The Paris Commune: Revolution and Utopia
150 years ago, the workers and soldiers of Paris raised the flag of the “Universal Republic.” With this they formally established the Paris Commune: a radical experiment in collective government, social and cultural transformation, and worker autonomy. Momentarily setting aside ongoing conflicts, major European powers came together to quickly crush the nascent government—with a vengeance many times more bloody than the French Revolutionary “Reign of Terror.” Yet the Paris Commune remains a fixture of the radical political imagination, an expansive exemplar of worker power, and a beckoning to alternative and utopian futures. What was the Paris Commune? Why, 150 years later, does it continue to resonate across so many different perspectives and interests? How did the Commune speak to visions of political and social life in it moment, and how does it continue to shape radical thought today?
In this course, we will explore the Paris Commune as a revolutionary event and persisting memory—a shared event and text with many authors and diverging afterlives. Anchoring our investigation in Karl Marx’s Civil War in France, we will focus on key moments and questions of tactics and strategy and the ways they inform contemporary understandings of social movements and revolution, democratic victory and defeat, city and citizen, aesthetics and politics, and community and authority. Treating the history of the Commune as neither a tactical handbook nor a grand romance, we’ll examine questions of political form, subjectivity, culture, economy, and colonialism. We will ask: Why does the Commune persist as a site of political adjudication and reinterpretation? How do the cultural documents and monuments of the Paris Commune offer us insight into our own politics and political imaginary? In addition to Marx, this course will also feature encounters with writers and thinkers such as Victor Hugo, Emile Zola, Arthur Rimbaud, Walter Benjamin, Bertolt Brecht, Jason Barker, Kristin Ross, and Moinak Biswas, among others.
Course ScheduleTuesday, 6:30-9:30pm ET
September 14 — October 05, 2021