Reliving the Commune: American Women Radicals and the Figure of Revolution

The Frenchness of the Commune understandably has often structured the way that the Parisian uprising is studied and archived. And yet, as Kristin Ross’s work has powerfully shown, the Commune always exceeded national boundaries. This article reconsiders the Commune’s extra-national reach by turning to the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century US, where it re-emerges not as a failed foreign past but rather as an unexpectedly rich site of unfinished possibility for US radicals. Examining in particular the ways that the figure of Louise Michel crucially animates the politics and public persona of American women radicals such as Emma Goldman, I show what gets lost when the Commune gets abridged from accounts of Goldman’s life and activism. I conclude by turning to the Commune’s electrifying resurgence during the 1929 Gastonia Strike to rethink the post-1917 institutionalization of the Commune in the US and the backlash it continued to provoke into the 1930s.

J. Michelle Coghlan
University of Manchester
Volume 49.3–4