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The socialist minority and the Paris Commune of 1871 : a unique episode in the history of class struggles Nickel, Peter Lee Thomson

Abstract

The Paris Commune of 1871 lasted only seventy-two days. Yet, hundreds of historians continue to revisit this complex event. The initial association of the 1871 Commune with the first modern socialist government in the world has fuelled enduring ideological debates. However, most historians past and present have fallen into the trap of assessing the Paris Commune by foreign ideological constructs. During the Cold War, leftist and conservative historians alike overlooked important socialist measures discussed and implemented by this firstever predominantly working-class government. Communard initiatives are viewed as having failed to live up to 'proper' definitions of Soviet socialism. In my own thesis, I argue that a specific group within the Commune—the minority—did in fact legislate and discuss many important socialist initiatives in the realm of finances, culture and women's issues. Breaking from earlier elite Utopian forms of nineteenth century French socialism, and building on the anarchist theories of Proudhon, the minorite were able to bridge the gap between labour militancy and political representation. Through the newly created International Working Men's Association, working class Parisians united, promoted and elected twenty-two socialist candidates to the Commune of 1871. This investigation aims to penetrate the socialist vision of this minorite faction within the Commune. The socialism of the minorite must be understood as a direct response to class antagonisms created from economic hardships and municipal disenfranchisement experienced by the Parisian poor under the Second Empire. Many important primary sources including memoirs of key participants, parliamentary records and contemporary journalists' reports were consulted in order to provide a detailed analysis of the unique and culturally distinct socialist programme undertaken by the minorite in 1871.

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