Commune (socialism)

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The commune is a model of government that is generally advocated by communists, revolutionary socialists, and anarchists. The model is often characterized as being a local and transparent organization composed of delegates bound by mandates. These delegates would be recallable at any time from their positions. Proponents view the right of recall as a particularly important safeguard against corruption and unresponsiveness among the representatives.


Almost universally, communists, left-wing socialists, and anarchists have seen the Commune as a model for the liberated society that will come after the masses are liberated from capitalism, a society based on participatory democracy from the grass roots up.

Marx and Engels, Bakunin, and later Lenin and Trotsky gained major theoretical lessons (in particular as regards the "dictatorship of the proletariat" and the "withering away of the state") from the limited experience of the Paris Commune.

Nonetheless, these very advocates provided critiques of the commune. Marx found it aggravating that the Communards pooled all their resources into first organizing democratic elections rather than gathering their forces and attacking Versailles in a timely fashion. Many Marxists, based on their interpretation of the historical evidence and on Marx's writings on the subject, believe that the Communards were too "soft" on the non-proletarian elements in their midst.[citation needed]

But the idea of the commune as a libertarian social organization has persisted within revolutionary theory. Kropotkin criticized modern representative democracy as merely being an instrument for the ruling class, and argued that a new society would have to be organized on entirely different principles which involved every individual more directly.[1] He treats the nation state as a capitalist territorial organization which imposes itself over many communities through the spectacle of participation which elections deceptively provide. Communes on the other hand are expected to endow communities with autonomy from external powers and offer each person within them a part in decision-making processes, through communal assemblies and easily revocable delegates.

Within Marxism

Karl Marx, in his important pamphlet The Civil War in France (1871), written during the Commune, advocated the Commune's achievements, and described it as the prototype for a revolutionary government of the future, 'the form at last discovered' for the emancipation of the proletariat.

Thus in Marxist theory, the commune is a form of political organization adopted during the first (or lower) phase of communism, socialism. Communes are proposed as the proletarian counterpart to bourgeois political forms such as parliaments. In his pamphlet, Marx explains the purpose and function of the commune during the period that he termed the dictatorship of the proletariat:[2]

Marx based these ideas on the example of the Paris Commune, which he described in The Civil War in France:[2]

In addition to local governance, the communes were to play a central role in the national government:[2]

Bakunin's Revolutionary Catechism

Bakunin eventually diverged sharply both personally and ideologically from Marx and such a divergence is evident in his thought. Bakunin never advocated a dictatorship of the proletariat, but instead a collectivism based on communes and cooperative worker's associations allied together into a decentralized and stateless federation. In his Revolutionary Catechism he laid down the principles on which he believed a free, anarchist society should be founded upon. This included the political organization of society into communes:[3]

The autonomous commune is furthermore based upon the complete liberty of the individual and dedicated to its realization. Bakunin's anarchist commune is not organized into a dictatorship of the proletariat but a loose, yet cohesive federation that attempts to achieve the aims of the actively revolutionary class as a whole.

The function of mini-communes

Mini-communes and squats exist all over the world, but comprise only a marginal pattern of social organization in relation to society at large. However, many of them provide a self-conscious example of how a socialist society would function, even if only on a microsociological level. As they are, socialist mini-communes are, along with workers' associations, the germs for the development of mass, socially complex communist communes.[4]

Contemporary political movements organized around the idea of the commune

See also


  1. Kropotkin's Revolutionary Pamphlets (1970), Dover Publications.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Marx and Engels, The Civil War in France
  3. "Revolutionary Catechism". Retrieved 7 March 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Shantz, Jeff (2010) Constructive Anarchy: Building Infrastructures of Resistance

External links