This project reads Karl Marx's The Civil War in France, a speech and pamphlet in which Marx treats the political experience of the Paris Commune. Reading the pamphlet through literature on rhetoric and aesthetics, I argue that Marx's speech performs a political style--a set of tropes which structure thought, political responses, and collective desires--that stands in productive tension with many of the ways his work has been taken up by scholars and activists alike. Over the course of my dissertation I highlight three key concepts in The Civil War in France--debt, history, and community--which, I argue, are both central to the speech's address of its own historical context and useful resources for those seeking to make Marx's work productive in the present. First, Marx highlights the degree to which punitive debt policies directed by the French government at France's poor and disenfranchised contributed to the violence of the Commune and its aftermath, while also asserting a "debt of gratitude" to the Commune that he argues should lead a diversity of French political constituencies to support it. Engaging with Andrew King's research on the rhetoric of power maintenance and with contemporary scholarship on the politics of debt, I argue that Marx's address responds to the propaganda leveled against the Commune by the French national government of the period, while also constituting a set of tropes that are useful for analyzing discussions of debt by regulators and activists in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis. Second, reading Marx's eulogy of the Commune's failure alongside his attempt to draw lessons from it for future political practice, I argue that The Civil War in France provides a compelling case study for scholars concerned with how "failed" social movements may become subject to a type of collective memory work that primes them to be rescued as impetuses for future political action. I argue that Marx develops a rhetoric of history that enables a productive rethinking of the current political moment in light of past revolutionary experiences. Finally, engaging with recent debates in rhetorical studies and in the critical humanities on the concept of community, I argue that Marx's speech proleptically critiques the politics of community that goes by the name of neoliberalism, and provides an alternative ethics of community, of which the Commune is a central example. Taken together, I show that these concepts provide a useful set of tools for thinking the economic and political crises attendant on current global capitalism.
University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. July 2013. Major: Communication Studies. Advisor: Dr. Ronald Walter Greene. 1 computer file (PDF); vii, 236 pages.
Bost, Matthew Wesley.
The riddle of the Commune: subjectivity and style in Karl Marx's The Civil War in France.
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