October 19, 2012

The Commune of 1880! (Their Nightmares Are Our Dreams)


I have been mucking about in the archives lately and, inspired by my bud Brad, sharing snapshots of this and that old flier or pamphlet of Facebook. Still, there are some things that can't be done justice by a photo of a cover.


Take for instance this booklet, entitled The Commune In 1880. Downfall Of The Republic. Written by "A Spectator" and published in NYC in 1877, it is a terrified response to the Great Railroad Strike earlier that year, with red flags flying on the Bowery, the Pittsburgh railroad hub in flames, and the city of St. Louis in the hands of the Workingman's Party for a week. And behind it, the specter haunting the author (or whoever paid the author to crank it out) is that of the Paris Commune of six years previous, hailed by Marx and Engels as the first example of the dictatorship of the proletariat.

It is a capitalist dystopia. It starts with a description of the secret organizing done by workers and the general strike the unions call. All is peaceful until the employers issue a statement refusing all demands and announcing the militia will be called on strikers. That night quiet movements are heard in the narrator's neighborhood.

Do you hear a low murmur like a calm day at Rockaway? Yes! What is it? Wait! What is this they are bringing around the corner? Why look—look! A cannon? A cannon? Yes, a cannon. Then the arsenal and the armories are gutted. Look there! Look there! They fix it like a swivel on that car-truck. What is this? Good God, can it be a barricade? Then will it do deadly work in this narrow street. What flag is that they hoist above their entrenchment? I cannot see, it is so dark, but it appears to be all of one color. Ah, now a lantern shines upon it. Why, it is blood-red; it is the flag of the Commune!
Dawn reveals every residential street in the city held by the strikers. Efforts to mobilize the militia against them are hampered by the many desertions to the workers' cause. The women of the working communities shame those remaining, asking how they can side with the wealthy while their own children go hungry. Still the main forces of the organized proletariat are held in reserve, Finally, in the afternoon, they march downtown to City Hall Park, Wall Street and other areas still held by capital's forces. It makes for inspirinig reading:
Had the militia at this time had any orders, a great deal of damage would have been prevented and many lives saved. But no; there was no organization and thus they were kept on guard with no other orders but those from their residential commandants. The strikers, on the other hand, moved with regular step and seemed to have learned their duty by heart, for they never hesitated an instant. They were strong, muscular men, principally mechanics and laborers--carpenters to whom the musket seemed almost as familiar as the plane or chisel; rockmen and blasters to whom the smell of powder was by no means a rarity. The most powerful-looking were of course the blacksmiths and horse-shoers, who, at first unable to procure arms, had armed themselves with long sledge-hammers--terrible weapons at close quarters, particularly in the hands of those accustomed to swing them with as much ease as a professional ball-player can a base-ball club.
Kinda brings a tear to the eye, doesn't it?

After extended combat, despite heroic action by the narrator and other "patriots" they are driven back and defeated, "in fact, municipal, State and national governments had been swept away in the tremendous torrent of communism."

Of course, things must turn out badly (though not as badly as one might think), but I will leave the tale on this high note, and encourage anyone who wishes to read the whole thing, all 59 pulse-pounding pages, to help me find someplace that can scan it for me without breaking the spine, and I will post it here at FotM in its entirety.

1 comment:

Jrc said...

Hi - where did you get your copy of this text? Best, Justin