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Last updated:08 June 2015

Fall of the Paris Commune

The Paris Commune of 1871 is hailed as the first successful seizure of power by the working class. In a remarkable revolutionary movement, the workers of Paris replaced the capitalist state with their own government on 18 March 1871. They held political power until their downfall on 28 May 1871. While in the most direct sense the Paris Commune was simply the local authority which exercised power in Paris for two months in the Spring of 1871, the conditions in which it formed, what it strove to do and the controversial decrees it passed, along with its tortured end, make the Paris Commune one of the most important political events of the time and taught lessons of fundamental importance for future Socialists.

The wider events of 18 March saw the Parisian workers with power "thrust upon them". They saw themselves as fighting not only for immediate aims; the workers strove to reorganise society on an entirely new foundation. They struggled for, as they termed it, a ‘Universal Social Republic' free from exploitation and oppression, from class divisions, from reactionary militarism and from national antagonisms.

Marx and Engels followed the Commune closely and drew many lessons from this first attempt at the construction of a Workers' State. Their conclusions are contained in a pamphlet entitled ‘The Civil War in France' (more recent reprints of which can be studied in the Library).