Voices From the Inside Out: Prisoner reviews Specters of Revolt

July 22, 2018

From the July-August 2018 issue of News & Letters

by Faruq

In Richard Gilman-Opalsky’s book, Specters of Revolt: On the Intellect of Insurrection and Philosophy from Below, he presented a methodology for the critical interpretation of philosophy that emerges from revolts. While he has not developed something new, he is attempting to generate a renewed focus that he thinks has not been central to how revolts are interpreted. (See: “Review: Specters of Revolt” by Franklin Dmitryev, March-April 2018 N&L, p. 11.)

Interesting is Gilman-Opalsky’s observation of the present sadness and disaffection exhibited by Leftists, the result of the endless trail of failed revolutions of the 20th century. In the face of such dismal dispositions, he suggests replacing the ideas of dread and sacrifice, usually associated with struggle, with pleasure and desirability.

That might sound impractical to most revolutionary-minded people immersed in struggle. But how else does one engage in as huge and burdensome a process as social transformation if not inherently driven by a sense of pleasure and desirability? Both those elements are, in fact, derivatives of the essential element generating social participation in struggles for freedom: love.


History has shown that the struggle for freedom beyond the dictates of capital faces an array of potential setbacks. The issue that Gilman-Opalsky is presenting bears serious consideration because it is an indispensable element to achieving freedom. There is the need for large mass participation in the struggle for humanity’s freedom. An obvious challenge for revolutionaries is imagination.

In looking at the Occupy Movement, Gilman-Opalsky gives a concise view of the logic of capital, and the demands it places on the majority of people’s social activity. Was it an impractical idea for those movements not to list their demands? He answered by stating the impracticality of listing their demands because capital will invariably view them as being co-optable at best or irrational at worst.


At the core of the people’s demands is not only the questioning of existing social relations, but also the implicit call for the refiguring them so as to encompass human beings as the true social entities of society. Thus it is important to make clear the people’s ability to comprehend the necessity of a philosophy of liberation—that is, in practice, the permanency of revolution, which he refers to as never settling for an end state.

In addition the reader is presented with a view of what has taken place in Mexico that could be of use in the current moment of Trumpism. The Zapatista Movement has been successful in combatting the organized lies against it by the Mexican government and other capitalist forces via social media.

It is in the final pages of the book that Gilman-Opalsky draws together the theoretical threads of philosophical thoughts into a cogent advocacy for the indispensable need to grasp the implicit content of philosophy emerging from below. The analyzing of revolts for the mere purpose of gaining insight as to why revolts happen is passé.

When revolts are viewed in the context of a philosophical work, it opens up a broader view for understanding them and, at the same time, informs us of the whys. The “whys” also speak to reason, simultaneously the source of what will determine the praxis.


“Praxis” is in distinction from the general meaning that is often said to be “action.” Defining it as simply “action,” Raya Dunayevskaya stated, robs praxis of its theoretical and critical dimensions. Thus it is quite necessary that praxis be seen as the critical-practical activity; in essence practice that is also a form of theory. It is that specific manner of interpreting revolts that should give us the methodological approach to move toward creating a new society based on the best of humanist principles.

Specters of Revolt is an attempt to generate and advance revolutionary thinking, so it should be given a careful read.

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