Revolution in Philosophy

Dialectic of Counter-Revolution: Tragedy and Revolution in Eighteenth Brumaire
Rebecca Comay
September 27, 2021, 17:00

The June revolution of 1848 did not go the way it was supposed to go. The workers’ defeat at the hands of the bourgeoisie, their supposed allies, triggered a cascade of retroactive defeats that would reach back to the beginnings of the revolutionary epoch. It would be no longer possible to represent the Great French Revolution of 1789 (or modernity itself) as an unfinished or half-finished project -- a promise awaiting fulfilment, an ideal awaiting realization, the first act of a two-act drama. That had been Marx’s original wager: first the political, republican revolution, and then the social revolution that would redeem it. First liberal, then real democracy. The June debacle – Marx calls it a “farce” -- demonstrated that the revolutionary mantle does not pass automatically, if even at all, from bourgeoisie to proletariat, that the transition from liberal to actual democracy, from (formal) freedom to (real) equality, will not be a smooth one. The whole idea of revolutionary transition needs to be rethought: political emancipation alone cannot be the basis or supply the measure for social change.

The June disaster also posed a philosophical problem: it undermined any confidence in the idea of universal, progressive history –the idea of history as an irresistible movement of ever-expanding freedom. It troubled every notion of freedom as a possession or self-possession – a good that could be claimed, hoarded, distributed, divided. Freedom could no longer be thought of as a possession that accretes temporally from generation to generation or expands geographically from center to periphery or from metropolis to margins. This troubled every model of the dialectic as a machinery of redemption. And it raised again the question of Marx’s own Hegelian pedigree. These questions will reverberate beyond 1848, beyond France, and beyond Marx’s own lifetime.

In this seminar, we read (selections) from Marx’s Eighteenth Brumaire to think about history, freedom, and revolutionary struggle in the age of counter-revolution.

Rebecca Comay is professor of philosophy and comparative literature, a core member of the Literature and Critical Theory, and an associate member of the Germanic Languages and Literatures Department. Her research interests include Hegel and 19th century German philosophy; Marxism; psychoanalysis; and contemporary art. She is currently working on a project called "Dramaturgies of the Dialectic" (on theatricality after Hegel), and a book on the temporality of deadlines.

Philosophy Workshop is a voluntary independent self-organized initiative in Palestine. PW organizes public workshops and interactive lectures on philosophical topics. The initiative focuses on introducing philosophical ways of thinking of contemporary issues. We aim to make philosophical knowledge accessible for the public.

Malak Afouneh is a faculty member in the Department of Philosophy and Cultural Studies at Birzeit University. Malak has her MA degree in Literature and Philosophy from the University of Sussex and she is the founder of Philosophy Workshop.

This seminar was part of ‘Revolution in Philosophy’, an online seminar series curated by Malak Afouneh as part of the Philosophy Workshop in September 2021.

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