Fascists and their have, through history, been averse to the idea of communes. Communes always evoke in fascists their innate fear of popular uprisings against vicious statist governments. The popular musical “Les Miserables,” which is based on Victor Hugo’s eponymous novel about early 19th century France that saw the people rebel against resurgent royalists following the French Revolution, features a song about manning the barricades of a Parisian commune. The song, “Do You Hear the People Sing?”, includes the following lyrics:
“Will you join in our crusade?
Who will be strong and stand with me?
Beyond the barricade
Is there a world you long to see?
Then join in the fight
That will give you the right to be free.”
The Donald Trump administration, which is essentially a proto-fascist regime, reacted with an expected horror to the establishment of a barricaded Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone, or “CHAZ,” within six blocks of east Seattle during protests aimed at demanding an end to police brutality and other fascist law enforcement tactics.
Trump falsely claimed that Seattle’s traditional anti-war, anti-globalization, and counterculture district, was occupied by “antifa,” a non-existent organization that the far-right insists is made up of communists, anarchists, terrorists, and whatever bogeyman the right-wing decides top throw into the mix. In fact, “antifa” is a portmanteau of the words “anti,” meaning against, and fa, which is short for fascist.
The CHAZ in Seattle was declared by its residents, not outsider extremists as alleged by Trump and his allies, in the wake of nationwide Black Lives Matter protests after the police killing of African-American George Floyd in Minneapolis. Trump vowed to take back control of CHAZ with federal troops if Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan and Washington Governor Jay Inslee, both Democrats, failed to act. Such an action by Trump would have been illegal and unconstitutional on its face, but such threats have been part and parcel of Trump’s slide into fascist rule. In response to Trump’s idle threat, Durkan called the occupied area a large “block party” and told Trump to go back to his White House bunker. By June 12, Capitol Hill residential leaders were negotiating with the Seattle Police Department to permit them back into their vacated East Precinct district station, which lies in the heart of CHAZ.
The CHAZ almost immediately drew the ire of fascist vigilante gangs in the Pacific Northwest, where many such groups are often indistinguishable from police and sheriff departments. One right-wing vigilante drove his car through a group of protesters in the CHAZ and shot a protester at point-blank range. Fox News began altering its videos to show non-existent armed “antifa” gangs patrolling inside the CHAZ. Fox News’s propaganda was worthy of that spewed forth by Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels’s diatribes against Socialists and Communists during the dying days of Germany’s Weimar Republic.
The fascist right in the United States, with Mr. Trump as their loudest spokesman, began linking the CHAZ and similar nascent autonomous protest zones in Nashville, Tennessee and Asheville, North Carolina to “anarchists,” “antifa,” and “Communists.” However, the autonomous zones in Seattle and those attempted in Nashville and Asheville were nothing more than large “block parties” reminiscent of the “teach-in” protests held on college campuses during anti-Vietnam War protests in the 1960s. However, it was part of a right-wing propaganda barrage to liken Seattle and other protest zones to the Paris Commune of 1871.
After the surrender of the French government to Prussian forces in 1871, members of the French National Guard and workers established a revolutionary workers’ government in Paris. All laws that perpetuated military control over Paris were abolished, making the Paris Commune not much different than the CHAZ zone’s expulsion of police who had subjected residents of the Seattle Capitol Hill neighborhood to pepper spray, flash bang grenade, and other “non-lethal” weaponry attacks. As seen with civil rights protests around the United States and the toppling of statues honoring the Confederacy, Christopher Columbus, and Jim Crow-era segregationist politicians, the Paris Commune destroyed the Vendôme Column, which honored the military victories of Emperor Napoleon I. When the French Army entered Paris to restore the control of the exiled French government in Versailles, the Paris communards erected barricades to defend the commune. After the French Army defeated the communards, many of the revolutionaries were arrested and sentenced to death. Others were deported to French colonies like New Caledonia.
Just as Trump and his Republican lackeys called the CHAZ protesters “anarchists” and “antifa,” the U.S. ambassador to France at the time of the Paris Commune, Elihu Washburne, referred to the communards as “brigands,” “scoundrels,” and “assassins.” Any time power is seized by the people from the right-wing elites, there is always a propaganda campaign to demonize left-wing activists in the worst possible terms. It was the case in 1871 in Paris and it is currently the case in Seattle in 2020.
Seattle’s CHAZ is negotiating with city authorities on not only the return of the police under certain prerequisites, including a no-use policy on chemical agents like pepper spray and tear gas on neighborhood residents and homeless people, but also on institutionalizing the CHAZ as a governing entity. This development makes the CHAZ more like the Freetown Christiania in Copenhagen, Denmark.
Established in 1971 on the grounds of a vacated military base, Copenhagen protesters upset with the high cost of housing established their own rent-free and police-free autonomous zone. One of the leaders of Freetown Christiania was Danish journalist Jacob Ludvigsen. He wrote: “The objective of Christiania is to create a self-governing society whereby each and every individual holds themselves responsible over the well-being of the entire community. Our society is to be economically self-sustaining and, as such, our aspiration is to be steadfast in our conviction that psychological and physical destitution can be averted.”
Although Denmark’s Social Democratic governments allowed Christiania to fend for itself, conservative control by Prime Minister and later NATO Secretary General Andres Fogh Rasmussen meant trouble for Christiania. In 2004, Denmark’s Conservative government declared Christiania’s “autonomy” to be illegal. In 2005, Christiania’s 1000 residents decided to ban hashish booths along “Pusher Street” in the enclave to forestall a government invasion. In 2007, Copenhagen police entered Christiania in force. Tear gas was used on the commune’s resistance forces. Rasmussen and his right-wingers, many of them the ideological descendants of Denmark’s pro-German government during the Nazi occupation, wanted to expel Christiania’s residents as “squatters” and turn the land over to developers for the building of expensive housing units. Lawyers for the government claimed that Christiania’s residents were only given the right to “borrow” the land, not own it, pursuant to a 1989 agreement. Currently, the government of Denmark, which has, in essence, has become Denmark, Incorporated, a capitalist contrivance masquerading as a social welfare state, has given Christiania’s residents the option of buying their properties. Meanwhile, the land development vultures continue to circle the autonomous village within a city.
History has not been kind to autonomous communes. Paris’s 1871 commune was brutally put down. Revolutionary Catalonia fell to the fascist forces of Generalissimo Francisco Franco in 1938. The Kowloon Walled City was demolished in 1993 and Free Derry, an Irish nationalist enclave in Northern Ireland ended with OPERATION MOTORMAN, a massive British armed forces invasion in 1972. Athens’s anti-austerity autonomous zone of Exarcheia is now largely a thing of the past, thanks to Greece’s right-wing government. The Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (NES), a libertarian socialist collective government of Kurds, Arabs, Syriac-Assyrians, and Turkmen, in predominantly Kurdish areas of Syria, is under siege by Turkish, Syrian, and pro-Saudi jihadist forces.
A few environmentalist Zones to Defend or “ZADS” continue to exist in France and Rebel Zapatista Autonomous Municipalities or MAREZs continue to guard against Mexican federal government incursion in the rebellious Chiapas state. Christiania has suffered a slow burn to what will likely be its extinction and redevelopment as a community for Copenhagen’s wealthy elites. Seattle’s CHAZ has a rather trustworthy negotiating partner in the Seattle mayor and city council and perhaps it will continue to exist in some form. But with Trump, his supporters, and fascist armed vigilante gangs making ominous noises, CHAZ could go the way of the 1871 Paris Commune.