Every new technology seems to promise both liberation from drudgery and new forms of economic and social control. The contradictions between dead labor (accumulated productive capital) and living labor (workers), between the forces and relations of production, have always been at the center of Marxism. The way these contradictions play out in the cultural realm is contingent and evolving. Karel Capek’s 1920 play, R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots), was translated into dozens of languages, popularizing both the idea of the robot – and the idea of robot rebellion. Working-class audiences, at the time, tended to identify with Capek’s robots – who were not exactly mechanical automatons, but rather artificial persons of a sort. Within a few decades, however, the mechanical automaton “robot” replaced Capek’s artificial humans in popular consciousness. The mechanical robot was increasingly viewed as a threat; perhaps in response to the growth of unemployment by automation, the mechanical slaughters of the imperialist and world wars, and the alienation of post-war corporatism.Read More
As night falls on London, the urban landscape becomes a no-woman’s land. To go out alone after dark is to take a journey through my own nervous system, assessing at every street corner the hospitability of the streets ahead of me. I do it all the time – I have to – but every journey from bar to bar, from workplace to the train or from home to the shops comes with a mild sense of risk, which increases tenfold whenever I pass a particularly sinister lone lurker or a group of men congregating together.Read More
Imagine it is 2016. Clinton is still ahead in the polls, she has every hope of gaining the White House. One night she dreams she has won, and, just as she steps into the Oval Office she glances in a mirror to find, glaring back at her, none other than Trump.
Trump’s presence in the White House is the eruption of what I shall go on to explore as the uncanny; a rupture of form; an intrusion of something monstrous into the heart of the body politic.Read More
Ring around the rosies,
Pocket full o’ posies,
We all fall down!
Most everyone knows this nursery rhyme. Urban legend places its origin in the Great Plague of London in 1665 and 1666 – one of the last major outbreaks of bubonic plague on the European and Asian continents – the beginning of the end of a three hundred year pandemic.Read More
Tom Wolfe is dead. He lived long enough to be a celebrated icon, emulated across the political spectrum. Wolfe affected the old-fashioned American pose of a chronicler, an H.L. Mencken or Horace Greeley, yet Mencken was a sincere Nietzchean misanthropist while Greeley, a friend of Marx, was a sincere liberal. Wolfe, on the other hand, was a reactionary poseur who dressed up in slave-owner’s garb nearly every day. While readable in the way one chortles at an Alex Jones video, Wolfe contributed more to the American intelligentsia’s self-mystification than just about any other writer of the last hundred years.Read More
In Nikolaus Geyrhalter’s Homo Sapiens (2016) the first and last shots of the film are of the Buzludzha monument in Bulgaria – constructed by the Communist state to commemorate the secret formation of its forerunner, Bulgarian Social Democratic Party, in 1891. After the collapse of the Eastern Bloc in 1989, it was abandoned. Today its vast chambers, statues and mosaics are crumbling.
Geyrhalter’s 90 minute film is composed entirely of stationary shots of human-made buildings that have been abandoned to the elements. Shopping centers in Fukushima, abandoned theatres in Detroit, nondescript hospitals, office buildings, shoreline amusements parks flooded by the tides.Read More
The English translation of Richard Wright’s address to the Revolutionary Democratic Assembly in Paris in December 1948 seems to have escaped the notice of the biographers and literary scholars who have otherwise been extremely thorough in documenting the author’s life and work. And that neglect is all the more remarkable given the speech’s substance. A major defense of radical political and cultural principles at a moment when the Cold War was turning downright arctic, it is also a credo, a statement of personal values, by the preeminent African-American literary artist of his era.Read More
I had a friend who as a child wrote to Ursula Le Guin. He was feeling miserable, bad things had happened to him and he wanted to run away to Earthsea. He told her that he felt ashamed that he wasn’t facing up to life, felt it was a failing that he just wanted to live a fantasy. Ursula Le Guin wrote back, sending him a postcard. She told him that imagination and fantasy weren’t something to be ashamed of, they were what made us who we are. My friend kept that postcard with him wherever he went.Read More
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.Read More
It has been a century since the Russian Revolution. The occasion has naturally provoked all manner of commemorations. The establishment calls it an unfortunate sequence of events never to be repeated, the right spits its vicious bile at the memory of a workers’ world, and the Left, to one degree or another, celebrates and analyzes and tries to ask how to make the history come alive again. How to make the dream of total liberation, of workers power and radical democracy, into a reality.Read More
In early 1940, just before he attempted to escape to Spain from Vichy France, the Marxist theorist and art critic Walter Benjamin penned his Theses on the Concept of History. In twenty numbered paragraphs, Benjamin sketches his vision of the task of the materialist historian. In contrast to the historicist, whose method consists of merely adding “a mass of facts, in order to fill up a homogeneous and empty time,” the materialist historian employs a “constructive” method (XVII), piecing together the “tradition of the oppressed” (VIII) from the rubble of the catastrophic past into a “constellation” (XVII) that most accurately reflects the fragmented character of modern reality.Read More
The intelligentsia has been re-traumatized by that dastardly Dylan. First, they had to put up with the very fact that a “rock singer” (or however we label him) is winning a prize that is supposed to be for literature. As Bill Crane put it last fall, “The middlebrow literary establishment in this country, as may have been predicted, has completely failed to understand the significance any of this.”
Crane makes an exquisite formal and substantive argument in defense of Bob Dylan as a poet, though takes a position typical of the Left regarding Dylan’s “turns” after his classic activist period.Read More
Colonial domination, because it is total and tends to over-simplify, very soon manages to disrupt in spectacular fashion the cultural life of a conquered people. This cultural obliteration is made possible by the negation of national reality, by new legal relations introduced by the occupying power, by the banishment of the natives and their customs to outlying districts by colonial society, by expropriation, and by the systematic enslaving of men and women.
Three years ago at our first congress I showed that, in the colonial situation, dynamism is replaced fairly quickly by a substantification of the attitudes of the colonizing power. The area of culture is then marked off by fences and signposts. These are in fact so many defense mechanisms of the most elementary type, comparable for more than one good reason to the simple instinct for preservation.Read More
“After one has enjoyed the first taste of Marxist criticism, one will never again be able to stand ideological hogwash.” – Ernst Bloch, Spirit of Utopia, 1918
The relationship between art and society has always been a central question for artists, thinkers and activists on the Left. In the twentieth century, it was commonplace to believe that art has the power to change the world. It was this conviction that motivated Georg Lukács to defend the literary realism of writers like Thomas Mann over the stylistic innovations of a James Joyce. For Lukács (1977: 33), literature was “a particular form by means of which objective reality is reflected,” and as such it was “of crucial importance for it to grasp that reality as it truly is.” By displaying social reality in all its contradictory complexity, Lukács believed, art could serve the interests of class struggle and social emancipation.Read More
Bob Dylan has won the Nobel Prize for Literature. His name had been occasionally mentioned as a possible nominee in the past decade or so, but he was seen as unlikely to win for two reasons. The obvious one is that as a singer-songwriter rather than a published novelist, playwright or poet, his work has stood outside mainstream notions of what constitutes “literature” for most of Western establishment opinion, although the Nobel did, long ago, honor Winston Churchill for his works of history.
The second reason this was unlikely is that Dylan is American, and therefore, as we know from a gaffe years ago from a ranking member of the Swedish Academy, a provincial...Read More
Dario Fo, who died this past week, was a great playwright of the years of unrest and rebellion in the 1960s and ’70s. His plays such as Accidental Death of an Anarchist and Can’t Pay? Won’t Pay! were hilariously cutting critiques of life under capitalism as it went into crisis. His style of theatre was like a Brecht play performed by the Marx Brothers in the age of TV. They even became long running hits in London’s West End.
Brian Mulligan, a teacher, writer and performer who was part of the “alternative comedy” scene of the 1980-90s, said...Read More
There have been key moments when forms and modes of perception and expression shift in a profound manner. Such shifts may be met with skepticism, even hostility. Eventually, a new paradigm seems to emerge, although the malleable nature of art is such that the new paradigm can co-exist with its forerunners – yet not always peacefully so. The predictable and easily danceable swing tunes of Benny Goodman-era jazz developed into the more amorphous, multi-dimensional bebop. The realism of 18th century paintings gave way to the new imageries of “modernism” and later to “postmodernism” (a term simultaneously impossible to prescriptively define and curiously passé).Read More
Recent years have seen an application of the Marxist concept of uneven and combined development (UCD) to the study of cultural and aesthetic production. With a few exceptions, however, this application has been limited to the medium of literature.
This panel interrogates the framework of UCD and aesthetics through questioning the nature of the relationship and expanding said framework into music and visual art. It also discusses the relationship between aesthetics and the geographic changes of neoliberalism.Read More
Can America ever truly face its racism – both past and present – for what it truly is? Or is the history of forced migration, bondage and slave labor, legal apartheid, incarceration and horrific state violence too much for it to survive such a revelation? Can it endure the psychic shock and endeavor in some kind of pursuit of truth or reconciliation? Or will it simply implode, come apart at the seams and make way for something new? Something which, hopefully, would not have genocide running through its veins? Langston Hughes tells of a man urging us to “let America be America again,” but Hughes is not so sure such an America ever existed. Neither should anyone today.Read More
There is no getting around the popularity or cultural clout that both Afropunk and Afrofuturism have in contemporary culture. It’s been over ten years since James Spooner’s film on Afropunk came out, the website that bears its name is visited by hundreds of thousands each month, and the yearly festival recently expanded from Brooklyn to Atlanta and will soon be making its way to Paris. Afrofuturism, for its part, has become quite trendy in certain circles, with advertising companies attempting to cash in on its aesthetic. It is not difficult to see its influence in a growing array of artists.Read More