Decolonizing the “Universal Republic”: The Paris Commune and French Empire

This article questions celebratory accounts of communard universalism by placing the 1871 Paris Commune within the space of French Empire. A first part analyzes the relation between the 1870 settler colonial revolt of the Algiers Commune (Commune dAlger) and the 1871 Mokrani uprising against French rule in Algeria. While the Commune dAlger predated the Paris Commune and must be understood in the specific context of settler colonialism in North Africa, the case of Alexandre Lambert, Algiers delegate to the Paris Commune, sheds light on the colonial ambiguities of republican universalism more generally. The article suggests that universalist discourse foreclosed rather than enabled solidarity across struggles, as Lambert could understand the Commune’s emancipatory aspirations as entirely compatible with colonial domination. A second part traces the encounters between deported Parisian communards and colonized Kabyles and Kanak on the Île des Pins. These encounters show above all how communard universalism remained bounded by imperial domination and racialized epistemic frames. Yet attending to instances of political translation, they also point to a world-building solidarity across traditions of struggle.

Niklas Plaetzer
University of Chicago
Volume 49.3–4