Wednesday, March 18, 2020

*From The Archives Of "Women And Revolution"-Honor The Women Of The Paris Commune

Click on the headline to link to a “Wikipedia” entry for the Paris Commune.

March Is Women’s History Month

Markin comment:

The following is an article from the Spring 1984 issue of "Women and Revolution" that has some historical interest- for old "new leftists", perhaps. I will be posting more such articles from the back issues of "Women and Revolution" during this Women's History Month.


International Women's Day 1984
In Honor of the Women of the Paris Commune

This year on International Women's Day, March 8, we salute the revolutionary women of the 1871 Paris Commune, whose fierce dedication to fighting for the workers' Commune inspired Marx to propose creating women's sections of the First International. At the 19September 1871 session of the First International Conference a motion, made by Marx, was passed stating: "The Conference recommends the formation of female branches among the working class. It is, however, understood that this resolution does not at all interfere with the existence or formation of branches composed of both sexes" (The General Council of the First International 1870-1871, Minutes).

e Paris Commune was the first modern workers revolution in history, because in Paris for the first time in the world the proletariat not only demonstrated its unquenchable determination to "storm the heavens" and wipe out its exploitation, but proved that it was capable of seizing power, creating new organs of power and ruling society in its own interests. Though they were ultimately crushed after holding out heroically for ten weeks against the counterrevolution¬ary forces of all Europe, the Paris Communards have inspired generations of revolutionaries. And it was the proletarian women of Paris who were among the most fiery and determined fighters for the new world they were creating, as the following excerpts from contemporary reports demonstrate (taken from a collection of documents titled The Communards of Paris, 1871, edited by Stewart Edwards):

Meeting of a women's club: About two hundred women and girls were present; most of the latter were smoking cigarettes, and the reader will guess to what social class they belonged. The Chairwoman, whose name we could not find out, was about twenty-five and still quite pretty; she wore a wide red belt to which two pistols were attached. The other women on the committee also sported the inevitable red belt but with only one pistol....

The following point was on the agenda: "How is society to be reformed?"... Next came a mattress-maker of the Rue Saint-Lazare who undertook to demonstrate that God did not exist and that the education of children should be reformed.

"What silly women we are to send our children to catechism classes! Why bother, since religion is a comedy staged by man and God does not exist? If he did he would not let me talk like this. Either that or he's a coward!"...

Her place was taken by a little old woman....

"My dear childre," she said in a wavering voice, "all this is so much hot air. What we need today is action. You have men—well then, make them follow the right track, get them to do their duty. What we must do is put our backs into it. We must strike mercilessly at those who are undermining the Commune. All men must be made to co-operate or be shot. Make a start and you will see!"

—Report of a meeting in the women's club of the Trinite Church, 12 May 1871, abridged.

The Times [of London] describes a [Paris] women's club: We entered the building without knocking, and found ourselves in a filthy room reeking with evil odours and crowded with women and children of every age. Most of them appeared to belong to the lowest order of society, and wore loose untidy jackets, with white frilled caps upon their heads.... None took much notice of us at first, being too much occupied with the oratory of a fine-looking young woman with streaming black hair and flashing eyes, who dilated upon the rights of women amid ejaculations, and shakings of the head, and approving pinches of snuff from the occupants of the benches near us. "Men are laches [cowardly bastards]," she cried; "they call themselves the masters of creation, and are a set of dolts. They complain of being made to fight, and are always grumbling over their woes—let them go and join the craven band at Versailles, and we will defend the city ourselves. We have petroleum, and we have hatchets and strong hearts, and are as capable of bearing fatigue as they. We will man the barricades, and show them that we will be no longer trodden down by them. Such as still wish to fight may do so side by side with us. Women of Paris, to the front!"... The next speaker seemed tolerably respectable, wearing a decent black gown and bonnet, but her discourse was as rambling and inconsistent as that of her predecessor at the tribune. "We are simple women," she began, "but not made of weaker stuff than our grandmothers of '93. Let us not cause their shades to blush for us, but be up and doing, as they would be were they living now. We have duties to perform. If necessary we will fight with the best of them and defend the barricades...." Encouraged by the applause which had followed her thus far, she now degenerated into rant, attacking the priesthood generally and the confessional, mimicking the actions used at mass amid the laughter and bravoes of the throng. One old lady became ecstatic, and continued digging me violently in the back with her elbow..,. "Ah, the priests!" murmured another from under the heavy frills of her cap, a lady of a serious turn of mind.... "Those priests! I have seen them too closely, la canaille [rabble]!"

—Report by the Paris correspondent of The Times of London of a women's meeting: The
Times, 6 May 1871, abridged.


Those sharp jabs in the back that so discomfited the bourgeois gentlemen of The Times were but one small token of the throwing off of centuries of subjugation by the awakened women workers, who knew themselves to be for the first time actually making history. Of all the measures the Commune took in its ten weeks of existence—including getting rid of the hated police and standing army and keeping the citizenry in arms, opening education to all and forcing the State-enriched Church back into a purely private role, establishing that all the members of the Commune government would be paid only workingmen's wage; and be subject to recall at anytime, beginning plans foiworkers' cooperatives to run the factories—its most signal achievement was its own existence, the world's first working-class government; as Marx said, "the political form at last discovered under which to work out the economic emancipation of labour" (The Civil War in France).

In summing up the fundamental lessons of the Paris Commune 20 years later, Frederick Engels emphasized the key question of the state: "From the very outset the Commune was compelled to recognize that the working class, once come to power, could not go on managing with the old state machine—

"The state is nothing but a machine for the oppression of one class by another, and indeed in the democratic republic no less than in the monarchy; and at best an evil inherited by the proletariat after its victorious struggle for class supremacy, whose worst sides the victorious proletariat, just like the Commune, cannot avoid having to lop off at once as much as possible until such time as a generation reared in new, free social conditions is able to throw the entire lumber of the state on the scrap heap.

"Of late, the Social-Democratic philistine has once more been filled with wholesome terror at the words: Dictatorship of the Proletariat. Well and good, gentle¬men, do you want to know what this dictatorship looks like? Look at the Paris Commune. That was the Dictatorship of the Proletariat" (Introduction to The Civil War in France, 1891).

The embattled Parisian workers, men and women alike, threw their whole hearts into the work of creating the new workers' society—many have commented on the exhilarating, almost festive, air the Commune had as it prepared for its battle to the death with reaction. Against the old world at Versailles of "antiquated shams and accumulated lies," was counterposed, as Marx noted, "fighting, working, thinking Paris, electrified by the enthusiasm of historical initiative, full of heroic reality." The Parisian paper Pere Duchene (originally the paper of the left Jacobins), in its slangy fashion
-here are some excerpts caught this indomitable spirit-from Edwards.

Pere Duchene editorial on girls' education dated "20 germinal, an 79" (19 April 1871): Yes, it's a true fact, Pere Duchene has become the father of a daughter and a healthy one at that, who will turn into a right strapping wench with ruddy cheeks and a twinkle in her eye!

He's as proud as a fucking peacock! And as he starts to write his rag today he calls on all good citizens to bring up their children properly, like Pere Duchene's daughter. It's not as if he's gone all toffee-nosed, but Pere Duchene is sure of one thing: the girl is going to get a bloody good education and God knows that's important!

If you only knew, citizens, how much the Revolution depends on women, then you'd really open your eyes to girls' education. And you wouldn't leave them like they've been up to now, in ignorance!

Fuck it! In a good Republic maybe we ought to be even more careful of girls' education than of boys'!...

Christ! The cops of Versailles who are busy bombard¬ing Paris and firing their bloody shells right the way up the Champs-Elysees—they must have had a hell of a bad upbringing! Their mothers can't have been Citizens, that's for sure!

As for Pere Duchene's daughter, she'll see to it her children are better brought up than that; when she's grown up Pere Duchene will have got lots of dough together selling his furnaces so he can let her have a bloody nice dowry and give her away to a good bugger, a worker and a patriot, before the citizens of the Commune!

Long live the Social Revolution!


Yes, long live the Social Revolution! And we, when it comes, intend to be no less worthyof our revolutionary grandmothers and great-grandmothers than were the women of the Paris Commune. •

*Those Who Fought For Our Communist Future Are Kindred Spirits- Honor The Paris Communards!

Click on the title to link to the Karl Marx/Friedrich Engels Internet Archive's copy of Marx's 1871 defense of the Paris Commune, "The Civil War In France".

This is a repost of a January 2009 entry also honoring the Paris Communards.

Every January, as readers of this blog are now, hopefully, familiar with the international communist movement honors the 3 Ls-Lenin, Luxemburg and Leibknecht, fallen leaders of the early 20th century communist movement who died in this month (and whose untimely deaths left a huge, irreplaceable gap in the international leadership of that time). January is thus a time for us to reflect on the roots of our movement and those who brought us along this far. In order to give a fuller measure of honor to our fallen forbears this January, and in future Januarys, this space will honor others who have contributed in some way to the struggle for our communist future. That future classless society, however, will be the true memorial to their sacrifices.


Note on inclusion: As in other series on this site (“Labor’s Untold Story”, “Leaders Of The Bolshevik Revolution”, etc.) this year’s honorees do not exhaust the list of every possible communist worthy of the name. Nor, in fact, is the list limited to Bolshevik-style communists. There will be names included from other traditions (like anarchism, social democracy, the Diggers, Levellers, Jacobins, etc.) whose efforts
contributed to the international struggle. Also, as was true of previous series this year’s efforts are no more than an introduction to these heroes of the class struggle. Future years will see more detailed information on each entry, particularly about many of the lesser known figures. Better yet, the reader can pick up the ball and run with it if he or she has more knowledge about the particular exploits of some communist militant, or to include a missing one.

Markin comment:

As Karl Marx noted in the above linked pamphlet, although premature, perhaps, and although they seemingly made every mistake in the revolutionary catechism the Paris Commune and the Communards that defended it represented that first necessary manifestation of the dictatorship of the proletariat, a state needed on that road to our goal – the future communist, classless society. All Honor To The Memory Of The Communards!

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Slavery and American Capitalism (Quote of the Week) Four hundred years ago, the first black African slaves were brought in chains to Virginia. In a 1953 speech excerpted below, veteran Trotskyist Richard S. Fraser explained the central role played by slavery and its legacy in the development and maintenance of American capitalism.

[American Left History publishes or re-publishes articles and notices of events that might be of interest to the liberal, left-liberal and radical public. That has been the policy generally since the publication due to financial constraints went solely on-line in the early 2000s as the Internet has allowed new and simply outlets for all kinds of material that were almost impossible to publish when it was solely hard copy going back to the early 1970s.

Over the past couple of months American Left History has received many comments about our policy of publishing materials and notices of events without comment. More than a few comments wondered aloud whether the publication agreed with all, or most of what has been published. Obviously given that we will republish material from sources like the ACLU, the movement for nuclear disarmament and established if small left-wing organizations formally outside the main party system in America unless we were mere by-standers to the political movements many of the positions are too contrary to agree with all of them.   

Policy: unless there is a signed statement of agreement by one of our writers, me or the Editorial Board assume that the article or notice is what we think might be of interest of the Left-wing public and does not constitute and endorsement. Greg Green, site manager]    


Workers Vanguard No. 1149
22 February 2019


Slavery and American Capitalism
(Quote of the Week)
Four hundred years ago, the first black African slaves were brought in chains to Virginia. In a 1953 speech excerpted below, veteran Trotskyist Richard S. Fraser explained the central role played by slavery and its legacy in the development and maintenance of American capitalism. As fighters for black liberation through socialist revolution, we stand on Fraser’s pioneering work on the material roots of black oppression in the U.S.
The racial division of society was born with capitalism and will die only with the death of this last system of exploitation. Before capitalism there was no race concept. There was no skin color exploitation, there was no race prejudice, there was no idea of superiority and inferiority based upon physical characteristics.
It was the advent of Negro chattel slavery in the western hemisphere which first divided society into races. In a measure the whole supremacy of western capitalism is founded upon this modern chattel slavery. The primary accumulation of capital which was the foundation of the industrial revolution was accrued largely from the slave trade.
The products of the slave system in the early colonies formed the backbone of European mercantilism and the raw materials for industrial capitalism. The three-cornered trade by pious New England merchants, consisting of rum, slaves and sugar cane, was the foundation of American commerce. Thus Negro slavery was the pivotal point upon which the foundations of the U.S. national economy were hinged.
—Richard S. Fraser, “The Negro Struggle and the Proletarian Revolution” (November 1953), printed in “In Memoriam—Richard S. Fraser,” Prometheus Research Series No. 3 (1990)