15th May – Nabka Day – a day of shame for the world

Deir Yassin 1948

Deir Yassin 1948

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15th May – Nabka Day – a day of shame for the world

The 15th May in Palestine, and for Palestinians in the diaspora, is Nabka Day, the day following the unilateral declaration of independence by the State of Israel (on 14th May 1948) and the start of, now, 72 years of; persecution; murder; imprisonment; repression; theft of their land; denigration of their dignity; subjection to racist laws; ethnic cleansing; military occupation; and now, especially in Gaza, starvation.

The word ‘nabka’ can be translated as ‘disaster’, ‘catastrophe’ or ‘cataclysm’ – in the sense of 15 May all of them.

In fact, if you take all the sufferings of various peoples throughout the world, all the assaults that have been condemned by international bodies – principally the United Nations Organisation (UNO) – in those 72 years the cause of which, in the main, has been the attempts of the various imperialist powers to maintain or regain control in various parts of the world, and dump them on one nation, one group of people, then those people are the Palestinians.

This struggle between the imperialist powers didn’t start in 1948. In the modern era this issue was being played out before the fighting in the First World War was over and the guns on the Western Front went quiet. To keep the various Arab tribes on side in the war against the Ottoman Empire (an ally of Germany in the war and on the periphery initially but an important aspect of the main war nonetheless) promises were made but never kept.

Whilst to their faces the Arab forces were being told one thing behind their backs the British were making the promise of a Jewish State, with undefined borders, in the area which was known as Palestine and where the vast majority of the population were Arabs (90%). Although the British Government had been talking to Zionist representatives during much of the course of the war there was no consultation whatsoever with the Arab people’s who already lived in a thriving community on the land being given away.

In the same way the land that later became known as the United States of America wasn’t empty of people before the arrival of the European immigrants neither was the land of Palestine.

The Balfour Declaration

It might be worthwhile to briefly have a look at the wording of this short document, a mere 67 words but which has caused so much suffering and injustice to so many people for so many years.

His Majesty’s government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.

The main question to ask is; what right did the British have to assign someone’s land to another group of people – even if it was for the short term interests of the imperialist power – that is, Zionist/Jewish support and encouragement for United States involvement on the Western Front. Obviously the question is rhetorical – the British did because they could and as was their wont, the consequences of their decision on the local populace were not even considered.

For the Zionists then, and the State of Israel now, there’s nothing in the Declaration of any import after the second comma. They had achieved what they were after, the capitulation of a major imperialist power which various Zionist groups and organisations were able to play with in the years between 1917 and 1948.

Throughout the 1920s and 1930s (and into the 1940s) there were constant conflicts between the Jewish ‘settlers’ and the indigenous population – from the very beginning the settlers assuming they had all the rights. At times the morally weak British forces were in the middle but after 1945 they also became the target of Zionist terrorist attacks, especially those organised by the Irgun and the Stern Gang – both organisations providing future Prime Ministers to the State of Israel.

On 29th November 1947 the plan for the partition of Palestine was taken to a vote in the General Assembly of the United Nations (which had been formed two and a half years earlier with the UN Charter, which includes fine words such as peace, security and human rights) and passed by 33 votes to 13 (with 10 abstentions and one member absent). To give a flavour of the ‘new world order’ after the defeat of Fascism the people most effected by this partition, the Palestinians, weren’t even consulted – let alone invited to argue their case.

For reasons I have been unable to discover the Soviet Union both voted for the partition and two days after Israel declared independence recognised the new ‘state’.

Immediately following the vote in favour of the State of Israel the armed Zionist gangs began to make sure circumstances were the most favourable for themselves in the event of an uprising of the Palestinians that would certainly follow the proposed declaration on 14th May – this included a systematic recording of any military material the British would leave behind and identifying those points of conflict which would be most crucial in the coming battle.

This included the process of ‘ethnic cleansing’ even before the term was even coined. One notorious example was the expulsion and massacre of the inhabitants of the village of Deir Yassin, a small Palestinian village a few kilometres to the west of Jerusalem, on 9th April 1948. The Zionist terrorist organisation, Irgun, boasted they had killed, in cold blood, 256 villagers, and far from being ashamed of this broadcast the fact far and wide and in so doing helped create the climate of fear that resulted in a mass exodus of Palestinians from their homes and land.

By March 1949 more than 750,000 Palestinians, who had once had reasonably secure livelihoods were made refugees by the Jewish settlers and invaders. Most of those who were forced to leave never returned home as has been the fate of the 3 generations (to date) of their descendants.

Deir Yassin wasn’t the only village to suffer massacre and destruction in 1948-49 or later, as at the time of the so-called ‘Six Day War’, of 1967, the villages of Zeita, Beit Nuba and Yalu suffered a similar fate.

This activity of the Jewish terrorist groups is reminiscent of the activities of the Nazis during the Second World War. There are examples where activities of Partisan groups fighting the fascist invaders led to retaliations, massacres and the razing of villages such as Lidice, in Czechoslovakia; Oradour-sur-Glane in France; Borovë in Albania and the hundreds of villages the SS wiped out in the eastern Soviet Union when they invaded in 1942.

It also reminds us of the destruction of the villages of My Lai, in Vietnam, on 16th March 1968, by the Americans. Coincidentally the numbers massacred in Deir Yassin and My Lai are very similar, 250 dead, including 30-50 babies.

It could be said the Zionists were even worse than the Nazis (and the American imperialists in Vietnam) as the Germans and the Americans carried out their slaughter as retaliation and revenge, the Zionists did it because they could and enjoyed it.

If it talks like a Fascist, if it acts like a Fascist, if it kills like a Fascist – then it’s a Fascist.

But it has to be said the Zionists have played it well in the intervening years since the establishment of their illegal state. In 1967 they were able to convince many they were the victim in the war against the neighbouring Arab countries. By being a willing tool of American imperialism they have proven their worth by destabilising the region and being a force which benefits the major oil companies and their various state sponsors. Whereas the Apartheid state of South Africa (with which Israel was on friendly military and trading terms prior to 1992) became an international pariah Israel gets away with following exactly the same policies. They’ve also been able to use the rantings of Holocaust deniers to use anti-Semitism to their own advantage and now criticism of the State of Israel has been classified as an act of anti-Semitism – the only state in the world which has been able to equate race to statehood.

Events subsequent to the Nabka of 1948-49, have only gone to prove that what the Zionist State of Israel learnt from the Hitlerite Nazis is to kill and oppress anyone you see as an enemy, that racism is the way forward, that ethnic cleansing is progress, that war is peace.

It is a stain upon the reputation of the world’s working class, and especially the International Communist Movement, the situation the Palestinians live under was allowed to last 72 days let alone 72 years.

Marx once said the British working class would never achieve freedom if the Irish remained enslaved. The same can be said about the Palestinians.

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May 9th 1945 – Victory Day in the Soviet Union (Russia)

The triumph of the Conquering People - Mikhail Khmelko

The triumph of the Conquering People

May 9th – Victory Day in the Soviet Union (Russia)

Whilst much of western Europe commemorate May 8th as the official end of the Second World War in the Soviet Union the date for the end of the Great Patriotic War was, and has been since 1945, May 9th. After the collapse of the Soviet Union at the end of 1991 the celebrations have been sporadic but in recent years Putin has realised there’s political capital to be made out of the event and it has now become a major affair, especially in Moscow, and under normal circumstances there would have been hundreds of thousands of Moscovites, covering four generations, on the streets today. It was only in the middle of April, when the covid-19 outbreak started to really take hold in Russia, that the planned parade was cancelled.

Soviet Troops - Berlin - 9th May 1945

Soviet Troops – Berlin – 9th May 1945

Why the difference in the end of the same war?

When the defeat of the Nazi forces was only a matter of time the Fascist leadership after the death of Hitler started to play a bit of a game – deadly for those needlessly killed in the last 6 or 7 days of the conflict.

The Red Army was coming from the east like a steamroller, destroying everything in its path. The British/American et al were making equally fast progress from the west. By the beginning of May it wasn’t a matter of when the Fascists had to surrender it became to whom – and when. The Fascists knew they would be able to get the best deal for themselves if they negotiated with the allies coming from the west – after all British and American capitalism wasn’t that far removed from German Fascism. They knew they would get short shrift from the Soviets.

The Soviet flag flies above the Brandenberg Gate, Berlin

The Soviet flag flies above the Brandenberg Gate, Berlin

Somehow (and I don’t know if anyone ever discovered exactly how this was allowed to happen – the documents coming into German hands during the Ardennes Offensive – also called the Battle of the Bulge which came to an end in January 1945) the Fascists got hold of a map that had been drawn up which showed how Germany would be divided between the allies. With that knowledge Karl Dönitz’s, Hitler’s ‘appointed successor’, main task was to let the war drag on for as long as possible so as many Fascists as possible could escape into those sectors that would be under the control of the British, American or French forces.

To get an idea of Dönitz’s ideology a couple of quotes from national radio broadcasts in the early part of May 1945.

On 1st May, just after the broadcast of the news of Hitler’s death, Dönitz added the following;

‘My first task is to save Germany from destruction by the advancing Bolshevik enemy. It is to serve this purpose alone that the military struggle continues.’

For ‘Germany’ read as many as possible Nazis and Hitlerites.

A public broadcast, so these words and intentions would have been known by all the Allies’ commanders. Added to this Dönitz had never made a secret of his sympathies, being a staunch supporter of Hitler (so much so that even the normally paranoid and suspicious ‘Führer’ had designated him ‘heir apparent’), anti-Communist and anti-Semite.

(To show how correct the new Fascist leader was in his approach to surrender he was only given a 10 year prison sentence at the Nuremberg Trials (arguing the ‘just obeying orders’ defence) – then surviving till 1980 – whilst of those sent to negotiate with the western allies one (von Friedeburg) committed suicide and two (Jodl and Keitel) were hung.)

Soviet flag flies over the Reichstag, Berlin, May 1945

Soviet flag flies over the Reichstag, Berlin, May 1945

After the end of hostilities he wasn’t arrested in Flensburg (almost in Denmark), by British forces, until 23rd May. Why it took so long demonstrates the attitude of the western allies to the Nazis especially as, on the day the unconditional surrender was signed, he had made the following broadcast.

‘Comrades, we have been set back as thousand years in our history. Land that was German for a thousand years has now fallen into Russian hands … [but] despite today’s military breakdown, our people are unlike the Germany of 1918. They have not been split asunder. Whether we want to create another form of National Socialism or whether we conform to the life imposed upon us by the enemy, we should make sure that the unity given to us by National Socialism is maintained under all circumstances.’

But back to the machinations of the Nazis, in efforts to save as many of their kind as possible, and the collaboration in this by the top commanders of both the British and American armed forces. By Montgomery sticking to protocol (and sending the Fascist envoys to Eisenhower – the Allied Supreme Commander) and then Eisenhower giving the Nazis an extra 48 hours before borders were closed) an untold number of war criminals were allowed to escape to and then later prosper in the parts of the country controlled by the western allies. Although not breaking the letter of the agreement with the Soviets it certainly went against the spirit of those agreements. But then what do you expect?

After all the time wasting, game playing and vacillation the first unconditional surrender was signed in Rheims on 7th May. However, there was a very large and angry Red Army coming in from the east and on Stalin‘s insistence any final capitulation had to be signed in the presence of the Commander of the Red Army in Germany, Marshal Zhukov.

That unconditional surrender was signed just before midnight Central European Time on 8th May – which was already 9th May in Moscow – hence the difference in dates.

Celebrations in Moscow

News of the surrender was broadcast over the radio at around 02.00 Soviet time and people congregated in Red Square soon after. Although you rarely see pictures of the reaction to news of the end of the Great Patriotic War by the citizens of the Soviet Union Red Square was as full that day as Trafalgar Square in London or Time Square in New York.

For Motherland, for Stalin - 9th May 1945

For Motherland, for Stalin – 9th May 1945

Red Square - 9th May 1945

Red Square – 9th May 1945

Red Square - 9th May 1945

Red Square – 9th May 1945

I have read reference to, but haven’t been able to confirm it or seen photographic proof, that there was a simple ceremony later in the day of the 9th when captured standards of the Nazi army were thrown down on to the ground in front of the Lenin Mausoleum with Soviet leaders on the podium. This did happen, but the only time I know for certain when it did was during the Victory Parade which took place on 24th June 1945.

Early on the day of the 9th May, Comrade Stalin issued the following Order of the Day;

ORDER OF THE DAY, No. 369, OF MAY 9, 1945,

Addressed to the Red Army and Navy

ON May 8, 1945, in Berlin, representatives of the German High Command signed the instrument of unconditional surrender of the German armed forces.

The Great Patriotic War which the Soviet people waged against the German-fascist invaders is victoriously concluded. Germany is utterly routed.

Comrades, Red Army men, Red Navy men, sergeants, petty officers, officers of the army and navy, generals, admirals and marshals, I congratulate you upon the victorious termination of the Great Patriotic War.

To mark complete victory over Germany, to-day, May 9, the day of victory, at 22.00 hours (Moscow time), the capital of our Motherland, Moscow, on behalf of the Motherland, shall salute the gallant troops of the Red Army, the ships and units of the Navy, which have won this brilliant victory, by firing thirty artillery salvoes from one thousand guns.

Eternal glory to the heroes who fell in the fighting for the freedom and independence of our Motherland!

Long live the victorious Red Army and Navy!

J. STALIN

Supreme Commander-in-Chief, Marshal of the Soviet Union

Moscow

[30 salvoes from a thousand guns – that’s quite a firework display!]

The end of the Great Patriotic War celebrated in Moscow's Red Square, May 9, 1945

The end of the Great Patriotic War celebrated in Moscow’s Red Square, May 9, 1945

Joseph Stalin’s Victory Speech

Broadcast from Moscow at 20.00 hours (Moscow time) on May 9, 1945

COMRADES! Men and women compatriots!

The great day of victory over Germany has come. Fascist Germany, forced to her knees by the Red Army and the troops of our Allies, has acknowledged herself defeated and declared unconditional surrender.

On May 7 the preliminary protocol on surrender was signed in the city of Rheims. On May 8 representatives of the German High Command, in the presence of representatives of the Supreme Command of the Allied troops and the Supreme Command of the Soviet Troops, signed in Berlin the final act of surrender, the execution of which began at 24.00 hours on May 8.

Being aware of the wolfish habits of the German ringleaders, who regard treaties and agreements as empty scraps of paper, we have no reason to trust their words. However, this morning, in pursuance of the act of surrender, the German troops began to lay down their arms and surrender to our troops en masse. This is no longer an empty scrap of paper. This is actual surrender of Germany’s armed forces. True, one group of German troops in the area of Czechoslovakia is still evading surrender. But I trust that the Red Army will be able to bring it to its senses.

Now we can state with full justification that the historic day of the final defeat of Germany, the day of the great victory of our people over German imperialism has come.

The great sacrifices we made in the name of the freedom and independence of our Motherland, the incalculable privations and sufferings experienced by our people in the course of the war, the intense work in the rear and at the front, placed on the altar of the Motherland, have not been in vain, and have been crowned by complete victory over the enemy. The age-long struggle of the Slav peoples for their existence and their independence has ended in victory over the German invaders and German tyranny.

Henceforth the great banner of the freedom of the peoples and peace among peoples will fly over Europe.

Three years ago Hitler declared for all to hear that his aims included the dismemberment of the Soviet Union and the wresting from it of the Caucasus, the Ukraine, Byelorussia, the Baltic lands and other areas. He declared bluntly; ‘We will destroy Russia so that she will never be able to rise again.’ This was three years ago. However, Hitler’s crazy ideas were not fated to come true-the progress of the war scattered them to the winds. In actual fact the direct opposite of the Hitlerites’ ravings has taken place. Germany is utterly defeated. The German troops are surrendering. The Soviet Union is celebrating Victory, although it does not intend either to dismember or to destroy Germany.

Comrades! The Great Patriotic War has ended in our complete victory. The period of war in Europe is over. The period of peaceful development has begun.

I congratulate you upon victory, my dear men and women compatriots!

Glory to our heroic Red Army, which upheld the independence of our Motherland and won victory over the enemy!

Glory to our great people, the people victorious!

Eternal glory to the heroes who fell in the struggle against the enemy and gave their lives for the freedom and happiness of our people!

[Personally I would have liked Comrade Stalin to have added;

Long Live Socialism,

Long Live Marxism-Leninism.]

Soviet Victory Parade

Soviet Victory Parade

Victory Parade, 24th June 1945

The Moscow Victory Parade of 1945 was a held by the Soviet army (with a small squad from the Polish army) after the defeat of Nazi Germany in the Great Patriotic War. It took place in the Soviet capital, mostly centring around a military parade through Red Square. The parade took place on a rainy June 24, 1945, and it was during this parade that the Nazi standards were definitely thrown on the ground in front of the Lenin Mausoleum, with Stalin and other Soviet leaders of the podium.

The fate of Nazism

The fate of Nazism

Some of these standards were, for many years, inside a huge glass case on the floor of one of the rooms of the Revolution Museum in Moscow, close to the then Pravda offices and the Mayakovsky Metro station.

After 1991 this museum went through a number of changes and has little to merit a visit today (or at least it didn’t at the end of 2017). I understand that some (or all) of these standards are currently in the Central Armed Forces Museum in Moscow. If or how they are displayed would be interesting. When I saw them in the early 1970s I liked the idea they were in a jumble (thought well organsiaed jumble) on the floor – as they were at the Victory Parade in 1945. ‘Trophies of war’ are often displayed in the way they would have been when in the hands of their original producers – that was not the fate for the Nazi symbols in the Soviet Union.

28th May 1871 – the end of ‘Bloody Week’ of the Paris Commune

Summary execution of a petroleuse - note the vicious bourgeosie on the left

Summary execution of a petroleuse – note the vicious bourgeoisie on the left

On the 18th March 1871, the Parisian working class gave a lesson to the international proletariat that it was possible for the oppressed and exploited of the world to take the future into their own hands. On the 28th May, the last day of slaughter of those very revolutionaries, coming only 71 days after that momentous spring day of hope, through their martyrdom, they taught the working class of the world that the audacity of challenging the power of the ruling class came with a price. For the 28th May 1871 marked the end of ‘Bloody Week’, the end of the Paris Commune.

The Paris Commune of 1871 started when a group of washer-women thwarted a pre-dawn raid by the capitulationist and pusillanimous government forces who sought to rob the people of the artillery they had paid for in their attempts to prevent the fall of their city to the invading Prussians. What began as a self-defence action in the hills of Montemartre soon spread throughout the city and by the afternoon of March 18th barricades were being constructed and the revolution had begun.

18th March - Avenue Jean-Jaures

18th March – Avenue Jean-Jaures

In the post on the anniversary of the start of the Commune I listed what I consider to be some of the achievements of that, literally, world-changing event. For it was both in their achievements and failures of the Communards that later revolutionaries were to learn so much and which determined the manner in which they pursued the revolutions in their own countries, especially in Russia, Albania and China.

In studying revolutions there are both positive and negative lessons that need to be learnt. Failure to do so will lead to the same mistakes being made resulting in similar consequences. As the conditions in which a revolution takes place are always specific to the times and the conditions in a particular country it is inevitable that new mistakes will be made. That’s not a problem.

As Chairman Mao stated a revolution is not a dinner party (Report on an Investigation of the Peasant Movement in Hunan, FLP, Peking, p8). Revolutions are uncontrollable, it becomes almost a living organism which has a mind of its own. An organised revolutionary party might be able, at times, to direct the flow of events but they are no more than desperate men and women trying to control a river in spate. Dig the channels in the right place at the right time and the water can be controlled. Make one slight mistake and the water will break the banks and all bets are off – until the next crucial moment is reached. If a revolution can be controlled it is not a revolution. This makes the achievements of the Communists in Russia, Albania and China all the more remarkable.

Before going on to the mistakes made by the Communards it’s worthwhile re-iterating some of the achievements in that short two and a bit months. In the first few days:

  • rents for dwellings abolished
  • articles that had been pawned declared not for sale
  • the wage differentials between men and women were abolished
  • officials would not get any more than a ‘working-man’s wages’
  • the church was separated from the state
  • church property was to be national property
  • religious iconography was to be removed from schools
  • the guillotine to be publicly burnt, as a symbol of the old regime
  • night work for bakers was abolished
  • planned the reopening of factories closed by owners and these to be run on a collective basis

Although many of these were in response to the grievances of the Parisian working class after decades of living under a corrupt system, added to which were the hardships as a consequence of a more than four-month siege of the city – during a hard winter – by the Prussian army many of those decrees would have resonance in Britain (and most other countries throughout the world) even now.

Housing is still a problem – highlighted in Britain by the Grenfell fire of 2016; wage differentials and the ‘gender pay gap’ have long been contentious issues (however, paying everyone the same, more or less, is an easier solution to crashing through ‘glass ceilings’ and has more rationale to it than paying over-paid women as much as even more over-paid men and would have a direct impact upon the poorest in our society who, nowadays, don’t even get the crumbs that fall from the table of the rich); recent events in the Republic of Ireland demonstrates how society can be distorted when the Church has a hand in controlling civil society – not to mention the role of religion in various parts of the world and the death and destruction that comes with it; general working conditions have become worse not better in the last couple of decades in most countries even though the Gross Domestic Product might be rising – the poor ALWAYS get proportionately less in such circumstances; employment is an issue which capitalism finds so difficult to deal with it’s not even considered of any importance in the political debate; and elected representatives of the Commune could be replaced at any time if they failed to live up to their promises – so no chance of the development of a so-called ‘Political Class’, a group of self-selected, self-serving, over-important opportunists who have gained control in too many countries.

The representative structure was for the working class and it was run by the working class. At the same time it’s important to make clear that the Commune was not a state of all the people. The bourgeoisie had run society for years and had failed – a bit like now – so the Parisian working class decided that it was time for a new class to be in control and purposely excluded certain sections of society. This was the first time in history where the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ was in action – something which Marx, Engels and, later, Lenin picked up and developed in their post 1871 theoretical writings and which Lenin sought to put into practice after the Great October Proletarian Revolution of 1917.

Did the proposals and declarations of the Commune always work out as it was intended? No. Did they get some things wrong and follow an incorrect direction on some policies? Yes. But give them a break, many hadn’t had much formal education and it takes time for people to learn to do things in a new way – they weren’t given that time. Did opportunists and renegades from the working class get into positions of power which they then abused? Yes. These parasites exist in all societies and it will take decades of a new society before we can say that they definitely have been eliminated. Seventy one days was not long enough. Were they divided when unity was necessary? Yes. But that’s how things go. Either honestly or dishonestly people in such circumstances come to different conclusions over crucial matters. Here, again, time would have allowed the Commune to overcome (at least in part) some of these differences. But time there wasn’t.

But what is important is that they tried. They did not surrender when the going got tough – which happened very soon after the heady days of the recovery of the guns from the government troops. Many persisted, tried to make a difference to their community and many of them died for their tenacity and determination.

'The sacred revolt of the poor, the exploited and the oppressed'

‘The sacred revolt of the poor, the exploited and the oppressed’

Not only were working men involved in running society in a new way so were women – who also established women only debating clubs which used to meet in expropriated churches and which was a revival of a practice from the bourgeois French Revolution of 1789. They took up arms and enrolled in the National Guard and also played a major role in attempting to delay the entrance into the city of the murderous Versailles troops during ‘Bloody Week’. They were never ‘victims’ (as too many women claim today). They asked for nothing – they demanded and took.

But mistakes were made which led directly to the events of ‘Bloody Week’ from the 21st-28th May 1871.

Probably the most serious was that the Parisian Communards were too magnanimous – they didn’t recognise the viper they had in the nest, the government supporters and the bourgeoisie in general who would do any and everything to see the destruction of the new workers power. Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, the great Russian Marxist and Revolutionary, took this particular lesson of the Paris Commune on board and his seminal work on proletarian revolution, The State and Revolution, FLP, Peking, 1970, takes as its starting point the experience of the Parisians workers.

It’s strange that this soft approach towards the enemy within persisted throughout the period of the Commune. In the Declaration of the Commune, dated 29th March 1871, reference was made to the fact that if the people of the Commune didn’t deal severely with their enemies then they would become powerful enough to destroy the revolution or, at least, be able to undermine its advances. But little was done practically to avoid the counter-revolution.

However, in all revolutionary circumstances there will be those who call for leniency towards the deposed ruling class, either out of opportunism – in an effort to protect their own class interests under the guise of being revolutionary – or, more usually, out of naivete as many don’t realise what challenging power entails and that the deposed ruling class will never accept their loss of power and will wreak vengeance on all those that try. The naïve were to learn their lesson – but when it was too late to do anything about it.

Lax security meant that bourgeois counter-revolutionaries were able to allow the entry of the government, Versailles, forces inside the walls of the city on May 21st. Once inside the forces of reaction, composed mainly of ignorant and easily manipulated peasants, just carried out a blood-lust campaign of slaughter. One of the failings of the Commune was seen in the very instrument of their destruction – the workers of Paris had failed to communicate to the vast majority of the population of France the true importance of what they were trying to achieve in the capital. The interests of the peasants were with the workers but the reaction was able to convince these soldiers that they should stick with the theocratic, capitalist state.

Once the defences had been breached the Commune was reduced to fighting a rear-guard action. It was soon evident that with the actions of the government troops there was literally nothing to be lost in fighting to the death. No quarter was being given so none was asked. Many of those who surrendered were subject to summary execution – the vicious and degenerate bourgeoisie egging on the executioners. History often mentions the women knitting on the occasion of the execution of the aristocrats during the bourgeois French Revolution of the late 18th century but there is little mention the finely dressed bourgeois harridans who cackled and spat as young men, women and even children, were stood against a wall and shot.

Execution of a trumpeter

Execution of a trumpeter

The workers did fight and most notable, and for the bourgeois reaction the most notorious, were Les Petroleuses, the women who set fire to buildings in the city centre to slow down the advance of the murderous government forces. In this action there was also an idea of ‘if we can’t have these properties then neither shall you’. This was branded as mindless destruction by bourgeois commentators and the press.

The writer Emile Zola condemned the Communards for what he saw as pointless destruction of a beautiful city. He changed his mind slightly on learning of the scale of slaughter in subsequent days but at the same time his attitude that property was sacrosanct pervaded the ideas of many opponents of the activity of Les Petroleuses. Such an attitude exists to this day and can be seen whenever there are riots against the present capitalist system – whether politically motivated or just out of sheer frustration and anger about injustices in the society – where property is destroyed. Many, including the working class, in capitalist societies have an idea of the sanctity of property and no concept at all about the reasons for the ownership of such property.

Despite all efforts to hold them back the government troops were soon in control of increasingly large areas of the city and the slaughter continued. By the end of the week the ‘conservative’ estimate was that around 30,000 men women and children were murdered by the peasant Versailles troops. No proof was needed for active participation in the Commune, being in the wrong place and the wrong time was enough to merit the bullet or the bayonet of the soldiers.

But this was the aim of the reactionary forces. They were not concerned about capturing, taking to trial, convicting and punishing those who might have been elected members or active supporters of the Commune. The vary fact that the working class had permitted such an organisation and structure to exist in the first place was enough to deserve the death sentence. The reaction were not just thinking of those 70 days when the working class of Paris had taken control from their traditional rulers they were concerned that the working class of France (and indeed, the rest of the capitalist world) would be aware of the penalties for acting above their ‘station’.

Marx wrote about the importance of the working class being an independent armed force even before the blood of the Communards had been washed from the city’s streets;

All this chorus of calumny, which the Party of Order never fail, in their orgies of blood, to raise against their victims, only proves that the bourgeois of our days considers himself the legitimate successor to the baron of old, who thought every weapon in his own hand fair against the plebeian, while in the hands of the plebeian a weapon of any kind constituted in itself a crime. Karl Marx, The Civil War in France, FLPH, Peking, 1966, p99

The workers had taken up arms to better their condition and they were crushed by superior arms so that in future workers would be content to act within the bounds set by the ruling class itself. Fights and struggles around who should rule by depending upon the ballot box was to be the norm. It didn’t matter if people were to die in such internecine and tribal struggles (which is happening in many parts of the world even into the 21st century) as long as such fighting doesn’t challenge parliamentary cretinism – the belief that only by a cross on a piece of paper can society ever move forward.

By the 28th May the only fighting combatants of the Commune found themselves surrounded at the Père Lachaise cemetery, to the east of the city. One hundred and forty-seven were summary shot and buried in a trench – beside which today exists a simple monument to those murdered in that Bloody Week.

Communard's Wall - Pere Lachaise

Communard’s Wall – Pere Lachaise

The repression didn’t finish when the shooting stopped. Thousands were arrested and about another 100 were shot ‘after due process. Many workers were imprisoned in various parts of France and 4,000 or so transported to New Caledonia, one of a group of islands that was part of the French Empire in the Pacific, 1,200 kilometres east of Australia, which at the time was a penal colony. (It’s still a French dependency to this day.) Included in their number was Louise Michel – probably the only ever decent anarchist.

Women of the Commune at Chantiers prison

Women of the Commune at Chantiers prison

Many lessons were taught in that short period of time in the spring of 1871 – both positive and negative – but, unfortunately, the example of the wrath and brutality of the ruling class has had a greater influence over the proletariat of the world than the shining example of courage, audacity and true freedom.

Only in a few cases have the workers (and this time in an alliance with the peasantry) got off their knees and attempted to establish a new world order. Internal problems and mistakes in those countries (and here I specifically talking about Russia, China, Albania – and perhaps Vietnam) led to the eventual demise of the socialist goal but the lack of proper, meaningful support in, especially, the so-called ‘advanced’ industrial countries meant that the burden, which would have been light if spread more widely, had to be taken on a relatively few shoulders.

Nonetheless, the same issues which caused the Parisian workers to take up arms and establish the Commune are the same under which most workers and peasants throughout the world still have to endure. There is no doubt they will rise and take control, but they will have to do so in a position of weakness, as did the Communards, as history has shown us that revolutions only occur at times of severe crisis – which inevitably mean not the best of circumstances under which to build socialism.

In 1848 Karl Marx and Frederick Engels wrote:

The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win. (Karl Marx and Frederick Engels,The Manifesto of the Communist Party, FLP, Peking, 1968, p76).

What was true 160 years ago is as true today as it was then.

Eternal glory to the martyrs of the Paris Commune!