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Communal Luxury: The Political Imaginary of the Paris Commune

Reclaiming the legacy of the Paris Commune for the twenty-first century

Kristin Ross’s highly acclaimed work on the thought and culture of the Communard uprising of 1871 resonates with the motivations and actions of contemporary protest, which has found its most powerful expression in the reclamation of public space. Today’s concerns—internationalism, education, the future of labor, the status of art, and ecological theory and practice—frame and inform her carefully researched restaging of the words and actions of individual Communards. This original analysis of an event and its centrifugal effects brings to life the workers in Paris who became revolutionaries, the significance they attributed to their struggle, and the elaboration and continuation of their thought in the encounters that transpired between the insurrection’s survivors and supporters like Marx, Kropotkin, and William Morris.

The Paris Commune was a laboratory of political invention, important simply and above all for, as Marx reminds us, its own “working existence.” Communal Luxury allows readers to revisit the intricate workings of an extraordinary experiment.

Reviews

  • Communal Luxury is a rich and complex book. It is an inspired rereading of the Paris Commune. It is a critique of historical accounts that ignore the ways in which the practices of insurrectionary movements generate their own theory. It is a call to historians to attend to the alternatives offered at decisive moments of political and economic consolidation. It is, as well, Ross’s own manifesto about how we might think our futures differently. This is a history with enormous relevance for our contemporary political moment.”
  • “No work specifies more fully Marx’s claim that, the greatest achievement of the Paris Commune was its ‘actual working existence.’”
  • “Ross is the perfect guide for such a journey: few critics are more attuned to how words and images can travel … [she] has an acute eye for this juxtaposition of the pastoral and the political, how the vines of nature can overtake the monuments of empire, how revolutionary events can interrupt the silence of the countryside.”
  • “In recent years, the Paris Commune has again moved to the center of political thinking. Kristin Ross’s new book now, virtually for the first time, gives us an account of the intellectual antecedents of the Commune as well as its contemporary impact. This is an indispensable text for all current left theory!”
  • “Although this is a book of ideas, it is neither dry nor overburdened by scholarly references. Ross’s vision of the Commune extends beyond the 72 days, and beyond the space of Paris (and indeed of France), to encompass its echoes throughout the rest of the 19th century … For Ross, the story of the Commune is not a tragedy, because it is not finished.”
  • “In Communal Luxury: The Political Imaginary of the Paris Commune Kristin Ross argues that the spirit of the Commune is alive today among … the Indignados in Spain and inside the Occupy movement. Ross discusses the ‘political imaginary’ that fuelled and outlived the Commune.”
  • “One of the most important political books of the year … The ingenuity and collective good sense of the communards will challenge any reader who struggles to reconcile egalitarian politics with concerns over state violence and power.”
  • “A timely, elegant and rather useful cartography of the Paris Commune … This small book is a sort of parable, about another time and place, but not really about the past as past. It is more about the possibility of other kinds of action in time, as indeed are most parables.”
  • “Rendered with economy and ease and an engaging array of portraiture that can only be noted here… For all its rich interest and value as a work of historical retrieval and remembrance, Communal Luxury is a book with designs on the future… Ross holds out the immensely appealing prospect of an integrally green communism in a society freed from capital, state and national passions, a general instance, perhaps, of her preferred intellectual orientation, which she presents as an undoctrinaire exchange between Marxism and anarchism.”
  • “Ross brilliantly remaps the political topoi of the Commune in a narrative that is short but densely interwoven, a pattern of lively and vibrant connections not unlike the floral design by Morris on the book’s cover. What the attentive reader gains is the ability to feel the surge of ideas and movement of people that transformed a situation of insurmountable crisis into a moment for revolutionary change”
  • “A timely and fecund work that should stimulate anarchist thought and action on the relevance of the Commune to the contemporary politics of occupation, resistance, and prefiguration.”
  • “Ross implies that the political horizons of our time share something with the maximalist project produced by the Commune and elaborated by its survivors and exponents, who glimpsed in its fragile and unexpected manifestation the furthest possibilities of social revolution.”
  • “The strength of Communal Luxury lies in the combativeness and perceptiveness with which it wrests the Paris Commune from the conformism that has always threatened to confine it in an almost unimaginable past.”

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  • MAY DAY FLASH SALE: 50% OFF

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    May 1st 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.

    To mark this significant date, we have 50% off a selection of books looking at policing, riots, Rosa Luxemburg, neoliberalism, revolution and rebellion. Click here to activate your discount.

    We're also publishing a selection of essays on the Verso blog covering care work, sex work, black liberation, and more. Read them all here. 

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  • Communal Luxury: Kristin Ross

    To mark May Day 2017, we bring you a selection of essays from covering care work, sex work, black liberation, and more. Read them all here. We also have 50% off all our May Day reading until May 2: see the reading list here.

    The following essay is taken from Communal Luxury by Kristin Ross. Kristin Ross’s highly acclaimed work on the thought and culture of the Communard uprising of 1871 resonates with the motivations and actions of contemporary protest, which has found its most powerful expression in the reclamation of public space. This original analysis of an event and its centrifugal effects brings to life the workers in Paris who became revolutionaries, the significance they attributed to their struggle, and the elaboration and continuation of their thought in the encounters that transpired between the insurrection’s survivors and supporters like Marx, Kropotkin, and William Morris.


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  • The Landing: Fascists without Fascism

    This post first appeared at Research & Destroy.



    We can imagine a person slowly becoming aware that he is the subject of catastrophe. The form of consciousness might be likened to someone peering out the window of a plane. They have been aboard for a long time, years, decades. From cruising altitude the landscape below scrolls past evenly, somewhat abstracted. The stabilizing mechanisms of eye and brain smooth the scene. Perhaps they are somewhere above the upper midwest. Their knowledge of the miseries that have seized flyover country hovers at the periphery of a becalmed boredom. Steady hum of the jet engines, sense of stillness. Borne by prevailing winds the first balloonists detected no wind whatsoever. So this flight. Though the passengers will never travel faster than this they scarcely feel any motion at all.

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