Tag Archives | No Borders

Remembering the Paris Commune

[cross-posted at C4SS and BHL]

This month marks the 145th anniversary of the violent suppression of the Paris Commune by the French national government.

The Paris Commune remains a potent symbol for many people – though what exactly it symbolizes is a matter of dispute. To conservatives, the Commune stands for a reign of terror and mob rule. For many radicals, including anarchists and Marxists (even though at the time, Marx himself opposed the Commune as a “desperate folly” and urged would-be insurrectionists to work within the system), it signifies a community that importantly prefigures their own preferred social and political systems.

aux-morts-de-la-commune

The Commune wasn’t quite any of these things. While it bears responsibility for some foolish decisions (such as trying to relieve bakers of their long hours by forbidding them to work at night, which is a bit like trying to cure a disease by punishing anyone who shows symptoms of it) and some wicked decisions (most notably, executing the noncombatant hostages), on the whole the Commune behaved in a rather moderate and restrained fashion, and was far from being the sanguinary monster of conservative nightmares. (To the Communards’ credit, they were reluctant to kill the hostages, and so waited until the last possible moment to do so. To their discredit, that means that by the time they did kill them, it was an act of pure spite that no longer had even the thin justification of a strategic purpose.) The invasion and massacre instituted by the national government at Versailles in May 1871 to put down the Communards’ insurrection has far more claim to be described as a reign of terror than anything the Commune itself did.

While it certainly has inspired anarchists and attracted their sympathy (Louise Michel being the most prominent anarchist figure to emerge from the movement), the Commune was not in any real sense an anarchist project. Yes, it was a working-class insurrection, but one aimed at establishing, and one that did in fact establish, a government. And unsurprisingly, that government did (as we’ve seen) some of the stupid and unjust things that governments tend to do (though the regime that ended up suppressing it was guilty of far worse).

Nor can the Marxists plausibly claim the Commune as a precursor. While generally statist-left-leaning in their policies, most leaders of the Commune had no interest in abolishing private property; as Marx himself noted, “the majority of the Commune was in no sense socialist.” The term “Commune” refers not to communism but to the independent mercantile cities, called “communes,” that flourished in Europe at the end of the medieval period. In that respect, the Paris Commune was fundamentally a secessionist movement; the Communards sought to make Paris into a self-governing political entity separate from the rest of France.

What anarchists tend to like about secessionist movements is their thrust toward political decentralization; what anarchists tend to dislike about them is their frequent concomitants of nationalism, parochialism, and isolationism. By those criteria, the Paris Commune scores fairly well, in that it did not seek to sever economic or cultural ties with the rest of the world; on the contrary, foreigners were eligible to be elected, and were in fact elected, to the governing council, on the theory that “the flag of the Commune is the flag of the World Republic.”

For all its flaws, the Paris Commune deserves anarchist respect as an example of cosmopolitan secessionism and working-class revolution. In honor of the Commune, I’ve translated “Paris, Free City,” a piece by Jules Vallès (1832-1885), one of the intellectual leaders of the Commune, from the early days of the rebellion’s initial success. It appeared in his periodical Le Cri du Peuple (“The Cry of the People”) on 22 March 1871. As will be apparent, Vallès is no anarchist; what anarchist could speak so cheerfully of “mayors [being] named and magistrates elected”? But in his secessionism, his enthusiasm for commerce, his distinction between an exploitative and a non-exploitative bourgeoisie, and his selecting the Hanseatic League as a model to emulate, he seems closer to anarchism – particularly market anarchism – than to Marxism.


Paris, Free City

To the bourgeoisie of Paris

There exists the working bourgeoisie and the parasitic bourgeoisie.

The one that the Cri du Peuple attacks, that its editors have consistently attacked and are still attacking, is the do-nothing one, the one that buys and sells positions and makes politics into a business.

A herd of windbags, a crowd of ambitious men, a breeding-ground for sub-prefects and state councilors.

The one, also, that that does not produce, that plunders; [The translation in Voices of the Paris Commune has: “They produce nothing but froth.” This is a misunderstanding of écumer, which in this context refers to piracy.] that raids, by means of shadowy banking schemes or shameless stock-market speculations, the profits made by those who bear the burdens — speculators without shame, who rob the poor and lend to kings, who played dice on the drum of Transnonain or 2 December, [The author refers to the massacre of insurgents by the National Guard in the Rue Transnonain on 14 April 1834, and Louis Napoléon’s bloody coup d’état on 2 December 1851.] and are already imagining how to play their hand upon the cadaver of the bloodied fatherland.

jules-valles-pic

But there is a working bourgeoisie, this one honest and valiant; it goes down to the workshop wearing a cap, traipses in wooden shoes through the mud of factories, remains through cold and heat at its counter or its offices; in its small shop or its large factory, behind the windows of a shop or the walls of a manufactory: it inhales dust and smoke, skins and burns itself at the workbench or the forge, puts its hands to the work, has its eye on the task; it is, through its courage and even its anxieties, the sister of the proletariat.

For it has its anxieties, its risks of bankruptcy, its days when bills come due. There is not a fortune today that is secure, thanks precisely to the clumsiness and provocations of these parasites who need trouble and agitation to live. Nothing is stable: today’s boss becomes tomorrow’s heavy labourer, and graduates see their coats worn to rags.

How many I know, among the established or well dressed, who are beset by worries as the poor are, who sometimes wonder what will become of their children, and who would trade all their chances of happiness and gain for the certainty of a modest labour and an old age without tears!

It is this whole world of workers, fearing ruin or unemployment, that constitutes Paris – the great Paris. – Why should we not extend to one another our hands, above these miseries of man and citizen, and why, in this solemn moment, should we not try, once and for all, to wrest the country, where each is brother to the other through effort and danger, from this eternal uncertainty that allows adventurers always to succeed, and requires honest people always to tremble and suffer!

Fraternity was queen the other day before the cannons and under the bright sun. It must remain queen, and Paris must take a solemn decision – a decision that will be a good one, and will have its day in history, only if it avoids both civil war and the resumption of war against the victorious Bismarck. [Voices of the Paris Commune gets this precisely wrong: “if it manages to avoid civil war and returns to the war against the victorious Bismarck.” This is not a possible translation of si elle évite la guerre civile et le retour de la guerre avec Bismark vainqueur; besides, if Vallès were calling here for renewed conflict with Prussia, why would he be proposing to “submit to everything” in the next paragraph, and why would he be advocating a negotiated peace with the Prussians a few paragraphs later?]

We are prepared, for our part, to impose nothing, to submit to everything, within the dolorous circle of fatality – on the sole condition that the freedom of Paris remains safe, and that the flag of the Republic shelter, in an independent city, a courageous populace of workers.

Denizens of the working-class districts and bourgeois alike: a few hundred years ago, in the very Germany from which came the cannons that have thundered at us, four towns declared themselves free cities; [The four founding members of the Hanseatic League: Lübeck, Brunswick, Köln, and Danzig.] they were, for centuries, great and proud, rich and calm: in every corner of the world one could hear their activity, and they cast merchandise and gold on every shore! …..

Well then! to undo, other than by the sabre, the Gordian knot in which our recent misfortunes have been tangled, there is but one message to give:

PARIS, FREE CITY.

Let us negotiate immediately, through the intermediary of the elected representatives of the people, with the government of Versailles for the status quo without struggle, and with the Prussians for the settlement of indemnities.

No blood is shed, the cannons remain cold, the barracks close, and the workshops reopen, work resumes.

Work resumes! this is the inflexible necessity, the supreme desire. Let us come to an agreement in order that everyone, tomorrow, may recover his livelihood. Citizens of every class and every rank, this is salvation!

Paris, free city, returns to work.

This secession saves the provinces from their fear and the working-class districts from famine.

Bordeaux has said: Down with Paris!

We, for our part, cry at one and the same time: Long live France and long live Paris! and we commit ourselves never more to extend toward this France who calumniates us an arm that she believed to be menacing.

Between Montrouge and Montmartre [Southern and northern districts of Paris, respectively.] will always beat, come what may, the heart of the old fatherland, which we will always love, and which will return to us in spite of everything.

Moreover, some towns – precisely those that the moderates fear – will likewise be able to negotiate in order to live free, and to constitute the great federation of republican cities.

To those who fear that they should suffer from isolation, we respond that there are no frontiers high enough to prevent labour from crossing them, industry from razing them, commerce from boring through them.

Labour! – towns with high chimneys that spew the smoke of factories, with large workshops and long counters, fertile cities do not die! Even rustics would not kill their hens that lay golden eggs.

Paris, having a flag of her own, can no longer be defamed or menaced, and she remains the skillful seeker, the happy finder, who invents beautiful designs and great instruments, who will be forever implored to put her stamp on that this metal or that fabric, on this toy or that weapon, on this goblet or that basin, on the paste for a porcelain vessel or the silk for a gown!

She will remain the master and the king.

PARIS, FREE CITY.

No more bloodshed! rifles at rest: mayors are named and magistrates elected. And then to work! to work! The bell sounds for labour and not for combat.

JULES VALLÈS.

What I Did Last Month

I’ve been incommunibloggo for over a month now – partly because of a more-hectic-than-usual schedule and partly because, thanks to a mandatory “upgrade” to AT&T U-verse (may the gods curse it forever), my home internet connection is now much less reliable than before. So here’s what I’ve been doing.

1. At the beginning of the month I headed to Reykavík (by way of an interminable layover in Toronto) for the October 3rd ESFL Regional, where I gave a talk on left-libertarianism. Unfortunately, my luggage didn’t make it out of Toronto, so I had to spend the entire weekend without a change of clothes. But it was great to finally get to Iceland! I also got to meet some members of the Icelandic Pirate Party.

My hosts gave me a tour that included Thingvellir (the spot where two continental plates meet in a craggy ravine, as well as where the medieval Althing or open-air parliament met during the stateless period – and the spot where criminals were ceremonially drowned in the post-stateless period), Geysir (the granddaddy after which all other geysers are named), and the beautiful Gullfoss waterfall. I’ll post pics later (the ones below aren’t mine).

Thingvellir

Thingvellir

Gullfoss

Gullfoss

There are few trees in Iceland, but the ground, though strewn with volcanic rock, is also covered with low-lying foliage in brilliant fall colours. They also took me to Eftsi-Dalur II, a farmhouse-turned-restaurant near Geysir where the large picture window in the ice cream parlour offers a view directly into the barn with the cows.

Other restaurants I can recommend, in downtown Reykavík, include the Grey Cat Café (for breakfast) and Sjávargrillidh (for dinner). On my own I also went to the top of Hallgrímskirkja, a church whose columns are modeled on the natural basalt columns of the Icelandic coast.

hallgrimskirkja

The road leading up to the church is painted in rainbow stripes – half gay pride celebration and half Bifröst reference.

reykjavik-rainbow

Travel note: the hot water in Iceland is drawn from the thermal springs, which means that hot water from the tap smells of sulphur – rather disconcerting when taking a shower. The cold water, though, is pure and delicious.

2. Two weeks later I drove down to Gainesville for the October 17th SFL Florida Regional. I gave a talk on anarchism (powerpoints here). There were three other Molinari/C4SS comrades there: Cory Massimino, Kelly Vee, and Tom Knapp (the last two I met for the first time in realspace).

Tom, me, Cory, Kelly

Tom, me, Cory, Kelly

It was my first visit to Gainesville. Their downtown area is cool, while the vibe in the Bagels and Noodles restaurant feels like an actual college town in a way that Auburn seldom does.

3. I’ve had a C4SS op-ed on racial bias in juror selection, and three more installments of my series for Libertarianism.org on ancient Greece: one on economic freedom in Athens, one on the role of women, slaves, and immigrants in the Athenian banking system, and one on the private provision of public services in Athens.


Have Republicans Learned to Love the Berlin Wall?

[cross-posted at C4SS]

Anderson Cooper recently complained, on his July 22nd CNN show, that presidential candidate Donald Trump has thus far offered “not one shred of proof” for his repeated claim that “the Mexican government is behind the illegal immigration” and are “the ones pushing … these people over the border.” At which point Cooper’s guest Jeffrey Lord, a former White House political director under Ronald Reagan, and currently a Trump supporter, offered a fairly astonishing reply:

“You know, we talked about a wall on the American side in terms of keeping people out of the United States; but we all remember the Berlin Wall. And in the Berlin Wall situation, that was built to keep people in. Now, are we being told here that the Mexican government can’t somehow find a way to keep their own people from leaving the country illegally? I mean, it defies common sense. So I think what he’s saying makes a great deal of common sense, that this is happening repeatedly. The Mexican government is clearly doing nothing to stop it. … I mean, to do it intentionally can mean a lot of things. It’s not like they need to give them information, a slip to leave; it’s that they just don’t guard the border … and know that they’re going to escape, and … so they go.”

Yes, you read that right. A former White House official and Reagan aide is demanding that Mexico maintain a Berlin Wall to keep its own citizens from escaping.

berlin-wall-site

While restrictions on the right to enter a country are widely accepted, restrictions on the right to exit a country are usually regarded as a tool of dictatorship. Lord’s own former boss, Ronald Reagan, famously gave a speech in front of the Berlin Wall in 1987, condemning the structure as “a gash of barbed wire,” “a restriction on the right to travel,” and “an instrument to impose upon ordinary men and women the will of a totalitarian state” – and concluding with a rousing cry to “tear down this wall!” But apparently some Republicans are learning to make their peace with the idea of an Iron Curtain.

Oddly enough, though, Jeffrey Lord is actually right on the central point, though he draws the wrong conclusion from it. The assumption of a deep moral difference between restrictions on entry and restrictions on exit is indeed unjustified.

Those who try to distinguish the two often point to the analogy of private property: I have no right to keep you prisoner by forbidding you to exit my property, but I have every right to forbid you to enter.

But the analogy is a bad one. The government of a country, dictatorships aside, is not the owner of all the land within its borders. That land, or most of it, is divided into privately owned parcels. So when the government restricts entry, it is acting as a third party to forbid immigrant A to enter the property of citizen B, even if citizen B wishes to welcome immigrant A as a guest, a customer, an employee, or a tenant. What difference does it make whether this restriction on travel is being imposed by A’s government or by B’s? In either case the restriction is an invasion of the liberty of both A and B.

So Lord is right: immigration restrictions and emigration restrictions are morally on a par. But the right conclusion to draw is not that both are justified, but rather that both are unjustified. A Berlin Wall does not become civilized or tolerable merely because it is run by the government on one side of the wall instead of on the other. National borders are a perpetual human rights violation, and every restriction on migration is one more Berlin Wall.

Mr. Lord, Mr. Trump, tear down this border.


Cordial and Sanguine, Part 61: Whose Left? Which Libertarianism?

[cross-posted at BHL]

Over at C4SS I’ve posted the abstract to a paper on Left-Libertarianism: Its Past, Its Present, Its Prospects that I’ll be presenting at the MANCEPT 2014 Workshop on the Current State of Libertarian Philosophy in Manchester UK in September.

As it happens, Kevin Carson has a more detailed post up on the same topic: What Is Left-Libertarianism?

Read them both – or be left out of all the cool conversations among the cool people in the corridors of counterpower!


iRad I.3 in Print, iRad I.2 Online

The third issue (Spring 2013) of The Industrial Radical will be back from the printers and on its way to subscribers shortly, featuring articles by Less Antman, Jason Lee Byas, Kevin Carson, Nathan Goodman, Anthony Gregory, Trevor Hultner, Charles Johnson, Joshua Katz, Thomas L. Knapp, Abby Martin, Chad Nelson, Sheldon Richman, Jeremy Weiland, and your humble correspondent, on topics ranging from NSA surveillance and whistleblowing, the Turkish revolt, the Boston lockdown, the Keystone XL pipeline, intellectual property, and the futility of gun control in an age of 3-D printing, to compulsory schooling, American militarism, conscription, worker exploitation, property rights, prison ethics, rape culture, the pros and cons of communism, and the dubious legacy of Margaret Thatcher.

The Industrial Radical I.3 (Spring 2013)

With each new issue published, we post the immediately preceding issue online. Hence a free pdf file of our second issue (Winter 2013) is now available here. (See the first issue also.)

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