Socialist Worker

La Commune - Peter Watkins film on the Paris Commune

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to watch a workers' uprising as it unfurls and listen in on the debates as workers discover their power? That is exactly what watching the exciting and powerful film \"La Commune\" is like, writes Hazel Cro

Issue No. 1731

The film is showing this Sunday in London-with all proceeds going to the 'Socialist Worker' Appeal-and anyone who can should try to get along. The film is about the Paris Commune in 1871, one of the greatest ever events in working class history. For 72 days Parisian workers took control of the city. What makes the film so exciting is that it is not only about events over 100 years ago. It is also about how we can change the world today.

The film, shot in black and white, uses the device of modern day TV interviewers to question the workers-later the actors-about why they are fighting back. It is over six hours long. But the exhilaration of the revolt and enthusiasm of the actors carries you along and makes you feel like a participant. The film brilliantly captures how the Commune unleashed workers' talents and creativity.

'We are hungry, but we are also hungry for knowledge,' says a woman worker. 'Equality means everyone has the right to education, the right to culture.' The film shows how the Commune dissolved the standing army, abolished rent arrears and opened up education for all.

It also shows the debates, and confusions, among the Communards about how to take the revolt forward. There is an amazing scene set in a church that workers have requisitioned for public debates. At first the actors play their parts, discussing how to defend the Commune.

'Will we take control of the banks?' asks one. 'Are we going to tackle the real powers?' But increasingly you become aware that the actors are talking about the revolt against capitalism today. 'We've sent people to the moon but we face exactly the same things-homelessness, poverty and the rich getting richer,' says an actor. The dramatic events of the Commune are interspersed with vibrant debates between the actors on violence, how we can take on giant corporations and whether capitalism can be reformed.

These discussions are even more striking when you realise that the actors are mainly non-professional. They show the extent of the left in French politics after the wave of strikes and protests at the end of 1995.

Although the film was made just before the protests against the World Trade Organisation in Seattle at the end of 1999, the discussions are full of the spirit of revolt which burst into the open there. Tragically, the ruling class was able to smash the Commune in an orgy of violence, slaughtering up to 30,000.

Yet the workers remain defiant to the end. The scenes on the barricades are inspirational. A 'TV interviewer' asks the actors if they would be on the barricades today. 'Yes. The people could have won this', 'It is still a war of the poor-revolt is possible', 'If there are barricades in Paris in the year 2000, I'll be there fighting' are just some answers. You will leave this film uplifted, and determined to smash the capitalist system once and for all.

'These Parisians, storming heaven... wonderful indeed was the change the Commune had wrought. No more corpses at the morgue, no nocturnal burglaries, scarcely any robberies-in fact the streets were safe, and that without police of any kind.'
Marx, whose pamphlet on the Paris Commune 'On the Civil War in France' is available from Bookmarks, price £2.50 Phone 020 7637 1848

La Commune – a film by Peter Watkins showing in two parts in London, Sunday 21 January 2-8pm, Edward Lewis Theatre, University College London SU, Cleveland Street, London W1 Great Portland Street/Goodge Street tube Tickets £7/£5 concessions All proceeds to Socialist Worker Appeal Phone 020 7517 9196 for tickets

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Sat 20 Jan 2001, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1731
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