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La Commune: a lesson in audacity | Agnès Poirier

However, communism is not the consolation prize for the working class for suffering through primitive accumulation. There are forms of the past that can be mobilised in the present and show trajectories, whose unexplored potentialities contain possible futures.

2. The Paris Commune and Its Legacy

The story of the Commune that Ross relates to us breaks with the history of the forms of transition and its stagist model. New institutions root their practices in the sunken legacy that links to the communes of the Middle Ages and the French Revolution. Morris was an artist of the combination of modern and non-modern temporalities. The latter are not an expression of nostalgia, but rather visions of non-alienated labour. The encounter of different temporalities generated a new field of possibilities in which the new life of the Commune was experimented with by putting together art, work and revolution.

Gaillard is one of those actors. He was not only a revolutionary but also a shoemaker; an excellent one, it appears. During the period of the Commune, Gaillard the shoemaker built a massive barricade that barred access to the rue de Rivoli.

France in the long nineteenth century - Wikipedia

He considered his barricades, no less than his shoes, works of art and luxury. Barricades became works of art of the revolution. And daily artisanal production became revolutionary. Claiming the same dignity of intellectual labour for manual labour, Gaillard does not trivially dispute the division of labour. He goes much further.

The new revolutionary principle of the Commune digs like a mole in the ground of everyday life. As Ross emphasises, Gaillard was questioning the familiar distinction between the useful and the beautiful p. Gaillard alleged that the modern shoe has imprisoned the foot in a narrow, deforming instrument of torture.

France in the long nineteenth century

Recalling the old principle of artistic production by the artisan, Gaillard challenged the series and mass production in which the product is no longer shaped according to human needs. Instead people have to adapt themselves to objects, and both producers and consumers have to adapt themselves to the tyranny of exchange-value.

In the revolutionary experience, art could no longer remain external to the everyday. Ross shows how the intermixture of art, revolution and work redefines the relationships between human beings and use-value, on the one hand, and working time and free time, on the other hand. In the interruption of the dominant temporality of the state, there emerges a different quality of time, which is both social and political.

Reconfiguring the distinction of labour time and free time, social and political life, private and public life, the Commune was giving birth to a new humanity, which was not an abstract word, but a matter of education, art and works. This statement has not ceased to be disturbing in the eyes of the dominant class. Nevertheless, it remains the cornerstone of any real political and social change.

The story of this separation is the story told by Communal Luxury. It is in this separation that the flag of the Universal Republic appears. This flag merges dimensions that transcend the borders of nationality and its historical time.


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During the Revolution, the Universal Republic was not just an abstract ideal of sharing the principles of the Declaration of the Rights of Man with the whole world. Cloots himself acted as universal citizen beyond the nation and beyond his aristocratic status when he joined the Revolution. Many foreigners, like Cloots, took part in the Revolution, becoming political citizens in the everyday political practice of assemblies, sections and clubs.

The Universal Republic in the French Revolution was more than a principle; it was a practice that the Constitution had to assimilate.

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However, if Ross had applied to the French Revolution the multitemporal framework through which she had analysed the Commune, she would have had a different view of the tradition of the Universal Republic. Indeed, the French Revolution was more than a bourgeois revolution. There were many revolutions within the Revolution, revolutions which exceeded the narrow political-temporal definition of a bourgeois revolution.


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To conclude, I want to raise the question of universalism. It is true that the universality of the Universal Republic is not about scale.

The state of Paris

It expressed political inclusion beyond national identity. These dimensions prefigured new institutions, which were not based on the logic of the modern national state. Indeed, the radical manifesto of the twentieth arrondissement demanded the abolition of all subsidies, not just those related to religion, but also to theatres and the press.

Addressing the question of institutions would have been important in order to show how the collective creativity of the Commune, which was at the same time international and ecological, tried to reshape social life in a new political order and new property relations in the short time available to it. Edwards, Stewart ed. Gramsci, Antonio , Quaderni del carcere, four volumes, Turin: Einaudi.

Everyday Life in the Paris Commune.

French Third Republic

Increasingly radical, the National Guard stockpiled cannon; on 18 March , Adolphe Thiers , recently elected "Executive Power" of the new government and fearful of the consequences of leaving Paris armed, ordered troops to reclaim munitions from Montmartre. Many more were imprisoned, either in France or one of its colonies, with no amnesty granted until July But … it is time that we examine the Commune not just as an outmoded example of revolutionary primitivism … but as a positive experiment whose whole truth has yet to be rediscovered and fulfilled.

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