Politics of Naming

The politics of naming and its implications (why some events were called and treated as revolutions in their times, only to be renamed differently in the scholarship)

More often than not, scholarship focuses either on structural definitions of this event or on the historical actors’ subjectivity (i.e., a revolution is a revolution if the actors say it is). In this session though, we move away from these questions by focusing on how and why events considered as revolutions in their own times have come to be named differently. For example, why is the Algerian struggle against the French, considered by many revolutionaries in the 60s and 70s as the revolution par excellence, named a war of independence? On the other hand, how is it that the Mexican, Cuban, or Russian revolutions have come to be viewed as “permanent” or “perpetual revolutions,” long after the conflicts were over and stable governments were established? Does the answer to our question lie in the fact that the revolutions in Mexico, Cuba, and Russia were fought between national citizens, whereas the revolution in Algeria was fought between colonized subjects in Algeria and French imperialists? If so, then why is there no strong debate over whether to use the name “civil war” to classify the big conflicts of the twentieth century in Mexico or Cuba? This session thus allows us to once again build on our previous questions of core vs derivative revolutions, as well as deepen the discussion of the previous session by examining whether and in what ways the historiographic tidying up of global revolutions along a linear genealogy has played a role in the naming and renaming of revolutionary events.