Spectacular Organizing: How Revolutionary Theater Replaced the Party

I plan to put forward a thesis concerning revolutionary theater and an historical shift away from the revolutionary party as the fundamental organizational structure [1]. I will draw from Laclau and Mouffe’s critique of the party as an authoritarian practice, which pedagogically departs the science of Marxism. This critique, along with recent efforts of thinkers such as Jodi Dean to defend the fundamental role of the party in radical organization, suggests a shift away from party structures and not simply the emergence of a new mode of organization (i.e., horizantalism) alongside the continuation of political organization built on structures of democratic centralism. I hope for this part of the discussion to merely serve as contextualization for the larger project of the paper concerning the drama and theatrics of new modes of organizing. 

Using the Zapatistas as a concrete example, I hope to show that the dramatics of political organization have, in many ways, replaced the party as the essential organizing force. Examining the use of masks as costumes, narratives with Don Durito as propoganda, and the cult of personality surrounding Subcomandante Marcos, I will aim to construct an image of the spectacle of the EZLN’s mode of revolutionary organization. These examples, along with John Holloway’s theoretical defense of the EZLN’s rejection of the dictatorship of the proletariat, and in turn the party, will demonstrate that the spectacular mode of organization is not tangential to a more conventional method of organization, but is rather at the center of revolutionary struggle.

I will likely draw on Lefebvre and the Situationist International in their respective considerations of revolution-as-festival. I do not simply plan to transfer this language onto my own reflections of the Zapatista’s struggle. Rather, I hope to engage with the claims regarding the opening up of the political imaginary and the impossible-possible as a way of framing the novelty and future-oriented model of organization utilized by the EZLN. Ultimately, my paper will argue that revolutionary theater has supplanted the party in coalescing the revolutionary potential of the masses.


[1] While the EZLN may be regarded as a party, its rejection of strict hierarchies, the dictatorship of the proletariat, and a democratic centralist structure distinguishes their organization from a party in the sense that Lenin, for example, described. I suppose I will probably have to spend a bit of time in the paper making this distinction and/or simply finding comments made by members of the EZLN supporting this claim.


Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe, Hegemony and Socialist Strategy Towards a Radical Democratic Politics.

First World, Ha Ha Ha!, Edited by Elaine Katzenberger.

Subcomandante Marcos, Conversations with Durito: Stories of the Zapatistas and Neoliberalism.

—————————–, Our Word is Our Weapon.

John Holloway, Change the World Without Taking Power: The Meaning of Revolution Today.

Beth Ellen Jorgensen, “Making History: Subcomandante Marcos in the Mexican Chronicle.”

Henri Lefebvre, “Revolutionary Romanticism.”

——————, “The Meaning of the Commune.”

Situationist International, “Theses on the Paris Commune.”

Gavin Grindon, “Revolutionary Romanticism Henri Lefebvre’s Revolution-as-Festival”

Benjamin Heim Shephard, Play, Creativity, and Social Movements: If I Can’t Dance, It’s Not My Revolution.

Clifford Bob, The Marketing of Rebellion: Insurgents, Media, and International Activism.

A Place Called Chiapas, Directed by Nettie Wild.

Zapatista, A Big Noise Film.


I also plan to use various newspaper articles and interviews with magazines such as Vanity Fair for further descriptions and examples of the constructed theater surrounding the EZLN.









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3 Responses to Precis

  1. Dave Mesing says:

    This looks like a very exciting project. As I mentioned when I saw you the other day, I was looking into similar topics for a while. One article that might be worth checking out is Peter Thomas, “The Communist Hypothesis and the Question of Organization.” It’s in Theory and Event:

    I haven’t made it all the way through, but it looked to be a critical recasting of recent debates, as well as something that provides a substantial bibliography.

  2. dlcunningham says:

    For a critical perspective on the Situationist by Gilles Dauve/Jean Barrot:

  3. grockhil says:

    This promises to be an interesting engagement with the aesthetics of revolutionary activity. At a methodological level, I would encourage you to think through the consequences of a sequentialist historiography insofar as it presupposes a clear epochal shift (for instance, from party to theater). Has there indeed been a general shift across the board, and in all cultural settings? Might there be other ways of framing these developments?
    Secondly, it could also be interesting to consider the massive proliferation of experimental street theater, public art, etc. in the recent revolutionary movements. This being said, your focus on the EZLN will give your project coherence and unity, so you might want to keep this as a side issue.
    Finally, I wonder how much your analysis will need to engage with questions of pragmatic strategy and attempts to use a–media, consumer, representational–system against itself. What precisely is the role of theatrics? Or, rather, aren’t there a number of different roles that can be played? Does the ‘revolutionary theater’ have a single form?

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