At 9:40pm on October 25th, the forecastle gun of the battleship Aurora fired an ear-shattering round into the air. It was a blank, an empty shell. One-year prior, the Aurora had been contributing to the carnage of World War I, patrolling and bombarding in service to the Russian Empire. Now it was docked in Petrograd and under the control of a revolutionary sailors’ committee, most of whom supported the Bolsheviks. The blank round was, so the story goes, the first shot in the October Revolution, which overthrew the Provisional Government and established the first workers’ state in history.
How in the hell does Jeremy Corbyn become such a sensation at Glastonbury? A sixty-eight-year-old politician propped in front of a crowd of young people gathered to take in Run the Jewels does not on the surface sound at all like the raw material of cultural memory. And yet, when he spoke, the crowd chanted his name (to the tune of the White Stripes no less). They cheered and applauded and shouted themselves hoarse.
There is, ultimately, no reason they shouldn’t have. The leader of the Labour Party who led it to its best showing in twenty years did so by saying that this crowd of young people matters.
We need money to make all of this happen. In years past, we’ve accomplished this by undertaking fund drives for a few months, soliciting our readers for one-time lump sums so that we can continue operating for the next year and/or pay for a particular project. It is, frankly, an exhausting and nerve-wracking way to fund a publication. Which is why this year we are going to try a different approach.
Here we are. Inauguration Day for Donald Trump. We are through the dystopian looking glass. And now “resistance” isn’t just something that would be nice if it happened. It is a necessity. From working people, from students, from community members, and yes, from artists. By any means necessary.
Trump took the White House for two reasons. 1) The failure of the Democratic Party. And 2) The mobilization of bigotry. America’s “political center,” in the form of the Democratic Party, was unable and unwilling to explain the crises of neoliberal austerity, to mobilize people on the basis of social class and solidarity. This political failure is also a cultural one – of avant-garde and popular culture alike.
America hates its artists. America hates its young working-class people. Thirty-six people are dead. They are victims of an art and music economy that doesn’t work for the majority of artists and musicians. They are dead because art has become financialized. They are dead because gentrification is taking away our right to the city – and pushing artists and young workers to the margins – especially (but not only) artists of color. And because of gentrification the urban life-rafts for gender non-conforming and queer young people are shrinking. You can’t stay in the small towns, but you can’t afford San Francisco, Oakland, Seattle and Portland.
President. Donald. Trump. These are three words that never had any reality outside of a grotesque comic. Until now. The man who has bragged of sexual assault, threatened to “build a wall” and refused to denounce an endorsement from a former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan is President of the United States.
Hate crimes and proto-fascist incidents are spreading across the country. A right-wing terrorist outfit in Texas is threatening to arrest and torture “diversity professors.”
The sign, homemade, carried by a protester, reads “Ferguson to Gaza, Intifada, Intifada.” The slogan is more than a sentiment, more than a simple but powerful statement of solidarity. It is all of these things, but much more too. It is an explicit recognition of the world’s reality, far beyond Ferguson or Gaza.
"Apartheid" in today's world does not describe just a particular legal circumstance in this or that corner of the globe. It is, in varied and intricate ways, a fact of daily life under neoliberalism. Global capital communicates to us in any political, economic or aesthetic language it can muster: "This world is not yours, and you do not belong here."
Red Wedge was founded in the wake of Occupy Wall Street and the Arab Spring. Despite any number of heroic struggles, most notably (in the U.S.) Black Lives Matter (BLM), things are far grimmer today. The weakness of the workers’ movement the radical left is mirrored in the weakness of the artistic and cultural avant-garde. This two-sided problem, of course, has a major impact on Red Wedge, rooted in our belief both in the independence of art and the possibility of a revolutionary socialist project.
A defeated and marginalized left bears little fruit. A false dichotomy between theory and activism pervades the left. There are the academics who look down on concrete activism. Then there are the oddly anti-intellectual activists who have internalized diminished horizons. The latter are those who might say the “workers don’t want to read/think/look” at that...
The following is the lead editorial from Red Wedge's first full print issue, which is being sent to the printers shortly. Copies of Issue One can be ordered at the Red Wedge shop.
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In August 2012 a handful of Chicago-based Marxist art junkies launched Red Wedge. The moment was distinctive: Tunisia, Egypt, Occupy Wall Street, the Indignados in Spain, general strikes in Greece and South Africa. Our aim was to try to pull together the artistic and creative flourishes that came with the social and political upheavals: the music and poetry of Tahrir Square, the painting, sculpture and performance of Occupy. It was impossible to ignore the transformation of public space when working-class people took it over. The static reminders of authority and alienation became living breathing carnivals of resistance. It was our belief that this indicated a new audience eager to discuss the aesthetics of rebellion and ready to explore the intersection between art and radical theory. We hoped our website might be a humble contribution to building and cohering a new cultural resistance.
"A lot of young people no longer see the trades and skilled manufacturing as a viable career. But I can promise you, folks can make a lot more, potentially, with skilled manufacturing or the trades than they might with an art history degree. Now, nothing wrong with an art history degree — I love art history. So I don’t want to get a bunch of emails from everybody. I’m just saying, you can make a really good living and have a great career without getting a four-year college education, as long as you get the skills and training that you need.” — Barack Obama speaking to workers in Wisconsin.
It’s been several weeks since President Barack Obama uttered these awkward words during a speech. But as if to drive the point home, they haven’t completely faded from the headlines. The days afterwards naturally saw a great many lovers of art and history peeved at what the president had said, including some truly accomplished in the field. When Ann Collins Johns — a professor of art history herself at the University of Texas at Austin — wrote an email to Obama expressing her disappointment at his words, Obama surprisingly felt the need to personally respond!