FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Was Communard Louise Michel a Vegetarian?

Since I’m interested in both socialism and animal rights, historical figures who managed to reconcile the two ideologies fascinate and inspire me. That’s why I find the question of whether the French communard Louise Michel was a vegetarian so interesting.

During the Paris Commune of 1871, she served the working-class uprising as an ambulance worker and militia member. When the rebellion was overrun, Michel was captured and tried. She dared the court to execute her, but ultimately was imprisoned in France for almost two years before being deported.

In her memoirs, Michel wrote that she traced her progressive politics to animal-protectionist feeling. “As far back as I can remember, the origin of my revolt against the powerful was my horror at the tortures inflicted on animals,” she said. “I used to wish animals could get revenge, that the dog could bite the man who was mercilessly beating him, that the horse bleeding under the whip could throw off the man tormenting him.”

She wrote that from an early age she rescued animals and that habit continued into adulthood. “I was accused of allowing my concern for animals to outweigh the problems of humans at the Perronnnet barricade at Neuilly during the Commune, when I ran to help a cat in peril,” she said. “The unfortunate beast was crouched in a corner that was being scoured by shells, and it was crying out.”

Michel believed there was a link between the subjugation of animals and the subjugation of humans. “The more ferocious a man is toward animals,” she wrote, “the more that man cringes before the people who dominate him.” In fact, she credited her opposition to the death penalty to witnessing the slaughter of an animal as a child.

She raged against vivisection, writing, “All this useless suffering perpetrated in the name of science must end. It is as barren as the blood of the little children whose throats were cut by Gilles de Retz and other madmen.”

According to the International Vegetarian Union website, one Louise Michel attended the 1890 International Vegetarian Congress in England. The report of the meeting states she “expressed her views on Vegetarianism. The eating of flesh meant misery to the animals, and she held that it was impossible for men to be happy while animals were miserable.”

And yet, search her memoirs for the term ‘vegetarian’ and you will find nothing. As a very young child, Michel was traumatized by the sight of a decapitated goose. “One result was that the sight of meat thereafter nauseated me until I was eight or ten,” she wrote, “and I needed a strong will and my grandmother’s arguments to overcome that nausea.” This of course suggests she consumed flesh and her memoirs do not immediately mention a later-in-life change in practice.

She also wrote, “Instead of the putrefied flesh which we are accustomed to eating, perhaps science will give us chemical mixtures containing more iron and nutrients than the blood and meat we now absorb.” This could be interpreted as anticipating the in-vitro meat now being developed. But it could also be read as a reflection of her belief that animal-derived foods were nutritionally necessary or superior in her era.

While it seems clear where her sympathies were, I’m unsure if Michel was a vegetarian.

Jon Hochschartner is a freelance writer from upstate New York.

More articles by:
bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
February 25, 2020
Michael Hudson
The Democrats’ Quandary: In a Struggle Between Oligarchy and Democracy, Something Must Give
Paul Street
The “Liberal” Media’s Propaganda War on Bernie Sanders
Sheldon Richman
The Non-Intervention Principle
Nicholas Levis
The Real Meaning of Red Scare 3.0
John Feffer
Cleaning Up Trump’s Global Mess
David Swanson
How Are We Going to Pay for Saving Trillions of Dollars?
Ralph Nader
Three Major News Stories That Need To Be Exposed
John Eskow
What Will You Do If the Democrats Steal It from Sanders?
Dean Baker
What If Buttigieg Said That He Doesn’t Accept the “Fashionable” View That Climate Change is a Problem?
Jack Rasmus
The Nevada Caucus and the Desperation of Democrat Elites
Howard Lisnoff
The Powerful Are Going After Jane Fonda Again
Binoy Kampmark
Viral Losses: Australian Universities, Coronavirus and Greed
John W. Whitehead
Gun-Toting Cops Endanger Students and Turn Schools into Prisons
Marshall Sahlins
David Brooks, Public Intellectual
February 24, 2020
Stephen Corry
New Deal for Nature: Paying the Emperor to Fence the Wind
M. K. Bhadrakumar
How India’s Modi is Playing on Trump’s Ego to His Advantage
Jennifer Matsui
Tycoon Battle-Bots Battle Bernie
Robert Fisk
There’s Little Chance for Change in Lebanon, Except for More Suffering
Rob Wallace
Connecting the Coronavirus to Agriculture
Bill Spence
Burning the Future: the Growing Anger of Young Australians
Eleanor Eagan
As the Primary Race Heats Up, Candidates Forget Principled Campaign Finance Stands
Binoy Kampmark
The Priorities of General Motors: Ditching Holden
George Wuerthner
Trojan Horse Timber Sales on the Bitterroot
Rick Meis
Public Lands “Collaboration” is Lousy Management
David Swanson
Bloomberg Has Spent Enough to Give a Nickel to Every Person Whose Life He’s Ever Damaged
Peter Cohen
What Tomorrow May Bring: Politics of the People
Peter Harrison
Is It as Impossible to Build Jerusalem as It is to Escape Babylon?
Weekend Edition
February 21, 2020
Friday - Sunday
Anthony DiMaggio
Election Con 2020: Exposing Trump’s Deception on the Opioid Epidemic
Joshua Frank
Bloomberg is a Climate Change Con Man
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Billion Dollar Babies
Paul Street
More Real-Time Reflections from Your Friendly South Loop Marxist
Jonathan Latham
Extensive Chemical Safety Fraud Uncovered at German Testing Laboratory
Ramzy Baroud
‘The Donald Trump I know’: Abbas’ UN Speech and the Breakdown of Palestinian Politics
Martha Rosenberg
A Trump Sentence Commutation Attorneys Generals Liked
Ted Rall
Bernie Should Own the Socialist Label
Louis Proyect
Encountering Malcolm X
Kathleen Wallace
The Debate Question That Really Mattered
Jonathan Cook
UN List of Firms Aiding Israel’s Settlements was Dead on Arrival
George Wuerthner
‘Extremists,’ Not Collaborators, Have Kept Wilderness Whole
Colin Todhunter
Apocalypse Now! Insects, Pesticide and a Public Health Crisis  
Stephen Reyna
A Paradoxical Colonel: He Doesn’t Know What He is Talking About, Because He Knows What He is Talking About.
Evaggelos Vallianatos
A New Solar Power Deal From California
Richard Moser
One Winning Way to Build the Peace Movement and One Losing Way
Laiken Jordahl
Trump’s Wall is Destroying the Environment We Worked to Protect
Walden Bello
Duterte Does the Right Thing for a Change
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail