#ParisCommuneAt150 | Women in the Paris Commune: Their legacy in the building an international Women’s Alliance

Presentation by Marie Boti

What are the lessons and inspiration we can draw from the women in the Paris Commune to serve us in building our International Women’s Alliance?

  1. Internationalism – Internationalist spirit present in the Commune, particularly among the women who formed the Women’s Union for the Defense of Paris— l’Union des Femmes. The organization was a member of the First International founded by Karl Marx. People like Louise Michel, Natalie Lemel and Elizabeth Dmitrieff were all part of it.  

Dmitrieff was born in Russia and was a co-founder of the Russian section of the First International. She had been sent to London to work with Marx and study the London worker’s movement. After the declaration of the Paris Commune, the London General Council decided to send Dmitrieff as one of two envoys to the Commune. She would later become a leader of the women’s union in the Commune.

 “The Commune’s internationalist spirit was upheld right at the outset, when the foreigners elected to it were confirmed, because “the flag of the Commune is the flag of the World Republic.”

Today in our work and activism, we are often taken up with our day-to-day problems and realities; it is difficult to turn one’s attention to what is happening in other parts of the world. And yet we are all connected. We know that what happens elsewhere, whether it be wars, migration, pandemics, climate change, the price of basic necessities, will impact us too.  Being aware and learning from each other’s experiences helps to strengthen our own movements and organizations.

In my organization in Montreal, Women of Diverse Origins, we come from many different countries and many of us have roots in on-going struggles of the people in our homelands, as well as the daily struggles in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.

Their struggles inspire us. For example, in the context of the feminicides in Latin America, which one of us was not touched when the Chilean women came out with their choreography EL violador eres tu? Accusing authorities of being complicit in the ongoing feminicides.

And how many of us danced along to One Billion Rising- which refers to the one billion women who will be a victim of violence in their lifetimes,

How many rejoiced seeing the brave Kurdish women warriors who defended their region of Rojava and kept ISIS at bay. Or the brave women in Philippines who stare down generals and police to challenge the government’s repression of community activists and political opponents. They risk disappearance, assassination or legal harassment daily.  Several of them are among us here today.

And how many of us here in Canada and the US join in yearly marches to denounce the Missing and Murdered indigenous women, and have been marked forever and inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, which was frontlined by women, including some of our own IWA leaders.

We are all one and we need each other in our struggles.

  • Count on the working-class women – support the fight for their basic needs: work, livelihood, access to children’s education, health care. The Women’s Union and the other clubs and vigilance committees proved to be the most active communards with a strong organized mass base. They cared for the wounded, defended the city, their homes and neighbourhoods on the barricades. They were among the fiercest and most dedicated fighters.

Our IWA Alliance is also made up primarily of grassroots organizations, institutions, alliances whose focus is the rights and welfare of toiling women. This is what binds us, and helps overcome divisions that may affect the women’s movement overall, this connection with the daily struggles of toiling women.

  • Anti-imperialist solidarity

After the crushing of the Commune, 4,200 prisoners were transported to the colonies, New Caledonia or Kanaky as the native population called it. This was the worst form of punishment other than death. Louise Michel was one of the Communard prisoners.

Rather than becoming depressed or siding with the French authorities who tried to enlist the prisoners in suppressing the local people,

Louise Michel made common cause with the Kanaks, the indigenous inhabitants of New Caledonia. They were rising up against land theft under the colonial rule. She went to meet them and began to learn their language and legends, which she later published on her return to Paris. “The Kanaks were seeking the same liberty we had sought in the Commune,” Michel wrote. Her solidarity is still remembered in Kanakry, where an elementary school is named in her honor.

Lesson: wherever you are, you can add your experience to the cause of the people.  

We see this in our own movement- many refugees, migrant women, immigrants, have been instrumental in building our alliance – whether it be migrants from PH and their chapters of Gabriela in all corners of the world, migrants from South Asia, or from Mexico, Guatemala, other Latam and Caribbean and African countries who are part of organizations which are joining IWA and helping to set up regional chapters in several parts of the world.

  • Another lesson is about imperialist War – an inevitable result of imperialism and capitalism. Women have every interest in opposing these wars of aggression.

It was Prussia’s invasion of France in its war of expansion – triggered the uprising of the working people of France- who had enough of being cannon fodder and sacrificing themselves for the elites and monarchs.

Until today- opposing imperialist wars of aggression is one of our main rallying cries in the AI women’s movement.

  • My last point, or lesson is that Solidarity with people’s resistance, with national liberation struggles is key to change the world. The Paris Commune was watched and supported by revolutionaries and progressives around the world at the time- there were expressions of solidarity and support from all around. It inspired some of the most important writings on revolution by Marx, Engels, Lenin,  and other timeless writers, including Rosa Luxembourg, who was born on the year of the Paris Commune. And today, 150 years later its anniversary is celebrated in the four corners of the world.

We in IWA have built our movement on internationalism- internationalism of women.

We demonstrate in front of consulates and embassies, we hold international tribunals to denounce the unspeakable violence against entire peoples, and we cheer them on in their struggles, like women farmers in India holding sit-ins and humger strikes to protest unjust agricultural laws; the people of Palestine standing against Israeli apartheid, Colombia on general strike, we celebrate their victories- like the people of Chile, who are finally writing a new constitution after living under the law of the Pinochet dictatorship even 30 years after its ousting.

 We recently congratulated the achievement of the Mapuche people in that context; *Natividad Llnaquileo, advocate of the Mapuche political prisoners in Chile, was one of our speakers at a webinar we organized last year – she has just been elected one of the leaders of the constituent assembly to draft the new constitution of Chile.

Meanwhile IWA has been growing and developing. We rejoice at the forming of IWA global regions in Asia Pacific and in Europe, and at the growing strength of our movement. Our attachments know no borders and last a lifetime.

Just as with the Paris Commune, these changes, struggles, victories both local and international would not happen without us women. We are part of the journey to liberation of all working peoples. And we will continue to play our part.

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