Introduction to Political Theory

(Marvins-Underground-K-12) #1

The dilemma of democratic socialism

Until 1914 (as already noted), the term ‘social democrat’ was widely adopted. It
was used both by the Bolsheviks and the British Labour Party. In 1914 a great
schism occurred. Some socialists supported the First World War, and this divide
was deepened when the Bolshevik Revolution took place in 1917. Although socialists
generally welcomed the fall of Tsarism in February 1917, many including those
who considered themselves Marxists saw the seizure of power by Lenin in October
1917 as the act of mad man, a coup d’étatrather than a genuine revolution, a
premature act which ignored the ‘unripe’ conditions in Russia.

Chapter 10 Socialism 223

The Paris Commune was created in 1871 after France was defeated by Prussia in the Franco-
Prussian War. The French government tried to send in troops to prevent the Parisian National
Guard’s cannon from falling into the hands of the population. The soldiers refused to fire on the
jeering crowd and turned their weapons on their officers.
In the free elections called by the Parisian National Guard, the citizens of Paris elected a council
made up of a majority of Jacobins and Republicans and a minority of socialists (mostly Blanquists

  • explicitly authoritarian socialists – and followers of the anarchist Proudhon). This council
    proclaimed Paris autonomous and desired to recreate France as a confederation of communes (i.e.
    communities). Within the Commune, people on the elected council were paid an average wage. In
    addition, they had to report back to the people who had elected them and were subject to recall
    by electors if they did not carry out their mandates.
    The Paris Commune began the process of creating a new society, one organised from the bottom
    up. By May, 43 workplaces were cooperatively run and the Louvre Museum became a munitions
    factory run by a workers’ council. A meeting of the Mechanics Union and the Association of Metal
    Workers argued that ‘equality must not be an empty word’ in the Commune. The Commune
    declared that the political unity of society was based on ‘the voluntary association of all local
    initiatives, the free and spontaneous concourse of all individual energies for the common aim, the
    well-being, the liberty and the security of all’.
    On 21 May government troops entered the city, and this was followed by seven days of bitter
    street-fighting. Squads of soldiers and armed members of the ‘bourgeoisie’ roamed the streets,
    killing and maiming at will. Over 25,000 people were killed in the street-fighting, many murdered
    after they had surrendered, and their bodies dumped in mass graves.
    The Commune had lasted for 72 days, and Marx, as president of the International Working Men’s
    Association – the First International – expressed solidarity and support for the action. Yet 10 years
    later, Marx declared that the Commune was the rising of a city under exceptional conditions; that
    its majority was by no means socialist, nor could it be; and that with a ‘modicum of common
    sense’, a compromise with the French government at Versailles could have been reached (Marx
    and Engels, 1975b: 318).

The Paris Commune
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