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sabot Wooden Shoe Books: anarchist and radical literature
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Book Reviews ...

Book: Louise Michel by Edith Thomas
Review by: Ben Straub

If you like books about Emma Goldman and Voltarine de Cleyre, then you will absolutely love this book about the French Revolutionary Louise Michel. The beginning of the book starts off a bit slow, but hold out dear reader, because the barricades go up very quickly! Born on May 29th, 1830 Michel grew up in provincial France and the author contrasts historical records with Michel's own accounts of her upbringing and the evolution of Michel's political consciousness (the slow part). Michel's family had a tight financial situation so she was forced to make her own living at an early age. She chose to become an elementary teacher and attended a teacher's training academy and soon opened her own school. But many parents didn't like her methods: she took her pupils outdoors so they could discover nature and she also taught them to sing the Marseillaise. These actions led to her repeatedly being called to the school superintendent office for a reprimand.

In 1856 she went to Paris and attended political meetings, where she met Theophile Ferre and his sister Marie, and became violently anticlerical. In July, Napoleon III, emperor of the Second Empire, declared the war on Prussia. His troops were quickly overcome and he became a prisoner. A bourgeois republic formed and replaced the Second Empire. However, the citizens of Paris, besieged by the Prussians had armed themselves in defense of the city. The Republic sought to disarm the Parisian which led to the proclamation of the Paris Commune on March 28, 1871. Louise Michel became an ambulance nurse and soldier, belonging to the Montmartre sixty-first battalion. She was everywhere where she could feel the danger. The pages of her participation in the Paris Commune come alive as she goes from one barricade to another. Finally, she surrendered on May 24 because the Versaillais' current name of the authorities who were refugees in Versailles' arrested her mother and threatened to kill her. Her mother was then released, and Louise Michel was incarcerated.

Later, the War Council of France sentenced Louise Michel to lifetime deportation. On 8th August 1873 she began her voyage to New Caledonia. It was during this journey that she met Natalie Lemel, who was responsible for introducing her to anarchism. The conditions in New Caledonia were harsh. There was a serious food shortage and very little medical care. After spending five years in exile, she was allowed to teach the Kanaks, and the children of colonists. She got to know and respect the Kanaks, the indigenous people. Her support for their struggles against French invasion and racism is remembered today in the capital city, Noumea, where there is a museum dedicated to anarchism.

The French Government finally consented to an amnesty for the prisoners of the Paris Commune. In 1880, after six and a half years in exile, Louise Michel began her long journey home. On 21st November, she spoke at her first public meeting in Paris. Louise Michel spent the rest of her life on a political lecture circuit. She was an amazing speaker and was quite the spectacle for France, which she realized. She used this to her advantage raising massive amounts of funds for everything to free schools, unions and prisoner support. At various times on her lecture tour, she would be arrested, jailed, freed and then continue organizing. It was astonishing to read about the amount of energy that this women had for the social revolution. She was/is truly an inspiration for those fighting for social justice and the social revolution. She died in Marseille on January 9, 1905, while on a lecture tour in the south of France.

Wooden Shoe Books • 704 South Street • Philadelphia, PA 19147 • • (215) 413-0999