Did Marx change his opinion about the Paris Commune?

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Did Marx change his opinion about the Paris Commune?
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Did Marx change his opinion about the Paris Commune?

Recently I saw a letter from Marx to Domela in which Marx's statement about the Paris Commune differs from his previous views (I've highlighted the sentence), see below:

”Perhaps you will point to the Paris Commune; but apart from the fact that this was merely the rising of a town under exceptional conditions, the majority of the Commune was in no sense socialist, nor could it be. With a small amount of sound common sense, however, they could have reached a compromise with Versailles useful to the whole mass of the people -- the only thing that could be reached at the time. ”

The letter can be read at the following link:

Marx to Domela Nieuwenhuis In The Hague

Did Marx change his mind, or did I misunderstand the letter?


I don't think so, as I recall

I don't think so, as I recall that just before the Paris Commune broke out he already was quite moderate/sceptical about what could be expected in the French situation.

By the way, there's the often-quoted rumor about Lenin "dancing" (a few steps) in the snow in Petrograd (in front of some surprised Commissars, in another variation of the story) when the revolution out-lasted the number of the days of the Paris Commune (~71 days?). It seems this rumor first can be found in a novel of André Malraux. Perhaps Trotsky told him that story in conversation, but I'm really doubtful about it. Like calculating, it would be just a few days after the shot fired on Lenin's car in January 1918.

But it needs to be said, that Lenin (many years before he wrote State&Revolution) taught about the Paris Commune, contrary to some modern revisionist historians who imply that the pre-1917 (or pre-1914) Lenin was ignorant of it.

Btw, on Lissagaray's history of the Commune and Marx's view there's a long article (in Spanish only for now). August Bebel reviewed the book in 1878 (here in German). Recently a collection (in French) about the Marx-aligned Communard Leó Frankel appeared (here's a review in English), a direct participant, who went on to help organise the launch of the Second Internationalin 1889  (so one can't simply portray the latter as somehow having forgotten about the Paris Commune).

Marx on Objective Conditions

Before the Paris Commune was erected, Marx stated that any uprising of the Parisians against the French government would be "desperate folly". I think the point in him saying that and what he's trying to get at in the letter is that the Paris Commune - despite its vital lessons for the proletariat - could never have sparked world proletarian revolution because the conditions weren't ripe for this. In the Communist Manfesto, Marx and Engels write that
"The productive forces at the disposal of society no longer tend to further the development of the conditions of bourgeois property; on the contrary, they have become too powerful for these conditions, by which they are fettered"
but in the aftermath of the 1848-1851 period, with only bourgeois revolutions having took place and a new period of economic growth beginning, they had to re-examine this. In 1850 he was already saying
"In view of this general prosperity, in which the productive forces of bourgeois society are flourishing as exuberantly as they possibly can under bourgeois conditions, there can be no talk of a real revolution. Such a revolution is only possible at periods when the two factors, modern forces of production and bourgeois forms of production, come into conflict."

This led him to develop a deeper understanding of when/how capitalism would cease to be a progressive force and in a letter to Engels from 1858 he outlines this:
“The proper task of bourgeois society is the creation of the world market, at least in outline, and of the production based on that market. Since the world is round, the colonisation of California and Australia and the opening up of China and Japan would seem to have completed this process. For us, the difficult question is this: on the Continent revolution is imminent and will, moreover, instantly assume a socialist character. Will it not necessarily be crushed in this little corner of the earth, since the movement of bourgeois society is still, in the ascendant over a far greater area?” (https://marxists.architexturez.net/archive/marx/works/1858/letters/58_10...)

I think you can see the consistency of this in the second last paragraph of the letter.

On another note, I think the last paragraph gives some vindication to the GCF's analysis that "The experience of the Second International confirms the impossibility of maintaining the party of the proletariat during a prolonged period marked by a non-revolutionary situation." (Point 12, Nature and Function of the Proletarian Party)

Did Marx change his opinion about the Paris Commune?

I don’t think that Marx fundamentally changed his opinion about the Paris Commune.

Although of course there is nothing wrong with going back on a position taken earlier.
Think e.g. of the position in the Communist Manifesto about taking over the bourgeois state. This position has later,especially under the influence of the Paris Commune, been thoroughly corrected in several prefaces of the Manifesto. This corrected position can be described as “Not to take over the bourgeois state apparatus, but to smash it to pieces and replace it with its own "state apparatus", a "half-state" or "Commune State" (with elected and permanently recallable delegates, no standing army, etc.)”. (1)

Marx's position on the Commune was in chronological order :

-September 1870 : advise against a revolt or a seizure of power by the working people of Paris

-March 1871 : Once the Commune became a reality : all support to the Communards


- July 1870 - May 1871 written ; May 30, 1871 closed The Civil War in France: Address of the General Council of the International Working Men’ s Association, written by Marx : solidarity and admiration for the Communards(“the sky stormers”) , combined with criticism of certain measures or the absence of these measures (e.g. not to confiscate the money of the national bank)


- September 8, 1872 : At occasion of the congress of the International Working Men’s Association (IWA) in The Hague in 1872 , Marx spoke in Amsterdam about the (theoretical) possibility of a "peaceful" transition to socialism in countries like the UK, the USA and perhaps the Netherlands.(2)

So I think that what Marx writes to Ferdinand Domela Nieuwenhuis in a letter of  February 22, 1881

(then still a faithful "disciple" of Marx and not yet the anarchist he later became(3)) is not so surprising or not so different from his earlier views.

And what Marx writes to Domela Nieuwenhuis also testifies, in my opinion, to a deep insight into the phase in which capitalism then found itself, namely the phase of advance, i.e. a phase in which the proletarian revolution, which by definition cannot be limited to one country, let alone one city (4), was not and could not yet be under way.


Also important :
In his book "State and Revolution", written on the eve of the October Revolution, in which Lenin discusses Marx's views on the Commune, he says that the rare possibilities for a "peaceful transition to socialism” in the UK and USA, which Marx still saw, have disappeared because of the imperialist war and the repression of the bourgeois state against the proletarian internationalists.

(1) See for example :

The 1872 German Edition,Karl Marx & Friedrich Engels,June 24, 1872, London

“ That passage” [Section II]”would, in many respects, be very differently worded today. In view of the gigantic strides of Modern Industry since 1848, and of the accompanying improved and extended organization of the working class, in view of the practical experience gained, first in the February Revolution, and then, still more, in the Paris Commune, where the proletariat for the first time held political power for two whole months, this programme has in some details been antiquated. One thing especially was proved by the Commune, viz., that “the working class cannot simply lay hold of the ready-made state machinery, and wield it for its own purposes.” (See The Civil War in France: Address of the General Council of the International Working Men’ s Association, 1871, where this point is further developed.)”


2) See : https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1872/09/08.htm

La Liberté Speech: delivered by Karl Marx on September 8, 1872, in Amsterdam;
Source: K. Marx and F. Engels, On Britain, Foreign Languages Press, Moscow, 1962;
Printed: September 15, 1872, in La Liberte.
Also printed in Dutch, Belgian and German papers.

You know that the institutions, mores, and traditions of various countries must be taken into consideration, and we do not deny that there are countries -- such as America, England, and if I were more familiar with your institutions, I would perhaps also add Holland -- where the workers can attain their goal by peaceful means. This being the case, we must also recognize the fact that in most countries on the Continent the lever of our revolution must be force; it is force to which we must some day appeal in order to erect the rule of labor.”

(3) On Ferdinand Domela Nieuwenhuis See :The German and Dutch Communist Left,ICC,2001,p.19-25


(4) See : Friedrich Engels,Principles of communism,1847,point 19

Question : “Will it be possible for this revolution to take place in one country alone ?”

Answer : “No. (...)the communist revolution will not merely be a national phenomenon but must take place simultaneously in all civilized countries – that is to say, at least in England, America, France, and Germany.”


- My contribution of 25/11 is

- My contribution of 25/11 is to a large extent more or less a repetition of what others in this thread have already said (Marx's moderation / scepticism about the situation in France before the Commune erupted, the objective conditions, reference to Lenin's "State and Revolution" of 1917).
This is so because my comments (at least in their “raw” form) had already been written some time ago.
- Also a correction.
The ICC book is entitled "The Dutch and German Communist Left" (and not "The German and Dutch Communist Left").
In French they even talk about "La Gauche Hollandaise" while referring to the same movement, and that is also the title of the same book by the ICC.
- It was certainly not the first time in "State and Revolution" that Lenin referred to the Paris Commune of 1871.
Was it Nadezhda Kroepskaya who wrote in her "Reminiscences of Lenin " that Lenin spent a long time in the small museum in Paris dedicated to the Commune and that he carefully studied every text and every object, while in general he was not a museum visitor and a visit of a museum of paintings,antiquities and so on quickly bored him ?