Revolution at 100: Angela Dimitrakaki

  1. What remains of a politico-cultural horizon beyond contemporary capitalism? Is the term “revolution” appropriate today? Why or why not?

Insofar as a newly scripted communism, not neglectful of the history of its own past appropriations, remains as the horizon of thinking and action even for a tiny fraction of humanity, the term ‘revolution’ can become politically meaningful. Yet even this tiny fraction of humanity is not in agreement over the meaning and means of realisation of such a revolution. One feels (I certainly do) that most in this tiny fraction sustain the illusion of a possibly ‘passive revolution’ as a compromise against the victory of capitalism, which is the ideological and material framework of all that exists at present. Although violence is engulfing reality, there is still a belief that peaceful defence of an alternative will achieve a breakthrough or have at least a cumulative effect. Clearly, the multiple, interwoven defeats of the left and the advance of neo-fascism tell a different story – so far. The contradictions exist and are even exacerbated, but the key ideological battle is typically won by reactionary forces for years now. We are told to not despair – and indeed there is no time for that. But there won’t be any other revolution before a breach of dominant ideology, before consciousness raising becomes possible on a mass scale. We are too far from that at present and the containment of the 2011 uprisings must be studied, must be understood before the prospect of revolution rather than fear re-engages reality.

  1. Where does the Revolution exist in contemporary cultural politics, if it exists at all?

In radical thought rather than transformative action. Cultural politics is mired in the contradictions of the exchange act and the commodity form in debilitating ways. Certainly no appeal to the aesthetic (its illusion as the domain of art rather than advertising) can suffice, but then again it never has. How to not aestheticise the October Revolution in cultural production is an issue in its own right.

  1. What new meanings or manifestations might revolution take on in the post- or neo-colonial present, one threatened with ecological as well as politico-economic and military catastrophe?

We are in neo-colonial times to the extent that some now feel confident enough to talk about the ‘benefits’ of past and yet strangely ongoing colonialisms. A revolutionary first step would be to bring all the forms of neo-colonialism together, exposing their common logic, ground, and effect. There is a combinatory effect of extraction, debt, informatisation – all leading to the same effect: the redundancy of whole populations as capitalism reforms production, turning it more and more into speedy circulation. I am wondering if financiers think of ecology, if High Frequency Trading, which leads the world, ever has to confront the devastation. Above all we need a revolution against finance, its technologies, its ideology. I can’t imagine it would be peaceful. We also need revolutionary thinking about labour, about work, because the industrial pillage cannot be sustained. Which means, ultimately, that we need a revolution in social reproduction: material, ideological, existential.

  1. Is there hope for political transformation within the terms of actually existing representative democracy? Is it possible to address climate change adequately within the terms of capitalism?

Yes to the first question, despite the social media and ‘mass’ media control. But this ‘yes’ should be connected with the vision of leaving capitalism, for there is absolutely no hope that climate change and a different relationship to so called ‘nature’ can be effected within the capitalist mode of production. The ‘no’ answer to the second question has been extensively theorised – only our short-sighted political leaders and those who are manipulated to vote for them would think a ‘yes’, which is a way of shutting their eyes to the very principle of capitalism.

  1. What do art, aesthetic action, and visual culture have to offer when it comes to the imperatives of political transformation? What role might they have, more broadly, in building and envisioning political transformation?

Imagining and experimenting in small scale is now the terrain of some art. But art (not visual culture as too diverse a field) must be aware of its limits. Art can disaffirm, expose, propose. It can rarely implement.

  1. How might different subjects—whether differently abled, aged, or particularly vulnerable and precarious—be unevenly affected by the prospect of revolution/political transformation? What work is being done, or needs to be done, to ensure that radical transformation is radically inclusive?

There is the idea of the ‘multitude’ but it is unlikely this can operate as a political force, for the simple reason that class, gender, racial divides are materially lived and do not even correspond to some specific revolutionary consciousness. If we are talking about commoning practices, since they are realised within capitalism as the overarching drive, they don’t bring forth a common subject – that would be impossible in the face of class divides, for instance. The story of oppression and exploitation is well known: a man can be precarious against capital but then oppress and exploit a woman as an expression of his interests, and the woman can oppress and exploit another woman whose cheap labour she requires to gain some independence from the man. This is merely an example, but one that is lived through every day by millions. At present, in the actual conditions we live in, the common can just be a political principle and inclusivity merely a horizon rather than an actuality. It hardly means we should give up on it, but we must be realistic about the limits to our everyday ‘revolution’ against the divides – if we feel we take part in something like this. A ‘solution’ born out of circumstance is to see the revolution in trans-generational terms and accept to fight with the prospect (not the certainty) that the future is open. This is how I read the efforts of the International Women’s Strike to embrace a 99% as a potential feminist multitude. We must accept to demand the seemingly impossible, but find ways to not turn our struggles into a repeated hitting of our head against the wall. The wall is the divides within the struggle. It is the fragmentation, the legacy of a postmodern logic that only saw and rejected a ‘speaking for’, rather than with, others.

  1. In our counter-factual, anti-regulatory, climate change denying era, how might the arts support scientific endeavors? How might the Sciences learn from art activism?

I think this is mostly an American question in the sense that the US seems to lead the pack of climate deniers, and even voted one of them into the Presidency. This is actually fascinating: the world’s super power, the most ‘developed’ among the developed nations and economies, nurtures also the most unscientific, superstitious, voluntaristic, and plainly mad views on the environment and ultimately life. Although it is understood that politicians may well pretend to uphold such views to get votes, the fact that America is where science has to face religious lies like ‘creationism’ places ‘climate change deniers’ within a long-term American problem, so to speak. And so it is not Science that needs to learn from Art Activism but rather those segments of the social body that reproduce the lies, that feel assisted and comforted by the lies. I am afraid that what I am saying here is that Art Activism should confront the horror of Religion and find ways to disaffirm it as something currently far worse than ‘the opium of the people’. And it must present science as what it is: the very opposition of religious conviction. It should be obvious by now that capitalism and religion do not constitute a contradiction, but rather religion serves capitalism in the best possible way (it is really no coincidence that the crystallisation of global capitalism in the 1990s was accompanied by the return of religion to the public life of the Global North). I think therefore that art activism that wishes to support science should start from this extremely difficult questioning of this link between capitalism’s attack on nature and religion as the licence to lie practically about everything.

Angela Dimitrakaki is a writer and Senior Lecturer in Contemporary Art History and Theory at the University of Edinburgh. Working across Marxism and feminism, she writes mostly on globalisation, labour, and the political imaginary in art and society. Her books include Gender, Artwork and the Global Imperative: A Materialist Feminist Critique (2013), Art and Globalisation: From the Postmodern Sign to the Biopolitical Arena (in Greek, 2013), Politics in a Glass Case: Feminism, Exhibition Cultures and Curatorial Transgressions (co-edited with Lara Perry, 2013) and Economy: Art, Production and the Subject in the 21st Century (co-edited with Kirsten Lloyd, 2015). She has also co-edited the special issue on social reproduction for Historical Materialism: Research in Critical Marxist Theory (2016) and the special issue on social reproduction and art for Third Text (2017). Angela is also an award-winning novelist and essayist, publishing mostly in her native Greek, represented by Ersilia Literary Agency. She lives in Edinburgh and Athens and lectures widely in Europe.

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