The story of Paris Commune has been told a number of times: Napoleon III’s attempt to bolster up the sagging French Empire by declaring war on Prussia in July, 1871; his debacle at Sedan, which exposed Paris to the Prussian troops; the proclamation of a bourgeois republic and a Government of National Defence; the Government’s betrayal of its mandate and revolt of the Parisian working; the proclamation of the Commune and the seize of power by the working classes on March 28. But really no account has surpassed Marx’s description in simplicity and penetration. “It was essentially a working class government, the product of the producing against the appropriating class, the political form at last discovered under which to work out the economic emancipation of man.”
The Paris Commune lasted a little more than 70 days. More than 100,000 men and women were killed or exiled to the colonies when the French bourgeois in a shameless alliance with the German army clamped down ( For a timeline see this)
But the lessons of the 70-odd days hold true 138 years from now. The Commune was, most importantly, a democracy. It was an elected body. None of its functionaries was paid more than the wages of a skilled worker. Associations of workers were handed charge of all closed workshops and factories—the Commune did not, however, expropriate all bourgeois property. The Commune was formed of the elected municipal councilors—their tenure was revocable at short terms. The majority of its members were workers, or acknowledged representatives of the working class. Instead of continuing to be the agent of the Central Government, the police was at once stripped of its political attributes, and turned into the responsible, and at all times revocable, agent of the Commune. So were the officials of all other branches of the administration. From the members of the Commune downwards, the public service had to be done at worker’s wage. Public functions ceased to be the private property of the tools of the Central Government.
The Commune also began to erode the traditional patriarchal structure of French society, allowing women greater social involvement. It was the activity of women that had, in fact, launched the commune. Marx wrote: “The real women of Paris showed again at the surface. Working, thinking fighting, bleeding Paris - almost forgetful, in its incubation of a new society, of the Cannibals at its gates—in the enthusiasm of its historic initiative.”
Not surprisingly then the Commune showed the shoots of a new sexual morality and women's emancipation. Marriage came in for strong condemnation. The Commune decreed on 10 April a pension for widows and children of “all citizens killed defending the rights of the people,” whether the children were legitimate or not. This in effect meant putting the free unions common among the working-class population of Paris on an equal footing with marriage.
The commune, however, did not enfranchise women: all the male citizens of Paris elected it. It suffered from indecisiveness—the workers lacked a party. As Marx wrote, “the working class cannot simply lay hold of the ready made State machinery, and wield it for its own purposes”.