Survival of the Paris Commune

The Commune of 1871 was never truly vanquished—its political imaginary lived on and is today being liberated and revived in a new cycle of struggles.

Kristin Ross is Professor of Comparative Literature at New York University. Her recent book,Communal Luxury: The Political Imaginary of the Paris Commune (Verso, 2015), is a masterful study of the ideas and aspirations driving the historic working-class revolt of 1871. ROAR editor Jerome Roos spoke to her about the Commune’s legacy, its impact on 19th century radical thought, and the revival of the communal imaginary in our times.

ROAR: The Paris Commune has been studied and debated for almost a century and a half. How does your book add to our understanding of this world-historical event, and why did you decide to write it now?

Kristin Ross: Like many people after 2011 I was struck by the return—from Oakland to Istanbul, Montreal to Madrid—of a political strategy based on seizing space, taking up space, rendering public places that the state considered private. Militants across the world had reopened and were experiencing the space-time of occupation, with all the fundamental changes in daily life this implies. They experienced their own neighborhoods transformed into theaters for strategic operations and lived a profound modification of their own affective relation to urban space.

My books are always interventions into specific situations. Contemporary events drew me to a new reflection on the Paris Commune, which for many remains a kind of paradigm for the insurgent city. I decided to restage what took place in Paris in the spring of 1871 when artisans and communists, workers and anarchists took over the city and organized their lives according to principles of association and federation.

While much has been written about the military maneuvers and legislative disputes of the Communards, I wanted to revisit the inventions of the insurgents in such a way that some of today’s most pressing problems and goals might emerge most vividly. The need, for example, to refashion an internationalist conjuncture, or the status of art and artists, the future of labor and education, the commune-form and its relation to ecological theory and practice: these were my preoccupations.

Read the full article at Verso Books


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