Re: [OPE-L] Red Butterflies Flap Their Wings

From: Jerry Levy (Gerald_A_Levy@MSN.COM)
Date: Sun Jan 22 2006 - 09:16:08 EST

> Showing that
> butterfly wing effects are conceivable *within a historical materialist
> framework* is, I think, a useful and important response to the old
> canard that Marxists are rigid determinists; that grasping a direction
> principle within history amounts to a fatalistic assumption that only
> one path is (was) possible.

Hi David,

Good point.  Perhaps part of the reason why most Marxians
historically have not discussed butterfly wing effects is the
aversion to "Utopianism" by Marx?  I.e. the discussion of
possible utopias is contrasted to  materialist ('scientific')

You should have seen the Peter Watkins' movie _La Commune_
yesterday.    It could have been sub-titled 'Red Butterflies Flap
Their Wings'!   There were, of course, divisions among the
Communards (and the actors in the film), but how could red
butterflies have learned to fly without struggle?

One major group of red butterflies wonderfully portrayed in
Peter Watkins' film were the working-class revolutionary women
of Paris.  The feminist aspirations of these revolutionaries are
not highlighted in most narratives of the Commune or -- even
worse -- they are blamed for the burning of Paris.  The actors
who played these butterflies, using the odd form of documentary-
style favored by Watkins in which participants were interviewed
by Commune or Versailles TV (yes, television!), were asked
the question "Would you have gone to the barricades?".
As part of the preparation for the film, the 200 actors were
all required to read several histories of the Commune.
Overwhelmingly, they answered 'yes' -- but, of course, it is
easier to say to a TV camera than to do it in real life.  Yet,
the actors -- thinking through the experience of the Commune
and relating that to contemporary struggles -- were themselves

Watching a film with a running time of 5 hours, 45 minutes was
itself a struggle, but it was a statement and a critique by Watkins
against the "universal clock", media manipulation, and the commodity-
form of  film (see interview with Watkins: > ).  This topic was itself
the subject of another film (which I have not seen) titled "The
Universal Clock -- The Resistance of Peter Watkins" (2001;
National Film Board of Canada).

You will recall that we (especially Mike L and John H) discussed
the Commune last year.  There was division among list participants
about whether the Commune was a state (Mike L said yes; John and
Alberto said no).  It seems to me now that this division mirrored a
real division among Communards about what they wanted the
Commune to be.   This division was sharply posed at various times
in the Watkins film which recounted debates among the Communards,
e.g. over the question of whether a Committee of Public Safety should
be created and what powers it should have.  Perhaps we asked the
wrong question?  Instead of asking whether the Paris Commune was
a state or not, perhaps we should have explored the different perspectives
by Communards about centralization of authority and the danger of
dictatorship and what are the lessons of the Commune about those

In solidarity, Jerry

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