settlement was forged, however, as was the libertarian communist writingin the 1980s in France, in conditions of massive political retreat for theworking class internationally, particularly after 1989–1990 and the finalcollapse of Stalinism – despite all the rhetoric of new political times. Inthis respect Bourriaud’s relational theory tends to draw mainly on theutopian-aesthetic motifs of the 1980s libertarian communist turn, at theexpense of the tradition’s re-politicisation of labour. His model of socia-bility has little place for artists’ collaboration with workers, and art’scritique of the value form – a concern of the historic avant-garde(Benjamin and Constructivism) and earlier socially interactive practice –but is grounded in the possibilities of democratic exchange between artist-professionals and non-artistic collaborators and spectators. And thistheme, generally, could be said to dominate much contemporaryrelational and post-relational art practice: ‘communist form’ – or whatBourriaud calls in the plural a ‘communism of forms’
– is primarily iden-tified with the free exchange of ideas within self-enclosed creativecommunities. Consequently, in contrast to the classical Marxist traditionwith its generalised attack on utopianism,
there is a deliberate braidinghere of the communist imaginary with the traditions of a utopian commu-nalism. In conditions of political retreat or ‘closure’ the function of thecommunist imaginary is to keep open the ideal horizon of egalitarianism,equality and free exchange; and art, it is judged, is one of the primaryspaces where this ‘holding operation’ is best able to take place. Indeed,this ‘holding operation’ might be said to be the invariant communist-structure-in-dominance of so much contemporary art that takes its pointof departure from relational thinking. As such, there is a bigger picture atstake here.Any critique of the convergence of the communist imaginary withimages of utopian communalism derives, clearly, from the fact that sucha convergence is prone to produce all manner of familiar idealisms,substitutionalisms and mystifications in art and politics. This isprecisely, and for good reason, the basis of Marx and Engels’s critique of communism-posing-as-speculative-utopianism within the First Interna-tional.
But what is interesting about the status of this critique currentlyis that the link between the utopian and the communist imaginary ispresently far more capacious than any standard or classical ideology-critique of utopianism can neutralise. For, to reverse the usual order of things, utopianism in this current moment actually provides a pathway
communist form and praxis.
This is why we might talkabout the burgeoning of a post-Stalinist communist-utopianism across awhole number of cultural practices and theoretical disciplines, in whichthe redemption of ‘communist thinking’ and ‘communist form’ becomesthe vehicle for a utopian cultural politics or ‘messianic’ politics now.Indeed, the utopian imaginary and the communist imaginary converge.
In Defense of Lost Causes
(2008) is perhaps the ur-textcurrently of this reversal: a messianic defence of communist praxis as autopian disaffirmation of the present:
[T]he eternal Idea of [communist revolution] survives its defeat in socio-historical reality. It continues to lead an underground spectral life of theghosts of failed utopias, which haunt the future generations, patientlyawaiting their next resurrections.
Z ˇ zˇ
Postproduction: Culture asScreenplay: How Art Reprograms the World
,Lukas & Sternberg, NewYork, 20004.Frederick Engels and KarlMarx,
The Communist Manifesto
, Frederic LBender, ed, Norton, NewYork and London, 1988,p 845.Frederick Engels and KarlMarx, ‘Fictitious Splits inthe International’, in KarlMarx and Frederick Engels,
, vol 23,Lawrence & Wishart,London, 1987, andFrederick Engels and KarlMarx,
The Communist Manifesto
, op cit, 1988,p 846.For a recent defence of theutopian imaginary fromwithin the Marxist(Morrisonian) tradition, seeSteve Edwards, ‘TheColonisation of Utopia’, in
William Morris: David Mabb
, Whitworth ArtGallery, University of Manchester, Manchester,2004. Morris’sachievement ‘was to acceptthe Marxist critique of Utopian Socialism whilerefusing the injunction onthinking about the future: inthe process he castutopianism in an activistmode’, p 177.See for example, MariaGough,
The Author asProducer: RussianConstructivism inRevolution
, CaliforniaUniversity Press, 2005, andChristina Kiaer,
ImagineNo Possessions: TheSocialist Objects of Russian Constructivism
,MIT Press, Cambridge,Mass, and London, 2005.Both books re-historicisethe critical resources andproductive aporias of Productivism andConstructivism, as modelswith ramifications forsocialised practices now.That is – certainly inGough – the factory-basedexperiments of Productivism in the SovietUnion in the 1920s areshown not to be a finished
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