Saturday, May 16, 2009

Paris Commune 1871: Dancing in the Debris

On this day in 1871 (the 16th May) there was a unique party in Paris during the days of the Commune. The occasion was the destruction of the Vendôme Column Column, built in to celebrate the might of Napoleon’s imperial forces. The Commune issued a decree pronouncing that the Column was to be abolished since it was ‘a monument to barbarism, a symbol of brute force and glory, an affirmation of militarism…’

And so it came to pass that the column came crashing down (pictured below). Louis Barron, an eyewitness/participant recalled: ‘This colossal symbol of the Grand Army – how it was fragile, empty, miserable… The music played fanfares, some old greybeard declaimed a speech on the vanity of conquests, the villainy of conquerors, and the fraternity of the people, we danced in a circle around the debris, and then we went off, very content with the little party’.

For Kristin Ross, this ‘attack on verticality’ was symbolic of the ‘horizontal’ nature of the Commune itself, characterised by ‘antihierarchical gestures and improvisations…extending principles of association and cooperation into the workings of everyday life’.

Sadly the forces of empire and order were soon take their revenge, massacring up to 25,000 supporters of the Commune in the streets of Paris.

Source: Kristin Ross, The Emergence of Social Space: Rimbaud and the Paris Commune (1988).

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