The commune is a model of government that is generally advocated by communists, revolutionary socialists, and anarchists. The model is often characterized as being a local and transparent organization composed of delegates bound by mandates. These delegates would be recallable at any time from their positions. Proponents view the right of recall as a particularly important safeguard against corruption and unresponsiveness among the representatives.
Almost universally, socialists, communists, and anarchists have seen the Commune as a model for the liberated society that will come after the masses are liberated from capitalism, a society based on participatory democracy from the grass roots up.
Marx and Engels, Bakunin, and later Lenin and Trotsky gained major theoretical lessons (in particular as regards the "dictatorship of the proletariat" and the "withering away of the state") from the limited experience of the Paris Commune.
Nonetheless, these very advocates provided critiques of the commune. Marx found it aggravating that the Communards pooled all their resources into first organizing democratic elections rather than gathering their forces and attacking Versailles in a timely fashion. Many Marxists, based on their interpretation of the historical evidence and on Marx's writings on the subject, believe that the Communards were too "soft" on the non-proletarian elements in their midst.
But the idea of the commune as a libertarian social organization has persisted within revolutionary theory. Kropotkin criticized modern representative democracy as merely being an instrument for the ruling class, and argued that a new society would have to be organized on entirely different principles which involved every individual more directly. He treats the nation state as a capitalist territorial organization which imposes itself over many communities through the spectacle of participation which elections deceptively provide. Communes on the other hand are expected to endow communities with autonomy from external powers and offer each person within them a part in decision-making processes, through communal assemblies and easily revocable delegates.
Karl Marx, in his pamphlet The Civil War in France (1871), written during the Commune, advocated the Commune's achievements, and described it as the prototype for a revolutionary government of the future, 'the form at last discovered' for the emancipation of the proletariat.
Thus in Marxist theory, the commune is a form of political organization adopted during the first (or lower) phase of communism, socialism. Communes are proposed as the proletarian counterpart to bourgeois political forms such as parliaments. In his pamphlet, Marx explains the purpose and function of the commune during the period that he termed the dictatorship of the proletariat:
The Commune, was to be a working, not a parliamentary, body, executive and legislative at the same time...Instead of deciding once in three or six years which member of the ruling class was to represent and repress the people in parliament, universal suffrage was to serve the people constituted in communes, as individual suffrage serves every other employer in the search for workers, foremen and accountants for his business.
The Commune was formed of the municipal councillors, chosen by universal suffrage in the various wards of the town, responsible and revocable at any time. The majority of its members were naturally working men, or acknowledged representatives of the working class.... The police, which until then had been the instrument of the Government, was at once stripped of its political attributes, and turned into the responsible, and at all times revocable, agent of the Commune. So were the officials of all other branches of the administration. From the members of the Commune downwards, the public service had to be done at workmen's wages. The privileges and the representation allowances of the high dignitaries of state disappeared along with the high dignitaries themselves.... Having once got rid of the standing army and the police, the instruments of physical force of the old government, the Commune proceeded at once to break the instrument of spiritual suppression, the power of the priests.... The judicial functionaries lost that sham independence... they were thenceforward to be elective, responsible, and revocable.
In addition to local governance, the communes were to play a central role in the national government:
In a brief sketch of national organization which the Commune had no time to develop, it states explicitly that the Commune was to be the political form of even the smallest village.... The communes were to elect the "National Delegation" in Paris. The few but important functions which would still remain for a central government were not to be suppressed, as had been deliberately mis-stated, but were to be transferred to communal, i.e., strictly responsible, officials. National unity was not to be broken, but, on the contrary, organized by the communal constitution; it was to become a reality by the destruction of state power which posed as the embodiment of that unity yet wanted to be independent of, and superior to, the nation, on whose body it was but a parasitic excrescence. While the merely repressive organs of the old governmental power were to be amputated, its legitimate functions were to be wrested from an authority claiming the right to stand above society, and restored to the responsible servants of society.
Bakunin eventually diverged sharply both personally and ideologically from Marx and such a divergence is evident in his thought. Bakunin never advocated a dictatorship of the proletariat, but instead a collectivism based on communes and cooperative worker's associations allied together into a decentralized and stateless federation. In his Revolutionary Catechism he laid down the principles on which he believed a free, anarchist society should be founded upon. This included the political organization of society into communes:
K. The basic unit of all political organization in each country must be the completely autonomous commune, constituted by the majority vote of all adults of both sexes. No one shall have either the power or the right to interfere in the internal life of the commune. The commune elects all functionaries, law-makers, and judges. It administers the communal property and finances. Every commune should have the incontestable right to create, without superior sanction, its own constitution and legislation. But in order to join and become an integral part of the provincial federation, the commune must conform its own particular charter to the fundamental principles of the provincial constitution and be accepted by the parliament of the province. The commune must also accept the judgments of the provincial tribunal and any measures ordered by the government of the province. (All measures of the provincial government must be ratified by the provincial parliament.) Communes refusing to accept the provincial laws will not be entitled to its benefits.
The autonomous commune is furthermore based upon the complete liberty of the individual and dedicated to its realization. Bakunin's anarchist commune is not organized into a dictatorship of the proletariat but a loose, yet cohesive federation that attempts to achieve the aims of the actively revolutionary class as a whole.
Jeff Shantz points out in his book Constructive Anarchy: Building Infrastructures of Resistance, in hopes of mass communes one day being a reality, that "Mini-communes and squats exist all over the world, but comprise only a marginal pattern of social organization in relation to society at large. However, many of them provide a self-conscious example of how a socialist society would function, even if only on a microsociological level. As they are, socialist mini-communes are, along with workers' associations, the germs for the development of mass, socially complex communist communes." This hypothetical is an example of what organizations like workers-organizations could lead to if brought to sufficient scale. In the case that this gradual progression is true, it would have implications both on the way that workers-organizations and their like are perceived both by those who hope for mass communes to be a reality and those who do not. For those who support communes, it would motivate them at a policy-level to encourage workers-organizations, for those who oppose communes, it would encourage them to abolish workers-organizations at every opportunity. The idea that workers-organizations gradually progress into communes, thus brings into question whether or not workers-organizations are fundamentally healthy or destructive in their long-term function. It is important to note at this point, that some do believe that workers-organizations are part of an inevitable progress towards mass-communes.