Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Torn pages

Yannis Kordatos, History of the Greek Working Class Movement, Boukoumanis Publishers, 1977, page 84, footnote 2:
When the newspaper Epi ta Prosso came out [1896], its publishers were hard up for cash. So they wrote to Pyrgos [Peloponnese] and asked for some money. In Patras, two sisters who worked in a sewing factory, and got paid 1,20 drachmas a day, stated that they would give, to support the newspaper, 3,50 each every weekend. In Pyrgos, again, Panos Giannopoulos, aka Machairas, together with Batounas, went to an upper-class coffeehouse and begged alms for a poor family. That way, they collected 35 drachmas (which was a great sum for that time), and sent it to the newspaper editors. The worker sisters died a year later, both of them from tuberculosis, yet, to the end of their lives, they showed exemplary commitment to their ideas, and tried to awaken other workers through their propaganda.
Without a name, without a personal history, without an explicable political genealogy, two TB-stricken women workers in Patras spend the last year of their lives funding one of the first socialist newspapers in the country, more than a hundred years ago.

Out books are full of torn pages, missing extracts, stories never told, or rather, stories that appear as insoluble enigmas addressed to us by a historical Sphinx. Radical historiography is not merely the struggle of memory against oblivion; it is a struggle against the fact that oblivion is constitutive, because it is part of the original circumstances attending subalternity, that is, class history as such. To these vanished voices, content cannot fully be restored. One finds oneself forced to restore to them their share of obscurity, their right to live on in the threshold of the retroactively intelligible, half submerged, half visible, as insistent demands to excavate something with no name, something buried nowhere specifically.

It is of these unknown ancestors one speaks when one speaks of history, it is with them one signs a secret agreement, it is from them that one receives a coded promise concerning the future.

What is the future? It is where the sewing women will have a name. Where they will sew and sew the torn pages back into the book, with a bright red thread. 

Written 30 December 2009, translated by the author on the occasion of International Working Women's Day.

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