150 years since the Paris Commune, the militants who built the world’s first working-class government are often commemorated as martyrs rather than taken seriously as revolutionaries. Yet in the years after 1871, socialists sought to draw practical lessons from this experience — and build the organizations that could turn the Commune’s promise into lasting social change.
Jean-Numa Ducange is a professor at Université de Rouen, and is the author of Jules Guesde: The Birth of Socialism and Marxism in France (Palgrave, 2020) and Quand la Gauche pensait la Nation: Nationalités et socialismes à la Belle-Époque (Fayard, 2021).
In the years after Karl Marx’s death, Friedrich Engels wrote that a rising socialist movement could now advance by means other than violent insurrection. This didn’t mean an embrace of existing institutions — rather, it meant recovering the mass democracy experimented with during the French Revolution.
On Bastille Day 1889, militants from around the world met in Paris to declare an international union of socialist parties. The Second International promised to spread the spirit of the revolution across borders, only itself to fall victim to nationalist passions.
On why the rise of fundamentalism in Muslim-majority countries owes much to the failings of the secular left.