Throughout the nineteenth century, German philosophy was haunted by the specter of the French Revolution. Kant, Hegel and their followers spent their lives wrestling with its heritage, trying to imagine a specifically German path to modernity: a “revolution without revolution.” Trapped in a politically ossified society, German intellectuals were driven to brood over the nature of the revolutionary experience.
In this ambitious and original study, Stathis Kouvelakis paints a rich panorama of the key intellectual and political figures in the effervescence of German thought before the 1848 revolutions. He shows how the attempt to chart a moderate, reformist path entered into crisis, generating two antagonistic perspectives within the progressive currents of German society. On the one side were those socialists—among them Moses Hess and the young Friedrich Engels—who sought to discover a principle of harmony in social relations, bypassing the question of revolutionary politics. On the other side, the poet Heinrich Heine and the young Karl Marx developed a new perspective, articulating revolutionary rupture, proletarian hegemony and struggle for democracy, thereby redefining the very notion of politics itself.
To mark the publication of La Fabrique's new edition of Philosophy and Revolution: from Kant to Marx, Révolution Permanente spoke with Stathis Kouvelakis about his 2003 book. Translated by David Broder.
Stathis Kouvelakis, 2015. via Youtube.
Stathis, could you introduce yourself to those who do not know you already? What is your experience as a militant?
Stathis Kouvelakis: Since 2002 I have taught political philosophy at King’s College London, but my own university education was in France. In terms of my militant record, since my high school days I was active in the anti-capitalist radical Left in Greece and then in France. In 1981 I joined the youth organisation of what was called the Greek Communist Party "Interior," a current that subsequently participated as one of the components that founded Syriza. I also took part in Syriza’s leadership bodies between 2012 and 2015, and then left that party, together with thousands of other militants and cadres, when Alexis Tsipras shamefully capitulated to the diktat from the lenders’ Troika. Subsequently I participated in the foundation of Popular Unity — a formation I am still part of — which rallies the forces that came out of the left wing of Syriza and part of the far-Left coalition Antarsya.
Before Marx, there was Blanqui; born 212 years ago today. Below, historian Doug Enaa Greene — author of the forthcoming Specters of Communism: Blanqui and Marx — surveys the life and thought of the French radical. In Spring 2018, Verso will publish a collection of Blanqui's writings.
Karl Marx claimed that Louis-Auguste Blanqui was the “man whom I have always regarded as the brains and inspiration of the proletarian party in France.” Although largely forgotten today, there was a time when revolutionaries throughout the world viewed this nineteenth century French political prisoner as a central figure and hero of revolutionary socialism. In this time of so much political backsliding and compromise, it is worth looking at the life of Blanqui.
Three weeks after the UK voted to leave the European Union, Stathis Kouvelakis addressed a Paris meeting of Greek radical Left party Popular Unity. Translated by David Broder
The tectonic plates are moving again in Europe, rapidly changing the landscape. The breaches opening up in the Euro-unifying construction are concentrated around two focal points. On the one hand there is Brexit, and on the other hand – perhaps more under the surface, but just as corrosively – there is the social and political crisis tearing through France.