Anniversary of the Paris Commune:
Proletarian democracy is genuine democracy

This month marks the 153rd anniversary of the first ever instance of the working class rising up against the rule of the exploiting classes and establishing its own, completely new, state power.  Known as the Paris Commune, this achievement of the working class in France in 1871 is hailed the world over for inaugurating a new era in the history of mankind.

For centuries, the toiling people have risen up in countless battles against their oppressors and exploiters.  In March 1871, the working class of Paris too rose up against the bourgeois government of Adolphe Thiers, which had fled from the capital city. The people of Paris were left to face the advancing army of the neighbouring state of Prussia (part of today’s Germany). The French bourgeoisie tried to negotiate a treacherous surrender behind the backs of the people.  In these conditions, the workers in Paris, together with the soldiers of the National Guard, took power in their own hands. On 26th March, they elected a new representative assembly called the Paris Commune.

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National Guards of Paris behind the Barricades

What made the Paris Commune unique was that its members realised right from the outset that they could not simply take over and use the existing state machinery — the army, police, courts, jails, legal system, bureaucracy, legislatures, etc.  These institutions of the bourgeois state had been developed over centuries to oppress the toiling people and defend the interests of the exploiters.  The Communards understood that the bourgeois state and all its institutions had to be uprooted from their foundations.  In their place completely new institutions had to be created that would serve the interests of the working class and people.

Today, maximum confusion is created by those who claim that the same state which serves to maintain the rule of the bourgeoisie can be used to serve the interests of the working class and other exploited people. People are told that things can change for the better if only some new leaders or a new party comes to the head of this state.

In our country, the working class and people have been caught in a never- ending cycle of elections, which have brought to power different governments bearing different sounding names.  But the condition of the vast majority of our people has remained the same or gotten worse. A small minority of Indian and foreign exploiters have been growing richer by appropriating the fruits of our labour.  For these conditions to change, the working class and toiling people must rise up and take power in their own hands.  They must completely dismantle the existing state machinery and establish their own institutions of state power, which will serve their interests and not those of the exploiting classes.  This is what the Paris Commune showed more than 150 years ago.

Proletarian democracy in practice

The Paris Commune lasted only two months before it was brutally suppressed by the combined forces of the Prussian army and the French bourgeoisie.  But in those two glorious months, it showed what the working class can do when it is organised as the ruling power.

Within the first few days of its existence, the Commune abolished the old standing army that had been the greatest prop of the bourgeois state.  In place of the old standing army, all able-bodied persons were armed and stood ready to defend the new state power from internal and external enemies.  This was a prerequisite for the revolutionary measures that were to follow.

The political system set up by the Paris Commune was that of proletarian democracy, as opposed to bourgeois democracy.  The Commune was elected on the basis of universal adult suffrage, without consideration of gender, property or educational qualifications which was the norm in bourgeois democracies at the time.

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Communards pull down Napoleans statue in the Place Vendôme.

The Commune was both a legislative and executive body.  In other words, the people’s representatives were charged not only with making laws but were also responsible for implementing them.  This prevented the Commune from becoming just a talk-shop as is the case with legislatures in parliamentary democracies.  The members of the Commune were directly accountable to the people and could be recalled by them at any time.  This was a far cry from the situation in bourgeois democracies even today, in which the people surrender all power to the elected representatives for the duration of their terms, and are powerless to check them while they hold office.

The members of the Commune and all functionaries were paid only workmen’s wages, thereby eliminating the costly and parasitic bureaucracies that eat up the resources of the state under bourgeois rule.  The rule of the proletariat demystified the business of state, and provided simple, cheap and effective government.

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Paris Workers at barricades to defend the Communes

Armed with the new state power, the Commune proceeded to take concrete measures to emancipate the toiling people from the many chains that bound them.  Factories that were closed down were turned over to the workers themselves to run.  The pernicious system of levying numerous fines on workers by their employers was abolished. Homes that were lying abandoned and unoccupied were given to the homeless. The payment of rent was suspended.  Pawnshops that had been the ruin of many working people were closed down.

The Commune took important socially progressive measures, including those directly in the interests of women. The children of married and unmarried mothers were treated equally and the stigma of illegitimacy was removed.  Civil marriage and the right to divorce were recognised.  The influence of the Church over the state was removed, and religion became a matter of private conscience.  All these measures were taken within the short period that the Commune was in existence, and under conditions of siege and warfare against the combined forces of the Prussian and French bourgeoisie.

Hailing the achievements of the Paris Commune, Marx and Engels pointed out that the Commune had discovered the political form under which the proletariat could achieve emancipation from all forms of exploitation. They drew the important lesson that the proletariat could not simply lay hold of the ready-made state machinery of the bourgeoisie. It has to smash the bourgeois state and establish its own state power, an instrument of the dictatorship of the proletariat over the defeated exploiting classes.

Marx and Engels also pointed out the shortcomings of the Paris Commune, resulting from the inexperience of the working class. They pointed out that the Commune hesitated to take certain decisive measures, such as seizing the assets of the Bank of France, which would have been a major blow to the bourgeois forces.  The bourgeoisie also succeeded in isolating the working class of Paris from the peasantry in the countryside, making it easier to crush them.  From these shortcomings, they drew the invaluable conclusion that the working class must forge an unbreakable unity with the toiling peasantry in its fight against the bourgeoisie.  The proletariat must also show no leniency to its enemies in its life and death struggle against the bourgeoisie.

Following in the footsteps of the Paris Commune and armed with the lessons from its experience, the proletariat of Russia, under the leadership of the Communist Party led by V.I. Lenin, carried out the October Revolution in 1917 and established the dictatorship of the proletariat there.  Lenin, in his famous book called The State and Revolution, defended and elaborated the teachings of Marx and Engels on the state and the tasks of the proletariat in the revolution, which were being distorted by various opportunists within the communist movement.

Today, 153 years after the Paris Commune, the working class in countries all over the world continues to wage the historic struggle to end the rule of the bourgeoisie and replace it with the rule of the proletariat and other toiling people.  In this struggle, the trailblazing path shown by the Paris Commune continues to inspire and guide us.

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