Dreaming Together: Communes Before Communism, 1919-1921

What might pose an alternative to party politics, that dominate current politics and narratives of the past? Roughly a century ago, in the aftermath of the first world war, circles of intellectual youths in China explored possibilities for new forms of social and political organization that would lead to both national revival and a new and more peaceful human existence. These explorations soon led to the emergence of mass-based political parties in the 1920s, but for a brief moment between 1919-1921 they also gave rise to a handful of attempts at small, utopian communes. Despite their brevity and the small number of actual participants these attempts captured the imagination of many. This talk maps communal attempts undertaken in urban centres across China and explores their everyday experiences — their living arrangements, work, activities, social relationships within the groups, gender attitudes, and sources of inspiration. Similar developments occurred at roughly the same time in places near and far, in Europe, Russia, and the Middle East. I suggest that these attempts should be viewed together and reflect on the relationship between them and the emergence of mass-party-politics with which we are familiar.

Shakhar Rahav is Senior Lecturer in the Department of Asian Studies at the University of Haifa and currently a visiting researcher at the University of Oxford China Centre. His work explores the intersections of intellectuals, politics, and everyday life in twentieth-century China. He has published widely on these topics, especially the May Fourth Movement. He is the author of The Rise of Political Intellectuals in Modern China: May Fourth Societies and the Roots of Mass Party Politics (Oxford University Press, 2015).