The Paris Commune

Marx, Mao, tomorrow

Alain Badiou

In 1871, Karl Marx proposed an account of the Paris Commune that is wholly inscribed in the question of the state. For him, it comprises the first historical case in which the proletariat assumes its transitory function of the direction, or administration, of the entire society. From the Commune’s initiatives and impasses, he is led to the conclusion that the state machine must not be “taken” or “occupied,” but broken.

Let us note in passing that the chief fault of the analysis probably lies in the notion that, between March and May 1871, it was the question of power that was the order of the day. Thus, those tenacious “critiques” that have become commonplace: Whatthe Commune supposedly lacked was decision-making capacity; if it had immediately marched on Versailles; if it had seized the gold of the Bank of France; and so on. To my mind, these ifs lack real content. In truth, the Commune had neither the means to address them properly, nor in all likelihood the means to arrive at them.


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