- Boris Miranda (@ivanbor)
- BBC World News
The news arrived more than a month late in Latin America and contained such distortions that they suggested that what was happening in the French capital was some kind of sinister orgy.
Despite this, 150 years ago, the Paris Commune would end up becoming one of the almost founding landmarks of the labor movement in the region.
And, as the researchers point out, it was the inspiration for numerous communist and proletarian movements that throughout the 20th century attempted “take heaven by storm“as the Parisian commoners did between March and May 1871.
In addition to one of the main letters of presentation of the ideas of a stubborn, reviled and revered German like Karl Marx.
Just to mention some of the effects of the seizure of the Parisian city hall that constituted the first workers’ government in history.
Communism took off in Paris
The Commune arises as an effect of the social and economic crisis after the war between the French Empire and the Prussian Kingdom that precipitates the end of the government of Napoleon III.
As the culmination of that war clash, Prussia came to occupy Paris for four months, exalting the spirits of the local rebels who would take over the city council a few months later.
While it was controlled by the rebels, self-management decrees were issued in factories and different social policies considered very advanced for their time.
However, the revolutionary adventure did not last for more than 61 days and ended with the famous “bloody week” at the hands of the French government.
Despite its short duration, it attracted worldwide attention and promoted communist ideas in different regions.
This is how Horacio Tarcus, historian and director of the Left Culture Documentation and Research Center, based in Buenos Aires, explains it.
“Although the term ‘communism’ appears at the end of the 18th century, its use does not expand rapidly. The Manifesto of the Communist Party (by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels in 1848) reinforces its use, but it has only become a reference for half a century. Later. When the Commune takes place, there are already currents that follow these ideas, as well as others that declared themselves socialist, but it was undoubtedly what happens in Paris that puts the term ‘communism’ into global circulation, “he says.
The researcher indicates that this has to do with the fact that the press that emerged from the French capital emphasized the “character communist“of that attempt at a workers’ government.
“There was a strong link in the terms and that is why the Parisian community members were associated with communism,” he explains.
Among the leaders of the movement that takes Paris were not only proletarians, there were also journalists, teachers and artisans who came from the great French revolts throughout the 19th century.
However, contrary to what many believe, the left currents were not predominant in the Commune.
“There was a consciousness of revolutionary tradition and an identity of struggles, although the communists and socialists were not the majority of those mobilized. We are talking more about a self-managed proletariat as a popular army with plurality of sentiments, many of them patriotic or nationalist”, Tarcus relates.
The 61 days
The “bloody week” was not seven days long. In reality it was at least two or three weeks of deaths in the repression and subsequent executions.
Estimates hold that between 20,000 and 50,000 community members died as part of the taking of Paris.
One of the emblematic books of that time was “The History of the Paris Commune”, published by the journalist Prosper-Olivier Lissagaray.
In it he recounts the magnitude of the deed of a century and a half ago.
“The one who has breathed your life, who is fever for others, who has throbbed on your boulevards and cried in your suburbs, who has sung in the auroras of your revolutions and a few weeks later has washed his hands of gunpowder behind the barricades; the one who can hear under your stones the voice of the martyrs of the idea and greet your streets with a human date; the one for whom each of your arteries is a nerve, still does not do you justice, great Paris of the rebellion “Lissagaray wrote.
And he adds: “The attraction of the rebellious Paris was so powerful that there were those who came from America to contemplate this spectacle unknown in history: the largest city on the European continent in the hands of the proletarians.”
“Eve of death”, was how the author titled the final chapter of the history of the Commune, whose defeat would be decreed on May 28, 1871.
The heritage for Latin America
In Paris “patriotic and nationalist” sentiments are amalgamated with proletarian internationalism and this is reflected in the participation of “militants revolutionaries“Greeks, Italians or Poles who are going to fight and die for the Commune, explains Tarcus.
A similar phenomenon, the historian indicates, occurs at a distance in Latin America, with some delay due to the slowness of communications at the time.
“In Latin America, the knowledge of the existence of a workers’ international and of a man named Karl Marx is made possible through the common“.
The historian points out that reviewing the “big press” in Buenos Aires, Bogotá, Montevideo or Mexico City, it can be seen that the first information that arrived from Europe in 1871 focused on “a mob left to its base instincts that set Paris on fire.”
But he adds that after the gruesome news reports began to arrive about the workers’ association known as The International that has the purpose of “overthrowing the established order” and, also, the first documents from Marx’s pen on the Commune.
“A profile of Marx appears, who was disdainfully called ‘the Prussian’, with the bearded image of him. And Latin Americans, at least his literate elites, knew about this thinker and his ideas,” he says.
That is, according to the researcher, the first stage of expansion of workerist ideas reinforced with the arrival in Latin America of the exiles of the Commune and other revolutionaries who tried to emulate Paris in other cities.
Thus Bogotá, Buenos Aires, Mexico City, Lima, Montevideo and Santiago de Chile become centers of production of the first communist and socialist ideas prior to the Soviet revolution.
“It was a global event. Besides being the first to be photographed,” he says.
Tarcus emphasizes that the legacy of the Parisian community members not only extends between the last years of the 19th century and throughout the 20th, it also reaches today.
He gives as an example the Bolivian thought group that adopted the name of Commune and came, at the time, to be one of the intellectual nuclei that propped up Evo Morales to the government and contributed to the indigenous political theses in that country.
It also highlights the notorious influence on Argentine left-wing thinkers during and after the experiences of armed insurrection that took place in that country since the 1960s and are still in force today.
“There are permanent references to the world of the Commune and the term appears in newspapers, magazines and websites. Already with a different vision from that of Lenin, who read it as a dictatorship of the proletariat, but rather as the experience of a city that is organized and in which power circulates horizontally with various tendencies “, he affirms.
For this reason, Tarcus indicates that there are at least two ways of reading that Parisian experience that left a profound mark on the world, that of the communisms of the 20th century and that of contemporary movements.
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Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.