Civil War in France, The

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Civil War in France, The


a work by K. Marx in which a doctrine of the state and of the dictatorship of the proletariat is developed, based on a profound analysis of the Paris Commune of 1871 and a generalization from its experience. In June 1871 an English edition was published under the title The Civil War in France: Address of the General Council of the International Workingmen’s Association and was signed by the members of the General Council. It was written by Marx under the strong impact of the heroic struggle of the Paris Communards.

The Civil War in France consists of four parts: the first describes the Government of National Defense (Sept. 4, 1870, to May 1871), which changed in the very first days of its existence, to use Marx’ expression, into a government of national betrayal; the second discusses the origin of the Commune and the beginning of the civil war, which was provoked by the “men from Versailles”; the third describes the Commune and the historical significance of its activity; the fourth deals with the history of the heroic downfall of the Commune.

Marx demonstrates that the French bourgeoisie, putting its own selfish class interests above national interests, formed an alliance with its recent enemy, the Prussian government, in order to suppress the uprising of the French proletariat by joint effort. Marx stresses that only the working class showed true patriotism and that its revolutionary government, the Commune, was a genuinely national government and, at the same time, an international one in the full sense of the word.

The Commune brilliantly confirmed Marx’ idea that it was necessary for the proletariat to break up the old bourgeois state machine, an idea that he had set forth as early as 1852 in the Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte. Marx demonstrated that the Commune was the prototype for a new kind of state, the dictatorship of the proletariat; “it was essentially a working class government, the product of the struggle of the producing against the appropriating class, the political form at last discovered under which to work out the economic emancipation of labor” (K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed.. vol. 17, p. 346). The measures taken by the Commune represented the first experiment in creating a new state apparatus on the basis of elected and removable officials who are answerable to the people; it destroyed the bourgeois state’s tools of material power—the police and the army—by replacing them with general armament of the people. The Commune’s socioeconomic measures, as Marx shows, were carried out in the interests of the working class and were designed to undermine the dominant economic position of the bourgeoisie.

Marx also exposed the Commune’s weak aspects and errors, which contributed to its defeat. In his description of the Commune as a new type of state Marx gives a devastating critique of bourgeois parliamentary government. At the same time, however, as V. I. Lenin points out, Marx believed that the proletarian party should make use “even of the ’pigsty’ of bourgeois parliamentarism, especially when the situation was obviously not revolutionary” (Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 33, p. 46).

In the new historical conditions of the age of imperialism, the doctrine of Marx and Engels concerning the state and the dictatorship of the proletariat was enriched and raised to a new and higher level by Lenin. He created a new theory of socialist revolution—the theory of the possibility of the triumph of socialism in a single capitalist country. Lenin discovered that Soviet power was the best historical form of the dictatorship of the proletariat, the embryo of which was the Paris Commune.


Belkin, I. “O rabote K. Marksa Grazhdanskaia voina vo Frantsii.” Istoricheskii zhurnal, 1941, no. 5.
Ivanov, N. N. “V. I. Lenin—redaktor russkogo izdaniia Grazh- danskoi voiny vo Frantsii.” Voprosy istorii KPSS, 1964, no. 6.
Kirillov, A. A. “Rabota K. Marksa Grazhdanskaia voina vo Frantsii.” In Karl Marks i voennaia istoriia. Moscow, 1969.
Riabov, F. G. “Grazhdanskaia voina vo Frantsii (Iz istorii izdaniia i rasprostraneniia raboty K. Marksa).” In Frantsuzskii ezhegodnik 1964. Moscow, 1965.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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