Little Communes Everywhere

Review by Jay Caspian Kang: “…I was thinking about all this while I read “The Commune Form: The Transformation of Everyday Life,” a forthcoming book by the comparative-literature professor Kristin Ross. Ross—who has previously written about the Paris Commune of 1871 and France’s student uprising of May, 1968—focusses particularly on the ZAD de Notre-Dame-des-Landes, a thousand-acre commune created by French farmers and their allies in the late two-thousands, in an effort to block the construction of a new airport, which would have kicked many people off their own land. (The French government had designated the land a zone d’aménagement différé, or a “deferred development area”; the farmers kept the acronym but used it to mean zone à défendre, or “zone to defend.”) For a commune to work, Ross argues, one must have both a physical space to defend against an antagonist and an articulated vision for an alternative organization of human relationships and economy. The “commune form,” as she defines it, is a “political movement that is also the collective elaboration of a desired way of life—the means becoming the end.” Theory, in other words, needs to be put into practice, in an intimate and earnest setting, so that people can test out their ideas about living within the context of an actual place among actual people.

Ross identifies one of the motivating forces behind the creation of the ZAD as alienation, which was “less the loss of some human essence than it was the loss of possibilities: the sense of blockages and impasses brought on by the destruction and fragmentation of the social tissue by capitalism.” Drawing upon the work of the French philosopher Henri Lefebvre, Ross refers to “the colonization of everyday life,” each part of our day becoming dominated by economic reasoning. This, she writes, dispossesses us of “our dignity, our social life, our time, the sense of mastery over our lives, the beauty and health of our lived environment, and of the very possibility of working together to invent our future collectively.” Under such conditions, the commune becomes the only alternative…

Physical spaces, whether pools or parks, can be reclaimed through collective action, in much the way that admissions policies at exclusive magnet schools can be protected by a small group of dedicated parents. Small, everyday victories are the only real cure for alienation. What else would work?…(More)”