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Keti Chukhrov: A few notes on class reconstitution


#1

The Brexit vote diagnosed a set of failures that undermined the globally established distribution of power and resistance, and caused mutations in the image of emancipation. It goes without saying that the choice between cosmopolitan politics and the traditionalist localism can only be for the former, even if it abides with the libertarian global capital. Meanwhile, the debate around this choice revealed a number of aberrations, which need to be questioned. Here are just a few:

  1. Aren’t fundamentalism and neoliberal policies the flipsides of the same coin, rather than the ‘either/or’ options? Didn’t most harsh neo-nationalisms emerge precisely parallel to the technocratic acceleration and along with the consistent erasure of the socialist legacies?

  2. As Artemy Magun emphasizes in his recent book “Democracy” (European Un-ty, 2016), despite being a federation, the EU had been developing as a union of nation states to be a model of balance between global integration and stable state sovereignties. The tools of EU democracy have not been cosmopolitan and global enough to become sustainable transnationally. Isn’t it then clear that the confederation, which is, in fact, democratic locally—i.e. within the protocols of the EU regulations—can fail to exert democratic procedures globally?

  3. The European thought and culture are valuable for conceptualizing the necessity of the worldly, the emancipated. (This is the argument often promoted by Zizek in his counter post-colonial debates). However, the impact of the political achievement that historically unfolded on the territory of Europe was not so much in the spread of certain “Europe-based” values across the world (the main rebuke of post-colonial theory), but rather in the construction of such universal concepts that would enable sublating one’s own European-ness for the sake of further universalization. (Marx epitomizes this condition). The substitution of the humanitarian universalism with the geopolitical one and the overlapping of these two brought to imperialism and its post-colonial consequences, including present immigration crisis. It is the more so surprising that the progressive EU intellectuals confuse the inevitable support of geopolitical interests of EU with the emancipatory impact of European thought, which can confirm its cosmopolitanism only when its imaginaries dispense with Europe; unlike socialism or communism, Europe never stopped to be a territorial notion. So the truly European standpoint would be not in praising the peripheral candidates for EU membership (e.g. Ukraine) for embodying “utter” European-ness (the standpoint of Kritika Politicna, Zizek), but in shifting to non-territorial notions of emancipation.

  4. Today’s class constellation is quite reminiscent of the one described by Louis Althusser in his programmatic text “Marxism and Humanism” (1963). In it he mentions how in the conditions of the French Revolution the bourgeoisie, in its struggle with the aristocracy, formed the humanist ideology of equality, and due to this universal claim managed to unite the lower classes around itself. The bourgeoisie then represented the premises of equality merely in rhetoric and in beliefs, not being able to exert it socially (practically). This split between the classes leads further to a new stage when the lower social layers need time to become “the class for itself” and appropriate the languages of emancipation. But if this does not happen and it is the enlightened intelligentsia that represents the subjectivity of the oppressed, or engages in emancipation programs on their behalf, the oppressed do not recognize their interests in this “theatre” of democracy, and choose to identify with the institutes from which one can acquire immediate recognition and self-esteem: the State, nationalist, religious or other communities. In this case the oppression fails to get transformed into class consciousness, turning into identitarian mythologies.

  5. Can we then say that the principal class confrontation of the present is not between the cognitive left and the financial elite of global capitalism, between the governing forces and the governed, or between the rich and the poor, but is located between the enlightened (progressive) and the unenlightened (obscurant)—the gap between the activist Left (“folk politics” agents according to N. Srnicek) and the cognitively advanced Left included. In this case, knowledge counts as the principal means of production and hence the privileged property and wealth, including the access to it, but even more so, the fields of its application. In a nutshell, today’s ruling class is not only the big proprietors, or technocratic bureaucracy, but as well the owners of knowledge and operators of its mediation; i.e. to a considerable extent it is the progressive and cultured cognitariat. Benjamin Noys has many times emphasized this rift between the accelerated agents of the progressive politics and the regressive ignorant, the anti trans-national stance of which is often due to their being outsiders of the cognitive capitalism’s networking. In fact, we witness here a mutation: the successful participants of the capitalist production claim precarity and anticapitalism, whereas the outcasts of capitalist production search for authority and dignity icons. Such paradox is due to the aberration that took place in the cultural left-wing agencies after 1989. As Boris Groys claims in his “Communist Post-script” (2007), much of the rhetoric of the EU left-wing intelligentsia after 1989 emerged from the implicitly anti-communist, liberal, civil rights arguments, that were merely wrapped in the left-wing packaging.

  6. Bearing in mind the present impossibility of any rapid constructive changes in class reconstitution, can we imagine being stuck between two deplorable anti-utopian options? In case of the conservative reaction on the capitalist acceleration, “the masses,” brainwashed by the conservative leaders, collapse into various chauvinisms and fundamentalisms (the case of many post-socialist countries); or, with capitalism’s civilizational acceleration the “folks” (actually that very “demos”) get subject to “internal colonization” by cognitive elites (A. Etkind).

  7. Let’s not forget how ardent post-colonial theory was in defending peripheral cultures and their uniqueness against cosmopolitan modernization, often rejecting the languages of emancipation as a coercive intrusion of a colonizer.

  8. The only positive outcome of the present humanitarian impasse might be that cultural and contemporary art institutions—those adept at true progress, equality and emancipation—might at least temporarily abstain from their charitable solidarity with “the unprivileged,” now stigmatized as “reactionary folks.”

*Image of protest via commondreams.org


#2

Is point # 8 meant ironically? I hope not! I think art should be free ( in Rorty sense) to do whatever, “duty-free” and let the Truth Patrol sort out “progress.”

Art is a free space, a heterotopia that allows for working over the urban imagination. Art takes on the arcades of capitalism, reworks old modes of production, creates new options, performs ontological acts, trickles down cash, etc.

Artists performs an “opus contra naturam” on the bourgeois imagination. We are not supposed to do the dirty work of changing the mode of production, that’s too much to ask! It’s also no fun. If artists hang on to fun, they hold a beacon of how labor can be revisioned. I think that’s the lamp in Etant Donnés, the erotic and comedic component, tinged with historicity that we must keep in the review mirror as turn away from the past. That’s what a painting does, it performs a machinic memory system function that keeps us from flying off into Elon Musk fantasies of singularity. Jesus! singularity is fascism, right?

There is little sense of honoring the dead in this post, I think that is what Zizek hints at with his notions of remembering the Continental imagination. Honoring the work of the dead means NOT tossing it all on some Dark Deleuzian heap so we bring on a chaotic era. I agree with ZIziek the last thing we need is a revolution. That would end the fun we artists are having. That folks is what Duchamp means by “delay,” Aphrodite holds Mars in her embrace to slow down the raging ire of destruction that lurks just outside the polis, in the Field of Mars. Please as artists we cannot go there. Our work is on the urban imagination.

Christo just left the polis and set up camp with Beretta on a lake. That’s a yellow road. Much better the Gramsci Monument: http://www.diaart.org/exhibitions/main/125

Fun, inclusive, engaging all classes in a deep intellectual process. Come on if Gramsci can work in the Bronx we can all have fun with ideas, images and class war. “All men are intellectuals, one could therefore say: but not all men have in the society the function of intellectuals” (Prison Notebooks) Replace “function” with “fun!”


#3

To clarify the last point: the enlightened immaterial workers and the unprivileged laborers could have formed a contemporary working class, but at present they are socially segregated. The gap between these social groups is increasing and could not be eliminated theoretically, but only as the result of overall socialization, which is not at stake for the present. Meanwhile, the positive outcome of this humanitarian impasse, revealed with the Brexit vote, may be that the contemporary art institutions could at last acquire some awareness of their hegemonic social position and lessen their patronizing solidarity with various groups of ‘the unprivileged’, in which art has so far engaged such poetics and institutional tools that had often made the segregation between ‘the enlightened’ and ‘the unenlightened’ even deeper.