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Proletarian Nights: The Workers' Dream in Nineteenth-Century France

A classic text by Rancière on the intellectual thought of French workers in the 19th century.

Proletarian Nights, previously published in English as Nights of Labor and one of Rancière’s most important works, dramatically reinterprets the Revolution of 1830, contending that workers were not rebelling against specific hardships and conditions but against the unyielding predetermination of their lives. Through a study of worker-run newspapers, letters, journals, and worker-poetry, Rancière reveals the contradictory and conflicting stories that challenge the coherence of these statements celebrating labor.

This updated edition includes a new preface by the author, revisiting the work twenty years since its first publication in France.

Reviews

  • “With its innovative approach, Rancière's difficult and provocative interpretation is essential reading.”
  • “Rancière’s brilliant book … locates the nineteenth-century origins of European socialism not in the noble desire of artisans to control their own labor but in the utopian visions of working-class poets who wanted to be free of labor altogether ... This is a powerful, piercing, and radical argument ... Rancière has merged his philosophical and historical interests into a profound commentary on the possibilities of human freedom and of the violence done to those possibilities in freedom’s name.”
  • “Drury's translation puts it into English as directly and comprehensibly as possible. It's a difficult job to do well, and the translator's work goes a long way toward making the book more readable.”

Blog

  • Interns, Occupiers, and Strikers: A May Day 2014 Reading List



    The 1st of May marks International Workers' Day, a festival of working-class self-organization stretching back over 130 years. It was originally inaugurated to commemorate the Haymarket Massacre of 1886 in Chicago, where a bomb thrown during a worker's strike kicked off a period of anti-labor hysteria.

    In 1890, the first internationally coordinated demonstration for an 8-hour day was held, in commemoration of those killed in the massacre. Eight anarchists were executed on trumped-up charges after the event.

    Here, Verso staff present an updated reading list for May Day. Since first posting the list a few years back, we've added some of our recent titles that trace the changing nature of work and the labor movements in the U.S. and around the world. 

    All books listed are available for direct purchase from our site at discounts of 40% off paperbacks, 30% off hardcovers, and 50% off ebooks, with free shipping, and ebooks bundled with your print purchase where available. 

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  • How can Democracy be Rejuvenated? Ideas for Transforming a Still-Oligarchic Society

    Democratic malaise, political disarray and panic: a year after Francois Hollande’s election, things aren’t looking good. Jacques Rancière and Pierre Rosanvallon, two major thinkers and theorists of democracy, attempt to understand our moral and political predicament.

    From the 7 May 2013 print edition of Le Monde

    Jacques Rancière is Emeritus Professor of Philosophy at the University of Paris-VIII. His books include On the Shores of PoliticsShort Voyages to the Land of the PeopleThe Nights of LaborStaging the People, and The Emancipated Spectator. His next book, Aisthesis, is out in June by Verso.

    Pierre Rosanvallon 
    is a French center-left thinker, previously involved with François Furer in the Fondation Saint-Simon. His books in English include, amongst others, Democratic Legitimacy: Impartiality, Reflexivity, ProximityDemocracy Past and Future; and The Demands of Liberty. In 2002 he founded the République des Idées. 

    How did you make democracy and equality the central axes of your political concerns, inquiries and research ?

    Pierre Rosanvallon: I became a full timer for the CFDT [union federation] when I finished at the HEC [business school] just after May ’68. At that time I began to read an enormous amount on the history of the workers’ movement. I had made contact with a publisher, Léon Centner, who had issued an impressive collection of hundreds of pamphlets on the building of the workers’ movement, Les Révolutions du XIXe siècle [‘The Revolutions of the Nineteenth Century’] in 48 volumes. Having got the CFDT to buy the lot, I dived into reading them. From that point on, I knew well that it is impossible to understand the tasks of the present – the project of self-management then being central – without a long-term perspective on the questions in hand. I wanted, besides, to understand the disorderly phenomena of democracy. To know why the structures of collective organisation did not work as well as expected. All these questions on the organisation of democratic life made for my first field of studies.

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  • Marx's Revenge: How Class Struggle is Shaping the World

    Marx has appeared, of all places, in the Business and Money section of Time Magazine. In this week's issue, Michael Schuman describes how class struggle, rather than being rendered irrelevant by the spread of global capitalism, continues to impact our world in significant ways—and he cites Chavs author Owen Jones and Jacques Rancière (author of Aisthesis, The Intellectual and His PeopleProletarian Nights, and many other works) to help him make his case. 

    With the global economy in a protracted crisis, and workers around the world burdened by joblessness, debt and stagnant incomes, Marx's biting critique of capitalism — that the system is inherently unjust and self-destructive — cannot be so easily dismissed. Marx theorized that the capitalist system would inevitably impoverish the masses as the world's wealth became concentrated in the hands of a greedy few, causing economic crises and heightened conflict between the rich and working classes. "Accumulation of wealth at one pole is at the same time accumulation of misery, agony of toil, slavery, ignorance, brutality, mental degradation, at the opposite pole," Marx wrote.

    A growing dossier of evidence suggests that he may have been right.

    Visit Time Magazine to read the article in full.

Other books by Jacques Rancière