A revolution when history disrupts time

Louis Aragon brilliantly navigated some of the major avant-gardes of the 20th century. Early Dadaist, founder of Surrealism, anti-colonial fighter. In addition to being a major poet, one of the foundations of the French language, he was a member of the French Communist Party from 1927 – when he was 30 years old. Only a decade ago, he faced the difficulties of understanding history in the present tense. Even the history of the cultural political movement that he would join until his death in 1982. “The Obscure Ministerial Crisis” was his description of the events coming out of Russia in October 1917, perhaps the most decisive event of the last century. . The anecdote is followed by the Italian professor Enzo Traverso in his monumental and inexhaustible Revolution (Akal, 2022), subtitled Intellectual History, a 500-page volume in which he reviews “the collective act through which men have liberated themselves over the centuries. oppression and domination”. “Revolutions are the breath of history,” he adds. Had this not happened, history would have been drowned.

“Because of the explosion of the continuity of history, revolutions rescue the past,” writes Traverso at the end of the introduction to his book, “they contain within themselves – whether they know it or not – the experience of their ancestors. “. Red October encompassed the serf revolt, popular populism, not Laclau’s, proto-anarchism, the 1905 revolt of the defeated Social Democrats. . Revolution Against Capital, Antonio Gramsci summed it up a bit jokingly, because Marx hadn’t written an instruction manual. What capital did was implant a homogenous and global time, which Traverso studies through the metaphor of the locomotive, which was ubiquitous during the rise of capitalism and its proletarian antithesis. “In 1800, time was synchronized locally or regionally, but trains couldn’t run without a national schedule,” he recalls, “which meant eliminating the time difference between different cities.” By the end of the 19th century, “time measurements were internationally coordinated and regulated.” Extracting surplus value and a clock that marks the hours.

As long as he points out, time doesn’t explode. The echoes of Walter Benjamin’s footsteps can be heard throughout the book. It’s not a secret. “A loyalist of the intellectual tradition [Karl Marx y Walter Benjamin, este ensayo histórico] It approaches revolution as a sudden and almost always violent interruption of the historical continuum, a sudden disruption of the social and political order,” Traverso writes. And it was Benjamin who presented one of his theses on the concept of history with the Parisian workers who, in July 1830, 41 years before the Commune, threw the clocks into the towers. It was during the revolution against the last French Bourbon, and it was a revolution – like all of them, Traverso claims – against the monotonous and empty time of domination.

Traverso understands that it was Marx, whom he invokes many times throughout the book, who introduced the “concrete, kairosic, and destructive time of revolution” into thinking about history. And that time is different from the abstract time of historians — some historians — of long-term and capital, he adds. “By transcending long historical cycles and causing the spasmodic movement of capital,” he writes, “the revolution had its own autonomy, a self-regulating time of human emancipation and agency.” A mole that never stops digging and pops up when no one expects it. A timelessness championed by the philosopher Daniel Bensaid, a heterodox Marxist from the same political geography as Traverso. And that Lenin warned about the duty of a revolutionary: to always be ready, precisely, to explode. From this idea of ​​time broken, accelerated and reconfigured by revolutionary forces, Enzo Traverso explores the hidden corners, the delivered bodies, the intellectuals, the historicization of the revolution. But about a socialist revolution with a communist horizon: “Revolutions shine on the brink (…) they save the past by inventing the future.”

This is the razor that Galician writer Carlos Meixid was probably thinking of when he described the Paris Commune as “the last romantic revolution and the first workers’ revolution.” He dedicated a documentary and electrifying 600-page novel, Viva a Comuna! (Xerais, 2023, in Galician; not yet translated into other languages), which reviews the 71 days of workers’ and popular government, before and after. Cherry time, as defined by the song of the Communard Jean-Baptiste Clement, one of dozens of historical figures who pop up in Meixid’s book. The fact is that the two-month revolutionary experience – from March 18 to May 28, 1871 – equaled, as the revolutionary said, anodyne decades. The aggravation of everyday life brought down the axes of historical time: the Commune limited rents, established pensions for the widows of National Guardsmen, abolished night work in bakeries, returned tools to the workers, it withdrew the guillotine, abolished it. interest on debt, established the right of workers to take over factories if owners fled, closed church-run schools, established equal pay for male and female teachers. Another essayist, Christine Ross, recalls communal luxury. The political imagination of the Paris Commune (Akali, 2016) is the red thread of the process: “a strong decentralized revolutionary structure, organized by districts and linked to popular concerns such as bread and hatred of the clergy.” Revolutionary program: bread and hatred of the clergy. Cherry time.

The Paris Commune, the workers’ revolution that originated in the womb of war – Franco-Prussia – ended in a bloodbath. Meixid himself, in an interview in Faro de Vigo, maintained that his peaceful nature – the abolition of the guillotine – was his greatest virtue, but also his greatest weakness. Allowing Thierry’s troops to escape to Versailles in the early hours of the morning, the revolutionary government allowed reaction to resume. He started digging his own grave. Prosper-Olivier Lisagaray, a socialist Communard and its first historian, estimated the death toll from the repression at 20 to 30,000. “The Commune resisted as long as it had ammunition,” writes Meixide, who saves the episode of 200 Federates in the cemetery of Pere-Lachaise, besieged by Versailles. “They fought manfully while they had gunpowder left. When it ran out, they resisted by hiding behind tombstones, armed with sticks and stones. They did not give up under any circumstances. They were shot near the wall of the cemetery.” There was no mercy. The Order returned to Paris during his reign. Hours, again on time, capital time.

And despite everything, the commune did not disappear. The fracture he caused during his dominance was barely stitched. Legend has it that Lenin danced in the snow on Moscow’s Red Square when the revolution he led ended in 72 working days, one more than in Paris in 1871. And even the spilled blood could not hide the fact that then. Paris was a party. French philosopher Henri Lefebvre described it this way, according to Paul Lidsky’s Writers Against the Commune (The Enemies of Thiers Editora, 2021): “It was, to begin with, a huge party, a party that the people of Paris had. The essence and symbol of the French people and the people in general, he offered himself and the world. The spring festival in the city, the heritage and proletarian festival, the revolutionary festival and the revolution, the total festival, the biggest. Modern times celebrated with brilliance and joy.” And it is known that in parties, as in revolutions, time passes differently.

In another miraculously inexhaustible essay, Left Sadness. After Utopias (Galaxia Gutenberg, 2019), Enzo Traverso explores the memory of the left. Memory is also a journey through time, sometimes empty and uniform, sometimes time-now charged. “Left sadness does not mean abandoning the idea of ​​socialism or hoping for a better future,” he writes, “it means looking at socialism at a time when its memory is lost, hidden and forgotten, and must be redeemed.” This is what he dedicates to his intellectual history of revolutions, the epilogue of which mentions alter-globalization, Indignados, feminist and LGBT movements, yellow vests, Occupy Wall Street or Black Lives Matter as “interrupted steps in the process of building a revolutionary new imagination. “. His last sentence, nearly 500 pages later, invokes an old and timeless trope: “Revolutions cannot be programmed: they always come when least expected.”


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