Bernard E. Harcourt | General Introduction to New 13/13 Seminar Series

By Bernard E. Harcourt

Each year, the 13/13 public seminars focus on a different set of problematics at the very heart of contemporary critical thought. During the 2015-2016 academic year, the first 13/13 public seminars focused on Michel Foucault’s 13 series of lectures at the Collège de France in Paris, all of which were edited into books, with the complete set finally published in 2015. We engaged in close readings of Foucault’s 13 Collège de France lectures at 13 public seminars at Columbia University. This produced the first “13/13”, the Foucault 13/13 series. The name and idea, 13/13, was born. During the next year, 2016-2017, the public seminar focused on 13 critical readings of Friedrich Nietzsche and produced the Nietzsche 13/13 series. During the 2017-2018 academic year, the seminar focused on 13 modalities of uprisings and produced the Uprising 13/13 series. The following year, during the 2018-2019 academic year, the seminar focused on the relationship between critical theory and praxis, and produced the Praxis 13/13 series. During the 2019-2020 academic year, the seminar returned to 13 fundamental texts of critical theory, and produced the Critique 13/13 series. Last year, during the 2020-2021 academic year, the seminar went completely virtual, due to the pandemic, and focused on the history, theory, and future of abolition. It produced the Abolition Democracy 13/13 series.

The current 13/13 public seminar for 2021-2022 focuses on the ideas and manifestos of 13 “worldly philosophers” who ignited revolutions. The new series is designed in conversation with the literary critic and cultural theorist, Professor Biodun Jeyifo, who will open the series with me on September 22, 2021.

In a review essay on the broad project of these 13/13 public seminars, Biodun Jeyifo urges us to turn our attention to “worldly philosophers” because, by contrast to the more academic critical philosophers, “they have not been studied enough as a historic, global and comparative phenomenon.” As Jeyifo rightly insists, there is a difference between returning to Sartre and Foucault, or instead turning to Kwame Nkrumah and Ho Chi Minh. This raises crucial questions: 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—that have had revolutionary effects? What can they tell us about critique and praxis? These are some of the questions we will explore this year in Revolution 13/13.

The ambition of this year’s 13/13 public seminar is set out in more full detail on the home page of Revolution 13/13 and also reproduced below. Please do read the full articulation of this year’s project.

Welcome to Revolution 13/13!

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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 on 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)

The Alcatraz Proclamation (U.S.) (see also Uprising 12/13 on Standing Rock)

  • Richard Oakes et al., The Alcatraz Proclamation (here) [1969]
  • Vine Victor Deloria Jr., Custer Died for Your Sins: An Indian Manifesto [1969]

Amilcar Cabral (Guinea)

  • Amilcar Cabral, Resistance and Decolonization [1977]

Fidel Castro (Cuba)

  • Fidel Castro, The Declarations of Havana [1962]
  • Regis Debray, “Révolution dans la Révolution” [1967] (in close collaboration with Fidel Castro)

Aimé Césaire (Martinique) (see Nietzsche 6/13)

  • Aimé Césaire, Discourse on Colonialism [1955]
  • Aimé Césaire, And the dogs were silent… [1946]

Che Guevara (Argentina)

  • Ernesto “Che” Guevara, Guerilla Warfare [1961] or The Motorcycle Diaries [1992]

The Combahee River Collective (U.S.)

  • How We Get Free: Black Feminism and the Combahee River Collective, ed. Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor [2017]

Angela Davis (U.S.) (see Abolition Democracy 9/13)

  • Angela Davis, Angela Davis: An Autobiography [1974]
  • Assata Shakur, “Women in Prison: How We Are” [1978]

Nawal El Saadawi (Egypt)

  • Nawal El Saadawi, Women and Sex [1969] and Woman at Point Zero [1975] 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 [1961]

Paulo Freire (Brazil) (see Critique 13/13)

  • Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed [1968]
  • Theatre of the Oppressed

Gandhi (India) (see Uprising 5/13)

  • Mohandas Gandhi, Non-Violent Resistance (Satyagraha) [1951] (selections here)

Emma Goldman (U.S.)

Antonio Gramsci (Italy)

  • Antonio Gramsci, Prison Notebooks   [1947]

Stuart Hall (Jamaica & UK)

  •   Stuart Hall, Familiar Stranger: A Life Between Two Islands (2017)

Václav Havel (Czech)

  • Václev Havel, The Power of the Powerless [1978] (1985) online here

Ho Chi Minh (Vietnam)

  • Ho Chi Minh, Down with Colonialism! (Selected Writings) [1920-1960]

George Jackson (U.S.)

  • George Jackson, Soledad Brothers [1970]

 C.L.R. James (Trinidad)

  • C.L.R. James, The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L’Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution [1963]

Jean Jaurès (France)

  • Jean Jaurès, Histoire Socialiste [1903]

Marsha P. Johnson and Silvia Rivera (U.S.)

  • Marsha P. Johnson and Silvia Rivera, The Stonewall Reader [1987, 1989]

Claudia Jones (Trinidad)

Mariame Kaba (U.S.) (see Abolition Democracy 13/13)

  • Mariame Kaba, We Do This ‘Til We Free Us [2021]

Audre Lorde (US) (see Critique 12/13)

  • Audre Lorde, Zami: A New Spelling of My Name [1982]
  • Audre Lorde, The Cancer Journals [1980]

Martin Luther King, Jr. (U.S.) (Uprising 8/13)

  • Martin Luther King, Jr., A Testament of Hope [1956-1968]

Hans-Jürgen Krahl (West Germany)

  • Hans-Jürgen Krahl, Konstitution und Klassenkampf (Constitution and Class Conflict, 1971, untranslated; some English excerpts here)
  • Dossier on Hans-Jürgen Krahl in Viewpoint Magazine (2018)

Lenin (Russia)

  • Vladimir Lenin, Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism [1917]

Rosa Luxemburg (Poland/Germany)

  • Rosa Luxemburg, The Accumulation of Capital [1913]

Malcolm X (U.S.)

  • Malcolm X, The End of White World Supremacy: Four Speeches [1971] (or By Any Means Necessary (Malcolm X Speeches and Writings) [1992]

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 [1972]
  • Mao Zedong, “On Contradiction” [1937 (available from here).
  • Godard, La Chinoise [1967]

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 [1848]

Jarwaharlal Nehru (India)

  • Jarwaharlal Nehru, Letters from a Father to His Daughter [1929]
  • Jarwaharlal Nehru, An Autobiography [1936]
  • Jarwaharlal Nehru, The Discovery of India [1946]

Kwame Nkrumah (Ghana)

  • Kwame Nkrumah, Neo-Colonialism, the Last Stage of Imperialism [1965]

Ani Pachen (Tibet)

  • Ani Pachen, Sorrow Mountain: The Journey of a Tibetan Warrior Nun [2000]

Walter Rodney (Guyana)

  • Walter Rodney, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa [1972]

Thomas Sankara (Burkina Faso)

  • Thomas Sankara, Thomas Sankara Speaks: the Burkina Faso Revolution: 1983–87 [1988]

Léopold Sédar Senghor (Senegal)

  • Léopold Sédar Senghor, Liberté [1964]

Doria Shafik (Egypt)

  • Doria Shafik, La bonne aventure [1949]

Ali Shari’ati (Iran) (see Nietzsche 13/13)

  • Ali Shari’ati, “Man and Islam: ‘The free man and freedom of man’” [1976]

Eric Eustace Williams (Trinidad and Tobego)

  • Capitalism and Slavery [1944]

Prison Writings

  •  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!