Monthly Archives: April 2016

May Day: Victor Hugo + Louise Michel 4ever

Anyone who has perused this blog should know who Louise Michel is by now. Feminist. Radical. Communard. A genuine egalitarian who believed that all women had a place in the revolution, moving beyond bourgeoisie Republicanism and welcoming the lowest orders of women, who really were the most justifiable recipients of a socialist revolution. Frontline soldier, defending the barricades of the Paris Commune until the last minute, when she was struck unconscious and left for dead.

And then, Victor Hugo. World champion litterateur. Author of the monumental Les Miserables (the original volume, not the musical nor the verdammt American movie). A massive influence on modernist fiction, and considered the mother of all French novelists. And incidentally, a fierce proponent of the Paris Commune, committed socialist, and more or less utterly disdainful of the bourgeoisie that may have bought his books, but hated his sociopolitical stance.

There is something lyrical about French heroines, as they have pushed against injustice and particularly against the casual misogyny of European culture. The women thrash valiantly, tearing apart the reactionary impulse (and the very real, physical defenders of such regressive politics). Women such as Louise Michel leave indelible marks, marks and foundations that cannot be erased by anything including death. Foundations are laid for future generations of fighters, and Michel set the hallmark for revolutionary women apres 1871. Hugo was eventually captured by the reactionaries, and rather than be let off the hook and betray her comrades, Michel actually bragged about a series of fictional offenses during her trial: the latter poem deals with this event.

Hugo produced the following writing in praise of the indomitable Michel and the warriors of the Commune who did so much in such little time. Michel was as indestructible as Hugo describes, and to the best of his efforts Hugo elevates Michel into something that will last forever.

Viro Major

Having seen the vast massacre, the combat

the people on their cross, Paris on its pallet bed:

Tremendous pity was in your words.

You did what the great mad souls do.

And wearying of fighting, dreaming, suffering,

You said “I killed!” because you wanted to die.

 

You lied against yourself, terrible and superhuman.

Judith the sombre Jewess, Aria the Roman

Would have clapped their hands while you spoke.

You said to the lofts, “I burnt the palaces!”

You glorified those who are crushed and downtrodden.

You cried “I killed! Let them kill me!” – And the crowd

Listened to this haughty woman accuse herself.

You seemed to blow a kiss from the sepulchre;

Your steady eyes weighed on the livid judges:

And you dreamed, like the great Euminedes.

 

Pale death stood behind you.

The vast hall was full of terror.

Because the bleeding people detest civil war.

Outside could be heard the sound of the town.

This woman listened to the noisy life

From above, in an austere attitude of refusal.

She did not understand anything other than

A pillory erected for finale:

And finding affront noble and agony beautiful,

Sinister, she hastened her steps toward the tomb.

The judges murmured “Let her die! It is fair

She is vile – at least she is not majestic,”

Said their conscience. And the judges, pensive

Facing yes, facing no, as between two reefs

Hesitated, watching the severe culprit.

 

And those who, like me, know you to be incapable

Of all that is not heroism and virtue,

Who know if they asked you “Where are you from?”

That you would reply “I come from the night where there is

Suffering;

Yes, I come from the duty which you have made an abyss!”

Those who know your mysterious and sweet verses,

Your days, your nights, your cares, your tears given to all.

Your forgetting yourself to aid others

Your words which resemble the flame of the apostles;

Those who know the roof without fire, without air, without

Bread

The bed of webbing with the fir table

Your goodness, your pride as a woman of the people.

The acrid emotion which sleeps beneath your anger.

 

Your long look of hate at all the inhuman people

And the feet of the children warmed by your hands:

Those people, woman, facing your timid majesty

Meditated, and despite the bitter fold of your mouth

Despite the one who cursed you and hounded you

Who hurled at you the undignified cries of the law

Despite your high, fata voice with which you accused yourself

They saw the angel’s splendor beneath the medusa.

 

You were tall, and seemed strange in these debates;

For, puny like those who live down there,

Nothing bothers them more than two conflicting souls,

Than the divine chaos of starry things

Seen at the depths of a great inclement heart,

Than the radiation seen in a blaze.

                                                                              

 

 

 

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Our revenge will be the laughter of our children – May Day 2016

It seems like I resurrect the same dead horse to whip every May, every year. On the other hand, something astonishing happened in Paris in 1871, an eruption that arguably was greater than any other rebellion or revolution to follow. That’s a bold statement, and I make it not to denigrate any of the other revolutionary foundation stones; rather, the Paris Commune produced an incredible experiment in genuinely equitable society, one that was honestly built on equity, camaraderie, and real justice, not the bourgeois deformation of all three.

We should remember the Commune for what it achieved, rather than grousing about its fall or swearing blood grudges against the descendants of the Versailles bourgeoisie. This society was as much about joy as it was equal distribution of food or new parliamentary systems. This is the joy, the sheer happiness of becoming united with each other, with the birth of a new society, overthrowing a useless, tyrannical system. And it has to be remembered as a moment, a singularity in time that exists by itself via a recognition of the circumstances of that moment. It was the Moment of recognition that created the moment of joy. And it did not correspond to any historical norms, therefore making the Moment unpredictable.

It almost goes without saying that this moment was quashed by ruthless, barbaric, right-wing thugs who operated in the open and revealed the true nature of the bourgeoisie – a nature built on greed, spite, and blind hatred of anything that wasn’t/isn’t them. However, certain changes had been installed that were irreversible, changes and demands which would become givens throughout world society and all of the mass movements to come. Revolutions don’t necessarily fail – frequently they create new, greater bedrock for future generations to stand on and demand their freedom. In that sense, May Day should always pay its respects to the sacrifices made in one of the world’s greatest experiments in democracy.

For the next ten days, I will be throwing up as much Commune material that my fingers can produce. Besides commentary, quotes, articles and declarations, there will be reviews of two books and a bonkers play from the typically bonkers Bertolt Brecht. Let’s open the shrine and make it better by contribution; let’s commemorate the fallen and celebrate the victories they achieved and which they still achieve through our own contemporary actions .

Vive la Commune!