‘Two Letters on the Paris Commune’ (1871) by Karl Marx to Ludwig Kugelmann from The Communist. Vol. 10 No. 4. April, 1931.

Sometimes his b-sides are as good, if not better than the singles. Another brief, finely cut gem from Marx. This time a letter to that cur Kugelmann, soon to be disowned by the Marx circle for his misogyny, and again in only a few paragraphs, written just weeks into the Commune’s existence, Marx succinctly describes its limits, while exuberantly celebrating the Commune’s awe-inspiring heroism, forever setting a new benchmark in the history’s class struggle and a milestone on the journey to our liberation.

‘Two Letters on the Paris Commune’ (1871) by Karl Marx to Ludwig Kugelmann from The Communist. Vol. 10 No. 4. April, 1931.

(Editor’s Note: During the existence of the Paris Commune (March 18—May 28, 1871) Marx wrote to his friend Kugelman two letters which will forever remain literary landmarks in revolutionary theory and practice. In editing a Russian translation of the collection of Marx’s letters to Kugelman, Lenin calls special attention to these letters written during the beginning of that great struggle for power on the part of the Paris workers who were “ready to storm the heavens” (Marx). Lenin refers particularly to the first letter, written only three weeks after the struggle started. “On April 12, 1871, Marx wrote an enthusiastic letter to Kugelman,” writes Lenin, “a letter that we would like to see hanging on the wall in the home of every Russian Social-Democrat, every literate Russian worker.” We reprint these letters on the 60th anniversary of the establishment of the Paris Commune, the first proletarian dictatorship.)

April 12, 1871.

Dear Kugelman:

…If you will turn to the last chapter of the 18th Brumaire you will see that according to my opinion the next revolutionary uprising in France will be an attempt to destroy the bureaucratic military machine instead of handing it over from one group to the other as was done previously. Such indeed is the preliminary condition of every genuinely popular revolution on the continent. This is exactly the attempt of our heroic Paris comrades. What dexterity, what historical initiative, what ability for self-sacrifice these Parisians display. After six months of starvation and destruction caused more by internal treachery than by the foreign enemy, they rise under Prussian bayonets as though there were no war between France and Germany, as though the enemy wasn’t still at the gates of Paris. History records no such example of heroism. If they will be defeated it will be because of their “magnanimity.” They should have immediately marched on Versailles, as soon as Viny and the reactionary portion of the Paris National Guard es- caped from Paris. The opportune moment was missed on account of “conscientiousness.” They did not want to start a civil war, as if the monstrosity Thiers hadn’t already begun it with his attempt to disarm Paris The second mistake: The Central Committee (of the National Guard, Ed.) relinquished its powers too soon to pass them on to the Commune. Again on account of “honesty” carried to suspicion. Be it as it may, this Paris uprising even if it will be suppressed by the wolves, swine, and dirty dogs of the old order, is the most glorious achievement of our party since the June uprising. Compare these Parisians, ready to storm the heavens, with hangers-on of the German-Prussian holy Roman empire with its antediluvian mascarades, reeking with the smell of the barracks, church, junkerdom, and especially philistinism.

Your K. M.

 April 17, 1871.

…I cannot understand how you can compare the petty-bourgeois demonstrations a la June 13, 1849, etc., with the present struggle in Paris.* To create world history would be, of course, easy if the struggle would be waged only under absolutely favorable circumstances. On the other hand; history would be very mystical, if “circumstances” would not play a role in it.


These circumstances enter, of course, as part of the general course of development, balanced by other circumstances. But the acceleration and retardation greatly depend upon these “circumstances,” among which will be found even such a “circumstance” as the character of the people who at the beginning stand at the head of the movement.

The decisive unfavorable circumstances must be sought, not in the general conditions of French society, but in the presence of Prussians at the very gates of Paris. This the bourgeois scoundrels of Versailles knew. That is why they put before the Parisians the alternative: either to accept the provoked struggle or to capitulate without a fight. The demoralization of the working class which would ensue as a result of the second instance would be a greater misfortune than the loss of any number of leaders. The struggle of the working class against the capitalist class and the state representing its interests, has, thanks to the Paris Commune, entered a new phase. However it may end this time, a new landmark of universal historical significance has been achieved just the same. K.M.


* On June 13, 1849 a demonstration took place in Paris called in protest against the overthrow of the Republic of Rome by the French military. The demonstration was easily dispersed and proved the bankruptcy of the petty bourgeois revolutionary democracy in France. Ed.

There are a number of journals with this name in the history of the movement. This Communist was the main theoretical journal of the Communist Party from 1927 until 1944. Its origins lie with the folding of The Liberator, Soviet Russia Pictorial, and Labor Herald together into Workers Monthly as the new unified Communist Party’s official cultural and discussion magazine in November, 1924. Workers Monthly became The Communist in March ,1927 and was also published monthly. The Communist contains the most thorough archive of the Communist Party’s positions and thinking during its run. The New Masses became the main cultural vehicle for the CP and the Communist, though it began with with more vibrancy and discussion, became increasingly an organ of Comintern and CP program. Over its run the tagline went from “A Theoretical Magazine for the Discussion of Revolutionary Problems” to “A Magazine of the Theory and Practice of Marxism-Leninism” to “A Marxist Magazine Devoted to Advancement of Democratic Thought and Action.” The aesthetic of the journal also changed dramatically over its years. Editors included Earl Browder, Alex Bittelman, Max Bedacht, and Bertram D. Wolfe.

PDF of full issue: https://www.marxists.org/history/usa/pubs/communist/v10n04-apr-1931-communist.pdf

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