The Paris Commune, that pervasive theme of French leftist history, hangs like a shadow over European politics, indeed, world politics.
Just like in the 1870s, 80s, and 90s — the heyday of leftist anarchism — we seem to be reinventing ideas of the anti-authoritarian, anti-political left today, such as ‘the commune’. Our era is ripe for the reinvention of communes. Have we come full-circle? Our generation does not seem to be heirs of the 1960s and 1970s hippie generation, but much more resembles our great great grandparents.
On the other hand, the idea of the commune might seem a bit trite now. After all, it was crushed after two months of starvation, of eating cats and dogs. A powerful bureaucracy flourished out of what was initially an anarchist commune aiming to satisfy the immediate desires of its inhabitants. It was surrounded and laid to siege by the Prussian army and its leaders were murdered in the streets. Are we really interested in doing something again which failed in the past? Or are we talking about something entirely different?
There are always trends in leftist circles, and the idea of the commune is one of them today, thanks in part to “The Coming Insurrection”. Though the Paris Commune has never left the French political consciousness, a resurgence in the Paris Commune has spread elsewhere, such as with the film about the commune. But why does the idea of ‘the commune’ seem trite? Other than the obvious circumstantial failures of the historical Paris Commune, is there something else that makes the commune — as we conceive of it today — a trite idea or a failure in the making? And what is triteness if not a symptom of overexposure, or apathy, or another kind of cognitive coping mechanism to deal with the defeatism in the left? Do we mean to say the commune is really “outmoded”? And what about any other communes? Are they all trite too? (What geographical place does not have a rich history, and a sense of place, to draw its own historical theme from? Such as the Home Colony near Tacoma, WA in the 1890s.)
Notes from The Invisible Committee, writing The Coming Insurrection:
A commune forms every time a few people, freed of their individual straitjackets, decide to rely only on themselves and measure their strength against reality. Every wildcat strike is a commune; every building occupied collectively and on a clear basis is a commune, the action committees of 1968 were communes, as were the slave maroons in the United States, or Radio Alice in Bologna in 1977. Every commune seeks to be its own base. It seeks to dissolve the question of needs. It seeks to break all economic dependency and all political subjugation; it degenerates into a milieu the moment it loses contact with the truths on which it is founded. There are all kinds of communes that wait neither for the numbers nor the means to get organized, and even less for the “right moment” – which never arrives.
The principle of communes is not to counter the metropolis and its mobility with local slowness and rootedness. The expansive movement of commune formation should surreptitiously overtake the movement of the metropolis. We don’t have to reject the possibilities of travel and communication that the commercial infrastructure offers; we just have to know their limits. We just have to be prudent, innocuous.
For us it’s not about possessing territory. Rather, it’s a matter of increasing the density of the communes, of circulation, and of solidarities to the point that the territory becomes unreadable, opaque to all authority. We don’t want to occupy the territory, we want to be the territory.
Communes come into being when people find each other, get on with each other, and decide on a common path. The commune is perhaps what gets decided at the very moment when we would normally part ways. It’s the joy of an encounter that survives its expected end. It’s what makes us say “we,” and makes that an event. What’s strange isn’t that people who are attuned to each other form communes, but that they remain separated. Why shouldn’t communes proliferate everywhere? In every factory, every street, every village, every school. At long last, the reign of the base committees! Communes that accept being what they are, where they are. And if possible, a multiplicity of communes…