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The Artistic Mode of Revolution: From Gentrification to Occupation

A discussion of the struggles, exoduses, and reappropria­tions of cognitive labor, especially in the field of visual art, and especially when taken as the leading edge of the “creative class,” while critically important, is trumped by the widespread, even worldwide, public demon­strations and occupations of the past year, this year, and maybe the next. I would like to revisit the creative-class thesis I have explored here in a recent series of essays in order to frame my remarks in light of these occupations, and to make a few observations about the relationship between artists, the positioning of the creative class, and the Occupy movement.

Even before “the multitude” became a common touch­stone for dreams of revolution, there was, famously, Seattle 1999, when anti-corpo­rate protests brought environmentalists and community activists together with organized labor to block a meeting of the World Trade Organization, a scenario repeated at multiple locations in several countries in the years since. It is not news that the processes that go under the name of globalization, which center on the flows of capital, goods, and labor, create a unity that does not always serve the interests of capital or the capitalists.

Nouriel Roubini, channeling Marx, wrote in “The Instability of Inequality” that “unregulated capitalism can lead to regular bouts of over-capacity, under-consumption, and the recurrence of destructive financial crises, fueled by credit bubbles and asset-price booms and busts.”

Roubini is saying that capitalism tends toward catastrophic collapses—no news here. But the point is that neoliberalism and its rampant financialization have created a capitalism that eats its young. Roubini goes on to remind his readers that even before the Great Depression, the enlightened bourgeoisie realized that worker protections and a redistributive system providing “public goods—education, health care, and a social safety net” were necessary to prevent revolution.

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