Because every revolution, movement, or uprising needs its manifesto, many figures outlined their visions in artistic or political texts. These radical movements caused a stir, others a howl, and eventually became nothing but fading sounds. Here are ten incendiary manifestos whose revolutionary claims never actually came into being.
10 The Revolutionary Catechism
The most radical document of its age, The Revolutionary Catechism was crafted by Russian anarchist and nihilist Sergey Nechayev in 1869. One member of Nechayev’s group of radicals once described him as a
real revolutionist, a peasant who had preserved all the serf’s hatred against his masters.
The manifesto, co-written with Mikhail Bakunin, reveals Nechayev’s radical politics, demanding the total destruction of the Tsarist regime, the old autocratic hierarchy, and, extensively, of the whole society at large.
The text portrays the revolutionary man as a defector from society, with the only goal of bringing about revolution at any cost. In his obsessive pursuit of total demolition, he must not have “any sympathy for this world” and “must hate everyone and everything in it with an equal hatred”, except, of course, for those as fanatically rampant as himself.
Although Nechayev was convicted for the murder of a student and ended up as the Tsar’s special prisoner, he continued his political career until his death in 1882. While the demands of the revolutionary program never materialized, they provided the inspiration for Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s political novel Demons published in 1872, which depicts the political chaos of the 19th century Russia.
9 THE QUEER NATION MANIFESTO
Queer Nation is an LGBT organization founded in March 1990 in New York by HIV/AIDS activists. One of its accomplishments was reclaiming the term queer which has come to define many things. Queer also sneaked from the streets into the academia and mopped the floor with identity politics and the “normal” – or at least tried to.
In June 1990, inflammatory leaflets which embodied the radical political stance of the Queer Nation were being distributed at the New York Pride March. In an angry, in-your-face tone, the manifesto pinpoints the revolution that queers are about to bring:
How can I tell you. How can I convince you, brother, sister that your life is in danger: that everyday you wake up alive, relatively happy, and a functioning human being, you are committing a rebellious act. You as an alive and functioning queer are a revolutionary.
Throughout the anonymous queer confessions, the “I hate straights” line is almost everywhere. In its plea against straight conduct, the text indicates that the “main diving line” between queers and straights is “procreation … and that magic word – Family”. In terms of child rearing, the queer community feels “punished, insulted, cut off, both damned if we try and damned if we abstain”. And here’s one other thing they have to say about reproduction:
It’s as if the propagation of the species is such a fragile directive that without enforcing it as if it were an agenda, humankind would melt back into the primeval ooze.
Could then queer be the perfect antidote for overpopulation?
8 RIOT GRRRL MANIFESTO
The in-your-face politics that queers adopted extend to the Riot Grrrl Movement, which demanded “riots, not diets”. Riot Grrrl is an underground feminist hardcore punk movement that started in the 1990s by Bikini Kill lead singer Kathleen Hanna. In her youth, she had to work as a stripper in order to pay for her education, which led to her future feminist quests.
The Riot Grrrl Manifesto expresses the radical views of the “TruePunkRockSoulCrusaders” whose revolution was all about altering gender roles and the status quo:
BECAUSE we recognize fantasies of Instant Macho Gun Revolution as impractical lies meant to keep us simply dreaming instead of becoming our dreams AND THUS seek to create revolution in our own lives every single day by envisioning and creating alternatives to the bullshit christian capitalist way of doing things.
Although the revolution sought was not attained, the reverberations of the movement can be felt today if we think of Pussy Riot bursting into churches with unorthodox messages for Putin. But how has exactly the music industry scene changed with artists like Beyonce, Lady Gaga, and Miley Cyrus stealing the spotlight nowadays?
7 The Anti-American Manifesto
Left-wing political cartoonist Ted Rall has set America on fire in 2011 when he published The Anti-American Manifesto. Illustrating an America that resembles dystopian novels such as 1984, he aims to “kick people in the ass”, to wake them up from their lethargy, and “to get them thinking”.
As Jeff Winkler suggests in his review published in “The Daily Caller”,
the book is unwavering in its message: the country is dead and rotting thanks to Them and We must rise up and burn what’s left of the corpse in a violent revolution.
Praising action by any means necessary, tarnishing the corrupt conservatives and corporations that suck the life and money out of everything, and pinpointing the country’s extremely fascist tendencies by comparing Obama to Hitler are just a few of the aspects he touches upon in his bloody call to arms.
Reminiscent of Pink Floyd’s song title, Us and Them, the author splits all of his compatriots, with hardcore definitions, between Us, as the “hard-working, underpaid, put upon, thoughtful, freedom-loving, disenfranchised, ordinary people”, and Them, as the “reactionary, stupid, overpaid, greedy, shortsighted, exploitative, power-mad, abusive politicians and corporate executives”.
Through Rall’s boiling lens, America appears as a terminally-ill patient with the “ordinary people”, or in Orwellian language, “the proles”, as the cure. In his glorification of an Apocalyptic scenario, he asks for the American people to come up with solutions and a plan as he is not “good at it” and “wired that way”. He also says that he “MAY BE WRONG ABOUT EVERYTHING”.
6 The Radical Faeries Manifesto
The Radical Faeries are a worldwide network initiated as a way of life, and less as a movement, by gay rights pioneer Harry Hay during the sexual revolution of the 1970s. The equivalent of modern day Shamans, as claimed by Peter Soderberg in a 1985 Spirit Gathering, the radical faeries were inspired by the hippies’ counter cultural movement, mixing elements from Marxism, feminism, environmentalism, radical individualism, anarchism, paganism, and Native American spirituality.
The statements of Joey Cain, Harry Hay’s longtime friend, and that of Bradley Rose, longtime lover of gay rights activist Will Roscoe, are considered to be the classic manifesto. However, the movement abounds with self-definitions and other more personal statements. So who are these faeries and what do they want? They self-proclaim as
a network of faggot farmers, workers, artists, drag queens, political activists, witches, magickians, rural and urban dwellers who see gays and lesbians as a distinct and separate people, with our own culture, ways of being/becoming, and spirituality.
In a free, non-hierarchical community, based on creative expression, capitalism becomes the odd one out:
Mortal society is a dog-eat-dog world-a survival of the fittest, full of give and take, where push comes to shove and the early bird gets all the worms. It pains a faerie’s heart that human creatures could feel at home in this economy of rape. The world could just as easily be a dog-love-dog place. We prefer to respect the sanctity of life. Faeries see the universe as wholly alive and sacred.
Also, they love sex (“every sharing of energy between faeries is sexual, whether or not it involves genitalia”).
5 The BITCH Manifesto
Political scientist and feminist activist Jo Freeman wrote her controversial piece The Bitch Manifesto in 1969 under her movement name “Joreen”. The purpose was to react against how strong and independent women were perceived by society at the time. The text soon became a minor classic of feminist studies, but the organization that was supposed to wear the name of the article never came into being.
The brief manifesto wanted to reclaim the language that was deemed derogatory among women, the same way that black people reclaimed the offensive term “nigger” and gay people the term “queer”:
BITCH does not use this word in the negative sense. A woman should be proud to declare she is a Bitch, because Bitch is Beautiful.
The slogan “Bitch is Beautiful” surely reminds us of “Black is beautiful” and “Gay is good” which became catchphrases for their civil rights movements.
Bitch becomes the perfect antithesis of the docile, weak, delicate, feminine woman and clearly rejects the traditional gender roles:
a Bitch is a threat to the social structures which enslave women and the social values which justify keeping them in their place.
Some would say that Bitches appear here as Supernatural Creatures that are neither male nor female but floating somewhere outside gender. And their sad destiny is that “only with other Bitches can a Bitch be truly free.”
4 The DADA Manifesto
The Dada art movement came into being in 1916 at the Café Voltaire in Zurich, Switzerland. It roared against movements and manifestos, and against conventional and immutable art. Characterized by brevity and self-destructiveness, the non-movement was a
soulless expression of Dionysian excess, a howl of existential despair, and a casualty of war”,
as expressed by Peter Fleming in “The Hamilton Spectator”.
Dada was aimed at waking up the world. The manifesto designed by Romanian and French poet Tristan Tzara in 1918 spoke ardently against the placid state of the world and of art in general, criticizing principles, theories, ideas, and even action:
I write a manifesto and I want nothing, yet I say certain things, and in principle I am against manifestos, as I am also against principles; I write this manifesto to show that people can perform contrary actions together while taking one fresh gulp of air; I am against action; for continuous contradiction, for affirmation too, I am neither for nor against and I do not explain because I hate common sense.
In his view, “DADA DOES NOT MEAN ANYTHING”.
Enraged by other people’s principles and moral systems, the revolutionary poet asserts his own:
I am against systems, the most acceptable system is on principle to have none.
With Dada as the “abolition of logic”, abolition of “every social hierarchy”, “every object, sentiments, obscurities, apparitions”, “abolition of memory”, “abolition of archaeology”, “abolition of prophets”, “abolition of the future”, we can only wonder what remains for Dada to fight against.
The song “DADA DADA DADA” sang of freedom and creative expression and there were few things to stop it. Except for Surrealism, which quickly swallowed it.
3 Emma Goldman’s Manifesto: What I Believe
Rejecting the work and marriage demands of her father from an early age, Emma Goldman promised to be a revolutionary figure since the age of sixteen, when she sailed for America in search for personal freedom. Here, she would devote herself to the cause of anarchism, which at times sparked controversies and won her the denomination of “exceedingly dangerous”.
In her personal manifesto, What I Believe, published by the New York World in 1908, she mockingly calls herself a witch:
It is too bad that we no longer live in the times when witches were burned at the stake or tortured to drive the evil spirit out of them. For, indeed, Emma Goldman is a witch! True, she does not eat little children, but she does many worse things. She manufactures bombs and gambles in crowned heads. B-r-r-r!
The text outlines Goldman’s perspective on a wide range of issues such as property, government, militarism, free speech, the church, marriage and love, and violence, seeking to clear misconceptions about the anarchist philosophy. Her dream was to place all institutions of oppression into her magical cauldron and come up with a new social order.
Goldman’s belief is that “organized churchism has turned religion into a nightmare that oppresses the human soul and holds the mind in bondage”, and that marriage is nothing but an “economic arrangement” training the woman “for the life of a parasite, a dependent, helpless servant, while it furnishes the man the right of a chattel mortgage over a human life.
this is not the age of romanticism, of Romeo and Juliet, Faust and Marguerite, of moonlight ecstasies, of ﬂowers and songs, our first consideration is an income.
Ultimately, her radical views would lead to her arrest, denaturalization, and deportation, as well as to many occasions for ridicule and harassment, until her death in 1940.
2 Southern Manifesto (or the Declaration of Constitutional Principles)
Outrage ensued in the aftermath of the 1954 landmark U.S. Supreme Court case, Brown v. Board of Education, which ruled that segregation in public schools was unconstitutional. Right-wing Southern politicians decided to protest with a ruling of their own, signing the Southern Manifesto in 1956. The document represented a sharp and vicious attack on the court’s decision on the grounds that it was “an abuse of judicial power”.
As long as “the original Constitution does not mention education”, the Supreme Court then should have no say in this matter – or at least that is how the manifesto’s argument goes. The document also contends that
parents should not be deprived by Government of the right to direct the lives and education of their own children.
The reference is of course to include white parents.
The 101 members of Congress worried that the decision was
destroying the amicable relations between the white and Negro races that have been created through ninety years of patient effort by the good people of both races
and that it had
planted hatred and suspicion where there has been heretofore friendship and understanding.
Such amicable the relations were that it took almost 100 years since the Emancipation Proclamation for desegregation to become reality and more than 150 years for the nation’s first black president.
1 Women in the Islamic State – a Manifesto (ISIS Manifesto)
The Islamic State manifesto on women was published in January 2015 by an-all female militia of ISIS, with the intention of drawing women from countries in the region to battle. According to the English translation provided by the world’s first counter-extremist think tank, the Quilliam Foundation, the text surprises in detail an idealized version of Islamic women’s lives, which, in terms of gender roles, is not far from the 18th or 19th centuries. Marriage and motherhood should be the only pursuits of women, the document says:
It is considered legitimate for a girl to be married at the age of nine,
but ideally, most pure girls should be married by sixteen or seventeen, “while they are still young and active”.
In terms of education, the treatise claims they are not in favor of “illiteracy, backwardness or ignorance”. However, it is preferred that girls complete their formal schooling by age 15 because
there is with no need for her to flit here and there to get degrees and so on, just so she can try to prove that her intelligence is greater than a man’s,
implying that this clearly isn’t the case. It is also enforced that only under “exceptional circumstances” should women pursue things outside of the home.
The text portrays Western society as a godless, and perverse figure who has led women astray from their roles of mothers and wives, stressing the notion that
women gain nothing from the idea of their equality with men apart from thorns.
So far, there is little to no evidence of a Western woman with thorns.