The Misfortune of “Great Memories”

The Misfortune of “Great Memories”

Historical Remarks on the Paris Commune

The misfortune of the French, even of the workers, is that they have great memories. It is necessary that events once and for all put an end to this reactionary cult of the past.

—Marx, to Cesar de Paepe, September 14, 1870

Marx’s bitter comment to de Paepe just before the Paris Commune was typical of his mood in those days. The French section of the International Workingmen’s Association had, in the midst of the war between France and Prussia, turned back to the rhetoric of 1793 and called for a revolutionary war against the invader. In a letter to Marx on September 7, 1870, Engels gave a pithy summary of their common, and outraged, view of the French socialists.

These people [wrote Engels] who tolerated Badinguet [Napoleon III] for 20 years, who only six months ago could not keep him from getting 6 million votes as against a million and a half opposed, or from provoking Germany without reason or warning, these people, now that the German victory has given them a republic—and what a republic!—insist that the Germans must promptly leave the soil of France or els...