Committee of Public Safety (Paris 1871) bad... but Junta (Spain 1936) good?

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ultraviolet's picture
Joined: 14-04-11
Mar 4 2012 01:04
Committee of Public Safety (Paris 1871) bad... but Junta (Spain 1936) good?

For the first time, I am beginning to read a few articles on the Paris Commune (1871). One article on libcom says the following:


The council became increasingly isolated from those who’d elected it. The more isolated it got, the more authoritarian it got. The council set up a “Committee of Public Safety” to “defend [by terror]” the “revolution”. This Committee was opposed by the anarchist minority on the council and was ignored by the people who, unsurprisingly, were more concerned with defending Paris from invasion by the French army.

Two things are confusing here. One: It says "the people" ignored this Committee because they were focused on fighting off the French army, but wouldn't a committee to "defend the revolution" be focused on fighting the French army, too?

Two: A committee to defend the revolution is essentially what was proposed by Friends of Durruti when they said that a junta of elected delegates to coordinate the civil war was needed. Anarchists generally support that so why were they against a similar thing in the Paris Commune?

The article says nothing else about the Committee of Public Safety, and doing a search on libcom and scanning other articles which mention it didn't provide much info, so I don't really know anything about this Committee or its real purpose and what it did. So maybe there were good reasons for being opposed but they aren't apparent.

Anyone know?

Joined: 24-11-11
Mar 4 2012 05:13

Good question. I haven't read up on the Paris Commune lately, but I'll try and give it a shot.

1) No, I don't think most people ignored the Committee because they were fighting off the French army. They ignored because at that time the council of the Commune was just becoming more isolated from them and more irrelevant. It was a committee designed to "defend" the Commune through bourgeois Jacobin means, as it was created by the Jacobin majority of Communards. But what most people wanted was to defend the Commune through their own revolutionary means, and they hoped they would be able stop the constant attack by the French military themselves. Of course, the fact that the council of the Commune kept aspects of representative bourgeois government and did not go far enough in economic transformation partly cost them. Had they been in a position where workplaces were at once completely transformed, they might have had more of a chance in defeating the military. Basically, I think the ended up making the same mistakes as the Spanish Trotskyists and anarchists did in the Civil War: to fight the military first, and then continue with the revolution.

Your second question is pretty much answered in the above.

Birthday Pony's picture
Birthday Pony
Joined: 11-12-11
Mar 4 2012 08:45

Don't know much about the Paris Commune, but my guess would be that the committee set up to "defend" the "revolution" (scare quotes as they put it) is probably different from a junta that defends the revolution.

Reminds me of the safety committee we had in Occupy Detroit, actually. The anarchists were concerned with keeping away cops, but a self-appointed security committee took it upon themselves to harass the homeless that were living in the park beforehand, as well as the anarchists that told them to fuck off.

Jacob Richter
Joined: 13-07-08
Mar 10 2012 18:28

Per my commentary here:

My initial thoughts upon reading this article was that the Commune could have been saved... had the central committee of the National Guard itself become the Committee of Public Safety (read: breakthrough military coup) that the squabblers didn't form until it was too late.


The near-breakthrough National Guard had way more proletarian content (in both rank-and-file and democratized leadership positions) than the squabbling Communal Council.

Un ossu's picture
Un ossu
Joined: 22-09-11
Mar 10 2012 19:47

The reason for which the workers at large and many anarchists distrusted more and more the committee of public safety (1871) has little to do with its more or less undemocratic nature. The said committee as well as the whole communal council (as well as the central committee of the national guard) have throughout the whole period of the commune maintained a clear bourgeois nature by strenuously defending the private property against the demands of more radical sections among the communards. They (the councillors and the committee members) also insisted upon being just a municipal government concerned with the administration of local affairs, refusing thus to completely delegitimise the Versailles goverment, which they fought but halfheartedly and with too much temporisation. Military defence of the commune and transformation of property relations did not exclude each other and could not have done it, but the commune government didn't neither of the two.

ultraviolet's picture
Joined: 14-04-11
Mar 13 2012 04:56

Thanks for the answers everyone. As always, libcom users are a treasure trove of knowledge.

Joined: 17-02-14
Feb 17 2014 18:37

I know this is an old thread, but does anyone have any sources for the stuff above? I'm doing some work on the Commune and this is all really interesting - particularly Un ossu's bit about tension between the Committee of public safety and more radical elements in the Commune. Cheers