Welcome back to LA COMMUNE 2021, a virtual free school experience hosted by Roxanne Panchasi (a.k.a. RP) in collaboration with UNIT/PITT Society for Art and Critical Awareness.
The Paris Commune erupted in the spring of 1871 following more than a century of political, social, and economic transformation in France. After months of war and siege, the French capital’s working-class population rose up in March, holding elections, and forming their own government. The revolutionaries of the Commune attempted a complete overhaul of all aspects of life in the city. Instituting political and economic reforms, they also pursued a program of universal public education, the separation of church and state, and the promotion of a radical culture.
Week 3 of the free school takes us from late March into April 1871. So much happened so quickly during this period. Following the official proclamation of the Paris Commune following the election of March 26th, the Commune enacted several new laws concerning debt and the payment of rent arrears from the period of the Siege, limits on salaries paid to its elected members, the separation of church and state, and an order for the arrest of persons “loyal to Versailles” to be held as “hostages of the people of Paris.”
Active in myriad ways since March 18th, women continued to play vital roles, despite the fact that they could not vote or hold elected office during the Commune. On April 11th, Elisabeth Dmitrieff and Nathalie Lemel founded the Union des femmes pour la défense de Paris et les soins aux blessés (Women’s Union to Defend Paris and Care for the Wounded). Weeks later, the Union des Femmes issued its own “Manifesto” and called for the working women of Paris to join them in the struggle for equality with men in this new society.
COMMUNE STANDARD TIME
Here’s a TIMELINE that includes a number of key events that may help to situate this week chronologically and within the broader history of nineteenth-century France. We’ll be adding dates to the timeline each week, following events from March through May as we go.
Each week of LA COMMUNE 2021 is anchored around an episode of radio 1871, an audio series created for a seminar in History at Simon Fraser University in 2021 with subsequent release via this free school in mind.
Did women have a Paris Commune? What roles did women play during this moment of revolutionary upheaval in nineteenth-century Paris? How does gender help us to think about the Commune? In this week’s episode, Dr. Carolyn Eichner, an Associate Professor in History and Women’s and Gender Studies at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee shares her research on women, gender, and feminism in 1871.
The Central Committee of the Union of Women for the Defense of Paris and the Care of the Wounded, “Appeal to Working Women,” 17 May 1871
Louise Michel, The Red Virgin: Memoirs of Louise Michel, translated by Bullitt Lowry and Elizabeth Ellington Gunter, University of Alabama Press, 1981 (sign up for a free Internet Archive account to access the full text)
You can also check out the documents available via marxists.org’s Louise Michel Archive!
Carolyn Eichner, “The “Union des Femmes” and the Paris Commune of 1871,” Austrian Journal of Historical Studies 9, no. 4 (1998)
Lynn Clement, “The Commune’s Marianne: An Art History of La Pétroleuse,” Age of Revolutions, 12 June 2017
Jill Richards, How Politically Radical Women in 19th-Century France Were Made Into Misogynistic Caricatures, Literary Hub, August 2020
Judy Cox, Genderquake: Socialist Women and the Paris Commune, International Socialism, January 2021
Here are a few additional resources highlighting some contemporary forms of resistance to gender, sexual, and racial inequality:
“Virginie Despentes Responds to the Césars and Roman Polanski,” Mai: Feminism and Visual Culture, 2 March 2020
Check out “Living in Reciprocity: Black, Brown, and Indigenous Solidarities,” a York University webinar/teach-in from last December 2020 featuring three amazing contemporary women scholars and activists: Robyn Maynard, Shama Rangwala, and Leanne Betasamosake Simpson.
Watch a recent recording of “A Conversation with Susan Stryker” presented as part of the President’s Dream Colloquium at Simon Fraser University in March 2021. The scholar, filmmaker, and activist discusses “At the Crossroads of Turk and Taylor,” a new project exploring current social justice struggles at the site of the former Compton’s Cafeteria in San Francisco.