Revolution at 100: Brian Holmes

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

The Revolution is happening continuously. You *can* fight City Hall. Small and dedicated groups plant seeds of change. Molecular shifts in behavior reshape urban life. Massive movements have massive consequences. However, the revolutions of the late 1700s have been more enduring than that of 1917. Capitalist democracy is defined by its capacity to process change. An outburst, a spontaneous rising, even an armed rebellion like what happened in Detroit in 1967 are unlikely to take or dissolve state power. Its locus is distributed in individual desire and deep belief: there is no Winter Palace. So you have to go where the action is. After the Detroit rebellion, Grace Lee and Jimmy Boggs realized it was time to subtract at least one letter from radical traditions. Revolution becomes Evolution.

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

Cultural politics in the Americas is evolving in the face of racialized injustice. The driver is the demand for equality. In the past, that demand helped create the dynamics of industrial capitalism (manufactured products for all! better living through chemistry!). Today, equality strikes at the heart of capitalism's failures. In the age of sunken cities, ecological damage is so widespread that it merges with racialized injustice as a focus of struggle. In 1987 Robert D. Bullard, known as "the father of environmental justice," wrote a book called *Invisible Houston.* Can it remain invisible any longer? How does perception itself become an agent of change, over and against the aesthetic saturation of a media-governed society?

  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?

Evolution occurs when the refusal of the intolerable opens up new conditions of the possible. As the earth heats up and the atmosphere becomes more volatile, all the required factors are gathering for this perfect storm. The tremendous preemptive reaction that we are experiencing in the US right now only shows how palpably you can feel it in the air. Indigenous people were aware of all this long ago, and in the past three decades they have transformed the left in the Americas. Everything now depends on what the oncoming atmospheric disasters release: militarized defensive reactions or programs for systemic change? Both of these are being vigorously proposed. The struggle between them is hardly over.

  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?

Since the late 1700s we live in capitalist democracies. The union of these two contradictory organizational forms (one based on competitive advantage, the other on institutionalized equality) is what has allowed for the continuous processing of change within a fundamentally unchanging social system. Capitalism is now reaching the dead end of its marriage with democracy. One partner is bringing way too much pain to the other, who is still slow to understand where it's coming from. The problem right now is not so much representative democracy at the political level, but the lack of pre-political spaces in which the dead-ends of capitalism can be perceived, named, analyzed and exposed. Only when this happens on the scale of the population can society's power to alter itself take new institutional forms.

  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?

Aesthetic experience, like spirituality, has its most powerful effects on the pre-political level where desire and deep belief are forged, melted down and created anew. The total media saturation of American society is a preemptive reaction against this aesthetic/spiritual power, which in the best of cases works right through the media apparatus anyway. At its root, the power consists of a capacity to hold fast to a particular affect: a desire, a love, an aspiration, a sense of solidarity, feelings which slowly become recognizable as beliefs and thereby help individuals and groups to find a pathway through the seductions and distractions of industrial culture. The pre-political becomes political: that's its evolution. Along the way, art has a lot of delicate work to do.

  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?

The political left in all its varieties and flavors is about empathy and care for others, that's the ethical core from which more abstract political principles can flow. "If I can't survive my visit to your school/hospital/workplace/demonstration, then I sure don't wanna be part of your revolution!" Movements know it, and successful ones fulfill that knowledge in action. It's a serious question for so-called revolution, because conquering produces so much harm. Conquering nature, conquering power, conquering the enemy: all those protective programs have backfired on the very people they were supposed to protect. Evolution suggests a more integral and careful course. And don't forget, other species are fragile too. Most of them even more so than we are.

  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?

Art and science share a common core, which is perception, or better, experiments in perception. However, art takes perception into the realms of affect and expression, and science takes it into measurement and verification. Artists find themselves exploring the ways that values shape and inform perception, while scientists try to cut through subjective valuation with the razor of statistics. Both these activities are threatened by the reactionary turn, which abuses values and denies statistics. The positive outcome is when artists and scientists start internalizing each other's procedures in order to gain a common ground for political action. You can't value what you don't know and vice-versa. That little realization - the overcoming of the fact-value divide - is the cultural earthquake that has released the tsunami of the climate justice movement.

Brian Holmes is a cultural critic who would rather not inflate his own persona. His doctorate in Romance languages from the University of California, Berkeley, encouraged him to leave the academy and move to Europe for twenty years, where he participated in grassroots revolt, subversive art, and autonomous Marxist social theory. His work with the counter-globalization movements, along with dozens of articles on art, activism, and political economy, has been rendered obsolete by the enormity of the phenomena lumped into the term Anthropocene. Holmes finds his new Chicago home an ideal site for understanding and resisting the social structures that generate planetary dysphoria.

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