The Paros Commune of 1971 – History


Some Personal Context for this Site

The Paros Commune of 1971 was written in early to mid 1973. It was not finished at the time of this photo, taken in Vermont during a spring ski outing that year. 

That’s me in the red sweater trying to sneak into the photo on the right, helped by Ed, my Canadian friend and Howard Stern doppelgänger, who I comment on a time or two in the book, then there are five friends of Ed’s whose names I don’t remember from, you guessed it, ‘Oh, Canada’, disappearing off into the beer haze at the other end of the table, before coming back up the left side with Carl, a good friend from North Carolina who had come with me on the trip, peeking out from behind a deer-in-the-headlights looking Bilbo, Bilbo being a another name for Carl wearing the cap and one of the Communards from Paros as was Heidi, furthest left, and Molly, leaning over in the foreground. My friend and fellow Communard, J.C. took the polaroid, I guess. 48 years on, things are a little hazy now as then. 

You’ll have to read the book to know what any of this means, if it does then. Everyone was full of good cheer, well, except maybe for Bilbo, who must have been caught off guard by the camera. 

The next year J.C. and Heidi moved to Washington and bought some land up in the hills near Chewelah in the eastern part of the state. Ed, his girlfriend of the time whose name I don’t remember, and I drove out to visit them so that I could help them build their cabin, and I could write. Here is a photo of J.C. on the right and me at a campsite in British Columbia shortly after we got out there. After a year, with the help of many friends we got the roof on their cabin, and I came back to North Carolina, primarily for family reasons and for the winter to work. 

The following summer I went back with my brother and cousin to build a cabin of my own on a corner of J.C. and Heidi’s property. A photo is included of the front of my cabin, the result of efforts of several friends, with substantial help from Heidi on the stone foundation. 

Those were heady times, full of promise. The Vietnam War was becoming history, civil rights and voting rights had become law, along with sexual equality and sexual rights, at least on paper. The optimism and perceived capacity of the American experiment to accommodate the basic needs of everyone rising with the end of the Jim Crow era in the south—an era and area into which I was born but with whose values I was fortunately never indoctrinated by my family and friends who had themselves also been able to elude that indoctrination—led me away from the left-wing programs and unfulfilled promise of the Paris Commune of 1871 that had motivated me the last couple of years of my university studies. 

It led me away from the programs, but not from their goals and ideals. It led me toward an inclusiveness of the spirit and away from the divisiveness of the politics based on greed on the one hand and the corrupting desire for retribution on the other. Having finished my undergraduate degree from Duke in economics in 1969, I still faced the possibility of being drafted into the morass of Vietnam, so my path at the time to graduate school was hampered.

From my earliest memories, I had two primary motivations that the Greeks and Freud would recognize; the first was to grow up and find a woman like my mother to marry and the second was to find a way to make my way in the world and take over the reputed professional position of my father. Then, as now after almost 40 years of wedded bliss, I disproved the myth of Oedipus and did neither. Instead, I then went home to work with my dad in the design and construction business, so that I could save some money and plan my next move. 

For me that was to take the opportunity to see the world. A friend from high school, J.C. was finishing up his stint as a corpsman in the Navy, which had included a year at a base in Naples. He wanted to go back to Europe when he got out of the service, so we decided to travel and work and go on from there. Many long hours were spent planning the trip in some detail, none of which included the name ‘Paros’, though ‘Paris’ entered our consciousness for various reasons many times.

Twenty-three-years-old at the time, that led us to meet up with the gangly whippersnapper and nineteen-year-old hockey playing Ed early on in Germany, and the three of us to work in Switzerland and to play on Paros. There can be many turning points in a life’s trajectory, and Paros was surely one of them, since it was the only time that we weren’t working in preparation for or during our sojourn in Switzerland or continually moving throughout much of the rest of Europe and could just chill out and reflect. 

Despite all the talk of revelry and even debauchery in this book, the process of living those few weeks involved plenty of introspection. It was, for me unrecognized at the time, part of a spiritual quest. Within a month of leaving Paros and traveling up through the Soviet Union and into Scandinavia, I had an epiphanic episode that removed from my psyche any notion that we humans were anything other than spiritual beings, souls. The rest of my life since that episode has been my attempt to figure out just what that meant for me and as a responsibility to my fellow sentient life forms as a soul. 

While most of us coming out of the campus new left of the time never had an affection for the USSR, the rational ‘materialistic’ analysis of Marxism still had a certain illusive, and contradictory idealistic, appeal in explaining, though not necessarily addressing, the reality of the socioeconomic inequalities of the US seen in the burgeoning, equally idealistic and contrasting illusions of global neoliberalism. 

I remember my first break with that appeal when I returned to campus a year after graduation in response to student calls for mobilization against the invasion of Cambodia by the US and South Vietnam. In a strategy session, some of those present were contemplating a tactic designed to provoke the police to attack members of the general public to ‘radicalize’ them, to which I responded that we were supposed to ‘love the people,’ not try to get their heads beat in. The, ‘what are you talking about’, look I got from some of my comrades in the room was a clarifying moment for me.

As far as our trip through the USSR from the Black Sea to Finland went, I still recall the outburst of Ed in the lobby of a hotel in Leningrad, now once again Saint Petersburg, where we had gone to board our bus tour of the city scheduled merely the day before. It was as succinct an appraisal of the Soviet system as possible, announced by our neutral Canadian with moral rectitude and certitude. After a very early rise and departure from our campground near Vyborg some hundred-thirty kilometers north of the city and most of the way to the freedom of Finland, in order to catch our tour, we found on arrival at the hotel that the tour had been canceled because of a scheduled naval holiday. 

As only he could,  Ed responded in full fury to the chagrin of those in the lobby, “Red Menace my ass! I’ll start worrying about a Red Menace when you folks learn how to build roads!” This last comment was a response to the perception that on the road between Odessa on the Black Sea and Leningrad, we could count on one hand the number of paved roads that we crossed in the countryside outside the confines of any metropolitan area, which were themselves few. Of course, to their credit they had but recently emerged from the struggle against the fascists and perhaps had more important things to contend with. Still, the absurdity of autocratic government was pertinent.

The epiphany I experienced on a ferry between Finland and Sweden a few days later culminated in a more profound experience a few years later shortly after I got my cabin in Washington in the dry. For those of you who do not have construction experience or at least have access to HGTV, ‘in the dry’ was a state where I could keep out the elements and keep in some heat in order to further my career as a writer, whatever that otherwise might entail. It gets cold in eastern Washington in November, at least it was in 1976.

This web presence you are currently reading is not the first for me, but it is the first since I really regained the sense of freedom I felt when I experienced and wrote about the brief, but spectacular Paros Commune of 1971. I am at the end of a period of life that was initiated for me early Thanksgiving morning in 1976, some 4½ years after the epiphany in Scandanavia. I have written about it in some detail in the blog started a few months ago in the companion website at Ergodidiocy. That blog in turn was a result of my frustration with the more polite approach at trying to reach the experts in the fields in which I have some experience, political economy and theoretical physics at this UniServEnt website. The UniServEnt site was first hosted in early 2020 at the start of the covid pandemic, before the extent or the nature of the debacle of the current US approach to the handling of social safety net issues had shown itself to be what some of us always knew it was.

Ergodidiocy is a tongue-in-cheek portmanteau that has possibilities as a work in progress in commenting on the idiocy of the parties to both sides of almost any contentious subject, particularly the cultural and economic perspectives of US life. In the process, I remembered The Paros Commune of 50 years ago and decided to dust it off and see if it still had any life in it. 

I was pleasantly surprised, but what was more surprising was that my wife of almost 40 years, who had never read it and is not really curious about most of the stuff I write, which tends to be of a technical non-fiction nature about physics and economic policy, thought it was a good read. As did my sister and sister-in-law. Perhaps it’s a chicks book. So here it is.

Cheers to you, Fellow Communards, Souls, Friends, Sisters–Brothers, Citizens, Comrades, Experts, and Ergodidiots such as myself! Let me know if you think a sequel is in order. Perhaps an enlightened synthesis in a Paros/Paris Commune of 2021.

April, 2021. Somewhere on Middle Earth.