On March 18, 1871 the people of Paris rose up against their repressive and treacherous government, established a revolutionary commune and defiantly hoisted the red flag over the Hôtel de Ville. The event sent shockwaves throughout the continent: with armed citizens erecting barricades in working-class neighborhoods and government officials on the retreat to Versailles, the City of Light had suddenly fallen into the hands of its people.
Over the next two months, all signs of state power evaporated from the French capital as the proletarians of Paris took charge of their own destiny, forming neighborhood councils and producer associations, electing moderately paid delegates subject to immediate recall, and instituting basic reforms like free access to public education, the granting of citizenship to immigrants, and the reopening of workplaces under worker control.
The Commune was eventually defeated at the hands of the Versailles government, setting the stage for the bloody massacre of up to 30,000 Communards and unarmed citizens. But for all the force and vengeance the Versaillais could muster, the Commune did not die—the idea survived its “own working existence” and lived on, subterraneously, in the sacrifices of its martyrs, the aspirations of its survivors and the writings of its leading theoreticians.
Then, as today, the left was riven with sectarian divisions, but on this point socialists, communists and anarchists all seemed to agree: the Commune was to become a touchstone for all future attempts to establish a classless society—all efforts to build real democracy without capitalism or the state would sooner or later have to contend with the legacy bequeathed by the movement of 1871. As Kropotkin put it, “Under the name ‘Commune of Paris’ a new idea was born, to become the starting point for future revolutions.”
Today, as a new generation of activists and revolutionaries sets out to liberate the memory of the Commune from the stifling dogma of 20th century state socialism, reviving the communal imaginary in a new cycle of struggles, the resonance of the original event continues to be felt across the globe.
On this historic day we are celebrating the Commune’s legacy with the release of our first print issue, Revive la Commune!, which takes a closer look at some of the contemporary struggles that picked up where the Communards left off—from the self-governing cantons of Rojava to the communal councils of Venezuela, from the Gwangju Uprising in South Korea to the Oaxaca Commune in Mexico, from the shantytowns of Durban to the City Hall of Barcelona, and from the “underground railroad” of communes in 1960s America to the communalist and cooperative movement in the US today.
By tracing the genealogy of the commune-form back to indigenous societies, highlighting the independent development of communes in all corners of the globe, as well as the central role that women have played throughout this history, the issue also aims to contribute to the decolonization and liberation of the commune from the patriarchal and Eurocentric worldview that has long distorted attempts to theorize, envision and build a new life in common.
In these times of crisis, in which capital and the state struggle to reproduce themselves as the core of a stable social order and planetary life-support systems rapidly approach the point of collapse, the revival of the commune—internally bound up with the struggle for a free and classless society and the development of a rational, cooperative and ecological mode of production—becomes the most urgent order of the day.
At this crossroads in history, where the echoes of a revolutionary past meet the exigencies of an imperiled future, the Commune is bound to rise again like a phoenix from the ashes, its evocative thunder-burst ringing forth once more for all the world to hear:
Vive la Commune!
Source URL — https://roarmag.org/magazine/editorial-the-commune-lives/