Revolutionary Papers

Revolutionary Papers is a transnational research collaboration exploring 20th century periodicals of Leftanti-imperial and anti-colonial critical production. Read More

Revolutionary Papers

A Transnational Research and Teaching Initiative of Anticolonial and Anti-Imperial Periodicals from the Global South

by Hana Morgenstern, Koni Benson and Mahvish Ahmad

Revolutionary Papers is an international, transdisciplinary research and teaching initiative on anticolonial, anti-imperial and related left periodicals of the Global South. It includes over forty university-based researchers, as well as editors, archivists, and movement organizers from around the world. The initiative looks at the way that periodicals—including newspapers, magazines, cultural journals, and newsletters—played a key role in establishing new counter publics, social and cultural movements, institutions, political vocabularies and art practises. Operating as forums for critique and debate under conditions of intense repression, periodicals facilitated processes of decolonization during colonialism and after the formal end of empire, into the neo-colonial era. Revolutionary Papers traces the ways that periodicals supported social, political and cultural reconstruction amidst colonial destruction, building alternative networks that circulated new political ideas and dared to imagine worlds after empire.

Why Periodicals?

Periodicals have the capacity to disrupt how postcolonialism, anticolonialism and decolonization are researched, taught and debated in educational institutions and in the public sphere. The newspaper and journal challenge the canonical, Anglophone, individuated and top down framework of academic inquiry, by confronting us with progressive thought and revolutionary history as a social and collaborative process.

Research on decolonization is largely focused on canonized historical events and political figures, around a cluster of male intellectuals and political leaders whose work is available in European languages. There is no doubt of the importance of figures like Frantz Fanon, Aimé Césaire, Mahatma Gandhi, Kwame Nkrumah and Chinua Achebe, or events like the Algerian Revolution or the Bandung Afro-Asian Conference. Yet what movement periodicals offer is a broader look into activities of communities, organisations, theorists, activists and artists whose thought, imagination and labour created the world that made the leadership of these figures and the course of these events possible.

In just one issue of a given magazine we may find essays, stories, poems, comics, conference proceedings, letters to the editor and illustrations that reflect a conversation between dozens and sometimes hundreds of people on questions such as gender equality, democratic process, languages, land seizures, labour strikes, poetry, rallies or revolutionary art. Although not without its limits, the periodical is a window into this overlooked social scale of decolonization, and a site where anticolonial thought and culture were consolidated through local and international exchange.

Emphasising the social and collaborative form of the periodical, Revolutionary Papers examines its role in three different areas: the counter institutional, counter political, and counter cultural.

The counter-institutional stream interrogates the way periodicals acted as alternatives to colonial and neo-colonial institutions, or as vehicles of recovery in the aftermath of colonial devastation and postcolonial repression. As low-cost, flexible publishing venues, periodicals circulated easily, nurturing local and regional culture through the publication of new thinkers, and the transmission of key ideas and debates. Many periodicals acted as political, educational, literary or cultural counter-institutions as well as platforms that supported the production of communities of culture and critique, catalysing new scenes, movements and counter-publics.This stream therefore looks at how periodicals functioned as incubators for the development of oppositional politics and culture and facilitated the formation of local, regional and global networks.

The counter-political stream looks at how anticolonial periodicals developed unique political vocabularies that addressed local struggles and tied these struggles to global revolutionary politics. Anticolonial periodicals allowed leftists to present new critiques and analyses of (neo)colonial conditions, and experiment with novel ideas of how to constitute anti-colonial institutions, politics and cultures. We look at how journals engaged in international debates and exchange, translating, defining and re-inventing concepts like socialism, liberation, imperialism, patriarchy, capitalism, racism, secularism, or democracy across contexts and languages like isiZulu, isiXhosa, Kiswahili, Spanish, Arabic and Urdu.

The counter-cultural stream interrogates how new anticolonial aesthetics, art practises, and print forms took shape through circulation between local, regional and international channels as well as how anti-colonial cultural periodicals contributed to literacy and political awareness. Periodicals fostered local literary and art scenes outside of the colonial sphere and the Western metropole, challenging and reconstituting the aesthetic and literary parameters of anticolonial and postcolonial cultural production. We examine how the periodical form pushed experiments in socialist realism, surrealism, regional poetics, practises of translation, and editorialising in a direct challenge to dominant nationalist, colonial, and neo-colonial constructions of what constitutes ‘culture’.

Weaving these three streams together, Revolutionary Papers builds upon emerging research on anticolonial and postcolonial periodicals, which remain under-researched and undertheorized in national and international contexts (Bulson 2106; Halim 2017; Harrison 2015; Kendall 2006; Morgenstern 2020; Nassar 2017; Newell 2002; Seligmann Gonzales 2021; Steiber 2017). Revolutionary Papers also intervenes in the recent interest in decolonization within the academy, by arguing that the rich histories and cultures of anticolonial struggles are strikingly absent from current attempts to integrate thinkers of decolonization into research and curriculum (Ahmad 2022).

By addressing these lacunae, the project produces new insights across disciplines in the humanities and social sciences. In literary and cultural studies, periodicals highlight the networks of cultural infrastructure necessary for publishing and art-making outside of the West, as well as outside European languages. They offer concrete histories of diverse literary milieus, their writers and works, including politics, materiality, ideology, aesthetics, literary debates and networks of local and transnational influence. Such study offers a robust alternative, and complement to, the dominant disciplinary tendency to study postcolonial literature primarily translated and canonised in/by the West, often read at a disconnect from the cultural scenes that shaped the works. In the social sciences, research into periodicals questions a tacit, positivist assumption that social theory is individually authored, existing in forms easily retrievable, translatable and consumable within the academy. Periodicals offer a process-oriented, collective, social movement and/or organisation-based archives that highlight how ideas were often articulated in conversation and in the heat of political struggle.

© copyright 2021 Hana Morgenstern, Mahvish Ahmad and Koni Benson.

What We Do

International Conferences, Workshops and Gatherings

For more information on our International 2022 conference at UWC in Capetown, South Africa, see our Conference Teaching Tool.

Online Events

Revolutionary Papers regularly hosts online workshops and events around the themes of the project. Between 2020-21, a series of related seminars on the project’s Counter-Institutional, Counter-Political, and Counter-Cultural streams were organised. Read more about these workshops here.

In November 2021, Revolutionary Papers also co-hosted the joint launch of the SARRC Archive and the RP Digital Teaching Tools at a seminar titled “Dissident Histories of Pakistan.”

For upcoming events, please follow us on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram, or refer to our Events page.

Public Pedagogy Workshops 

Workshops in university  classrooms, libraries, and with community and activist organisations in the UK, South Africa, Pakistan and other countries where RP researchers are located.

Teaching Tools 

Designed by RP members and collaborators

Digital Teaching Tools designed to facilitate learning about or teaching with revolutionary periodicals. Click here to view the teaching tools and learn more.

Series collaboration Revolutionary Papers and Africa is A Country (2023-24)

This year long series features posts from a wide range of authors working with the archival remnants of African and black diaspora anti-colonial movement materials. The series aims to show how papers from the Pan-African left from across the continent and wider diaspora can reinvigorate a politics and pedagogy that run counter to the current cooptation of anti-systemic histories. These papers from the midst of anti-colonial revolt remind us of the messy, rich alternatives imagined by those in the heat of struggle. You can read the series  here.

Special Issue for Radical History Review (2024)

This will include an introductory essay conceptualizing the place of revolutionary papers in the making of anti-colonial and anti-authoritarian ideas and struggles; 10-15 peer-reviewed articles and teaching tools unpacking how specific periodicals played a key role in establishing alternatives to colonial infrastructure and cultural domains during and after decolonization; a curated poster exhibition which will feature periodical covers and art with annotations and commentary on their historical and political context; a teaching tool which will illustrate how educators can integrate left periodicals into university and movement settings; Roundtable/reviews focused on political education using radical, self-produced periodicals from movements in the Global South.