Waltzing to revolution

Eugène Varlin, chronique d'un espoir assassinéEugène Varlin, chronique d'un espoir assassiné by Michel Cordillot
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Clearly written, extensively documented intimate biography of one of the most impressive leaders of the Paris Commune. We learn not only of the very serious side of Varlin, a country boy eager to learn, who became a master bookbinder (very proud of his trade), organizer first of the bookbinders union then of other unions, and a leader of the International Workingmen's Association (the "First International"). He also learned to sing in choral groups and to dance, becoming a tall, handsome idol to thousands of the low-paid women brocheuses, assigned to the menial folding and assembling of "brochures" (paper-covered books) in the book binderies. In London at the farewell party of a meeting of the International, he preferred to waltz with Marx's daughters to spending the evening debating economics with their father. A firm and fierce feminist (opposed to his Proudhonnien comrades' view that a woman's place was in the home and she therefore should not hold union office), he worked with Nathalie Le Mel, already a leader of women bookbinders, in numerous projects. Reading his story helps us understand how such a momentous upheaval as the Paris Commune could occur and why at that moment, and also how and why it collapsed before the massacre of the "week of blood" by troops from the extremely conservative government in Versailles. It will also help answering the third question, how it has shaped revolutionary movements up to our day, as the song says: "She [the Commune] is not dead" (Elle n'est pas morte).

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