The Commune of Paris is the one event which Socialists throughout the world have agreed with single accord to celebrate. Every 18th of March witnesses thousands of gatherings throughout the civilised world to commemorate the (alas! only temporary) victory of organised Socialist aspiration over the forces of property and privilege in 1871.
The Commune, it is said, did little of a distinctively Socialistic character; it made, many mistakes; it was infatuated with the idea of decentralisation. All this true. What constitutes the importance of the Commune in history is not certainly the measures that it enacted, is not even its admirable conduct of the administration of a great metropolis under circumstances of extreme difficulty; it is the fact that the Commune is a landmark as being the first administration manned by the working classes, having for its more or less conscious aim the reorganisation of Social conditions – the transformation of a Civilised Society into a Socialist Society. It is this question of aim as symbolised by the red flag, which is the central one. For, however nebulous may have been the views of some of those that took part in it, that such was the aim of the movement has been recognised by friends and foes alike.
What meant the blood-frenzy of the Versaillese? What meant the tacit or avowed approval of the capitalistic press throughout the civilised world, at the most hideous carnage known to history, but the desperate rage of threatened class interests? We all recognise that those who died under the Red Flag in 1871 died for Socialism, and a nobler army of martyrs no cause has ever had.
In dedicating this little book to the Social-Democratic Federation, I should say that its initiation is due to my old friend Harry Quelch, now editor of Justice, in the columns of which journal it originally appeared in serial form.