The Museum of Communism?

9 Aug
Mur des Fédérés

Mur des Fédérés by 피엡, on Flickr

Thus, Benedict Anderson on the specifically nationalist significance of tombs of unknown soldiers:

“The cultural significance of such monuments becomes even clearer if one tries to imagine, say, a tomb of the unknown Marxist or a cenotaph for fallen Liberals. Is a sense of absurdity unavoidable? The reason is that neither Marxism nor Liberalism is much concerned with death and immortality.”

Now, I can’t speak for liberals. But public sculpture celebrating the victory of anonymous communist workers and soldiers were as much part of the monumental stock-in-trade of the old Eastern Bloc states as statues of Lenin. From Budapest’s Statue Park to Berlin’s Russian war memorial, idealised workers and soldiers are among the archetypal symbols of communist regimes.

I might be stretching Anderson’s point about anonymity too far. And these also, it might be argued, celebrate regimes as much as ideology: all Hungarian monuments are woven into one fabric of patriotic sorrow; the Russian war memorials celebrate imperial dominance rather than communist fraternity.

But then there is the the Mur des Fédérés, in Pere Lachaise cemetery in Paris. The wall against which the last of the communards of 1871 were shot has become an international memorial (as celebrated in Ken McMullen’s Ghost Dance) for the labour movement. It was not created to maintain or justify the regime of the Commune (which was crushed) but rather insisted upon by the renascent French workers’ movement. Though the fallen may be known, they’re not named by the memorial; perhaps the Fédérés are international socialism’s unknown soldiers?

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