By Molly Berkemeier
Hardback RRP: £24.99
In The Violent Image: Insurgent Propaganda and the New Revolutionaries, Neville Bolt attempts to shine a light on the changing nature of Propaganda of the Deed (POTD) from its 19th anarchical origins to its modern day co-option by global insurgents.
For Bolt, the proliferation of digital mass media in the 20th century transformed POTD into a systemic tactic that can be exploited by modern insurgents. For the users of 2012 POTD the goal is to create a media event capable of enthusing the target population enough to bring about social transformation or state revolution. Modern POTD is at once military, tactical, political, communicative, and may be either strategic or opportune. For Bolt, it is the aftershock of the event, the so-called “lightning rod for collective memory” that changes the act into a communications tool and form of political marketing allowing insurgents to instantly connect with a global population (7).
The true heart of Bolt’s argument lies in his discussion of memory and narrative. He concludes that when used successfully, POTD transmitted by information media becomes a metaphor that triggers a collective memory or narrative of grievance that then fuses memory to identity. The role of the visceral image is paramount here, as the image alone possesses the symbolic capability allowing the message to be read by a universal audience. POTD becomes the insurgent’s central operating concept, providing a way to quickly communicate with an increasingly diffuse population.
The new revolutionaries of 2012 have demonstrated their ability to exploit the new media landscape and use POTD as a tool to communicate a narrative and gather support. The many uprisings nestled within the Arab Spring lend evidence to the importance of communication technologies and inflammatory images (pardon the morbid pun) for mobilizing support.
The crucial question for contemporary revolutionists thus concerns to what degree virtual collective action can be an alternative to violence: “Can images and ideas alone bring down governments?” (209). Given that a state is unlikely to willingly relinquish control to what it perceives as a rebellion, the crucial question is whether spontaneous mass action produced by POTD imagery can overcome or divide a states armed force. If insurgents are able to fracture a states military force through POTD alone, this could potentially provide a modern alternative to violent revolution.
Bolt claims POTD in the hands of 1878’s anarchists failed due to their inability to transmit their message to the population. It stands to see if 2012’s insurgents can overcome today’s problem of linking mass virtual mobilization to collective action, and whether or not a digital uprising can successfully bring about political and social change. Regardless, The Violent Image is a fruitful read.