Artists, radicals and radical artists have always looked at the future, the horizon, and seen a telos of emancipation. From modern-day left-accelerationism to 90s anarcho-cybernetic to prog-rock’s discovery of the synthesizer, the future has been an emancipatory muse. Owen Hatherley’s Chaplin Machine engages what could be termed an early example of left-accelerationism: the Soviet avant-garde’s absolute fascination with America. Indeed, going with Hatherley’s beautifully written and sometimes cheeky account with this fascination that, to be frank, sometimes borders on mystification, one can even reverse the aphorism of Earl Browder, the old social-patriotic leader of the American Communist Party, “Communism is 20th century Americanism.” This is to say that to those in the early Soviet avant-garde, and indeed cultural producers in general, Americanism was 20th century communism.Read More
I would like
to be born
in all countries,
to lack a passport
to the panic of the poor Foreign Ministry,
to be with all the fish
in all the oceans
A specter is haunting the American liberal public: the spectre of Vladimir Putin busting a move.
Accused by a range of liberal public figures of masterminding a plot to elect Donald Trump to the presidency, Putin looks and acts the part, like a “bad guy” in an eighties Hollywood film – all the while cultivating friendships with “good guy,” Steven Segal. Perhaps reflective of his days as an intelligence officer based in East Germany between the rise of Gorbachev and the fall of the Berlin Wall, Putin is enamored with the action aesthetic of the Reagan years.Read More
Today’s generation is raised under a dark shadow of intellectual pessimism. To be sure, it is a pessimism entirely justified by the entire experience of the 20th century as well as the 21st century up to now. But the function of a revolutionary in this is to fight, to rekindle the socialist imaginary, not because the outlook is good but because there is no other option. Our choices are to resist or be consumed. Revolt can be a joyous festival, a celebration of a future yet to be birthed. This is what Vladimir Mayakovsky[i] meant when he said, well before he shot himself, that “joy must be ripped from the days yet to come.”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
“No one today can reasonably doubt the existence or the power of the spectacle; on the contrary, one might doubt whether it is reasonable to add anything on a question which experience has already settled in such draconian fashion.” – Guy Debord, Comments on the Society of the Spectacle, 1989
Within five years of writing these lines, Guy Debord – author, filmmaker, and leader of a coterie of radical intellectuals known as the Situationist International – despairing at the ever quickening advance of the society he opposed, brought his own life to an end. He had lived long enough to see the collapse of the bipolar world order of the Cold War and the Americanization of the world.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
Red Wedge is proud to be contributing to the organizing of the very first Montreal Historical Materialism Conference. Held from May 17-20, it is a bilingual conference, and an excellent chance to break down barriers between English and French speaking activists and scholars. The them of the conference is ambitious: “The Great Transition,” reflecting a sorely needed optimism but also rooted in practical and sober theory.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
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.Read More
In 1970, the famed “New Journalist” Tom Wolfe wrote an article, and later a book, lampooning a dinner party held by the progressive composer Leonard Bernstein for the Black Panther Party. Fresh off of decontextualizing the Merry Pranksters and Bay Area counterculture in Electric Kool Aid Acid Test, Wolfe, a cheeky, fresh-faced conservative, now was on a mission to show the silliness of what was not yet called “identity politics.” Poking fun at the very idea that a member of the BPP would enjoy hors-d’oeuvres; painting one dimensional figures of the Panthers and liberal intelligentsia in one swoop...Read More
In 1968, at the height of the Civil Rights Movement, Martin Luther King was assassinated. In the immediate aftermath, a wave of riots broke across America. Known as the Holy Week Uprising, this was a largely spontaneous outpouring of rage and sorrow. Far from the Movement collapsing, it marched forward with renewed fury and determination. To paraphrase Stokely Carmichael, what the crowds had started saying was “Black Power”, and they were to keep on saying it. In the midst of this ferment, black artists and activists searched for new answers to the questions that cut across the African-American experience.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
The student butterfly that flapped its wings in Paris, May 1968 led to an earthquake which shook factory walls across western Europe in the 1970’s. Out of the dust emerged an ugly snarling rodent called punk rock.
The 1970s in the UK was a time of open conflict. Strike leaders sent to prison and then freed by a massive strike wave, teenagers fighting in the streets against each other, against the police and against the army in Ireland, miners strikes, power cuts, three day week, women battling for equal rights, Tory government brought down. The working class – loud, proud and winning.Read More
The uses and abuses of Rosa Luxemburg as a revolutionary icon are many, and they tend to focus excessively on the tragedy of her death or on her intellectual relationship with Lenin. Old Stalinists display great alabaster busts that disfigure her as a mute, empty eyed martyr to the cause of the mass murderer with whom she shares a bookshelf. Far worse than irrelevant or instrumental, the left has managed to render one of the most magnetic, vivacious and daring of its intellectuals as boring. Consequently the most exciting thing about, Red Rosa, Kate Evans’ graphic biography of the Polish-born German revolutionary is that when she undertook this extremely ambitious project, she scarcely knew anything about her.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
What’s the best thing about Gary Ross’s The Free State of Jones? It is clearly a film that will rile the “All Lives Matter” crowd. For conscious white-supremacists and “color blind” racists alike, the portrayal on screen of a white Southerner – an army deserter – in league with runaway slaves in defiance of the tax man, the war machine, and the system of human bondage, amounts to a giant slap in the face. And it should be. But The Free State of Jones is much more than that. Here we have a mainstream film about a band of rebels in conscious opposition to economic inequality and horrendous racial injustices. What's more, they are led by a proponent of a utopian, agrarian-socialist vision of society.Read More
Red Wedge lost a friend and supporter this past week when Matthew Caygill died. Matthew was a longtime fixture in the British socialist movement and most recently was involved in Left Unity. He was a keen thinker and well-known as a warm and dedicated comrade. His nearest and dearest have our sincerest condolences.
Matthew was also someone fascinated with the intersection of arts and radical politics. When those of us with RW first encountered him, it was on panel at the Historical Materialism conference in London where he spoke on the connections between the Beatles and the left of the 1960’s, a topic far too often unacknowledged past the most general discussions of John Lennon’s post-Beatles days. In fact, it was the topic of culture and the Left in the Sixties to which he was dedicating his PhD studies.Read More
A collection of anti-racist activist and photographer Syd Shelton’s work from Rock Against Racism has been collected together for the first time. Is this book a nostalgic trip to the bad old days of 1970s racial conflict or does it have something to offer a new generation fighting the changing face of racism in the 21st century? Maybe both?
Shelton’s starkly black and white photographs portray the sharp contrasts in 1970s Britain. National Front marchers and anti-racist crowds, the police and the youth on the street, the punks and Rastas, Sikh pensioners and black and white kids, the bands and the audiences.Read More
The Paris Commune was in essence the first large scale experiment in socialist governance. On March 18th of 1871, radical workers and artisans organized in the National Guard decisively took control of the city as the regular French army fled. Days later, the Commune was elected, immediately declaring that workers could take over and run workshops and businesses, as well as abolishing the death penalty and military conscription, mandating the separation of church and state, and the beginnings of a social safety net and pensions. Both revolutionary and democratic, every day saw new ways of running the city advanced by ordinary laborers.Read More