Tuesday, 29 August 2017

They Live We Sleep: Movies as Metaphor for Militancy

1988's They Live, directed by John Carpenter was a modest success when it was released, though nowadays if your familiar with it all its probably as a meme. Either the famous `kick ass and chew bubble gum` one liner or an edit of screencaps of the scene Roddy Piper first puts on those magic sunglasses and sees hidden messages.

Its a shame really, well ok a few of them are pretty funny. What is definitely ashame though is outside of the occasional joke and reference in other programs is that a depressingly large chunk of this films fanbase is incredibly anti-Semitic. So much so that John Carpenter has had to publicly denounce the forced associations with his film.

The film is a bit creaky as 80's action films go the action doesn't really standout and the plot relies on more than a bit of convenience to work. But it does set up its world very well, its ideas are clever consistent and incredibly subversive. Also while Roddy Piper isn't very convincing as an action hero, he does very well in the first half of the film, he is convincing as a naïve drifter who believes in a lucky break, and he does come across as genuinely baffled when first trying out the sunglasses.

Personally I think They Live's real strength aside from an entertaining way to spend 90 minutes is in how weirdly accurate the film is in depicting the development of leftist discourse and the evolution of a militant personality. Especially since this is mostly by accident. Like Carpenter says the film is quite explicitly anti Reagans America with its corporate power and consumer excess but it goes far beyond that.

It starts with a pretty bleak though accurate depiction of late 80's USA, John Nada (Roddy Piper) has just hitched his way to the West Coast after work dried up elsewhere. Decline of industry is in full swing, the Steel mills are laying off their workforce or have already closed `We gave the Steel companies a break when they needed it. Know what they gave themselves? Raises`. Its gotten so bad that even the banks in industrial towns are closing down. The welfare office is over crowded and can't cope, Nada gets a job on a construction site by essentially begging and another worker shows him a shanty town where a community of sorts has been established. They seem pretty well organised the dwellings while improvised look permanent, they have power and a food kitchen and the residents all pitch in. While Nada is getting settled in he notices a strange broadcast from interrupting the tv channel. Something that happened a few times in the 80's, a bearded fellow keeps talking about signals, distractions, growing poverty and some group that's to blame. Its pretty incoherent and the tacky ads soon drown it out.

This peaks Nada's interest, as does strange comings and goings at the church next door, he goes snooping, but shortly after the police move in, they raid the church and smash the shanty town. In a manner eerily close to photographs of the police force's attempts to evict the shanty town in Tompkins Square park New York, that same year, just a few months before They Live was released. That incident was infamous for widespread use of excessive force. Nada manages to escape the storm troopers, but when he returns to the ransacked church he finds a pair of sunglasses and that's when he starts seeing the world as it really is.

Tompkins Square 1988
They Live 1988
It was at this point that the film as metaphor for the development of class consciousness appeared to me. Its commentary on the media in propping up capitalist relations and society is fairly obvious, but less obvious is its counterpart. The broadcast jamming done by the small group of revolutionaries is a depiction of the scale and effects of radical propaganda by small groups on the wider society. Activity which does include pirate broadcasting. The group despite its cleverness and commitment is simply out resourced, the best they can do is spurt out snippets of their cause to an audience that's confused and vaguely hostile, and they are quickly drowned out by mainstream programming. The best they can do is get a few people like Nada vaguely curious in a `want to know, what its all about sense`. Its really the heavy handed police response that pushes Nada into an attempt to make sense of everything, and crackdowns on dissent have been known to be agents of radicalisation. For example the growth of Black Lives Matter after the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson Missouri 2014.

And when he finally gets the famous sun glasses its effects and Nada's reactions are pretty accurate (well ok its exaggerated) depiction of how people react once they've started learning about the class system and capitalism. Suddenly the normal is different and sinister, but in a way that quickly starts making sense, though it takes awhile to fully comprehend (and some never make it that far) the implications. He also starts seeing the rulers of mankind for what they really are, a sort of bugged skull faced alien thing.

One of the things that distinguishes Communism from a conspiracy theory is that ultimately the bad guys are a class of human beings who do harmful things because its in their best interest to do so. Now given that the bad guys in They Live are weird aliens you can be forgiven for thinking They Live is a conspiracy theorist film (the non anti-Semitic ones certainly like it too) but its meant to be figurative not literal. John Carpenter didn't make the film to warn the public that aliens were among us. And to be honest without those glasses, the aliens look perfectly normal, they act perfectly normal, their power is revealed to be systemic rather than personal. And without class consciousness the capitalist class in reality appear like ordinary people just with more money and a few personality quirks. When mainstream society does vilify a capitalist its for being to brazen at capitalism like Mr Shrkeli who jacked up the prices of life saving medicines. His right to charge for those medicines was never questioned, does the scale of his profits and the manner in which he acquired them.

Moving on a bit, shortly after coming to terms with this revelation but still knowing very little about what's going on, Nada arms himself and engages in a brief campaign of individualistic terror. He guns down several of the aliens. He feels pretty good about it, but he soon has to flee and in the grand scheme of things he hadn't accomplished much. The aliens aren't really thwarted by a few deaths and if anything they're using his stunt to consolidate power by sowing fear of a mad gunman. This is a fairly nuanced and accurate depiction of Propaganda of the Deed. A campaign of political assassination and bombings, it was fairly successful in terms of targets killed, including United States President McKinley by Anarchist Leon Czolgosz, but in terms of effective resistance it wasn't very effective at all. Political leaders and industrialists were replaced and the systems persisted.

After escaping Nada tries to recruit his sort of friend and fellow worker Frank Armitage. Frank had expressed resentment at the system previously, back when Nada still `believed in America` but now he's hesitant. Nada being wanted for murder doesn't help matters. This is where the famous five minute back alley fight scene takes place. Its a good fight, but more importantly looks just as frustrating as attempting to raise the consciousness of a friend or co-worker who seemed receptive can be. Replace `put on the glasses` with `just read the book` or `watch this lecture` or `just listen to me and think it over!` and you have an accurate depiction of how many attempts at consciousness raising end up.

Also quite close to home is the argument they have afterwards in the hotel room about what should they do, and why doesn't the other one have a master plan ready to go? In my experience that has been a very big stumbling block, people are receptive and interested but often they really do want to know a step by step blueprint to changing the world.

After finally literally beating Frank into submission he two sees the world for what it really is. They then stumble back into the resistance. At the meeting is where the film is cemented as a critique of capitalism that uses Sci Fi elements and not a Sci Fi film that uses capitalist criticism to give it relevance. Its confirmed that while the aliens occupy key positions of power including in the police and media most of the people working in this industries and the government are humans, some have consciously sold out for the chance of personal enrichment, basically a form of class treason. This human elite is essentially the supervisors and senior management the real power remains concentrated with the aliens.

Frank and Nada also receive upgrades, they trade in there sunglasses for contact lenses, they see clearer with less interference. If the shades represent an introduction to class consciousness the contacts represent a refinement. Both Nada and Frank know more about what they're facing and have confidence in their struggle. Also at the meeting a ring leader of sorts is complaining that they're aren't recruiting enough, that should sound familiar to anyone whose attended a branch meeting. He also says that the authorities think the group and groups like them are all Communists, this explains the heavy handed policing. Even human cops ignorant of the conspiracy are motivated by false ideology to despise dissenters.

The last act begins when the meeting is raided by armed police. The storm troopers mow down the resistance, I'd say this is a depiction of the setbacks endemic to movements, but my heart tells me this was about the needed for action packed climax. Anyway Nada and Frank survive and they wind up in the Aliens headquarters. The plot is at times contrived but to be fair not nearly as much as I'm making it seem here. To its credit the film does establish most of the ending fairly well.

The ending is pretty interesting. We get collaborator explain that the whole world is under the control of the system. Nations don't really exist anymore its all artifice and everyone sells out every day. This is pretty sophisticated stuff, there is no such thing as ethical consumption under capitalism, and national differences are just maintained by the system for its own advantage.

At the very end of the film Nada destroys the main transmitter for the aliens interference signal, what's interesting is what happens next. Instead of an immediate uprising the immediate effect is that the aliens are exposed for what they really are, this causes general confusion but it strips them of their power. The system has been exposed, and at present that'll have to do for now.


Some dialogue that I think sets the mood quite nicely.

Frank: I have a wife and kids in Detroit. I haven't seen them in 6 months. Steel mills were laying people off left and right. They finally went under. We gave the steel companies a break when they needed it. Know what they gave themselves? Raises. The Golden Rule: He who has the gold, makes the rules. They close one more factory we should take a sledgehammer to one of their fancy fuckin foreign cars.
Nada: You know. You ought to have a little more patience with life.
Frank: Yeah, well I'm all out!
Frank: The whole deal is like some kind of crazy game. They put you at the starting line. And the name of the game is make it through life. Only, everyone's out for themselves and looking to do you in at the same time. OK, man here we are. You do what you can, but remember, I'm going to do my best to blow your ass away. So how are you going to make it?
Nada: I deliver a hard day's work for my money I just want the chance. It'll come. I believe in America. I follow the rules. Everybody's got their own hard times these days.

Bearded Man: They are dismantling the sleeping middle class. More and more people are becoming poor. We are their cattle. We are being bred for slavery.

Frank: What do these things want?
Gilbert: They're free-enterprisers. The earth is just another developing planet. Their third world.

Drifter: What's wrong with having it good for a change? Now they're gonna let us have it good if we just help 'em. They're gonna leave us alone, let us make some money. You can have a little taste of that good life too. Now, I know you want it. Hell, everybody does.
Frank: You'd do it to your own kind.
Drifter: What's the threat? We all sell out every day, might as well be on the winning team.

Television Host: The feeling is definitely there. It's a new morning in America... fresh, vital. The old cynicism is gone. We have faith in our leaders. We're optimistic as to what becomes of it all. It really boils down to our ability to accept. We don't need pessimism. There are no limits.
Street Preacher: Outside the limit of our sight, feeding off us, perched on top of us, from birth to death, are our owners! Our owners! They have us. They control us! They are our masters! Wake up! They're all about you! All around you!

Wednesday, 23 August 2017

Mosley's BUF and the Narrative of Victimisation

A recent discussion about ANTIFA and its viability brought an interesting article from History Today, to my attention. User Jondwhite shared it as they believed it supported their overall point that physical resistance isn't effective. The article does give that tone though I'm not really sure that was what the author was going for. However I do think its worth reading and I especially think certain sections of it are really important even the author doesn't seem to have been fully aware of the implications.

The argument goes that contrary to common belief the defeat of the British Union of Fascists (BUF) on the 4th of October 1936 marked a terminal decline for the movement the publicity generated from that defeat helped them resurge. There is evidence that the BUF membership increased after the events of Cable Street and that anti-Semitic attacks increased in the following years. For example this passage seems fairly conclusive and damming

In its monthly report on extremist political activity Special Branch observed in October ‘abundant evidence that the Fascist movement has been steadily gaining ground in many parts of east London’. Its sources suggested an influx of over 2,000 new recruits in the capital, a considerable boost given that party membership in London had stood at less than 3,000 earlier in the year.In the week after Cable Street the BUF ‘conducted the most successful series of meetings since the beginning of the movement’, attracting crowds of thousands and little opposition. Mosley made an ‘enthusiastically received’ address to an audience of 12,000 at Victoria Park Square, which was followed by a peaceful march to nearby Limehouse. By contrast the Communists’ efforts to consolidate their victory had ‘met with a very poor response’. ‘A definite pro-Fascist feeling has manifested itself’, the Special Branch report concluded: ‘The alleged Fascist defeat is in reality a Fascist advance.’

However that isn't the full picture and the part that's overlooked in this narrative I think is the really important dimension in the argument of whether victimisation is real and what role it actually plays in our responses to Fascism.

The article explains the growth as such (emphasis mine)

In this context Cable Street simply thrust the BUF back into the limelight after two years of relative national obscurity and provided it with a stage on which to play out its claims of victimhood. This, Mosley argued, had been a perfectly lawful procession, sanctioned by the authorities. The East End housed the core of his supporters. They had every right peacefully to express their political beliefs, yet had been forcibly prevented from doing so by a disorderly mob. This portrayal of events clearly struck a chord with many locals. In an internal document the Fascists observed that the ‘strong sense of local patriotism’ in the East End had been ‘gravely offended by the rioting of Jews and Communists last October ... [which] was felt as a disgrace to the good name of east London’.

The bit in bold is I think the key here, they experienced growth not out of a sense of general sympathy and love of freedom of speech, but anti-Semitism. The East End was the part of the UK with the largest Jewish community and the area with most racial and anti-Semitic tensions. This is why Moseley chose the route of the march in October to go straight through predominantly Jewish neighbourhoods, the party had embraced a platform of xenophobia and anti-Semitism and it wanted to win support from the hostile local "native" British population.

Mosley’s adoption of antisemitism in 1934 was from the outset portrayed not as a choice but as a move forced upon him by Jews themselves. ‘Small’ Jews had attacked the Blackshirts in the street and invaded their meetings, while ‘big’ Jews financed the anti-fascist  movement and used their wealth and influence to turn the media and government against the BUF. It had also become clear, Mosley alleged, that Jews were the power behind Fascism’s two chief adversaries: international finance and Communism.

Even the article supports the assertion that this post Cable Street growth was tied heavily to exploitation of anti-Semitism by the BUF.

Cable Street – the most substantial manifestation of Jewish anti-fascism to date – fitted the BUF’s narrative perfectly. The internal publication mentioned above noted with satisfaction that ‘the impudent use of violence ... to deny east Londoners the right to walk through their own part of London ... [had] sent a wave of anti-Jewish resentment’ through the area. Speakers were advised that propaganda should take advantage of this fact.
The demonstration was immediately branded by the BUF as ‘Jewry’s biggest blunder’, while the police were accused of ‘openly surrender[ing] to alien mobs’. It was claimed that ‘financial democracy’ and ‘Soviet-inspired Communists’ had colluded to inhibit legitimate activity by ‘British patriots’ in the East End. As a result, the district had in effect been ‘handed over ... as the Jews’ own territory’. It was time, the BUF declared, for the true British people to reclaim their land. Such appeals were well received. Special Branch recorded that among the cohort of new Fascist recruits were a ‘large number of gentiles with grievances against the Jews’.
However the case is more substantial, the post Cable street growth of the BUF was almost exclusively limited to the East End of London. Its branches outside of it seem to have continued to stagnate or collapse. The article quotes an Exeter BUF member remarking about Cable street "now we have active opposition in Exeter I think we shall make great progress there" but that doesn't seem to have been the case at all. The BUF didn't see much of a revival in Devon, its peak in the area was a 1,000 strong branch in Plymouth which collapsed in 1934, Exeter never exceeded this, the most high profile event they managed in this period seems to have been a speech by Mosley in 1937 which had an attendance of around 1,500. But despite his speech viciously attacking Jews and happening in the aftermath of Cable street and the local BUF having to resort to police protection from anti fascists it doesn't seem to have led to much of a revival of BUF fortunes.

An excerpt of that speech
“We say that Jews may not stay in this country organising as a State within the State, setting the interest of their own race above the interest of the nation as a whole. Therefore such Jews will have to leave Great Britain, and I do not disguise the opinion that the only final solution for the Jewish problem of the world is for the Jews should go together to another land in one of the many unpopulated ares of the world and become themselves a nation.”

In Liverpool the BUF remained so small and weak that in 1937 it couldn't even hold a public demonstration without it being completely disrupted and overwhelmed.

 So if the violent confrontations in Cable street were so disastrous for anti-fascism because they gave the BUF its victimisation validation, why the drastically different fortunes in different parts of the UK? The fighting on Cable street were filmed, photographed and recorded and became national news, that's partly how its become so iconic, so we should've seen a general trend of revitalisation but at best we see a localised surge and continued stagnation elsewhere. The only real difference is the fertile soil the BUF's anti-Semitic platform could find in the East End but it wasn't as attractive a message elsewhere. If violent confrontation and victim framing were the key then the BUF would have been far stronger as national organisation it faced direct opposition in nearly all localities that it had a presence in, but in many areas the pressure and defeats seem to have proven the Exeter Black shirt wrong, they didn't make great progress at all.

On Olympia

There is another plank in this argument though, the events two years early at the Olympia Hall meeting. A group of anti-fascist protestors including Vera Brittain, Richard Sheppard and Aldous Huxley managed to get into the meeting and started heckling Moseley. In response Black shirt stewards physically assaulted many of them and ejected them. Several of them were severely injured, it was what we now call a PR disaster for the BUF. A lot of their respectable supporters like the Daily Telegraph which had been rather kind in its coverage previously

Margaret Storm Jameson pointed out in The Daily Telegraph: "A young woman carried past me by five Blackshirts, her clothes half torn off and her mouth and nose closed by the large hand of one; her head was forced back by the pressure and she must have been in considerable pain. I mention her especially since I have seen a reference to the delicacy with which women interrupters were left to women Blackshirts. This is merely untrue... Why train decent young men to indulge in such peculiarly nasty brutality?"

But not all of them though, the Daily Mail stuck by them

George Ward Price
"If the Blackshirts movement had any need of justification, the Red Hooligans who savagely and systematically tried to wreck Sir Oswald Mosley's huge and magnificently successful meeting at Olympia last night would have supplied it. They got what they deserved. Olympia has been the scene of many assemblies and many great fights, but never had it offered the spectacle of so many fights mixed up with a meeting."

The numbers declined quite badly, but curiously the BUF did experience a bump in new memberships 

After the Olympia meeting, for example, although respectable supporters abandoned the BUF in droves, there was also a short-term influx of new recruits angry at attempts to silence Mosley.
What we have here with Olympia is another example of an event affecting different sections of the population differently. People who agreed with the BUF's then largely economic platform but weren't ok with the BUF's increasing violence or growing anti-Semitism left the party, but in exchange it attracted people who were on-board with this political realignment. The same thing happened after Cable street, a large mobilisation against the Jewish community and a demonstration of the power of that community attracted thousands of anti-Semites to the BUF. This is the crux of the victimisation narrative, its not that a far right movement is losing a fight that attracts some people to the far right. Its that in getting into a fight and losing to a minority group or radical leftist current they are appealing to and alarming that segment of the population that largely agreed with them anyway.

Local Anti-Semites rallied to the BUF in the aftermath of Cable street because they saw it as a champion of their interests and their community. If you see a group of violent reactionaries getting driven off and you feel sympathetic for them and not the community they were terrorising then you're probably a fellow traveller yourself.

Friday, 11 August 2017

Guilt by Association: Weak Arguments Then and Now

"Never had a Revolution more surprised the revolutionaries" Benoit Malon

A few days ago twitter user Jehu provided a crystal clear example of a really poor arguing style that is sadly very common in political debate and squabbling. That is a form of guilt by association, here we have Jehu blaming Bakunin for the Paris Commune and its subsequent defeat. The evidence is that Bakunin called for a workers insurrection and in March of 1871 the Parisian working class districts rose up, ousted their government and proclaimed a city wide Commune.

The problem here is that its merely an allegation, there's no substantive proof to any of it. This was the start of a 250+ tweet thread and in not one of them does Jehu provide by explanation or a link any proof that Bakunin led the workers of Paris to anything. There's two very serious flaws here, the first is that this is a complete misrepresentation of Paris in 1870-71 and the events that led to the founding of the Commune, and its not even an accurate summary of Bakunin's advocacy of insurrection. I'll deal with the second first quickly.

Bakunin didn't urge the workers of Paris to rise up against their government, he urged all workers to rise up against all governments. For example in 1870 during the Franco-Prussian war he denounced the German Social Democrats for trying to build a national coalition of German workers and its plans for building a German state precisely because this would hinder the ability of German workers to fight a class war in alliance with the workers of other nations.

If, in case of conflict between two states, the workers would act in accordance with Article 1 of the social-democratic program, they would, against their better inclinations, be joining their own bourgeoisie against their fellow workers in a foreign country. They would thereby sacrifice the international solidarity of the workers to the national patriotism of the State. This is exactly what the German workers are now doing in the Franco-Prussian War. As long as the German workers seek to set up a national state – even the freest People’s State – they will inevitably and utterly sacrifice the freedom of the people to the glory of the State, socialism to politics, justice and international brotherhood to patriotism. It is impossible to go in two different directions at the same time. Socialism and social revolution involve the destruction of the State: – consequently, those who want a state must sacrifice the economic emancipation of the masses to the political monopoly of a privileged party.
Now the example here is particular, the workers of the German states, but its still linked to the need for an international workers revolt. He was consistent on the need for working class internationalism even when speaking about individual sections of it.

 So even on the superficial man said something, then thing like that happened level this is an incorrect argument. Now onto the heart of the matter.

There is absolutely no evidence that Bakunin was a major influence on the workers of Paris in 1870-71. There was an Anarchist and an insurrectionist current active at that time in Paris that did have influence and support amongst some of the population but the Anarchists were supporters of Proudhon's Mutualism, (in most historical texts they're referred to as Proudhonists), and the Insurrectionists were supporters of the Communist Auguste Blanqui. Bakunin's supporters were part of the French section of the International Workingmen's Association (IWMA) and at that time they sat and organised with the other tendencies within it including the supporters of Marx. Officially the view of Marx held the most weight within the group and they as an organisation urged the workers of Paris to be restrained and patient.

Though a few like Eugene Varlin did take part in anti government demonstrations.

Blanqui on the other hand was an enthusiastic supporter of  insurrection, and quite an influence on the Commune. He was declared in absentia because he was in prison the President of the Commune, his supporters were elected to it, and the Commune was willing to trade all of its hostages for Blanqui, the government of Theirs declined.

His believe in the power of insurrection by a small revolutionary elite was so great that he tried to engineer an insurrection on the 14th of August 1870. It failed very quickly, because it had no support, Balnqui and his members were literally expecting the army and the workers of the district of Belleville to join his armed demonstration. It didn't work. The uprising against the Bonaparte regime three weeks later (September fourth 1870) doesn't seem to have had any instigation from the Blanqui current, though he did become notable in the insurrection of October 31st as one of a group of revolutionaries who briefly toppled the government before troops loyal to General Trochu restored power to the "Government of National Defence". His constant pushing for armed insurrection was considered dangerous enough to get on the most wanted list, and he was arrested on the 17th of March a whole day before the insurrection that lead to the creation of the Paris Commune.

So we know that Blanqui was a tireless advocate of insurrection and was present at several abortive attempts before March 18th 1871. And yet there is no evidence that Blanqui had much of an impact on that day either. Blanqui was quite curious for a Communist, he believed the working classes couldn't achieve revolution on their own and had to be lead by a small elite of the enlightened middle class. And I do mean small, I've seen one figure put the party membership as high as 800 in 1868 with a few fellow travellers, and that was all in Paris. That's the reason why the insurrection in August was a failure Blanqui and his comrades had just assumed the workers of Paris would rally to them once they started the insurrection, they didn't actually know that the workers would support them. It may seem contradictory given how prominent the Blanquists were once the Commune got going but its easy to explain. Blanqui had spent most of his life denouncing a series of governments that were seen as corrupt and brutal, and championing the poor. He had also tried multiple times to topple these governments and took part in these attempts at uprising taking on great risks and suffered many punishments, spending over half his life in various prisons.

To quote from one of his many court appearances:

I am accused of having said to 30 million French people, Proletarians like myself, that they have the right to live... Yes, there is a war between the rich and the poor, but the rich have brought it on themselves because they are the aggressors... These privileged people live in luxury from the sweat of the Proletariat.
As such Blanqui the man was well known to political circles and had a lot of respect, but his methods and the groups paternalistic ideology doomed it to futility. Its no accident that Blanqui and his party did better in the October insurrection and the Paris Commune, these were general revolts with the support of other groups and individuals, while solo attempts at action like in August fizzled out very quickly.

So if Blanqui and Bakunin didn't lead the working class to slaughter, who did? The answer is simply no one. The Paris Commune is one of those events that's been celebrated by so many (Marx, Bakunin, Kropotkin, Trotsky, CLR James, Gluckstein, etc) that it's easy to forget how it actually happened.

How it Actually Happened
 Image result for paris commune montmartre

On the 18th of March 1871 the people of Paris awoke to find a hostile army had seized the heights of Montmartre, they captured and killed several guardsmen and were busy trying to seize the cannons on the heights and thus disarm the defences of the city. The army was lead by a General who was known to have carried out massacres in French cities under his control. Of course this wasn't the triumphant Prussians, they were the French army lead by General  Clément-Thomas and the massacres he was infamous for happened in Paris in 1848.

Alarmed the workers of the Montmartre district -many of whom were women and children not exactly typical acolytes of radical political insurrectionist cells- rose up with what weapons they could muster and attacked this threat. Fortunately the rank and file of this army refused the orders to fire and the opposition collapsed. The Generals Clément-Thomas and Lacomte who had ordered his troops to fire on the workers of Montmartre were executed instead.

The revolt spread from Montmarte, the National Guard threw its support behind it and the standing army left in Paris either fled or surrendered, soon a demonstrators and guardsmen had occupied the abandoned government buildings and the Commune was declared. While its possible that Bakunin and Blanqui and Marx and Proudhon et al may have inspired some Parisian workers before hand there is no escaping the simple fact that the insurrection was an act of defence against an already hostile and murderous regime. No one lead the workers of Montmartre on the 18th of March they discovered a threat and defended themselves, and in the process toppled what was left of the government. The only conspiracy was the secret plans by the French General Staff to reinforce their hold on Paris. It caught everyone by surprise. The quote at the top comes from the socialist Benoit Malon, who was in Paris at the time and would serve on the Commune Council.

The IWMA the organisation that included Marx and Bakunin and their supporters in Paris, was caught so unaware by the events that the first official comments by the organisation were made on the 23rd five days later.

Funnily enough what the user Jehu, is doing is just what the reactionary press did to Marx in the aftermath of the Commune. He was repeatedly accused of planning an insurrection and of being responsible for the damage and bloodshed that followed. He responded to these allegations in an interview with a reporter from the New York World.

I: And the last uprising in Paris?
Dr. Marx: First of all I would ask you to prove that there was any kind of a conspiracy and that everything which occurred was not simply the inevitable result of the existing circumstances. And even if we assume that there was a conspiracy, I would still ask you to prove to me that the International Association took part in it.

I: The presence of so many members of the Association in the Commune.

Dr. Marx: Then it could just as easily have been a conspiracy of Freemasons, for their individual part in it was not small by any means. I really would not be surprised if the Pope did try to push the whole uprising onto their account. But let us try to find another explanation. The uprising in Paris was carried out by the Parisian workers. The most capable workers must therefore have been the ones who led it and carried it out; yet the most capable workers are also members of the International Association. But nevertheless, the Association need not be responsible for their actions in any way.

I: The world will look at it through different eyes. People are talking about secret instructions from London and even about financial assistance.Can it be maintained that the allegedly open activity of the Association rules out any secret communications?

Dr. Marx: Has there ever been an association which carried out its work without having confidential as well as open communications? But to speak of secret instructions from London as if it were a question of decrees in questions of belief and morals, emanating from some centre of papal rule and intrigue, would be to completely misunderstand the nature of the International. This would presuppose a centralised form of government in the International; in reality, however, the organizational form of the International gives the greatest scope to the working class; it is more of a union or an association than a centre of command.
The allegation of a conspiracy regardless of alleged mastermind is just a form of red baiting, by blaming internal dissent on outside agitators. So we should be very wary of those who use this tactic especially when corroborating evidence is not forthcoming.


Does this matter outside of this narrow subject? I would say yes, what the press of the 1870's and Jehu are doing is a form of guilt by association to discredit a view or tendency they don't like. You may think its a bit silly comparing an international press to one user on twitter and I agree, but like I said at the beginning this is just one example of very common practice in discourse. Its not really the size of the influence or even the subject at hand, I just picked this one because I know a lot about the Paris Commune so its easy for me to show the problems with it here.

This practice when used actively strangles debate and education. It actively spreads disinformation and makes it harder to learn lessons from the past. This doesn't help anyone at all. Even if you hate Marx or Bakunin or just disapprove of insurrection in general this tactic doesn't help you, you don't learn anything much about either you just get some emotional reassurance.

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