Tuesday, May 08, 2018

Marx and the Amazon Hooligans

Myself, I decided to read Marx’s lesser read journalism on the Paris commune. Although innumerable rightwing tweets have gone after Marx for Stalin, in reality, Stalin was born after Marx was dead. Marx made a very clear political record for himself. That record is a record of responses to the horrors of the 19th century. Those are horrors that Cold War liberalism (of which conservatism is a variant) did not want to examine. Instead, the Cold Warriors approved a history in which native peoples “vanished”, and in which the pomp and panoply of the British Raj became the scene for many a BBC and PBS series – while the eleven million people who had starved to death in India, by 1911 (quoting the 10th edition of the Encyclopedia Brittanica), were ushered off stage. Too bad! If you want to know what preceded Dachau, you should look in Mike Davis’s Victorian Holocaust. Imagine a famine in which hundreds of thousands are dying, and the government response is to send troops out to the countryside to collect their taxes. This happened. Imagine a labor camp where the daily release of food contained as many calories as … well, at Dachau. This happened. We know what Marx thought about labor camps, slavery, and the “vanishing” native people because he actually wrote about them. He was, let us say, against it.

In any case, on to the Commune, about which I am reading. Here’s another witness: Camille Mendés, a sensitive sort, a poet, who remained in Paris during the Commune and wrote a book about his experience there, entitled: Les 73 journées de la Commune. I can’t believe the echo of Sade is wholly absent from that book. 

Anyway, Camille was able to observe that thing which shocked the respectable in the 1870s, the amazons-voyous – amazon hoodlums. Women from the working class armed themselves and fought alongside another communard. Mendés compares them to the famouse tricoteuses – the women who knitted while the guillotines fell. Except these were cantinieres – cafeteria workers. Waitresses, you might say. Never underestimate the waitresses!

‘There was not enough men with holes poked in them by bullets or cut up by the machine gun. A strange enthusiasm took hold of the women in their turn, and thus they fell on the field of battle as well, victims of an execrable heroism. Who were these extraordinary beings, who abandoned the household broom and the working woman’s needle for the cartridge? who abandoned their children to go to be killed by the side of their lovers or husbands? Amazon hoodlums magnificent and abject, they held their own with Penthesilia or Theroigne de Mericourt. One saw them pass, carrying canteens, amongst those going into combat; the men are furious, the women are ferocious, nothing moves them, nothing discourages them. A Neuilly, a food and drink seller, wounded in the head, had her wound bandaged and returned to take up her combat post. Another, of the 61st bataillon, bragged of having killed a score of police and three guardians of the peace. At Chatillon, a woman, remaining with a group of national guardsmen, charged her rifle, fired and recharged without ceasing; she was the last to retreat, turning around at every instant to return fire. The woman who dispensed food in the 68th bataillon fell, killed by a mortar blast which broke her ladle and projected it in pieces into her stomach. … Thus, what is the furor that has carried off these furies? Do they know what they are doing, do they understand why they are dying? Yesterday, in a boutique, rue de Montreuil, a woman enters, rifle on her shoulder, blood on the bayonet – shouldn’t you be home cleaning the faces of your brats? said a peaceful bourgeois. A furious altercation broke out; the virago was so carried away that she leaped on her adversary, bit him violently on the neck, then, falling back a few paces, grasped her rifle and was going to fire when suddenly she grew horribly pale, let fall her arm, and collapsed; she was dead, the anger had caused an aneurism to rupture. Such are, at this hour, the women of the people.”

Marx of course supported the Amazon hooligans.

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