Reading Group: On Revolution - sign up now

Reading Group: On Revolution – sign up now

Starting May 7th, sign up now!

History is filled with revolutions. From the French revolution, indigenous struggles or the women’s liberation moment to the Arab Spring, all have attempted to change the structures of power. Some revolutions succeeded in bringing forth greater liberty and freedom while others only brought forth tyranny. But:

  • What exactly is a revolution?
  • What really motivates the revolution and its revolutionaries?
  • When can a revolution be considered successful?

In her classic work On Revolution, Hannah Arendt compares the American and French revolutions, and argues that all subsequent revolutions in the West have roughly followed the model of one of those two. Using supplementary texts, we want to expand the scope of her analysis to revolutionary traditions throughout the world, to see how they relate to each other and more importantly, what we can learn from them.

We collectively decide which subtopics to cover, by splitting up into groups, which will each organize one of the sessions. The reading group will be in English, and consist of six sessions, held on Wednesday evenings from 19.30 to 22.00 in the bookstore de Rooie Rat, Oudegracht 65, Utrecht from May 7th to June 18th 2014.

This reading group is self-organized and absolutely free. Anybody is free to join. Don’t worry if you cannot attend every session; we will post summaries of every session on the website.

If you would like to order the book from de Rooie Rat at discount price, please let us know in your email.


14 thoughts on “Reading Group: On Revolution – sign up now

  1. I salute the initiative of the Reading Group to start a discussion on the revolutions that took place in the last two centuries. In the announcement it is written that “In her classic work On Revolution, Hannah Arendt compares the American and French revolutions, and argues that all subsequent revolutions in the West have roughly followed the model of one of those two.” But this is not correct. In contrast to what Annah Arendt writes, there is a fundamental difference between the bourgeois revolutions, aimed at the depriving the feudal (medieval) dominant class from its political power and the revolutions of the proletariat against the political power of the capitalist bourgeois class.
    The bourgeois revolution was characterized by the fact that from the 15th and 16th centuries, the great bourgeois families, particularly in Southern Europe, became the incontestable masters of trade and commerce. Along the trade routes over land and sea, flowed an incessant tide of metals, textiles and spices… A sea of gold flooded the towns, amid the new routes that joined the new trade centres. The arts, sciences, letters, and ideas all flourished. Scientific and technical discoveries multiplied, like the industrial cities. It would not be long until Copernicus developed his theory of the movement of the celestial spheres. Extraordinary advances occurred on the level of human understanding: everywhere the need for speed and precision was evident, as much in matters of finance and commerce as in those concerning industrial production. A social class was in the process of overturning society and conquering the world. For this it possessed one essential force: the power of finance and money. Without directly challenging the political power, which remained in the hands of time feudal aristocracy, the bourgeoisie imposed its own economic laws on society.
    But as to complete this slowly increasing economic domination over the feudal mode of production, as to impose its own laws of “complete free enterprise” on society the bourgeoisie was obliged to replace the feudal political power by the capitalist political power. So, the seizure of exclusive political power by the capitalist class, which found its most characteristic form in the French Revolution of 1989, was the finishing touch of a whole process of economic transformation within society. An economic transformation during which the old, feudal, relations of production are progressively replaced by capitalist relations of production, which served as a basis for the bourgeoisie’s conquest of political power:
    For the transition from capitalism to communism, the abolition of all forms of exploitation, the proletariat has no particular economic interests to defend. It will have no money, property or industrial power to come to aid it in its struggle. It is no economic basis that can bring about the dissolution of the economic power of capitalism, and a gradual transition to communism. To the extent that the proletariat is not based on any particular economic interest, or any form of property, it cannot envisage setting up a new kind of exploitative society. It is precisely as the last exploited class in history, which “has nothing to lose but its chains”, that the proletariat is led, objectively, towards the construction of a classless society, a society without exploitation.
    Even after the revolution, after the seizure of political power the proletariat will remain an exploited class. Between this seizure of power (the installation of the dictatorship of the proletariat) and communism, a period of transition will be necessary as to give the proletariat the possibility to generalise its own condition throughout the whole of society. Only through this social transformation, this progressive process of elimination of classes, a society without exploitation, without class will come nearer. The communist project is achieved: the realm of necessity is transformed in the realm of freedom.

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