THEORY AND HISTORY OF REVOLUTION
This is a course about revolutionary history and revolutionary theory. In it we read texts that were written in the course of the French, Haitian, Russian, and Algerian revolutions, and closer to home, in the course of the civil rights, Chicano and Black Power movements. We conclude by looking at contemporary revolutionary activity and theory in Chiapas and Rojava.
We are concerned to understand varieties of domination: by the rich, by religious institutions, by the state, by colonizing powers; and varieties of resistance: democracy, council systems, communes, direct action, communism, anarchism, decolonization, passive vs. active resistance (probably wrongly known as non-violent vs violent resistance), guerrilla warfare, autonomous spaces and democratic confederalism. Through the course we consider a number of seminal texts useful for thinking about these issues. We also raise and spiritedly discuss our thoughts on what those texts say.
The key thing we are always trying to do however is to connect these historical texts with our own, present situation. Robespierre, for example, was opposed to the practice of big landowners in revolutionary France stockpiling grain for export or to be held until prices went up. Practices like this still exist today, particularly in the “Global South.” Food exists, but those close by starve. The Robespierre text and the consideration of this phenomenon (and a couple of others) leads us to pressing current questions about whether people, if they have a “right to life,” also necessarily have a right to the means of life: food, shelter, clothing, education. We debate contemporary issues with reference to historical texts. Or Thoreau: Thoreau refused to pay his taxes because he knew that that money supported a slave nation (he was writing in 1848) and what he considered to be an unjust war of conquest (the “Mexican-American War”). Our tax money today goes largely to finance wars and military buildup that many of us oppose. Should we also not pay our taxes? More broadly the Thoreau text, along with Hannah Arendt’s essay on the “banality of evil” (which suggests that “evil” consists largely in doing what others do, or what you’re told, without question) gives us a basis for examining what processes our actions are a part of, and if those processes are problematic, a prod to ask whether we should continue to participate. So while this is a class that covers history and philosophy (and some political science) it is also, and even primarily, a class in which we confront our own world and ask ourselves hard questions about our role within it. This becomes ever clearer as we move from the past to the present and consider the situation and the options of Latinx, Black and immigrant folks in the U.S., and the reality of current revolutionary movements globally which are opposed to neoliberalism and the influence of the big nation-states whose militaries secure it—especially the United States.