Kirill Medvedev’s Free Marxist Press is one of those fascinating untold stories that rarely get mentioned in the glossy bankrolled sites dedicated to ‘Russian culture’, even though Medvedev himself is perhaps the most noticeable civic poet to emerge in post-Soviet times. For the past six/seven years, the FMP have been publishing translations of Mandel, Pasolini and Deutscher as well as a fascinating work entitled Pop Marxism by Aleksei Tsvetkov (whose essay on Evald Ilyenkov has been translated in these pages and Alek Epstein’s “10 years of the Anti-Extremist Campaign in Russia: Defending the Authorities from Society”. Relevant texts which are beginning to revive and redevelop a Left discourse in Russia that was in disarray at the end of the Soviet period. (Though it is surprising how significant Left dissident thought in the Soviet period actually was). A Left discourse attempting to recover the anti-bureaucratic ethos of the early years of the Revolution inspired by figures such as Victor Serge and those until this summer cast in stone listed in the Obelisk of Revolutionary Thinkers until reactionary vandalism ‘restored’ its inglorious monarchical imprint.
In any case at this year’s Media Impact festival, the latest volume of this Press was printed. The theme this time was sex. Oleinnikov was to write (paradoxically?) that “very few concern themselves with this subject today in Russia, and the most interesting of those that do come from the left” (of course, this needs a context because it sometimes appears that the re-traditionalists are concerned about little else).
In any case the book is a hodgepodge of different styles and genres: dialogues, mock police interrogations, the epistolary section as well as illustrations give this book a formalist, an almost Shklovskian feel to it. And this, in many ways, gives it a liberty and lack of dogmatic and fixed argument which should be a godsend for western Leftists (if a translation can be organised).
In many ways this review aims to be little more than a listing of its arguments. This in, itself, is probably enough for an indication of why this 150 page booklet deserves an international readership.
A preface is followed by a dialogue between Nikolai Oleinnikov and Keti Chukhrov. Before the dialogue we have a helpful list of the different subjects that are discussed in the conversation.
These subjects are the following:
Foucault, Zizek, masturbation, Sanja Iveković, Lacan, Pasolini, Von Trier, Paolo Virno, sex labour, the Arkady Kots ensemble (of which both Oleinikov and Medvedev are members), Godard, the USSR, the perestroika film Interdevochka, Maria Chekhonadckykh, Lucille Bogan, fucking, Gender check, Valery Podoroga, Ekaterina Degot, “the memory of the body”, conceptualism, semiotics, Monroe, Elena Kovylina,Boris Mikhailov, Nikolay Bakharev, John Berger, the Radek Community, Judith Butler, erection, homoerotics, the family, the Chto Delat’ group, Freud, Deleuze, Oedipus and so on.
The next section is an epistolary exchange between Oleinikov and Oxana Timofeeva, entitled “Six letters on wool and fur, secrets and protests, the female orgasm and Slavoj Zizek, Margerita, Budulai and the black swan.” Of course, there is much more to these tender exchanges and Timofeeva’s lyricism as always reaches new heights of understanding. Kafka, Bataille, Benjamin, mistaken interpretations of Kollontai, Aleksandr Brener’s sperm and solitary walks in Berlin’s Tiergarten become the occasion for dizzy philosophical flights.
Another section and another genre. Here the genre is in the form of a police interrogation between Oleinikov and Seroe Fioletovoe. It starts off with Oleinikov questioning Seroe Fioletovoe about his biography; his political awakening, his part in the art actionist group Voina (as well as the other members), the phenomenon of Pussy Riot and portraits of the trio put on trial and imprisoned. It then gives some details of the ‘Ashan’ incident and Alek Epstein – the main chronicler of alternative art actionism and art activism. Detailing the gay pride question in Russia and the LGBT movement.
The final section is another dialogue between Kirill Medvedev and Nikolai Oleinikov entitled “Revolutionary aspects of radical tenderness” -two male heterosexuals who try to come to terms with the feminist movement inventing their notion of “macho feminism”. Kirill Medvedev’s long association with the American writer Charles Bukowski as translator (and perhaps interpreter) comes in handy when reflecting on this notion.
In between the texts are various series of drawings by Nikolai Oleinikov.
The collection of these dialogues, interrogations and epistolary confessions-in its preoccupation with forms, genres of communication and the eclecticism of its content has something (as I’ve stated above) Shklovskian about it. By reprocessing in a certain haphazard way- a discourse on sex and gender frees the Post-Soviet Left from the dogmas and conformisms that have accrued in the Western Left on this topic. It seems as though they have discovered anew the kind of playfulness and unlocked the liberatory, anarchic logic that characterized the Movement of ’77 in Italy, for example. One could almost draw personal parallels-is not Seroe Fioletovoe something of a Mario Mieli?
Do not the drawings of Oleinikov resemble the style of Frigidaire?
All in all the texts of Chukhrov, Timofeeva,Seroe Fioletovoe, Medvedev and Oleinikov should spark interest internationally providing some kind of new orientation to the debates in the western (or Anglo-Saxon) Left overshadowed by the intersectionality debate..