How the Paris Communards made their lives luxurious

July 28, 2015

In her new book Communal Luxury: The Political Imaginary of the Paris Commune, Kristin Ross argues that a rich legacy of ideas and practices developed during the Commune – the workers’ democracy

Demolition of the Colonne Vendôme by Paris Communards, 16 May 1871. The 44-metre-high column, which had a statue of Napoléon in Roman dress at the top, was rebuilt under the Third Republic. (Contemporary drawing, reproduced on UC Press site.)

Demolition of the Colonne Vendôme by Paris Communards, 16 May 1871. The 44-metre-high column, which had a statue of Napoléon in Roman dress at the top, was rebuilt under the Third Republic. (Contemporary drawing, reproduced on UC Press site.)

that ruled Paris for two-and-a-half months in 1871 before being violently suppressed –needs to be recovered for the twenty-first century. Here she discusses the book with Gabriel Levy.

Gabriel Levy: You urge the readers of Communal Luxury to look at the Paris Commune not as a precursor to the Soviet Union, and not as a precursor to the Third Republic in France. If it was not those things, what was it?  

Kristin Ross: Extricating the Commune from those two stories is an enormous challenge, in part because those two histories were the principal ways we had of understanding the Commune. They were the histories that claimed it. In each of these narratives the Commune was made to play an essentially edifying role, as though the Communards were martyrs to state socialism or martyrs to the French Republic. If you stop seeing what the insurgents did in this way – if you stop seeing them as martyrs, sacrificing themselves to the future – then suddenly a
whole new vista becomes available and you can begin to see their self-emancipation at a daily level. You are radically in their present. If you dislodge the event from those two historiographies, you are back in the day-to-day of the Communards, and it becomes possible to see, perhaps for the first time, Read the rest of this entry »

Revolutions and rose-tinted spectacles

July 27, 2015

In this guest post, ANTI-WAR points to the history of radical intellectuals embracing “revolutionary” regimes, and cautions against repeating those mistakes today

In the second year of the Great Leap Forward famine – in which perhaps 30 million died – Herbert

Herbert Read

Herbert Read

Read visited China on an official delegation. Read’s acceptance of a knighthood for his literary achievements had already discredited him amongst many anarchists. But, at the time of his visit in 1959, he was still the most prominent anarchist in Britain and his published writings had considerable influence on, amongst others, Murray Bookchin.[1]

Read’s “Letters from China” show how easy it is for a radical intellectual to get it completely wrong. The nearest comparable episode was in 1967 when Noam Chomsky used phrases such as ‘mutual aid’, ‘popular control’ and ‘nonviolence’ while referring to Mao’s collectivisation policies. (Later, in 1977-79, Chomsky was also reluctant to acknowledge the full horror of Pol Pot’s version of these policies. See “Chomsky on Cambodia” and here and here.)

These extracts are a timely reminder to be sceptical of any account that claims that the new Read the rest of this entry »

Free Sergei Ilchenko! Free speech!

July 14, 2015

UPDATE – 28 JULY. Sergei Ilchenko has been freed! He is now in Kishinev with his son Nikolai. In a brief post on the “Free Sergei Ilchenko” facebook page, he thanked everyone who supported the campaign for his release. (Report from Odessa Daily here, Russian only.)

14 July. Trade unionists and media freedom campaigners are seeking international support for Sergei Ilchenko, a veteran journalist detained on trumped-up charges by the authorities in the Transdniestr republic.

Ilchenko was arrested by the Committee of State Security (KGB) on 18

Sergei Ilchenko

Sergei Ilchenko

March, after he participated in an opposition rally in Tiraspol – and refused to delete a report and video footage from it.

He has been detained for nearly four months, awaiting trial on charges of “public incitement to extremist activities”, which carries a prison sentence of up to five years.

Ilchenko’s colleagues believe that the security forces resorted to provocation, posting fabricated texts on social media and claiming they were authored by Ilchenko. On the day before Ilchenko’s arrest, he told colleagues that his social media accounts had been hacked.

Ilchenko writes for Moldovan, Russian and Ukrainian media. He is also a left-wing political activist and has been involved in the activities of various Read the rest of this entry »

Russia and Ukraine: history called up on national service

July 9, 2015

People in Moscow may soon get a chance to vote to return a statue of Feliks Dzerzhinsky, founder of the Soviet secret police, to the plinth in Lubyanka square from which it was toppled in 1991.

The ballot – which will go ahead if an initiative group, sanctioned by the city council, collects 140,000-odd signatures supporting it – comes at a time when  Soviet symbols, especially second world war symbols, are being

This is not about him. Feliks Dzerzhinsky (centre) with a group of officers from the Cheka security service during the Russian civil war

This is not about him. Feliks Dzerzhinsky (centre) with a group of officers from the Cheka security service during the Russian civil war

called into service to justify Russian aggression against Ukraine. History is being mobilised to buttress the image of a strong Russian state, which president Vladimir Putin’s propagandists claim is a crucial bastion against western, above all American, geopolitical domination.

Dzerzhinsky, a Polish socialist freed from Moscow’s Butyrka prison during the 1917 revolution before taking charge of the Soviet state’s rudimentary security service, would be horrified; he despised all nationalisms great and small. But this is not about him. It’s about a statue that stood outside the security service’s headquarters where oppositionists and dissidents were detained from Dzerzhinsky’s time. After his death in 1926, and especially in the mid and late 1930s, the number of detainees swelled tens and hundreds of times over; they were interrogated, tortured and then shot or deported to the Gulag.

In August 1991, a crowd of demonstrators tried to topple the giant monument. They were celebrating the defeat of the state committee of emergency, a bunch of security services and army chiefs who had detained the last Read the rest of this entry »

Kazakhstan: legal shackles on workers’ movement challenged

June 21, 2015

A challenge to laws that shackle trade unions in Kazakhstan was mounted at the International Labour Conference this month – and activists hope this will boost workers’ efforts to rebuild grass-roots organisation.

The conference, staged by the International Labour Organisation (ILO), a United Nations agency,

During the strike of 2011. Photo:

During the strike of 2011. Photo:

in Geneva, said Kazakhstan would have to amend the Trade Union Law it passed last year – or face action for breaching its obligations under international treaties.

The conference said that “excessive limitations” on unions, that “limit the right of workers to form and join trade unions of their own choosing”, had to be removed, and laws banning financial assistance to unions from trade unionists in other countries scrapped.

The decision came just after the Kazakh authorities refused registration to the Confederation of Free Trade Unions of Kazakhstan, an alternative to the state-run federation of “yellow” (government- and employer-controlled) unions.

Kazakhstan’s Trade Union Law was introduced on the back of the violent repression of oil workers, Read the rest of this entry »

A really big anti-austerity demo

June 20, 2015
The Bloco Liberdade samba band in the Strand on today's anti-austerity demo

The Bloco Liberdade samba band in the Strand on today’s anti-austerity demo

A huge number of people were on the streets in the UK today, protesting against the austerity policies of our vile Tory government. The media reported that the London march had well over 100,000, possibly 250,000, people on it. (The Guardian’s numbers were among the lowest, the Independent confidently went with a higher figure.)

I am a veteran demo-goer, and I thought today’s crowd was younger, and less affiliated to specific organisations (unions, left wing parties, or whatever) than usual. That’s good.

A friend was playing in the terrific Bloco Liberdade band, made up of members of Eri Okan, the London School of Samba, Barulho and the Brighton School of Samba, so I walked with them. They had some fine rhythm, and attracted more and more drummers, dancers, and people who Read the rest of this entry »

‘The instrument of labour strikes down the labourer.’ Marx on machinery is worth reading

June 18, 2015

A response to Ned Ludd by GABRIEL LEVY

Ned Ludd’s article on socialism and ecology raises important questions. What would a “real fusion” of socialism and ecology look like? How should socialist

A can factory, 1909. Source:

A can factory, 1909. Source:

movements look at industrialism? Is “technocracy” a concept that helps us get to grips with this?

The left “needs to abandon its mythology of the ‘liberation of the productive forces’”, Ned argues. “Instead of that narrative of progress, we need to realise that industrialism is a 200-year-old bubble that is beginning to burst.”

Much of the organised left accepts uncritically assumptions about the benefits of industrial progress, and Ned’s warnings about this are justified, to my mind. The view of technology as something that marches forward outside of its social context, and will ultimately serve progressive causes in changing that social context, needs to be challenged.

The best place I can think of to start a serious critique of the “mythology of the ‘liberation of the productive forces’”, as Ned proposes, is with Karl Marx. After all, Read the rest of this entry »


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 106 other followers