism in Paris. There are many editions and translations of each of these works.
Most historical information available on the internet is extremely simple. One notable exception is the North-Western University collection devoted to images from the Commune.