150 years ago, the Communards “stormed heaven,” as beautifully penned by Marx, an event indelibly etched in the collective memory of the international workers’ movement.
In his book The Civil War in France, Marx drew lessons from this first socialist revolutionary experience, notably that “the working class cannot simply lay hold of the ready-made state machinery, and wield it for its own purposes”. The Commune managed to break up the old state organization and give way to a new, embryonic proletarian power. It was this lesson, as enriched by that of the Russian Revolution of 1905, and in particular that of the Soviets, which allowed Lenin to write The State and Revolution, a book that provided the Bolsheviks with a precious guide for the revolutionary struggle. The analysis, from a class perspective, of the failure of the Commune in France (which only lasted for a few weeks, from April 18 to May 28) and that of 1905 in Russia paved the way to the victory of the October 1917 revolution. It provided communists and revolutionaries all over the world with guidance on how to achieve their goal: the radical change of the current social order.
This is why the lessons from the Commune are still relevant and why our parties, those of the International Conference of Marxist-Leninist Parties and Organizations, cannot forget what they owe to the Communards.
This is also why we will not take part in the various demonstrations that are going to be organized in Paris to “celebrate the Commune” by reformists and revisionists of all kinds. What is there to celebrate for those who have abandoned the dictatorship of the proletariat, who abhor violence, especially that of the working classes, and whose only dream is to take the reins of the existing bourgeois state machine?
The way for us communists to celebrate this anniversary is to remain true to the lessons of the Commune, to keep drawing inspiration from it to lead the revolutionary struggle in our time, as did the young communists who founded our party on March 18, 1979 and named their founding congress the “Paris Commune”. Choosing this date of March 18, the anniversary of the Communards’ accession to power in 1871, was not only meant to summon a glorious moment in the history of the workers’ movement in our country; it was above all about showing a willingness to commit to following in the footsteps of the Communards; to affirm that the party was being established for the revolution and to take power, and for a radical change in society, for and through the working class and the popular masses.
The strategic objective of our party, enshrined in the program adopted at its founding congress, states: “Overthrow the bourgeoisie, destroy the bourgeois state apparatus, establish the dictatorship of the proletariat and build socialism…. To achieve this goal, the proletariat and the oppressed masses, led by the party, must make use of insurrectional violence”. These lines assert the role of the working class and the working masses and frame that of the party: the masses make the revolution; the communist party is only a tool, of course an essential one, to guide the revolutionary process and help the working class find the right orientation by conveying the experience of the international workers’ movement.
Nurturing the revolutionary spirit
The revolutionary spirit underlying the communist organization must be “nurtured”. This notably involves strengthening the knowledge of Marxism-Leninism, the theory of the proletarian revolution, in our ranks. The study of Marx’s work, The Civil War in France, is essential in this respect, as is the knowledge of other fundamental works by Marx, Engels, Lenin, and Stalin. Knowledge of Marxism-Leninism allows our parties to analyze the concrete environment in which they operate. It serves as an aid to develop their political course of action and tactics, to forge a concrete path towards establishing the conditions for the revolutionary break with the system.
As we know, however, both a good analysis and a sound revolutionary line can only be developed in close connection with the struggles of the working class and the popular masses. The close ties between the party and the working class, as well as with the masses of working people, are essential. Indeed, and once again, it is the masses who make the revolution. It was the people of Paris who massively rose up with the national guard against the government of Thiers, who wanted to disarm it; and the fact that the Commune, “a government of the people by the people” (in Marx’ own words), could initiate unprecedented social transformations in a period of two months, was possible because it was backed by the mass of workers and the “little people” of Paris. This support went as far as defending the Commune by taking up arms and erecting barricades involving men, women and children ready to die for it during the “bloody week”.
Nurturing the revolutionary spirit within the ranks of our parties is to ensure that the objective of the revolution is never lost of sight of, that it always remains the focus of our militant activity.
It is this spirit that helped our parties hold firm, in particular when revisionism and reformism dominated among the working class. It is also thanks to their firm ideological convictions that they managed to face the unprecedented attacks of the bourgeoisie when it declared “the end of history” at the end of the 1980s and the beginning of the 1990s in the wake of the breakup of the USSR and the fall of the Berlin Wall.
The sharpening of the contradictions of the imperialist capitalist system
The situation has evolved a lot.
In France, neoliberal policies have exacerbated the contradiction between labor and capital – and indeed all contradictions within society – triggering successive waves of massive workers’ protests. Since the mobilizations for the repeal of the El Khomri law (or labor law) in 2016, this confrontation has become more direct and more violent. Every single year in our country has witnessed powerful popular protest movements, from teachers to railway workers, “yellow jackets” to caregivers, high-school and university students to retirees, nursing and home care givers to bicycle delivery workers, undocumented workers to the badly housed; millions of men and women, old and young have marched in the streets, denouncing the neoliberal reforms and their disastrous consequences for their living and working conditions. At the same time, the struggle against racism and police violence is mobilizing an increasing number of people, young and less young. It has increased awareness of the true nature of the state: a state for the bosses, a police state, an arms merchant’s state pursuing a policy of war.
The health crisis of 2020 amplified the latent economic crisis and served as a magnifying glass exposing the evils of capitalist society; the responsibility of the economic, social and political system has become more evident to an increasing number of people. This growing awareness is the seeds of the revolutionary spirit that we must foster to help it progress further and transform into organized action.
During its last congress (in January 2020), our party analyzed this situation and took the following aim as the basis for its work: “to increase the awareness of the need for, and possibility of a revolutionary break with, the imperialist capitalist system“.1 This means embodying and developing the revolutionary spirit of our militants, supporting and encouraging that which is already expressed in the ranks of the working class and the masses and in particular in certain sections of the youth.
Today, the revolutionary spirit which drove the Communards 150 years ago must materialize through offensive actions and initiatives aimed at finding ways and means to make the party’s actions, program, analysis and slogans more widely known within the workers’ and popular movement. It must prompt us to build contact with the sector of the youth that became politicized through the fights of the last decade and aspires to a radical change in the society, to revolution. The revolutionary spirit calls for initiatives resonating with the deep aspirations of the working class and the popular masses and enabling them to express those aspirations with us. The revolutionary spirit also requires us to take charge of the internationalist tasks towards the peoples dominated by French imperialism, the peoples of the French colonies. This is necessary to raise the awareness of the working class and the youth of our country of the need to link the fight for a revolutionary rupture at home with that aimed at getting rid of rule of French imperialism over the peoples of the colonies and neo-colonies.
Bringing the internationalist character of the Commune to life
In the context of massive mobilizations abroad (in Latin America, Asia, Africa), we see a growing will for a profound and radical change. The popular youth of the imperialist European countries is very attentive to this development. It supports and expresses its solidarity with aspirations that resonate with its own. We remember howthe revolutionary uprising of 2011 in Tunisia found an echo within our country’s people and youth, putting the word Revolution back in the vocabulary.
In The Civil War in France, Marx wrote: “If the Commune was thus the true representative of all the healthy elements of French society, and therefore the truly national government, it was, at the same time, as a working men’s government, as the bold champion of the emancipation of labor, emphatically international. Within sight of that Prussian army, that had annexed to Germany two French provinces, the Commune annexed to France the working people all over the world”. The Commune’s internationalist character needs no proof: not only did it include militants of different nationalities in its governing bodies (Polish, Hungarian, Russians, Italians, etc.), but moreover all the exploited and oppressed of the world could recognize themselves in it, as Marx pointed out.
This is why Marx, who was at the time a refugee in England and in close contact with leading members of the First International who were elected to the Commune (Eugène Varlin, Zéphyrin Camélinat, Benoit Malon, Leo Frankel), wrote dozens of letters to the different sections of the International, drawing their attention to the Paris Commune and to the importance of the events happening in the French capital, in order to seek their support.
As revolutionary processes are developing in several countries where member parties of the Conference are active, making known these processes and the work of our sister parties is an integral part of our task as revolutionaries and communists. This is how our party understands the practice of proletarian internationalism, following Marx’s example.
The Central Committee of the PCOF
1) The document of our congress, with the title “For a revolutionary rupture with the system” has been translated into English and Spanish