The Commune Beyond the Commune

Jongerden, Joost


Just 71 days short, the Paris Commune of March 18 to May 28, 1871, has become a key reference in the development of radical political thought throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. The Commune emerged as a symbol of political struggle against capitalist dispossession and centralizing state bureaucracy, yet carrying different meanings for different traditions. For Proudhonists, the Commune became synonymous with decentralization; for Blanquists, it was insurrectional political action; for Marxists, it symbolized the historical role to be played by the working class and an embryonic form of the dictatorship of the proletariat; while for Leninists, merging Blanquism with Marxism, the Paris Commune urged the need for democratic centralization. In their different “appropriations” of the Commune, all agreed on one thing—the Commune stood for the destruction of a state power that cemented the rule of the bourgeoisie—but disagreed on another—its political implications.
In following years, two main current emerged. On the one hand the Proudhonists, as well as the followers of Kropotkin and Bakunin—let us group them together as the “anarchists”—believed that the political legacy of the Commune implied a free geographical association or federation of self-organized communities; the Marxists and Leninists, on the other hand, thought it symbolized the possibility of the power of self-management of the proletariat while securing the centralized political control over the economy. The question of radical horizontality or centralizing verticality—or, that is, the question of the political and the state—resulted in a parting of minds and ways within the radical socialists of the 19th and 20th centuries.
In the 21st century, this question of the political and the state remained a key issue for a variety of social movements that can be grouped under the term “new municipalism” (Thompson 2021), including the “Fearless Cities” global network that aims to “radicalize democracy, feminize politics and drive the transition to an economy that cares for people and our environment” as well as in the thoughts and actions of a range of post-revolutionary movements like the Zapatista (Reyes and Kaufman 2011), Chavista (Azellini 2021), the demobilized FARC (Urquijo and Verschoor 2021) and also the network of movements and parties that emerged from the Kurdistan Workers Party PKK (Akkaya and Jongerden 2013).