Spectres of Revolt: Review

Just finished reading this book by Richard Gilman-Opalsky, Associate Professor of Political Philosophy at the University of Illinois. I can thoroughly recommend it to anyone trying to make sense of what is happening in the world today on a global scale, both the revolts and the reactions, and looking for a way through to a better world. There is one caveat – he doesn’t provide an answer and doesn’t pretend to. You will not find any formula, but he will encourage you to take notice of what is going on in a different way and help you orientate yourself more critically and skilfully, especially if you are more than a little disturbed by the shape that many of the revolts take.

What I have found most refreshing in the book is that he gives an unusually full and broad survey of radical thought from Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto, through post-modernist thinkers like Jacques Derrida (Spectres of Marx), providing a whole gamut of sources from which you can go further to make your own critical excursions. He draws attention to often neglected thinkers, from Anton Pannekoek, through Raya Dunayevskaya and Cornelius Castoriadis to Julia Kristeva and George Katsiaficas. The first three were known to me and have each had their influences on me at different times; Kristeva I knew about but had not come across her work on revolt, to which I will now pay attention; Katsiaficas is completely new to me.

As a taster, I include below a ten-point examination of why seemingly pointless revolt speaks clearly, expressing its own philosophy from below. I have abbreviated it, but hopefully not rendered it incomprehensible in the process, but retained its essence. The original comes from pages 245-247. My apologies to the author if I have misrepresented him in any way.

The Logic of Revolt

  1. Revolt is communicative action by means other than words, by means other than text. Revolt articulates questions, criticisms, visions and expresses disaffections.
  2. Revolt thinks, acts, writes and speaks against the existing state of affairs.
  3. Revolt calls for some other state of affairs that can be imagined. Revolt imagines a state of affairs that does not exist, yet seems both possible and desirable to insurgents.
  4. Revolt thinks, acts, writes and speaks against conventional politics and established channels of reform. Revolt emerges in the face of frustrated and failed reform. Or, revolt addresses reformist failure.
  5. Revolt speaks for positions that are marginal or invisible without it. Revolt seeks to eliminate the invisibility and oblivion of its own reasonable context.
  6. Revolt thinks, acts, writes and speaks against the boredom and acceptance of everyday life by way of their opposites, excitement and rejection. Revolt is an ecstatic refutation of acceptance.
  7. Revolt calls for and enacts the direct experience of autonomy and spontaneity (this acknowledges the prefigurative aspects of the rupture with everyday life.
  8. Revolt thinks, acts, writes and speaks against the separation of theory from praxis… revolt rejects the notion that what makes sense in theory is impractical.
  9. Revolt calls for resolutions of anguish and hope. Revolt is not, in-and-of-itself, a solution to a problem, and yet it conceives of and presents itself as part of resolutions.
  10. Revolt thinks, acts, writes and speaks more desperately and dangerously than in conventional communicative formats, such as textual writing and political speech. Even where revolt wants to be non-violent, it self-consciously risks various forms of violence, and in confronting a quotidian violence, is incapable of promising the absence of violence.

[Abbreviated from, and with apologies to: Richard Gilman-Opalsky, Specters of Revolt: On the Intellect of Insurrection and Philosophy from Below, Repeater Books, London 2016, paperback edition]