Paris Commune of 1871 has been to underline the need for a fresh approach to the still unresolved question of whether or not the Commune ought to be regarded as a socialist revolution.1 It is now becoming increasingly clear that much of the past debate over this question was predicated upon an inadequate factual understanding of the complex political groupings from which the Commune arose. In general, the debate over the socialist character of the Commune has turned upon conflicting assessments of the role of the radicals or neo-Jacobins on the one hand as opposed to the International or Blanquists on the other. This is a perfectly legitimate question, so far as it goes, but what it tends to obscure is the fact that most of the militants who actually supported and fought for the Commune were neither members of the International nor Blanquists nor neoJacobins.
The organizations to which such militants did belong, such as the Federation of the National Guard or the innumerable local clubs and committees, cannot be identified with any single political faction or tendency. To be sure, members of the International, Blanquists and neo-Jacobins were active in all of these organizations; but it would be a
mistake to treat the latter as nothing more than extensions of one or another of the major factions. Like the Paris Hcctions of 1793 or the Russian soviets of 1905, the popular organizatinlls of 1870-71 possessed a distinct outlook and structure of their own, a political identity which was a function not only of competing factional influences but also of popular demands and pressures. Werc that identity better understood, the political and social character of the Commune might also prove more readily comprehensible.
One suspects that the past neglect of these organizations by historiansns of the period was due in part to a tendency, understandable in the twentieth century, to equate the Commune with the political parties and personalities which claimed to lead it. At the same time, there can be no denying the inherent difficulty of the subject matter itself. In general, the political impact of the Federation of the National Guard and the popular clubs and committees was much stronger on the local than on the Paris-wide level.