Mark Harris, “Citoyens” (2017), pencil and watercolor on paper

The February 1848 Revolution in Paris provoked the formation of the Second Republic before being violently suppressed a few months later. The 1871 Commune, where working class Parisians forcibly took over and administered sections of the city to petition for improved wages, education, and living conditions, was a large-scale experiment in establishing an alternative society. The violence was even worse on this occasion, with the actions of the Adolphe Thiers’ government, representing the wealthy upper and middle class, leading to a death toll of as many as 30,000. Among the republican communards were such notable anarchists as Auguste Blanqui and Louise Michel.

Unrepentant revolutionary statements made by Michel at her trial make for compelling reading today, given the incidents of racial intolerance and social division that have been relentlessly fueled by irresponsible, opportunist politicians these past 12 months. Black Bloc, the anarchist inheritors of the agitational politics of Blanqui and Michel, are only the most visible of many emerging movements of protest in the wake of recent events.

During their brief 1848 uprising the revolutionaries produced hundreds of posters and manifestos that were flyposted to building walls. Remarkably, these were collected a few years after the fall of the Commune and published in facsimile as Les Murailles Révolutionnaires (1851). This watercolor, Citoyens, reproduces a detail from one of those posters.

To get a good idea of the circumstances behind these events, check out Peter Watkins’ extraordinary six-hour film La Commune (Paris 1871), an experiment in historical research and script development through group improvisational acting.

Mark Harris is an artist and writer living in London and Cincinnati. He exhibited in Sparrow Come Back Home at the ICA, London, in 2016-17 and performed John Cage’s Variations II (arranged for 5 turntables),...