Postmodernism, Part 32: The Commune and Communism

What is postmodernism? Is it a problem?  The following continues a series of posts explaining postmodernism.  It is based on the excellent Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault, by Prof. Stephen Hicks.  (Additional support includes The Fall of Paris, by Alistair Horne; The Red Flag: A History of Communism, by David Priestland; Civil War in France: The Paris Commune, by Karl Marx and V. I. Lenin; The Paris Commune, by Ernest Bax; Socialism by Ludwig von Mises.)

Erstwhile

Enlightenment and Darkness

Marxist postmodernism seeks to overthrow modernism.  Modernism’s political philosophy proposes reason, individualism, liberal democracy, and free markets.  Postmodernist philosophy is based on the metaphysical nihilism of (Nazi) Martin Heidegger.  Postmodernist radical left politics don’t flow from Heidegger’s philosophy, but from twentieth century Marxists’ crisis of faith (in the face of undeniable Marxist catastrophe).

Rousseau’s Revolutionary Politics

The postmodernists took refuge in the totalitarian collectivist Rousseau.  Rousseau’s ideas inflamed the French Revolution and Reign of Terror, leading to Napoleon’s beatdown of Germany.

Right Collectivism

Right Collectivism morphed out of the German Counter-Enlightenment (Kant, Herder, Fichte, Hegel), Rousseau, and Napoleonic stress disorder.  The Germans gave Rousseau their own twist: hero worship, state worship, and dialectical history (plus German supremacy).

Left Collectivism

Left Collectivism also came from the German Counter-Enlightenment, plus passion: disgust and romanticism (that valued passion, violence, radicalism, and revolution, but not morality).  Marx and Engels (disgusted at industrial working conditions) mated Hegel with Darwin to concoct “scientific socialism” (revealed history, Communist prophecy, and pseudo-science).  In 1847, the Communist League published their Communist Manifesto.

Revolutionary Disappointment

Marx and Engels were frustrated with the Revolutions of 1848.  The French Second Republic’s socialist experiments flopped (triggering leftist uprisings – crushed).  German Communism flopped.  (Exit Marx, stage left.  Enter Bismarck, stage right.)  In Italy, Mazzini and Garibaldi were failed and returned to exile.  Bismarck united northern Germany using “blood and iron”.

Red Star Rising

The Franco-Prussian War united victorious Germany, but divided defeated France (triggering insurrection, civil war, and the Paris Commune – brutally crushed), setting the stage for the World Wars, Soviets, and Nazis.

The Commune and Communism

Marx used the Paris Commune of 1871 as a “teachable moment”.  Marx penned his dire “lessons learned”, The Civil War in France (his most influential work after The Communist Manifesto).  Lenin and Stalin expanded on his ideas and put them into action (terribly).

Marx’s Teachable Moment

In London, Marx and Engels (frustrated by proletariat intransigence) were busily making Communism “scientific” by grafting Darwinian notions onto their sketchy Hegelian metaphysics.  Their rosy dreams of a Workers Paradise were mutating into a grimy Dictatorship of the Proletariat with industrial schemes of central planning.

karl-marxKarl Marx

The Paris Commune took Marx quite by surprise.  Marx’s “First International” (an organization of socialist parties of different nations) was (predictably) fractious, split between authoritarians (like Marx) and anarchists (like Mikhail Bakunin).

The Commune gave Marx notoriety as the “Red-Terrorist Doctor” and gave Bakunin a shot at some action.  In France, Marx’s International was sprouting, spreading propaganda, and fomenting insurrections in the French provinces.  Bakunin, himself, went to Lyon to foment insurrection.

Marx’s spin on the Commune was propagandist and polemical, but he got much right:

  • Class struggle.  Marx correctly identifies a powerful class element in the Commune.  Paris suffered the sort of “third world” industrial misery described by Engels.  The Paris slums of Belleville and Montemarte were fetid breeding grounds of unrest.
  • Revolution betrayed.  Marx was correct that the bourgeois betrayed the working class in previous revolutions (1815, 1830, 1848).  Working class mobs fruitlessly manned the barricades and shed blood.  The Second Republic and Empire were thoroughly corrupt and decadent.  (Marxist revolutions are treacherous, as well, as Bakunin warned and Trotsky showed.  Bastiat argued that the revolutions were shams that made impossible promises.)
  • Turning point.  Marx was correct that the Paris Commune marked a new phase in the Marxist battle.  (Marx’s usual wishful-thinking became a self-fulfilling prophecy when taken up by his adherents.)
Promise

Marx claimed that the Commune had promised a new (Communist) political form:

  • Good government.  The Commune would have delivered “cheap” (efficient and ethical) government (free of corruption), abolishing and replacing oppression with self rule.
  • Emancipation of labor.  The Commune would have appropriated the means of production (“changing the character of labor”).  (This is the “joy of labor” idea that, under socialism, “labor awakens feelings of satisfaction, not of pain,” wrote economist Ludwig von Mises.  Yet, he said, if labor and its rewards are disconnected, we will always feel like we are doing more than our share.)
  • Enlightenment.  The Commune  freed the workers from (politically oppressive) religious education.
  • Abolition of debt.  The Commune would have freed the poor from their debts, including rural peasants (who opposed Paris radicalism).
  • Civic virtue. The Commune  ended crime (murder, robbery, assault).  (People rarely ventured out after dark.)
Apologetics
leninEmancipation of Labor

Marx justified the acts committed by the Paris Commune:

  • Arson.  The Communards were justified in setting Paris ablaze, he argued, because this was war.  (C’est la guerre.)
  • Murder.  The Communards were justified in murdering the hostages, he argued, because the Government had executed Communard prisoners (in violation of the laws of war).  (This is a matter of perspective, of course.  To the Government, the insurrectionists were mutineers or treasonous rebels.)
Lessons Learned

Marx criticized the Communards’ mistakes:

  • The Communards should have taken up arms and destroyed their enemies (before they could rebuild).
  • The military command (the Central Committee) surrendered power too soon (to the elected Commune) and should have retained it to destroy their enemies.  (Of course, “enemies” is a fluid concept, as demonstrated by the Reign of Terror and the Russian Revolution’s Red Terror.)
Closing

As with the Communist Manifesto, Marx closed in dramatic style:

  • “There can be neither peace nor truce between the working men of France and the appropriators of their produce,” Marx declared, “The battle must break out again and again”.
  • “The French working class is the only advance guard of the proletariat”, he stated.
  • “The Commune will forever be celebrated as the glorious harbinger of a new society,” Marx said.

The history of the Commune’s exterminators, Marx thundered, “has already been nailed to that eternal pillory from which all the prayers of their priest will not avail to redeem them.”  (Drops mic.)

Lenin’s Lessons Learned
leninLenin

After the failed Russian Revolution of 1905, Lenin expanded on Marx’s lessons learned:

  • Go big or go home.  “The proletariat stopped half-way,” Lenin wrote, and were misled by “dreams of establishing a higher justice”.  The Communards should have seized property and taken over the banks, he said.
  • Ruthlessness.  “The second mistake was excessive magnanimity,” Lenin wrote, “instead of destroying its enemies, it sought to exert moral influence on them.”  (Lenin would practice what he preached.)

The proletariat will not forget the lessons of the Commune, wrote Lenin:

  • By any means necessary.  “The proletariat should not ignore peaceful methods of struggle,” Lenin wrote, “but it must never forget that … the class struggle assumes the form of armed conflict and civil war”.
  • Purges.  “There are times when the interests of the proletariat will call for ruthless extermination of its enemies,” said Lenin.
Commentary

The British Marxist Ernest Bax, a contemporary of Lenin, offered his own lessons learned:

  • War.  The Communards were too scrupulous, wrote Bax, they “did not appreciate the ethics of insurrection … [and] should have been guided by the French maxim a la guerre, comme a la guerre (in war, as in war).”  The Government was the rebel power and should have been crushed. (C’est la guerre.)
  • Amorality.  The Communards were too sensitive “to bourgeois public opinion.  The first thing for [a revolutionary leader] to learn is a healthy contempt for the official public opinion of the ‘civilized world’.  He must … harden his heart against … its ‘indignation’, its ‘abomination’ … and must learn to smile at all the [name-calling].”
  • Big Lie.  The tool for controlling public opinion, wrote Bax, is media control because “public opinion possessed of wavering or of no definite principles … takes the impress of any statement that it finds repeated a few times without very decisive and publicly-made contradiction”.  (“A lie told often enough becomes the truth,” said Lenin, more succinctly.)

Lenin and Stalin logically extended Marx.  Their ideas infused the Red Terror and Stalinist purges.  As we’ll see, the Red Terror bears the indelible stamp of the earlier Reign of Terror, further linking Marx and Rousseau.

Next

Marx’s stand on the Paris Commune split the International.  One of Marx’s fiercest critics was Mikhail Bakunin (whose baleful warnings against Marx came all too true).  Next: Part 33, The Anarchist Bakunin.

Postmodernism, Part 31: Paris Commune

What is postmodernism? Is it a problem?  The following continues a series of posts explaining postmodernism.  It is based on the excellent Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault, by Prof. Stephen Hicks.  (Additional support includes 1848: Year of Revolution, by Michael Rapport; The Fall of Paris, by Alistair Horne; A History of Germany, by Bayward Taylor; Bismarck and the German Empire, by Dr. Erick Eyck.)

Erstwhile

Enlightenment and Darkness

Marxist postmodernism seeks to overthrow modernism.  Modernism’s political philosophy proposes reason, individualism, liberal democracy, and free markets.  Postmodernist philosophy is based on the metaphysical nihilism of (Nazi) Martin Heidegger.  Postmodernist radical left politics don’t flow from Heidegger’s philosophy, but from twentieth century Marxists’ crisis of faith (in the face of undeniable Marxist catastrophe).

Rousseau’s Revolutionary Politics

The postmodernists took refuge in the totalitarian collectivist Rousseau.  Rousseau’s ideas inflamed the French Revolution and Reign of Terror, leading to Napoleon’s beatdown of Germany.

Right Collectivism

Right Collectivism morphed out of the German Counter-Enlightenment (Kant, Herder, Fichte, Hegel), Rousseau, and Napoleonic stress disorder.  The Germans gave Rousseau their own twist: hero worship, state worship, and dialectical history (plus German supremacy).

Left Collectivism

Left Collectivism also came from the German Counter-Enlightenment, plus passion: romanticism and disgust.  Romanticism valued passion, violence, radicalism, and revolution (not morality).  Marx and Engels (disgusted at industrial working conditions) mated Hegel with Darwin to concoct scientific socialism” (revealed history and Communist prophecy, cloaked in pseudo-science).  In 1847, the Communist League published their Communist Manifesto.

Revolutionary Disappointment

Marx and company were bitterly disappointed with the Revolutions of 1848.  In France, the Second Republic’s socialist experiments flopped (triggering leftist uprisings – crushed).  In Germany, Communism was an epic fail.  (Marx exited, stage left.)  In Italy, Mazzini and Garibaldi were unsuccessful and returned to exile.  Then, Bismarck used “blood and iron” unite northern Germany, defeating Austria.

The French got nervous, and when the French get nervous, things go downhill.

Prelude to the World Wars

Perhaps, both France and Prussia wanted war.  Bismarck may have wanted war, to complete German unification.  (Southern Germans weren’t keen on Prussian domination.)  France may have wanted war, for prestige and to stave off “Red” revolution.  The Franco-Prussian War sets the stage for twentieth century catastrophe: the World Wars, Communism, and Nazism.

louis-napoleonLouis-Napoleon (Napoleon III)

“Never had an international cataclysm been unleashed over such a futile pretext,” a French historian would write.  France was infuriated by Bismarck’s diplomatic gamesmanship.  An 1870 Spanish revolution found Spain looking for a new King.  Bismarck secretly maneuvered to put Prussian Prince Leopold on the throne.  France loudly protested (to avoid German encirclement).  Leopold withdrew.  Unsatisfied, the French ambassador demanded further promises of Prussia’s King, who coolly declined.  Bismarck leaked a telegram, implying a diplomatic snub of France.

gramont-ministerForeign Minister Gramont

On July 15, 1870, France declared war on Prussia.  Neither Napoleon III nor his liberal Prime Minister Ollivier wanted war.  Others did want war: the bellicose Paris press (critical of French foreign policy failures), military leaders (eager to put the Prussian upstarts back into their place), Foreign Minister Gramont (who had urged the French ambassador to provoke Prussia’s King), and Napoleon’s wife – the haughty Empress Eugenie (who wanted an Empire for her son’s inheritance).  The war hawks prevailed.  The Paris mobs were ecstatic (not a good thing).

As the war began, world opinion favored Prussia (but that would change, as time wore on).  France was the belligerent.  France found no allies among the Great Powers.  (The British hated French arrogance and decadence.  Russia disliked them over the Crimean War and meddling in Poland.  Austria wasn’t eager to face Prussia, again.)  France stood alone.

Prussia seemed the underdog, but, in the nineteenth century arms race, France had lagged (with the exception of rifles).  Prussia had better military organization, an excellent general staff, better troops, better artillery, and better transport.  France had woeful military organization, a mediocre general staff, spotty troops, antiquated artillery, and inadequate transport.

moltkePrussian Gen. von Moltke

For most purposes, Prussia defeated France within six weeks.  Urged on by Empress Eugenie and bellicose mobs, ill-prepared and ailing Napoleon III led an invasion of Germany.  (Napoleon III lacked the military genius of Napoleon I, but was more capable than his general staff.)  Three Prussian armies soon pursued them retreating back into France.  Napoleon III and one French army surrendered at the Battle of Sedan.  The other French army (what was left of it) was trapped, in the Siege of Metz (to be starved into surrender).

Two Prussian armies moved to take Paris (leaving one to besiege Metz).

Siege of Paris

“Down with Empire! Long live the Republic!” roared the Paris mobs.  In Paris, a new government was declared at the (legendary) Hotel de Ville (infamous for revolutionary hijinks).  Leftist radicals were there, declaring a “Red” government, but republican Jules Favre led moderates to join them in a compromise government.  (Empress Eugenie and son fled.)  General Louis-Jules Trochu was named President.

trochuGen. Louis Trochu

Trochu marshaled the defense of Paris.  His superiors had sent him to Paris (sick of his criticisms and warnings).  Trochu had too few disciplined troops: hundreds of thousands of National Guards (poorly trained, poorly armed, or raw recruits), better disciplined Garde Mobiles (Bretons, many who spoke no French), and a handful of regulars (dispirited, and scornful of the National Guards).  Paris set to work: training, manufacturing weapons and ammunition, deploying artillery, and bolstering their formidable defense: an encircling wall and chain of powerful forts.

The Prussians intended on waiting them out.  The siege wore on into the bitter winter.  (The besieged French army, at Metz, surrendered, in October.  Three Prussian armies now encircled Paris.)  The French made several ill-fated attempts to break out (but were terribly unlucky, had poor secrecy, and were mostly doomed, anyway).  In Paris, as food ran out, they ate the horses, donkeys, pets, zoo animals, and finally, the rats.  Outside, the Prussians were  better off, but cold and homesick.

Prussia needed to end the siege.  They faced political pressure at home and abroad.  The long siege was becoming expensive and risky.  World opinion had turned against them.  (Insufferable France had started the war, but now, innocents were suffering in Paris.)  The longer Prussia stayed, the more they risked defeat (by foreign intervention or attacks on vulnerable supply lines).

siege-of-parisSiege of Paris

In January 1871, the Prussians tried (unsuccessfully) to bombard Paris into submission.  In three weeks, the Prussian bombardment killed but 97 (including innocent women and children).  (This number pales in comparison to the 1,200 that died from disease, during the siege, or the several hundred Prussians killed in return fire.)  Paris went on about its business.  However, by mid-January, Paris was running out of food.

Armistice

The Paris government was afraid to surrender – not afraid of the Prussians (outside) but of the Reds (inside).  In October, the government had put down a Red insurrection (that was supported by leftist National Guards).  The Red leaders sat in jail.

clemenceauGeorges Clemenceau

Now, radicals rejected surrender, including Georges Clemenceau, future French leader in the First World War.  (The radicals would rather die – to the last man, woman, and child.)  The Reds called for a new government: a Paris Commune (a name recalling the Reign of Terror).  The government feared another insurrection by leftist Guards (like October or the Reign of Terror).

On January 18, Paris staged one final (futile) breakout attempt (to convince the mobs to accept surrender).  It was a bloody slaughter, with thousands killed.  Poorly trained National Guards often refused orders, mutinied, or fired on their comrades.  Trochu was replaced as military leader.

On January 22, another Red insurrection was put down.  Armed Reds marched on the jail, freeing Red leaders.  The Reds marched to the Hotel de Ville, where radicalized National Guards joined them.  A firefight broke out between the Reds and the Hotel’s Breton Mobile defenders.  Government reinforcements arrived, dispersing the Reds.

favre-julesJules Favre

Civil war was imminent.  The government sent Jules Favre to (not so) secretly negotiate peace with (gloating, obnoxious, callous) Bismarck.  (In Paris, rumors spread of the secret negotiations.)  On January 27, a harsh armistice was reached: France would surrender Alsace-Lorraine (ouch), pay hefty reparations (double ouch), and disarm.  “I cannot at any price have the National Guard disarmed,” Favre complained, “That would mean civil war!”  The negotiators compromised: all National Guards would remain armed (terrible idea), with only one armed regular division (terrible idea, in light of the other terrible idea).

Paris Commune
thiers-adolpheAdolphe Thiers

Paris radicals were getting angry.  France elected a conservative Assembly in February 1871 (in part, a rural reaction against Paris radicalism). The Assembly elected (ruthless conservative) Adolphe Thiers as executive (angering radicals).  Thiers concluded the Peace Treaty with Prussia, ceding Alsace-Lorraine (angering Red patriots).  The Assembly passed an execrable law that crushed struggling debtors (angering the poor), and sentenced some Red leaders to death, ex post facto (angering the Reds).  Fearing Paris radicals (and leftist Guards), the government cut payments to the Guards (angering the Guards and the Reds) and voted to move the Government from Paris to Versailles (angering Paris).

The Reds rose (again) in insurrection.  One bloodthirsty mob (infected with “spy fever”) lynched a former government official (beating, kicking, and clumsily drowning him for over two hours).  Another burst into a Paris jail, freeing Red insurrectionists.  Leftist Guards declared their own governing Central Committee (mutiny and insurrection) and then seized cannons (dragging them to their neighborhoods).

lecomte-executionExecution of Gen. Lecomte

On March 18, government troops tried to recover the cannons (incompetently).  Confronted by raging mobs and Guards, troops mutinied.  General Claude Lecomte was captured, as was retired General Jacques Clement-Thomas (a republican who had defended Paris against the Prussian siege, who happened by to see what was going on).  Egged on by foul bloodthirsty mobs, an impromptu firing squad (of Guards and mutinous troops) clumsily executed the captives (who were mutilated and urinated on).  Said Clemenceau, “The mob … [was] in the grip of some kind of frenzy … Guards, women, and children … shrieking like wild beasts … [what] might be called blood lust.”

The government fled Paris to Versailles.  Reds barricaded the streets and seized government buildings.  Wrote one witness, “For the first time since ’93 [the Reign of Terror], revolutionaries were undisputed masters of Paris. … Would they go on to seize control of all France?”

ferre-theophileTheophile Ferre

On March 28, the Paris Commune came to power.  The Reds had debated what to do next.  Clemenceau called the Central Committee illegal (and was briefly jailed by his fanatical Red deputy, Theophile Ferre).  The “Friends of Order” (republican Guards who opposed the Reds) marched in peaceful protest and were massacred.  After some delay, the Reds called for elections.  (Meanwhile, Reds declared insurrections and Communes in other cities, an effort coordinated by Marx’s International and aided by Anarcho-Communist Mikhail Bakunin.)  The red flag was hoisted over Paris.

The civil war turned bloody.  After skirmishes with government troops, Paris Guards (many of them drunk) sallied forth from Paris to march on Versailles, only to be routed by government cannon fire and cavalry charges.  Government troops executed Communard prisoners (as mutineers and insurrectionists).  In retaliation, the Commune passed the infamous “Law of Hostages”, decreeing the execution of three hostages (clergy, etc.) for each Communard execution.

Versailles reorganized the military and rearmed.  Because the Peace Treaty forbade this, Versailles got Bismarck’s permission.  Bismarck (amused at French infighting) wanted the Commune stamped out, unamused that Marx was capitalizing on the Paris Commune to stir up the (Marxist) German Social Democrats.  Meanwhile, the Communards struggled to reorganize the fractious unruly National Guards (with limited success).  Paris was, once again, under siege (this time, by their French brothers).

pyat-felixFelix Pyat

The Paris Commune reigned for a brief two months.  They decreed “separation of church and state” (closing churches, seizing church property, desecrating churches, and arresting clergy, including the Archbishop of Paris, as hostages).  They banned the opposition press.  (In French Revolutionary style, the leftist press cranked up the polemics and hyperbole, including the revolutionary provocateur Felix Pyat.)  The Commune vacuously issued various (mostly empty) decrees for social reform.

delescluze-louisLouis Delescluze

As feared, the Commune further radicalized and began reenacting the 1793 Reign of Terror (including devouring its own).  On April 28, they resurrected the “Committee of Public Safety” and created a “Revolutionary Tribunal” (institutions of the Terror).  Police Chief Raoul Rigault (an acolyte of Louis Saint-Just, the Terror’s “Angel of Death”) arrested hundreds of “enemies of the Republic”.  With the Commune’s Minister of War having escaped (from death at the hands of his fellow Communards), the Commune appointed cadaverous revolutionary veteran Louis Delescluze as Minister of War (who had one foot in the Terror, one in Marx’s International, and both half in the grave).

bloody-week-1Paris Commune

Fanatics had wanted Paris to fight Prussia to the death (of the last man, woman, and child).  So, the Communards fought government troops in that spirit.  Thousands died (men, women, and children).  Government troops bombarded and retook Paris, bitterly fighting the Communards, block by block, street by street, and house to house.  Fanatical women’s brigades “fought like devils”, some armed, some pouring boiling water on the heads of government troops, some setting fires.

hostage-executionExecution of the hostages

Communard fanatics wanted Paris to burn.  They vandalized and torched Paris landmarks (including the Hotel de Ville, the Louvre, and the Tuileries); and filled Notre Dame with explosives (but were dissuaded because of the hospital, next door).  Urged on by hooting bloodthirsty mobs, improvised death squads executed hostages (clumsily and brutally, of course), including the Archbishop and clergy.  Freed hostages had barricaded themselves in one prison (with the aid of a jailer who was repulsed by the senseless murders).  Frustrated, Guards wheeled cannon and mortars to bombard the prison (but retreated in panic, at approaching government troops).

bloody-week-2Bloody Week

In the “Bloody Week,” government troops exacted vengeance and carried out harsh reprisals (without official sanction, but with few repercussions).  Government troops summarily executed many Guards and insurrectionists (including women).  They brutally “death marched” thousands off to Versailles for trial (where many died or were executed en route, or perished in miserable internment).  Paris mobs (opposed to the Reds) exacted their own vengeance, savagely attacking Communard prisoners.  Government troops mass executed (summarily or after trial) thousands of Guards and insurrectionists (actual, suspected, or sympathizers).  The number killed in the uprising is estimated to be: 10,000 (most likely) to 20,000 (earlier reported) or up to 40,000 (claimed by Marxists).

Many Red leaders were caught and tried or executed, while others escaped.  The “Terrorist” Rigault was caught, summarily executed, and tossed in the gutter (where Parisians kicked and spat on his corpse).  Delescluze committed “suicide by cop”, climbing atop a barricade as a target for government troops.  Clemenceau’s treacherous deputy, Ferre (of the Central Committee and Commune), was tried and executed.  Some Communards were imprisoned or sentenced to the “dry guillotine” (banished to Devil’s Island or the like).  Others escaped to exile (including the divisive provocateur Pyat, who escaped to London, only to return years later and be elected Senator).

Marx used the Paris Commune of 1871 as a “teachable moment”.  The lessons of the Commune would be taken up by Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin, and others – with catastrophic results.

Commentary

The Franco-Prussian War and the Paris Commune set the stage for the World Wars.

Franco-Prussian Wars

The Franco-Prussian War (obscure to most) was a major turning point in world history, with dire consequences.

  • German unity.  Bismarck succeeded in uniting Germany.  During the siege of Paris, Prussia’s King William I was made Kaiser of the German Empire, crowned at Versailles (an insult to the French).
  • Reparations.  France would rebuild and pay reparations.  After the First World War, victorious France would force defeated Germany to pay reparations (contributing to the rise of Hitler).
  • Revenge.  Prussia’s humiliating conquest of France was partly revenge for Napoleon’s humiliating conquests of Germany.  Humiliated French leaders (including Clemenceau) would want revenge on Germany.
  • Nationalism.  Twentieth century historical revisionism often superimposes Hitler on the Franco-Prussian and First World Wars, to paint a propagandist picture of good versus evil, with evils including Germany and nationalism.  Yet, the alternative to nationalism was imperialism, the status quo ante of the European Balance of Powers, frozen in time by the 1815 Congress of Vienna.  The good versus evil dichotomy presupposes inherent virtue in that implicitly medieval power structure.
  • Balance of powers.  Prussia’s defeat of France (and Austria) shifted the balance of powers.  Germany was now a Great Power.  (France’s role as a Great Power was diminished – a source of national humiliation.)  The First World War’s Triple Entente (Great Britain, Russia, France) looks like a coalition of three of 1815’s Great Powers arrayed against the fourth (Austria), represented by the Triple Alliance (Germany, Italy, Austria-Hungary).
  • Ideology.  The Paris Commune signaled the end of France’s Jacobin (Rousseauist) tradition.  After the Paris Commune, it would be replaced by Marxism.  In Germany, Bismarck would struggle to keep Marx’s Social Democrats in check.  While Marx’s theories laid the philosophical foundation for Communism and Nazism (“what” and “why”), his exploitation of the Paris Commune helped write the revolutionary playbook (“how” and “when”).
  • Bismarck.  Bismarck, like Napoleon, was a game-changer.  Bismarck’s diplomacy helped secure decades of European peace.  After his exit, it was payback time: the World Wars (and the ensuing rise of Stalinist Russia and Nazi Germany).
Paris Commune

The Paris Commune (obscure to most non-Marxists), was also a major turning point in world history.  The Commune remains controversial (especially for historians struggling with a post-Marxist crisis of faith).

  • The Commune was an undeniable rallying point for Marx and the Communists.
  • The Commune (taken with the Revolution of 1789 and Reign of Terror) provided a template and “lessons learned” for Lenin, Stalin, and future Communist revolutionaries.
  • Some historians seem to struggle with the impossible task of distancing the Commune from both Marxism and the Jacobins (presumably, to defend Marx and Rousseau, respectively).
  • Some historians offer apologetics for the Communards (minimizing, rationalizing, or explaining away the Communards, their ideologies, and excesses).
  • Some historians seem to draw an imaginary dividing line at the Revolutions of 1848 (to associate the Commune with 1848 and obscure its lineal descent from the Revolution of 1789 and the Terror of 1793).
  • Some historians romanticize the Communards (as heroic, feminists, social reformers, etc.) but vilify the government (the establishment, personified by Thiers) for their excesses and lack of restraint.

Clearly, the Paris Commune was on a historical and ideological continuum that stretched from medievalism, to Rousseau’s collective totalitarianism, to the Revolution of 1789 and the Terror of 1793, to the Counter-Enlightenment, the Paris Commune, and Marx, to the horrors of Stalinist Russia and Nazi Germany.  This is a big problem for the unreconstructed leftist and helps explain the obfuscation (and self-delusion). 

It is fair to criticize Government excesses and question how Thiers might have handled things differently.  Such an analysis must consider the context:

  • France (the existential threat facing the nation and its people),
  • French history (the tens of thousands killed in the revolutions of 1789, 1815, 1830, 1848; its bloody civil wars; and the Terror),
  • Paris radicalism and insurrections (past and present),
  • The Reds’ (romantic) suicidal commitment to “victory or death”, and
  • The Reds’ (nihilistic) homicidal commitment to taking Paris with them.

Thiers (a student of French history) knew all this and acted decisively to eradicate the perceived threat (at a ghastly human cost and with horrific unintended consequences).  Was he right?  Was he wrong? Can we know the answer (even with the benefit of 150 years of hindsight we possess that he lacked)?

Next

Marx uses the Paris Commune of 1871 as a “teachable moment”.  Next: Part 32, The Commune and Communism.

Postmodernism, Part 30: Blood and Iron

What is postmodernism? Is it a problem?  The following continues a series of posts explaining postmodernism.  It is based on the excellent Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault, by Prof. Stephen Hicks.  (Additional support includes 1848: Year of Revolution, by Michael Rapport; The Fall of Paris, by Alistair Horne; A History of Germany, by Bayward Taylor; Bismarck and the German Empire, by Dr. Erick Eyck.)

Erstwhile

Enlightenment and Darkness

Marxist postmodernism seeks to overthrow modernism.  Modernism’s political philosophy proposes reason, individualism, liberal democracy, and free markets.  Postmodernist philosophy is based on the metaphysical nihilism of (Nazi) Martin Heidegger.

Postmodernism’s radical left politics don’t flow naturally from Heidegger’s subjectivist philosophy.  Instead, their politics flow from twentieth century Marxists’ crisis of faith (in the face of undeniable Marxist catastrophe).

Rousseau’s Revolutionary Politics

The postmodernists took refuge in the totalitarian collectivist Rousseau.  Rousseau’s ideas inflamed the French Revolution and Reign of Terror, leading to Napoleon’s beatdown of Germany.

Right Collectivism

Right Collectivism morphed out of the German Counter-Enlightenment (Kant, Herder, Fichte, Hegel), Rousseau, and Napoleonic stress disorder.  The Germans gave Rousseau their own twist: hero worship, state worship, and dialectical history (plus German supremacy).

Left Collectivism

Left Collectivism also came from the German Counter-Enlightenment, plus passion: romanticism and disgust (with industrial working conditions).  Romanticism valued passion, violence, radicalism, and revolution (not morality).  Disgusted, Marx and Engels concocted their Hegelian “scientific socialism” (revealed history and Communist prophecy, cloaked in statistics).  In 1847, the Communist League published their Communist Manifesto.

Revolutionary Disappointment

Marx and friends were bitterly disappointed with the Revolutions of 1848.  In France, the Second Republic’s socialist experiments flopped (triggering leftist uprisings – crushed).  In Germany, Communism and German unity were epic fails.  (Marx exited, stage left.  Bismarck entered, stage right.)  In Italy, Mazzini (“the most dangerous man in Europe”) and Garibaldi failed (again) and returned to exile.

Second Empire

French President Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte had saved the Pope and his Papal States.  He secretly ordered French troops to crush the Roman Republic because the war was illegal (but fought to gain political support among Catholic conservatives).

Louis-Napoleon was in a tough spot.  France had careened from revolution to revolution (1789, 1815, 1830, 1848).  The Second Republic was torn between conservatives and radical left democ-socs (the Mountain).  The democ-socs called for the President’s impeachment, over the war (for using French troops against liberty).

In June 1848, the democ-socs hatched a failed insurrection (following the usual strategy).  The Mountain proclaimed their insurrection, calling on the National Guard for support.  Troops dispersed the mobs and broke up a meeting, where the democ-socs were declaring a provisional government.  Their leaders fled.

The government cracked down on the left, passing repressive legislation.  The leftists went underground.  The 1852 elections were upcoming.  In a choice of evils, conservatives preferred Louis-Napoleon over “the reds”. The problem: Louis-Napoleon was constitutionally term-limited.

louis-napoleonLouis-Napoleon (Napoleon III)

In December 1851, Louis-Napoleon staged a coup.  He had campaigned across France, to garner popular support for his petition to amend the constitution (gathering 1.5 million signatures).  The National Assembly rejected his bill.  So, he staged a coup, arresting opposition leaders, dissolving the Assembly, and calling for a referendum by the people.

Government troops crushed the ensuing uprisings.  In Paris, republican deputies met to organize resistance, and were briefly arrested.  Small Parisian uprisings were put down.  In the provinces, huge uprisings were easily crushed.  The government cracked down, in sweeping repression against the “red threat”.

In December 1851, French voters (pining away for absolutism) overwhelmingly agreed to the coup, and granted authority to draft a new constitution.  In November 1852, French voters (nostalgic for their Napoleonic glory days) overwhelmingly named Louis-Napoleon as Emperor Napoleon III.

However, the French were fickle masters (as usual).

Blood and Iron

Meanwhile, Prussia and Austria competed to answer the German Question: who would lead united Germany?  Prussia proposed a German Confederation (a non-starter).  Austria reconvened the Diet at Frankfurt under Austrian presidency (where Bismarck plagued Austria).  Austria humiliated Prussia (militarily, backed by Russia, in a territorial dispute).  Prussia humiliated Austria (diplomatically, currying favor with Russia by thwarting Austrian efforts to join the Crimean War).

There was a changing of the guard in Europe.  In France, Napoleon III became Emperor (greeted as “brother” by German rulers).  In Russia, Alexander II (a liberal reformer) replaced (despotic) Tsar Nicholas.  Francis Joseph had replaced Austrian Emperor Ferdinand.  In Prussia, William I replaced “Mad” King Frederick William IV.

Bismarck (1863)Bismarck (1863)

In 1862, Bismarck became Prussian Chancellor.  (Nobody else wanted the job.)  William I (a soldier) wanted to reorganize the army.  He found the army lacking, when Prussia mobilized for the Franco-Austrian War (where Prussia left humiliated Austria in a lurch.)  He wanted to strengthen the regular army, by increasing conscription.  His military budget caused a constitutional crisis.  Only Bismarck was willing to defy parliament (ruling without a budget).

In 1866, Germany moved a step closer to unification, with the Prussian defeat of Austria, in the Seven Weeks War.  Austria and Prussia bickered over disputed territory (further antagonized by Bismarck).  Austria called on the German states to side with them against Prussia.  (This sounded like a declaration of war to Prussia.)  Prussia (the underdog in this fight) had better generals, better troops, better guns, and better railways (for more rapid mobilization).  After weeks of bitter and bloody fighting, Prussia prevailed.

As promised, Bismarck had solved the German Question by “blood and iron”.  Prussia formed the North German Confederation, under German leadership.

The French got nervous, and when the French get nervous, things go downhill.

Commentary

The stage is almost set for twentieth century catastrophe.  France is a shaky Empire.  Prussia is one step away from Empire.  Marxism is on the rise.  (That sounds like a lethal combination.)

Next

Communism gets serious.  French Communism gets real serious.  Next: Part 31, Paris Commune.