Marx in Paris, 1871

Jenny’s ”Blue Notebook”

by Olivier Besancenot and Michael Löwy
Translated by Todd Chretien

Haymarket Books

In celebration of the 150th anniversary of the Paris Commune, leftist writers Olivier Besancenot and Michael Löwy offer a deeply informed, and eminently enjoyable, imagined history of what might have been if Karl Marx and his eldest daughter, Jenny, had travelled to Paris during the heady weeks of April 1871. In disguise, employing imperfect but serviceable French, Karl and Jenny encounter and debate many important figures of the movement, including Leó Frankel, Eugène Varlin, Charles Longuet, Elisabeth Dmitrieff, and Louise Michel, eventually returning to England with a profoundly changed sense of political possibility.

Reviews

  • “Far more than most dare admit, history and historians mix fact and fiction. The two were and are always inseparably intertwined. The 1871 Paris Commune – when a proletariat took political power from a bourgeoisie – transformed the social movement to do better than capitalism. Marx assessed the strengths and weaknesses of that transformative moment to advance that movement. Inspired by Marx’s analysis, Lenin did likewise. This book adds to the tradition evolving since Marx and Lenin. Remarkably accessible, it refreshes, provokes, and thereby develops that movement still further.” —Richard Wolff, author of Democracy at Work: A Cure for Capitalism
    “Michael Löwy and Olivier Besancenot ‘discovered’ a manuscript written by Jenny, Marx’s daughter, revealing a secret visit of her father to Paris as it was besieged during the fateful weeks of the Commune. Their book is not an exercise in counter-factual history – a ‘what if…’ – but rather an original and inventive form of history writing. They describe the Commune by emphasizing its greatness, pointing out its limitations, and assessing its historical legacy in a pleasant and vigorous literary account. Thus, Marx dons the habit of a hidden observer who, alongside the voice of his daughter, guides us through the labyrinth of a revolutionary experience in the making. Marx becomes a ‘witness’ and the Commune a living experience. This fictional account is a remarkable piece of historical criticism and revolutionary imagination.” —Enzo Traverso, author of Revolution: An Intellectual History
    “The authors embarked on an imaginary visit to the Paris Commune seen through the eyes of Karl Marx and his daughter Jenny, and the result is as true as real. Readers will learn more – and with great pleasure at that – from reading this well-researched little book of historical fiction than they would learn from reading a thick academic volume.” —Gilbert Achcar, author of Marxism, Orientalism, Cosmopolitanism

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