Resistance & Revolution: social texts of social change

Marx said that the point is not to analyze the world but to change it. This sampler collects texts mostly from thinkers whose first motivation was to change the world but who articulated, at least implicitly, theories of how the world works in their polemical writing.


This paper is broken down into three basic groups of thought: the thesis, antithesis, and synthisis in an attempt to explain how each of these revolutionaries used social texts to influence the masses and incite resistance and revolution. I aim to define what a social text is, and demonstrate how these social texts or manifestos used tactics such as repetition, circular logic, and moral/religious justification to lure readers into questioning or evaluating the stations quo and norms of their time and how this then leads the reader to incite the resistance and revolution the writer instigates, either thru conflict, peaceful resistance, or the enlightening of their other.

Whether the social construct or topic the writer of social text adresses has false pretence or not is not a concern addressed in this paper, for the sake of this paper I will be more focused on exploring the ways in which revolutionaries have tend to use much of the same tactics (knowingly or not) in their social text to spur the masses into thoughts that make them question the powers that be or social constructs at hand, and thus lead to social change, and how subsequent generations are influenced by both the past and present.

Although Hitler and MLK are very different leaders, with different motives, they used some of the same tactics to achieve social change. Regardless of my opinions about those two different instigators of social change and the changes they instigated, they, like the revolutionaries I will analyze, had utilized a few tactics in their social text that seem to be recurring in all of the people I will be analyzing. Of those two I would lump them in different categories MLK Jr. as peaceful resistance and using integration of the Other, and Hitler as promoting solidarity via the excluding the Other, but both educated the masses into believing in their movements and used their individual ideas of a moral high ground to justify, legitimize, unify, and motivate the masses.

Social Text

Let’s start with defining Social Text in a more concreet way; A Social Text is any text that seeks to incite social change; any text can have the potential of becoming a social text if the writer seeks to educate the readers of a social fact or condition in order to incite the questioning of that society’s said social fact or condition in order to incite change, but not every text is a social text. Many instances of propaganda, for example, could be viewed as examples of social text if it seeks to influence the reader into believing a certain perspective and syntheses of opinion that will cause the reader to “change their attitude toward the subject in the target audience to further a political agenda” ( Of the social text I have been evaluating there were a number of tactics used within the texts’ rhetoric, which serve to incite social change. There are two main categorize I will group these text under: those that seek to exclude the Other, and those that seek to include the Other. Within these two groups there tends to be several rhetoric tactics that can appear in either group of these categories. These rhetoric tactics include circulator logic, defining or redefining their group and/or Other, creating we-ness, patriotism, educating, using simplified logic to appeal to the masses, and proof of legitimacy or legitimization (usually using an appeal or claim of moral superiority), and/or the stating or insinuation of real or perceived inferiorities of the social construct they seek to change.

Conflict-Dialectics (Thesis)

Next it will be helpful to look at the text I will be analyzing in a somewhat chronological order as many of the social texts and their creators have had influences on some of those that came after them, and it also makes the Marx’s view of the materialist dialectic approach to viewing social change more apparent to the trained eye as there are theses, antithesis, and synthesis, in not just the social movements they incite but also the forms in which these social texts have taken and it is interesting to see them in this context. With that said our amply bearded conflict theorist Marx, will be the first to have his manifesto addressed in this paper.


Marx wrote about dialectic materialism, and talked about how the proletariats will rise up and overthrow the capitalist system, explaining how Capitalism leads to ever expanding markets that the exploited labor will revolt and communism will rein supreme. When he states, “The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles… oppressor and oppressed, stood in constant opposition to one another…a fight that each time ended in a revolutionary re-constitution of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes” (Lemert 2010, 39), in short he is saying that throughout history class struggle has lead to revolution and revolt. Capitalism or “…modern bourgeois society…[came from] feudal society…but established new classes, new conditions of oppression, new forms of struggle in place of old ones” (Lemert 2010, 39), these classes are the Bourgeoisie and the proletariat. And by pointing this out he is outlining a concrete example of dialectic materialism, but more importantly this demonstrates how Marx was using the rhetoric tactics of educating the masses into questioning the powers that be, and was defining how the proletariat is Other-ed by the Bourgeoisie; putting this in the framework of sociologist Oliver Cox’s center and periphery, one could consider that Marx had been enlightening the proletariat that they were on periphery of their society, and that the Bourgeoisie were in the center. Marx says the “…increase in the means of exchange and in commodities…gave way to commerce, to navigation, to industry, an impulse never before known, and thereby, to the revolutionary element, a rapid development” (Lemert 2010, 39), the emergence of capitalism freed the surfs from toiling under the noblemen, destroyed feudalism, and also lead to a world-market.

Marx says that “each step in the development of the bourgeoisie was accompanied by a corresponding political advance of that class” (Lemert 2010, 40) concurring for itself both freedom from the monarchy and control of the State, in a way that makes the State “but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie” (Lemert 2010, 40); they go from the rule of monarchy, to the rule of a bourgeoisie. The exploited serf, becomes an exploited proletarian; “for exploitation, veiled by religious and political illusions, it has substituted naked, shameless, direct, brutal exploitation” (Lemert 2010, 40). It turned the self-sufficient markets of Feudalism, into the world-market of Capitalism that “…need a constantly expanding market for its products…in place of the old wants, satisfied by the production of the country, we find new wants, requiring for their satisfaction the products of distant lands and climes”(Lemert 2010, 41), taking both raw materials and the intellectual offerings of other cultures, whilst spreading its class structure on a global scale. “It compels all nations, on pain of extinction, to adopted the bourgeois mode of production; it compels them to introduce what it calls civilization into their midst…to become bourgeois themselves.”(Lemert 2010, 41), but doesn’t stop there; on top of that it makes the “barbarian and semi-barbarian countries dependent on civilized ones, nations of peasants on nations of bourgeois…” (Lemert 2010, 41)

Marx addresses “the epidemic of over-production” (Lemert 2010, 42) explaining how producing too much devalues both the worker and the goods, and that “by the conquest of new markets, and by the more thorough exploitation of the old ones” (Lemert 2010, 42) they are stoking a resentment that will spur revolution. The proletarians are reduced to “slaves of the bourgeois class, and of the bourgeois State; they are the daily and hourly enslaved by the machine, by the over-looker, and, above all, the individual bourgeois manufacture…the more openly this despotism proclaims gain to be its end and aim, the more hateful and embittering it is ” (Lemert 2010, 43).


Lenin took Marx’s theory of dialectic materialism and tried to put it into action. First he started with explaining the imperative need for a well defined manifesto, to keep his party on track. Lenin states “Without a revolutionary theory there can be no revolutionary movement” (Lemert 2010, 215); the revolutionary theory is the basis for shaping the way in which the revolution is able to shape society. He states that this is important for three main reasons:

  1. They need to state the theory in order to prevent the party from going another way. “…it has not yet completely settled its reckoning with other tendencies in revolutionary thought which threaten to divert the movement from the proper path” (Lemert, 216).
  2. It is an international movement that can only succeed if it “…assimilates the experience of other countries…[using] A critical attitude required towards this experience…” (Lemert 2010, 216).
  3. It is an unprecedented task at hand, and will need an advanced theory for guidance; “…the national tasks of Russian Social-Democracy are such as have never confronted any other Socialist party in the world…. the role of vanguard can be fulfilled only by a party that is guided by an advanced theory…” (Lemert 2010, 216)

He then goes on to explain that for this to succeed it must include all classes, and educate the workers so that they may be involved, keep tyranny at bay, and make informed decisions. “To bring political knowledge to the workers the Social-Democrats must go among all classes of the population, must dispatch units of their army in all directions… The Social-Democrats ideal should not be a trade-union secretary, but a tribune of the people, able to react to every manifestation of tyranny and oppression, no matter where it takes place, no matter what stratum or class of people it affects…” (Lemert 2010, 217), he wants to keep it honest and equal without special favors and exemptions for those that might otherwise exploit the working man. By doing so he is insinuating that any other system would be inferior and could exploit the worker. Unfortunately, Lenin’s idealist theory was bastardized into Stalinism once applied to State. But for the purpose of this paper, it is a wonderful example of the rhetoric used in social text to incite social change, and a good example of how Lenin recognized, and utilized, the need to educate the proletariat for advancing the social change he sought to instigate. Lenin is stating the importance of educating the masses, and checks and ballences, in order to keep the lower classes from being Other-ed and the upper classes from getting too powerful and oppressive of the lower classes.


After Lenin came Mao. Mao was another dialectic minded communist, who borrowed not only from Marx but also Lenin. Mao however, tended to over simplify Marx’s concepts to a more extreme degree than Lenin in order to appeal to the uneducated masses. Using oversimplification and repetition to sell his perspective and incite the uneducated masses into movement or support. The tactics he used were circular logic, oversimplification, repetition, and the inclusion of a Chinese adage for familiarity/ relateability.

As Mao uses a dialectic approach to draw on Lenin and Marx, he seems to be using quite a bit of the circular logic to simplify Marx theories, bring it into line with a Chinese adage he seems to be implementing in order to be more relatable to the proletarians of his society, and for repetition unto itself as a rhetoric tool. It seems almost as if he were pandering to the uneducated masses, by employing the same tactic that Fox News uses, oversimplification and repetition to sell ones perspective and incite the uneducated masses into movement or support.

Mao he says “…various pairs of opposition are in turn opposed to one another. In this way all things in the objective world and human thought are formed and impelled to move” (Lemert 2010, 267), he is saying that all things exist in opposite pairings that spur the other on, and due to their complementary yet opposite existence, one leads to another and both stand as contrast to the other and this forms the identity of all things; “…a contradictory aspect cannot exists in isolation. Without the other aspect which it is opposed to, each aspect loses the condition of its existence” (Lemert 2010, 267) and uses paired opposites of the natural and physical world to demonstrate his theory on revolution. By doing this Mao is describing Marx’s concept of dialectic materialism in a very simplified way, and is using circular logic and repetition. Mao then goes on to state that “All contradictory things are interconnected, and they not only coexist in an entity under certain conditions, but also transform themselves into each other under certain conditions- this is the whole meaning of the identity of contradictions” (Lemert 2010, 269), and so revolution leads to peace and peace to revolution, and when there is a communist revolution “…by means of revolution, the proletariat, once the ruled, becomes the ruler, while the bourgeoisie, originally the ruler becomes the ruled, and is transferred to the position originally occupied by its opposite” (Lemert 2010, 268), he believed this would take root all over the world as it had in the Soviet Union. He seems to be holding up the Soviet Union as an ideal society, an exemplifying communist theory incarnate; this comes off as propagandist, more so than a theory on revolution and revolt and thus is an example of states superiority over the social construct of capitalism.

Towards the end he adds “the struggle within a contradiction runs thought a process from beginning to end and causes one process to transform into another, and as this struggle within the contradiction is present everywhere, we say the tradiction is unconditional, absolute” (Lemert 2010, 270), and so it is everywhere and in everything; in not so many words, much like Marx, Mao in essence is also laying out that an end in itself is the beginning of its opposition’s overture. That the revolution leads to its end, and its end leads to revolution; it is Mao’s oversimplified perspective on Marx.

Peaceful Resistance (Antithesis)

After the conflict-dialectic approach of Marxist followers, came the peaceful resistance movement, which was exemplified in a big way by Gandhi. Like Marx, Gandhi sees the exploitation of the proletariat by the bourgeois under capitalism; he uses different words but it is the same general concept: there are capitalist elites exploiting the workers, but this time the subjugated are in colonies. The center is occupied by the powerful elites, the periphery by the exploited colonies. A huge difference between the Conflict-Dialectics and the Peaceful Resistance movements was that the first was predominantly influential in acts of violent resistance and serves as a thesis, to the antithesis of peaceful resistance which followed it.


Gandhi educates readers when he points out the injustices of the social constructs he seeks to change, and how the ruling ideas serve only those who are ruling over them. He explains that idly enjoying the protection of colonialist rule is in fact supporting the war, violence, and exploitation that colonialism breeds. He then goes on to explain the religious and moral underpinnings for his theory, or as Lemert put it, Gandhi used “…his commitment to nonviolence (ahimsa). To counter the notion of passivity in nonviolent resistance, he used the ideal of satyagraha, in which truth and love are considered the source of forceful resistance to violence (himsa)” (Lemert 2010, 265). Thus Gandi was using religion as a tactic to motivate masses under an ideology of moral superiority thru non-violent resistance, while legitimizing his belief in peaceful resistance thru the same said ideology. Unlike Marx, Gandhi sees nonviolent resistance is a viable tactic for revolution. But still uses social texts with some of the same rhetoric tactics, though from a non-violent perspective, to intrigue and lure in followers who will rebel.

Gandhi in his own words says, “A votary of ahimsa…remains true to his faith if the spring of all his actions is compassion, if he shuns to the best of his ability the destruction of the tiniest creature, tries to save it, and thus incessantly strives to be free of the deadly coil of himsa” (Lemert, 266). He then goes on to elaborate that he “…make[s] no distinction, from the point of view of ahimsa, between combatants and non-combatants. He who volunteers to serve a band of dacoits [robber], by working as their carrier, or their watchman while they are about their business, or their nurse when they are wounded, is as much guilty of dacoty [robbery] as the dacoits themselves” (Lemert 2010, 266), making clear his realization that those who enable violence and exploitation are just as guilty as those who kill and exploit. He is a believer that all people are accountable for their actions and should own their mistakes, that “A devotee of Truth may not do anything in deference to convention. He must always hold himself open to correction, and whenever he discovers himself to be wrong he must confess it at all costs and atone for it” (Lemert 2010, 267). Gandhi’s peaceful ideology was both revolutionary in concept and as an affective tactic for those who wished to revolt from oppression and inequality in an ethical way. It was a huge influence on civil rights and human rights movements, reaching beyond colonial India and Africa to England and America.


King, inspired by Gandhi’s teachings, also uses nonviolent resistance. “With nonviolent resistance, no individual or group need submit to any wrong, nor need resort to violence in order to right a wrong….When…the mass movement reputes violence while moving resolutely towards its goals, its opponents are reveled as the instigators and practitioners of violence if it occurs. Then public support is magnetically attracted to the advocates of nonviolence, while those who employ violence are literally disarmed by overwhelming sentiment against their stand” (Lemert 2010, 353). As one can see from that passage, King used righteousness and moral superiority to unite people in fervor for change, while at the same time shaming anyone who would oppose the revolution. And adds that laws regulate behavior, and the masses can “…mold[] public sentiment” by challenging the unjust. He unites them with an in-group vs. out-group paradigm, that shames those who are out-group for being morally inferior, without being offensive enough to keep people in the out-group from joining the in-group of the movement if they so chose to chose to convert.
Martin Luther King, Jr. writes that he had been feeling discouraged about “…the power of love in solving social problems” (Lemert 2010, 351), until he heard a lecture on the life and teachings of Gandhi and was inspired to read more about it. King was inspired by Gandhi’s teachings and then realized that “Love for Gandhi was a potent instrument for social and collective transformation. It was in this Gandhian emphasis on love and nonviolence that [King] discovered the method for social reform…” (Lemert 2010, 351-352). It gave King a renewed belief in nonviolent resistance and spurred in him a paradigm shift.
When King notes how when law regulates behavior it plays a role in “…molding public sentiment. The enforcement of the law is itself a form of peaceful persuasion…[but] for laws to be obeyed, men must believe they are right” (Lemert 2010, 354). And it is in this context that King says nonviolent resisters can have the most impact and can “implement just law by appealing to the conscience of the great decent majority who through blindness, fear, pride, or irrationality have allowed their conscience to sleep” (Lemert 2010, 354). When he does this it is stating that the social construct he seeks to change is not only inferior to what he promotes, but is furthers his argument for the legitimacy of disregarding unjust laws and further shames those who might oppose his social text.

The Synthesis

During the 1960’s and there about, was the emergence of thinkers who sought to evoke social change but had been knowingly and/or unknowingly influenced by their predecessors for social change.


Mills addresses this synthesis of past and present influence when he coined concept of a “Sociological Imagination”. Not only does it contextualize the thinkers of his day, but harkens back to Marx’s perspective that people’s perceptions are influenced by the era they live in, but adds that certain perspectives are like watersheds, defining the era and shaping the minds of the people in it (but doesn’t say anything about the bourgeois shaping this mindset). He points out how the ability for one to see oneself and others within the larger matrix of the sociological and historical influences of their time, all the while seeing how this also affects one’s internal perspective and external life is the sociological imagination at work. Mills was important because he shows how “With this lens one can shift between the views of one’s self internally and externally, in society and as an individual.” He uses the contextualizing of social thoughts as a way to educate people into understanding “the sociological imagination [was] becoming…the major common denominator of our cultural life and its signal features” (Lemert 2010, 358). In the revolutionary time in which he wrote, it was this perspective of individuals in society, and society influence on individuals internally and externally, this holistic and inclusive view which “reveal (and which shape) man’s nature in this time of civil unrest and ideological conflict” (Lemert 2010, 358). In short Mills manifesto points out that it is the questioning of society and the seeing of one’s self in society that incites social change; his perspective brings into focus that it was the enlightening of others that spurs resistance and revolution. His social text relies heavily on the education of others via contextualization.

The Students for a Democratic Society

In 1962, The Students for a Democratic Society wrote their social text "Participatory Democracy" (from The Port Huron Statement); it was a social text stating the need for their movement to have a manifesto, and it appealed to the masses’ patriotism as a means to create we-ness between the writers and readers, and then goes on to point out how the country’s actions vs. ideologies as a concrete example showing that these Students for a Democratic Society were basing their perspective on empirical proof, which shows legitimacy; but also appeals to the generation’s disillusionment while promoting their cause: they are a nonviolent group oriented toward social change that “…should be generally organized with well-being and dignity of man as the essential measure of success” (Lemert 2010, 361). This manifesto for a manifesto appeals to disillusionment of that generation, serves to create a we-ness thru patriotism which appeals to uneducated masses, and the rebuking of the social constraints they were against while defining a loose fluid description of the goals they set to achieve in their social text. They also seem to be doing what Marx might consider promoting class-for-itself, while at the same time promoting Gandhi’s concept of peaceful resistance. It is a synthesis of the two main groups that came before it, and uses the same tactics as both but with different names.

Audre Lorde

Lorde speaks on behalf of the black and lesbians feminists, pointing out the racism and discrimination within the feminist movement; she encourages white feminists to adopt a wider and more feminine frame of reference than the racist patriarchic trope they had indeed been viewing issues thru; she encourages the cooperative embracing of all women’s differences as a strengthening tactic for the movement to unify for true feminist change. She demonstrates the patriarch view her colleges had been using when she says, “Advocating the mere tolerance of differences between women is the grossest reformism. It is the total denial of the creative function of difference in our lives” (Lemert 2010, 450); She then goes on to say, “divide and concur must become define and empower… I urge each and every one of us here to reach down into that deep place of knowledge inside herself and touch that terror and loathing of any difference that lives there. See whose face it wears. Then the personal as the political can begin to illuminate all our choices” (Lemert 2010, 451).

Then in 1979 Audre Lorde used "The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House" to point out the racism and discrimination within the feminist movement. It encouraged white feminists to adopt a wider and more feminine frame of reference than they had before, and encouraged cooperative embracing of all women’s differences as a strengthening tactic for the movement to unify for change under. She demonstrates the patriarch view her colleges had been using when she says, “Advocating the mere tolerance of differences between women is the grossest reformism. It is the total denial of the creative function of difference in our lives” (Lemert 2010, 450); She then goes on to say, “divide and concur must become define and empower… I urge each and every one of us here to reach down into that deep place of knowledge inside herself and touch that terror and loathing of any difference that lives there. See whose face it wears. Then the personal as the political can begin to illuminate all our choices” (Lemert 2010, 451). She shows fellow feminists that compartmentalizing and excluding black women serves to undermine their movement, and to do so she uses several of the same previously noted tactics for inciting social change, such as legitimizing her stance, defines and then re-defines the group’s paradigm but does so for people already in a social movement to strengthen that movement by re-defining it. She enlightens feminists to broaden the movement into inclusiveness by making them aware of the racisms within feminism, and defining that racism as a patriarchal social constraint. One of her tactics was to use empirical proof, the fact that only two black women were at the conference she delivers this speech at, bring to light that this was legitimately happening. She created we-ness by pointing out that they were all women, and defines the patriarchic oppressors as a mutual other to the group; going on to define the segregations within feminism as a patriarchic social construct, which serves to make the listeners more apt to consider integration by pointing out how the common other, men’s oppression of women in society, does not serve them. This unifying against an external common oppression serves to incite responses in the group for a more united sisterhood against the external other, as it creates stronger we-ness within in the group.


Social text can be used to instigate masses into changing a social construct, and many social texts that have done just this tend to exhibit some of the same rhetoric tactics. Regardless of what the movement is or how one feels about said movement the many of these social texts utilized many of the same rhetoric tactics and tended to be influenced knowingly or not by predecessors who also advocated for social changes.

Resistance and Revolution

Marx, Karl and Friedrich Engels. 1848. "The Manifesto of Class Struggle" (39-43)
Gandhi, Mohandas Karamchand. 1927. "Nonviolent Force: A Spiritual Dilemma" (265-267)
King, Martin Luther, Jr. 1958. "The Power of Nonviolent Action" (351-354)
Mao Tse-tung, "Identity, Struggle, Contradiction" (267-270)
Lenin, Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov (V. I.). 1917-21. "What Is to Be Done?" (215-217)
Mills, C. Wright. 1959. "The Sociological Imagination" (355-358)
Students for a Democratic Society. 1962. "Participatory Democracy" (from The Port Huron Statement) (358-361)
Lorde, Audre. 1979. "The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House" (449-451)

Mills Library

Look at chapter 5 "Tradition and Revolution" in Callinicos, Alex. 2004. Making History : Agency, Structure, and Change in Social Theory. Brill Academic Publishers. (Ebrary BD450 — .C23 2004eb)
Skocpol, Theda.

Skocpol, Theda. 1979. States and social revolutions : a comparative analysis of France, Russia, and China. Cambridge ; New York : Cambridge University Press.

Foran, John (ed.). 1997. revolutions. London ; New York : Routledge. [electronic resource]

Tilly, Charles.1978. From mobilization to revolution. New York : McGraw-Hill. (303.6 T579f 1978)

Unknown. A course syllabus for "The Sociology of Revolution"

hi Amy, I missed the email on commenting until today..and for some reason I cannot comment via the comment link!
This is very interesting. I would narrow the focus and give more detail on fewer topics.

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