The Meaning of the Paris Commune

On March 18, 1871, artisans and communists, laborers and anarchists, took over the city of Paris and established the Commune. That radical experiment in socialist self-government lasted seventy-two days, before being crushed in a brutal massacre that established France’s Third Republic. But socialists, anarchists, and Marxists have been debating its meaning ever since.

Kristin Ross, in her book, Communal Luxury: The Political Imaginary of the Paris Commune, clear-cuts the accumulated polemics regarding the Commune, which she says have calcified into false polarities: anarchism versus Marxism, peasant versus worker, Jacobin revolutionary terror versus anarcho-syndicalism, and so on.

Now that the Cold War is over and French Republicanism is exhausted, Ross argues, we can free the Commune from such sclerosis.  Such an emancipation can, in turn, revitalize the contemporary left to act and think about the challenges of today. No work specifies more fully Marx’s claim that, the greatest achievement of the Paris Commune was its “actual working existence.”

This book restages the Paris Commune for our own time. Why is the Commune a resource for thinking the demands of our present?

I am happy that you chose the word “resource” rather than the word “lesson.” Usually people insist that the past provide us with lessons or that it teach us what mistakes to avoid. The literature surrounding the Commune is filled with second-guessing, back-seat driving, and a delight in the listing of errors: if only the Communards had done this or that, taken the money from the bank, marched on Versailles, made peace with Versailles, been better organized. Then they might have succeeded!

To my mind, this kind of after-the-fact theoretical superiority is both inane and profoundly ahistorical. Our world is not the world of the Communards. Once we have truly understood that this is the case, it becomes easier to see the ways in which their world is, in fact, very close to ours — closer, perhaps, than is the world of our parents.

The way people, particularly young people, live now resembles in its economic instability the situation of the nineteenth century workers and artisans who made the Commune, most of whom spent most of their time not working but looking for work.

After 2011, with the return virtually everywhere of a political strategy grounded in taking up space, seizing places and territories, turning cities — from Istanbul to Madrid, from Montreal to Oakland — into theaters for strategic operations, the Paris Commune has become newly illuminated or visible, it has entered once again into the figurability of the present.

Its forms of political invention have become newly available to us not as lessons but as resources, or as what Andrew Ross, speaking about my book, called “a useable archive.” The Commune becomes the figure for a history, and perhaps of a future, different from the course taken by capitalist modernization, on the one hand, and utilitarian state socialism, on the other.

This is a project that I think many people today share, and the Communal imaginary is central to that project. For this reason I’ve tried in the book to think about the Commune as both behind us, as belonging to the past, and as a kind of opening up, in the midst of our current struggles, of the field of possible futures.

“Communal luxury” was a motto of the artists’ section of the commune and the title of your work. Could you tell us about the genesis of this phrase?

Unlike “the universal republic,” “communal luxury” was not a resounding slogan of the Commune. I found the phrase tucked away in the final sentence of the manifesto artists and artisans produced under the Commune as they were organizing themselves into a federation. For me it became a kind of prism through which to refract a number of key inventions and ideas of the Commune.

The author of the phrase, decorative artist Eugène Pottier, is better known to us today as the author of another text, the Internationale,composed at the end of the Bloody Week before the blood of the massacres had dried. What he and the other artists meant by “communal luxury” was something like a program in “public beauty”: the enhancement of villages and towns, the right of every person to live and work in a pleasing environment.

This may seem like a small, even a “decorative,” demand. But it actually entails not only a complete reconfiguration of our relation to art, but to labor, social relations, nature. and the lived environment as well. It means a full mobilization of the two watchwords of the Commune: decentralization and participation. It means art and beauty deprivatized, fully integrated into everyday life, and not hidden away in private salons or centralized into obscene nationalistic monumentality.

A society’s aesthetic resources and accomplishments would not, as the Communards made clear in act, take the shape of what William Morris called “that base piece of Napoleonic upholstery,” the Vendôme Column. In the afterlife of the Commune, in the work of Reclus, Morris, and others, I show how the demand that art and beauty flourish in everyday life contained the outlines of a set of ideas that today we would call “ecological,” and that can be traced in Morris’s “critical notion of beauty,” for example, or Kropotkin’s insistence on the importance of regional self-sufficiency.

At its most speculative reaches, “communal luxury” implies a set of criteria or system of valuation other than the one supplied by the market for deciding what a society values, what it counts as precious. Nature is valued not as a stockpile of resources but as an end in itself.

Your book extends the life of the Commune to the work of Kropotkin and the British socialist William Morris, among others.

It is very easy to become entranced, in a horrified way, by what Flaubert called the “gothicity” of the Commune, by which I can only hope he meant the unmitigated horrors of the Bloody Week and the massacres of thousands that brought it to an end. I in no way minimize the significance of the massacre — indeed, I view that extraordinary attempt on the part of the state to exterminate one by one and en blocits class enemy to be the foundational act of the Third Republic.

But I have been more concerned with documenting what I take to be the prolongation of the Commune — the way in which Communard thought continued to be elaborated after the end of the Bloody Week as Communard survivors and exiles met up with and worked together with the supporters you mention —fellow travelers for whom the event of the Commune had profoundly altered what Jacques Rancière would call “the distribution of the sensible.”

I describe how the shockwave of the Commune as event, as well as the discussions and sociability that ensued with its survivors, changed the method of these thinkers, the issues they addressed, the materials they selected, the intellectual and political landscape they mapped for themselves — in short, their path. These immediate aftershocks are a continuation of the struggle by other means. They are part of the excess of an event, and are every bit as vital to an event’s logic as the initial actions in the streets.

Perhaps the greatest change can be detected in Marx’s trajectory after the Commune — a change that takes the paradoxical form of both a strengthening of his theory and a break with the very concept of theory. The Commune made it very clear to Marx that not only do the masses shape history but in so doing they reshape not just actuality but theory itself. This is, in fact, what Henri Lefebvre meant when he talked about the “dialectic of the lived and the conceived.”

The thought and theory of a movement is unleashed only with and after the movement itself. Actions create dreams, and not the reverse.

Peter Kropotkin, Elise Reclus, and William Morris were, you argue, preoccupied with marshaling together the “energies of the outmoded” associated with pre-capitalist and non-capitalist forms with the radical potential of emergent practices.

Not only Kropotkin, Reclus, and Morris, but Marx too was preoccupied by the “anachronistic” existence in their own time of pre-capitalist forms and ways of life.

The fate of the obshchina, those Russian agrarian communistic forms that had endured for centuries, was a major focus of western socialists. The theoretical challenge that took shape after the Commune revolved around the question of a revitalized commune-form: how to think together the astonishing insurrection that had occurred in a major European capital with the persistence of these older communist forms in the countryside.

These thinkers were all extremely attentive to what we might call “wrinkles in time” — moments when the seamlessness of capitalist modernity appears to crack open like an egg. Historians in general fear anachronism as the greatest possible error. They are given to dismissing Morris’s interest in the Iceland of his day and its medieval past, for example, as wooly-headed nostalgia. Morris was in fact perfectly capable of seeing pre-capitalist forms and ways of life like those that had flourished in medieval Iceland as at once gone, past, part of history and, at the same time, as the figuration of a possible future.

This is the mark, to my mind, not of nostalgia, but of a profoundly historicizing way of thinking. Without it we have no way of thinking the possibility of change, or of living the present as something contingent and open-ended.


Actun Tunichil Muknal

Actun Tunichil Muknal is a cave in Belize, near San Ignacio, Cayo District, notable as a Maya archaeological site that includes skeletons, ceramics, and stoneware. There are several areas of skeletal remains in the main chamber. The best-known is “The Crystal Maiden”, the skeleton of a teenage girl, possibly a sacrifice victim, whose bones have been calcified to a sparkling, crystallized appearance.



Early Dinosaur May Have Flown Like a Bat

by Michael Balter

Test your dinosaur knowledge: The creature depicted here is a) the only known dino with wings like those of a bat; b) lived right around the time of the earliest known birds; or c) has the shortest name ever given to a dinosaur.

If you said “all three,” you are correct. This 160-million-year-old dino, called Yi qi (“strange wing” in Mandarin Chinese, pronounced “ee chee”) and discovered in northeastern China, weighed just under 400 g and belonged to a group of pigeon-sized dinosaurs closely related to the first birds (like the 150-million-year-old Archaeopteryx).

But unlike any other known bird or dino, Yi qi had a long, stiff, slightly curved rod projecting from each of its wrists, made of either bone or calcified cartilage…

(read more: Science News/AAAS)

illustration by Dinostar Co. Ltd.


I figured this post would be fitting considering this is October, a time for creepy and scary stuff to come out in full force. These pictures were taken by Nick Brandt on the shorelone of Lake Natron in Tanzania. The lake, which reaches temperatures as high as 60 C(140F), also has a basic pH between 9 and pH 10.5 and can calcify any animals that die in the lake. Supposedly, the reflective nature of the lake’s surface confuses the birds and they dive into it, much like how birds in some areas crash into windows. These pictures are downright haunting, but very beautiful. Pretty much showing both the beauty, and cruelty of nature.

Crotas End raid from Crotas POV.

>is crota
>pops is God
>section 8 gave me moon
>real estate was shit, got mad, scratched the moon, broke a nail
>might aswell listen to the Golden Age conspiracies and dig tunnels for the homies
>get a few slutty wizards to blow my Knight bretheren
>Acolytes need love too
>ogres must be awake at all times
>-blam!-ing Guardian rung my doorbell
>sent Thralls to rek him
>9 months later, door opens
>wakes the sword princes up
>makes them get sword
>guardian takes sword, kills princes
>takes sword, hides in green rock
>makes top 4 slutty wizards protect me with magic and tits
>calcified tits
>guardian finds me somehow
>banishes me soul to home dimension plane world thing
>6 more guardians find me
>thought soul was banished
>thought i was safe
>is this the center of the moon
>do i talk into this to reach daddy
>sends out Top 4 boomers
>shots can’t reach middle ledge
>fucks sake
>splurges emergency glimmer on best Ogres in town
>guardians sit on ledge on top of Ogre house
>runs to side door
>dead ogres
>god damnit
>sends out ninja-knights
>they dead
>don’t take the sword
>what are you doing
>i didnt put this rock here
>fucking section 8

friendly reminder it is NOT cis people’s fault that their pineal glands are calcified

The Catastrophe

I turned to salt, having
halted my steps and
given my back to the
forward route,
I turned around, one
more glance of home,
And as though a Gorgon vista
I was calcified and doomed,
The mouth curved and
frowned, the eyes releasing
tears; Some commemoration
in stone of a misfortune
and expulsion. 


you build yourself a castle out smoke and mirrors
you do not listen when they tell you to stop
their words fade to echoes in your ears, barely worth your attention at all
you pour your time, your passion into building your palace
if you believe enough in anything, it will become real
eventually, your castle becomes an estate of marmor and bone.

you decorate the grounds with flowers from all over:
peonies and roses and narcissus
on the outskirts, you will plant lupines
you will plant alders and birches and oak

the upkeep of the grounds is
paid in tears
those gone uncried, those you feel that have long calcified in your tear-ducts
other times,
the upkeep of the grounds
is paid in joy
the kind of laughter that makes you shake and makes your stomach ache from it

there will be birds
there will be bees and butterflies and bird-song that can sometimes be heard even from inside of your house

your world,
built from the dust of those that came before it
will show you that no matter what happens
you will rise again
you will rebuild yourself
you will not be the same
remember: do not be afraid to ask for help
remember: you will be different
but you will rise