international responses

-by Emma Henderson

International responses to the Paris Commune show how the Commune was seen by people who were not physically present for the events of 1871.1 In considering international responses to the Commune, the violence from the Commune is indisputable, but the responses to that violence were shaped by various factors, such as people’s political ideologies or impressions from the written accounts of others. There was no consensus response to the Commune. While some international groups saw the Commune as merely an event of unprovoked violence, others celebrated the Commune as a triumph of the rights of French citizens.2

When considering international responses that celebrated the Commune, we can look at the 1888 cartoon Vive La Commune! by Walter Crane, with its positive symbolism of the Commune and depiction of support from British socialists.3 Crane’s cartoon alongside Laura Forster’s article “The Paris Commune in the British Socialist Imagination, 1871–1914,” present the positive response coming from British socialists for years following the Commune. Royden Harrison’s “Marx, Engels, and the British Response to the Commune,” supports Forster’s article, but also examines the wider negative response to the Commune in Britain and takes note of socialism in its entirety through figures such as Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels.4

However, as previously stated, political ideologies did not guarantee a certain response to the Commune. Jay Bergman’s article “The Paris Commune in Bolshevik Mythology,” provides a different interpretation of the Commune, and looks at a different era, whereas Forster’s article ends in 1917. Bergman examines Marx’s initial positive response to the Commune in its early days, his later negative remarks as the Commune continued, as well as Marx’s writing on the Commune years later.5 Bergman argues Marx’s various responses to the Commune influenced the Russian Bolshevik response to the Commune.6

When considering international responses to the Commune, the role and impact of first-hand accounts must be examined as they shared details of the Commune with people far from Paris filtered through the writer’s own views. Alban Bargain-Villéger’s “The Scarecrow on the Other Side of the Pond: The Paris Commune of 1871 in the Canadian Press,” also notes the influence of newspapers in spreading negative views of the Commune in Canada.7 Bargain-Villéger claims that the Canadian press condemned the Paris Commune to suppress Canadian support of the Commune’s politics. Bargain-Villéger’s argument regarding the impact of newspapers on Canadian opinion is further supported in Samuel Bernstein’s article “The Impact of the Paris Commune in the United States,” which examines how the Commune was relayed in American newspapers. Like Bargain-Villéger, Bernstein’s article argues that newspaper coverage of the Commune was largely one-sided.8 This criticism is further is noted in Patrick Jamieson’s “Foreign Criticisms of the 1871 Paris Commune: The Role of British and American Newspapers and Periodicals.”9 Like Bergman’s use of Marx, Jamieson uses Louise Michel’s diaries from the Commune as well as newspapers to argue for the impact written accounts had on international responses to the Commune, especially for individuals who had to rely on the stories and biases of others.

from the archive


Figure 1: Walter Crane, Vive La Commune! (March 1888), Victoria and Albert Museum, London. https://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O708346/vive-la-commune-cartoon-walter-crane/

“Vive La Commune” is a political cartoon created in 1888 by British cartoonist and socialist, Walter Crane. The cartoon is from a series that Crane made concerning the British Socialist and Labour Movement, with several of the cartoons making reference to and depicting the Paris Commune. The cartoon’s caption reads “An English tribute to the French Commune, dedicated to the workers of both countries,” and the drawing includes Marianne, the personification of the French Republic. Alongside Marianne are two workers wearing red Phrygian caps who are cheering “Vive la Commune!” in response to the Paris Commune. The cartoon shows a positive international response to the Commune from British socialists. The cartoon illuminates the Commune’s continued relevance and recognition by highlighting connections between British socialists and the Communards. While some countries and their leaders denounced the Paris Commune as merely a violent insurrection, other political groups regarded the Commune in a more positive manner. Crane’s cartoon showed one response to the question “What was the Paris Commune?” The cartoon was later distributed in London during the 1890 celebration of the Paris Commune.10 This usage of Crane’s cartoon is evidence of the positive international response to the Paris Commune in the years following 1871. The level of support for the Commune depicted in Crane’s cartoon shows one response to the Commune in Britain against the overwhelming negative response expressed in international newspapers, including some non-socialist British newspapers.


  1. International responses to the Paris Commune can mean any response to the Commune created outside of France and the French Empire. International responses do not need to be immediate or official responses made by governments and world leaders, merely responses made after the Paris Commune had occurred that articulate an opinion or reaction to the events that took place.
  2. Samuel Bernstein, “The Impact of the Paris Commune in the United States,” The Massachusetts Review 12, no. 3, (Summer, 1971): 435. https://www.jstor.org/stable/25088137; Walter Crane, Cartoons for the Cause: Designs and Verses for the Socialist and Labour Movement, 1886-96, (London: Journeyman Press, 1976).
  3. Crane, Cartoons for the Cause.
  4. Royden Harrison, “Marx, Engels, and the British Response to the Commune,” The Massachusetts Review 12, no. 3, (Summer 1971): 463. https://www.jstor.org/stable/25088140
  5. Jay Bergman, “The Paris Commune in Bolshevik Mythology,” The English Historical Review 129, no. 541 (December, 2014): 1415. https://www.jstor.org/stable/24474120
  6. Bergman, 1415.
  7. Alban Bargain-Villéger, “The Scarecrow on the Other Side of the Pond: The Paris Commune of 1871 in the Canadian Press,” Labour/Le Travail, vol 74 (Fall 2014 Automne): 184-185. https://www.jstor.org/stable/24244185
  8. Bernstein, 435.
  9. Patrick Jamieson, “Foreign Criticisms of the 1871 Paris Commune: The Role of British and American Newspapers and Periodicals,” intersections 11, no. 1 (2010): 100-115. https://depts.washington.edu/chid/intersections_Summer_2010/Patrick_Jamieson_Foreign_Criticisms_of_the_1871_Paris_Commune.pdf
  10. Laura C. Forster, “The Paris Commune in the British Socialist Imagination,” History of European Ideas 46, 5 (2020): 622. https://doi.org/10.1080/01916599.2020.1746082

3 thoughts on “international responses

  1. Thanks, Emma, for your contribution. It makes me think about the importance of historical memory. Clearly, the Commune did not end in 1871. It lived on as an inspiration for some socialists. I wonder if the Russian Revolution displaced the Commune in historical memory. The Commune must have been a nightmare for conservatives in Canada, the US, and in Europe. Bismarck’s conservative Germany was born in the wake of the Franco-Prussian War. I wonder if Bismarck clamped down on socialism in Germany in part because of fears aroused by the Commune. Your contribution reminds me of a line from William Faulkner that I read this year: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

    Liked by 1 person

  2. It’s inspiring to learn of the international support for the Commune. After reading your entry I had similar thoughts to Hilmar’s about how the Commune both inspired and was perhaps overshadowed by the Russian Revolution. Either way I think the Commune continues to inspire (and receive criticism) beyond the borders of Paris, what a powerful legacy!

    Like

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