150 years on, the struggle continues
Today, 28 May 2021, is the 150th anniversary of the final day of “The week of blood”, La semaine sanglante of 21-28 May 1871, that destroyed the Paris Commune. But as in the song by Eugène Pottier “La Commune n’est pas morte…” Its values are revived and its heroes and heroines quoted in every new collective demand for a radically democratic, egalitarian polity: Russia 1905 and 1917, Spain 1931-39, Chile 1970-1973 and many other attempts — Paris May 1968, Tunis 2010, Spain again in 2011, to Hong Kong and Belarus and Chile again today.
What we need to remember, as I have sought to portray in my novel Rabble!, is not just the final crushing of this great social experiment but also how much the people of the Commune were able to achieve and sustain in their brief tenure of 72 days (18 March to 28 May). To quote Wikipedia, the Commune’s accomplishments included “a progressive, secular system of social democracy, … the separation of church and state, self-policing, the remission of rent during the siege, the abolition of child labor, and the right of employees to take over an enterprise deserted by its owner”. And further reforms to exend cultural and economic opportunities to all citizens were in the works up to the final days. All this while having to administer, without any of the experts or bureaucrats formerly in charge, a metropolis of two million people, the largest in continental Europe, keeping its public works, schools, hospitals etc. functioning. And all the while defending the Commune against bombardment and further onslaught by the reactionary French forces commanded from Versailles and backed by Prussian military might. As would be demonstrated again in Spain, Chile and other places, ordinary citizens can rise to the greatest challenges and prove that, indeed, another world is possible.