Neil Smith, revolution and Iran

Neil Smith has an editorial in EPD:

Another revolution is possible: Foucault, ethics, and politics
It is time to think about revolution again. After the failures of the Russian revolution signaled by Stalin’s defensive slogan, “socialism in one country” (every bit as oxymoronic as “capitalism in one firm”), the 1960s reawakened a sense of revolution from something of a slumber.

He continues:

Surprisingly perhaps, because in the English-speaking world he is often and much too easily read as an abrupt counterpoint to Marx, Michel Foucault not only gives voice to this same revolutionary impulse but if anything universalizes it beyond Marx’s specific, historically bounded, analysis of capitalism.

These are interesting claims given Smith’s previously skeptical attitude toward Foucault’s political utility.

“Revolts belong to history”, Foucault (2000) wrote about the Iranian revolution, but “in a certain way they escape from it. The impulse by which a single individual a group, a minority, or an entire people says, `I will no longer obey’, and throws the risk of their life in the face of an authority they consider unjust seems to me to be something irreducible… People do revolt; that is a fact, and that is how subjectivity (not that of great men, but that of anyone) is brought into history, breathing life into it.” The very title of Foucault’s piece, “Useless to revolt?” could hardly be clearer: he was challenging quite forcefully the post-1960s sense of the uselessness of social revolt, and it is not without irony that the controversy surrounding his qualified support for the Iranian revolution came amidst and in the wake of immigrant uprisings in Paris in 2005, spreading to other cities in western Europe. In painting him as a naive dupe, his critics have also, willy nilly, striven to reinstate the sense that revolt is useless.
But Foucault must be defended. He was writing only months after Iranian oil workers sparked the revolution by going on strike and at a time when the hijacking of the revolt by a theocratic elite was far from certain. For him, in the spring of 1979, the “Iranian movement” still defied “that `law’ of revolutions” whereby “the tyranny lurking within them” comes to the surface.


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