18th March – Paris Commune 1871

18th March - Avenue Jean-Jaures

18th March – Avenue Jean-Jaures

More on the ‘Revolutionary Year’

18th March – Paris Commune 1871

‘World history would indeed be very easy to make, if the struggle were taken up only on condition of infallibly favourable chances.’ Karl Marx, April 17th, 1871

The 18th March 2018 marks the 147th anniversary of the start of the Paris Commune. For the workers and oppressed of the world this was probably the most significant event of the 19th century. During the short 72 days of its existence it demonstrated that once workers are united in a common goal they can quickly change their lives for the better. At the same time the murderous manner in which it was suppressed showed that the ruling class will stop at nothing to prevent the workers from taking control of their own lives.

What was the spark that caused this prairie fire?

Before it got light on the morning of 18th March 1871 washer-women, on their way to work, came across a group of soldiers trying to steal some of the artillery pieces which the local National Guard had secured in working class districts once the Prussians had entered Paris. After a long siege the national government had acquiesced to Prussian demands that the National Guard be disarmed and this group of, reluctant, soldiers were given the task to do so before the general population was awake.

Feelings were running high as those in the working class districts of the capital were prepared to hold out against the invaders and this attempt to take away the guns they had paid for was seen as the last straw. The alarm went up. Angry crowds started to gather. A couple of the state’s generals were shot and things moved quickly.

What in other circumstances might have just have been a riot became one of the most significant political events of the 19th century, where working people not only opposed the existing regime but decided to replace it with a structure that benefited the working class and not just the rich. This structure became known as the Paris Commune.

The Communards hadn’t planned in advance what to do and didn’t really understand how they were entering into brand new territory and the majority of those involved in the Commune wouldn’t have known the exact nature of the progressive organisation they were building – or of it’s possible long-term effects.

Mao stated in August 1927, 56 years after the Commune, that ‘Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun’ (Selected Works of Mao Tse-tung, Vol. II, pp. 224-225) and the spark for the Commune was the attempt by the bourgeois Thiers government to disarm the workers. Due to the siege of Paris by the Prussians many workers in the National Guard actually knew how to use what they had and this combination of armed workers with dangerous ideas made them a threat to the very existence of the bourgeois, capitalist state.

And how did they respond?

There had been political tension in Paris since the end of January when the bourgeois government capitulated to the Prussians and had allowed them to enter the city. The petty-bourgeois elements of the National Guard dissolved away and the Central Committee of the National Guard was staunchly proletarian. This meant there was a structure that was able to step into the vacuum created on that tumultuous day in March – what they did next took the Parisian workers into the unknown.

18th March - Rue Basfroi

18th March – Rue Basfroi

By the evening of the 18th the National Guard was in control of key points in the city and had occupied the Town Hall (the Hôtel de Ville), where the Red Flag was hoisted. The next day, the 19th, elections for the Commune were announced for March 26th. On March 28th the Paris Commune was officially proclaimed.

However, instead of following the tried (and failed) road of parliamentary cretinism the Commune started to create a new organisation which had as its central tenet the interests of the working class. For such temerity, for such audacity they were to be severely punished within less than 70 days.

I can do no better than quote the words of the great theoreticians of Marxism for their analysis of the experience of the Commune, some thoughts written within days of the destruction of the first example of workers taking power into their own hands.

The Communards ditched the old reverence to the established electoral order;

‘From the very outset the Commune was compelled to recognize that the working class, once come to power, could not go on managing with the old state machine; that in order not to lose again its only just conquered supremacy, this working class must, on the one hand, do away with all the old repressive machinery previously used against itself, and, on the other, safeguard itself against its own deputies and officials, by declaring them all, without exception, subject to recall at any moment.’ Frederick Engels, Introduction to The Civil War in France, p15

And that;

‘ … the state is nothing but a machine for the oppression of one class by another, and indeed in the democratic republic no less than in the monarchy; and at best an evil inherited by the proletariat after its victorious struggle for class supremacy, whose worst sides the victorious proletariat, just like the Commune, cannot avoid having to lop off at once as much as possible until such time as a generation reared in new, free social conditions is able to throw out the entire lumber of the state.’ Frederick Engels, Introduction to The Civil War in France, p17

That;

‘… the working class cannot simply lay hold of the ready-made State machinery, and wield it for its own purposes.’ Karl Marx, The Civil War in France, p66

However, the Paris Commune saw the significance of their new organisation as something that would have to extend beyond the Paris city limits.

‘In a rough sketch of national organization which the Commune had no time to develop, it states clearly that the Commune was to be the political form of even the smallest country hamlet, and that in the rural districts the standing army was to be replaced by a national militia, with an extremely short-term of service.’ Karl Marx, The Civil War in France, p71

It also bore the seeds of longer term ambitions and had international implications.

‘It was essentially a working-class government, the produce of the struggle of the producing against the appropriating class, the political form at last discovered under which to work out the economic emancipation of labour.’ Karl Marx, The Civil War in France, p74

What did the Commune achieve – if only for a short time?

On March 30th the first decree of the Commune concerned the suppression of a standing army and an armed people, the National Guard, would be the only army – all citizens capable of bearing arms to be enrolled, both men and women.

Your Commune has been established!

Citizens:

Your Commune has been established.

The vote of March 26 has sanctioned the victorious revolution.

A craven aggressive power had seized you by the throat; in your self-defence you have driven beyond your walls the government that sought to dishonour you by imposing a king.

Today, the criminals whom you had not even thought to prosecute, abuse your magnanimity in organizing a centre of monarchical conspiracy at the very gates of the city. They invoke civil war, they seek to corrupt; they accept every complicity; they have even dared to beg for foreign support.

We summon these abominable intrigues to the judgement of France and the world.

Citizens:

We have just given you instructions which defy all comparisons.

Your are masters of your destiny. Strengthened by your support, the representatives that you have designated will undertake to repair the disasters brought about by the defiant power. The industry that has been compromised, the labour that has been suspended, and the commercial transactions that have been paralysed will all receive the most vigorous impetus.

Today, the awaited decision on rents;

Tomorrow, that on loans;

All public services re-established and simplified;

The National Guard, henceforth the only armed force in the city, reorganized without delay;

Such will be our first acts.

The elected representatives of the people only ask, to ensure the triumph of the Republic, that you give them your support and confidence.

They will do their duty.

Hotel-de-Ville of Paris March 29th 1871
The Paris Commune

Among the other decrees (which were enacted with greater or less success with the time constraints) were;

  • 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 ‘workingmen’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
Burning the Guillotine in front of Voltaire's statue

Burning the Guillotine in front of Voltaire’s statue

  • night work for bakers was abolished
  • planned the reopening of factories closed by owners and these to be run on a collective basis
  • razed the Chapel of Atonement – built to expiate the execution of Louis XVI

Paradoxically, in a city on a war footing, besieged by hostile forces, both national and international, this all resulted in a situation where the streets of Paris were safer than they had been for decades – without a police force.

Did the Commune make any mistakes?

Of course. Many. Some forced due to the circumstances, some because someone, for some reason, made the wrong decision. Perhaps some mistakes could have been foreseen and lack of experience, lack of knowledge or even stupidity got in the way. And even in a revolutionary situation there will always be those traitors who hide themselves behind revolutionary rhetoric and seek to undermine the movement to benefit of their traditional ‘masters’.

The Commune wasn’t planned, it evolved. It wasn’t the result of a group of revolutionaries working out how best to change society. At the time of the Commune most revolutionaries in Europe were following the Blanqui model of a small group of insurrectionists creating a situation where the rest of the population would follow. (This failed approach was resurrected by Che Guevara in the 1960s under the name of the ‘foco’ theory.) The Commune was different. It was a period when thinking men and women had taken state power and they were trying to work out how to go forward – against all the odds.

And during all this they were under military attack, both from the reactionary bourgeois forces of Thiers and the presence of the Prussian occupying force.

The majority of them were workers who had never been in a position of making decisions about the rest of their community in their lives. They weren’t the trained sycophants and lackeys the ruling class accumulates around themselves. If they had not made mistakes that would have been a surprise.

Some of their mistakes were strategic, some tactical. They had no over-arching theory to guide them. The theory that would lead to a successful revolution of the oppressed and the exploited, Marxism, was in the process of being formed by its originators.

In 1927 Chairman Mao wrote;

‘A revolution is not a dinner party, or writing an essay, or painting a picture, or doing embroidery; it cannot be so refined, so leisurely and gentle, so temperate, kind, courteous, restrained and magnanimous. A revolution is an insurrection, an act of violence by which one class overthrows another.’ Mao Tse-tung, “Report on an Investigation of the Peasant Movement in Hunan” (March 1927), Selected Works, Vol. I, p. 28.

He had learnt from past experience, in China’s failed insurrections and revolutions, the success of the October Revolution in Russia and the failure of the Commune in Paris in 1871. Chairman Mao learnt from the past but the Paris Commune was the present for the Communards, for the Parisians. They had no experience to guide them. The were true trail-blazers and so mistakes were inevitable.

With hindsight it’s always easy to criticise what people did in the past.

But some of their mistakes need reiteration, not least to remind future revolutionaries of some of the matters they have to consider.

  • The Central Committee of the National Guard (the precursor of the Commune) gave the reactionary forces almost ten days grace after the thwarted seizure of the guns on Montmartre. This allowed reaction to organise and allowed them to create chaos within the centre of Paris. When you have power you must use it – reaction never rests.
  • The Central Committee of the National Guard was too magnanimous during this period and allowed a violent demonstration by reactionary forces to take place. Marx criticised ‘this magnanimity of the armed working men’ (The Civil War in France, p60). Reaction is the viper in the nest – it has to be crushed.

This lesson was well learnt by future revolutionaries after the October Revolution in Russia in 1917. If you can criticise Comrades Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, Joseph Stalin and ‘Iron’ Felix Dzerzhinsky for some of their actions (but not many) it will not be due to their ‘magnanimity’.

‘It is still necessary to suppress the bourgeoisie and crush its resistance. This was particularly necessary for the Commune; and one of the reasons for its defeat is that it did not do this with sufficient determination. But the organ of suppression is now the majority of the population, and not a minority, as was always the case under slavery, serfdom and wage slavery.’ VI Lenin, The State and Revolution, p50

  • They didn’t take over the banks. How this would have worked in practice is difficult to say, especially as they had such a short time in control, but if the Commune had lasted longer then this would have become a very serious matter. Better to take them over and not have an impact than not and then suffer the consequences down the line. Something else the Soviets learnt.
  • Reactionary parties were allowed to stand in the elections for the Commune on 26th March. This can be a difficult one. There will be the argument that not everyone supports the new order and that opposition forces should be given an opportunity to have their say. The problem is that they have been having their say for thousands of years and still the rich get richer and the poor get poorer – that’s the case in the 21st century world and was definitely the case in 1871 Paris.

The slaughter during the last week of May 1871 was a direct consequence of the innocence, naiveté and magnanimity of the Parisian working class. They suffered for their mistakes – how many more others are to suffer because future generations haven’t learnt the lessons of the past – and of the Paris Commune in particular?

But whatever the failings of the Commune it was not given the time to sort out its shortcomings or mistakes.

What can we still learn from The Commune?

The biggest ‘crime’ of the Communards was that they wanted to plan things for and by themselves and did not choose to be limited by the established bourgeois state. Play the game by their rules and you’ll get a pat on the head. Play another game which doesn’t include them and they will (attempt to) destroy you. That’s what happened in May 1871.

In ‘theory’ revolutions of the oppressed and exploited should be an easy matter. After all we outnumber the ruling class (in whatever country, in whatever social situation – beit slavery, feudalism or capitalism) by factors of hundreds of thousands in some instances. But it doesn’t work that way.

How many slave revolts can people cite during the whole of the Roman Republic and Empire – a period of something like 2,000 years? Spartacus, yes. And?

How many slave revolts can people cite in the 300/400 period of slavery in the United States of America? Nat Turner (possibly but not guaranteed – and that only lasted less than two days). And?

However dire their existence and conditions most people cling to life and misery rather than freedom and dignity. Many individuals in the past have chosen the latter but history doesn’t always record those brave men and women as the ‘prize’ for their independence was death. There are a few episodes in history where the oppressed and exploited have come together to change their situation. In a British context I will cite the Peasants Revolt of 1381 and the English Revolution of 1640.

Fourteenth century peasants would have normally lived and died within sight of their home, only leaving it if they were conscripted into some war for a tribal warlord (as that was basically what the monarchy was at that time) to establish his (and sometime her) right to rule them. The Rebellion, led by Wat Tyler, therefore, was something that came out of the blue, something which would have left most peasants thinking they were in some sort of dream.

When some of them went to London and their leader had a meeting with the King they were probably even more bemused. Then terrified as they were once again ‘put in their place’. They followed their charismatic leader to the capital who, riding a horse (what peasant rode a horse in 1381?), was set to meet the child monarch. Once out of his environment Tyler was treacherously stabbed in the back by the Sheriff of London. The rebellion melted quicker than summer snow.

(Traditionally, ‘commoners’ – i.e., anyone not of Royal birth – in Britain walk away backwards from a meeting with the monarch. This is interpreted as a sign of respect but it comes from the fact that, in the past, no one would trust a King/Queen as they were as likely to stab you in the back as look at you. That’s a lesson Wat Tyler learnt too late and which everyone should remember. Never literally, or figuratively, turn your back on the oppressor.)

Just about 260 years later there was another revolt against a British monarch. Although there were enough grievances amongst the population this particular revolt was led, and instigated, by the nascent bourgeoisie who had their own agenda but needed the anger of the people to achieve their aims – they also needed young, working class men to fight in their war. After nine years of war, where something like 11% of the male population lost their lives, the war criminal Charles Stuart had his divine head separated from his less than divine body.

The reason I mention these two events is to try to suggest how rare are those episodes in history where the oppressed and exploited actually get to a stage of challenging the fundamentals of power. They will always riot (especially in summer, riots rarely happen in the winter, although revolutions often do), they will always go on strike, they will always gripe and make things awkward for the ruling class, but they rarely challenge the class rule.

In 1381 the peasants trusted the monarchy and their trust was thrown back at them and they returned to their misery. In 1640 the few revolutionaries that did exist in Britain thought they could advance their ideas and practices (Gerrard Winstanley, for example, with the Digger Movement) but once the monarchy had been tamed the bourgeoisie had no need of certain sections of the army and used the forelock-tuggers to destroy progress – another lesson that we should learn, not all the oppressed and exploited will side with us against the oppressors and exploiters and are quite happy to destroy their own people.

But Marx saw something different with the working class revolt in Paris. There had been revolutions in France in 1789, 1830 and 1848 but they had been subverted for the benefit of the ruling class, if not initially, eventually. The Paris Commune was something qualitatively different.

‘In September 1870, Marx called the insurrection an act of desperate folly. But, when the masses rose, Marx wanted to march with them, to learn with them in the process of the struggle, and not to give them bureaucratic admonitions. He realised that to attempt in advance to calculate the chances with complete accuracy would be quackery or hopeless pedantry. What he valued above every thing else was that the working class heroically and self-sacrificingly took the initiative in making world history. Marx regarded world history from the standpoint of those who make it without being in a position to calculate the chances infallibly beforehand, and not from the standpoint of an intellectual philistine who moralises: “It was easy to foresee … they should not have taken up … “. VI Lenin, Selected Works, Vol 12, p111

For the first time the working class were fighting, consciously, for themselves. Not that they were necessarily conscious of all that they were doing. They moved the working class movement forwards by defending and promoting the interests of their class. Starting by defending their right to their armaments they decided they could promote those interests that had been denied them by the ruling class.

Serendipity (the washer women arriving at the time the government troops attempted to steal the artillery of the National Guard and those troops preferring to be mutinous rather than go against their class brothers and sisters) also had a role to play. Being in the right place at the right time even has a role in social advancement.

 …. and what has already been learnt.

Karl Marx had always closely followed events in Europe and especially what was happening in France with the country at war with Prussia. With the ignominious defeat of the French – and the subsequent declaration of the unification of Germany, on 18th January 1871, which took place in the ‘occupied’ Palace of Versailles in the humiliated France – Marx knew that the situation in Europe was about to change as the new, militaristic and powerful economic power of the new country would have to come into conflict with the most dominant economic power, Britain. It wasn’t a matter of if a war between these two powers would occur, only when. The world was too small for two such ambitious, imperialist powers to exist side by side.

Both Marx and Engels had also very closely followed and studied the revolutionary workers movements in France and Germany (especially) but other movements in Eastern Europe as well. Engels actually fought on the barricades in the Baden, Prussia, during the 1848 Revolution – even writing articles on military tactics which were published in the Manchester Guardian.

They knew that Paris was a seething cauldron of proletarian discontent but that were in a perilous position to take on the combined might of the French state – which had the tacit support of the Prussian occupiers. Although he recommended caution Marx was fully behind the Parisian workers when they were forced to either fight or capitulate after the incident of the attempted theft of the artillery of the National Guard by the reactionary government of Thiers.

He followed matters as closely as possible and, in fact, the first draft of The Civil War in France was written before the Commune was crushed in the blood soaked week at the end of May, 1871.

Apart from that seminal work Marx made an extremely important, and often ‘forgotten’ or ignored, annotation to The Communist Manifesto, published in 1848. In the 1872 Preface to the German edition of the book one sentence is of special significance:

‘One thing especially was proved by the Commune, viz., that ‘the working class cannot simply lay hold of the ready-made state machinery, and wield it for its own purposes.’ Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, The Communist Manifesto, p2.

The reason this short sentence is frequently overlooked is because this had the effect of challenging those who believed that a workers’ revolution could succeed peacefully and through bourgeois, parliamentary means – the ideas that have been shown countless times in the almost 150 years of the Commune to be a fallacy but which are still promulgated by modern-day Social Democrats.

Lenin also learnt from the organisation structure of the Commune and later, after the October Revolution of 1917, the Soviets were introduced with many of the attributes of proletarian democracy that had existed in Paris for a couple of months in the spring of 19871.

‘The way out of parliamentarianism is not, of course, the abolition of representative institutions and the electoral principle, but the conversion of the representative institutions from talking shops to “working” bodies. “The Commune was to be a working, not a parliamentary, body, executive and legislative at the same time.” VI Lenin, The State and Revolution, p55

Lenin believed in elections and representation but of a new kind that didn’t trap the workers who were attempting to build Socialism into the stultifying trap of parliamentary cretinism.

‘We cannot imagine democracy, even proletarian democracy, without representative institutions, but we can and must imagine democracy without parliamentarism,’ VI Lenin, The State and Revolution, p56

For the first time ever the proletariat had a model which worked – in all sorts of ways – if only for a short time.

‘The Commune is the form “at last discovered” by the proletarian revolution, under which the economic emancipation of labour can take place…. [It] is the first attempt of a proletarian revolution to smash the bourgeois state machine; and it is the political form ….. by which the smashed state machine can and must be replaced.’ VI Lenin, The State and Revolution, p66

Although Marx had based his theories of scientific socialism on the experiences of the workers’ and peasants’ struggles in the past he was more than willing to change his approach if new experience told a new story or gave a better example of how to do things in the future.

‘Marx did not indulge in utopias; he expected the experience of the mass movement to provide the reply to the question as to what specific forms this organization of the proletariat as the ruling class will assume and as to the exact manner in which this organization will be combined with the most complete, most consistent “winning of the battle of democracy.’ VI Lenin, The State and Revolution, p48

All great revolutionary thinkers learn from great events – from both their success and failures. It can’t be otherwise and this is why both Marx and Engels constantly referred to the Commune in their writings after 1871. When Lenin was trying to make sense of the Russian situation he found inspiration in the events in Paris – which were taking place at the very time he was celebrating his first birthday 3,249 kilometres away in Simbirsk, Russia.

Lenin also liked the way the Communards organised themselves, in a new way and very different from the hierarchical structure that characterises capitalist states.

‘There can be no thought of abolishing the bureaucracy at once, everywhere and completely. That is utopia. But to smash the old bureaucratic machine at once and to begin immediately to construct a new one that will permit to abolish gradually all bureaucracy – this is not utopia, this is the experience of the Commune, this is the direct and immediate task of the revolutionary proletariat.’ VI Lenin, The State and Revolution, p57

The proletarian dictatorship replaces the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie. This turns the world upside down and now instead of subordination to a monarchy, an aristocracy or an industrial or financial bourgeoisie society would now be under the control of the armed working class.

‘We are not utopians, we do not indulge in “dreams” of dispensing at once with all administration, with all subordination; these anarchist dreams, based upon a lack of understanding of the tasks of the proletarian dictatorship, are totally alien to Marxism, and, as a matter of fact, serve only to postpone the socialist revolution until people are different. No, we want the socialist revolution with people as they are now, with people who cannot dispense with subordination, control and “foremen and bookkeepers.” But the subordination must be to the armed vanguard of all the exploited and toiling people, i.e., to the proletariat.’ VI Lenin, The State and Revolution, p58

It was the Commune, without an organised, revolutionary Party leadership, that came up with the form of the new State that Marx had been looking for. It was workers themselves, and not ideologues, who realised what was needed to liberate themselves from oppression and exploitation.

They were not a movement as Lenin wrote about 31 years later; ‘Without a revolutionary theory there cannot be a revolutionary movement.’ (VI Lenin, What is to be Done? – Burning questions of our movement, p28), but without the Paris Commune Lenin might not have come up with this important conclusion.

However the lack of organisation was one of the contributory factors in the defeat of the Paris Commune. Not the only factor, as they had so many things going against them, but divisions based upon different political interests didn’t help in the struggle against the reactionaries. Future revolutionaries who have not learnt that lesson will end up suffering the same fate.

Women and the Paris Commune

Women had played a role in previous revolutions in France but the part they played was not recorded in a consistent manner and is often overlooked. Their role in the French Revolution (1789-1799) is often caricatured with harridans knitting at the public executions of the aristocracy but this is merely promoted to deny what actually was taking place – even when against the odds.

The Women’s March on Versailles, in October 1789, forced the royal court back to Paris – and was the virtual beginning of the end for this episode of the Bourbon’s. The Society of Revolutionary Republican Women agitated for full citizenship for women – their position in society being vague (to say the least) when the Declaration of the Rights of Man was published in August 1789.

Meetings of the Patriotic Women’s Clubs were held in churches – something that was copied in many of its aspects during the Commune.

Women's Club - 1793

Women’s Club – 1793

Revolutionary women also played a major role in the funeral of Jean-Paul Marat, the radical writer who produced the periodical ‘Friend of the People’, who was assassinated by a counter-revolutionary woman (not everyone who should be is always a revolutionary) in July 1793. They carried the bath tub in which he had been murdered – which even I think is a strange way of playing tribute.

Women were also very much involved in demonstrations against the increase of the price of basic foods and were prepared to riot when their demands were not met.

However, as the revolution was hijacked and moved to the right organised women’s groups were permanently shut out of the French Revolution after October 30, 1793.

So there was a tradition of women fighting for their freedom in uprisings and revolutions in France but in the Paris Commune of 1871 it (like the workers’ movement in general) took a qualitative leap.

It should be remembered that women were the ones who really started the revolution in March 1871 when they prevented the theft of the workers’ armaments and sounded the alarm which woke Paris to the theft and to a new dawn in so many ways.

They revived the clubs using, as in the 1790s, the same churches from where the clergy had been evicted following the decree on religion.

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

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

Although there are examples of women taking up arms in the 1790s this was more prevalent in the Paris Commune, especially so when the reactionary state machine started its slaughter of all those who had dared to challenge state power at the end of May 1871. Not only fighting side by side with their male comrades on the barricades but also causing mayhem by setting alight and destroying many buildings in the centre of the city. These ‘petroleuses’ (women incendiaries) were especially vilified by the reaction for the contempt they held for bourgeois property.

'A girl soldier'

‘A girl soldier’

One renowned woman of this group of female revolutionaries was Louise Michel. Louise was an anarchist – and this will probably be the only time where an anarchist will be lauded on this blog – but was steadfast in the face of the threat of death once the Commune had been destroyed. She showed her contempt for the court at her trial – which took place as the fires in the city were still smouldering.

The reaction wanted contrition and regret, what they got was defiance and hatred;

‘You must cut me off from society! You have been told to do so, well, the Public Prosecutor is right! Since it seems that every heart that beats for liberty has the right only to a lump of lead, I demand my share! If you let me live, I shall not cease calling for vengeance, and I shall denounce to the vengeance of my brothers the murderers of the Commission of Pardons! … If you are not cowards kill me!

They were cowards and she was sentenced to, first, imprisonment in Paris and then deportation to the French colony of New Caledonia (off the eastern coast of Australia), returning to Paris when the surviving Communards were given an amnesty.

Louise Michel

Louise Michel

She wrote a poem in honour of her fellow Communard and friend, Théophile Ferré, the Blanquist Delegate to the Police, who refused to recognize a military court’s right to judge him after the defeat of the Commune and was sentenced to death and executed.

The Red Carnation

If one day to the cold cemetery I were to go,
brothers, cast on your sister,
like a final hope,
some red carnations in bloom.

In the final days of the empire,
as the people awoke,
red carnation, it was your smile
that told us all was reborn.

And now, go blossom in the shade
of dark and drear prisons,
go blossom near the sombre captive,
and tell him we love him.

Tell him that in these changing times
everything belongs to the future;
that the victor with his pallid brow
can die as easily as the vanquished.

She remained active in revolutionary politics (if anarchist politics can be called ‘revolutionary’) until her death in 1905 – the year of the revolutionary events in Russia which were to lead to the October Revolution of 1917.

In 2008 a film was released, ‘Louise-Michel’, directed by Benoît Delépine and Gustave Kervern, where female workers made redundant from a textile factory decide to pool their redundancy payments to hire a hit man to eliminate the boss. I’m sure Louise would have approved

Long Live the memory of The Paris Commune!

Eternal glory to the Parisian Martyrs of the Working Class!

Further Reading

If the only thing I achieve with this post is to stimulate an interest in this oft forgotten event in the 19th century it would have been worthwhile. When I say ‘forgotten’ I’m not saying that it has been forgotten by the world revolutionary movement. The Paris Commune sits in the pantheon of our revolutionary past.

However, not unsurprisingly, it is ignored in general history education in – at least – schools in the UK. The war between France and Prussia will be taught as this led to the creation of the German State which, ultimately, led to the clash between the European  imperialist powers and the ‘First World War’ – called the ‘Great War’ by the murderous British imperialists. 

That killing fields of the young working class and peasantry between 1914 and 1919 did have a positive result – the October Revolution of 1917. VI Lenin, the leader of the Bolshevik Party that initiated that revolution learnt from the positive and negative aspects of the valiant struggle of the Parisian workers in 1871.

So the ‘forgotten’ event of 1871 has had a direct effect upon the society in which we live today, coming towards the end of the second decade of the 21st century. Capitalism and imperialist of the Anglo-Saxon world has never forgiven, and will never forgive, the Russian workers for their audacity to challenge capitalist rule and succeeded in the construction of a Socialist society for, an unfortunately short period of 39 years.

That 39 years, as opposed to 72 days, would not have been possible but for the determination, imagination and sacrifice of the Parisian proletariat from March to May 1871. 

From a Marxist-Leninist perspective:

The already referenced works by Marx and Lenin:

Karl Marx – The Civil War in France, 1871

VI Lenin – The State and Revolution, 1917

And earlier analyses of the Paris Commune by Lenin;

In Memory of the Commune

Lessons of the Commune

A History of the Paris Commune:

The best general history of the Paris Commune, as far as I’m concerned is:

The Paris Commune of 1871

written by Frank Jellinek, and originally published in Britain in 1937 as part of the series of books under the umbrella of ‘The Left Book Club’. 

To put The Paris Commune into its historical context the Left Book Club Edition of Frank Jellinek’s ‘The Paris Commune of 1871’ included a very short – but useful – pamphlet by Dona Torr.

An Introduction to The Paris Commune by Dona Torr

Women in The Paris Commune

One book that investigates how women fought for their own freedom during The Paris Commune is:

The Women Incendiaries by Edith Thomas – not yet available in digital format 

More on the ‘Revolutionary Year’

LITERATURE AND THE ARTS SHOULD SERVE TO TEMPER PEOPLE ….

News of the morning - Niko Progri

News of the morning – Niko Progri

More on Albania ……

This speech of Enver Hoxha from 1965 is reproduced here as part of the collection of material from Albania that relates to the concept of a ‘cultural revolution’ – the struggle of ideas in the construction of Socialism.

LITERATURE AND THE ARTS SHOULD SERVE TO TEMPER PEOPLE WITH CLASS CONSCIOUSNESS FOR THE CONSTRUCTION OF SOCIALISM

The closing speech delivered at the 15th Plenum of the CC of the PLA

[This Plenum discussed the situation of literature and the arts in the PR of Albania and gave orientations for their further development.]

October 26, 1965

Dear comrades,

I was in two minds whether or not to speak at this meeting, and the cause of this hesitation was that the report of the Political Bureau delivered by Comrade Ramiz [Alia], as well as the very good and mobilizing contributions of the comrades have analysed the major problems with which we are concerned today, have examined in an all-sided way and subjected them to a profound Marxist-Leninist analysis.

Hence, in view of what has already been said what I am going to say will not be of any special importance.

However, allow me to re-emphasize some of the ideas that were expressed either in the report or in the discussion.

In one of his writings Marx says:

‘.. we are not going to come out before the world as doctrinaires with a new ready-made creed: here is the truth, fall on your knees before it! We are developing new principles for the world, which we draw from its existing principles. We do not say to the world: ‘Stop the struggle; all struggle is in vain’, we provide it with the true slogan of the struggle. We are simply showing the world the real reasons it is fighting for, whereas consciousness is something that the world has to gain, regardless of whether or not it wants this’.

[K. Marx and F. Engels, Letter from the Deutsch-Französische Jahrbücher to Ruge (1843)’ Works, vol. 1, p. 381, 2nd Russian edition.]

These words of Marx should inspire us also in the development of literature, the arts, and culture in general.

It is not consciousness that determines being but it is being that determines consciousness. Looking at the question from this Marxist-Leninist angle we can understand the magnitude, variety, as well as the difficulties of the leading role of the Party in the tempering of consciousness, of consciousness as a direct derivative of the struggle and the efforts of our people.

From this stems the great role which literature and the arts should play in the inculcation and development of this consciousness, closely linked with the period we are going through, with the efforts, the struggles for the construction of socialism, with the struggle on a world scale against imperialism, the bourgeois ideology and its variant, modern revisionism, etc.

The consciousness of man and that of society is not something petrified, unchanging, formed and developed once and for all. It undergoes positive and negative changes, it alters in accord with the material-economic forces, with the class struggle, the revolutionary situations, the relations between the antagonistic and non-antagonistic classes, with the ideas which inspire the class struggle, the revolution, and so on.

We say ‘class consciousness’, ‘proletarian consciousness’, ‘bourgeois consciousness’, ‘capitalist consciousness’, we say, ‘he has a clear conscience’ or ‘a troubled and heavy conscience’, and so on. This means that in life and struggle people do not display a standard consciousness; consciousness reflects different world outlooks, which derive from the developing economic situation. But there is more to it than this, although, as Engels says, this is the main thing, the decisive thing that opens the way. It is also dependent on other social factors and on the superstructure of every economic system, because, on the basis of dialectical .and historical materialism, the prevailing ideas in one or another country, in one or another historical epoch, are those of the ruling class. Both the feudal class and the bourgeoisie have each tried to proclaim the ‘universality’ of their ideas, to create, to mould the consciousness of their class, in order to prop up and perpetuate their state power. However, at the same time, their economic system, their reactionary ideology, their class consciousness also created their grave-digger – the proletariat, with its proletarian ideology, with its proletarian consciousness, with its social-economic system – socialism, with its science of the vanguard, of revolutions, the class struggle, and with its own ideological and political superstructure.

Socialism has transcended the borders of one single state, the imperialist bourgeois system is heading for its demise, Marxism-Leninism is enlightening, inspiring, and leading mankind to revolution, to socialism and communism.

By going through struggles and revolutions. today our Albania has become a socialist state, where the working class is in power, where our Marxist-Leninist Party is successfully and unfalteringly guiding the future of the people towards socialism and communism.

In such conditions, the tasks of the Party, and those of literature and the arts in particular, in tempering the people with working class consciousness, with the morality of the working class, in order to go ahead successfully with the construction of socialism, are glorious, but by no means simple. If we do not examine the developments taking place in our country from the unerring angle of Marxism-Leninism, as the Party teaches us, if in our analysis and interpretation of these processes we are not guided by the compass of Marxism-Leninism which the Party has put in our hands, not only will we make mistakes in our judgement of things, but the changes and progress will be made more slowly and with greater difficulty.

Albania embarked on the road of the construction of socialism after a long process, after many efforts, revolutions, struggles with the external and internal enemies, a process which has its roots deep in the ancient history of the people: economic processes – economic struggles, political processes – political struggles, processes of ideas – ideological struggles, literary processes – literary-political struggles, etc.

All these processes tempered the Albanian people, armed them to resist the enemies, to fight them, to fight the feudals, the bourgeoisie, reaction, fascism, and finally, to take state power into their own hands. The thinking of our people advanced, their patriotic, political, and moral consciousness was awoken and underwent positive tempering. Herein lies the key to the victories of the Party, herein lies its mastery, in that it knew how to reckon with these things in their revolutionary dynamism and development.

But it would be a mistake to think that after every process and every victory, the past and especially the old world outlook, which is expressed in customs and prejudices, are wiped out at once, completely, and without any danger of their returning. It would be naive to think that the old retrogressive world outlook and prejudices in the consciousness of men, in the mode of working and thinking, in the way of life, would be wiped out automatically, parallel with the economic and political transformations which make the greatest and most rapid strides forward.

Nevertheless, it must be understood correctly that the new revolutionary men have not fallen from the heavens, but have been prepared in the new economic and political conditions. Hence the material basis for such a transformation exists and the ideology of the Party that inspires them also exists. We must push this basis forward and from it we must fight the shortcomings, mistakes, the remnants and impediments from the not-too-distant past, which show up in one way or another in the people’s consciousness and their daily struggle.

Thus, under the leadership of the Party, the energies of the entire people should be mobilized for this struggle, for the new life, for a better, more bountiful and more beautiful life and future.

I want to turn to the concrete reality and to emphasize with what a sacred duty and a heavy burden of responsibility our Party and people have charged you writers, poets, artists, composers, painters, sculptors, etc. Like everyone else, you, too, must carry out these tasks conscientiously, with your struggle and toil. Your valuable and delicate work must be inspired by the Marxist-Leninist ideology, because only in this way and by basing yourselves on the people, on their struggle and efforts, will your militant and revolutionary spirit display itself and burst out in your creative works and activity, and thus you will become educators of the masses who accomplish great works.

The work is extending, the level of the masses is rising, their demands are increasing in quantity, quality and range, therefore the Party and you, all of us, are faced with heavy collective and individual tasks, and we must make great efforts to fulfil them.

If we advance with the people, live and struggle together with them, if we know how to make good and proper use of the numerous material and moral means that the Party and the people’s state power have put at our disposal, the literature and the arts in our country will continue to advance with great and unprecedented vigour. Among the people we should find our inspiration, the notes of the song, the rhythm of the dance, the purity of the language, the tempo of work, the inspiration to creative work, the example of heroism and sacrifice, the lofty virtues of the people’s modesty, of the people’s justice, and so on and so forth. The basis of creative activity in the arts and literature, as in everything else, should be the people.

Whether to build a colossal hydro-power station on a big river to provide the people with light and to make the river irrigate the fields and create prosperity for the people, or to allow it to flow how and where it will, to create ponds and marshes, or to flood the wheat fields, depends on us, on people.

Of course, the Party has followed the former road and has done great things. But it is known that the building of our hydro-power stations, and the draining and irrigation of our land, at one time either marshy or parched, are by no means mere fantasy, nor have they been created by our people merely with dreams and imagination. These people, once ignorant and today learned, have tramped all over the country, have worked and lived in water and mud, with mosquitoes eating them; others have laid down their lives while working to build the dams, just as in our beautiful legends about the building of bridges and castles.

Hence, when the Party advises our people, and particularly the writers and artists, that they must equip themselves with broad culture, must learn Marxism-Leninism, must go to the people and work in their midst, become inspired and create there, this is a decisive issue. The work should be conceived in close connection with the aim and the reality. And this reality is at the base, not within the four walls of your study, nor is it the brainchild of some mountain-top god. The head adapts, harmonizes and beautifies it from every aspect.

There are some who think, and think mistakenly, that by making a flying visit to the base, by sitting in a cafe, cigarette in hand, in order to see the various types whom they want to put in their work passing in the street, or who think that by walking through some factory or plant, they have gathered the necessary material and go home, where they start to write superficially, and sometimes entirely back-to-front, about those things and people that they ‘photographed’ in passing. Thus the world of such a person is restricted by the narrow petty-bourgeois concept of the role of the writer, and he thinks that his head is capable of doing great things. But can it be said that the engineers of the hydro-power stations or those who drain the marshes do not work with their heads, and that the writers alone have this privilege? No! But the engineer, quite correctly, works with the people, studies the environment, the nature, draws plans, checks them again with the people, with the best experience of others, encounters difficulties, struggles with them till he overcomes them. But should not our writer and artist work in this way, too? Then why do we have to point this out to him so many times?

Fortunately, we do not have to point this out to all but there are some to whom it is necessary to mention it. because such individuals not only lack any correct concept of work among the people and with the people, but are the only ones and the very first to make claims for themselves.

Many people have an inclination to be a writer or poet, but not all of them can become writers and poets. To be a writer or a poet does not mean just to have an inclination, to link phrases imaginatively or to create rhyming or non-rhyming verses, it is not sufficient just to have gone through a special school, where you have learned the art and technique of this skill. No! I think that this is not enough.

You cannot become a real writer simply because you have talent, if you do not develop this talent, this means, by learning, if you do not work on it, test it, and hammer it into shape on the great anvil of the people and if you do not study a great deal, and first of all, the social and economic sciences. Only in this way will the writers provide the working class and the peasantry with worthwhile works.

I said that the writers and artists should study science but they may ask, where will we find these scientific works to study? In our country not everything is prepared and ready to hand. Many things are prepared, well or with mistakes, others have to be studied and written, have to be studied even while preparing your novel. There are many facts and documents in existence, not only of our National Liberation War and the construction of socialism but also of pre-Liberation times. However, these have to be searched out, studied and exploited by all, and not by the method of fantasy, but scientifically. You must not say lightly, ‘I have experienced these things, so I know them and do not need to refer to the documents’, or ‘My grandmother told me these things as we sat around the fire-place and I can write about the life of our people in the past from my own imagination’.

Such a work cannot be considered serious. A serious work is one which deals competently, in a scientific way, with all aspects of the particular problem, which carries the problems through to the end, which analyses the process correctly and in a realistic manner, makes it completely understandable, and brings out properly, along with their good and negative aspects, the circumstances that brought this process about, the role of the main operative forces and actors of this process. Then the work becomes vivid, educational, arouses enthusiasm and opens perspectives; the heroes also come out as living people and fight, not with the moon, but with reality, with the difficulties of life.

The range of themes is extremely wide, extremely inspiring to those who want and know how to write and create. The themes are just as numerous, with as great a variety as our life, as the struggle and efforts of our Party and people.

I do not want to repeat anything of what was said in the report delivered by Comrade Ramiz in regard to the range of themes and our objective of tempering the new man of the new socialist Albania, of inspiring him with the heroism of the National Liberation War, with the heroism and the sacrifices of the people and the Party, with the ideas of the partisans, with their aspirations and dreams, in order to inspire and educate him with the rich, exalting, living reality of the construction of socialism in our country, this period which is one of the most brilliant in the history of our people.

Beautiful works have been written about these periods, and an endless series of hundreds of others will be written, which will perpetuate the majestic work of the Party and the people. The main stress should be put here. The men of the new Albania, who under the Party’s leadership, in the course of their work and struggle are performing miracles, should experience this reality intensively, should understand it properly in order to go armed into the coming battles, which will no doubt be difficult. and which will certainly be won by our people.

These two periods are an inexhaustible source for our writers and artists, they are the great base of inspiration, and I shall say no more about this. However, I want to re-emphasize the importance which the past epochs of our people have for our literature and arts. I am thinking, especially, of the romantic epoch of the Renaissance, without going back to ancient history.

The history of our people is an indivisible whole. For purposes of study we may divide it into periods, epochs, on the basis of economic-social development, on the basis of wars and revolutions with arms and pen, etc., but the history of our people is a single whole, and as such it should be made the subject of an all-sided scientific, literary, artistic study by all our people of all fields of creative historical and literary studies, and these should complement one another.

The history of our people must be a subject for study not just by historians, but also by economists, lawyers, philosophers, sociologists, ethnographers, linguists, composers, writers, painters, sculptors, architects, critics in various fields, etc., etc. Without all-sided, detailed, careful work, unearthing every document, every legend, every custom, while studying and interpreting them correctly, in their dialectical materialist development, we are not going to have the literary works we need. These broad fields of the history of our people are not separated by walls, which require that the jurist, for example, should do his work first so that the writer can then take over and base himself on this.

Let us take a concrete example. Suppose I am a writer and have in my head a theme about the pre-Liberation period of Albania. There are two ways I can choose, either to indulge in fantasy, simply relying on what I have heard from my mother or grandmother about the sufferings, struggle and efforts of our people, or to ‘take these things ‘into ‘account while making concrete studies.

Where should I carry out these studies? First, among the people; the people are the greatest book, even greater than grandmother’s; then in the archival documents of the regime of that time. Do they exist? Yes, they do, but they are covered in dust. These documents are the shame of the tyrannical regime of Zog, but there you find reflected the struggle, the grievances, the law court records of our people, you find reflected there the political, economic and social situation, the oppressive measures, the usury, the plunder, the brutality of the regime, etc., etc.

How can a writer fail to make use of them, how can he wait till the jurists carry out and complete their studies? The writer ought to knead the dough with his own hands, otherwise he has chosen the easiest, but least fruitful way. With this I want to bring to our writers’ attention that there is a gap in our pre-Liberation literature for the reasons we know. It falls to us to fill this gap, to cover it with realist works, which will bring out the continuity of the life, the struggle, the work and thinking of the Albanian people even in those dark periods of their existence. If we fail to do this, we shall be making a mistake and the coming generations, who have not lived in that period, will not know the past of our country and people properly, and will not treasure the efforts of our people and Party to mount the difficult steps one by one, as they ought to.

But there is an important question we should always bear in mind, that the emphasis laid on the values of the past of our people should not create even the slightest confusion in the minds of the people of our time of socialism. It is our duty to cleanse the treasures of our national culture of their bad aspects, and these treasures should serve the socialist order we are building. We should bring out very clearly those things which help and not those which hinder the development of our society today. The aim of the Party is to create new values. Our revolution demands new heroes appropriate to the time, the efforts, and the aims of our period. Not all the deeds and attitudes of the heroes of our people’s past are in conformity with the requirements and ideals of the people of our epoch.

There is also another reason. We carried out the revolution, now we are building socialism, but the past, in various forms, is a burden on our backs. In order to combat the negative consequences of the past, we have to explain to the younger generation the origin, the reasons that caused the development of these things. Our fathers and our generation have experienced those situations, but the others have not. However, in this direction the page is not entirely blank. Some valuable novels have been written about pre-Liberation times. The novels of the epoch of socialism, too, can speak about the past. We must not neglect these periods and must enrich our literature and arts.

Literature and the arts reflect the existing social relations. This is true of all periods, from Homer and the Greek society of that time to capitalism, from the Enlighteners to Gorky, Mayakovsky and the Great October Revolution.

Our new literature and arts, national in form and socialist in content, follow this course, too. Many beautiful, realist works have been produced by our people … When you read them, hear them, or see them, you are seeing and feeling the pulse of the life and struggle of our people. The talent of our writers and artists is developing successfully and advancing with their efforts to learn, to study, and to link themselves with the people.

A great inspiration is urging onward a new generation of wonderful writers and artists, who are winning renown and becoming dear to the people. Our Party, through its work and maternal care, must protect, educate and encourage these young people with all its means.

We must encourage the new talents. To do otherwise would be a mistake, but without checking their impetus, we must educate the new talents in a correct way. We must teach them not to become conceited over a couple of poems they have written.

Let me tell you something that happened. Some years ago, in the paper of a house of culture, I read some simple poems by a young girl, a teacher. I said to myself: her verses are not without an idea. I lost sight of her, but some months ago I received a letter from her, the tone of which seemed to me very brash and arrogant in regard of the Publishing. House and the people of education, who do not publish her ‘works’ allegedly because of jealousy, and so on. Well, I thought, youth is -youth, and we can forgive its impetuosity, and I advised the comrades to keep close to her, to make things clear to her and help her. Later I received another letter from her, full of anger and arrogance in regard to our publishing organs. In a word, she is just about demanding that ‘they put up a statue to her’. Such things are not good, but, after all, she is a young girl and we should be indulgent; but I want to tell of another instance, this time about an elderly man, who was in the War and has written some verses to the rifle. They are some three separate poems without any great value; but the Publishing House has published them in a booklet of 8 or 10 pages. Somebody made a serious criticism of it. Apparently this friend considered his poetical ‘rifle’ insulted by this criticism and wrote to the Central Committee that measures should be taken against the critic, who, he claims, made this criticism out of spite. ‘because · – listen! – when he was my student, I gave him a bad mark for his composition!

From these and other examples of this kind if should be understood that to write for the people and publish for the people is one of the most serious and delicate things. Those who write should keep in mind Marx’s idea when he said to Engels:

‘Nothing has been, or ever will be, published from my hand that is not perfect’

But there has been only one Marx.

However, we should feel that when we set about writing for the people we are doing a great service, but the people want us to be modest. We should also understand that the Party and the state have set up the printing houses and the press, not to publish any rubbish somebody chooses to produce, even though he may be an old writer who has produced good stuff in the past, but has now run out of ideas and produces worthless things. Everything should be examined with a critical eye by the critics, the publishing houses and other enterprises, without bias (because, unfortunately, there are cases of bias). The Party and the organs of state power should be vigilant. I am of the opinion that we should not wait for masterpieces to be turned out, and then print; by no means, because we would soon run out; but neither should the press be used by a few people, and fortunately there are not many of them, for their own financial profit, or to spread ideological confusion or valueless works. There are such petty-bourgeois elements, who push themselves into the limelight, who with their ill-formed or petty-bourgeois ideological and political baggage, distort the ideas of the proletariat.

Engels severely criticized Karl Liebknecht for having allowed such people to penetrate into the party and its press. We should not think that we have escaped such unhealthy elements. These we must cure in a correct way and not by patting them on the back.

Marx said,

‘Of course, the writer must earn money to live and write, but in no instance should he live and write to earn money.’

[K. Marx and F. Engels,1842, Collected Works Volume 1, London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1975, pp. 174-175]

And we should not think that we have escaped these unhealthy elements, either. These, too, we must cure and teach how to go straight.

The Party’s policy in the field of art and literature has been and is clear to everybody. It will always give powerful support to the good works, the correctly inspired works, those that educate, mobilize and open perspectives. Mistakes are made and will be made, as happens with every work. They should be corrected; criticism should be constructive and not denigrating, and he who is criticized should respond, not with petty-bourgeois pride, which keeps all its sins to itself, but with an open heart.

With those who are confused in their works from the ideological, political and artistic point of view, in content or in form, it is the duty of the Party to correct them with patience. I agree with the criticisms, which were made in a correct spirit and with good aims, about two or three plays and some works of prose or poetry. I know that their authors have honestly admitted their mistakes and I am sure that they will not repeat them. I am convinced of this because they are sons of the Party, in whom the Party has confidence, because they are talented writers, determined to serve their people on the road of the construction of socialist society and socialist culture, and their mistakes can be considered momentary ones. The Party will look after them, will extend its hand to them, as always.

But when it happens that it pleases someone to produce mistaken things, in bad taste, which nobody needs, he has no reason to complain about the Party; it will neither publish nor sell them. Let whoever so desires go on producing for his own bookshelf, and we shall not disturb him so long as he does not become socially dangerous.

In regard to literature and the arts which are developing in our country, as in regard to the other issues, there are not two moralities, but only one, the proletarian morality of the working class. The ideas expressed in the works should conform to this morality. A work devoid of ideas and of this morality may occasionally appear to be of some limited interest from the viewpoint of its artistic skill, but from the social ideological viewpoint it cannot have any value. Therefore we should always bear in mind that the maintenance of a stand in literature and the arts is part of the political struggle waged by our Marxist-Leninist Party, in complete unity of thought and action with its people.

In the report and the discussion of it, there were many correct things said about folk music and folklore. I am not going to enlarge on these important problems and the principles guiding us in our work, but I shall underline some ideas.

Folklore should not be identified narrowly with folk music. Folklore is not only folk music; music is only one of the expressions or manifestations of folklore. Folklore covers a very wide range, as wide as the life of the people. Folklore is the song, the lahuta [a kind of lute], the pipe, the drum, the folk songs of Laberia, Myzeqe, Devoll, Dibra, Shkodra, etc. On the other hand, neither the popular satire, verse, or fables, nor the weddings, mournings, joys, or sorrows, nor the multi-coloured costumes with all their variations in cut and style, the popular handicraft with its national flavour, can be divorced from folklore, any more than the customs, the written and unwritten laws, etc., etc. can be divorced from it. In my opinion, if we fail to understand the problem in this way, if we destroy its basis, do what we may to preserve our folk music, we shall not achieve this. In order to preserve our folk music, the basis for it, or the main parts of this basis, must be preserved. The improvement of folk music should proceed parallel with the improvement of the basis for it.

To put it more concretely. We know how all our great folklore has been developed and enriched. Whole books should begin to be written about it, for this is a priceless asset. We have set up a Folklore Institute and think that everything has been done. The Institute is working, but rarely does anyone go there to make a thorough study of those valuable things it has collected, not to mention the music and art schools, whose programs, if I am not mistaken, deal very little with our folklore but almost entirely with classical and modern music.

What occurs in the majority of cases? The banal verses of some poets, to whom an article of the ‘Zeri i popullit’ gave a well-deserved thrashing, are preferred by our musicians and around them they compose their music. If some one were to tell these musicians to have a look at the popular verses of Uncle Selim from Brataj [a singer of folk rhapsodies], they might smile ironically and even deride him, saying: ‘He is not in his senses’. But the people themselves have put the verses of the Uncle Selims to music and have been singing them for centuries, those verses which you ‘boast about’ in principle, but which you scorn in reality. There is inconsistency here, you say one thing and do another. With this I do not mean that you should not write beautiful new verses and set them to music.

Let us take the question of musical instruments. On the one hand there is talk about the beauty, the variety of folk music, on the other the houses of culture are filled with accordions, guitars, mandolins, whereas you will find few of the pipes, clarinets, tambourines, drums, lahutas, bagpipes etc. with which the people have sung and which are a great foundation for our folk music in the houses of culture, and especially among the people. I am not in the least against new instruments and the best of the new music. On the contrary, but I am also for the old instruments, for producing and spreading them among the people because through the centuries the people have sung with them about their joys and sorrows, the struggle they have waged, and they want to sing with them and will continue to do so.

Such an incorrect action has brought its own consequences. The new instruments have spread the modern songs, to, which I am not opposed, but willy-nilly, there is a danger. that they will gradually take the place of the folk songs, and this would be a great mistake. They have led to the spreading of European dances, to which I am not opposed if they are kept in proportion, but we must not eliminate the folk dances, because this, too, would be a great mistake. We teach the people who graduate from the schools, whom we send to the houses and centres of culture, to organize modern choirs and a number of standard things, but they are not taught to inspire the workers to sing folk songs, either when they are alone, or when they are at work, to put their heads together and sing in pairs, as is the custom with our people. Indeed they forget that the people love to sing, that they do sing, because their life, their traditions and customs demand it.

The folk songs and dances go well and in unity with the jokes, the marvellous humour and the costumes. But, little by little, we are eliminating them; forgetting the jokes and popular humour, displaying these costumes in museums, and what is worse, we are doing this in an administrative way, through orders and campaigns (I am not referring to either the baggy Turkish trousers, which are not national and should be put away in museums or at the bottom of clothes chests, or the ugly woollen breeches worn by women in some districts).

The Party has been right to say that money should not be spent uselessly on folk costumes, that people should go to work in plain clothes. But what harm does it do us if a girl wishes to dress in a beautiful national costume when she marries, or a man from Dibra wants to wear a pair o.f the traditional trousers? This does no harm; on the contrary, it is all to the good, because it helps preserve our traditions. We are not ashamed of our national costumes. On the contrary we are proud of them, and they are beautiful. But he will spend a lot of money, they say. That is his business. Let him reckon up his own budget. After all, why should we interfere?

The Party’s advice is that there should not be great useless expenditure on funerals, weddings, dowries and other such manifestations of life. This instruction is correct, but in many cases it is understood and applied wrongly. One may ask, what connection has this with folklore? It has a great deal to do with it, because our folklore and our customs have been developed and enriched during these important events in the life of men. There are also some bad customs that come under this heading, and the Party has issued instructions that they must be eliminated, but not to prohibit the fine customs of the people. To advise someone not to involve himself in heavy expenditure when his son gets married is correct, but to instruct him how many people to invite, or advise him not to invite some friends and relatives to sing, dance and enjoy themselves is a mistake. To combat the idea of a dowry for a daughter, as it was understood and practised in the past, is absolutely right, and this fight must be continued, but it is wrong to prohibit a parent from seeing to it that his daughter has some clothes, a bed, and some other things. But in this latter instance, when such a fuss is made about these things that every girl feels she has to bring her husband a dowry, or otherwise he will not marry her, as actually occurred in an ugly incident in Korea, this must be combated.

But how can we fight these evils among the many fine customs of our people? With administrative measures? No! They must be fought through educative work, good examples and well-considered actions towards various manifestations in life. These evils can be combated through our manysided folklore itself. The people have a great deal of humour in their songs, they make many pointed and witty jokes which make you laugh, but educate you, too. The variety shows can do a great deal in this direction …

The institutions and the works they perform must be of the people and for the people, express the struggle of the people for the construction of socialism, their finest and purest sentiments and aspirations, must follow the efforts of the people step by step, inspire them correctly, open up new perspectives and be in the vanguard.

If our institutions are to achieve this, the authors and actors must live with the people and with the line of the Party, must know and feel the problems of the people, their joys and sorrows, their victories and defeats. This reality can be neither written nor expressed on the stage on the basis of formal lessons alone. The school teaches actors, musicians, etc. a great deal, but life, with its toil and struggle, teaches them other, very valuable and inspiring things. The play, the author, the director give the actors their instructions, but neither the author nor the best director can teach them what the life of the people, their feelings and experience teach them. Life and the revolutionary struggle full of the vigour and enthusiasm of the people and the Party are the most talented authors and directors there can be.

However talented the artists and the writers may be, I would never use the bourgeois term ‘stars’. No, compared with the talent and the creative skill of our people they can never be ‘stars’. Therefore, if these ‘stars’ – lose contact with the earth, they lose all their brilliance.

The repertoires of our opera and ballet theatres should be simple and understandable to the people. This does not mean that they should be ‘banal and devoid of ideas’.

In a simple presentation the ideas are expressed more clearly and fluently, like the clear waters of a mountain stream.

A complicated, intricate and exaggerated presentation, in most cases, hides unclear, equivocal ideas.

The people need clear ideas, not obscure ones, therefore, the Party will support the former and not the latter.

In our musical and theatrical works the people should be presented in struggle and in work, just as they are, with their noble sentiments, their heroic character, their modesty, their fine qualities and their shortcomings, and these shortcomings should be pointed out because they must be corrected, but they should not be presented for purposes of denigration or disparagement or for the sake of some evil decadent, revisionist theories, by means of which a few aesthetes do not fail to brag and beat the air in order to show how learned, profound and talented they are or in what an allegedly independent spirit they go about their creative work.

To imagine, invent, to conjure up, even with the greatest skill, non-existent situations, unreal characters and types, out of a possibly fertile though unhealthy imagination inspired either by excessive reading of foreign dramatists, without any sort of critical attitude or Marxist-Leninist dialectical method, or by pseudo-progressive, or Freudian philosophical trends, are things which our people do not like, which the Party will not permit and will combat as harmful to the people’s culture.

The wrong outlook of some authors that ‘everything they write should be put on the stage without delay’, should be rejected. The good ones will certainly be put on the stage, while the rotten ones will be thrown into the waste paper basket. Spiritual food is far more delicate than physical food; that is to say, good, fresh meat is eaten, stinking meat is thrown out.

The theatre, the ballet, the variety shows, the opera cannot be at the service of those who are sick in the head, but of those whose heads are in order and whose hearts beat in unison with the heart of the people.

The overwhelming majority of the repertoires should comprise popular, revolutionary, Marxist-Leninist Albanian subjects. Foreign pieces should be somewhat less and be subjected to the most careful selection, not on account of xenophobia, because we know that xenophobia will undoubtedly lead to self-isolation and conceit.

In no way should we cut ourselves off from the best of the world repertoire, but however good it may be, it cannot be understood except by a limited section of intellectuals of extensive culture. The masses do not understand it properly and do not enjoy it, or else we make them dream outside their objective reality, if during the performance, a critical dialectical attitude is not maintained and the stress is not put on its positive aspects.

Some may say, ‘But we must make our people acquainted with foreign reality and the finest foreign creative works, too.’ This is indispensable. I am in complete agreement and do not reject this idea. Therefore I say that our people should be given a taste of this healthy dish, but it should be only one among many healthy and delicious dishes from the Albanian cuisine.

Some may say, ‘But we have no repertoires’. What reasoning! We must create them! At first, they will not be perfect, but that is something everyone has gone through.

If we proceed from the idea of staging foreign ballets, because we have none of our own, and sometimes stage unsuitable ones, we have solved nothing but have created a grave situation. Such an idea is incorrect, is not realistic, because our composers have produced truly beautiful, praise-worthy national operas, our ballet masters have staged choreographic works with folk motifs over which one can enthuse, our soloists sing folk songs and songs of the war that fill one with joy and inspiration and the authors of novels, plays or film scripts have produced works of great value to the people.

Therefore, in order to create something good, which will serve the people and the Party in this great battle for socialism, we must not choose the easiest way, but the most arduous, full of toil and struggle.

I have said already that we may also stage foreign works; possibly our authors, too, will be inspired by foreign subjects, but only in the right way. Always, before commencing work on any undertaking, they must ask themselves the question, ‘Does this thing I am doing serve the great cause of the people?’ One’s fantasy, imagination, ought to work, but not in order to create fantastic things.

I will give two examples of a differentiated choice of compositions:

Some weeks ago, my friend, the well-known composer Kristo Kono, sent me his new composition ‘Prometheus’. He had told me about this opera in a talk I had with him on music and compositions. I wished Kono success in composing his opera even though it was a subject that many well-known composers have tackled. But since he had started work on it. and since I. for my part, consider this theme positive, as I shall explain in a minute, I made some suggestions to him. Kono’s composition may be beautiful, and this is what we hope, and then we shall say that his efforts have not been wasted, because, as you know, Aeschylus made Prometheus, the hero of mythology, a symbol of the fighter for the happiness of mankind. Whoever has read ‘Prometheus’ will remember the words of the hero to Hermes, the servant of the gods:

‘Be sure, I would never want to exchange my miserable fate for your servitude, because I would rather be, bound with chains to this rock than be the obedient lackey of Zeus …

In a word, I hate all the gods’.”

Aeschylus, Tragedies, ‘Prometheus Bound’, p. 71, Tirana,. 1950 (Alb. ed.).

Marx said:

‘Prometheus is the noblest saint and martyr in the philosophical calendar.’

[The Difference Between the Democritean and Epicurean Philosophy of Nature (1841), K. Marx and F. Engels, Collected Works Volume 1, pp25-108]

However, I told Kono that in the history of our people there are many heroic subjects which ought to inspire him, therefore instead of going back to mythology, he should compose something beautiful and purely Albanian, beautiful and inspiring not only to our own people, but also to people outside the borders of Albania. He gave me his word and I believe that he will keep it.

On the other hand, some days ago I read in the paper that our ballet ensemble, in preparing performances for the people, had not found any subject other than Strauss waltzes, arranged in a special composition, allegedly with a theme of proletarian morality, that has nothing to do with the crazy epoch of these waltzes. What are the Strauss waltzes? An excitant, the expression of an epoch, a symptom of the transformation of the society existing at the end of the 19th century. This coincides with the decline of a regime of unrestrained luxury for the bourgeoisie, an epoch of pleasure-seeking, and which is always a disturbed epoch – the ‘Blue Danube’ is not blue, but turbid if we analyse the social and political situation of the time when that waltz was composed. But the music is beautiful. This is an undeniable fact, and I am not against putting this and other waltzes on the radio, but for our producers, together with the ballet ensemble; to work for months on end to elaborate a performance with these waltzes, this is of no benefit politically in the education of the masses. hence is useless effort.

Why do our people need this ballet? What inspiration does it bring them? None at all, I would say.

On this occasion, we must face the question of how we should study and utilize the experience of the foreign world in the fields of literature and music, the fine arts, theatre and cinematography.

Should we profit from world experience in these directions? It would not be Marxist if we were to say no, but it would also be anti-Marxist if we were to become slaves to it and gulp down everything the foreigners have produced, without a thorough critical analysis and a proper classification.

Every work, of every genre and period, has its good .aspects and also has its bad ones. We must choose what is good. Each of these good aspects has its own technique, ideas, art of expression, sound, etc. But should we take these and adopt them en bloc, with the passion and feelings that do not recognize reason, that. do not recognize the epoch, the social situation, the ideas, tastes, and inclinations of people and their struggle and efforts? This, of course, would be a great and very dangerous absurdity.

Every creative work, in whatever epoch, has been tendentiously inspired by the ideas of the time, by the social situation of that epoch. Many works have resisted the passage of time, have foreseen the future, prepared it, but they cannot be considered perfect in their entirety and models for every period, for every epoch. There are people who are passionately devoted to certain of their idols and who, with non-Marxist judgement, seek to introduce these idols everywhere, to adopt them for every period, to copy them in place and out of place, to dress them up in some garments of our time and pass them off as socialist works.

Writers, poets, composers. etc., must read, study and learn from the others. It has never been said that they should not be passionately fond of some of them. but what they learn and study from foreigners should always be taken with a critical spirit and with a definite aim, and what is taken should serve their own people should serve the creators of literature and the arts so that they live with their own people, with their struggles, aims, aspirations and customs in order to create what is suitable and understandable to their people, appropriate to the time and the struggle they are waging. In this way, they will write really original works.

Thus, study of the works of foreigners must serve the acquiring of knowledge of the life, struggle and development of those peoples. This does not mean that the struggle, ideas and development of your own people are the same as theirs. in spite of the fact that there may be some similarities or connections with those of others. This lesson, this experience from the foreign works must see you to open horizons in order to study the history of your own people better but your people’s history has its own peculiarities, your people’s ideas have their particular development in the particular social situation of your people. This interests us, in the first place, and it has also interested that foreign writer of genius, Balzac, when he wrote his great work ‘The Human Comedy’.

We should learn their art of writing, their style, their method of work, rhythms and metre, but we should learn them not to become slaves to them, because our people have their own style and rhythms, we are creating our socialist style which is our basis, on which we shall work, build and create our own originality, for only in such a way will our people understand us and will we inspire them.

I think that we should not step beyond these correct, objective limits, because, notwithstanding the fact that you may be very knowledgeable and learned, wisdom and learning are worthless as long as you do not know how to channel them in the interests of the people; as long as the purpose of them is not to enrich the treasury of the people’s marvellous creativeness, they will be only an ornament hanging from your personal neck, but an ornament of no value to the people …

Some of my conclusions in this closing speech may seem rather blunt. This is not unintentional, first of all, because the conclusions in the report are complete and your contributions to the discussion supplemented them, and second, because I want to stress that in all our activity we must not forget the existing situation of the imperialist-revisionist encirclement of our Homeland and that this encirclement is an iron one and not merely a figure of speech. The bourgeois and revisionist ideology is attacking us from all sides. Our enemies and the enemies of Marxism-Leninism would like us to occupy ourselves with weighing up details on a set of ‘gold scales’ and entering into academic discussions while we let the wolf into the sheep fold. We must shut the door to the wolf and shoot it dead. Let them call us savage, because we play the pipe, and the beat of the drum and the clarinet ring out from our stage, or because we have given the place of honour to dances in our national costumes. For us, the only important thing is to defend the Homeland, the people, Marxism-Leninism and socialism. And these are defended when everything national in form and socialist in content is defended, when the line of the Party is always borne in mind and properly applied.

To you, the people of literature and the arts, worthy sons and daughters of our Party and people, as in the time of the War, the Central Committee directs the call: always hold high the banner of the Party, and always march into battle and to victories with the fire of the Party and the people in your hearts!

[Enver Hoxha, Selected Works, Volume 3, pp832-859]

More on Albania ……

Frederick Engels – pamphlets, books and commentaries

Frederick Engels

Frederick Engels

The Great ‘Marxist-Leninist’ Theoreticians

Frederick Engels – pamphlets, books and commentaries

Virtually everything that has been published by Frederick Engels is included in the 50 volume Collected Works of Karl Marx and Frederick Engels.

However, his contribution to the world revolutionary movement has meant that many of his most significant works have been produced as individual pamphlets/books. The intention is to post as many of those as possible on this page.

Engels spent many years of the 19th century in Manchester – and a few years ago returned to stand proudly in a public square.

On Historical Materialism, International Publishers, New York, 1940, 30 pages. Little Marx Library.

The Housing Question, Lawrence and Wishart, London, 1942, 100 pages. Volume Seven of The Marxist-Leninist Library.

Condition of the Working Class in England in 1844, George Allen and Unwin, London, 1943, 149 pages. From Project Gutenberg website.

Engels as Military Critic, Manchester University Press, Manchester, 1959, 146 pages. Reprinted from Volunteer Journal and the Manchester Guardian of the 1860s. With an introduction by WH Chaloner and WO Henderson.

Articles from the Labour Standard (1881), Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1965, 53 pages. The Labour Standard was a British trade union weekly published in London from 1881 to 1885, edited by J Shipton.

The part played by labour in the transition from ape to man, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1968, 16 pages.

Socialism – Utopian and Scientific, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1968, 74 pages.

Ludwig Feuerbach and the end of Classical German Philosophy, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1969, 61 pages.

History of Ireland (to 1014), Irish Communist Organisation, Dublin, 1970, 68 pages.

The Bakuninists at work – Review of the Uprising in Spain in the summer of 1873, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1971, 28 pages.

Critique of the Erfurt Programme, British and Irish Communist Organisation, Glasgow, 1971, 20 pages.

On Marx’s Capital, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1972, 126 pages.

Dialectics of Nature, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1972, 403 pages.

Ludwig Feuerbach and the end of Classical German Philosophy, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1973, 68 pages. Scientific Socialism Series.

Marx, Engels and Lenin on the Irish Revolution, Ralph Fox, The Cork Workers Club, Cork, 1974, 36 pages.

Marx, Engels and Lenin – On the Dictatorship of the Proletariat, Foreign Languages Press, Peking, 1975, 41 pages.

Socialism – Utopian and Scientific, Foreign Languages Press, Peking, 1975, 108 pages.

The part played by labour in the transition from ape to man, Foreign Languages Press, Peking, 1975, 25 pages.

On Marx, Foreign Languages Press, Peking, 1975, 26 pages.

The Peasant Question in France and Germany, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1976, 29 pages.

Ludwig Feuerbach and the end of Classical German Philosophy, Foreign Languages Press, Peking, 1976, 185 pages. Has the same content as the two Soviet Revisionist editions on this page but also has, in addition, Plekhanov’s Forewords and Notes to the Russian Editions of the Engels pamphlet. (There’s a strange comment in the Publisher’s Note at the very beginning of the book. This states, after giving reference to the source material of Plekhanov’s Appendices, that they were included ‘with numerous and often drastic revisions and corrections where necessary’.)

Principles of Communism, Foreign Languages Press, Peking, 1977, 28 pages.

Karl Marx and Frederick Engels – Selected Letters, Foreign Languages Press, Peking, 1977, 133 pages.

The Housing Question, pp 317-391, Marx and Engels Collected Works, Volume 23, 75 pages.

Marx and Engels – On Reactionary Prussianism, Marx-Engels-Lenin Institute, Moscow, Red Star Press, London, 1978, 48 pages. Reprint of the original from the Foreign Languages Publishing House, Moscow, 1943.

On Engels’s The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State, IL Andreyev, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1985, 159 pages.

The Great ‘Marxist-Leninist’ Theoreticians