Commune, Party, State

paris commune
Joachim Sperl, 2014

We asked sev­eral con­trib­u­tors to write on the theme of the state and rev­o­lu­tion­ary strat­egy, for a round­table dis­cus­sion revolv­ing around the fol­low­ing prompt:

“In the late 19th and early 20th cen­turies the social­ist move­ment spilled a great deal of ink debat­ing the ques­tion of state power. Lenin’s work was per­haps the most influ­en­tial, but it also pro­voked a wide range of crit­i­cal responses, which were arguably equally sig­nif­i­cant. But whether or not Lenin’s con­cep­tion of the cor­rect rev­o­lu­tion­ary stance towards the state was ade­quate to his own par­tic­u­lar his­tor­i­cal con­junc­ture, it is clear that today the real­ity of state power itself has changed. What is liv­ing and what is dead in this the­o­ret­i­cal and polit­i­cal legacy? What would a prop­erly rev­o­lu­tion­ary stance towards state power look like today, and what would be the con­crete con­se­quences of this stance for a polit­i­cal strat­egy? Does the “seizure of state power” still have any mean­ing? Does the party still have a place in these broader ques­tions?”

This essay is one con­tri­bu­tion to the round­table. Please be sure to read the oth­ersGeoff EleyPana­gi­o­tis SotirisJoshua Clover and Jasper BernesNina Power, Immanuel Ness.

As it forces the mat­ter of the polit­i­cal form of the peo­ple, the Paris Com­mune serves as a key ref­er­ence point in Marx­ist dis­cus­sions of the state. What form does the people’s self-gov­ern­ment take? Inso­far as the peo­ple pre­cede the state, analy­sis of the Com­mune event nec­es­sar­ily opens up to the people’s sub­jec­ti­fi­ca­tion and to the polit­i­cal process of which the peo­ple are the sub­ject. And inso­far as the peo­ple politi­cized are peo­ple divided, a part of a con­sti­tu­tively open and incom­plete set, the place from which the peo­ple are under­stood is nec­es­sar­ily par­ti­san. The ques­tion of the party pre­cedes the ques­tion of the state. Until we pose the party as a pos­si­bil­ity, dis­cus­sions of the state—of whether or not we should tar­get or seize the state—are noth­ing more than fan­tasies that cloak fail­ure as a choice: it’s not that we couldn’t take power; we just didn’t want to.

Crowd and People

A fea­ture of every dis­cus­sion of the Paris Com­mune is the crowd, the peo­ple, the work­ing class, the shock­ing pres­ence of those who have been excluded from pol­i­tics now in its place and the con­found­ing of pol­i­tics that results. In the Com­mune event, crowd and Com­mune over­lap in an expres­sion of the desire of the peo­ple. Inter­pre­ta­tions of the Com­mune read this desire, mak­ing claims about who the peo­ple are and what it is that they want.

It’s not quite right to say that what the peo­ple wanted was the Com­mune: prior to March 18, 1871 clubs and asso­ci­a­tions through­out Paris had repeat­edly called for elec­tions to a new Com­mune. Peo­ple had rioted. But the protests and dis­sent hadn’t yet bro­ken the con­nec­tion with the National Gov­ern­ment. That didn’t hap­pen until the National Gov­ern­ment attempted to dis­arm the Paris National Guard and the crowd emerged to stop it. In the wake of this rup­ture, advo­cates for a new munic­i­pal gov­ern­ment, a Com­mune, present the Com­mune as answer and object, answer to the ques­tion of the polit­i­cal form for Paris (and per­haps all of France) and object of the desire of the peo­ple. The peo­ple are an effect of the posit­ing of the object of their desire. They don’t pre­cede it. What pre­cedes it is the crowd.

After March 18th, there would be argu­ment over who the Com­mune is—the work­ing class in power?—and what it wants, but no one will dis­pute the fact that the sit­u­a­tion had turned on the actu­al­ity of an insis­tence and a desire. The crowd forced an open­ing, an inter­rup­tion that changed the polit­i­cal set­ting. It rup­tured sup­po­si­tions of order, incit­ing thereby attempts to expand, enclose, and tar­get the unleashed inten­si­ties in one direc­tion rather than another.

That the March 18th crowd event was fol­lowed by the Com­mune does not mean that the crowd cre­ated the Com­mune or that the Com­mune was an expres­sion of the con­stituent power of the peo­ple expressed by the crowd. The Com­mune form pre­ceded the event. It was an already exis­tent polit­i­cal pos­si­bil­ity, attempted yet thwarted in revolts in Octo­ber and Jan­u­ary.1 Through­out the fall and win­ter of 1870-1871, mil­i­tants orga­nized as vig­i­lance com­mit­tees in the dis­tricts of Paris col­lected and dis­trib­uted infor­ma­tion, debated pro­pos­als, and planned demon­stra­tions. Yet when in their attempts to estab­lish the Com­mune they pushed for revolt, the peo­ple weren’t with them. In the elec­tions fol­low­ing the Octo­ber 31st march on the Hotel de Ville, over 322,000 Parisians voted in sup­port of the National Gov­ern­ment. 54,000 voted against.2 In Jan­u­ary, only a few hun­dred peo­ple responded to the “red poster” call­ing for insur­rec­tion that was dis­trib­uted by the del­e­ga­tion of the Twenty Dis­tricts, which “saw itself as the Com­mune to be con­sti­tuted.”3 Later that month, even as thou­sands were dying from the Prus­sian siege, only a few insur­gents showed up for a new insur­rec­tion planned for Jan­u­ary 22. The insur­rec­tion was bru­tally sup­pressed, and the National Gov­ern­ment cracked down on clubs, pub­lic meet­ings, and news­pa­pers. The national elec­tions held in Feb­ru­ary, how­ever, made it clear that while the major­ity of the French coun­tryside sup­ported monar­chy, the cities favored a repub­lic. Result­ing anx­i­ety over the restora­tion of a monar­chy, the con­ven­ing of the National Assem­bly in Bor­deaux, the Assembly’s fail­ure to pay the National Guard in Paris, and the exo­dus of the bour­geoisie, not to men­tion the ongo­ing des­ti­tu­tion of the peo­ple because of the siege, pro­duced con­di­tions more aus­pi­cious for an upris­ing. The pre­vi­ous efforts on behalf of the Com­mune estab­lished in advance the idea of what an upris­ing would pro­duce even as they couldn’t in them­selves pro­duce it. Com­mune could name a divi­sion, “the direct antithe­sis to the empire,” in Marx’s words.4 Yet until the crowd cre­ated the open­ing for it, it was just this “vague aspi­ra­tion” denot­ing a fun­da­men­tal oppo­si­tion. As antithe­sis and aspi­ra­tion, the Com­mune form pre­ceded its arrival.

The strug­gle for the Com­mune was also a strug­gle over its mean­ing. It has been offered as a fig­ure for repub­li­can­ism, patri­otic nation­al­ism, fed­er­al­ism, cen­tral­ism, com­mu­nism, social­ism, anar­chism, even seces­sion­ism. Marx views the mul­ti­plic­ity of its inter­pre­ta­tions, “and the mul­ti­plic­ity of inter­ests which con­strued it in their favor,” as indica­tive of the thor­ough expan­sive­ness of the Com­mune form.5 This same excess can also be read as a lack, as the gap of the polit­i­cal. For exam­ple, although Charles Beslay’s open­ing speech depicted the Com­mune as a munic­i­pal gov­ern­ment con­cen­trat­ing on local mat­ters, its decrees quickly encom­passed national affairs. As Pros­per Olivier Lis­sagaray observes in his defin­i­tive account, it was, “Com­mune in the morn­ing, Con­stituent Assem­bly in the evening.”6 Con­tention over the polit­i­cal form of the Com­mune is insep­a­ra­ble from, indica­tive of, the Com­mune event.7

Con­sider recep­tion of the Com­mune in the United States. It was con­fig­ured through the pol­i­tics of Recon­struc­tion.8 Some in the North saw Paris as wrong­fully seced­ing from France, just as the South­ern states wrongly left the Union. Com­mune and Con­fed­er­acy both rejected legit­i­mate cen­tral­ized gov­ern­ment. Oth­ers in the North, increas­ingly mis­trust­ful of pop­u­lar sov­er­eignty, used the Com­mune as an emblem of the fail­ure of Recon­struc­tion. An edi­tor of the Nation railed against the “Social­ism in South Car­olina” that came from “allow­ing incom­pe­tent black men to gov­ern and vote.“9 As he saw it, nei­ther Paris nor the South had the polit­i­cal capac­ity to gov­ern itself. Some South­ern­ers embraced the par­al­lel between Paris and the Con­fed­er­acy, par­tic­u­larly the revolt against a repres­sive gov­ern­men­tal author­ity. Weirdly, a for­mer vice-pres­i­dent of the Con­fed­er­acy, Alexan­der Stephens, who became a mem­ber of Con­gress from Geor­gia after the war, iden­ti­fied him­self as a com­mu­nist in 1880. For Stephens, to be a com­mu­nist means to favor home rule, the sov­er­eignty of the local gov­ern­ment.10. He explic­itly rejects the abo­li­tion of pri­vate prop­erty, cap­tur­ing com­mu­nist desire in a racist ressen­ti­ment that sub­sti­tutes for and attempts to dis­place class strug­gle.

Marx sug­gests that the Paris Com­mune pro­vided a glimpse of a solu­tion to the prob­lem of the polit­i­cal form of the peo­ple. While all pre­vi­ous forms of gov­ern­ment had been repres­sive, the Com­mune was a “thor­oughly expan­sive polit­i­cal form.”11. Marx’s rhetoric is stir­ring, polem­i­cally suited to strug­gle over the mean­ing of the Com­mune. “Com­mune” named an aspi­ra­tion and antag­o­nism; it des­ig­nated the alter­na­tive to the empire. Within the ongo­ing strug­gle over the pos­i­tive real­iza­tion of that alter­na­tive, Marx pri­or­i­tizes one among the mul­ti­ple inter­ests that could see itself in the Com­mune form, pre­sent­ing the Com­mune “essen­tially” as the polit­i­cal form “under which to work out the eco­nom­i­cal eman­ci­pa­tion of labor.” Ana­lyt­i­cally, Marx’s account is less sat­is­fy­ing inso­far as it is equates pro­le­tar­ian self-gov­ern­ment with a fed­eral sys­tem com­posed of local com­munes, dis­trict assem­blies (com­posed of del­e­gates elected from the com­munes), and a National Del­e­ga­tion of deputies sent from these assem­blies to Paris. That this arrange­ment pre­sented itself does not make it uniquely suited for the eman­ci­pa­tion of labor (dis­trib­uted and fed­eral polit­i­cal arrange­ments have served bour­geois and impe­rial power quite well). It was the break, the dis­rup­tion, and the posit­ing of a new arrange­ment for gov­er­nance that mat­ters. More­over, Marx him­self acknowl­edges that in Commune’s gov­ern­ing schema rural pro­duc­ers were brought under the lead of the towns; it didn’t elim­i­nate repres­sion. To the extent that Com­mune names a gov­ern­ing body, appa­ra­tus, or schema, one con­tain­ing an arrange­ment of offices, the rules for their main­te­nance and dis­tri­b­u­tion, as well as of a set of dic­tates con­nect­ing this arrange­ment to the peo­ple it would gov­ern, Com­mune insti­tu­tion­al­izes some pos­si­bil­i­ties and excludes oth­ers. Marx treats the coher­ence it inscribed as a par­ti­san sub­jec­ti­fi­ca­tion, an event in the polit­i­cal expres­sion of the work­ing class.

In the dif­fer­ent accounts of the Paris Com­mune, the ref­er­ent of “Com­mune” is unsta­ble. It shifts from all of Paris, to the peo­ple of Paris who voted rep­re­sen­ta­tives to the Com­mune, to the work­ing class, to those elected to the Com­mune, to those who served in it, even to par­tic­u­lar sets of voices in the Coun­cil. While a pol­i­tics can and should be traced in these shifts, for this move­ment is noth­ing but the expres­sion and enclo­sure of a polit­i­cal sub­ject, we might also note that the fact of shift­ing indexes an irre­ducible fea­ture of the peo­ple as non-all, non-total­iz­able, and never fully present to itself. It is only present as few, some, or many. The sub­sti­tu­tion­ism about which Trot­sky warned is not a dan­ger par­tic­u­lar to com­mu­nist or work­ing class par­ties. It’s an unavoid­able con­di­tion of any pop­u­lar pol­i­tics with eman­ci­pa­tory egal­i­tar­ian ends. Nei­ther peo­ple nor class (nor move­ment or mass) exists as a unity; every attempt to invoke, cre­ate, or speak in behalf of such a unity comes up against an ine­lim­inable, con­sti­tu­tive, divi­sion.

Instead of solv­ing a polit­i­cal prob­lem, the Com­mune poses one: the sov­er­eignty of the peo­ple. Is it pos­si­ble and what forms can it take? The non-all char­ac­ter of the peo­ple has been a con­sis­tent stick­ing point in demo­c­ra­tic the­ory. If the peo­ple are not a unity, how can they rule them­selves? How can they speak or leg­is­late? And how do we know? The the­o­ret­i­cal dis­cus­sions take place under var­i­ous headings—foundings, con­stituent power, and the pos­si­bil­ity of bring­ing some­thing new into being. Tak­ing the place of the mythic social con­tract, the power of the peo­ple to make their own his­tory comes up against its ground­ing in what can­not be other than a crime against the prior order. Marx­ist the­ory makes the prior order itself the crime. The rev­o­lu­tion­ary class gives its ideas “the form of uni­ver­sal­ity” and rep­re­sents these ideas “as the only ratio­nal, uni­ver­sally valid ones.” Marx explains, “The class mak­ing rev­o­lu­tion emerges at the out­set sim­ply because it is opposed to a class not as a class but as a rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the whole of soci­ety.”12 This is the sense in which class strug­gle is a polit­i­cal strug­gle. Rather than deter­mined within the eco­nomic con­di­tions in which class con­fronts class as two dis­tinct forces with par­tic­u­lar inter­ests, the class mak­ing rev­o­lu­tion rep­re­sents its inter­ests as gen­eral over and against the par­tic­u­lar will of the oppress­ing class. More pre­cisely, class par­ti­sans and allies strug­gle to present the real of the crowd’s destruc­tive inter­rup­tion as expres­sions of the desire of the peo­ple.

Marx premises the rev­o­lu­tion­ary break within exist­ing con­di­tions of pro­duc­tion; nev­er­the­less, Marx­ist the­ory doesn’t escape the prob­lem of the peo­ple. Whether as the lim­its of work­ing class strug­gle in trade union con­scious­ness, the fail­ure of the masses to revolt, or the betrayal of elit­ist, author­i­tar­ian van­guard par­ties, Marx­ist the­ory and com­mu­nist move­ment run up against the dis­or­ga­nized, dis­agree­able, divided peo­ple. The peo­ple resist and evade the very forms on which their polit­i­cal sub­jec­tiv­ity depends. When it appears, which isn’t often, the move­ment for the major­ity isn’t nec­es­sar­ily in the imme­di­ate inter­est of the major­ity. Since they can never be fully present, no rev­o­lu­tion or rev­o­lu­tion­ary move­ment can actu­ally be that of the peo­ple. It will always entail the impo­si­tion of the ideas of some upon the many.

The Com­mune gives form to the break with the National Gov­ern­ment effected by the crowd even as the people’s elu­sive desire pro­pels a new sub­jec­tive process, that is to say, a process of insert­ing the peo­ple into his­tory as an active sub­ject and re-read­ing his­tory in terms of the actions of this sub­ject.13 Inter­pre­ta­tions of the Com­mune thus grap­ple with how to under­stand the power of the peo­ple. Marx sug­gests as much in the let­ter to Kugel­mann that Lenin cites in The State and Rev­o­lu­tion: heroic party com­rades in Paris are attempt­ing “real people’s rev­o­lu­tion.”14The mul­ti­ple, oppos­ing treat­ments of the Com­mune are not just indi­ca­tions of an expan­sive polit­i­cal form. That is to say, they are not sim­ply reflec­tions of speci­fic fea­tures of insti­tu­tional design. Rather, they under­score the irre­ducibil­ity of the gap between the peo­ple and their polit­i­cal forms, the gap con­sti­tu­tive of the people’s sub­jec­tiv­ity. Badiou writes, “The sub­ject glides between the suc­ces­sive par­tial rep­re­sen­ta­tions of that whose rad­i­cal lack insti­tutes it as artic­u­lated desire.”15 Badiou is gloss­ing Lacan. What I find sug­ges­tive is the pos­si­bil­ity of see­ing in the par­tial rep­re­sen­ta­tions of the Com­mune traces of the peo­ple as a polit­i­cal sub­ject. The point here is not to cel­e­brate mul­ti­plic­ity or inde­ter­mi­nacy. It is to see in the over­lap of the Com­mune form and the crowd event the speci­ficity of an eman­ci­pa­tory egal­i­tar­ian pol­i­tics. Because it is a form for the expres­sion of the people’s desire the Com­mune is nec­es­sar­ily lack­ing.

Subjectivization and Subjective Process

In The­ory of the Sub­ject, a book that grew out of a sem­i­nar given from 1975 to 1979, Alain Badiou says that the Marx­ist tra­di­tion has given us two assess­ments of the Paris Com­mune. The first, from Marx, objec­tively con­sid­ers the Com­mune in terms of the polit­i­cal goals of the work­ing class with regard to the state. The pro­le­tariat has to smash the old state machin­ery and build new organs of polit­i­cal power. It has to take a place and exert force. How exactly force is con­cen­trated, Marx neglects to explain. The sec­ond assess­ment of the Com­mune, from Lenin, takes up this con­cen­tra­tion. Lenin brings out the sub­jec­tive aspect of force. Read­ing What is to Be Done? for its “silent assess­ment” of the Com­mune, Badiou tells us that Lenin draws four con­se­quences from the Commune’s defeat:  “it is nec­es­sary to prac­tice Marx­ist pol­i­tics, and not some local roman­tic revolt”; “it is nec­es­sary to have some over­all view of things … and not be frag­mented into the fed­er­al­ism of strug­gles”; “it is nec­es­sary to forge an alliance with the rural masses”; and, “it is nec­es­sary to break the coun­ter-rev­o­lu­tion through an unin­ter­rupted, mil­i­tar­ily offen­sive, cen­tral­ized process.”16 Lenin con­ceives the party by infer­ring a cer­tain kind of sub­jec­tive force from the Com­mune. In other words, he reads the Com­mune as an effect or con­se­quence of a polit­i­cal sub­ject and builds his idea of the party from this read­ing. The party is an “oper­a­tor of con­cen­tra­tion” of the four con­se­quences, “the sys­tem of prac­ti­cal pos­si­bil­ity for the assess­ment of the Com­mune.” The party pro­vides the vehi­cle enabling assess­ment of the Com­mune even as it is an effect of this very assess­ment. Or, the place from which the Com­mune is assessed itself results from the Com­mune.

Badiou uses Lacan’s notion of the real to express the func­tion of the Com­mune for Marx­ists. More than an his­tor­i­cal event or polit­i­cal insti­tu­tion, the Com­mune serves as a con­cept that enables us “to think the rela­tion of the polit­i­cal sub­ject to the real.” Badiou writes, “The Marx­ist sta­tus of the rev­o­lu­tions is their hav­ing-taken-place, which is the real on the basis of which a polit­i­cal sub­ject pro­nounces itself in the present.” The crowd rup­ture can be the excit­ing cause of a polit­i­cal sub­ject, but its pro­nounce­ment or appear­ance as such a cause is a sep­a­rate, ana­lyt­i­cally dis­tinct, move. The crowd rup­ture has to be politi­cized, tied to a sub­ject. The crowd pro­vides a mate­rial oppor­tu­nity for the expres­sion of a polit­i­cal sub­ject, a moment that has hap­pened and the hap­pen­ing of which can be attrib­uted to the work­ings of this polit­i­cal sub­ject.

That’s not all. The polit­i­cal sub­ject is more than the com­bi­na­tion of event and inter­pre­ta­tion. Badiou demon­strates that the Marx­ist approach remains incom­plete. How event and inter­pre­ta­tion are com­bined mat­ters if an event is to be the cause of a sub­ject. The real of the Com­mune event con­sisted in its rup­ture with the state, both the offi­cial state and the Marx­ist con­cep­tion of the state. Con­fronted with the event, Marx was sur­prised. He had to change his think­ing. Badiou writes, “It is by putting into effect a point of the impos­si­ble in this the­ory that it reveals its sta­tus as real, so that Marx, who log­i­cally dis­ap­proves of the trig­ger­ing of the insur­rec­tion can only encoun­ter in it the van­ish­ing Parisian masses. Whence the oblig­a­tion, to which he remains faith­ful, of being wholly on the side of that of which he dis­ap­proves in the­ory, so as to find the new and retroac­tive con­cept of his prac­ti­cal approval.”17 The peo­ple as a col­lec­tive sub­ject appeared through the dis­rup­tion of the crowd inso­far as there was some­thing about the insur­rec­tion that was unimag­in­able prior to its enact­ment. The impos­si­ble hap­pened, com­pelling Marx to take a stand: whose side was he on? Here was the unpre­dictabil­ity of an excit­ing cause, the peo­ple forc­ing a change of the­ory and prac­tice. Riotous crowd, avail­able polit­i­cal form, force of the impos­si­ble: the polit­i­cal sub­ject impresses itself at the effer­ves­cent site of their con­ver­gence. Marx responds to this appear­ance of the peo­ple with fidelity. As he says in his let­ter to Kugel­mann, no mat­ter the Commune’s mul­ti­ple tac­ti­cal and pol­icy errors, “the present ris­ing in Paris – even if it be crushed by the wolves, swine and vile curs of the old soci­ety – is the most glo­ri­ous deed of our Party since the June insur­rec­tion in Paris.”18.

Marx nev­er­the­less crit­i­cizes the Com­mune in this same let­ter. After prais­ing the elas­tic­ity, his­tor­i­cal ini­tia­tive, and sac­ri­fice of the Parisians, he chides them, first, for miss­ing the right moment when they failed to march on Ver­sailles. He faults them, sec­ond, for elim­i­nat­ing the Cen­tral Com­mit­tee of the National Guard and hold­ing elec­tions to insti­tute the Com­mune.

The order Marx lists his crit­i­cisms is odd, seem­ingly back­wards in that the first is a con­se­quence of the sec­ond; the sec­ond hap­pened first. Badiou, draw­ing from Lacan’s dis­cus­sion of antic­i­pa­tion and cer­tainty in “Log­i­cal Time and the Asser­tion of Antic­i­pated Cer­tainty,” explains why it is not. Marx is using Versailles’s reac­tion (or what he imag­i­nes Versailles’s reac­tion would have been) to reg­is­ter the Com­mune event. Versailles’s reac­tion val­i­dates the hasty or antic­i­pa­tory move that cre­ated the Com­mune. A sub­ject had acted and Ver­sailles had no choice but to respond. Badiou writes:

Marx judges the Com­mune to be precipitated—subjectivizing in its polit­i­cal haste—and blames it for not march­ing onto Ver­sailles. But this is in order to indi­cate retroac­tively the nature of the cer­tainty (of vic­tory) of which this haste itself could be the bearer, inso­far as it could be deci­phered in the other: in the ini­tial dis­or­der and sur­prise of the inhab­i­tants of Ver­sailles, and in the pos­si­bil­ity of chang­ing the lack into rea­son by a sec­ond haste, that of the mil­i­tary offen­sive against Ver­sailles. The lat­ter would then be finally caught up in the sub­jec­tive process, that is to say, in a con­se­quent polit­i­cal direc­tion, which is the only val­i­da­tion of the van­ish­ing alge­bra of the Parisian masses into a con­sis­tent sub­ject.

In sub­jec­tiviza­tion, cer­tainty is antic­i­pated.

In the sub­jec­tive process, con­sis­tency is retroac­tive.

To put into con­sis­tency the haste of the cause: therein lies the whole enigma of the sub­ject.19

Under­stand­ing an event as the effect of a polit­i­cal sub­ject the polit­i­cal sub­ject requires con­join­ing two oper­a­tions: sub­jec­tiviza­tion and the sub­jec­tive process. We will win. We will be shown to have been right. The cer­tainty of the polit­i­cal sub­ject is too soon, an antic­i­pa­tion of results it can­not guar­an­tee but pur­sues nonethe­less. Pre­cip­i­tous cer­tainty, we might say, is another term for polit­i­cal will. Rather than an amor­phous com­bi­na­tion of mul­ti­ple pos­si­bil­i­ties, which is just a descrip­tion of a man­i­fold, the sub­ject is a direc­tion that cuts through this man­i­fold. The other pro­vides evi­dence of this direc­tion. The response of the other, its dis­or­der and sur­prise, indi­cates the pres­ence of a sub­ject. The other’s response reads the dis­or­der as an effect of a sub­ject, attribut­ing to this sub­ject a con­sis­tency of action, pur­pose, and will. That the other can do noth­ing but respond, that it can­not pro­ceed as it had, that it pushed, affected, is the work of the sub­ject.

Each oper­a­tion, sub­jec­tiviza­tion and sub­jec­tive process, involves polit­i­cal strug­gle. Mil­i­tants, orga­niz­ers, agi­ta­tors, and van­guards try to set things in motion. They pro­duce actions. They try to bring peo­ple out, get them to feel their col­lec­tive power, and incite them to use it. They are alert to pos­si­bil­i­ties, to protests that may become rup­tures. And, con­se­quent to the gap of a dis­rup­tion, mil­i­tants, orga­niz­ers, agi­ta­tors, and van­guards work to ren­der the dis­rup­tion as an effect of a sub­ject. They fight on the ter­rain of the other, endeav­or­ing to insure that the gap remains and to give this gap mean­ing and direc­tion, to make it con­sis­tent. Ene­mies fight back. They may deny that a dis­rup­tion occurred: noth­ing sig­nif­i­cant hap­pened; the demon­stra­tion or event was within the field demar­cated by cap­i­tal and state, part of busi­ness as usual, an expected and per­mit­ted protest, child-friendly and within the demar­cated free-speech zone. They may deny that the dis­rup­tion was the effect of a sub­ject: it was hooli­gans; it was a mot­ley and con­tin­gent array of dis­parate voices (here empir­i­cal soci­o­log­i­cal data that iden­ti­fies and frag­ments crowd ele­ments comes in handy). They may attrib­ute the dis­rup­tion to the wrong sub­ject, another state, class, or agency. For the mil­i­tants, orga­niz­ers, agi­ta­tors, and van­guards, estab­lish­ing the col­lec­tiv­ity as the sub­ject of a pol­i­tics, inscrib­ing it in a process and ren­der­ing it con­sis­tent, politi­cizes the rup­ture.

Sub­jec­ti­fi­ca­tion and the sub­jec­tive process are con­nected by an antic­i­pa­tion and a lag. To dis­rupt and sur­prise, sub­jec­ti­fi­ca­tion has to come too soon. It can’t be pre­dicted, expected, or nat­u­ral, for that would mean that it remained within the order of things. Rather than the advent of a new sub­ject, “it” wouldn’t have appeared at all. Cor­rel­a­tive to antic­i­pa­tion is a lag, a gap between a move that may or may not dis­rupt and the dis­rup­tion as it reg­is­ters in the other. The lag means that effects seem to pre­cede their causes; only after an effect reg­is­ters is its cause brought into con­sis­tency with it.

Badiou assoc­iates four “cat­e­gories of the sub­ject-effect” with sub­jec­ti­fi­ca­tion and the sub­jec­tive process. Anx­i­ety and courage respond to the gap of antic­i­pa­tion. The for­mer wants to fill in the void in the old order, to restore things to their proper place, to put the law back where it belongs. The lat­ter wants to extend the hole, to force it for­ward in the direc­tion of jus­tice. Courage leaves behind (and no longer feels) the for­mer sense of proper place. It looks ahead to the build­ing of some­thing new. Cor­rel­a­tive to anx­i­ety and courage, then, are super-ego and jus­tice, which are them­selves effects of the sub­jec­tive process, reac­tions to the rup­ture of antic­i­pa­tion.

That per­spec­tive which gives body to the polit­i­cal sub­ject is the party. Marx describes the Com­mune as a glo­ri­ous achieve­ment of “our party.” This is not a descrip­tive empir­i­cal claim regard­ing mem­ber­ship in a polit­i­cal orga­ni­za­tion. It is the point from which he responds to the sub­jec­ti­fi­ca­tion effected by the Com­mune event, posi­tion­ing it within a process ori­ented to jus­tice.

Politicizing the people

Thirty years sub­se­quent to his analy­sis of Com­mune, sub­ject, and party, Badiou revises his analy­sis. In an essay included in The Com­mu­nist Hypoth­e­sis (a slightly revised ver­sion of mate­rial pre­sented in The Log­ics of Worlds), Badiou presents the Marx­ist dis­cus­sion of the Com­mune in terms of the state. Rather than read­ing the party as the sub­ject sup­port of a pol­i­tics, he fig­ures it as the real­iza­tion of the ambi­gu­ity of the Marx­ist account of the Com­mune.20 On the one hand, the Com­mune is a clear advance in pro­le­tar­ian strug­gle inso­far as it smashes the machin­ery of the state. On the other, it ulti­mately fails because it smashed the machin­ery of the state—it’s unor­ga­nized, inca­pable of deci­sion, unable to defend itself. To resolve these prob­lems, the party takes a sta­tist form. It is a vehi­cle of destruc­tion and recon­sti­tu­tion, but recon­sti­tu­tion within the con­straints given by the state.

Badiou’s rejec­tion of party and state is famil­iar. Bruno Bosteels and Slavoj Zizek com­pellingly demon­strate the polit­i­cal inad­e­quacy of this rejec­tion. Argu­ing for the actu­al­iza­tion and orga­ni­za­tion of com­mu­nism in real move­ment, Bosteels crit­i­cizes the left­ist ide­al­ism of the later Badiou’s empha­sis on the pure Idea.21 Zizek like­wise rejects the alter­na­tive of seiz­ing or aban­don­ing the state as a false one: the real chal­lenge is trans­form­ing the state itself.22 I agree with Bosteels and Zizek. I want to add, more­over, that for us to focus on the state now is to short-cir­cuit the dis­cus­sion that mat­ters. The left in the US, UK, and EU—not to men­tion communists—barely reg­is­ters as a polit­i­cal force of any kind what­so­ever. To worry about our seiz­ing the state, then, is a joke, fan­tasy, and dis­trac­tion from the task at hand. Rather than a con­cen­tra­tion of polit­i­cal will, com­mu­nist pos­si­bil­ity remains dif­fuse, dis­persed in the mul­ti­tudi­nous pol­i­tics of issues, iden­ti­ties, and moments of action that have yet to con­sol­i­date in the col­lec­tive power of the divided peo­ple. What mat­ters for us here and now is the gal­va­niza­tion of such a com­mu­nist will.

In his effort to reduce the Marx­ist dis­cus­sion of the Com­mune to the prob­lem of the party-state, Badiou neglects the more fun­da­men­tal ques­tion posed by the Com­mune, namely, that of the rela­tion of the party to the peo­ple, the col­lec­tive polit­i­cal sub­ject. The Com­mune is less the form of a state than it is the form of a break with a pre­vi­ous state, both the state as in the National Gov­ern­ment and the state of polit­i­cal inca­pac­ity asso­ci­ated with the work­ers, as Badiou him­self empha­sizes in the later work. As such a break, it opens up and dis­or­ders. The peo­ple are dis­as­sem­bled, sug­gestible, strong, and mobile as crowds. It is a mis­take, then, to reduce the Com­mune to a state form and the Marx­ist tra­di­tion to com­men­tary on and reac­tion to this state form. Badiou seems to have fal­len prey to the fatal­ism his younger self criticizes—parties will be par­ties; “we will always be fucked over.”23 Par­tic­u­larly now, in the wake of the col­lapse of the social­ist party-states and the gen­er­al­ized dis­ar­ray of the left of the global north, the con­sol­i­dated state power of a com­mu­nist party state, should not be our con­cern. More press­ing is the neces­sity of build­ing col­lec­tive power – the very prob­lem fac­ing the Com­mune that the party attempts to solve.

Marx him­self ana­lyzes the Com­mune in terms of the sub­jec­ti­fi­ca­tion of the peo­ple. In the let­ter to Kugel­mann, Marx treats the Parisians, the peo­ple of Paris, as “our heroic Party com­rades.” Their advances are teach­ing new lessons in polit­i­cal strug­gle, namely, that smash­ing the bureau­cratic-mil­i­tary machine is essen­tial “for every people’s rev­o­lu­tion on the Con­ti­nent.”24 In The Civil War in France, as he presents the Com­mune as the “direct anti-the­sis to the empire,” Marx describes it as the pos­i­tive form of a repub­lic in which class rule itself is super­seded. He draws out the pol­i­tics of con­sti­tut­ing the peo­ple under the lead­er­ship of the work­ing class, not­ing the replac­ing of the stand­ing army by the armed peo­ple, the estab­lish­ing of uni­ver­sal suf­frage, the open­ing of edu­ca­tion open to all, and, of course, the replac­ing of the par­a­sitic excres­cence of the old state orga­ni­za­tion with the self-gov­ern­ment of the pro­duc­ers. Marx writes, “The great social mea­sure of the Com­mune was its own work­ing exis­tence. Its spe­cial mea­sures could but beto­ken the ten­dency of a gov­ern­ment of the peo­ple by the peo­ple.”

The peo­ple “storm­ing heaven” don’t pre­ex­ist the rev­o­lu­tion­ary event of the Com­mune. The Com­mune pro­duces them as its cause. The mid­dle class, which had helped put down the work­ers’ insur­rec­tion of June 1848, finds itself enrolling “under the col­ors of the Com­mune and defend­ing it against the will­ful mis­con­struc­tions of Thiers.” Marx explains this sup­port as result­ing from the Commune’s abo­li­tion of inter­est on debts and exten­sion of time for repay­ment. The peas­antry had Louis Bona­parte, but this sup­port started to break down under the Sec­ond Empire. Were it not for the block­ade around Paris, Marx argues, the French peas­antry would have had to rec­og­nize that the Com­mune was its only hope, its only source of release from blood tax, gen­darme, and priest. Again, the tem­po­ral­ity is impor­tant: the peas­antry “would have had,” had the Com­mune process been able to con­tinue, a process that Marx presents as the sub­jec­ti­fi­ca­tion of the peo­ple as party.

In his dis­cus­sion of the Com­mune, Lenin takes up a sim­i­lar prob­lem­atic of peo­ple and party. State and Rev­o­lu­tion observes that the idea of “a people’s rev­o­lu­tion seems strange com­ing from Marx.”25 Lenin, how­ever, thinks this idea is crucial—and cru­cial to under­stand­ing the role of the party—insofar as it points to the active and inde­pen­dent activ­ity of the major­ity, “the very low­est social groups, crushed by oppres­sion and exploita­tion,” imprint­ing the rev­o­lu­tion with their own demands. Because in 1871 the pro­le­tariat was not a major­ity any­where in Europe, a “people’s rev­o­lu­tion” had also to embrace the peas­ants. Lenin writes, “These two classes then con­sti­tuted the ‘peo­ple’. These two classes are united by the fact that the “bureau­cratic-mil­i­tary state machine” oppresses, crushes, exploits them.” For Lenin, where the Com­mune fails and where its fail­ure impresses itself on (en-forms) the party is in the con­sti­tu­tion of the peo­ple, that is, in actu­ally pro­duc­ing the alliance between peas­ants and pro­le­tariat nec­es­sary for rev­o­lu­tion. Lenin com­mends Marx for see­ing that, inso­far as the “smash­ing of the state machine was required by the inter­ests of both the peas­ants and the work­ers,” it united them and placed before them a com­mon task. Smash­ing the state, or elim­i­nat­ing a “spe­cial force” of oppres­sion, requires that the major­ity (work­ers and peas­ants) sup­press the minor­ity (the bour­geoisie), which means that the major­ity have to be orga­nized to carry this out. This is the role of the party: con­cen­trat­ing and direct­ing the energies of the peo­ple. The party shapes and inten­si­fies the people’s prac­ti­cal strug­gles.

Given Lenin’s inter­ests in estab­lish­ing the rev­o­lu­tion­ary action of the Rus­sian work­ing class within the his­tor­i­cal tra­jec­tory of pro­le­tar­ian strug­gle, that he high­lights the idea of a people’s rev­o­lu­tion isn’t sur­pris­ing. The par­al­lel with the Com­mune helps him here, pro­vid­ing a form by which to under­stand the Rus­sian 1905 rev­o­lu­tion. In an ear­lier text, “Lessons of the Moscow Upris­ing,” pub­lished in 1906, he looks more closely at the rev­o­lu­tion­ary events in Moscow in Decem­ber 1905.26 And while he does not look specif­i­cally at the Com­mune, he does high­light the action of the crowd, see­ing in the crowd the march of prac­tice ahead of the­ory, or, the antic­i­pa­tion effect of the sub­ject.

For Lenin, the Decem­ber move­ment in Moscow demon­strates that the gen­eral strike, as a pre­dom­i­nant mode of strug­gle, is out­moded: “the move­ment is break­ing out of these nar­row bounds with ele­men­tal and irre­sistible force and giv­ing rise to the high­est form of struggle—an upris­ing.” He argues that even as the unions and rev­o­lu­tion­ary par­ties “intu­itively felt” that the strike they called for Decem­ber 7 should grow into an upris­ing, they weren’t pre­pared for this; they spoke of it as some­thing remote. At the same time, a gen­eral strike was already con­tained within the para­me­ters of the expected. The gov­ern­ment was ready for the strike, orga­niz­ing its coun­ter-mea­sures accord­ingly. These coun­ter-rev­o­lu­tion­ary mea­sures on the part of the gov­ern­ment pushed the masses of peo­ple to insur­rec­tion. As the gov­ern­ment esca­lated its repres­sion, “the unor­ga­nized street crowds, quite spon­ta­neously and hes­i­tat­ingly, set up the first bar­ri­cade.” Lenin traces the move from strike, to iso­lated bar­ri­cades, to the “mass erec­tion of bar­ri­cades and street fight­ing against the troops.” At each point, the rev­o­lu­tion­ary move­ment com­pels the reac­tion to fur­ther vio­lence, fur­ther attack, fur­ther exten­sion and exhaus­tion of its troops. The work­ers demand more res­olute action: “what is to be done next?” The Social Demo­c­ra­tic lead­ers are left behind, per­haps because they are still argu­ing over what is to be done even as the rev­o­lu­tion­ary masses have already destroyed the pre­vi­ous set­ting of action and are rapidly cre­at­ing a new one.

Lenin’s exco­ri­at­ing cri­tique of Plekhanov puts “into con­sis­tency the haste of the cause,” that is, it retroac­tively assigns con­sis­tency to the rev­o­lu­tion­ary work­ers in antic­i­pa­tion of the cer­tainty of their ulti­mate vic­tory. Lenin writes:

Thus, noth­ing could be more short-sighted than Plekhanov’s view, seized upon by all the oppor­tunists, that the strike was untimely and should not have been started, and that “they should not have taken to arms.” On the con­trary, we should have taken to arms more res­olutely, ener­get­i­cally and aggres­sively; we should have explained to the masses that it was impos­si­ble to con­fine things to a peace­ful strike and that a fear­less and relent­less armed fight was nec­es­sary. And now we must at last openly and pub­licly admit that polit­i­cal strikes are inad­e­quate; we must carry on the widest agi­ta­tion among the masses in favour of an armed upris­ing and make no attempt to obscure this ques­tion by talk about “pre­lim­i­nary stages,” or to befog it in any way.

Plekhanov failed to respond to the masses as sub­ject; he failed to note how their haste brought into being another phase of polit­i­cal con­flict. What if the party had not lagged behind the work­ers? As he makes the party the sub­ject sup­port of the rev­o­lu­tion­ary peo­ple, Lenin makes it respon­sive to the lessons they teach.

In a pas­sage evoca­tive of descrip­tions of the March 18, 1871 crowd event that made way for the Com­mune, Lenin praises the crowd:

In the Decem­ber days, the Moscow pro­le­tariat taught us mag­nif­i­cent lessons in ide­o­log­i­cally “win­ning over” the troops, as, for exam­ple, on Decem­ber 8 in Strast­naya Square, when the crowd sur­rounded the Cos­sacks, min­gled and frater­nised with them, and per­suaded them to turn back. Or on Decem­ber 10, in Pres­nya Dis­trict, when two work­ing girls, car­ry­ing a red flag in a crowd of 10,000 peo­ple, rushed out to meet the Cos­sacks cry­ing: “Kill us! We will not sur­ren­der the flag alive!” And the Cos­sacks were dis­con­certed and gal­loped away, amidst the shouts from the crowd: “Hur­rah for the Cos­sacks!”

The party is the bearer of the lessons of the upris­ing. It is both the per­spec­tive from which the upris­ing is assessed and itself as an orga­ni­za­tion capa­ble of learn­ing and respond­ing an effect of the upris­ing. The party learns from the sub­ject it sup­ports – and that it is the sup­port of this sub­ject is clear inso­far as the sub­ject nec­es­sar­ily exceeds it. Whether posed as crowd or Com­mune, the polit­i­cal form of the party can­not be reduced to a prob­lem of the state. It must also be thought in terms of the col­lec­tive sub­ject of pol­i­tics, to the sub­jec­ti­fi­ca­tion of the peo­ple and their process as the sub­ject of a pol­i­tics.

In his clas­sic account of the Com­mune, the French jour­nal­ist and rev­o­lu­tion­ary social­ist Lis­sagaray like­wise links crowd and party such that move­ments in the street are leg­i­ble as the actions of a sub­ject. He describes the weeks and months prior to the Paris Commune—the defeats in the war with Prus­sia, nego­ti­a­tions toward sur­ren­der, sub­sti­tu­tion of plebiscite (an up or down vote of con­fi­dence in the pro­vi­sional gov­ern­ment) for elec­tions, and increase of polit­i­cal clubs in work­ing class areas of the city. As he does so, Lis­sagaray attends to poor, the work­ing men, and the faith­ful chil­dren of 1789, young men from the bour­geoisie who “have gone over to the peo­ple.” In 1863, he tells us, these peo­ple scan­dalously affirm them­selves as a class. In 1867, their demon­stra­tions in the streets are the “appear­ance of a rev­o­lu­tion­ary social­ist party” (which will be asserted more directly in a res­o­lu­tion adopted by a meet­ing of the vig­i­lance com­mit­tees in Feb­ru­ary 1871).27 In 1870, they alone in a par­a­lyzed sum­mer exhibit polit­i­cal courage. Yet this class, this party (Lis­sagaray doesn’t think it nec­es­sary to make dis­tinc­tions here, imply­ing, per­haps, the open, chang­ing, and inter­con­nected dimen­sions of each), remains unable to direct the energies of the crowd. They may be a “party of action,” but they are in a “chaotic state,” criss-crossed by dif­fer­ent cur­rents (and, again, “party” here sug­gests a col­lec­tive that is part of a chang­ing sit­u­a­tion).28 So even as the crowd riots against the armistice, the peo­ple nonethe­less endorse the gov­ern­ment in the plebiscite that fol­lows: 558,000 yes and 62,000 no.29 Lis­sagaray explains that this hap­pened because those who were “clear-sighted, prompt, and ener­getic” were want­ing in “cadres, in method, in orga­niz­ers.”30 Jacobins like Blan­qui “lived in an exclu­sive cir­cle of friends.” Still other poten­tial lead­ers “care­fully kept aloof from work­ing men.” Even the Cen­tral Com­mit­tee of the twenty arrondisse­ments, while “dar­ing, elo­quent” treated “every­thing by man­i­festos” and so remained “only a cen­ter of emo­tions, not of direc­tion.”31

Lis­sagaray estab­lishes the set­ting of the Com­mune in the chal­lenge of respond­ing to the open­ing the active crowd pro­duces, in the con­se­quences of the gap effected by the crowd for orga­niz­ing the peo­ple. At stake is not the speci­ficity of a form of gov­ern­ment, munic­i­pal or national. Nor is it a mat­ter of the legit­i­macy of elec­tions, rep­re­sen­ta­tives, or deci­sions. Instead it con­cerns the move­ment from class, to peo­ple, to party, the move­ment at stake in politi­ciza­tion. The stakes of this move­ment, more­over, are not those of sub­sti­tu­tion, van­guardism, or domination—they are arrange­ments of inten­sity, courage, and will. The rela­tion of the peo­ple to the party is a ques­tion of orga­ni­za­tion in the con­text of those who might steer the peo­ple against them­selves, mak­ing them a means of a rev­o­lu­tion not their own. Lis­sagaray sug­gests that a class enters pol­i­tics as a scan­dal, a scan­dalous insis­tence on equal­ity.  When this insis­tence makes itself felt on the streets, a rev­o­lu­tion­ary social­ist party appears, a party char­ac­ter­ized by action, even by a con­cen­tra­tion of emo­tions. But action and emo­tion, sub­jec­tive capac­ity, aren’t enough. The capac­ity, to per­sist as the capac­ity of a sub­ject, has to be orga­nized, incor­po­rated, into a form. Thus, the prob­lem of the party is orga­niz­ing the peo­ple in one direc­tion rather than another, but always retroac­tively.

  1. See Mar­tin Breaugh, The Plebian Expe­ri­ence, trans­lated by Lazer Leder­hendler (New York: Columbia Uni­ver­sity Press, 2013). 

  2. Ibid., 177 

  3. Ibid., 178 

  4. Karl Marx, The Civil War in France, 1871. Excerpt in Karl Marx, Selected Writ­ings, edited by Lawrence H. Simon (Indi­anapolis: Hack­ett, 1994), 301. 

  5. Ibid., 307 

  6. Pros­per Olivier Lis­sagaray, His­tory of the Paris Com­mune of 1871, trans­lated by Eleanor Marx (Lon­don: New Park Pub­li­ca­tions, 1976) 130. 

  7. “From its incep­tion the Com­mune was plagued with inde­ci­sive­ness and a con­fus­ing diver­sity of aims and ideas. An Amer­i­can observer in Paris remarked, ‘It’s a mad­house inhab­ited by mon­keys.’ From its begin­ning, lack of dis­ci­pline and direc­tion ham­pered its devel­op­ment, and under­stand­ably so, for it could never quite decide if it were the van­guard in the strug­gle against social injus­tice or for the restora­tion of national honor through war,” Fred­er­ick Busi, “The Fail­ure of Rev­o­lu­tion,” in Rev­o­lu­tion and Reac­tion: The Paris Com­mune 1871, edited by John Hicks and Robert Tucker (Amherst: The Uni­ver­sity of Mass­a­chu­setts Press, 1973), 19. The book is a reprint of The Mass­a­chu­setts Review XII, no. 3 (Sum­mer 1971). 

  8. Philip M. Katz, From Appo­mat­tox to Mont­marte: Amer­i­cans and the Paris Com­mune (Cam­bridge, MA:  Har­vard Uni­ver­sity Press, 1998). 

  9. Ibid., 97. 

  10. Ibid., 108-110. 

  11. Karl Marx, The Civil War in France, 307 

  12. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, “The Ger­man Ide­ol­ogy,” in Selected Writ­ings, 130. 

  13. Alain Badiou, The­ory of the Sub­ject, trans­lated by Bruno Bosteels (Lon­don: Con­tin­uum, 2009).


  14. V. I. Lenin, The State and Rev­o­lu­tion, 1917, chap­ter 3, sec­tion 1. 

  15. Badiou, 138. 

  16. Ibid., 46 

  17. Ibid., 220 

  18. Karl Marx, “Marx to Dr. Kugel­mann Con­cern­ing the Paris Com­mune,” April 12, 1871 

  19. Badiou, 251. 

  20. Alain Badiou, The Com­mu­nist Hypoth­e­sis, trans­lated by David Macey and Steve Cor­co­ran (Lon­don: Verso, 2010) 182. 

  21. Bruno Bosteels, “The Left­ist Hypoth­e­sis: Com­mu­nism in the Age of Ter­ror,” The Idea of Com­mu­nism, edited by Costas Douz­i­nas and Slavoj Zizek (Lon­don: Verso, 2010). 

  22. Slavoj Zizek, “How to Begin from the Begin­ning,” The Idea of Com­mu­nism

  23. Alain Badiou, The­ory of the Sub­ject, 328. 

  24. Marx, “Marx to Dr. Kugel­mann Con­cern­ing the Paris Com­mune.” 

  25. V. I. Lenin, The State and Rev­o­lu­tion, 1917, chap­ter 3, sec­tion 1. 

  26. V. I. Lenin, “Lessons from the Moscow Upris­ing,” 1906. 

  27. Lis­sagaray, 11. 

  28. Ibid., 13. 

  29. Frank Jellinek, The Paris Com­mune of 1871 (New York: Gros­set and Dun­lap, 1965), 80; Breaugh gives dif­fer­ent num­bers. 

  30. Lis­sagaray, 25 

  31. Ibid. The Cen­tral Com­mit­tee of the Twenty Arrondisse­ment aimed toward cen­tral­iz­ing demo­c­ra­tic and social­ist forces in Paris; the Com­mit­tee met in the head­quar­ters of the Fed­er­a­tion of Trade Unions and the Fed­er­a­tion of the Inter­na­tional. Eugene Schulkind writes, “Poten­tially, this com­mit­tee and the con­stituent vig­i­lance com­mitt­tees in each arrondisse­ment were rev­o­lu­tion­ary orga­ni­za­tions in the mod­ern sense of the word, capa­ble of mobi­liz­ing exten­sive pop­u­lar sup­port around a con­crete pro­gramme and a long-range strat­egy as well as devel­op­ing an expe­ri­ences cadre for an even­tual rev­o­lu­tion­ary gov­ern­ment. In fact, a num­ber of con­crete efforts were ini­ti­ated in this direc­tion by some of the lead­ers, only to peter out soon in ran­dom activ­ity and end­less neigh­bor­hood dis­cus­sions” The Paris Com­mune of 1871: The View From the Left (New York: Grove Press, 1974), 36. 

Author of the article

is a political theorist who teaches in Geneva, New York. Her most recent book is The Communist Horizon.