What drives youth to believe that they can and must change the world, no matter how great the sacrifice? And how does their struggle change them? And, no less important, how do the conditions of labor — the hours spent, the wages and the relationship with the owner and manager, the comradeship, the motions and skills required — shape the political and social thought of the laborers?
My working title was “The Bookbinder,” but the book is really about all the tradesmen and women involved in creating and defending the Paris Commune of 1871: not just bookbinders (who were very important), but also bronze workers, tin smiths, shoe makers, typographers, printers, laundresses, clothing and textile workers, carpenters… etc. “Rabble” is the closest English equivalent to canaille, the way the privileged classes described the rough and ready workers who had seized the city and were remaking it as a bastion of liberty, equality and fraternity. Those tradesmen and women, the “rabble”, managed to create the first self-governing, proto-communist society in the modern world, in what was then the European continent’s largest and most advanced capitalist center. And to defend it against massive bombardment and infantry attacks for over two months.
RABBLE! is completed and edited, to be published in time for the 150th anniversary of the Commune in 2021.
In 1870, 17-year old apprentice bookbinder Étienne Bonin travels from revolutionary Lyon to even more revolutionary Paris seeking excitement and professional opportunity, and by the spring of 1871 is deeply committed to the insurrection for workers’ power, a new lover and his new comrades, while experiencing festive celebrations, institutional innovations, military disasters and the final “week of blood” that would annihilate the Commune but not its ideals, which would be reborn in revolutions from 1917 to our day.
Étienne Bonin’s story is also the story of the growth of a powerful working-class movement and its creation of the new society, in the face of severe internal conflicts and the merciless military power of the old regime that ultimately destroyed it.