Communal Luxury by Kristin Ross*****

Reading dates: 04 February–18 March 2016

Chris chose this book for our March meeting, which took place on the eve of the start of the Paris Commune. I was educated in the French system; I received the reading assignment with a roll of my eyes. OK, the Commune. Let’s do it. I was slow starting the book, huffing and not really engaging with its ideas until, perhaps, the start of chapter 2. Kristin Ross’s work is wonderful, well-written, well-researched and exploring an exciting territory hitherto unknown to me. I had dismissed the Communards as a bunch of idealist anarchists that almost got their way and never thought of their rich ideology around culture, education, ecology and wellbeing. Reclus, Gaillard and his shoes, William Morris and Kropotkin are fantastic characters in the narrative, people one does not hear about often in relation to the Commune (as Neil pointed out, the wikipedia page on the Commune has quite different names forefronted). Her aim is to isolate and expand on what worked, on the legacy after Bloody Week, which, as the rest of the timeline, is not something she goes into. The achievements, the methodology of looking at the past and the ideas of the Commune (especially those uncompromising anti-capitalist and well argued points) were remarkable.

Ross’s analysis is very applicable to our times, even if she explicitly says this is not her ambition. During our meeting, I made the comparison between #RhodesMustfall and the tearing down of the Place Vendôme. Can we return to what made the Commune? Today, on the 145th anniversary of its start, I am most certain than ever that we must.