CfP 3/2022 - CfP 3/2022 – The communes and other mobile commons


Piotr Juskowiak, Karolina Grzegorczyk, Mateusz Karolak, Łukasz Moll

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„From the very beginning, the Commune demonstrated its internationalism. It gave foreigners full right to participate in elections. It placed a German at the head of its department of labor. It had a Pole in charge of its military forces. It pulled down Napoleon’s statue, denounced nationalism and chauvinism, and came out as champion of the workers of the world” – Karl Marx, a German political refugee, wrote from London, closely following the rise and fall of Paris Commune in 1871. The banner of Communards was, from the very start, the symbol of universal republic (Ross 2016), but its universalism was of a special kind. It had nothing to do with the French particularism in the guise of universality, which was typical for Napoleonic imperialism, and has just as little in common with the contemporary variations on statist collectivism (Ross 2016). It constituted rather, as expressed recently by Massimiliano Tomba (2019), the form of „insurgent universality” – radically opened for constant democratization and inclusion of new participants and reluctant to all possible boundaries and borders – be they cultural, sexual, political or geographical. “Everywhere the word ‘commune’ was understood in the largest sense, as referring to a new humanity, made up of free and equal companions, oblivious to the existence of old boundaries, helping each other in peace from one end of the world to the other” (Reclus 1897, in: Ross 2016).

Thus universalization of the Commune did not rely on extension of its form, absorption and subjugation of the outside – what Étienne Balibar (2002: 125) called the „extensive universalism”. Its universalization was of a higher kind: the difference and particularity was not an obstacle, but a potential excess of insurgent democracy. The same applies to its geographical mode of existence – intrinsically rooted in practices of translation, sharing and translocal learning of the city (McFarlane 2011). The confirmation of the fact that Paris Commune had capability to strengthen „expanding urban commoning” (Stavrides 2016), was nowhere as visible as in the case of extraordinary involvement of foreign rebels, refugees and migrants in the insurrection. This is the reason why we should clearly differentiate exclusionary communitarianism, which relates to expressions of the territorialized community that is „already there”, and expanding commoning, which is interested in transgressing the threshold of collective subject. While the former lean eventually towards the exclusivist discourses of gated communities and separationist suburbanization (Harvey 1997); the latter problematizes dichotomy of „us” and „them” by inclusive subjectivization of the newcomers and outsiders (see Merrifield 2013). Sharing the condition of precarity and contingency the marginalized proletarians, urban rabble and outlaws from abroad together oppose the „divide and rule” strategy of the dominant classes. The communes are always more than “just” alternative forms of political organization – striving for absolute democratic modes of economic production, education and social relations they are proposing nothing less than holistic project of a new society.

The universalizing and insurgent drive behind communes is in no way restricted to the brief but ground-breaking experience of the Paris Commune. Many times in history, prior to 1871 and after, communes showed up around the world as transnational and transgeographical expressions of struggles. From the maroon communities of fugitive slaves, living in the outskirts of oppressive states in the hills, forests, jungles, basins, swamps or deserts in the Carribean, Zomia (Southern Asia), North Africa, Balkans or Eastern European steppes (Scott 2009), through the utopian attempts to re-build the Garden of Eden on Earth in the New World (Boal et al. 2012), to the proletarian, black, indigenous and guerrilla urban insurgencies (e.g. Lazar 2008), communes never ceased to serve as the laboratories of emancipation and production of anti-capitalist space.

What is characteristic for communes – and at the same time often neglected by its commentators – is the fact that they are largely made by the expelled, dispossessed and persecuted, by the loose and excluded population strata. The runaway slaves and serfs, the expropriated proletarians, the commoners separated from their commons, the repressed insurgents, heretics and dreamers – these are the subjects that make up the frequent basis for egalitarian communes. That’s the first reason why we propose to treat communes as forms of mobile commons, produced and re-produced by people on the run (Trimikliniotis, Parsanoglou and Tsianos 2015) but struggling for the right to stay put (Lees, Annunziata and Rivas-Alonso 2018) with the means of radical space (Kohn 2003) and timeless time (Castells 2012).

The second important connection between communes and mobile commons is the astonishing internationalization and multiscalar circulation of insurgent communes, which is symbolized by the dates of 1871, 1917, 1945, 1968 and more recently with the squatting (Vasudevan 2017) and occupy movements (Castells 2012). Communal forms of organization and production of space appeared frequently in the times of revolutionary unrest, disarming the occupying armies, protesting police violence, authoritarianism of institutions or reclaiming the public space. They exceeded the traditional divisions between the city and the countryside, the First, Second and Third World, the West and the East, the North and the South or the production and reproduction sphere. The radical openness of communes broke up with determinism and fatalism, according to which there exist chosen spaces and predestined subjectivities that can pursue social change.

Finally, the third point of interest is the mobility of the commune itself. Communes are not only made of migrants and not only circulate and ignite the struggle elsewhere, but the very forms of commoning that sustain them are in many cases ephemeral and mobile. The fleeting conspiracies, revealing themselves here and there, the nomadic communities in-the-making as in the case of clandestine migrant networks, camps, squats and shelters, the circulating information, gossips and ideas that help to organize spaces of flow or the subversive uses of transport and communication infrastructures, vehicles and devices (which William Walters [2015] identified as sites of „viapolitics”), remind us that the insurgent aspect of communes remains possible only due to all this subtle and hidden acts of denizens’ mobilization.

Our times are marked by migrations and political unrest around the mentioned questions. We are convinced that various forms of the commons could contribute in incorporating migrants as commoners and that their experiences and capabilities may help fight the most exclusivist political discourses. Thus we would like to encourage authors who share with us curiosity in mobile aspect of the communes and the commons to submit their papers to the special issue of Theoretical Practice.

Cited literature

Balibar, Étienne. 2002. Politics and the Other Scene. London and New York: Verso.

Boal, Iain et al (eds.). 2012. West of Eden: Communes and Utopia in Northern California. Oakland: PM Press.

Castells, Manuel. 2012. Networks of Outrage and Hope: Social Movements in the Internet Age. Cambridge and Malden, MA: Polity Press.

Harvey, David. 1997. “The New Urbanism and the Communitarian Trap”. Harvard Design Magazine 1.

Lazar, Sian. 2008. El Alto, Rebel City: Self and Citizenship in Andean Bolivia. Durham and London: Duke University Press.

Lees, Loretta, Annunziata, Sandra and Clara Rivas-Alonso. 2018. “Resisting Planetary Gentrification: The Value of Survivability in the Fight to Stay Put”. Annals of the American Association of Geographers 108(2).

Kohn, Margaret. 2003. Radical Space: Building the House of the People. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press.

McFarlane, Colin. 2011. Learning of the City: Knowledge and Translocal Assemblage. Malden, MA and Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.

Merrifield, Andy. 2013. The Politics of the Encounter: Urban Theory and Protest Under Planetary Urbanization. Athens and London: The University of Georgia Press.

Ross, Kristin. 2016. Communal Luxury: The Political Imaginary of the Paris Commune. London and New York: Verso.

Scott, James C. 2009. The Art of Not Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia. New Haven and London: Yale University Press.

Stavrides, Stavros. 2016. Common Space: The City as Commons. London: Zed Books.

Tomba, Massimiliano. 2019. Insurgent Universality: An Alternative Legacy of Modernity. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Trimikliniotis, Nicos, Parsanoglou, Dimitris and Vassilis S. Tsianos. 2015. Mobile commons, migrant digitalities and the right to the city. New York: Palgrave Macmillan Pivot.

Vasudevan, Alexander. 2017. The Autonomous City: A History of Urban Squatting. London and New York: Verso.

Walters, William. 2015. „Migration, Vehicles and Politics: Three Theses on Viapolitics”. European Journal of Social Theory, Vol 18, Issue 4: 469-488.

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