Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Radical Political Theory

Another draft syllabus for Winter 2009:

POLI 364: Radical Political Thought
The Theory and Practice of Revolution

For the purposes of this course, radical political thought is understood to encompass the three revolutionary and leftist political tendencies of the 19th and 20th Centuries: Marxism, anti-colonialism, and radical feminism. Radical movements are revolutionary in that they seek to break with the liberal and capitalist political order rather than perfect that order. That is, these movements do not want a more inclusive or expansive liberal order, but desire the overturning of that order itself. They are leftist in that they do not seek to recover some pre-liberal, traditional order, but try to create something new: a post-modern politics for a post-modern society.

The particular itinerary of our investigation will follow radical movements as they have attempted to answer three questions: 1) What is revolution, and how is it to be accomplished? 2) What role does violence play in maintaining the present state of society, and what role will it play in the overthrow of that state? 3) What is ideology and how does it function? We will begin with Marx’s discussion of revolution in his mature political writings, then examine a) the revolutionary Marxist tradition, b) its assimilation and critique of Sorel’s theory of mythical violence, c) the anti-colonial appropriations of revolutionary Marxism, d) feminist and post-structuralist rearticulations of the revolutionary project, and e) the strategy of refusal articulated by the Italian Autonomia movement.

Reading Schedule:
January 6-8 Introduction
Marx, Capital, Chapter 6

January 13-15 Marx, Capital, Chapters 26, 31 & 32, and selections from the ‘Grundrisse

January 20-22 Marx, selections from The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte
and The Civil War in France

January 27-29 Lenin, selections from What Is To Be Done?

February 3-5 Luxemburg, Reform or Revolution

February 10-12 Sorel, selections from Reflections on Violence
Benjamin, “Critique of Violence”

February 17-19 Fanon, “Concerning Violence”

February 24-26 No Class

March 3-5 Mao, On Contradiction

March 10-12 Althusser, “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses”

March 17-19 Foucault, “Society Must Be Defended”, Lectures One and Two

March 24-26 MacKinnon, “Desire and Power”

March 31-April 2 Haraway, “The Cyborg Manifesto”

April 7-9 Castellano, “Living With Guerilla Warfare”


Nate said...

I mean this as a friendly suggestion and hopefully not pedantic - I respectfully suggest that you amend the 19th century part to say late or mid 19th century. Here's my argument: the Haitian Revolution was still in some ways under way by the beginning of the 19th century, and contained at least some tendencies that I/we would identify as genuinely revolutionary. Likewise I'd say that probably some abolitionst tendencies in the US and Britain and certainly some anti-slavery rebellions and insurrections in the US were objectively revolutionary and anti-capitalist. I realize that this is all - quite reasonably - outside the scope of the class, but saying "19th century" implies to your students that there's no revolutionaries prior to Marx. Again, sorry if that sounds pedantic.

Will Roberts said...

Thanks for your comment, Nate. I don't think you're being pedantic in the slightest. Nonetheless, I have to disagree with you: I don't think I imply that there were no revolutionaries before Marx.

That the readings for the course are all Marxist or post-marxist in some sense is merely a reflection of a) my sense that whatever revolutionary movements existed prior to Marx were either directed at pre-liberal or non-liberal political and economic realities, or b) were precursors to the movements I explicitly mention. Obviously, there was a workers' movement before Marx, and it could even be described as revolutionary, but I have no problem asserting that the movement found the theory appropriate to it in Marxism.

Likewise, insofar as the Haitian revolt was in fact incompatible with the liberal appeal to the rights of man (in which terms it was undoubtedly couched), then it can be seen (arguably) as a precursor of the anti-colonial movement.

I admit that this way of looking at things will inevitably produce some retrospective distortion of history, but I'm comfortable with that.

R.O. Flyer said...

Looks like a great course! I just ran across your blog and noticed that you teach philosphy at McGill. Do you happen to know Jeremy Wiebe? He's a PhD candidate in philosophy there. He's teaching in New Brunswick now and finishing his dissertation.

I look forward to reading through more of your blog.

Will Roberts said...

Thanks, R.O. Flyer. I appreciate the kind words. I'm afraid I don't know Mr. Wiebe--or at least don't remember that I know him--I sometimes have a hard time differentiating the two.

Hasana said...

It's not totally necessary to defend yourself theoretically. The course titles were decided bureaucratically and one cannot change them without an official appeal that takes about a year. It is simply a broad rubric that professors can adopt at their discretion. Academic freedom, baby.

Pietro de Simone said...

no plato?

Sam said...
This comment has been removed by the author.