Communal Luxury – The political imaginary of the Paris Commune

Roy Lichtenstein, Little Big Painting, oil, 1965


Presentation to the Brazilian edition of the newly edited book by Kristin Ross

viva la commune! It is a cry-call echoing in this century and a half after the subversive gesture that so marked and inspired generations and generations of dream-doers, from soviets 1905 and 1917, Shanghai Commune 1968 to zad of today in bocage of western France and the Zapatista autonomous communities in the mountains of southeastern Mexico.

Kristin Ross had already written, in the 1980s, a beautiful book on the spatiality of the Commune, invoking the worker-poet, transformed by the Commune, Arthur Rimbaud.[I] Now, in the context of the global upheavals, he returns to this incredible work published in 2015, on the short and extraordinary proletarian experience of 72 days of creative insubordination and its survivals.

The researcher of French culture and politics in the last two centuries takes us to the popular meetings that were seething from 1868 onwards, when the Second Empire relaxed its repressive laws a little and eased censorship. Although trade unions were prohibited, from the 1860s onwards the offense of coalitions dropped and workers' associations were allowed to emerge. A contesting collective body was formed, in strikes (legalized in 1864), in cooperative restaurants and in spaces such as dance halls, concert halls and warehouses where crowds eager for rebellion gathered.[ii]

In these clubs, the “buzzing hives” spread the idea of ​​a social commune in the dangerous classes (The call-call above opened and ended many of these encounters.) The police (and their numerous spies), always studious of the seeds of opposition, will follow this closely – an ardent opponent of the Commune will call public meetings the “Collège de France of the insurrection”, perceiving this school of disobedient collective elaboration. When the Parisian weather really heats up, the government bans and closes all clubs on January 22, 1871.

At the beginning of March, in a context of defeat and surrender of the rulers, the battalions of the national guard are agitated: they organize a meeting, elect an executive commission, think of a federative structure and raise the flag of defense of the Republic. Many weapons were in Paris, which had lived five months of siege and shortage, and the government sent 18 soldiers to the working-class neighborhoods to take them back. At dawn on March XNUMX, the army was collecting the cannons that would defend the city in the war against Prussia – it was dangerous to leave them with the population in convulsions. The women of Montmartre throw themselves at the cannons and guns of soldiers who do not move. The general of the troops orders to open fire on them. A non-commissioned officer shouts louder for them to raise their weapons, and is obeyed by the soldiers (he will be shot by Versailles months later)[iii]. On what some say was the first sunny day of the year, the revolution sprouts, with its intoxication that everything can change and displace.

Hence, one of the most fantastic political experiments in equality and dignity is embodied – a set of acts of destitution of the State and its bureaucratic institutions by men and women. common. Anonymous revolutionaries, a collective messiah made up of workers from the interior attracted by the progress, artisans in large numbers, workers and women, vagabonds and artists. A movement produces new conditions, relationships, affections and subjectivities, and releases and enhances capabilities. The world upside down as in all revolutionary processes, in which hierarchies are subverted and the streets and the city taken over – “we can love a city, know the houses, the streets in its most distant and tender memory, but it is only It is at the time of the revolt that we really apprehend the city as US city".[iv]

Antithesis of Empire, here is the self-government of the working class. Your main asset? Its “existence in action”, the “political form finally found for the emancipation of work”.[v] It neither decrees nor proclaims the end of the State and the capitalists, but acts both with very important concrete measures that were outlined there. The Commune suppresses the standing army and the political character of the police, replacing them with the population in arms. Its municipal councilors are elected, with mandatory and permanently revocable mandates, and the same occurs with other public officials – such as magistrates and judges – who start to receive wages from workers. The power of the Church is attacked, cutting its public funding and expropriating its assets. Abandoned factories and workshops are turned into cooperatives. Freedom of the press and a moratorium on rents, evictions and debts are instituted. Marriage becomes free, and the Commune adopts unrecognized children and makes education free for all (with workers-teachers), in addition to organizing evening courses and reading rooms in hospitals and kindergartens in working-class neighborhoods. An exuberant cultural effervescence, with actresses and actors taking over the theaters and opening them. The walls become talking (with posters of different formats and colors) as later, in the same place, in 1968 and in 2016-2020.

The authoritarian government abandons the city, even leaving the sick in hospitals behind. In its few ten weeks, the Commune sustains the infrastructures of life in the form of generalized self-management – ​​“the direct ownership of workers over all moments of their activities”.[vi] It thus breaks the boundaries between the political, the cultural, the social and the economic, in a general, total proposal of a new presence. This political body is opposed to monarchical and class domination, but, above all, it is constituted in a positive way, based on deliberation and decision-making that are no longer secret, but open to collective creation.

For JB Clément, author of the famous song Le temps de celaugh and one of the defenders of the last barricade, “the extraordinary germination of new ideas surprised and caused terror, the smell of gunpowder compromised his digestion; they were taken by vertigo and will not forgive us”. The sinister blood week of May claims tens of thousands of lives in its despotic reaction. The means that were not used against the Prussians will be used against the Commune (the real enemy of order), which was surrounded, in the north and east, by the Prussians and, in the south and west, by Versailles - a class alliance. no flaws. “Paris was cut with a knife, says Louise Michel, using an image of the hunt. “Writing this book”, argues the teacher and community member, “is reliving the terrible days in which freedom brushed against us and escaped the slaughterhouse”.[vii]

But it is not in this abject and cowardly massacre that, fortunately, Ross focuses. In another beautiful previous contribution, the author reflects on 1968 and its political invention that persists and reinvents itself, as in the stern of Notre-Dame-des-Landes, which she has already visited several times and about which she edited and translated a book in English.[viii] In 1967, the mythical publisher Maspero published the classic History of the Commune 1871, by Lissagaray, a communard who dedicated himself for more than two decades to a monumental counter-research to dismantle the lies of power – his book will be banned for a long time. In 1968, another moment of “fever of faith, devotion, hope”,[ix] it was impossible to find a copy in the bustling Parisian bookstores, all already sold and read with enthusiasm.[X] These crazy years marked a return of interest in the Commune, even under the influence of surrealists and situationists, in facets that recall those stormy weeks of 1871: the fusion between politics and everyday life, militancy and life, the pleasure of new friendships and complicity in gestures. anti-hierarchical associations and cooperation.

Its emphasis is on communard thought, the event itself and the two decades that followed, as the event transformed some of its actors and supporters, such as Élisée Reclus and Paul Lafargue, but also Marx, Kropotkin and William Morris. Ross does not go in search of lessons from history, but in what ways this experience is inserted in the present and in its struggles. He perceives, in this sense, the sagacity of the concept of “communal luxury”, proposed in the manifesto of the Federation of Artists of Paris, written by Eugène Pottier, artisan and author of International (composed in the weeks after the Commune). This April 13 appeal defends an equal sharing not only of things, but also of our best skills, highlighting the decorative arts and crafts such as woodworking, ceramics, sewing, carpentry, lacemaking, shoemaking and so many knowledge of worker-artists. A collective beauty for everyone, with an aesthetic dimension in everyday life and no longer in elitist and closed circuits and appropriations. A bet on shared doing and on the relationship with matter, free work, or rather, free activity.

As an intrinsic part of the struggles against hierarchical divisions and dominations, there is an uprising against national barriers – the “Commune annexed France to the working class of the whole world”.[xi] Members of the International Workers Association (Arr) were very active in the clubs mentioned above, fostering an internationalist and anti-colonial climate. One of the most well-known actions of the Commune will be the overthrow of the column in Place Vendôme (made by melting captured cannons) as an imperial and militarist celebration of the oppression of other peoples. Its new name after demolition? International Square. The foreigner category is abolished, everyone is now a citizen. This is materialized in the key presence of the Poles Dombrowski in the direction of military defense operations and of Wroblewski (an officer of the Polish insurrection of 1863), of the Hungarian Frankel (member of the Arr) in the labor commission and of the Russian Élisabeth Dmitrieff, one of the founders of the Union of Women for the Defense of Paris.

This organization is founded from a appeal to citizens which opens by naming the true enemy – not the invading foreigner, but the French murderers of the people and freedom. The Union will dedicate itself to caring for the wounded with ambulances and neighborhood committees, in addition to distributing revolutionary lunchboxes. The Union will be one of the main organs of the Commune and will respond to strong desires from the previous period, in the popular meetings since 1868 and in the formation of the Society for the Affirmation of the Rights of Women, on women's work and more dignified wages, the right to divorce and democratic primary schools for girls. In those intoxicating days, a mostly female group takes a guillotine to the foot of the statue of Voltaire and burns it; then they will all be thrown into the fire.

The 1870s are marked by a double tension, of “moves or events space” decisive. On the one hand, this decade marks a favorable environment for colonial expansion, with the speed and linearity of the railroads, connecting previously inaccessible points, in systematic coordinates and in a geopolitical movement consonant with the imaginary of Haussmann's straight line that perforated and destroyed neighborhoods. workers. The reaction, on the other hand, would qualify the Commune as “Paris in the power of the blacks” and the Communards as “savages, a ring in the nose, tattooed in red, doing a scalp dance over the smoky wreckage of the Society”, explaining the war (and annihilation, here and there). A racial category encompassing workers and animals, savages and barbarians that Rimbaud will claim and posit as a concrete political bond.[xii]

The Commune, despite the limits pointed out (because it did not coordinate well militarily and did not take all the money from the Bank of France), charms Marx and Bakunin, Proudhonists and Blanquists. A confluence of subversive waters in the later proposition of an “anarchist communism” and its mess of divisions between conflicting perspectives (communism and anarchism, for example). The shock wave of the Commune produces transformations in intellectuals, who are affected by this event and, each one, with their flavor, elaborates the bet for a “transformation based on a vast voluntary federation of free associations at the local level”. Ross wisely connects the insurrection in one of the “capitals of the world” with the keen interest of thinkers linked to the Commune (Reclus, Marx, Morris and Kropotkin) in the collective organization of the earth in so many peoples and even in non-human collectivities. O chrism Russian, Icelandic fishermen and peasants, the Iroquois of North America, mutual support as the key
of the animal, vegetable and human worlds, the link between Louise Michel and other deportees with the Kanak in New Caledonia.

This places us in one of the most significant plans of today - to combine territorial organization and transnational solidary ties, which was already present at the limits of the isolation that left both the Paris Commune (in its links with the countryside) and the rural communes vulnerable. William Morris, in Notífrom nowhere, imagine the demolition of Nelson's column, a nationalist monument in Trafalgar Square, in London, and its replacement by an orchard, with apricot trees. The practical and the beautiful, the useful and the poetic in the arts of not being governed. Let's start with abundance.[xiii] Not the empty, destructive, mediocre, monocultural capitalist luxury, but the communal luxury of the existential wealth of the peoples of the earth in struggle, in the Americas and on the planet. the commune as “fertility organization”,[xiv]for the pleasure of fights-lives-creations; as composed by Waly, sung by Gil, staged by Oficina and so many, warrior happiness.

*Jean Tible is a professor of political science at USP. He is co-organizer, among others, of the book June: power of streets and networks (Friedrich Ebert Foundation).


Kristin Ross. Communal Luxury: The political imaginary of the Paris Commune. Translation: Gustavo Racy. São Paulo, Literary Autonomy, 2021.


[I] Ross, Kristin. Rimbaud, la Commune de Paris et l'invention de l'histoire Space. Paris: Les Prairies Ordinaires, 2013 [1988].

[ii] Merriman, John. The Paris Commune: 1871 Origins and Massacre. Rio de Janeiro: Anfiteatro, 2015 [2014], p. 22-23.

[iii] Michael, Louise. The commune. Paris: La Découverte, 2015 [1898], p. 178; 266.

[iv] Jesi, Furio. Spartakus: symbol of the revolution. Bordeaux: La Tempête, 2017 [1970-1977], p. 101.

[v] Marx, Carl. “The Civil War in France”. In: Marx, Karl and Engels, Friedrich. Writings on the Paris Commune. Draper, Hal (org.). New York: Monthly Review Press, 1971 [1871], p. 76.

[vi] Debord, Guy. The society of the spectacle: comments on society of the show. Rio de Janeiro: Counterpoint, 1997 [1967].

[vii] Michael, Louise. The commune. Paris: La Découverte, 2015 [1898], p. 233; 42.

[viii] Mauvaise Troupe Collective. The Zad and No TAV: Territorial Struggles and the Making of a New Political Intelligence. London: Verse, 2018.

[ix] Lissagaray, Prosper-Olivier. History of the Community of 1871. Paris: La Découverte, 2000 [1896], p. 200.

[X] Ross, Kristin. May 68 and its repercussions. São Paulo: Sesc, 2018 [2002].

[xi] Marx, Carl. 1871, p. 80.

[xii] Ross, Kristin. Rimbaud, la Commune de Paris et l'invention de l'histoire spatiale. Paris: Les Prairies Ordinaires, 2013 [1988], p. 16; 206.

[xiii] Ferreira da Silva, Denise, personal communication, August 2020.

[xiv] invisible committee. To our friends. São Paulo: n-1 editions, 2016 [2014].

See this link for all articles


  • João Cândido and the Revolt of the Whipwhip revolt 23/06/2024 By PETRÔNIO DOMINGUES: In the current context, in which there is so much discussion about State reparations for the black population, the name of João Cândido cannot be forgotten
  • Fear and HopeJoao_Carlos_Salles 24/06/2024 By JOÃO CARLOS SALLES: Against the destruction of the public university
  • The collapse of Zionismfree palestine 80 23/06/2024 By ILAN PAPPÉ: Whether people welcome the idea or fear it, Israel's collapse has become predictable. This possibility should inform the long-term conversation about the future of the region
  • Franz Kafka, libertarian spiritFranz Kafka, libertarian spirit 13/06/2024 By MICHAEL LÖWY: Notes on the occasion of the centenary of the death of the Czech writer
  • A look at the 2024 federal strikelula haddad 20/06/2024 By IAEL DE SOUZA: A few months into government, Lula's electoral fraud was proven, accompanied by his “faithful henchman”, the Minister of Finance, Fernando Haddad
  • Return to the path of hopelate afternoon 21/06/2024 By JUAREZ GUIMARÃES & MARILANE TEIXEIRA: Five initiatives that can allow the Brazilian left and center-left to resume dialogue with the majority hope of Brazilians
  • The society of dead historyclassroom similar to the one in usp history 16/06/2024 By ANTONIO SIMPLICIO DE ALMEIDA NETO: The subject of history was inserted into a generic area called Applied Human and Social Sciences and, finally, disappeared into the curricular drain
  • About artificial ignoranceEugenio Bucci 15/06/2024 By EUGÊNIO BUCCI: Today, ignorance is not an uninhabited house, devoid of ideas, but a building full of disjointed nonsense, a goo of heavy density that occupies every space
  • Theological manual of neoliberal neo-PentecostalismJesus saves 22/06/2024 By LEONARDO SACRAMENTO: Theology has become coaching or encouraging disputes between workers in the world of work
  • Chico Buarque, 80 years oldchico 19/06/2024 By ROGÉRIO RUFINO DE OLIVEIRA: The class struggle, universal, is particularized in the refinement of constructive intention, in the tone of proletarian proparoxytones