The ideas and manifestos of “worldly philosophers” that ignited revolutions…
CCCCT Seminar Series 2021-2022 (7th edition)
If the central argument is a rousing reaffirmation of the mandate to make theory change the world for the better, which group is better qualified to make this happen: the “illuminati” of critical theory or activist thinkers and “worldly” philosophers?
— Biodun Jeyifo (2021)
In a review essay of Critique & Praxis and the broader project of these 13/13 seminars, published recently in the British Journal of Sociology (vol. 73, issue 3, June 2021), the literary critic and cultural theorist Biodun Jeyifo asks whether, as we chart a path forward toward critical praxis, we should turn to the writings of the more academically-inclined critical theorists or to those of more revolutionary philosopher-activists. Would we be better off reading Adorno, Arendt, and Foucault, or Ho Chi Minh, Lenin, Luxemburg, and Mao? Should we privilege the “worldly philosophers” who actually ignited real revolutions?
Biodun Jeyifo emphasizes that it is not productive to pose the question as if one list, one tradition, was preferable to the other. “There is no incommensurable divide between the two lists or traditions,” Jeyifo underscores in correspondence. Yet turning our attention to the “worldly philosophers” would be beneficial because, by contrast to the academic critical philosophers, “they have not been studied enough as a historic, global and comparative phenomenon.”
The challenge raises a number of questions that the earlier 13/13 seminars had posed: To begin with, what is a revolution and how does it differ from an uprising, riot, or insurrection? Is the very idea of revolution too closely tied to “the modern concept of revolution,” or alternatively, to anti-colonial wars of national liberation at mid-twentieth century? Is the metric of “igniting an actual revolution” too closely tied to the “success” or “effectiveness” of a mass mobilization, and what do those words, “success” or “effectiveness,” even mean? Are revolutionary outcomes the product of historical contingencies, of a historical conjuncture, over which philosophers themselves have little control? And how exactly do we distinguish which thinkers are more academically-inclined and which are the worldly philosophers who brought about revolution? Surely there are differences between, on the one hand, Lenin, Luxemburg, Mao, and Ho Chi Minh, and, on the other, Adorno, Arendt, Beauvoir, Foucault, Said, and Sartre. But are those differences contingent on their location in history? And do they reify particular definitions of revolution—such as an armed uprising versus a transformation of our subjectivity?
We have examined and addressed all these challenges in the 13/13 seminars, and yet… as Biodun Jeyifo rightly insists, there is a difference between returning to Sartre and Foucault, or instead turning to Fidel Castro and Kwame Nkrumah.
The 13/13 project has tried to give primacy neither to theory, nor to praxis, but instead to constantly confront and clash theory and praxis on the model of a large particle collider. And we have, over the years, dedicated seminars to many who could be considered revolutionary philosophers, such as Aimé Césaire, Angela Davis, Frantz Fanon, Paulo Freire, Gandhi, Marx, and Mao, among others, as well as to revolutionary movements like the Arab Spring and Standing Rock. Yet there are many worldly philosophers that we have not discussed—and that Biodun Jeyifo urges us to interrogate: Amilcar Cabral, Fidel Castro, Nawal El Saadawi, C.L.R. James, Claudia Jones, Walter Rodney, among others. What is it about these thinkers and their work that affected critical praxis differently? What unique insights can we glean by turning the prism toward their writings and actions?
Tough questions all—perhaps the place to begin is to draw a list of those worldly philosophers and social movements that ignited revolutions. Here is the beginning of such a list, drawing on Biodun Jeyifo’s review essay, with contributions from Étienne Balibar, Che Gossett, Fonda Shen, and Omavi Shukur:
ACT UP (U.S.) (see Uprising 9/13)
- Vito Russo speech 
The Alcatraz Proclamation (U.S.) (see also Uprising 12/13 on Standing Rock)
- Richard Oakes et al., The Alcatraz Proclamation (here) 
- Vine Victor Deloria Jr., Custer Died for Your Sins: An Indian Manifesto 
Amilcar Cabral (Guinea)
- Amilcar Cabral, Resistance and Decolonization 
Fidel Castro (Cuba)
- Fidel Castro, The Declarations of Havana 
- Regis Debray, “Révolution dans la Révolution”  (in close collaboration with Fidel Castro)
Aimé Césaire (Martinique) (see Nietzsche 6/13)
- Aimé Césaire, Discourse on Colonialism 
- Aimé Césaire, And the dogs were silent… 
Che Guevara (Argentina)
- Ernesto “Che” Guevara, Guerilla Warfare  or The Motorcycle Diaries 
The Combahee River Collective (U.S.) (see Revolution 4/13)
- How We Get Free: Black Feminism and the Combahee River Collective, ed. Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor 
Angela Davis (U.S.) (see Abolition Democracy 9/13)
- Angela Davis, Angela Davis: An Autobiography 
- Assata Shakur, “Women in Prison: How We Are” 
Nawal El Saadawi (Egypt)
- Nawal El Saadawi, Women and Sex  and Woman at Point Zero  and Nawal El Saadawi, The Nawal El Saadawi Reader [1972-1997] (New York: Zed Books, 1997).
Frantz Fanon (Martinique/Algeria) (see Nietzsche 8/13)
- Frantz Fanon, Wretched of the Earth 
Paulo Freire (Brazil) (see Critique 13/13)
- Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed 
- Theatre of the Oppressed
Gandhi (India) (see Uprising 5/13)
- Mohandas Gandhi, Non-Violent Resistance (Satyagraha)  (selections here)
Emma Goldman (U.S.)
- Emma Goldman, The Emma Goldman Papers [1909-1938]
Antonio Gramsci (Italy) (see Revolution 3/13)
- Antonio Gramsci, Prison Notebooks 
Stuart Hall (Jamaica & UK) (see Revolution 6/13)
- Stuart Hall, Familiar Stranger: A Life Between Two Islands (2017)
Václav Havel (Czech)
- Václev Havel, The Power of the Powerless  (1985) online here
Ho Chi Minh (Vietnam)
- Ho Chi Minh, Down with Colonialism! (Selected Writings) [1920-1960]
George Jackson (U.S.) (see Revolution 7/13)
- George Jackson, Soledad Brothers 
C.L.R. James (Trinidad) (see Revolution 2/13)
- C.L.R. James, The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L’Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution 
Jean Jaurès (France)
- Jean Jaurès, Histoire Socialiste 
Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera (U.S.) (see Revolution 8/13)
- Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, The Stonewall Reader [1987, 1989]
Claudia Jones (Trinidad)
- Carol Boyce Davies, Left of Karl Marx: The Political Life of Black Communist Claudia Jones  https://read.dukeupress.edu/books/book/1237/Left-of-Karl-MarxThe-Political-Life-of-Black
Mariame Kaba (U.S.) (see Abolition Democracy 13/13)
- Mariame Kaba, We Do This ‘Til We Free Us 
Hans-Jürgen Krahl (West Germany) (see Revolution 9/13)
- Hans-Jürgen Krahl, Constitution and Class Conflict (1971, untranslated)
- Dossier on Hans-Jürgen Krahl in Viewpoint Magazine (2018)
Audre Lorde (US) (see Critique 12/13)
- Audre Lorde, Zami: A New Spelling of My Name 
- Audre Lorde, The Cancer Journals 
Martin Luther King, Jr. (U.S.) (see Uprising 8/13)
- Martin Luther King, Jr., A Testament of Hope [1956-1968]
Lenin (Russia) (see Revolution 5/13)
- Vladimir Lenin, Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism 
Rosa Luxemburg (Poland/Germany) (see Revolution 5/13)
- Rosa Luxemburg, The Accumulation of Capital 
Malcolm X (U.S.) (see Revolution 10/13)
- Malcolm X, The End of White World Supremacy: Four Speeches  (or By Any Means Necessary (Malcolm X Speeches and Writings) 
Nelson Mandela (South Africa)
- Nelson Mandela, Prison Letters [1962-1990]
Mao (China) (Uprising 2/13)
- Mao Zedong, The Little Red Book: Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-Tung 
- Mao Zedong, “On Contradiction” [1937 (available from Marxists.org here).
- Godard, La Chinoise 
Jose Carlos Mariategui (Peru)
- Jose Carlos Mariategui, An Anthology [1924-1930]
Marx and Engels (Germany/UK) (see Abolition Democracy 5/13)
- Marx and Engels, Communist Manifesto 
Jarwaharlal Nehru (India)
- Jarwaharlal Nehru, Letters from a Father to His Daughter 
- Jarwaharlal Nehru, An Autobiography 
- Jarwaharlal Nehru, The Discovery of India 
Kwame Nkrumah (Ghana) (see Revolution 2/13)
- Kwame Nkrumah, Neo-Colonialism, the Last Stage of Imperialism 
Ani Pachen (Tibet)
- Ani Pachen, Sorrow Mountain: The Journey of a Tibetan Warrior Nun 
Walter Rodney (Guyana)
- Walter Rodney, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa 
Thomas Sankara (Burkina Faso)
- Thomas Sankara, Thomas Sankara Speaks: the Burkina Faso Revolution: 1983–87 
Léopold Sédar Senghor (Senegal)
- Léopold Sédar Senghor, Liberté 
Doria Shafik (Egypt)
- Doria Shafik, La bonne aventure 
Ali Shari’ati (Iran) (see Nietzsche 13/13)
- Ali Shari’ati, “Man and Islam: ‘The free man and freedom of man’” 
Eric Eustace Williams (Trinidad and Tobego)
- Capitalism and Slavery 
Prison Writings (see Revolution 7/13)
- Joy James, ed. The New Abolitionists: (Neo)Slave Narratives and Contemporary Prison Writings (SUNY Press, 2005)
Looking over this list, we might ask: What is it about these ideas, manifestos, and writings—and not others—that ignited revolutions? What work did these books do to spark mass mobilization? How and why did they bring about revolutionary action, even if short lived?
Now, to be sure, there are several objections that can be raised to this framing: Does it privilege the men who wrote their own history? Yes, no doubt; but there are also women and queer thinkers on this list: Rosa Luxemburg, Emma Goldman, Claudia Jones, Doria Shafik, Angela Davis, Audre Lorde, Marsha P. Johnson, Silvia Rivera, Ani Pachen, Nawal El Saadawi, Mariame Kaba. Does it fall victim to the “great man” theory of history? Again, yes, no doubt, even though there are collectives on our list as well, including ACT UP, the Alcatraz occupation movement, the Combahee River Collective. Does it privilege physical, violent, or armed resistance over other forms of transformation? Once again, yes, even if Gandhi and MLK feature on our list as well. Those who have accomplished the long and tedious work of cultural transformation, over the longue durée, may be less present on this list. Does it privilege national identity, given that so many of these activist thinkers were involved in wars of national liberation and, thus, tied to notions of the nation? Yes, here too. And, there is no question: we need to explore, with Saidiya Hartman, the voices that are missing from the archive…
Does the list also privilege national identity, given that so many of these activist thinkers were involved in wars of national liberation and, thus, tied to notions of the nation? Yes, here too: every name, every revolutionary in our list is specifically identified with his or her country. But note that in the syllabus itself, we have expanded the national and regional spaces in which the lives, works and praxis of the “worldly philosophers” had their impact. Moreover, even when the purview is limited to a single national space, that space is not dominated by one titan; rather, it is a contested space in which contending theories of changing the world clash, often going beyond ideas to decisive impact on the world. Indeed, in this particular regard, this edition of the 13/13 seminars departs from some previous editions in the fact that the normative dominance of single-author oeuvres of academic philosophers gives way to the usual double or multiple oeuvres and practices of activist thinkers.
In the end, a question remains: How is it that some ideas and manifestos, more so than others, have ignited, animated, or galvanized people to rise in revolution? What is it about these ideas and their theoretical moves—and not others? What can they tell us about critique and praxis? Should we not explore, perhaps for this 13/13 seminar series, what the “worldly philosophers” can tell us about critical praxis theory? Yes, let’s do that this year. Let’s do that together. Welcome to the revolutionary ideas, manifestos, and texts of the worldly philosophers—or, for short…
Welcome to Revolution 13/13!
Revolution 13/13 Recap
This past year, we were fortunate to have been joined by an extraordinary series of guests to discuss worldly philosophers, critical texts, and revolutionary movements. We began with Biodun Jeyifo, who inspired this series with his critique of Critique and Praxis, at Revolution 1/13 to discuss The Congresses of Black Writers and the Bandung Conference. At Revolution 2/13, Adom Getachew joined us to talk about Kwame Nkrumah, C.L.R. James, and George Padmore, and wrote a brilliant essay on worldly philosophers. Etienne Balibar joined us from France to discuss Antonio Gramsci, Jean-Paul Sartre, and the “engaged philosopher” at Revolution 3/13.
Unlike past years, which took place primarily on Columbia’s campus, we had the great fortune to host many of our seminars in New York at The People’s Forum this year. Our first seminar there was Revolution 4/13 with Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor on the Combahee River Collective Statement and the origins of identity politics. Amy Allen joined us next at Revolution 5/13 on Rosa Luxemburg, Lenin, and Eduard Bernstein, and contributed an extraordinary new essay on “Revolution, History, and the Beyond of Capitalism: Re-reading the Luxemburg-Bernstein Debate.”
Kendall Thomas, one of the founding scholars of Critical Race Theory, joined us for Revolution 6/13 to analyze Stuart Hall, Manning Marable, and what to do about Critical Race Theory today. Following the winter holiday, we were back at The People’s Forum for Revolution 7/13 on prison writings. We were honored to be joined by Albert Woodfox, author of Solitary and member of the Angola Three, Paul Redd, member of The Short Corridor Collective, Darryl Robertson, author and new culture editor at Esquire, and the premier prison writings scholar Joy James. We were delighted to be joined by our IJS colleague Che Gossett and Columbia’s Jack Halberstam for Revolution 8/13 on queer and trans rebellion. Halberstam and Gossett also shared new essays with us on “Unbuild the World!” and “After Life: Abolition and Queer, Trans & Black AIDS Activist Archives.”
After almost two years of COVID, we had our first international 13/13 seminar in Frankfurt at Revolution 9/13 with Martin Saar on Hans-Jürgen Krahl, a little-known yet brilliant revolutionary thinker of the Frankfurt School. Back in New York, Cornel West and Brandon Terry gave extraordinary presentations on Malcolm X at Revolution 10/13. We traveled to Paris in March to sit down with Toni Negri for Revolution 11/13 to discuss his life, philosophy, and activism. Revolution 12/13 was our final session in New York, with Sarah Haley on Abolition Feminism, where we read the new book Abolition. Feminism. Now. and Haley’s book No Mercy Here.
Circling back to a central theme in the 13/13 series, the tie between theory and praxis, Bernard E. Harcourt concluded the seminar series with a keynote speech on genealogy and praxis, “What Good Is Genealogy for Praxis?”, in Revolution 13/13.
We are grateful to all of our guests, our AV teams on campus and at The People’s Forum, the Heyman Center for their ongoing support, and everyone who participated in the seminar.
Stay tuned for next year’s 13/13 series!