revolution and uprising

Image: Fidan Nazim qizi


Unlike the revolutionary person, who intends to establish a new social order, the revolted person “strives to get rid of constitutions”

Revolution and revolt pervade the history of Marxism. The first studies by Marx and Engels on these concepts dialogue with the positions of the philosopher and journalist Max Stirner, developed in the book The only one and your property, 1844. According to Max Stirner, the revolution aims to promote structural changes in society. The revolt also has as an inevitable consequence the transformation of what is in force, “but not part of it, part of man’s dissatisfaction with himself.” (STIRNER, 2004, p. 248).

Unlike the revolutionary person, who intends to establish a new social order, the revolted person “strives to get rid of constitutions.” (STIRNER, 2004, p. 248). The Stirnerian thesis that revolt indicates a profound subjective rebellion was taken up by several authors, including Albert Camus, in the angry man and Abdias do Nascimento, in the angry black (GUIMARÃES, 2006).

In the years 1845 and 1846, Marx and Engels wrote the german ideology against three left-wing Hegelians who were emerging at that time: Ludwig Feuerbach, Bruno Bauer and Max Stirner. For these Young Hegelians, argue Marx and Engels, the shackles that imprison man "are products of his conscience." (2007, p. 84). For their emancipation, a spiritual critique of these products of consciousness would suffice. In the analyzes of Marx and Engels, the formations of consciousness emanate from a material history and praxis. In these terms, they can only be dissolved with the practical demolition of the real social relations from which they come: “it is not criticism, but revolution, the driving force of history.” (MARX; ENGELS, 2007, p.43). It is not a question of establishing an ideal state of affairs, but of fighting for a mass movement that can overcome the material conditions of social domination.

As highlighted by José Paulo Netto (2020), in the years that followed, Marx's reflections on revolution and revolt were marked by the insurrections that were taking place in Europe. In the texts that make up the book Class struggles in France, Marx (2012, 1960) questions the thesis that the French revolutionary process of 1848 had been defeated. If, on the one hand, the workers lost countless battles to the army summoned by the bourgeoisie, on the other hand, in the course of these confrontations, there was a maturation of the “party of revolt”. In no passage of Class struggles in France, Marx uses the word Emporung, used by Stirner to indicate a subjective revolt (MARX; ENGELS, 2007). To form the expression “revolt party” (Umsturzpartei), Marx uses the noun Umsturz, which translates: revolt, subversion, overthrow or change of regime.

There are many figures of the revolt. In his texts, Marx uses a variety of words to name them: revolt; Riot; insurrection; Rebellion; Revolt e Umsturz. In her considerations on the importance and meaning of revolt in Marxist and Marxian reflections, Irene Viparelli states: “Revolts are always, in the first place, a consequence of the despair caused by the worsening conditions of existence” (2010, p. 28). The living conditions of the poorest population can worsen abruptly with pandemics and with the intensification of capitalist exploitation of male and female workers. Popular uprisings caused by hunger and misery usually arise spontaneously.

According to Terry Boswell and William Dixon (1996), in the Marxist theory of rebellion, revolts are necessary, but not sufficient for the success of a revolution. In a similar perspective, in the book What to do?, Lenin (1988) questions the revolutionary effectiveness of the spontaneous element of revolts. Some revolts awaken only flashes of conscience. Regarding the strikes that took place in Russia in the 1870s and 1880s, Lenin comments: “the workers lost their customary belief in the continuity of the regime that oppressed them; they began, I won't say to understand, but to feel the need for a collective resistance” (1988, p. 24).

In the strikes after 1890, Lenin notes an evolution: “precise demands are formulated, an attempt is made to foresee the favorable moment, cases and examples from other locations are discussed, etc.” (1988, p. 24). In any case, the awareness that evidences the irreducible opposition between the social classes only reaches the workers' revolts from the outside, through the commitment of student youth to share the Marxist doctrine.

At the end of 1872, in an open letter published in the newspaper Freedom, from Brussels, Mikhail Bakunin criticized Marx's arrogance and authoritarianism: “placing himself as director and supreme arbiter of all revolutionary movements that may arise in different countries” (1910a, p. 350). In Bakunin's assessment, international labor unity is to be found: “in the common aspirations and spontaneous movement of the popular masses of all countries, not in just any government, nor in a uniform political theory” (1910a, p. 349). Also in opposition to Marxism, Bakunin (1910b) maintains that the conscience of the popular masses comes from themselves, or rather, from their revolt against all those who oppress them. Revolt is an instinct of life, “there is no such degraded people on earth”, Bakunin asserts, “that has never revolted” (1910b, p. 454).

In the student insurrections of 1968, the Marxian debate on spontaneity and organization gained new contours. Enthusiast of the French May, Daniel Guérin emphasizes: “at the moment of its outbreak, every social revolution cannot be anything other than libertarian” (1973, p. 142). Youth had a keen sense of social injustice and a passionate attachment to freedom. She did not want a socialist future that promised: “the absolute subordination of the individual to a political idea and to a State” (GUÉRIN, 1973, p. 134). For Guérin, the “May Revolution” was like: “an unexpected explosion, coming like lightning, contagious and devastating, it was largely anarchist.” (1973, p. 135). With each new situation, the fight strategies were debated with all militancy. Taking the floor has become the great motto of open assemblies. Authoritarian Marxists were unable to impose their ideas, “all revolutionary tendencies, without exclusivism, had stands in which they installed their propaganda and literature” (GUÉRIN, 1973, p. 136).

In the mid-1970s, alongside other leftist militants, Jacques Rancière creates the collective “Revoltas Lógicas” (SILVEIRA, 2022). Taken from a poem by Rimbaud, the name of the collective brings to light the debates raised in 1968: “This project implied a different way of understanding words, and a different use of history.” (RANCIÈRE, 2011, p. 10). In contrast to those who oppose revolt and revolution and spontaneity and organization, the collective seeks to: “undermine this same opposition by subverting the idea of ​​time underlying the contrast between the supposed continuous 'process' of revolution and the scene of rebellion that is said to be momentary” (RANCIÈRE, 2011, p. 10). The time of revolt is a subversion of the homogeneous and empty time imposed by the working day. In addition to marking an interruption or rupture in the dominant order, these insurgent moments: “are also effective mutations of the landscape of the visible, the sayable and the thinkable, transformations of the world of possibilities” (RANCIÈRE, 2010, p. 9).

Rancière's doctoral thesis is entitled: The Night of the Proletarians: worker's dream archives. The research investigates those men and women who, in the turbulent period of Class struggles in France, dared to interrupt the order of time imposed on workers. In the nights of the 1830s, instead of resting for the next day's work, rebellious people dedicated themselves to literature and political debate. Their revolts did not overthrow the bourgeoisie, but opened small cracks into the world of possibilities.

*Paulo Fernandes Silveira Professor at the Faculty of Education at USP and researcher at the Human Rights Group at the Institute for Advanced Studies at USP.


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MARX, Carl. Die Klassenkämpfe in Frankreich 1848 bis 1850. In. Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels: Werke – Band 7. Berlin: Dietz Verlag Berlin, 1960, p. 9-107.

NETTO, Jose Paulo. Karl Marx: a biography. São Paulo Boitempo: 2020.

RANCIÈRE, Jacques. Preface to the english edition. In. RANCIÈRE, Jacques. staging the people: the proletarian and his double. London; New York: Verso, 2011. p. 7-19.

RANCIÈRE, Jacques. Interview with Jacques Rancière: “Develop the temporality of equal moments”, by Colectivo Situaciones. In. RANCIÈRE, Jacques. The night of the proletarians: archivos del sueño obrero. Buenos Aires: Tinta Limón, 2010, p. 8-15. Available in:

SILVEIRA, Paul. Liberation of the word: militancy and education in Jacques Rancière. In: CARVALHO, José; RANCIÈRE, Jacques. (eds.). Jacques Rancière and the school: Education, politics and emancipation. Belo Horizonte: Autêntica, 2022, p. 287-304.

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VIPARELLI, Irene. Crises, révoltes et occasion révolutionnaire chez Marx et Lenin, Current Marx, no. 47, 27-42, 2010. Available at:


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