Selon Engels , l’une des plus grandes erreurs de la Commune fut de ne pas prendre le controle de la Banque de France et de négliger l’arme monétaire.
L’influence des proud’honiens et leurs ignorances de la chose économique et monétaire fut la cause de cette erreur.
And Engels in his introduction to the re-edition of The Civil War in France in 1891:
“many things [were] neglected that, according to our conception today, the Commune should have done. The most difficult to grasp is certainly the holy respect with which one stopped in front of the doors of the Banque de France. It was, moreover, a serious political mistake. The Bank in the hands of the Commune was worth more than ten thousand hostages. This meant the entire French bourgeoisie putting pressure on the government of Versailles to make peace with the Commune.”
Banque de France Why didn’t the Commune leaders take the Bank over?
Well, the majority of the Commune delegates were not socialist, but republican democrats. The socialist wing was a minority. And within that socialist minority, the Marxists were an even smaller minority.
Most of the socialists were Proudhonists.
They saw socialism coming from monetary control, namely through the use of credit. The man put in charge of Commune finances, Charles Beslay, a friend of Proudhon, had a blind faith in banking and finance more generally. He had been a member of the First International since 1866 and had a great influence in the Commune. Beslay had a background as a capitalist, as he had been the owner of a workshop employing 200 employees.
Charles BeslayThe Banque’s deputy governor and monarchist.
De Ploeuc commented: “Mr Beslay is one of those men whose imagination is unbalanced and who delights in Utopia; he dreams of reconciling all the antagonisms that are in society, the bosses and the workers, the masters and the servants.”
Beslay confirmed his Proudhonism in action: “A bank must be seen from a double aspect; if it presents itself to us under its material side by its cash and its notes, it is also imposed by a moral side which is confidence. Takeaway the trust, and the banknote is just an assignat.” Beslay attacked the Marxists: “The Commune’s system and mine translate into this sacred word: ‘respect for property, until its transformation’.
Citizen Lissagaray’s system results in this repulsive word: spoliation “.Moreover, financial mechanisms are too complicated to be understood by ordinary citizens, or even by politicians, and should therefore be reserved for specialists or even experts.
The attitude of the main Commune leader Rigault, was that “questions of business, credit, finance, banking […] needed the help of special men, who were only to be found in very small numbers. at the Municipality. […] Moreover, financial matters […] are not […] seen as the essential problems of the moment. In the immediate future, all that matters is that the money comes in.”
Instead of removing the very frightened governor of the Bank, Rouland, and taking over control of the huge funds that the bank held, Beslay allowed Rouland to stay in place and merely asked for sufficient funds to pay the National Guards defending Paris. Rouland kindly allowed Beslay to join the board of the bank as “Commune delegate”, where Beslay acted to ensure its independence from Commune control and demands.Banque de France Governor Rouland
Instead of wanting to take control, Beslay did everything to maintain the integrity of the Banque de France and to guarantee its independence. The result was that during the seventy-two days of its existence, the Commune received just 16.7 million francs for its needs: the 9.4 million assets that the Commune already had on account and 7.3 million loaned by the Bank.
At the same time, the Banque sent the Versailles government 315 million francs from its network of 74 branches!
The money that the Commune did get was generally put to good use.
About 80% went on defence of Paris, but there was also income distributed to the poorest parts of the city.
The Commune introduced a progressive tax system, lowering the city tax for the poorest by 50% and introducing higher business taxes. Landlords were force to repay that the last nine months of rents and rents were suspended.
There was a moratorium on all debts, which could now be repaid over three years without interest.
But the failure to take over the Banque was the Achilles heel of the Commune’s progress. And the Banque board knew it.
They were terrified that there would be an “occupation of the Bank by the Central Committee, which can install a Government of its choice there, have banknotes produced without measure or limit and thus bring about the ruin of the establishment and of the country. ”
And another industrialist board member claimed that “the Council cannot […] expose the Bank to being sacked. The evil would be irremediable and the destruction of the values of the wallet and the greenhouse of the deposits would constitute a terrible calamity, because it is a large part of the public fortune.”
If the Bank had been taken over, Versailles would have been denuded of funds to defeat the Commune as it held a portfolio of extended amounts to 899 million francs, of 120 million francs in securities. deposited as security for advances and 900 million francs in securities on deposit.
Instead Beslay followed the Banque governor’s instructions and allowed the Banque to send money to Versailles while the deputy governor gave the order to lower all the securities into the cellars and then to silt the access staircase.
Two years after the crushing of the Commune, Beslay summed up his action in a letter to the right-wing daily Le Figaro, published on 13 March 1873: « I went to the Bank with the intention of protecting it from any violence of the exaggerated party of the Commune, and I am convinced that I have kept in my country the establishment, which was our last financial resource. »
The Commune was eventually crushed in May 1871 with about 20,000 Communards being killed 38,000 were arrested and more than 7,000 deported.
Beslay was allowed to go free and moved to Switzerland.
Some 45 years later, after another revolution sparked by war and defeat for the ruling class, Lenin recalled this lesson of the defeat of the Paris Commune:
“The banks, as we know, are centres of modern economic life, the principal nerve centres of the whole capitalist economic system. To talk about “regulating economic life” and yet evade the question of the nationalisation of the banks means either betraying the most profound ignorance or deceiving the “common people” by florid words and grandiloquent promises with the deliberate intention of not fulfilling these promises.”