In Volume One of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas, I included a chapter on the Franco-Prussian War and the Paris Commune, with selections from Bakunin, Kropotkin and Louise Michel. For the past few weeks, I have been posting material from libertarian socialists involved in the French sections of the International Workers Association and the Paris Commune. In April 1871, the Paris Commune issued a manifesto to the French people, seeking their support. The manifesto, which was mostly written by Pierre Denis, a Proudhonist member of the International, called for the “total autonomy of the Commune extended to every township in France,” with the “Commune’s autonomy to be restricted only by the right to an equal autonomy for all the other communes.” The Communards assured the people of France that the “political unity which Paris strives for is the voluntary union of all local initiative, the free and spontaneous cooperation of all individual energies towards a common goal: the well-being, freedom and security of all.” The Commune was to mark “the end of the old governmental and clerical world; of militarism, bureaucracy, exploitation, speculation, monopolies and privilege that have kept the proletariat in servitude and led the nation to disaster.”
One of the most serious problems facing the Paris Commune was the lack of support from the countryside. In September 1870, Bakunin had raised this issue in his Letters to a Frenchman on the Present Crisis, in which he urged revolutionaries to encourage the peasants and farm workers to “take the land and throw out those landlords who live by the labour of others,” inciting them “to destroy, by direct action, every political, juridical, civil, and military institution,” establishing “anarchy through the whole countryside” (Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas, Volume One: 103). The need to win the peasants over to the cause of the social revolution was a theme that Bakunin returned to in The Knouto-Germanic Empire and the Social Revolution, published in April 1871. Bakunin again urged the Parisian revolutionaries to go to the countryside to provoke a peasant insurrection by offering the peasants the “immediately great material advantages” that would result from a social revolution, such as the land itself, and the abolition of debts. Bakunin argued that a “revolution that is imposed upon people—whether by official decree or by force of arms—is not a revolution but its opposite, for it necessarily provokes reaction.”
In Paris, a committee composed mainly of Internationalists was struck to prepare an appeal to French peasants and farm workers. The appeal was written by André Léo (1824-1900), the pen name of the revolutionary feminist, Victoire Léodile Béra, a member of the International who was also involved with the Association of Women for the Defence of Paris and Aid to the Wounded. The Appeal is similar in its approach to that advocated by Bakunin, with the exception that it suggests that it will be by legislative means that the land will be returned to the farm workers, rather than the farm workers seizing it themselves.
To The Farm Workers:
Brothers, you are being deceived. Our interests are the same: we only want what you also want. The liberation that we demand is your own as well. Whether in the city or in the countryside, the important point is that there is insufficient food, clothing, shelter or assistance for those who produce the world’s wealth. An oppressor is an oppressor whether a big landowner or an industrialist. For you, as for us, a day’s work is long and hard and barely provides enough to keep one’s body going. Both you and we lack freedom, rest and recreation for mind and body. We have always been and still are—both of us—in the grip of poverty.
Don’t you feel how unjust this is? You can easily see that you are being deceived; for if it were true that property ownership resulted from work, you, who have worked so hard, would be a property owner. You would own that little house with the garden and farmyard that you have longed for all your life and that you find impossible to acquire. Or, even if you have perhaps had the misfortune to purchase a house, it has been at the price of a mortgage that drains off your resources. And this mortgage will force your children to sell this very shelter that has cost you so much when you die—if not before. No, work doesn’t lead to owning property. Property is inherited or is obtained by trickery. The rich lead a life of idleness while the workers are poor and stay poor. The few exceptions prove the rule.
This is clearly unjust. Vested interests have tricked you into accusing Paris of cheating you, but this injustice is precisely what has led Paris to rise up and demand a change in the laws that place all power over the workers in the hands of the wealthy. Paris wants the son of the farmer to be as educated as the son of the rich man, and at no cost.
So you see, farm workers—whether day labourer, mortgage-bound farmer, tenant farmer—all who sow, harvest and toil so that the best part of what you produce goes to someone who does nothing, what Paris wants, essentially, is that LAND BELONG TO THE FARMER, THE TOOLS OF PRODUCTION TO THE WORKER, WORK FOR ALL.
Yes, the products of farming should go to those who do the farming. To each his own; work for all. No more rich and poor. No more work without rest and no more rest without work. It is possible to achieve this… All that is needed are good laws. Such laws will be enacted when the workers decide to be manipulated no longer by the idle classes.
You can readily see—inhabitants of the countryside—that the objectives for which Paris is fighting are yours as well; that in striving to help the worker, it is striving to help you. The generals who are at this very moment attacking Paris are the very same ones who betrayed the defence of France. The representatives you elected without knowing them want to restore the monarchy under a Henry V. If Paris falls, then the yoke of poverty will remain around your necks and will also be placed around those of your children. So help Paris to win. No matter what happens, remember these objectives—for there will always be revolutions in the world until they are achieved:
THE LAND TO THE FARMER, THE TOOLS OF PRODUCTION TO THE WORKER, WORK FOR ALL.
THE WORKERS OF PARIS