“THE COMMUNE AS AN EXPANSIVE PLANETARY POLITICAL FORM”
A Digital and Transnational Project
From March 18th to May 28th, 1871, Paris became the stage of the Commune. 2021 will be the 150th anniversary of that historic event, which elicits questions related to the appropriateness and form(s) of its commemoration as well as to the ways in which the revolutionary potentiality of the Paris Commune can be read from the vantage point of contemporary planetay society. Moreover, in the last few years a corpus of literature has been growing, proposing to focus on the concept of the ‘Planet’ (rather than ‘global’ or ‘world’). In this conference we would like also to test these different conceptions in search of a re-framing of these categories for a more suitable conception of contemporary politics.
Furthermore, our aim is not to “commemorate” the anniversary of the Commune, but rather to open up a field of reflection about that historical event as a genealogical episode of our present, investigating its potential contemporary use for political imagination. Does commemoration resign the commune to the past? Is it possible to commemorate an anniversary while also holding open its potential for an intervention into the present? What does a discussion of the Commune mean in the age of neoliberalism and amidst the current wave of protests, feminist strikes, migrants’ movements, popular insurrections and counterpower experiences from France to Iraq, from Hong Kong to Chile and beyond?
Starting from such questions, our project thus proposes to reflect upon the possibilities (or impossibilities) of considering the Commune as a planetary political form. Taking into account the specificity of the Paris Commune, which lies in the historical-material conditions of 19th-century France and on its unique capacity to subvert political power, we are interested in inquiring into the ways in which the Commune can be thought out planetarily today, opening up new dialogues, analysing the continuity and discontinuity of the legacy of the Commune from different perspectives, within planetary frameworks and transdisciplinary approaches that make possible to combine the historical experience(s) of the Commune and contemporary struggles. At the same time, the conference aims to debate the relevance of the Commune’s political potentiality, taking care to avoid simplistic claims of replicability through times and spaces. A relevant issue that the project will tackle is the field of tension composed by the poles: Commune, communitarian politics, and the Common. How are these nodes intertwined and how is their juxtaposition problematic?
In order to open up a discussion around these issues, our project develops around three axes, following inter- and trans- disciplinary approaches:
1. Decolonizing the History of the Paris Commune. In this axis we would like to debate and problematize the history, legacy and memorialisation of the Paris Commune.
In particular, we are interested in approaches that ‘de-colonise’ the Commune and the intellectual milieu in which it erupted and which it contributed to foster. In 1870-71 another communalist experiment took place in Algiers, which in many ways inspired and was inspired by the Paris events (Tomba 2018), in the context of a nationalist independentist movement from which the Algiers Commune partly diverged. Likewise, the techniques for repressing the insurrection in Paris were replicated by the French government across the Mediterranean soon afterwards, leading in both cases to deportations to the penal colonies of New Caledonia. At the same time, this was also the period when Karl Marx turned his attention to ethnology, in order to develop what several scholars defined as ‘a multilinear approach to history and capitalist development’ through ‘an archive of diverse forms of the common’ (Mezzadra 2018; cf. Anderson 2016; Bellamy Foster, Clarke and Holleman 2020; Marx 1974; Patterson 2009). Thus, we encourage contributions that, on the one hand, explore the reverberations of the Paris Commune and of the techniques employed to crush it across the colonial/imperial world, and on the other, relate the events and their analyses to wider interests in ‘other’ places and forms of organisation that displayed connections as well as points of rupture between various instances of communalism and the political form of the Commune.
2. The Commune as a Planetary Political Form. According to Marx “the multiplicity of interests which construed it [the Paris Commune] in their favor” were exactly what constitute it as an expansive political form. This means that “It was essentially a working class government, the product of the struggle of the producing against the appropriating class, the political form at last discovered under which to work out the economical emancipation of labor.” (Marx, 1871). Furthermore, when Marx speaks of the Commune, he defines it, using Abraham Lincoln’s words (Ricciardi, 2019), as “the government of the people by the people”. In this way he directly connects the Paris Commune to the anti-slavery struggle, conceiving it as a source of liberation from the enslavement of labor by capital. Thus, we are interested in exploring this politics of liberation as a planetary political form itself, while also teasing out its connections to other historically specific liberation struggles. One means of orientation will be to focus on the commune as a travelling, planetary political form (discussing for example the Mexican Commune, as does the work of Bruno Bosteels, or the Commune of Shanghai, as does the work of Hongsheng Jiang, and other historical examples). The other is to understand how the potential of the Commune to interrupt the social relations of capital, starting from the material conditions in which class struggle takes place, can be a framework to draw theoretical connections across planetary political forms of anachronous provenance. In this sense, we consider the planetary as both a geographical and an epistemological device, which can be useful to explore how different and scattered historical examples that took inspiration from the Communards’ experience appropriated and transformed the political idea or ethic underlying the Paris Commune, articulating it with new lines of struggle and new tensions. Our aim is to spur a debate that can grasp the multiplicity and heterogeneity of the temporalities, spaces and politics embedded in the political form of the Commune, starting from the plurality of social processes which redefined it around the Planet.
3. The Commune Today: the Common, Communality and Popular Insurrections The objective of this third axis is to analyze the expansive potential of the Commune as a political form in some contemporary experiences, rather than claiming for a replicability of the Commune and the continuity of its political form that would somehow legitimate contemporary political spaces. We want to reflect upon the fractures existing between the Commune and singular and original experiences of communitarian politics or which establish a dialogue between the idea of the Commune as political form able to think political power outside the limits of the modern State and the practices of autonomy and self-government carried out by contemporary communities, such as indigenous ones or the experiences of Venezuelan Comunas. Emphasizing the aporias and contradictions of each experience “inspired” by the Paris Commune can be useful both to unveil the sociohistorical process that shaped them and to reflect on their anachronistic political relations and structures, that leave open the possibility for an intervention in the present.
In addition, we aim at opening up a broad reflection in order to understand if and how the revolutionary potential of the Commune and its ability to interrupt the reproduction of capital is present or resignified by the wave of protests of the last decades, particularly anti-neoliberal insurrections, migrants struggles and feminist strikes. The focus would be on the possible connections between the Commune and these specific and multiple experiences of power subversion, riots, struggles and insurrections that challenged the neoliberal, patriarchal and racist organization of society particularly during the fall of 2019, as well as the transnational feminist movement and the transnational feminist strike that opened up a planetary cycle of struggle and subjectivation during the last four years. Finally, it could be also interesting to consider the potential of the Commune in the light of the possibilities and the specific practices of antagonism and struggle that are currently opening up against the health, economic and reproductive crisis triggered by the pandemic, analysing the continuity and the discontinuity between popular insurrection and these conflicts that reorganize social struggle in the pandemic.
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