The Political Imaginary of the Paris Commune
One hundred and forty-five years ago this week, the French state massacred thousands of its own people during the semaine sanglante (bloody week) of the Paris Commune. Kristin Ross’ Communal Luxury: The Political Imaginary of the Paris Commune (Verso Books, 2015) pushes readers to consider Communard thought and actions in a frame that moves beyond the 72 days that traditionally define (and confine) the Commune as an event. This is a Commune that begins with the meetings and reunions of the 1860s rather than the states attempted seizure of the cannons protecting the capital in March 1871. Extending the spatial and temporal bounds of the Commune to include the lifetime of its participants and supporters within and beyond Paris, Communal Luxury opens up new possibilities for our historical understanding of 1871. It also renders visible and analyzes a neglected archive of Communard thought as a resource for contemporary political struggles and activisms in the 21st century. Liberating the Commune from both the French national republican histories that have attempted to incorporate it, and histories of state communism that have cast the Commune as the failed precursor to 1917, Ross pursues the lived and conceived history of a set of events that have gained mythological status in the century and a half since their unfolding. The book directs our attention to the ideas and perspectives of a range of actors and thinkers: Elisabeth Dmitrieff, Eugene Poittier, Elisee Reclus, Peter Kropotkin, William Morris, and Karl Marx. From the Communard call for a Universal Republic, to new programs for education and the arts (including an aspiration to the public beauty of communal luxury), to shifting visions of the possibilities of revolution and solidarity into the future, the book explores what Marx referred to as the working existence of the Commune. More a study of the theory and political praxis of the movement than a history of the Paris Commune in a traditional sense, the book illuminates the past while speaking to the present in profound ways.