Geoffrey E. Fox's Blog

July 15, 2014

[image error]Now that I have "re-activated" my long-languishing store of Russian, I got to wondering
How Many Languages Is It Possible to Learn? And this is one of many similar responses I got from Google, this one from The Linguist Blogger.

It appears that the only limit is the time it takes to learn each one. There's no limit to the number we can attain, and there are people who can speak 200 or more — the problem will be to retain them. The human brain has far greater capacity than any of us can ever exploit; it simply forms new neural pathways for every new routine we learn, whether a piece of music, computer code, dozens of PINs, or city map. Or a language. Wow. I'm impressed by my own brain (and by yours, too, and every human's). The amount of lore that a London taxi driver or a Mumbai dabbawalla can keep track of seems astounding — but they are just ordinary people like us, and if we went about it the way they do, we could learn all that too.

But how many languages can one usefully learn? If comparative linguistics is your thing, then maybe learning 200 will be important. For most of us, the answer is only as many as we need, and only as much as we need for our uses— whether as souvenir hawkers in a tourist center, nomads, foreign correspondents, diplomats, international bankers, or casual travelers, et alii. And, use it or lose it; if we cease using a language, we cease reinforcing or creating new neural pathways that let us find the word or phrase we need when we need it. But my experience confirms something in that blog post cited above: once learned, a disused language may not be totally lost.

For now, I'm hoping to be able to ask and understand directions, order food, etc., in Moscow and St. Petersburgh. And maybe even to have a conversation. Learning anything new is a thrill, and languages come more easily to me than, say, computer code or streetmaps or almost anything else. Language is a way into another person's way of thinking, and that's something we all need.
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Published on July 15, 2014 09:57

July 14, 2014

Banner of Spain adopted in 1981You may have been expecting me to say something more about the political changes in Spain, which are moving rapidly through many currents, a confusing turbulence likely to bust this rigid, timid, antiquated and authoritarian system wide open. And that will no doubt have major repercussions throught the European Union. You surely know about Catalan nationalism, threatening to take Spain's richest region out of the country, but that is only a peripheral symptom of some much bigger shifts, most having to do with the issues I talked about in a previous post about "populism", the mass mobilizations that began in 2011, and "Podemos" and its ripples throughout the system. All this really requires cool-headed analysis, with lots of filling in for readers who have not been following.
Banner of the II Republic, 1931-39
BUT that will be a bigger job than I can take on right now. I've been trying to do too many things at once: write a novel about the Paris Commune, participate (even if marginally) in political movements in Spain, comprehend 21st century capitalism (Piketty), and now a trip to Russia. All I can say is, keep an eye on events here, and I'll try to give you a coherent account when I get back.

Right now I'm working as fast as I can to learn Russian well enough to get around in Moscow and St. Petersburgh. This is a new task I've assigned myself, but it's something I've wanted to do for many years, since I first took a Russian language course in college but was too undisciplined (it was my freshman year) to really learn it.

It may not look like it, but (for me) all these projects are parts of one bigger one: understanding the past attempts to change the world (Hobsbawm) in order to guide us to do it better.

That's why I am researching the Commune, to be able to tell part of its story in a novel, as it might have been experienced by a young revolutionary worker.

Flag of the Soviet Union, 1923-1991And of course why I have long wanted to know more about Russia. Its 20th century past,




Russian Federation, since 1993 (white band on top)
 and its 21st century present.

(By the way, if you too are trying to learn Russian, I've had good experience with this on-line course: Russian Accelerator.)
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Published on July 14, 2014 11:34

July 10, 2014

Left In Europe (World University Library)Left In Europe by David Caute
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Reflecting on the confusion of aims and strategies of all the parties and movements calling themselves "Left" in Europe today, I turned again to this little book with its capsule histories and profuse illustrations (engravings, photos, posters) of revolutionary movements from the French Revolution of 1789 to the mid-1960s. Caute's intention was evidently to rescue the notion of the Left from many misunderstanding and confusions, but he does not manage to come up with a concise, convincing definition of his own. He critiques descriptions such as anti-racism, anti-clericalism, pacifism, and social reformism because conservatives and even reactionaries may adopt similar positions (Bismarck and Napoleon III were reformists, etc.). Nor are the movements he considers Left always anti-authoritarian (remember Lenin's vanguard party) or democratic, in the sense of always accepting what the greater number of voices demand; he suggests that "'popular sovereignty' is preferable to 'democracy' as a term descriptive of the central creed of the Left" [p. 32], but that hardly solves the problem.
I don't think there's any point in trying to define the Left, with clear delineations of what it includes or excludes; no definition — whether by Lenin, or Caute, or Hugo Chávez or anybody — will be accepted by everybody. The term originated from a vote in the assemblée nationale in Paris on September 11, 1789, where those opposed to a monarchical veto took seats to the left of the chairman; but those députés did not necessarily agree on anything else. Protest movements, then and now, are volatile and contradictory. What we can do, and what Caute's little book does in part, is describe some of them to find common characteristics and aspirations.
Over 50 years ago I was part of an informal seminar with the very young David Caute (I was 5 years younger), discussing some of these same ideas. The controversies live on.

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Published on July 10, 2014 13:51

June 18, 2014


"Populism" has become the big scare word in  political invective of Spain, especially since the débâcle of the big established parties in the European Parliament elections. What politicians and supporters of those parties mean is any new movement that gathers the votes they think should have gone to them, whether far Right like Marine Le Pen's Front national or socialist like Podemos. What they are implying is something like the movement of the guy grinning in the photo. He called his movement " Fascismo ".

Let's not let them confuse us. A xenophobic, chauvinist and national protectionist movement like Marine Le Pen's and an open, egalitarian and internationalist assembly like Podemos are aiming at very different kinds of political changes. Front national was founded by a neofascist pied noir, Le Pen père, in 1972 and has a long racist history that it has tried to prettify but has never apologized for; Podemos came into existence just last January, through a radically democratic assembly process and a selection of candidates through open primaries, with a ten-point program of reforms for economic guarantees, protection of social services (public health, education, and scientific investigation), all pointing to the left of the policies of the Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE). What they have in common is that they challenge  politics-as-usual and the subservience of their respective national governments to big banking interests, and that they been able to attract large numbers of voters.
"Populism" didn't used to be a bad word. In fact, it's pretty close to what Spain's right-wing party uses to describe itself, the "Partido Popular" — literally, "people's party". To that earlier People's Party in the U.S., "populism" meant responding to the real needs of the people. But in current usage in Europe, it means demagogue, implying blatant use of attractive symbols to gull the ignorant masses into supporting leaders who may take them anywhere — even into war or bankruptcy. 
Demagoguery works when the people are easily gulled. Podemos (so far, at least) is dedicated to educating people so that they won't be gulled. And it also has built-in guarantees against creating a closed, self-referential leadership capable of leading docile masses to extreme actions. I've been participating in our local, Carboneras Podemos "circle", a group of about 15 men and women of varied opinions and backgrounds, where we are focusing on local issues in an atmosphere of complete free discussion. It feels a lot like the old SDS (Students for a Democratic Society) gatherings I was involved in the the U.S. in the '60s, when the practice was "participative democracy".  SDS, as you may remember, was eventually taken over by a radical Maoist organization, taking advantage of the very open leadership structure to get their own activists elected and to change the rules. The same could happen to Podemos, if we're not careful. But so far, the possibility looks remote. And if it does happen, why, then we real democrats will move on to something else.
Meanwhile, there are worse things than being called, or even than being, a "populist". 
Cartoon borrowed from Hightower Lowdown

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Published on June 18, 2014 04:17

June 13, 2014

The Future of an Illusion The Future of an Illusion by Sigmund Freud

(This review was originally posted 2012/07/14, but posting got contaminated by distracting ads, requiring me to trash that version and re-post the original.)

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Where does the belief in a god come from? And why does it persist even among educated adults, who have available to them much more convincing explanations of all that God is supposed to represent? And finally, will it ever be possible for a society to disabuse itself of this notion, and what would be the costs (psychological and social) and benefits? These are Freud's central questions in this 1927 essay, and they are just as urgent today, when even the Higgs boson can't shake the faith of true believers.

"An illusion is not the same as an error, nor is it necessarily an error. … For example, a middle-class girl may entertain the illusion that a prince will come to carry her off to his home. It is possible, cases of the sort have occurred. That the Messiah will come and establish a new golden age is far less likely; depending on the personal stance of the person assessing it, he will classify this belief as an illusion or as analogous to a delusion. … we refer to a belief as an illusion when wesh-fulfilminet plays a prominent part in its motivation, and in the process we disregard its relationship to reality, just as the illusion itself dispenses with accreditations."

The question then is why do humans so wish for God or gods to exist?

Freud has a pretty convincing hypothesis. "As for humanity as a whole, so too for the invividual human, life is hard to bear." In the face of events he can't control and often can't understand, "man's badly threatened self-esteem craves consolation, the world and life need to lose their terror, and at the same time humanity's thirst for knowledge, which is of course driven by the strongest practical interest, craves an answer." The invention of gods, attributing human personalities to the unseen and threatening forces, gives great relief; "a person may still be defenceless but he is not helpless any longer, he can at least react. In fact, he may not even be defenceless: he can deploy against those violent supermen out there the same resources as he uses in his society. He can try beseeching them, appeasing them, bribing them…"

At a later stage, many peoples compress all their gods into one, thus exposing "the paternal core that had always lain hidden behind every god figure… With God now a single being, relations towards him could recover the intimacy and intensity of the child's relationship with its father." It is this relationship with "God the Father" that people find so hard to give up, regardless of all the evident contradictions of the notion. We could, and a minority of us do, accept that we are small and impotent "in the face of the totality of the world" without taking that next step, imagining a protective God-Parent. That is, we accept responsibility for our own actions, confront setbacks as well as we can with our own resources and seek explanations of mysterious phenomena — the creation of the universe, for example — without recourse to magic.

The alternative is to remain in a child-like state, expecting Daddy to take care of us. And since Daddy knows all, we should stop asking embarrassing questions. "Think of the distressing contrast between the radiant intelligence of a healthy child and the intellectul feeblenes of the average adult. Is it not at least possible that in fact religious education is largely to blame for this relative atrophy?"

The worst part is that we (well, many people) think he is the Daddy of us all, and will punish us if we do not punish others who disobey him. He is also hypersensitive, despite being all powerful, and wants anybody who dares insult him to be burned at the stake, or stoned to death in the public square, or bombed to Hell. That makes life difficult in multicultural contacts, where people are listening to different Daddies with different rules, and some have left behind Daddy along with the Tooth Fairy, Santa Claus, and "the Invisible Hand".

Can any large number of humans free themselves from the illusion? Not by decree. "It is certainly a nonsensical plan to seek to abolish religion by force and at a stroke. Principally because there is no chance of its succeeding." Substituting some other "doctrinal system" (such as the CPSU's "dialectical materialism") "would assume, in its own defence, all the psychological characteristics of religion, the same sanctity, rigidity, intolerance, the same ban on thought."

But it is possible to win such freedom from the imaginary bully-cum-protector, at least for some people who are willing to heed their own doubts about the established religions. "[T]he voice of the intellect is a low one, yet it does not cease until it has gained a hearing. In the end, after countles rejections, it does so. This one of the few respects in which one may be optimistic for the future of the human race…" And, Freud writes later on in his argument, "ultimately, nothing withstand reason and experience, and the fact that religion contradicts both is all too tangible."

In Egypt, the masses have just elected as president an engineer educated at Cairo University and the University of Southern California, who is also a self-proclaimed Islamist and former head of the Muslim Brotherhood. In Spain, even socialist party activists participate in religious processions. And in the U.S., almost no politician, regardless of party or education, dares say he or she is an atheist. But the low voice of the intellect persists, though perhaps it needs more amplification.

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Published on June 13, 2014 00:07

June 11, 2014

For a time, I was writing about political and social developments in Spain almost weekly, as my way of getting to know this country better. But then, the collapse of coherence in the Socialist Party (PSOE, Partido Socialista Obrero Español) in the months leading to the 2011 elections, permitting the easy victory of Party of Privilege (PP) and the disastrous policies that followed so discouraged me that I preferred to write about almost anything else. But things are moving again here, political currents that are at least rocking the boat and may even manage to force a change of course.

Actually, the PP refers to itself as the "Popular Party," implying both that it is well liked (it isn't) and that it represents the common people (it doesn't). It was elected on promises of bringing up employment, protecting benefits in health and education and generally preserving the welfare state much better than the PSOE. What it did was slash employment (with "reforms" making it easier and cheaper to fire workers), cut funding for hospitals and schools (and trying to privatize both, by selling them to their associates to turn them into for-profit corporations), cut budgets of regional and local governments, and do everything it could to bring down already low wages. And try to set back abortion law to the restrictive policies of the Franco era. The only people it has been helping have been the bankers (huge bailouts), corporations, and their own party officials, by doing everything possible to prevent judges from bringing them to justice for the huge corruption scandals. The latest has caused practically the entire PP government of Santiago de Compostela to resign — sometimes the scandals are just too blatant to hide.

What to do? As Lenin asked in 1902 (What is to be done?) Same question, but too late to give the same answer. Times have changed, the suffering masses now have Internet or at least What'sApp, and nobody is going to tolerate a vanguard party dedicated to enlightening the rest of us without a lot of debate.  Which doesn't mean that nobody will try — veteran leftists find it hard to break old habits — only that it's not going to work. And more and more of those veteran leftists, and newcomers to politics mobilized sometimes by personal crises, know that we have to try other ways.

The Right, with its absolute majority of the Party of Privilege now in power, has proven itself to be an absolute disaster, incapable of fulfilling even its own aims of guaranteed enrichment of the upper classes, strengthening the repressive authority it hopes to share with the Catholic Church, or winning elections. In fact, both major parties — PP and PSOE — saw their votes plummet in the May 25 European elections. So more and more people are ready to turn left.

But which way is that?
The big, unexpected success of Podemos in the May 25 elections — a brand new party with almost no funding that elected its whole slate of 5 to the European parliament (see last week's note here) is a big hint that openness to the voices and candidacies of all supporters, and a radically democratic process for arriving at political decisions and choosing candidates, are strategies that have enormous appeal. Will Podemos succeed in turning itself into a stable, organized party? And if it does, will it lose that old spontaneity and mass appeal by institutionalizing itself? Now that they've had such electoral success, so many people with different agendas are flocking to join and creating such internal tumult — just like every other new, radical group in history, since the Jacobins and on through the Mensheviks-vs.-Bolsheviks before 1917, or Occupy Wall Street more recently — that we can't say what will happen. 

But they've jolted the whole, broad family of the Left in Spain. Even the Socialist Party is now trying to shake itself free of old bureaucratic habits and promises to hold primaries. The principle enemy of the Left in Spain, as in Italy and many other countries, has always been the Left. In Spain, the party calling itself (optimistically) Izquierda Unida, a coalition run mainly by the small Communist Party, against the Socialist Party, regional left parties like Catalonia's ERC against both, and a multiplicity of smaller outfits — Izquierda Abierta, a breakoff from the Communists, and more narrowly focused groups like the anti-eviction PAH — all bickering, all rivals.

But that is changing. Amazingly, after years of bitter antagonism, PSOE and Izquierda Unida have even joined to form a regional government in Spain's biggest region, Andalusia. And all of them are learning from experiences such as the mass mobilizations of 15M (May 15, 2011) and from those of one of 15M's offspring, Podemos. We may not know for sure which way is Left — where to look for the solutions to our multiple economic crises and social inequality — but we know that we're going to have to find the direction together, without all-knowing vanguards, but lots of tumultuous democracy.

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Published on June 11, 2014 12:04

June 2, 2014

What a week this has been in Europe! And particularly here in Spain. The elections to the European Parliament have sent shock waves throughout the EU, the most surprising results in Spain. A protest party calling itself Podemos ("We Can"), only four months old, with almost no funds, no staff, no office space, won over 1.2 million votes and got its slate of five neophytes elected and looks like a major contender in the coming national elections. And just this morning, King Juan Carlos startled us by announcing his abdication — maybe long overdue, but unexpected just as the major parties are trying to hide from their spectacular plunge of votes last Sunday. This could be the perfect opportunity to do away with our outdated and silly monarchy, but it will almost certainly be an opportunity wasted.

But before commenting on this Bourbon comic opera, let's look at those European Parliament elections and especially Spain's Podemos. Because in countries as different from one another as the UK, France, Greece, and even (though this may not be as apparent) Italy, voters have massively turned away from the traditional, established political patterns — but the turns have gone in different directions. In France and the UK, the greatest numbers of votes went to far right, anti-immigrant and anti-European Union parties; in Greece, to the new left-wing Syriza. In Italy, the big triumph went to the established center-left party of prime minister Renzi — was this by borrowing tactics and strategy of Beppe Grillo's anti-establishment party?

Except for Italy, all these newly powerful political movements have been labeled "populist" or "anti-system", which in newspaper usage mean demagogic and dangerous. The voters for Podemos have even been called "frikis", and I suppose something similar is said about the Greek Syriza voters. But, no, they are in their majority responsible, working people, mostly over 35 but also include many students and other younger voters. The rise of something like Podemos, so suddenly and with no big financial backers, is frightening because it tells the old, established, stodgy parties that, like their name says, the can challnge the establishment.

Spain has nothing like the xenophobic parties of France, Holland, or the UK, because the nominally democratic Popular Party absorbs the whole range of right-wing votes. The PP is not officially xenophobic nor anti-democratic in its discourse, only in its practice (razor-wire immigration controls, administrative laws against protests, and its proposed anti-abortion law, for example), and all this plus its close ties to the Catholic Church make attractive to a wide range of conservatives, from fascists to oligarchs to business interests.

The Popular Party has grown of Franco fascism. The Spanish Socialist Party, from trade unionism, its experience in governing the Second Republic (1934-1939),  and from a tradition of resistance to fascism.

But Podemos has emerged from something much newer, mainly from the "15-M", the great mobilization of radicals and moderate democrats that began on the 15th of May 2011 and took over the central plazas of cities across Spain, to protest against the dismantling of the welfare state (cuts in education, health care, other social services), the evictions, and pensions freezes dictated by Brussels and Berlin and implemented by the Socialist government then in office. After that summer of protest and political education, the newly energized citizens went back to their neighborhoods and formed hundreds, thousands of radically democratic movements to confront local problems. It has taken only three years for all that energy to be channeled by a party which is really no more than an open association of like-minded people, joined by Facebook and e-mail and YouTube videos.

Italy and Greece, along with Spain, suggest that, yes, "We can" — Podemos — mobilize the millions of discontented Europeans not to destroy the European Union, but to make it work. To counter the politics of austerity with one of economic growth, to use European funds to save those who need help to survive instead of only the bankers, to enlarge opportunities instead of restricting them by tight regulation from Brussels and without any democratic representation to control the people making the rules.

Those are, I'm pretty sure, the same things that most of the Front National (France) and UKIP (UK) voters want. But in those countries, the xenophobic parties have been the only ones aggressively pushing those issues. Podemos (Spain) and Syriza (Greece), and Renzi's redirection of the PD (Italy), show that it doesn't have to be that way. These movements are the answer to the European Commission's repeated insistence, "No you can't!" Can't increase the deficit, can't spend to increase employment, can't force bankers to lend, etc., etc. And repeated obediently by Spain's Popular Party government: we'd like to do more for our people (they say), we'd like to honor our campaign pledges, but "we can't" — the deficit, the Troika, the markets won't let us.

And Juan Carlos' abdication? The big established parties, the PP and the Socialists, are falling all over themselves to praise his 39-year reign and proclaim their loyalty to the Crown Prince. As though the monarchy were the only thing holding our democratic system together. Well, maybe they have a point; they certainly aren't capable of doing it.

(For some background on the 15M (the big mobilization of 2011), see my article Civil protest in Spain, and another on the anti-eviction movement, Spain's many currents of protest. To see all my past articles on Spain, click on "Spain" keyword below.)
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Published on June 02, 2014 12:00

May 3, 2014

La grève des ovalistes. Lyon, juin-juillet 1869La grève des ovalistes. Lyon, juin-juillet 1869 by Claire Auzias
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The strike involving at 2,000 and possibly 8,000 women silk workers in Lyon in 1869 has achieved mythical status in radical labor history for two reasons: it was the first sustained, large-scale and (partially) successful women's labor protest in France, and it resulted in formation of the first women's section of the International Workingmen's Association, the "First International". But who were those women, and how did they manage such an effort? This book attempts to discover that mostly hidden history.

The ovalistes worked six days a week from 5 a.m. to 7 p.m., for 1 franc 40 centimes a day, standing (sitting was forbidden) inside the oval base of a steam-driven mill that wound filaments of raw silk into a thread sturdy enough for weaving and dyeing. The few men employed at this job earned twice as much — which of course is why the employers preferred to hire young women. Most were very young (median age 27, some only 15 or 16), illiterate or barely literate, and had been recruited from rural villages of the Rhône valley or northern Italy, and thus presumably brought up to be docile and obedient. Being far from home, and earning too little for an independent life, almost all of them slept and cooked their meals in the workshops where they were under the watchful eye of the employer, who provided bed and cooking fuel while he protected (by his lights) their morality.

In early June a group of ovalistes in one of the larger shops sent first one letter, then another, with politely phrased but insistent demands for more money and shorter hours, warning that if there was no improvement they would have to strike on June 25; they also addressed letters explaining their grievances to a senator and prefect. All were drafted by a man they knew as a professional letter writer, since few of the workers could even sign their names. Their president, sometimes called Rosalie and sometimes Philomène Rozan, signed with an X.

The newspapers found such girlish protest amusing, and the mill owners did not even bother to respond. Stonewalling turned out to be a misguided strategy, however: that first group rushed to other mills to get their support, and soon whole groups — "bands" or raucous harridans, according to the scandalized press — used their free Sundays to get acquainted and argue strategy, with the support of a male café owner who provided meeting space and the encouragement of other male neighbors; Republican (i.e., ant-imperial) sentiment was already strong in working-class Lyon. And on the 25th, as announced, some 2,000 ovalistes and their supporters gathered at the Rotonde, and determined to walk out of their jobs.

How did they survive for over a month with no pay, forced to abandon their beds in the workshops, subjected to arrest for "interfering with the right to work" (by demanding that other ovalistes join them)? Some of them didn't — some kept working or went back to work under the old conditions, some went home to their villages — but enough of them kept up the struggle long enough to make a serious impact on Lyon's main industry. Without milling of the thread, there could be no weaving and no marketing of silk.

The strikers were aided by mostly male sympathizers in Lyon, and then came an offer of strike support of 1 franc per day from the International — on condition that they join. The strikers don't seem to have had any enthusiasm for the IWA, but the offer was too good to refuse.

Finally some employers, and eventually all of them, accepted the demand for a two-hour reduction in the work day, but at the same rate of pay, less than half what men were then earning. The strike most seriously damaged the smaller millers, many of whom went out of business, and so — as interpreted by the authors of this study — furthered the consolidation of the industry into the hands of the bigger industrialists. Still, the least that can be said in favor of this strike is that it was a powerful assertion of dignity by one of the most oppressed sectors of the population, and contributed to uniting women and men workers in a common struggle. It was thus an important forerunner of and preparation for the revolution that was to break out in Lyon, Paris and other cities that declared their "communes" in the spring of 1871.

Auzias and Houel have apparently sifted through all the available documentation (police reports, newspaper articles, private correspondence) on a group of workers who left almost no descriptions of their own. These reports make for confusing and often difficult reading, and not all the data presented is equally relevant and the various concerns of the authors sometimes take us far from the main story — the lament of the non-encounter between these women strikers and the very active French feminists of the period is tantalizing but hardly satisfying. But even in the glimpses Auzias and Houel have gleaned from mostly hostile sources, and the few recorded scenes and remarks of the strikers, it is clear that the struggle, while very hard at times, was also an exhilarating and at times even festive experience, as these women discovered one another and their own power to shape their destiny.

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Published on May 03, 2014 05:34 • 2 views

April 29, 2014

Paris Libre, 1871Paris Libre, 1871 by Jacques Rougerie
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

No one knows more about the Paris Commune than Jacques Rougerie, and no one has done more balanced and meditated research. This small book is an excellent synthesis and overview of his investigations of some of the most debated aspects: Was it the last flare-up of the sans-culottes, or the first socialist proletarian revolution? Or (as its enemies maintained) just an opportunity for wanton pillage by the "dangerous classes"? And what was it really about?
Rougerie's starting point was to ask, Who were the activists and what did they want? To find out, he pored through the records of the trials of suspected communeux in a pioneering statistical study, classifying them by age, sex, origin (many were born far from Paris), and — especially important for class analysis — occupation. This is not a fair sample of all those who fought for the Commune, both because so many had been killed and because the government accusers snatched up any suspect, often on no more evidence than a denunciation by a frightened or jealous neighbor. But it's a very long list, and the best sample we have. His conclusion: most were workers, though many were also employers and almost all in very small shops.
Who were their enemies? Here evidence comes not just from official declarations by the Commune, but also popular songs, the popular scandal sheet Père Duchène, and reports by observers of the political clubs. The main enemy by far was the Catholic church, including the clergy and the whole ecclesiastical establishment; next, the grocers, for hoarding and high prices; and finally, the landlords, demanding exorbitant rents. Big industrialists and financiers were not part of this list.
What did they want? Mostly, liberté, égalité, fraternité, with no clearer idea, but also cooperatives where workers would themselves make the rules and earn the full product of their labor. They would work with existing capitalist owners who were willing to cooperate, but if reluctantly they had to take possession themselves (reluctance due to the complexities of running an industry if you've never done it before), they had no doubt that they would compensate the owner for his fair share.
This analysis, the main part of the book, was originally published in 1971, but here he adds a preface written in 2004, critiquing certain points in the light of more recent research. These include greater emphasis on the active role of women and women's organizations, and a de-mythicizing of the military campaign. The communeux did not everywhere defend every barricade down to the last cartridge; neighborly relations and traditions determined the tenacity of their defense, fiercest in the "red belt" in the easternmost and southeastern arrondissements; the massacres by the invading Versaillais was not the work of crazed or fanatical soldiers uncontrolled by their commanders, but rather a deliberate strategy and the result of a wholesale remaking of the French army after its disastrous defeat in the war against Prussia and its ineffectiveness in the first days of the Commune.
Was it socialist? Rougerie thinks, yes, but socialism as understood in 1871 — which was not explicitly "anti-capitalist" but strongly for "Liberté, égalité, fraternité" in the new conditions of incipient industrialization. And it enjoyed a brief but glorious, even festive moment as a "free city", launching (but without time to complete them) advanced reforms in education, industry and local government that would later become standards for revolutionaries everywhere. Yes, he thinks, it was the last of a certain kind of mass urban uprising by people of various social classes united only by anger against poverty and injustice, but also a forerunner of more modern, class-oriented revolts.

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Published on April 29, 2014 14:32

April 17, 2014

Thanks to my friend Tony Báez for forwarding this article — a much more detailed report on a Chicago-based movement that I discussed briefly in my book Hispanic Nation. And I send saludos to Omar López and ChaCha Jiménez, whom I haven't seen now for many years but who are still active raising Cain and consciousness.

 Newspapers of the Young Lords Organization, by Michael Gonzales.
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Published on April 17, 2014 11:55 • 2 views