is a SATURDAY 01.12.08 — Gerald Raunig — Art and Revolution

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Saturday Night — 01.12.08 — Gerald Raunig — Art and Revolution
1. About This Saturday 01.12.08
2. About Art and Revolution
3. About Gerald Raunig [with links to Gerald’s texts]
4. Molecular Revolutions and Transversal Art Practices
5. Introduction: The Concatenation of Art and Revolution
“. . . to say the revolution is itself utopia of immanence is not to say that it is a dream, something that is not realized or that is only realized by betraying itself. On the contrary, it is to posit revolution as plane of immanence, infinite movement and absolute survey, but to the extent that these features connect up with what is real here and now in the struggle against capitalism, relaunching new struggles whenever the earlier one is betrayed.” –
1. About This Saturday 01.12.08
What: Discussion with Gerald Raunig
When: 7pm
Where: 16 Beaver Street, 4th Floor
Who: Free and Open to all
How to think or assess the status of a revolutionary politics today? What in fact constitutes a revolutionary machine? What are its components, how does it work, what does it do? And what if anything is the relation of artistic and cultural practice to revolution?
In his book “Art and Revolution”, Gerald Raunig begins the ambitious task of not only asking such questions, but actually constructing a map of different critical, political and artistic reference points to provide answers. What results is a very interesting account and entry into rethinking the relation between art and the political. Rather than attempting to give political activism and aesthetic practices their own competence or specific terrain, Raunig instead constructs a useful and palpable notion of a revolutionary politics – one in which both activist and artistic practices find a shared ground.
Please join us this Saturday evening for a discussion with Gerald Raunig. The evening will be divided into three parts.
Part 1 – Gerald will introduce his book, “Art and Revolution: Transversal Activism in the Long Twentieth Century” and his reasons and background for writing it.
Part 2 – Will be a live interview, in which some of us will prepare some questions for Gerald. (For those of you who have a chance to read the book or even the article posted below, please consider writing some questions in advance – we will collect all questions at the beginning of the event for the interview phase)
Part 3 – We will open up the discussion with all who are present.
We look forward to your participation.
2. About …
Art and Revolution
Transversal Activism in the Long Twentieth Century
Translated by Aileen Derieg
Gerald Raunig has written an alternative art history of the “long twentieth century,” from the Paris Commune of 1871 to the turbulent counter-globalization protests in Genoa in 2001. Meticulously moving from the Situationists and Sergei Eisenstein to Viennese Actionism and the PublixTheatreCaravan, Art and Revolution takes on the history of revolutionary transgressions and optimistically charts an emergence from its tales of tragic failure and unequivocal disaster. By eloquently applying Deleuze and Guattari’s idea of the “machine,” Raunig extends the poststructuralist theory of revolution through to the explosive nexus of art and activism.
As hopeful as it is incisive, Art and Revolution encourages a new generation of artists and thinkers to refuse to participate in the tired prescriptions of marketplace and authority and instead create radical new methods of engagement. Raunig develops an indispensable, contemporary conception of political change–a conception that transcends the outmoded formulations of insurrection and resistance. Too much blood and ink has been shed for the art machines and the revolutionary machines to remain separate.
3. About Gerald Raunig
Philosopher, art theoretician, lives in Vienna; works at the eipcp (European Institute for Progressive Cultural Policies), Vienna; co-ordinator of the transnational research projects republicart (http://republicart.net, 2002-2005) and transform (http://transform.eipcp.net, 2005-2008); university lecturer at the Institute for Philosophy, University of Klagenfurt/A; (co-)editor of two series of books at Turia+Kant, Vienna: “republicart. Kunst und Öffentlichkeit” and “es kommt darauf an. Texte zur Theorie der politischen Praxis”; member of the editorial board of the multilingual webjournal transversal http://transversal.eipcp.net/ and the Austrian journal for radical democratic cultural politics, Kulturrisse (http://www.igkultur.at/kulturrisse).
Recent books: Kunst und Revolution. Künstlerischer Aktivismus im langen 20. Jahrhundert , Wien: Turia+Kant 2005 / Art and Revolution. Transversal Activism in the Long Twentieth Century, Los Angeles: Semiotext(e)/MIT Press 2007; PUBLICUM. Theorien der Öffentlichkeit, Wien: Turia+Kant 2005 (ed. by Gerald Raunig and Ulf Wuggenig); Kritik der Kreativität, Wien: Turia+Kant 2007 (ed. by Gerald Raunig and Ulf Wuggenig); Tausend Maschinen, Wien: Turia+Kant 2008.
4. Molecular Revolutions and Transversal Art Practices
[first published in the spanish magazine brumaria 8.
by Gerald Raunig
“We see that a certain revolutionary type is not possible, but at the same time we comprehend that another revolutionary type becomes possible, not through a certain form of class struggle, but rather through a molecular revolution, which not only sets in motion social classes and individuals, but also a machinic and semiotic revolution.”
(Félix Guattari, Desiderio e rivoluzione : intervista a Felix Guattari, Milano: Squilibri 1977)
Molar revolutions form a powerful aspect of historiography, which overruns practices not fixed on the state – such as that of anarcho-syndicalism, the soviets and the various historical council movements – in a twofold way: first of all by imposing constituted power counter to constituent power and subsequently by banning alternatives to constituted power from the narratives. Although Marx already problematized this desire for the takeover of the state apparatus as early as 1852, it remains the simplistic recipe behind the most diverse Marxist-Leninist discourses of the 20th century: the core of revolution overshadowing all else is to take over the state to create a new society afterwards.
Much has already been written about this kind of one-dimensional concept and its aspects, from the centralist organizational form of the (avant-garde) party to the modes of subjectivation of class-aware or organic intellectuals as the mediators of the liberation of others. Here, however, a specific aspect of these strategies of constraint is to be emphasized particularly: the linear, teleological idea that posits the various components of the revolutionary machine as phenomena like points on a timeline that are clearly distinguished from one another in a temporal sequence, placing them in a model of one after another and thus producing, most of all, a hierarchy of the components.
“La théorie des étapes est ruineuse pour tout mouvement révolutionnair”, says Gilles Deleuze2, and this sequential mode is primarily based on Lenin’s instructions in “State and revolution”: to allow mass spontaneity in a first phase, riding on this wave of spontaneity to the point of upheaval in order to introduce an even greater centralization in a post-revolutionary phase; first a grassroots democracy and mobilization through the councils, then violent revolt, then the dictatorship of the proletariat (with the vaguely remote horizon of the “death of the state”).
What was played through in the variant of the Russian Revolution and has been frequently badly copied since then, has proved least promising of success: the attempt to use a political party, whose organizational setup is oriented in form and goal to take over the state, to create a new society after coming to power. Yet, in the establishment of a party a power is already constituted, which excludes every constituent power. The constituted power of the party sets the condition of the impossibility of allowing a renewing, constituent power to emerge from it. The party is created to take part in the state apparatus or to take it over. “The theoretical privilege given to the State as an apparatus of power to a certain extent leads to the practice of a leading and centralizing party which eventually wins State power; but on the other hand, it is this very organizational conception of the party that is justified by this theory of power.”3
An offensive practice generating something different from copies and variations of what already exists is – in Félix Guattari’s terminology – a matter of inventing machines that fundamentally elude structuralization. “The problem of the revolutionary organization is basically that of setting up an institutional machine that is distinguished by a special axiomatic and a special praxis; what this means is the guarantee that it does not close itself off in various social structures, especially not in the state structure, which seems to form the cornerstone of the dominant production circumstances, although it no longer corresponds to the means of production. The imaginary trap, the miroir aux alouettes, consists in the fact that there seems to be nothing more at all today that could be articulated outside of this structure. The revolutionary socialist project that set itself the goal of taking over the political power of the state and identified this with the instrumental carrier of the domination of one class over the others, with the institutional guarantee for the ownership of the means of production, was caught by this bait.”4 The state apparatus as “bait”, as a constant of the left’s desire, is a twofold reference here: it refers to the revolutionaries’ desire for the state apparatus and to the “bait” function of party and state, as it has been in effect throughout almost the entire 20th century in post-revolutionary socialist societies.
In “Civil War in France”, despite a precise analysis of the Paris Commune, Marx does not indicate exactly what happened or should have happened after the breakdown of state power. There is a good reason for this in that neither the Council of the Commune nor the workers councils nor the soviets are to be reified as a fixed model, but rather every battle engenders new forms of organization of its own. In contrast to this, however, in socialist reality the idea is frozen into a phrase, for instance in Lenin’s emphasis in “Electricity and Soviets”. After October 1917, the state as such was far from being smashed, there was soon little more to be heard of the second part of Lenin’s slogan and the heralded replacement of the state apparatus with new commune-like forms of social administration. Lenin and the Bolsheviks specifically did not replace the state apparatus with soviets; they dispensed with supporting the both spontaneous and successful organization of the workers and soldiers councils. Instead, under the title of the “dictatorship of the proletariat” and with the help of the ideological figures of “transition” and the “dying of the state”, more than anything else the power of the party was further extended.
This Lenin party was in no way competent to “encourage an original process of institutionalization like that originally at work in the development of the soviets.”5 On the contrary: instead of making use of the opportunity of the lasting and potentially permanent rupture, the party itself was developed into an embryonic state apparatus. The abolition of the soviets was followed by the elimination and later persecution of every opposition. In the area of organization the result was “a cancerous proliferation of technocracies in politics, in the police, in the military, in business.”6
In Lenin’s theory and later practice a gap between resistance, insurrection and constituent power was constructed, the three correlative components were forced into a stage or phase model. Yet, just as it is impossible to divorce the February and October Revolution from the revolutionary micropolitics of the year 1917, every separation violates the components of the revolutionary machine. As reducing the events of 1917 to the two Revolutions bypasses the molecularity and processuality of revolutionary practices, reducing the revolutionary machine to the insurrection obscures the components of resistance and constituent power that equally and inseparably constitute revolution.
The three components
In my conceptualization, that is counter to all sequence- and phase-type concepts of revolution, the revolutionary machine emerges in the concatenation of its three components: resistance, insurrection and constituent power. These three components are neither absolute alternatives that could be pitted against one another, nor are they to be idealized in a phase model of initially justified spontaneity, followed by centralization, and then purportedly at some later point (= in fact never) by a decentralization of the organization and dispersion of the program into society. They can be assessed separately in the analysis, if need be, but in fact they form a constantly moving assemblage, where before and after, beginning and end are irrelevant. The revolutionary machine does not function by starting from an origin, moving through a sudden break to a different end. It moves across and through the middle, through a rampant and lasting middle, where things pick up speed. This movement across the middle means, most of all, that it does not go from one point to another, from one realm into the next, or from the here and now of capitalism to the hereafter of socialism or paradise. On the contrary, no hereafter can be imagined at the plane of immanence of the revolutionary passage, no transition to communism or anywhere else, no notion of stages or phases of revolution, no linear progression from one revolutionary stage to the next.
Classical revolution theory sees a linear progression along the axis of time here: first all possible forms of resistance against the capitalist or otherwise corrupt incorporation of a contemporary society, then the major caesura, then the other, new, alternative (e.g. socialist, communist or – as in the case of the post-Real Socialist societies – neoliberal) society. Rather than understanding them as this kind of linear sequence of major upheavals in the direction of a new society, it is a matter of removing the three components of the revolutionary machine from the time line and imagining their relation to one another. Despite their distinction in the analysis, the three components cannot be separated from one another; they mutually differentiate and actualise one another. Their partial overlapping determines the consistency of both the event and the concept of revolutionary machines. The revolutionary machine continuously runs through its components, taking place in the emergence of insurrection, resistance and constituent power interwoven in time.
In a concept of revolutionary machines reaching beyond molar Leninist notions of revolution, everyday resistance is to be imagined in its complicity and its relation to power, insurrection not as national civil war, but as a recurrent, post-national insurrection of non-conforming masses, constituent power as an ever new experiment with alternative forms of organisation producing something other than state apparatuses. Just as this constituent power as a potential (potentia) flees the forms of constituted power (potestas), the new forms of resistance and insurrection are also, in turn, more than phenomena of negativity. Contrary to the superficial meaning of the word, resistance is not merely a reaction to domination, but as anti-dialectical concepts resistance and insurrection are productive, affirmative, creative.
Revolutionary machines
Molecular revolution does not mean establishing another constituted power, another hierarchical relationship, another state apparatus, it is nothing less than a party. The revolutionary machine emerges from transversal concatenations, openings to other machines. These are not machines in the sense of technical apparatuses, mechanisms, not the opposite of organisms and human beings, nor solely in the cyborg sense of human-machines striving to overcome this dualism of human and machine; and even less in the sense of bureaucratic apparatuses, that which Marx calls “state machinery”, and which has been given the name “state apparatus” in French poststructuralism under various extensions. These are not gridded structures and closed identities, but rather agents of difference producing exchange and enunciation: machines are communicating vessels, open, stream-like arrangements, whose material and semiotic components conjoin with social and ecological forces. Machines tend to elude any stratification, structuralisation, homogenisation. And because so many revolutions, especially the “great” ones, the greatest like the French or the Russian Revolution, had nothing with which to oppose the terror of structuralisation and thus became molar revolutions, for this reason Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, when they describe a different, a molecular type of revolution, speak of revolutionary machines.
Thinking of revolution as a machine implies conceptualising revolution neither dramatically as a force of nature, as a major caesura, nor bureaucratically as a process that can be thoroughly rationally planned, as a more or less orderly takeover of power. Instead, the concept of the revolutionary machine brings the discursive and activist lines into view, which have grasped revolution as an uncompleted and uncompletable, molecular process, which does not necessarily refer to the state as essence and as universal, but which emerges before the state, outside the state. This does not mean, however, that revolutionary machines develop in a territory beyond the concrete evidences of the nation-state. It means primarily that they are not fixed on taking over the state apparatus, but rather direct their desire to what is beyond the form of the state.
Art AND revolution
Art history, art criticism and aesthetics happily refrain from mentioning what is political about art, but they are especially quiet about the concatenations of art and revolution. As many great names as there are from art history who were also involved in revolution, the dangerous crossings of artistic and political activism are regularly trivialised, belittled or intentionally omitted. The AND is not permitted here; art like revolution loses its machinic quality when historicised and filtered through the disciplines of art. Whereas Gustave Courbet became more and more interested in cultural politics in the 1860s, art history only recounts Courbet’s artistic decline, whereby Courbet the revolutionary, member of the Council of the Paris Commune, is completely overlooked. When the Situationists played an important role in events leading up to May 1968 in Paris, just this phase, unlike the initial art-anti-art phase in the 1950s or Guy Debord’s films from the 1970s, remains in the dark. And when art practices today result in temporary overlaps between art machines and revolutionary machines in the currents of the counter-globalisation movement, the struggles of migrants or the movement against precarisation, they may perhaps be briefly exploited and marketed in the art field, but not included as transversal practices in the canons of art studies.
In our contemporary experience of molecular social movements, but also in the minority histories of marginal historiography there are a multitude of different forms of relationship and exchange between the two machines. The combination art/revolution is not a scurrilous exception, but rather a recurring figure in the course of the 19th and 20th centuries, albeit under different conditions and in varying forms. Yet what exactly happens when revolutionary machines meet art machines, when neighbouring zones develop for a certain period of time? What occurs along the lines of flight of art and revolution? And most of all: what is the composition of this AND, the quality of the concatenation? To conceptually differentiate the multitude of forms, in my study Art and Revolution7 I have provisionally proposed four modes of how these arrangements of
revolutionary machines and art machines relate to one another: a sequential concatenation of following one another in time, a negative concatenation of being incommensurably next to one another, a hierarchical concatenation of self-determined subordination, and a transversal
concatenation of flowing through one another.
The sequential mode of the Situationist International
Sequential practices of following one after another develop in a linear way along lines of time suggesting a sequence of art, revolution and then art again: for instance Gustave Courbet’s turbulent metamorphosis from artist to (art-) politician in the Paris Commune and then back again to an artist persecuted because of his politicisation phase8, or the continuous passage of the Situationist International from the art field into the political field. These practices are separated by almost a hundred years, which includes the period in which the ideology of the autonomous artist that was predominant for Courbet – and even influenced by him – was overcome through forms of the self-determined heteronomisation of the early avant-gardes of the 20th century and the radical instrumentalisation of art machines by fascist and Stalinist regimes. Yet a comparison of the two examples of a temporal sequence of art machine and revolutionary machine still reveals projects that are equally counter to the contrary patterns of the strict separation of art and politics and that of the totalising merging of art into life.
With the politicisation of the Situationist International from the Lettrist beginnings in the 1950s to May 1968 in Paris, despite all the internal practices of exclusion, as a discursive arrangement the S.I. carried out an opening into the space of the revolutionary machine. From the artistic-political practice of creating, performing and processing the “situation”, a pre-productive opening triggering revolutionary machines emerged in the course of the 1960s. Although the pre productive function of the S.I. in no way justifies the obsolete notion of the artistic avant-garde, it indicates the creation of the possibility conditions for molecular revolution. In the history of the reception of the S.I., however, this aspect is more or less overlooked in the separation, the categorisation either into art history or the context of revolutionary action. Whereas the political histories obliterated the role of the S.I. before and during May 1968 in Paris, not least of all because of the many enemies that Debord made, the historicisation attempts that inscribe the S.I. in art history place the S.I.’s art affiliation, probably for the same reason, in the foreground at the expense of their effects in the political movements.
This kind of traditional separation between art and politics, however, corresponds less to the practice of the protagonists and not at all to the theory of the S.I. Even in the early ‘Contribution to a Situationist Definition of Play’, published in the first edition of the S.I., there is an unmistakable expression of this twofold and indivisible use of action and representation in the situation. It is a matter of ‘struggle’ and of ‘representation’: ‘the struggle for a life in step with desire, and the concrete representation of such a life.’9 The explosive mixture of raving cultural criticism, revolutionary theory and contemporary political texts culminating in Debord’s La Société du Spectacle and Vaneigem’s Traité de savoir-vivre à l’usage des jeunes générations (both published in 1967) was one of the most important theoretical antecedents of May 1968 in Paris. Their memorable wording spread far beyond the walls of Paris, inspiring several generations of not only French activists and intellectuals before and after 1968 with their pointed terms.
Beyond the effects of the Situationist publishing activities, the constant politicisation of the S.I. corresponded to a development from an artistic collective simulating a political party to a component of a social movement with no resemblance at all to a political party. During the 1960s the S.I.’s text production shifted from still art-immanent anti-art propaganda to more political and political theory themes, and Debord completely abandoned filmmaking until the end of the S.I., becoming temporarily affiliated with the theoretical circle around Claude Lefort and Cornelius Castoriadis and their Marxist- soviet revolutionary periodical Socialisme ou Barbarie. Closer to 1968, however, the practice of the S.I. developed more and more in the direction of an intersection of theoretical impulses for the movement on the one hand and affiliation with the newest forms of political action on the other. Even though the S.I. remained true to its nonchalant gesture and superficially maintained the appearance of a traditional avant-garde (including its outmoded relationship to the masses), the combination of refusing to adapt to the form of the political party and the radicalness of their ideas resulted in spreading Situationist theories beyond the International itself.
Following the influential Situationist interventions in 1966 and 1967 at the University of Strasbourg, Situationist positions, signs and strategies were diffused not only throughout the movement of 22nd March, but also in a broad field of subversion and action culminating in the revolts of May 1968. The influence of the S.I. is evident especially in the specific Situationist genre of comics and subverted advertising, but also in the unusually differentiated slogans on posters and graffiti. Debord’s increasingly vehement anti-art propaganda and the tensions between art and revolution are constants in a long passage, a transition, a successive development from the art machine to the revolutionary machine. Experiences, strategies and competences that emerged in the 1950s in the art field, in confrontation and friction with art traditions such as Dadaism, Surrealism and Lettrism, underwent a transformation in the course of this passage. In the 1960s the S.I. increasingly left its original field and began cultivatting the field of political theory and
revolutionary action.
If vestiges of a sentimental view of the avant-garde still echo in Situationist writings, then this is due, not least of all, to the problematic aspect of all sequential forms of the concatenation of art and revolution: the linear idea of development beginning with art and ending in revolution. In the concept of a dialectical movement of sublating art into revolution, however, a remainder of the teleological fixation of the relationship between art and revolution is still retained. And similarly to the way Gustave Courbet went from artist to revolutionary and back to artist, after the self-dissolution of the S.I. Guy Debord also returned to art practice and produced films again.
Viennese Actionism and the negative concatenation
Around the same time as the pinnacle of Situationist politicisation, the collision of Viennese Actionism and the student activists in the Viennese May 1968 also took place as an incommensurable side-by-side of art and revolution, which brings us to the second mode of concatenation. Unlike the “pre-May” 1968 and the radical developments not only in France, in the context of authoritarian post-war Austria the endeavours of the artists were concentrated until the late 1960s more on minimal free spaces for new art practices and thus on marginal public spheres in an otherwise rigidly conservative art field. Beyond the early stance of Otto Muehl, in permanent verbal revolt in all directions, the development of the actions by Muehl, Brus and others in the years 1966 to 1968 are to be seen as a sporadic wild process of politicisation. Chaos and the destruction of the bourgeois society were propagated in these actions, sometimes as a fundamentally critical attack on the state, society and revolutionary groups, but sometimes also using the over-affirmation, radical escalation and exaggeration of reactionary positions. In the beginnings of more open collaborations with other artists (primarily with the literary scene associated with Oswald Wiener), Muehl and Brus especially succeeded in opening up the Viennese Actionism group somewhat, beyond individually anarchist eruptions and thus also beyond the audiences consisting of a circle of friends and the marginal art scene in Vienna. The action Art and Revolution on 7th June 1968 at the University of Vienna is generally regarded as the culmination and the end of this phase of opening and politicisation.
Whereas in Paris and elsewhere the universities burgeoned as hotbeds of uprisings, the space of the Viennese university – which was not occupied in May 1968 – was doubly ill-chosen for the concatenation of art and revolution. On the one hand, with their half-hour spectacle with faeces, urine, a little fire and a staged whipping, the Actionists (in addition to the Viennese Actionists Brus and Muehl, Oswald Wiener, Peter Weibel and others also took part in the action) were unable to break through the hierarchical architecture of the lecture hall, so that the polar and molar relationship of performers and audience intensified; on the other hand, particularly this setting resulted in an especially unproductive collision between the positions of the two organising “parties”: the student activists wanted to win the unpolitical artists for the cause of the revolution, whereas the Actionists, for their part, wanted to prove to the political revolutionaries how Catholic or Victorian or bourgeois they really were. This rigidly antagonistic situation, the irrational collision of the two positions, or rather of their respective attributions and projections, was to be continued into the structure of the action. Art and Revolution was more of a spontaneous montage of individual performances following the pattern of the Dadaist simultaneous lectures than the opening of an art machine in the direction of revolutionary becoming.
Thus even in its brief phase of politicisation, the practice of Viennese Actionism remained incommensurable with revolutionary machines. As a secondary effect of this incommensurability and negative form of concatenation, not only was the student organisation dissolved on court order and the students thus deprived of their organisational form, but the parallel persecution of the Actionists by the mass of slander from the popular press and by the reactionary Austrian courts resulted in a wave of criminalisation in both the media and the legal system simultaneously. Consequently, the loose group previously operating only in the tiny progressive segment of the art field was forced into the mechanism of media representation, segmented and finally sent back along isolated career paths (partly in exile in Germany) into the art field. From this point on, the protagonists pursued their respective practices in a relatively self-referential way, so that the traces were lost of the show of strength that failed in the overlapping of the aesthetic and the political. Schwarzkogler committed suicide in 1969, Brus radicalised his actions alone until the Zerreißprobe (1970) and then returned to drawing and poetry. Nitsch became immersed in the pomp of the Orgy Mystery Theatre all the way to the marketing of its relics, constantly building his church and finally landing in the international sales charts. Muehl radicalised his political experiments in the AA commune, building his state within a state with increasingly fascistic structuralisation and finally landing in prison following a charge of sexual abuse in the 1990s.
And yet, as a negative concatenation experiments like the middle phase of Viennese Actionism around 1968 are to be distinguished from the negation of concatenation that is widespread in the field of art, which fundamentally negates the concatenation of artistic and political activism. In negative concatenations there is no one seeking to “take over power” or a totalisation of the relations. Instead, a relation of non-compatibility arises here from the collisions of systems that are all too different. Concatenation as a political practice of organising collectivity, as a constituent power and hence as a necessary component of the revolutionary machine remains a secret desideratum; yet even in its negative mode, even in Vienna in 1968, the potentiality of the concatenation of artistic Actionism and student political activism is apparent – even if only in the person of the minor actors Otmar Bauer and Herbert Stumpfl, who operated in both contexts and played secondary roles at the same time alongside the – as later defined in art history as four – Actionists.
Selfdetermined subordination in postrevolutionary Soviet theatre
The third mode of concatenation consists in the hierarchical concatenation, art and revolution one below the other. A hierarchy can be constructed here in both directions: there are cases where artists are accused of appropriating the pathos of revolution and instrumentalising the sensation of revolution. On the other hand, there is also a long history of lamentations that politics conversely subordinates art. The history of the art of the Russian Revolution frequently serves as a prominent example of the latter. In this case, however, it is also clearly evident that a hierarchy is by no means preconditioned by a relationship of coerced subordination, as was taken to an extreme especially in Stalin’s purging orgies. Rather, most artistic practices around 1917 involved a subordination self-determined by the artists, who did not merely subordinate themselves to the revolution, but appended an AND to it. In the setting of the Russian Revolution and the early post-revolutionary Soviet society, for a certain period radical art practice was able to assume the function of affirming, expanding, spreading and extending the revolution. Even at the time it was certainly not simply a case of the dissolution of the difference between revolutionary machine and art machine, nor only of a one-dimensional introduction of instrumentalisation, such as what is generally superficially regarded as typical of the Soviet avant-garde, namely placing art at the service of a political party or a state apparatus. In the context of the Russian Revolution, self-determined heteronomisation produced a multitude of art practices that saw themselves as parts and cogs of the revolutionary machine, producing a surplus for the revolution.
Beyond this distinction between a coerced and a self-determined subordination in the early years of the Revolution, a completely different phenomenon in the early 1920s must also be mentioned regarding an only putative subordination, an apparent hierarchy of revolution and art. In the radical leftist Proletkult practice of the agit-theatre the hierarchical mode of concatenation was transformed. While Sergei Eisenstein and Sergei Tretyakov officially operated a ‘theatre of the scientific age’, they were experimenting with machines in various forms: with the bodies of the players who continued the development of the practice of the Meyerholdian biomechanics; with constructivist stage sets like technical apparatuses in the factories, into which they took their practices; and finally with the audience as machine.10
This subversively affirmative form of self-determined subordination finally brings us closer to the fourth mode of the concatenation:
temporary overlaps, micropolitical attempts at the transversal concatenation of art machines and revolutionary machines, in which both overlap – not to incorporate one another, but to enter into a temporary, concrete relationship of exchange. In this context we could naturally examine the aforementioned practices of the other three modes in terms of their transversality factor, in terms of the quality of the mutual, non-heteronomous exchange, in other words in terms of the manner and the extent to which revolutionary machines and art machines intertwine. To conclude this essay, however, I would like to discuss a more recent example that followed the line of transversal concatenation of practices like the Zapatista rebellion, Reclaim the Streets, Peoples’ Global Action, Pink&Silver, Tute Bianche, the noborder-network, the PublixTheatreCaravan, the Chainworkers and others.
The transversal practice of YOMANGO
A group appeared for the first time in 2002 in Barcelona under the name YOMANGO, which conducted a new performative practice of appropriation with artistic means.11 In colloquial Spanish ‘yo mango’ means ‘I shoplift’, and what is shoplifted here are, on the one hand, commodities in a playful, very concrete manner, but on the other hand also signs. In the name YOMANGO there is consequently also a formal allusion to the group’s practice: the appropriation of the name and the logo of the famous Spanish transnational textile corporation ‘Mango’ exemplifies their programme. YOMANGO especially likes to liberate products imprisoned by multinational corporations. And they did so, for instance in a broad appropriation action during the European Social Forum in Firenze in 2002 which ended in a huge collective dinner performance with all the appropriated food. A multitude of invisible groups had managed to assemble the components of a very visible action of social disobedience. After Genoa 2001 it had become clear that instead of attacking IMF, G8 or WTO the new forms of direct actions would have to be more diffuse, combine components of visibility and invisibility, and become molecular, intervening in everyday life.
On the other hand YOMANGO also stands for the liberation of signs that end up in captivity due to rigid copyright policies, imprisoned less by authors than by global corporations. And just as these corporations sell not only their commodities, but increasingly also their brands as lifestyle, YOMANGO celebrates shoplifting as a lifestyle. In honour of the first anniversary of the revolution in Argentina, in December 2002 YOMANGO incited a dance in the midst of a supermarket. Seven couples not only skilfully danced the tango, however, at the same time they also pocketed bottles of champagne in their specially prepared clothing, which they later consumed with pleasure during a collective visit to a bank. In other performances the appropriated goods are also distributed among those who are hungry and thirsty. In addition to these kinds of performative actions and an abundant web site12, there are videos and workshops that spread the methods of opening up YOMANGO’s transversal art practice and carrying it out into the world. YOMANGO seminars are lifestyle workshops on civil disobedience and offer specific instructions for evading technological and communicative security measures as elegantly as possible. Yet the performances and video works are not just anti-capitalist training and propaganda measures, but also playful examples of a micropolitics of embodied criticism and collective wish production.
Hence this is not another blatant criticism of capitalistic consumption, but rather the radical affirmation of a different form of consumption, the reversal of the appropriation of common goods into private property, and also the reappropriation of cognitive work and the production of signs. It is also along this line that the transversal concatenation of the art machine YOMANGO develops with the revolutionary machine of Euromayday.13 Founded in 2001 in Milan, the practice of the Mayday Parade had spread to over twenty European cities by 2006. In a movement of opening from the narrow focus on labour, unemployment, working conditions to the social precarisation of work and life, the 1st May was given a new meaning. Euromayday’s new non-representationist forms of action had their precedessors especially in the Reclaim the Streets parties of the 1990s, which arose primarily in a combination of a militant reappropriation of the street and rave culture. Yet beyond the temporality of the event (the parade and the actions), a second temporality also developed, that of the process and the duration of organising in a European-wide process that for a certain time allowed a new mode of internationalisation to flare up.
Euromayday was organised in Barcelona for the first time three years after the first Mayday Parade in Milan, and the artist activists from YOMANGO were among the important components of the concatenation. On the evening of 1st May 2004 some ten thousand demonstrators moved from the central square of the university through the city to the beach quarter of Barceloneta: sans-papiers and migrants, autonomists, political activists from left-wing and radical leftist unions and parties, artist activists, precarious and cognitive workers of all kinds – a stream of people dancing, chanting and painting rolled through the city centre of Barcelona. The reappropriation of the street took place here primarily as a new arrangement of the bodies and signs in an area where action and representation blur.
At breath-taking speed the streets that the demonstration passed through were transformed into painted zones. Under the protection of the demonstration the city was submerged in a sea of signs: stencil graffiti, political slogans, posters, stickers, indications of web sites, labelled zebra crossings, contextualising murals, commented on here and there by performative actions. The spread of creativity, the diffusion of the artistic into the society of cognitive capitalism thus rebounded on its surfaces: like the logos and displays of corporate capitalism that differentially standardise city centres based on the creativity of a multitude of cognitive workers, creativity – mostly practised in precarious jobs – spread out here over these logos and displays of the urban zones of consumption as their counterpart, across the shop windows, city lights, rolling boards and LED screens, and across the walls of the buildings and the streets. What was painted over the urban displays of Barcelona, which was to mark the cityscape for days afterwards, was not reminiscent, neither in form nor in content, of familiar old-style political propaganda. A mixture of adbusting, culture jamming and contemporary political propaganda predominated spreading the street art of sprayers and taggers as well as YOMANGO’s specific competence of reappropriating things and signs. For a brief period the practices blurred: the concatenation of the art machine YOMANGO and the revolutionary machine of Euromayday created a con-fusion, a transversal flow in which art machine and revolutionary machine permeated one another, mutually interlocked and became parts of one another. In this situation art and revolution did not emerge as two different fields or even two opposing blocks, but both as machines were able to overlap at certain points. It is this overlapping of the revolutionary machine and the art machine, where and when molecularity and transversality occur.
For suggestions and critical advice, I would like to thank Marcelo Expósito.
1 Karl Marx, “The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte”, MEW 8, 197 [http://www.bookrags.com/ebooks/1346/75.html]: “Each overturn, instead of breaking up, carried this machine to higher perfection. The parties that alternately wrestled for supremacy looked upon the possession of this tremendous governmental structure as the principal spoils of their victory.”
2 Gilles Deleuze, “Préface. Trois problèmes de groupe”, in: Félix
Guattari, Psychanalyse et transversalité. Essais d’analyse
institutionelle, Paris: La Découverte 2003, VII: “The theory of phases damages every revolutionary movement.”
3 Gilles Deleuze, Foucault, Minneapolis/London: University of Minnesota 1988, 30
4 Félix Guattari, “Machine et structure”, in: ibid., Psychanalyse et transversalité. Essais d’analyse institutionelle, Paris: La Découverte 2003, 247; miroir aux alouettes is a “lark baffle”, a device to attract small birds using a mirror that glitters in the sun.
5 Félix Guattari, “La causalité, la subjectivité et l’histoire”, in: ibid., Psychanalyse et transversalité. Essais d’analyse institutionelle, Paris: La Découverte 2003, 186
6 Ibid.
7 Gerald Raunig, Kunst und Revolution, Wien: Turia+Kant 2005, English version: Art and Revolution, Los Angeles /New York: Semiotext(e) 2007, publication pending
8 For the examples mentioned here of Gustave Courbet, S.I., Viennese Actionism and the radical leftist Proletkult, cf. G. Raunig, Art and Revolution
9 S.I., ‘Contribution to a Situationist Definition of Play’,
Internationale Situationniste #1, trans. Reuben Keehan, June 1958: http://www.cddc.vt.edu/sionline/si/play.html
10 Cf. Gerald Raunig, “A Few Fragments on Machines”, in: Simon Sheikh (Ed.), Capital (It Fails Us Now), Berlin: b_books 2006, 165-191
11 Although the group derives its competences from various fields, unlike radically anarchistic ideas it does not principally reject art
institutions, for instance, but has a more parasitic relationship. Hence the practice of YOMANGO has also been developed, among other contexts, within the framework of the workshop Las Agencias at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Barcelona (MACBA).
12 Cf. http://www.yomango.net
13 Cf. http://euromayday.org
5. Introduction: The Concatenation of Art and Revolution
Gerald Raunig
[also published on semiotext(e) site]
“. . . to say the revolution is itself utopia of immanence is not to say that it is a dream, something that is not realized or that is only realized by betraying itself. On the contrary, it is to posit revolution as plane of immanence, infinite movement and absolute survey, but to the extent that these features connect up with what is real here and now in the struggle against capitalism, relaunching new struggles whenever the earlier one is betrayed.” —(GillesDeleuze/Felix Guattari)
“In this short article I could sketch only with a couple of strokes the peculiar winding line of the relationships between revolution and art that we have hitherto observed. It has not been broken off. It continues even further.” —(Anatoly Lunacharsky)
In the long echo of a revolution, Richard Wagner and Anatoly Lunacharsky each wrote their texts about the “winding line of the relationships between revolution and art.” In 1849, in the wake of the failed bourgeois revolution in Germany, Wagner sketched “Art and the Revolution,” and about seventy years later Lunacharsky—influenced by the first experiences of post-revolutionary cultural policies following the successful October Revolution—published the two sections of his short article “Revolution and Art” as the powerful Commissar for Education and Enlightenment. The two titles evince a minimal and yet significant variation of the concatenation of art and revolution reflecting the contrary ideological positions of the two authors. For Wagner revolution seems to follow art, for Lunacharsky art follows the revolution: on the one side there is the royal court conductor of Saxony and proponent of the gesamtkunstwerk Wagner, whose later nationalist, chauvinistic and anti-Semitic tirades were to make him a useful point of reference both aesthetically and politically for National-Socialist ideology; on the other Lunacharsky, member of the government for twelve years under Lenin and Stalin until 1929, decisive especially in the early years of the Proletkult for the development of cultural policies in the Soviet Union.
The preconditions could hardly be more different, and yet the two texts converge in several paradigmatic aspects due to specific biographic as well as to structural similarities in the cultural-political strategies of the two very different authors. In the years around 1848, under the vague influence of the ideas of Proudhon, Feuerbach and Bakunin, Wagner included diffuse revolutionary tones beyond his tight, mostly musical theory radius of reflection. Lunacharsky’s attitude developed in attempting to bridge the gap between the utilization of art already brought up by Lenin on the one hand, and the radical left-wing experiments of the leftist Proletkult wing on the other, into a strangely conservative position, which blocked not only socialist innovation, but also placed itself vehemently before the cultural heritage of bourgeois society. Against this backdrop of the ambivalence, volatility and diffusiveness of both positions, it is understandable that there is a certain degree of congruence in the two very different texts, especially where they are most relevant for our considerations here.
Wagner wrote “Art and the Revolution” in 1849, the year of his exile in Zurich following the failure of the Dresden Revolt, in which he had played a certain role, not only as a writer. Starting from the “lament of our modern artists and their hatred for the revolution,” the essay was intended to provide “a brief survey of the outstanding moments of European art history,” and despite the defeat in Dresden Wagner still clung to ideas and the concept of the revolution. In 1848/49, however, a certain oscillation in his position was already noticeable: Wagner’s stance, which was even in revolutionary times clearly focussed on the conditions of art production and on reforming the administration and financing of art, ranged from radical democratic demands on the one hand to more moderate visions of restoration and reconciliation with the German princes on the other.
According to Wagner, the “thousand-year long revolution of humanity,” which he said also crushed the Greek tragedy together with the Athenian state, had now, at the time of writing his essay on revolution, created a situation that first made the artwork of the future possible. According to Wagner, art was to be understood as “social product,” and more precisely as a “faithful mirror image” of the “dominant spirit of the public.” Accordingly, the dissolution of the Athenian state corresponds to the downfall of the “great gesamtkunstwerk of the tragedy.” An artwork, which would be able to encompass “the spirit of free humanity beyond all limitations of nationalities,” could not emerge from contemporary society and art as an “industrial institution.” The drama as perfect art work could only be reborn from revolution: “True art can only rise up from its state of civilized barbarism to its dignity on the shoulders of our great social movement.” Wagner’s attitude, swaying between cultural pessimism and revolutionary pathos, although not yet ultimately decided in its tendency toward totality and authoritarianism, already moved him to grand pronouncements in 1849: “Only the great revolution of humanity, the beginning of which once crushed the Greek tragedy, can attain for us this art work, because only the revolution can newly and more beautifully, nobly, generally give birth from its greatest depths to that, which it snatched from the conservative spirit of an earlier period of more beautiful—but limited—education, and devoured.”
Anatoly Lunacharsky wrote his article “Revolution and Art” in two steps, the first part in 1920 as a newspaper article, the second as an interview on the occasion of the fifth anniversary of the October Revolution. This means that the text was produced in a period that was no longer permeated by the fresh energy of the Russian Revolution, but in which the terminology and programs of this initial phase continued to be characteristic. For Lunacharsky, in the conventional diction of the revolutionary context, bourgeois art is initially denigrated as formalistic, as having “advanced merely a whimsical and absurd eclecticism.” Revolution, on the other hand, “is bringing ideas of remarkable breadth and depth.” For this reason—and Lunacharsky is still writing futuristically here in 1920—the highest cultural politician of the Soviet Union anticipates “a great deal from the influence of the Revolution on art, to put it simply: I expect art to be saved from the worst forms of decadence and from pure formalism.” Conversely, art is defined as a means of revolution, particularly because of its function in agitating the masses and as the appropriate form of the expression of revolutionary policies: “If revolution can give art its soul, then art can give revolution its mouthpiece.”
Lunacharsky and Wagner thus begin their analyses from extremely different experiences, standpoints and even concepts of revolution, yet surprising points of congruence are recognizable. Most of all, there are two figures that they have in common, which not only come up in both texts, but generally represent dubious twins in the different conceptualizations of the relationship between art and revolution.
For texts propagating the concept of “revolution” in their titles, the first figure consists unexpectedly profanely in the question of the function and financing of art, which characterizes both texts as belonging to the genre of art policies. Contrary to the general tendency of his essay, namely that only revolution engenders the art of the future, Wagner proposes, especially toward the end of his text, recognizing a sense of art production even in bad reality, that real art is revolutionary precisely because it “exists only in opposition to valid generality.” Instead of being anchored in the “public consciousness,” it exists specifically in opposition to this, only in the consciousness of the individual: “The real artist, who has even now taken the correct stance, is thus even now capable of working on this art work of the future, as this stance is indeed truly eternally present.” The artist, indeed the “real artist,” thus seems for Wagner to represent the medium of the transition from the bad status quo too future aspirations.
Since Soviet society after the revolution regarded itself altogether as a society of transition, it might be expected that something similar to Wagner’s idea of art would have to apply to this society as a whole, that art on the other hand would be affirmed as “conservative” or simply become obsolete. Yet in his article Lunacharsky describes how art is still needed in the transition to socialist society, in order to animate and promote revolutionary contents. The state needs art, he maintains, for agitation, because its form has the advantage of quasi synaesthetic effects over other forms: “Agitation can be distinguished from propaganda by the fact that it excites the feelings of the audience and readers and has a direct influence on their will. It, so to say, brings the whole content of propaganda to white heat and makes it glow in all colors.”
This kind of foundation for the social significance of art both before (Wagner) and after the revolution (Lunacharsky) prepares the ground for the somewhat more trivial question of resources for art production. Even though Wagner rejects the complaint that artists have ended up impoverished particularly due to the revolution, just as he describes future art as self-sustaining (“this art does not follow money!”), once art practice has become established as socially relevant—and what could be more relevant than the revolution?—calls for its material support can be put forth in the next step. “Let us begin . . . with the liberation of public art, because, as I suggested above, an incredibly high task, a tremendously important activity in our social movement is assigned especially to art.” The goal of this kind of “liberation”—as Wagner unceremoniously explains—would be most quickly reached by “liberating” art from “the necessity of industrial speculation,” and if the state and communality would decide to “recompense the artists for their achievements as a whole, not as individuals.”
Similarly Lunacharsky regrets the cultural-political effects of the turn in Lenin’s economic policies strategy, the New Economic Policy, which led in 1921 to the situation that the state “virtually ceased buying and ordering” art, “and in fact, we can see, almost side by side with the complete disappearance of the agitational theater, the emergence of a corruptive theater, the emergence of the obscene drinking place, which is one of the poisons of the bourgeois world.” This kind of perennially contemporary-sounding criticism of the “return to a miserable once-upon-a-time,” however, also according to Wagner could be prevented by support by the state: “If you upright statesmen are truly concerned to instill the turnover of society that you pursue . . . with a vital pledge for a future, a most beautiful civilization, then help us with all your powers. . . .” And as though this topos were a universal one transcending the boundaries of bourgeois and socialist society, Lunacharsky also affirms the desire toward the state: “If our calculations are correct, and they are, then will the state, like a capitalist, with its heavy industry and vast trusts in other branches of industry, with its tax support, with its power over issue of currency, and above all, with its vast ideological content—will the state not prove ultimately to be far stronger than any private capitalists, big or small? Will it not draw unto itself all that is vital in art, like a grand Maecenas, truly cultured and truly noble?”
Both positions, that of the “leftist right-winger” Wagner and that of the “right-wing leftist” Lunacharsky, are not without a certain peculiarity: whereas Wagner, after a failed revolution and flight, paradoxically applies to the heads of state by the roundabout way of art for the means for a new revolution, as a high-ranking member of the government Lunacharsky seeks impotently to invoke the state as a patron of the arts. In the framework of writing to legitimize art policies it is not unusual that “cultural” particular interests (enriched with the pathos of revolution) present themselves as universal, but Wagner and Lunacharsky are early and striking high points here.
Beyond narrowing the relationship between art and revolution to financial issues, there is a second, almost contrary figure in Wagner’s and Lunacharsky’s texts, which also frequently recurs all the way up to the present: the topos of the totalizing confusion of art and life. The spread of art to the streets, to the masses, into life, slogans like “everyone is an artist,” “art for everyone” and “from everyone,” transgressing the boundaries of art into the social field and the political field—none of these are the invention of the avant-garde of the 20th century, of Beuys’ generation or of the cultural policies of the 1970s, but they are instead, so to speak, trans-historical patterns of art practice and politics: Tragedies would become celebrations of humanity, asserts Wagner, education in a free society must become a purely artistic education, “. . . and every man will become in some respect truly an artist.” For Lunacharsky, in mass celebrations encircling all arts, art becomes “the expression of national ideas and feelings.” In art-political fantasies of totality, as both authors tend to propound, not only the merging of all art genres into a total gesamtkunstwerk is called for, but the integration of “the masses of the people”—still within a cultural framework to begin with—is also tested. Contrary to the contemporaneous experiments of the left-wing Proletkult to politicize the theater—from the Theater of Attractions to the relocation of the performances to the factories—the aestheticization of the political is echoed in Lunacharsky’s enthusiasm for the “overall action” of the mass spectacle, which necessarily produces effects of hierarchization, structuralization and totalization.
At an early stage and in a striking formulation, Walter Benjamin pointed out not only this instrumental relation between the aesthetical and the political, but in the first version of the “Art Work” essay he had already called attention to the fascist attempts at aesthetical mass organization and stressed that especially the mass reproduction of the reproduction of masses particularly accommodates the fascist strategy of aestheticizing political life: fascism gives these masses not their right, but instead a chance to express themselves.
This is precisely what is at stake when “integrating” the masses by means of art, not just from Riefenstahl to contemporary mass productions, but already in Wagner and Lunacharsky’s concepts. This kind of integrative conjunction of masses and art does not engender assemblages of singularities, nor organizational concatenations seeking to change production circumstances. Instead it deletes differences, territorializes, segments and striates space, achieving a uniformity of the masses through the means of art. In his essay, Lunacharsky even expresses his enthusiasm for this kind of unification endeavor in the spirit of world peace: “And just think what character our festive occasions will take on when, by means of General Military Instruction, we create rhythmically moving masses embracing thousands and tens of thousands of people—and not just a crowd, but a strictly regulated, collective, peaceful army sincerely possessed by one definite idea.” Some ten years later, particularly against the background of the success of fascist mass events, Benjamin wrote tersely: “All efforts to render politics aesthetic culminate in one thing: war.” And Wagner’s idea of a totalizing confusion of art and life takes exactly that track—also as a precursor of later totalitarian concepts: “The tragedies will become celebrations of humanity; freed from every convention and etiquette, the free, strong and beautiful human being will celebrate the delights and the pains of his love in them, carrying out the great sacrifice of love with his death in dignity and
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