« Une barricade, non un gouvernement »: Contrasting Views of Association in the Paris Commune

This essay recovers a lost debate about the political aspirations of the Commune. Recent scholarship has rightly emphasized that the common theme of Communard initiatives was association. However, Communards were torn between competing interpretations of association. According to the predominant sense, indebted to Proudhon, associations were expressions of worker autonomy. They were voluntary but morally obligatory contracts for mutual benefit. Opposed to this conception was another, according to which associations were necessary defensive formations, meant to resist economic and political domination. The most articulate advocate of this defensive conception was Prosper-Olivier Lissagaray (1838–1901), and this essay focuses on reconstructing his theory of association during and after the Commune. According to Lissagaray, association is not voluntary, but a practical necessity, a barricade against the overwhelming power of capital and the state. The tension between these divergent understandings of association is essential to the history and legacy of the Commune.

William Clare Roberts
McGill University
Volume 49.3–4