Red Wedge at Historical Materialism London


Red Wedge will be presenting two panels at this year's Historical Materialism London conference. This year's conference takes place at the confluence of three auspicious anniversaries: the 20th anniversary of the HM journal, the 150h anniversary of the publication of Marx's Capital, and the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution.

It is no surprise to anyone familiar with Red Wedge that we share HM's commitment to Marxism's reinvention and rediscovery. Which is why we are glad to be contributing these panels, dedicated to a creative and critical assessment of the Marxist aesthetic experience. 

“Re-creating 1917”

Friday, Nov. 10th, 2pm, room TBC

The century since the Russian Revolution has seen aesthetic convention exploded several times over, in no small part due to the events that unfolded in Russia and beyond in 1917 and its aftermath. Geographic lines, temporal axes, and critical ways of assessing both were blurred and reshaped by a working-class seizure of power and the vision of a communist future. 

This panel, building off Red Wedge’s fourth issue (itself centered on the aesthetic meanings of 1917, forthcoming: November 2017) will assess how these changes have resonated over the past hundred years. Tracing backward, it will use as a starting point how a contemporary socialist artist might take inspiration from the Bolshevik Revolution and place it in the context of modern struggles. It will take a similar approach to geography, linking the cultural earthquakes from beyond Russia’s borders back to the streets of 1917 Moscow and St. Petersburg. Finally, it will map a legacy of theoretical engagement with the arts that was set in motion by the revolution and can navigate aesthetic evolution as capitalist development continued and radically changed through the 20th century. Papers will include:

“The Three Crosses” – David Mabb
“Affirming the New: Art of the Mexican and Russian Revolutions” – Crystal Stella Becerril
“Lukacs, Greenberg, and the Spectre of Trotsky” – Neil Davidson

“Art, music, and the return of the crowd”

Friday, Nov. 10th, 3:15pm, room TBC

The uprisings from 2010 onward and the recent rise of an activated far-right have both, in “restarting history,” re-introduced into politics the specter of “the crowd.” What this in turn means for culture and aesthetics has been brought into sharp relief by both the failures of the mass left-wing movements and the ascendancy of right-wing populist politicians – Trump, Orban, Modi, Duterte – into their respective nations’ highest offices. Though the primacy of economics and politics in these phenomena is undeniable, there is a cultural and aesthetic valance to this dynamic that is far better understood by the right than the left. 

The usage of aesthetic leveling – of symbolically raising up a demographic that sees itself as marginalized – can be employed toward ends of actual liberation or further marginalization of the oppressed and exploited. This difference hinges on what Walter Benjamin identified as the divergence between the aestheticization of politics and the politicization of aesthetics.

This panel – built around the theme of Red Wedge’s third issue “The Return of the Crowd” – will attempt to flesh out this difference in terms both theoretical and practical, historic and contemporary, in the context of popular culture and the avant-garde. In doing so it will in turn map out how the left might reclaim and revive a dynamic cultural praxis. Papers will include:

“Fascist, Neoliberal and Socialist Aesthetic Leveling” – Adam Turl
“Shake the city: space, time, music, crisis” – Alexander Billet
Discussant: Holly Lewis

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