Mapping the “bloody week”: The last days of the Paris Commune in a cartographic narrative

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Originally posted by Fosco Lucarelli over at Socks-Studio. A couple of grammatical and formatting edits have been made, and Friedrich Engels’ 1891 reflection on the Paris Commune has been further appended. Check out Socks-Studio’s website for more great posts and information.

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The events that occurred in the last month of La Commune — the socialist government that briefly ruled Paris from March 18 to May 28, 1871 — are mapped out in this extraordinary plan, drawn up by Mr. L. Meunier and P. Rouillier in 1871 in a simple yet informative manner.

Paris en Mai 1871. Plan indiquant les opérations de l’Armée contre l’Insurrection. Dressée par L. Meunier et P. Rouillier. Échelle de 1 : 32,000

Cartography is used here as a narrative device to display the military movements of the Versailles army, its general strategy, the countermeasures taken by the insurgents, and the rapidly unfolding events taking place in space and time across the urban territory.

For more information about the events of La Commune and some related texts, we leave you with: “La Commune Project by Raspouteam” (2011), an entire site (only in French) dedicated to the events during the insurrection, Le Funambulist’s “Paris 1871 Commune recounted by Raspouteam” and “Processes of smoothing and striation of space in urban warfare.”

We thank our friend Mike Ma for letting us use his photographic reproductions of the plan.

Legend:
In blue: Versailles army lines
In red: elements of the insurgents or destroyed buildings

Click the following image for a hi-def of the whole plan:

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Click any of the following thumbnails to see the images close-up:

The plan also includes an historical summary of military events:

The plan also includes an hystorical summary of military events from March, 18th to Mai, 29th

1891 introduction to The Civil War in France

Friedrich Engels
On the 20th anniversary
of the Paris Commune

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If today, we look back at the activity and historical significance of the Paris Commune of 1871, we shall find it necessary to make a few additions to the account given in [Marx’s] The Civil War in France.

The members of the Commune were divided into a majority of the Blanquists, who had also been predominant in the Central Committee of the National Guard; and a minority, members of the International Working Men’s Association, chiefly consisting of adherents of the Proudhon school of socialism. The great majority of the Blanquists at that time were socialist only by revolutionary and proletarian instinct; only a few had attained greater clarity on the essential principles, through Vaillant, who was familiar with German scientific socialism. It is therefore comprehensible that in the economic sphere much was left undone which, according to our view today, the Commune ought to have done. Continue reading

Love letters from the Twitter “feminist” Left

Image: On the pleasure of
hating, by William Hazlitt

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Much luv to the h8rs; I do it for y’all. Especially touching are the threats of violence, even if they’re ultimately empty — just a way to strike a militant pose. The world has never known such profound impotence.

Got screenshots of these also, as backup, but figured I might use the neat “embed” feature while they’re still undeleted:
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https://twitter.com/frkbmb/status/428380426869030913

https://twitter.com/frkbmb/status/430263792186834944

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Needless to say, the people sending these tweets seem pretty upset. Continue reading

Soviet travel brochures from the 1930s

In 1928, Stalin established a government-run foreign travel agency under the name Intourist (a contracted portmanteau of Иностранный [foreign] турист [tourist]). Though it had by that point already evacuated its international obligation to foment world revolution, Stalin’s regime was still looking to raise interest in the fledgling socialist state. All of the following brochures targeted potential tourists from the most advanced capitalist nations in the West — Germany, England, France, the US.

Stylistically, these pieces vary. Many are rather naïve, pastoral, even vaguely Orientalist, especially with respect to the more “exotic” Soviet Republics. Continue reading

First as tragedy, then as farce…then as low-budget bondage porn

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Richard Seymour, China Mieville, and Magpie Corven have, along with several others, resigned from the fledgling International Socialist Network following an internet row over interracial lesbian bondage porn and its ideological implications. (Not kidding. You can read about the original incident here and the ISN Steering Committee’s official response here). Jara Handala alerted me to this development by linking me to the online document they published on Dropbox; thanks for that.

The toxicity of these witch-hunts and irresponsible accusations probably requires no further explanation or commentary by me. But hey, I’ll say a couple words about it anyway.

First, while I’m hardly sympathetic to Seymour as an intellectual or political figure, I hold no sympathies for the International Socialist Network either. As far as I can tell, they are little more than Cliffite Trots who’ve lately supplemented this old-fashioned, weak-tea brand of revolutionary socialism with vogue theories of “intersectionality.” Probably to compensate for the culture of institutionalized sexism that characterized the British Socialist Workers Party following its scandalous coverup of rape allegations about a year ago.

Second, in this particular instance I actually find Seymour and Magpie to be far less ridiculous than their accusers. Granted, Seymour’s a stubborn and arrogant prick — but hey, aren’t we all? Like I said a couple posts ago, there’s part of me that feels like his fall from grace (within International Socialist circles, at least) is a kind of comeuppance, that he somehow deserved to be pilloried and lambasted the way he was because he’d used similar logic to anathematize others. But another part of me felt genuinely sorry for the guy. It’s sad enough that the Left has degenerated to such a pitiful state, where it squabbles over such piddly crap. Did Seymour and co. really need to have their reputations ruined on account of it, though? Tarred as perverts and racists? I don’t think so.

Ad hominem arguments and insinuation cannot stand in for rational, ruthlessly critical discourse and debate. Without tedious moralization and thought-taboos. Seymour can and should be challenged at the level of his ideas and actions, but not on the basis of this nonsense. Below is the letter of resignation they released a few hours ago.

Бухарин

Resignation from the ISN

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To the Steering Committee (SC) and our comrades in the International Socialist Network (ISN):

With great regrets, we are resigning from the ISNetwork. Many of us were involved in the setting up of the network, and we are very sad that it has come to this. We remain in full solidarity with ISN comrades, and look forward to working with them on campaigns.

Despite the repeated characterization of us as a “right bloc,” we do not represent any unified political position beyond our concerns about both the political direction and internal culture of the ISNetwork. It has been clear for some time that our critiques put us in a minority: contrary to a common smear, we have always been willing to argue from this position, and welcomed this political debate. However, there has been an increasing breakdown of trust between us and various leading members of the organization. It is now clear that we are not welcome in the ISN. Continue reading

Stalinism and Bolshevism

Leon Trotsky
Socialist Review

(August 1937)

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Reactionary epochs like ours not only disintegrate and weaken the working class and isolate its vanguard but also lower the general ideological level of the movement and throw political thinking back to stages long since passed through. In these conditions the task of the vanguard is, above all, not to let itself be carried along by the backward flow: it must swim against the current. If an unfavorable relation of forces prevents it from holding political positions it has won, it must at least retain its ideological positions, because in them is expressed the dearly paid experience of the past. Fools will consider this policy “sectarian.” Actually it is the only means of preparing for a new tremendous surge forward with the coming historical tide.

The reaction against Marxism and Bolshevism

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Great political defeats provoke a reconsideration of values, generally occurring in two directions. On the one hand the true vanguard, enriched by the experience of defeat, defends with tooth and nail the heritage of revolutionary thought and on this basis strives to educate new cadres for the mass struggle to come. On the other hand the routinists, centrists and dilettantes, frightened by defeat, do their best to destroy the authority of the revolutionary tradition and go backwards in their search for a “New World.”

One could indicate a great many examples of ideological reaction, most often taking the form of prostration. All the literature if the Second and Third Internationals, as well as of their satellites of the London Bureau, consists essentially of such examples. Not a suggestion of Marxist analysis. Not a single serious attempt to explain the causes of defeat, About the future, not one fresh word. Nothing but clichés, conformity, lies and above all solicitude for their own bureaucratic self-preservation. It is enough to smell 10 words from some Hilferding or Otto Bauer to know this rottenness. The theoreticians of the Comintern are not even worth mentioning. The famous Dimitrov is as ignorant and commonplace as a shopkeeper over a mug of beer. The minds of these people are too lazy to renounce Marxism: they prostitute it. But it is not they that interest us now. Let us turn to the “innovators.”

Vanishing commissars 1.

The former Austrian communist, Willi Schlamm, has devoted a small book to the Moscow trials, under the expressive title, The Dictatorship of the Lie. Schlamm is a gifted journalist, chiefly interested in current affairs. His criticism of the Moscow frame-up, and his exposure of the psychological mechanism of the “voluntary confessions,” are excellent. However, he does not confine himself to this: he wants to create a new theory of socialism that would insure us against defeats and frame-ups in the future. But since Schlamm is by no means a theoretician and is apparently not well acquainted with the history of the development of socialism, he returns entirely to pre-Marxist socialism, and notably to its German, that is to its most backward, sentimental and mawkish variety. Schlamm denounces dialectics and the class struggle, not to mention the dictatorship of the proletariat. The problem of transforming society is reduced for him to the realisation of certain “eternal” moral truths with which he would imbue mankind, even under capitalism. Willi Schlamm’s attempts to save socialism by the insertion of the moral gland is greeted with joy and pride in Kerensky’s review, Novaia Rossia (an old provincial Russian review now published in Paris); as the editors justifiably conclude, Schlamm has arrived at the principles of true Russian socialism, which a long time ago opposed the holy precepts of faith, hope and charity to the austerity and harshness of the class struggle. The “novel” doctrine of the Russian “Social Revolutionaries” represents, in its “theoretical” premises, only a return to the pre-March (1848!) Germany. However, it would be unfair to demand a more intimate knowledge of the history of ideas from Kerensky than from Schlamm. Far more important is the fact that Kerensky, who is in solidarity with Schlamm, was, while head of the government, the instigator of persecutions against the Bolsheviks as agents of the German general staff: organised, that is, the same frame-ups against which Schlamm now mobilises his moth-eaten metaphysical absolutes.

The psychological mechanism of the ideological reaction of Schlamm and his like, is not at all complicated. For a while these people took part in a political movement that swore by the class struggle and appeared, in word if not in thought, to dialectical materialism. In both Austria and Germany the affair ended in a catastrophe. Schlamm draws the wholesale conclusion: this is the result of dialectics and the class struggle! And since the choice of revelations is limited by historical experience and…by personal knowledge, our reformer in his search for the word falls on a bundle of old rags which he valiantly opposes not only to Bolshevism but to Marxism as well.

At first glance Schlamm’s brand of ideological reaction seems too primitive (from Marx…to Kerensky!) to pause over. But actually it is very instructive: precisely in its primitiveness it represents the common denominator of all other forms of reaction, particularly of those expressed by wholesale denunciation of Bolshevism.

“Back to Marxism”?

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Marxism found its highest historical expression in Bolshevism. Under the banner of Bolshevism the first victory of the proletariat was achieved and the first workers’ state established. No force can now erase these facts from history. But since the October Revolution has led to the present stage of the triumph of the bureaucracy, with its system of repression, plunder and falsification — the “dictatorship of the lie,” to use Schlamm’s happy expression — many formalistic and superficial minds jump to a summary conclusion: one cannot struggle against Stalinism without renouncing Bolshevism. Schlamm, as we already know, goes further: Bolshevism, which degenerated into Stalinism, itself grew out of Marxism; consequently one cannot fight Stalinism while remaining on the foundation of Marxism. There are others, less consistent but more numerous, who say on the contrary: “We must return Bolshevism to Marxism.” How? To what Marxism? Before Marxism became “bankrupt” in the form of Bolshevism it has already broken down in the form of social democracy, Does the slogan “Back to Marxism” then mean a leap over the periods of the Second and Third Internationals…to the First International? But it too broke down in its time. Thus in the last analysis it is a question of returning to the collected works of Marx and Engels. One can accomplish this historic leap without leaving one’s study and even without taking off one’s slippers. But how are we going to go from our classics (Marx died in 1883, Engels in 1895) to the tasks of a new epoch, omitting several decades of theoretical and political struggles, among them Bolshevism and the October revolution? None of those who propose to renounce Bolshevism as an historically bankrupt tendency has indicated any other course. So the question is reduced to the simple advice to study Capital. We can hardly object. But the Bolsheviks, too, studied Capital, and not badly either. This did not however prevent the degeneration of the Soviet state and the staging of the Moscow trials. So what is to be done? Continue reading

Hal Foster’s critical turn

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There’s a good review by Jeffrey Petts over at the low-key online publication Marx and Philosophy of Hal Foster’s excellent The Art-Architecture Complex (2011). Currently I’m writing a double-review of Foster’s book along with another very good book, Gevork Hartoonian’s recent Architecture and Spectacle: A Critique (2013) for the LA Review of Books. Petts covers all the major points of Foster’s study with clarity and concision; I especially appreciate the way he elucidates the connection with Kenneth Frampton’s advocacy of “critical regionalism.” Indeed, the opposition between image and building, the visual and the tactile, the scenographic and the tectonic — frames the entire discussion. (Same goes for Hartoonian, incidentally).

But one thing I’m really grateful to Petts’ review for was its reference to criticisms Foster has recently leveled against the post-Marxist philosopher and aesthetic theorist Jacques Rancière. He cites an November 2013 review Foster wrote of Rancière’s Aisthesis, just translated into English by Zakir Paul and published by Verso. You can read that review in PDF form here. Rancière has been enthusiastically embraced by art critics and practitioners alike for too long. It’s high time that he be properly critiqued. And so below I am reproducing an article Foster wrote in December 2012 for The Brooklyn Rail on “post-critical” theory, focusing on Rancière and the French philosopher Bruno Latour. This represents Foster’s latest move away from his earlier promotion of aesthetic postmodernism in The Anti-Aesthetic (1981), a collection of essays he edited.

Post-critical

Hal Foster
Brooklyn Rail
12.10.2012

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Critical theory took a serious beating during the culture wars of the 1980s and the 1990s, and the 2000s were only worse. Under Bush the demand for affirmation was all but total, and today there is little space for critique even in the universities and the museums. Bullied by conservative commentators, most academics no longer stress the importance of critical thinking for an engaged citizenry, and, dependent on corporate sponsors, most curators no longer promote the critical debate once deemed essential to the public reception of advanced art. Indeed, the sheer out-of-date-ness of criticism in an art world that couldn’t care less seems evident enough. Yet what are the options on offer? Celebrating beauty? Affirming affect? Hoping for a “redistribution of the sensible”? Trusting in “the general intellect”? The post-critical condition is supposed to release us from our straightjackets (historical, theoretical, and political), yet for the most part it has abetted a relativism that has little to do with pluralism.

How did we arrive at the point where critique is so broadly dismissed? Over the years most of the charges have concerned the positioning of the critic. First, there was a rejection of judgment, of the moral right presumed in critical evaluation. Then, there was a refusal of authority, of the political privilege that allows the critic to speak abstractly on behalf of others. Finally, there was skepticism about distance, about the cultural separation from the very conditions that the critic purports to examine. “Criticism is a matter of correct distancing,” Benjamin wrote in One-Way Street (1928). “It was at home in a world where perspectives and prospects counted and where it was still possible to adopt a standpoint. Now things press too urgently on human society.” How much more urgent is this pressing today? Continue reading

Building in empty spaces (1959)

New houses and real clarity
Ernst Bloch, translated by
Frank Mecklenburg
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Obstetric forceps have to be smooth, a pair of sugar-tongs not at all.

— Ernst Bloch, The Spirit of Utopia (1918)

Today, in many places, houses look as if they were ready to travel. Although they are unadorned, or precisely because of that, they express their farewell. Their interior is bright and sterile like hospital rooms, the exterior looks like boxes on top of mobile poles, but also like ships. They have flat decks, portholes, gangways, railings; they shine white and to the south, and as ships they like to disappear. Western architecture is so sensitive that for quite some time it has indirectly sensed the war that is the embodiment of Hitler, and it gets ready for that war. Thus even the form of a ship, which is purely decorative, does not seem real enough for the motif of escape that most people in the capitalist world of war have. For some time now there have been projects in this world to build houses without windows, houses that are artificially illuminated and air-conditioned, that are completely made of steel; the whole thing is like an armored house. Although during its creation, modern architecture was basically oriented toward the outside, toward the sun and the public sphere, there is now a general increasing desire for an enclosed security of life, at least in the private sphere.

The initial principle of the new architecture was openness: it broke the dark cave. It opened vistas through light glass walls, but this will for balance with the outside world came doubtlessly too early. The de-internalization (Entinnerlichung) turned into shallowness; the southern delight for the world outside, while looking at the capitalist external world today, did not turn into happiness. For there is nothing good that happens on the streets, under the sun. The open door, the wide open window is threatening during the era of Fascisization (Faschisierung). The house might again become a fortress if not the catacombs. The wide window filled with a noisy outside world needs an outside full of attractive strangers, not full of Nazis; the glass door down to the floor really presupposes sunshine that looks in and comes in, not the Gestapo. And certainly not with a connection to the trenches of World War I, but definitely with the Maginot Line of World War II, even though it was futile, the plan of a subterranean city developed — as a city of safeguard. Instead of skyscrapers, the projects of “earth-scrapers” invite, the shining holes of groundhogs, the rescuing city that consists of basements. Above, in the daylight, on the other hand, the less real but decorative escape plan of a flying city occurred, utopia-ized in Stuttgart and also in Paris: the houses rise as bullet-like forms on top of a pole, or as veritable balloons they are suspended from wire ropes. In the latter case, the suspended buildings seem particularly isolated and ready for departure. But also these playful forms only demonstrate that houses have to be dreamed of, here as caves, there on top of poles.

But what if under such conditions a jump toward brightness is to be demonstrated? That has indeed been tried in architecture, but with the affirmedly uncomfortable desire for many windows and equally sterile plain houses and instruments. Certainly, those things presented themselves as the cleansing from the junk of the last century and its terrible decorations. But the longer that lasted, the more it became clear that the mere elimination was all that remained — within the limits of late bourgeois emptiness — it had to be that way. The longer that lasted, the clearer the inscription above the Bauhaus and the slogan connected to it emerged: Hurray, we have no ideas left. When a lifestyle is as decadent as the late bourgeois one, then mere architectural reform can no longer be shrouded but must be without soul. That is the result when between plush and tubular steel chairs, between post offices in Renaissance style and egg boxes there is no third thing that grips the imagination. The effect is the more chilling as there is no longer any hiding place but only illuminated kitsch, even if, which is indisputable, the beginning had been ever so clean, that is to say, vacuum clean. Continue reading

Repetition repetition repetition

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Repetition takes place in time and space. But the same may be said of everything aesthetic,[1] architectural or otherwise. Which of these has priority, then? Time or space? Empirically, the recognition of repeated instances is almost always a temporal affair. They take a little while to figure out, in other words. Some disagreement remains as to whether this procedure is more a function of memory or perception, however. In studies of repetition blindness, for example, it is unclear if the failure to recognize recurring items in a sequence owes primarily to one’s inability to notice similarities the second time something appears. Conflicting evidence indicates it could just as easily involve an inability to remember the qualities it displayed the first time around. Psychologists are still split over this question.[2]

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Repetition has been acknowledged as an important aspect of architecture and design for several centuries now, although it was seldom theorized until recently. Despite architecture’s usual preoccupation with problems of space, most repeating patterns or spatial arrangements require time to grasp. That is, unless they’re intuited all at once, in a single glance. One must first be allowed to perambulate the structure, eyes gliding along its surface. Continue reading

Why read Lukács? The place of “philosophical” questions in Marxism

Chris Cutrone
The Last Marx­ist

A re­sponse to Mike Macnair
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Whatever one thinks of Chris Cutrone or Platy­pus, the or­gan­iz­a­tion’s con­tro­ver­sial rhet­or­ic, meth­ods, and antics, the fol­low­ing is an ex­cel­lent es­say and re­sponse in the (still on­go­ing) ex­change between Platy­pus and the CP­GB. This was first presen­ted at the School of the Art In­sti­tute of Chica­go, Janu­ary 11, 2014. A video re­cord­ing is avail­able here, an au­dio re­cord­ing avail­able here.

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Still read­ing Lukács? The role of “crit­ic­al the­ory”

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Why read Georg Lukács today? Es­pe­cially when his most fam­ous work, His­tory and Class Con­scious­ness, is so clearly an ex­pres­sion of its spe­cif­ic his­tor­ic­al mo­ment, the abor­ted world re­volu­tion of 1917-19 in which he par­ti­cip­ated, at­tempt­ing to fol­low Vladi­mir Len­in and Rosa Lux­em­burg. Are there “philo­soph­ic­al” les­sons to be learned or prin­ciples to be gleaned from Lukács’s work, or is there, rather, the danger, as the Com­mun­ist Party of Great Bri­tain’s Mike Macnair has put it, of “the­or­et­ic­al overkill,” sty­mie­ing of polit­ic­al pos­sib­il­it­ies, clos­ing up the struggle for so­cial­ism in tiny au­thor­it­ari­an and polit­ic­ally sterile sects foun­ded on “the­or­et­ic­al agree­ment?”

Mike Macnair’s art­icle “The philo­sophy trap” (2013) ar­gues about the is­sue of the re­la­tion between the­ory and prac­tice in the his­tory of os­tens­ible “Len­in­ism,” tak­ing is­sue in par­tic­u­lar with Lukács’s books His­tory and Class Con­scious­ness (1923) and Len­in (1924) as well as with Karl Korsch’s 1923 es­say “Marx­ism and philo­sophy.” The is­sue is what kind of the­or­et­ic­al gen­er­al­iz­a­tion of con­scious­ness could be de­rived from the ex­per­i­ence of Bolshev­ism from 1903-21. I agree with Macnair that “philo­soph­ic­al” agree­ment is not the prop­er basis for polit­ic­al agree­ment, but this is not the same as say­ing that polit­ic­al agree­ment has no the­or­et­ic­al im­plic­a­tions. Rather, the is­sue is wheth­er the­or­et­ic­al “po­s­i­tions” have ne­ces­sary polit­ic­al im­plic­a­tions. I think it is a tru­ism to say that there is no sure the­or­et­ic­al basis for ef­fect­ive polit­ic­al prac­tice. But Macnair seems to be say­ing noth­ing more than this. In sub­or­din­at­ing the­ory to prac­tice, Macnair loses sight of the po­ten­tial crit­ic­al role the­ory can play in polit­ic­al prac­tice, spe­cific­ally the task of con­scious­ness of his­tory in the struggle for trans­form­ing so­ci­ety in an eman­cip­at­ory dir­ec­tion.

A cer­tain re­la­tion of the­ory to prac­tice is a mat­ter spe­cif­ic to the mod­ern era, and moreover a prob­lem spe­cif­ic to the era of cap­it­al­ism, that is, after the In­dus­tri­al Re­volu­tion, the emer­gence of the mod­ern pro­let­ari­an­ized work­ing class and its struggle for so­cial­ism, and the crisis of bour­geois so­cial re­la­tions and thus of con­scious­ness of so­ci­ety this en­tails. Continue reading