A fascinating article on how trade unions function in DPR Korea, the former USSR, Cuba, Vietnam, and China. The article compares the workers political power in socialist countries to their American counter-parts. This is a long read, but extremely valuable.
“The Cabinet includes representatives of the rebels and the opposition. Five ministries, including the Ministry of Defense, have now passed under the control of Djotodia himself.
The coup in the country was organized by militants of the rebel coalition “Seleka” on March 24. The ousted head of the CAR, François Bozizé fled to Cameroon.
The UN Security Council condemned the seizure of power by the rebels, calling for a return to constitutional order. “
Djotodia to the United States: “You mad bro?”
Михаил Калатозов - Летят Журавли
советский фильм не имеет себе равных.
“Only a broken porch,
A silent bird in the rain
Yes, the rifle is unloaded
In his final Stalingrad.
But the world is run by dogs,
the body is inhabited by dogs,
In our minds the dogs are howling,
And only dogs survive here.
Take the skies, outside, over my unconquered country.”
Watched Red Dawn, and thought… If only…
Today while people are celebrating the election of the imperialist tyrant Opama, remember that on this same day in 1917 workers showed what what power and possibility workers have when they bypass bourgeois electoral politics, and seize power as a class. Long live the October Revolution!
— V.I. Lenin
Having already devoted some attention to the absurdity of “the realm of pure art” in aesthetic discourse, I want to discuss more specifically how we can locate an almost mechanistic ideological movement that conditions a perceiver. Capitalism functions aesthetically in a very similar way to how it functions economically: by declaring the end of competition, and using the force to prove its assertion. The methodology is allegedly beyond critique because the discourse becomes framed in terms of what is “natural”, almost as if the amorphous entity we call capitalism is not even an ideology at all, but simply “the way things are”. Slavoj Zizek puts it in clear terms: “Our blindness to the results of systemic violence is perhaps most clearly perceptible in debates about communist crimes. Responsibility for communist crimes is easy to allocate: we are dealing with subjective evil, with agents who did wrong. We can even identify the ideological sources of the crimes-totalitarian ideology, The Communist Manifesto, Rousseau, even Plato. But when one draws attention to the millions who died as a the result of capitalist globalization, from the tragedy of Mexico in the 16th century through to the Belgian Congo holocaust a century ago, responsibility is largely denied. All this seems just to have happened as the result of an ‘objective’ process, which nobody planned and executed and for which there was not ‘Capitalist Manifesto.’ (The one who came closest to writing one is Ayn Rand.)”
How can we locate idealogical bias in the realm of aesthetics? The easiest place to start is to simply look at commentary on any piece of art that came from the Soviet union. Whether it be Blok or Mayakovsky’s poetry, Shostakovitch’s compositions, or Pinkhasik’s stain glass windows you will notice a homogeneous trans-historical discourse. For soviet art this type of framing is almost unilateral. Yankelevich comments on this tendency in his introduction to a Daniel Kharms anthology: “The prevalence of the “Stalin Reading” is a result of our (American) blindness to anything else, to all those aspects of life in Soviet Russia that the official culture and “Cult of Personality” succeeded in overshadowing. After all, it wasn’t Stalin all the time”. The “Stalin Reading” works widely beyond the context of Stalinism, and becomes a part of reading the trans-historical universalizing ideology the West plasters over other contexts. While I was auditing a class on Nabokov a student in the class perhaps stated it most directly in a discussion of Invitation to a Beheading: “The book can’t be political, it is too artistic”. Realize it or not, this has its origins in what Yankelevich calls “the Stalin Reading”: it assumes a neutral point of departure elevated from context, a metaphysical artistic universal, standing along side all history and judging whether works can “Stand on their own”. The interesting thing about the Stalin Reading is that it is subject to a dialectic reversal into its opposite: by recklessly bludgeoning the text with a capitalist frame, one actually approaches it in the same way as the Soviet authorities might have, ravaging the text to hound out the secret anti-Soviet message, as Adorno puts it “The weakness of all traditional culture outside its tradition provides the pretext for improving, and so barbarically mutilating it.” We like to pretend that the artist falls on our side of ideological lines, and often to do that we must completely blur where those lines are drawn; we must deny we are even looking for them. The Stalin Reading as it relates to the “realm of pure art” is similar, by historicising and ripping a text out of context; one is actively inflicting an ideology on the text.Likewise it rests on the idea that we can summarize a context by what we know or care about in it. Of course some artists really did make art explicitly against Stalinism (I certainly hope they did), but to conflate that with a pro-capitalism is one layer of ideological frosting, and to blindly graft this movement onto anything coming from Soviet Russia makes two.
This sort of paranoid ideological aesthetic can be down right bumbling. One might think this sort of garbage was left behind in the 50s, but its progeny is a persistent center of western aesthetic discourse. As an example, while exploring the halls of the Chicago Stained Glass museum, I came across two pieces by the famous Russian artist Khaim Pinkhasik. Not one but both pieces applied nearly the exact same analysis. To quote from the plaque near The Fairy Tale of the The Snow Girl, a piece depicting a classic Russian fairy tale (read: pre-Soviet): “The tale is deeply rooted in Russian culture, but could also be an analogy for the great bear of the Soviet Union, intimidating all those around it.” This sort of blundering inattention results from using the artist’s work not against itself but against its context, to advance political-aesthetic warfare. The fact that nearly identical plaques contextualize both pieces sends a clear message, namely that it doesn’t matter what is depicted in the work, because it is Soviet, it has to meet the qualifications of our ideology; It must “stand alone” (read: without its context), or stand against.
While writing this I remembered having bought a Khachaturian album, and picking it up was hardly surprised to find nearly the exact words I’ve been complaining about: “The political overtones have been somewhat forgotten, and the music stands on its own feet.” To try to appreciate this piece without the political overtones is a way to cripple the works force and emotion; whether or not you are a communist to sever this piece from its intention is to really miss something powerful in the music. We always choose our aesthetic preferences politically, otherwise the logical conclusion is something disturbingly prevalent in modern aesthetic theory, such as trying to appreciate the “aesthetics” of the Holocaust, murdered women, or Abu Ghraib. It is poignant that such images are chosen as opposed to say, American soldiers being beheaded, or rapists being killed: these images are chosen because those championing it (perhaps unknowingly) are putting forth a capitalist and fascist agenda, one that privileges coercive violence against marginalized groups. The aesthetics of fascism often draw on vague and generalized ideas like “revolution” (unqualified), for example the Italian fascist slogan “Believe! Obey! Fight!”. When I hear people championing ideas such as aestheticizing images of the holocaust, I always think of Shepard Fairey, an “artist” who I hope no level headed aesthetic theorist would consider as much beyond a pathetic hack. It might seem like sort of a joke, but recently I took a closer look of some of his t-shirt designs I happened to be passing, and noticed the shirts likewise praise extremely general concepts like “revolution”, “peoples army”, and of course the iconic “obey”. Perhaps it is unknowingly, but by applying these metaphysical abstractions to concrete situations with no qualifiers or direction, Shepard Fairey is actually using the essential formula for enabling fascism. It is not any different due its being some gross commodity: it is capitalizing on an underlying current of revolutionary rhetoric, and re-framing to suit a specific agenda (namely one that does not at all represent the interests of the people such rhetoric co-opts.) By attempting to aestheticize the holocaust over, say, indigenous violence against imperialist agitators, our modern aesthetic theorists have chosen their ideological alignment.
There is a similarity in the way capitalism and fascism promote their aesthetic-ideology, one that Stalin also used to some degree. By naturalizing the economic and political position, constructing it as the point of departure, and then instigating people outward. This functions much in the way scapegoating does, creating a unified adherence if only in being antithetical to the opposing ideology; one needn’t even disclose the ideology one is maintaining. I can’t recall the origin of the quote (please reply with it if you can), but I think it is true that “you know capitalism is in trouble when people start calling it by name.”
At times re-centering a work doesn’t even hide behind the wall of the “pure realm of aesthetics”, but directly applies the context of capitalist ideology. For instance, in high school we read Orwell’s 1984 and Rand’s Anthem back to back. The purpose of this was to re-frame the anarchist Orwell’s writings into the context of Rand’s delusional right wing dystopia, to set Orwell’s work up out of its context as the same thing as Rand’s. The fact that the few non-capitalist opinions presented are re-framed is a very specific and ideological presentation, as I set earlier it sets the terms of the debate excluding the alternatives. This is the destination of any work that takes specifically didactic and political tones, works that fail as candidates for subjection to “pure aesthetics” are re-framed in service of capitalist homogeneity.
What I don’t want to do is excuse artists who perhaps out of ignorance or lack of historical perspective initiate fascist or otherwise oppressive aesthetics, but I think the more practical focus is to start generating a discourse that is comfortable with locating ideology, without being afraid of it. Ideology is not a bad word, it is a part of being grounded in a specific historical context, which is a part of the reality of existence whether you live in the West or not. By locating and accepting ideological bias we can work through our aesthetic alliances, and try to direct them in positive directions without crippling our artistic abilities; in fact this is a sure fire way to enhance them. Regardless of intent, aesthetics always have a political dimension, and those that have chosen to ignore this historically are left with great folly, and terrible violence.