Tag Archives: history

Tips for would-be scholars!

I am now reading and researching yet again, as I put together an article on George Orwell‘s encounters with the POUM in Catalonia during the Spanish Civil War; it’s sort of a trial balloon for the thesis that I will be writing for the University of Victoria, in the far, far far future (2018). Even though the program won’t even begin until September of NEXT YEAR, I still need to get everything in order before formal application time – one of those things being a published article.

The thesis will deal with Totalitarianism via the Novel, an examination of fiction that dealt with the political extremities of the interwar years in Europe; specifically, I’ll be looking at that cauldron of ideologies, Spain during the Civil War, which every major player recognized as a linchpin for the decade to follow. Stalinism, anarchism, and fascism were all present, but I’d like to focus on the dissident Trotskyites that were actually indigenous to Spain, the POUM.

Both Hemingway and Orwell had encounters with the group (particularly the latter), but I think it is fascinating how understudied the POUM are, at least outside of deep Spanish academia and the annals of dissident leftists. Orwell and Trotsky himself had mixed feelings about the group, and it should make for interesting reading in unpleasant times, with genuine fascism on the rise and becoming ascendant. Yes, Mr Lewis, it can happen here. Fascism is not some sort of German disease – given the right circumstances, it can pop up anywhere. Including the last “superpower” (BTW, start learning Mandarin).

So here are some trenchant observations that I made whilst studying this bizarre stretch of history:

Fuck the 90s –  Unless you like celebratory right wingers dancing on the “corpse” of communism. As if communism was limited to the Soviet Union only, and was somehow missing in the hearts and minds of millions of people in the so-called Third World. Regardless of that nagging detail, neo-liberals everywhere gave toasts to the “end of history“, and wrote reams of articles and books that reflect that rather hasty, inaccurate appraisal.

Just FYI: Karl Marx routinely tops the list of philosophers that are pulled from polls enacted by the those running dogs in the media. You know who doesn’t make the list, at all? Neo conservatives and Fukyshima. Eric Voeglin, Leo Strauss and hell, even Ayn Rand appear the very bottom, if at all. If nothing else, I don’t see any Third World regimes set up according to Rand’s rules, and George W Bush should give you a solid idea of Neo-conservatism in action. Thatcher tried the ol’ “There is no alternative. I am the state, and none shall stand in my way. Socialism is dead. And those mines have to go, along with the entire social safety net”. Then she was unceremoniously dumped by the rest of her party, who themselves were a little horrified.

Does that sound familiar? Party monster slain by his/her own party, as they themselves would like to win a re-election or two without getting spoiled like meat in the sun?

One other thing about the 90s: Don’t get me started on post-modernism, the question without an answer. That’s what passed for radical intercourse at higher educational levels during the 90s – post-everything, plus maybe some semiotics. Then Bush stole a fucking election and 9/11 happened, reminding us all that there is a real, concrete, dangerous world, and that people like Derrida and Foucault were intellectual frauds. Thankfully people in that real world I just mentioned haven’t paid attention to idiots like that for years, and now they’re laughing stocks even at the academy. It’s too bad we’re still stuck with Zizek – pumping volume after volume of incoherent nothingness for as long as Verso will pay him.

This is a better time to be a leftist academic, although I find it hilarious that every radical book that I read that preaches the greatest extremities, up to and including physical violence, will invariably denounce left-wing academics – even though every one of those writers are academics themselves. This is the reason why I love history and the study of history, as opposed to political “science”. Less pretension, less “predictive” capabilities, greater body of actual knowledge.

I’ll let whomever still follows this blog know when the article is finished and published.

 

 

 

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The INLA, PUP,and Marxism in Northern Ireland – Can Marxism beat Sectarianism? Part 2 – Loyalism, Two Nations, and Breaking the Chains of Atavism

The amount of material on loyalist culture is abysmal. This is not a culture that is especially adored anywhere, with the possible exception of Scotland and Toronto, Canada. There was never a massive diaspora to America, which in turn would have laid the groundwork for an entire culture of expats (complete with music, film, novels, and generations of Americans far removed from Ulster yet still claiming to be Ulster Scot). The Ulster Scots are generally one step removed from hillbillies in the United States, with the the more respectable members of the diaspora largely confined to the UK and Canada. One can still see Canadian flags being tossed about on July 12th Parades in Belfast..

Of course, this is mostly due to the fact that the loyalist has stayed put. They are the working class of Northern Ireland, and as opposed to the forced diaspora of the Famine, the North was sufficiently industrialized to sustain itself and integrate itself with the rest of Europe’s trade (the fact that the North’s loyalty was guaranteed, as opposed to Western Ireland, certainly aided things as well). But most importantly, no one talks of the “overseas Belfast Loyalist community” anymore than they would talk of Lancashire, or Manchester, or Newcastle’s “overseas community”. These were/are local industrial hubs, and at least until the Thatcher years, they were successful.

Belfast also followed industrial-city suit by attracting a large, “red” working force. Unions were the norm here; the shipping yards which formed the backbone of Belfast’s industry, and which employed a vast quantity of loyalist men, were unionized. These were not open unions however; following partition, it became very difficult for a Catholic to find work within union jobs. This did not stop a nascent left-wing from growing however, and a non-sectarian Communist group came into being in Belfast during the 30s. Numbers were limited, although like many Northern British working class cities “Communism” wasn’t equated with devil worship.

The arrival of the civil rights movement changed the attitudes of many loyalists, who felt that their way of life was being threatened by outside aliens like the specters of the “IRA” (who as noted in the previous post had nothing to do with the civil rights group, NICRA). The Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), the amalgam of two pre-Troubles parties, was quickly viewed as just another Irish nationalist group. Many loyalists became bitterly disillusioned, not only by the supposed attacks against their community by the “IRA”, but were beginning to feel sold out by mainstream political parties as well. Ian Paisley’s ultra-right wing Democratic Unionist Party may have had a fundamentalist Protestant at the helm, but at least they were offering a fighting chance against the depredations of both the Irish “terror” and mainstream Unionism.

Socialist/Marxist Loyalism remained alive however, as best exemplified by David Trimble throughout the early 70s. Trimble, a member of the loyalist paramilitary UVF and later founder of the Progressive Unionist Party (PUP), maintained an interesting outlook; as much as the republicans had done with their Marxism (which they took seriously and were certainly not dilettantes), and confined that Marxism within the prism of republicanism, loyalist Marxism could do the same – a Marxism for loyalists, for the working class of Northern Ireland (which of course predated the economic downfall of most of the great industrial hubs of the UK in the 80s to follow, and with which would have a major engagement during the dark days of Thatcherism and the de-industrializing process of the 80s).

Central to the initial concept for loyalist Marxism was the “Two Nations” manifesto, jointly arrived upon by Northern loyalist Marxists and a strange southern entity called the British Irish Communist Organization, another loyalist communist group strangely formed and administered by Irish in the Republic. The general notions were that a) Ulster loyalists constitute their ethnicity, their own “nation” rather than Britons who were just “living across the sea”, and that b) the two nations (Irish and Ulster Loyalist) had a right to coexist without supremacy/hegemony of any kind. What this translated as was an acceptance that both Ulster loyalist Marxism could exist with republican Marxism, WITHOUT THE TWO NECESSARILY DEPENDENT ON ONE ANOTHER OR EVEN IN CONTACT WITH ONE ANOTHER. The transnational aspect of Marxism was gone, although not to the degree of Stalinism wherein “communism in one country” was given precedence over another.

It was a novel idea which was propagated during the 1974 Ulster Shop Steward strike, which brought an end to the very short-lived experiment in power sharing. It was also a bloody period, in which 39 died, mostly during clashes with Ulster paramilitary groups.

Which brings me to the intransigence of paramilitary backed leftist/Marxist groups, as well as Marxism in hardline sectarian communities in general. It is folly to believe that you can have two Marxist groups, of roughly the community (Trotskyite, Leninist, post colonial, etc) operating at the same time, in some kind of vacuum, in which the OTHER group with identical views are also operating at the same time/place but without any kind of communication with the other. I believe that that is the central flaw of the Two Nations concept, as it pertains to the day-to-day functioning of a purportedly universally appealing agenda. It is divisional, and while it addresses the immediate problems of sectarian communities that are forced to live with each other during emergency periods, it is not a long term solution – and the sectarianism of Northern Ireland is long term. “The Troubles”, the most recent spasm of violence that wracked the area for thirty years, is only the latest manifestation of a long gestating problem, and longer term solutions are needed.

Can Marxism rise above sectarianism? Yes, I believe it can – evidence of this exists in abundance with certain anarchist communities in the Middle East, and I have seen how non-state Marxist groups can cooperate with each other in the Middle East, particularly in Lebanon. Although Northern Ireland is falling back in love with sectarianism, although segregation has become embedded in cities such as Belfast (where if you moves into a given neighborhood, it’s like you’ve made a personal, political commitment to whichever sectarian group runs the neighborhood), I have also seen the growing popularity of hard-left groups such as the SWP and People Before Profit – an electoral group which has won seats in Stormont, in both neutral and republican ridings. And I’ve seen an entire, newly-educated group of young people who are both driven to improve their communities as well as reach out to the other. Sectarianism isn’t impossible.

 

 

 

The INLA, PUP,and Marxism in Northern Ireland – Can Marxism beat Sectarianism? Part 1 – The Republican Heritage and a quickie historical tour

Marxism (or more specifically, socialism) has a long storied background in Ireland, a homegrown tradition which has arisen from almost survival-level necessity: in the 1800s, as Ireland was exploited along with every other British colony for raw materials and cheap muscle, people had to band together in order to survive. It was that, or face an ugly little rat race with equally deprived creatures fighting for scraps. This created the first combines, the first worker’s societies, the first unions in the industrialized cities of the North such as Belfast, an economic/industrial powerhouse on the island. It created men like Jim Larkin, James Connolly, and later laid the bedrock for radical organizations such as the SWP and the native Socialist Party in the Republic.

These conditions also created the conditions  for Irish republicanism. The IRA did not begin its existence as a radical socialist organization; it was the birthright of earlier, 19th Century groups that were determined to drive the Brits out by force – they included forebears such as the infamous “Fenians”. Whilst the British Empire was busy butchering its’ young men in WWI, in 1916 the first stones were cast and the irrevocable process of separation began. In the North however, British Loyalists vastly outnumbered their Irish compatriots, and refused to allow Home Rule to become Rome Rule (get it? it’s a really funny anti-Catholic joke that more than anything summed up the mentality of the British loyalists who also happened to be Protestants: the new Irish Republic would be nothing more than a puppet for Rome as far as they were concerned).

The War for Independence ended with a partition of the island, as well as a giant leap backwards for leftism in both Northern Ireland and especially the Republic. The IRA were considered a hangover from the war, and were despised by the new de Valera administration in Dublin. Anti union legislation was established by the former charming gentleman, whose idea of Ireland included maidens dancing in the fields.

In the fifties, an almost satirical, failed attempt to liberate the North took place, entitled (imaginatively) the Border campaign, or Operation Harvest. The IRA were a laughing stock amongst the Irish who were unlucky enough to be born and raised in the apartheid North (IRA stands for I Ran Away was one such wag). But the IRA wasn’t stupid, and it took certain lessons to heart, the most important lesson being Che Guevara’s dictum about guerilla warfare. A fish needs water to breathe, and a guerilla movement needed the hearts and minds of the denizens around them in the community to flourish.

This new IRA took stock and decided that Marxism, especially the orthodox Marxism espoused by Lenin et al, was the clearest way to raise the community’s hopes and hearts. Marxist studies took place, and dissemination of Marxist thought began to circulate in the more urban centers of the North.

Around the time when seemingly the entire world was changing overnight (namely the late sixties), the civil rights campaign for the Irish Minority in the North began in Derry. What was remarkable was that this movement had nothing to do with the IRA (although there are loyalists to this day who still claim that a pacifist civil rights movement was orchestrated by the paramilitary). The civil rights group, perhaps personified by characters such as Eamon McCann and Bernadette Devlin aimed to improve the living conditions of the Irish currently stuck in the North; this was quickly met by almost unprecedented violence. Naturally, the Derry group fully expected push-back – they had modeled their actions on Selma and the American Civil Rights movement – but the violence quickly escalated from attacking marchers to riots in the streets of Belfast and virtually everywhere else in the North, up to and including the wholesale destruction of entire neighborhoods which had sadly lain too close to the opposing sectarian enclave. It didn’t help matters that the Royal Ulster Constabulary (i.e. the police, whose name alone should give one a solid idea of where they stood politically).

The IRA fought back hard, and tried to keep Western Belfast from being wiped off the map. However, the Northern IRA informed their southern counterparts that they were getting slaughtered, and handing out pamphlets om Trotsky and Lenin really wasn’t helping matters. Things came to a head, and an acrimonious split too place between the “Official”IRA splitting from the primarily Northern-based Provisional IRA. The Provisional IRA is the IRA that everyone around the word knows about. The Official IRA/Sinn Fein declared a ceasefire in 1972, stating that the situation was about to devolve into murderous, sectarian anarchy.

This was then followed by yet another split, an even more vicious one that created just as many bodies on the Republican side as it amongst their sectarian foes. In 1974, Seamus Costello, a popular socialist republican politician, felt that even the tiny amount of work perpetrated by the Officials was insufficient, and so he split and formed the Irish National Liberation Army. The INLA was intended to be a genuinely national liberation front, along the lines of the Vietnamese and the Cubans. Within 13 years, Seamus was dead and the organization had devolved into vicious factional in-fighting and out right drug-gang activity. More will be written about the INLA will follow in the next few days.

As for the PIRA, they adopted radicalism as well, although it has been argued that this was not scientific in any sense and was more based on “learning from” (i.e. aping) other national liberation organizations; furthermore, there was a clear delineation between the urban members who leaned towards radicalism, while the rural republicans were more of the classic conservative farmer stereotype who nevertheless despised the English. There is some question, which we’ll get to in part two, as to how genuine those socialist views are, considering the duality of a pan-nationalist Marxism and parochial Irish Republicanism.

The Official IRA “ceased to be” in the seventies, although it is a matter of public record that their masters kept the thugs around in case anyone needed pushing around (or assassinated, in the INLA’s case). Official Sinn Fein became Official Sinn Fein/Workers Party, finally dropping the IRA bit in the 80s. It was one of the stodgier radical organizations, one which ironically drew inspiration and teaching from orthodox British Marxists throughout the 80s. As this was not a particularly popular viewpoint in Thatcher’s Great Britain, many of them traveled to Ireland to begin the revolution there,, only to find the situation wanting as well. The party imploded in the early 90s.

Everything you’ve just read has been framed within the device of republican paramilitary activity. This is not to give the impression that radicalism was hopelessly bound-up with “the boys”; there is a wide spectrum of radical orgs that attempted to varying degrees of success to alter the inexorable flow of violence as well as challenge the hegemony of what amounts to parochial, good ol’ fashioned capitalism.

It has been argued that the former communist apparatchiks of Yugoslavia became “ethnic entrepreneurs” following Tito’s death, and in the cases of some of the leaders of these republican pseudo-socialists, I believe that that moniker applies. Having been unable to offer answers and unwilling to let go of powerful positions, certain personages have utilized a combination of sectarianism and fake Marxism in order to maintain control. The question is to see if true Marxism can exist and rise above the deep-seated sectarianism that is the hall mark of divided, segregated communities. We’ll address this all in Part Two.

 

 

 

 

Communal Luxury/Kristin Ross

Oh, postmodernism. Weren’t you quaint? Remember your heyday back in the nineties, when those rascally communists appeared to be routed, the liberal and neo-liberal crowing about the coming “post-political” era (an idea as laughable as its’ ridiculous moniker)? The world felt safer (for those in the North and Western hemispheres – let’s make believe that the rest of the planet doesn’t exist), and post-modernism offered succor to people who were ill-equipped to deal with actual unpleasant situations that require teamwork and cooperation. Instead, the academics really managed to put their heads deep in the sand, and fell into irrelevance as meaningless terms such as meta, deconstruction, and the end of history” were shouted at an increasingly apathetic world.

Them days have finished of course – every major event that has occurred since George W Bush managed to steal an election in 2000 has buried the idea that there’s no such thing as objectivity as well as the usual po-mo drivel that group movements are foolhardy due to mass activism’s “shaky philosophy”. But that spirit of taking thoughts, ideals, theories and movements and throwing them into some “the personal is the political” stew continues to this day; we call it by generic, off-brand terms such as progressive without really digging all that deeply into what that term means. Thus we have Occupy Wall Street. And thus we have the present volume – Communal Luxury by French Literature academic Kristin Ross.

Communal Luxury deals with the legacy of the Paris Commune, an event that appears to now eclipse the original French Revolution as the launching point for modernity. There is no shortage of material on the Commune, but it is an interesting change of the seasons when a volume claims to deal with the legacy (rather than the history) of the Paris Commune, and particularly what those brief desperate months mean to modern activists. It’s a pity that this volume fails do so.

Kristin Ross specifically draws links between the Commune (and more importantly, the Commune’s ideals) and events like Occupy Wall Street. And for two thirds of the writing, Ross offers cogent analysis on what those ideals actually were/are, although she is not quite as successful when she tries to drive those ideals into contemporary days. However, Ross’ parallels between art (functional or otherwise) and labour is fascinating, and there is an attempt to find consistencies between the shared communalism of Paris with modern concept of the lived, shared space of urbanity, as it is found via urban planning and living.

Communal Luxury argues for an anarchist sense of decentralizing and dismantling everything that is bound to the repressive capitalist state; and yes, there are similarities between academic postmodernism and anarchy in this respect. When Ross begins building arguments for anarchism’s line of thinking, she subsequently veers off the road and into supposition, conjecture and basically faulty reasoning.

Ross suggests that even Marx himself, after witnessing the events of the Commune, began to believe that state machinery should not be used to smash state machinery (and state machinery should be smashed by some “Other” means, which is never explained); furthermore, Ross’ Anarchist Marx apparently felt that the entire concept of historical phases (of which capitalist development is one) is fraudulent. Ross bases all of this on a few unpublished letters that Marx sent to a fellow radical in Russia, near the end of his life.

The fact that Marx was in the middle of writing Das Kapital which drove home the very concept of historical phases, is not taken into account (to say nothing of the fact that minor correspondence that one writes near death’s door doesn’t constitute an official renunciation of one’s previous theories). Ross spends an inordinate amount of pages trying to justify her own conceptualization with dubious “evidence” that Marx was actually a crypto-anarchist.

Ross then proceeds to spend the final third of the book addressing how certain anarchists (especially Kropotkin) massively influenced the Commune, which is certainly true to an extent; however, the sheer amount of time and ink devoted to singular anarchists overshadow how the Commune was influential for the world, anarchist or not – anarchists were and are still a tiny minority, even amongst the left.

There are some moments that deal with the heritage and optimism had a ripple effect on the Communards’ contemporaries, but very little time is spent on how a through-line exists from the Commune to the movements of today, particularly the much ballyhooed but never explicated Occupy Wall Street.

In all honesty, it’s a little baffling as to what Ross was attempting to accomplish with this slim volume. Was this a take on communalism and urban space, and the manner in which those two concepts have changed since the Commune? Is it about anarchism? Is it about Marx totally disavowing the work of his lifetime and embracing the “sudden destruction” anarchist school of thinking? Is it about the conflict between higher and lower forms of art?

All of this revolves around the neo-leftist potpourri methodology mentioned at the top of this article, and the connection between Then and Now (along with ideology, personalities, and the palpable effects felt around the world)  are all stirred in a pot to produce a mishmash whole.

Post-modernism was always a question without an answer, and in that sense it shares a few features with anarchism; however, without any kind of uniting factors, the anarchist/postmodern approach resembles incomprehensible muck. And sadly, that resemblance is shared by Ross.

Althusser/Macciocchi/Letters from the Italian Communist Party

Sometimes you trip over a dusty corner and find gold. Sometimes the best writing, the most insightful, the most beautiful and haunting, are found in forgotten volumes long since out of print. And the truth that is revealed within these hidden texts remains; you do not necessarily need something that was published 12 months ago to find relevant info, sharp theoretics, and a reflection of the long term conditions of humanity. Letters from the Italian Communist Party to Louis Althusser is one such text. From the turbulent late sixties to the turbulent 21st century.

Maria Macciocchi wrote Daily Life in Revolutionary China shortly after writing Letters, and that former book changed my life (for the better) a few years ago. Daily Life blew my mind at the time, during an already turbulent year; Macciocchi thrived during such periods of upheaval, and it was fitting that reading her account of China during the Cultural Revolution would fit neatly at the perfect time in my life.

Macciocchi herself led an unbelievable life that sounds insane on paper. She joined the Italian Resistance to fight against Mussolini in the late thirties, and shortly thereafter joined the Communist Party of Italy (PCI). The PCI was the most progressive and radical of Western Europe’s Communist parties, and the largest, at one point commanding the support of two million members. It was also the leading party in the so-called “Eurocommunism Heresy”, in which many official Communist parties began to distance themselves from the Soviet Union, for obvious reasons.

Louis Althusser was also a member of the Resistance against fascism during WWII, though in his case, France was the battleground and the Communist Party of France (PCF, still existent to this day) was the organization. More importantly, Althusser was the leading theorist of the PCF after the war, and he blasted down fossilized forms of thought and helped create the bedrock, the underlying philosophy of Modern Neo-Marxism. Althusser was another massive influence for me, and more than any other theorist save Badiou and Marx himself, Althusser drew me into Marxism.

In the late 60s, the PCI asked Macciocchi to come on down to southern Italy, to Naples, to run in the national elections which were taking place in the spring. Macciocchi had been living in Paris and writing for the PCI publication, L’Unita, but she jumped at this opportunity. She and Althusser wished to work together in a fashion, with Althusser providing the underlying theory and Macciocchi handling the footwork and agitation. The two agreed to establish correspondence during the election period, and this epistolary narrative makes up the bulk of this volume. The theorist, the militant and the situation; this combination was intended to generate new insight in a general manner as well as concrete observations of one of the poorest regions in Europe.

Althusser unfortunately does not contribute as much content as Macciocchi, but the input that he did produce was profound; they reflected the vantage point of a PCF member, an academic, and a Marxist theorist in the midst of the upheaval in France, May ’68. But more important is the biographical and theoretical writings of Macciocchi, as she devotes herself to aiding and working with the comrades of Naples (some of whom are not especially happy to see her – surprise surprise, all of those bitter people are men).

The “Southern Problem” of Italy had remained as intact as it ever was since Italian unification in the 1800s, and endemic poverty and lethal “living” conditions were still the order of the day. As was the case everywhere else in the south of Italy, chronic unemployment had created a slave labor pool of desperate people who were willing to do and endure anything in order to pay for the basics of survival. And as is the case elsewhere in the world, capitalists neatly pitted possible comrades against each other; the proletariat hated the unemployed, and the unemployed thought that the proles were a bunch of snobs.

Of keen interest to the reader of 2016, this collection falls into the classic category due to the essential truths that ring loud throughout the book. The insights of the theoretical writing, combined with the very real, concrete experiences of Macciocchi who attempted to facilitate dialogue amongst potential Communists, create trenchant, immortal observations. 1968 bears more than a passing resemblance to 2016. Why is that? How is that possible? Because endgame zombie capitalism still dominates us, perhaps even moreso as we get neo-liberalism crammed down our throats. And of course, the State still prioritizes good business over every other human concern.

Macciocchi’s rich storytelling, plainly evident here as it was in Daily Life in Revolutionary Chinacaptures the reader, and her own dry sense of humor sidesteps outright despair when confronted by an ugly situation. Nevertheless, the face of crushing urban poverty is familiar and is terrifying to us – we’re quite familiar with it, and it certainly hasn’t disappeared since Macciocchi’s time. The situation has merely shifted locales, from Southern Italy to the Southern hemisphere.

Really, if you want to see evidence that communists really can be dynamic, flexible, and ready for a range of troubles/situations, give Letters from the Italian Communist Party a chance. I know that principles should come before personalities (do you see what I’m inferring, Bernie Sanders?), and I do sincerely believe that the masses make history, not a handful of godlike MEN, but Althusser and Macciocchi have been incredibly important to me. If you want to see what I mean, pick this up if/when you see it at your local used bookstore or at Amazon.

Just FYI: If you think labor problems have just gone away in Europe, google “France, News, 2016”. It is anarchy in Paris and all of the major cities in France right now, even if the media would rather focus on some goddamn Trump Tweets rather than total chaos on the streets of a major Western country. As the Greek protesters said a few years ago, “We are you in the future”. Start forming groups.

Where lightning strikes

Yes, I am still plowing through the stories of the Paris Commune, about two weeks after everyone has promptly forgotten May Day. Yes, I know this is obsessive. On the other hand, this  is a critical unforgettable moment that is formed by mashing together by context, mass action, and the waves of history

Presently I am studying Civil War in France, written by Karl “Marxism” Marx; I am already THOROUGHLY familiar with the events of the Commune, but that is not the point behind reading canonical texts. The statements made in the canon, the philosophies that lurk behind the ostensible focus of the work, are eternal. The text could deal with a tiny, very specific topic, but you’ll know when a text rises above simplistic categorization and makes statements that are relevant now, relevant in the future, as much as they were relevant in the past.

The enormity of the Commune, the sheer amount of focus that is drawn to this singularity, means that there are LOTS of information, points of view, and lessons to be learned when studying those three months in detail. But the canon is not by any means set in stone. nor are they formed on book lists written by academic super-Marxists. The canon is malleable; it depends wholly upon the worth of the lessons taught in the text, the relevance that the text holds for the reader, and as is what happens to any reader, a compelling mixture of time and place.

Life-changing books are innumerable, and the best break open some kind of code, some set of horizons that were previously unknown to the reader. These are essential texts, and they truly are suspect devices. They are little bombs waiting to be set off. Naturally the combo of real lived-in situations AND the texts that are connected somehow (either via philosophy or context) constitute the best scenario for the canonical.

As much as punk rock saved my life when I was a teenager, there was one specific text that I read later in life, which I felt represented me and produced a philosophy that I felt spoke for and to me. A text that could be contextualized and re-contextualized to fit different scenarios in life: that book was The Fountainhead.

I’M KIDDING. The book that I speak of is Daily Life in Revolutionary China, a text written by an Italian Communist woman named Maria Theresa Macciocci in 1970, one of the quieter moments in the Cultural Revolution. But the canon is virtually indefinite – this will be shaped by the events that we speak of, and if they maintain any kind of viewpoints that address scenarios that routinely get repeated through history. More on that later – I want to address the new Marxist wave which has saved Spain yet again. Some situations are all too familiar for some of us.

Anyway, let the living and breathing canon continue to grow, as the continuum of radicalism shapes the world, as more people find an articulation that they feel sums up not only the topic at hand, but also the bare basics of human life trapped in late period Capitalism.

 

 

 

 

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!