Monthly Archives: July 2017

On recent texts and translations.


Evald Ilyenkov

This blog has been lying dormant for almost a year and a half and so this is one of a series of ‘catch up’ posts relating to work I have been doing, notices of texts I have published elsewhere as well as news of forthcoming, or as yet unpublished (or unwritten), texts that are planned for publication somewhere. A year and a half is far too long to summarise and books read, films watched, exhibtions visited and the subsequent words, paragraphs and pages fitfully written and then abandoned not making it into fully fledged texts on these books, films, photographs, exhibitions etc. will somehow require more time to develop into a larger collection of selected texts that will steadily emerge, maybe on this platform, maybe on another. These, however, are attempts to recount some of my recent writing and sowing the seeds for some further reflections and further texts.

Nonetheless, first I wish to draw readers attention to texts that have been written and published. While most of them have been translations (some public and some not), two texts of my own have been published in recent months- both of them long book reviews which, however, represent the basis for a broader look at the subjects in question. The first text is a book review and research article on Evald Ilyenkov published for the review Historical Materialism. A look at Alex Levant and Vesa Oittinen’s Dialectics of the Ideal: Evald Ilyenkov and Creative Soviet Marxism I also tried to argue that Ilyenkov can be contextualised not only with reference to the potentially enormous contribution that the post-war Soviet philosopher can make to western philosophical traditions (and readings of both Hegel and Spinoza as well as Marx) but also to reformulate our view of a subterranean Soviet tradition, a true ‘lost Atlantis’ of thought, that will take years, if not decades, for western philosophers to stake stock of. Bogdanov, Bibler, Vygotsky, Asmus, Shpet, Lifshits, Mamardashvili, Zinoviev, Kantor and many, many other first-rate thinkers (not all of them by any means Marxist) should, hopefully, gradually  in the years and decades to come see their texts available in other languages. One contribution to this will be an extraordinarily surprising early text by Ilyenkov (entitled Cosmology of the Spirit) which I have translated and should be available on Stasis later this year.

As well as my translation of Ilyenkov’s Cosmology, I have translated another text about Ilyenkov which I believe to be of seminal importance and which will be published any day now. It was written by two members of the Stab (or Shtab) Collective from Bishkek in Kyrgyzia and who are producing some of the most interesting works of radical and Marxist thought in the former Soviet space today. Unfortunately not all of their texts are easily available in the public domain. For example, their excellent volume on the Concept of the Soviet in Central Asia, an indispensable work when discussing colonialism and post-colonialism, the centre and the periphery, in the Soviet and Post-Soviet experience, is, alas, not commercially available even in Russian. But this like other works published by Stab is something that publishers should be clamouring to translate and publish in foreign languages. Their rethinking of Soviet history and Soviet thought is one of the most extraordinary as their text on Ilyenkov and the idea of queer communism to be published on the site artseverywhere will surely show. Their illuminating retelling of the utopian Soviet history of the city of Bishkek in “Utopian Bishkek” is one of those indispensable accounts of phenomena that lead to a revolution in one’s concept of Soviet history.

Stab’s article on Ilyenkov and the concept of Queer Communism is one of a number in a series edited by Nikolay Oleynikov. Entitled Ways of Seeing the New Russian Colonialisms: Writing on and from Post-Soviet Territories this series has so far published essays by Ilya Budraitskis and Nikita Kadan in my translations. Budraitksis has attempted to read behind the lines of Russia’s official discourse and to make some sense of the topsy-turvy world of international relations and rediscovering the vital role that a revived internationalist Marxism needs to play in opposition to both Trumpian and Neo-Liberal Orthodoxies with their absurd myth of reactionary Putinism as some kind of ‘permanent revolutionary’:

This is the real nature of the “Post” condition: the decline of political language wherein Putin and Trump speak in the name of the exploited while the authors of the Munich Manifesto speak in the name of freedom and reason. Neither its unity nor its lost order can be restored by addressing oneself to identity – neither in the liberal nor in the illiberal-parodic variant. That which genuinely unites people on both sides of this illusory border between the West and the non-West is the continuing growth of inequality, the chasm between the ruling elites and the majority – the alienation from political participation.
Perhaps today century-old internationalist Marxism can attain an exclusive significance for us. It has nothing in common with the recognition of cultural diversity or the speculative critique of the unipolar world, but it does address itself to the unity of the world of the exploited and those who have lost out. It is that which could be called, following Immanuel Wallerstein, an “anti-universalist universalism”, rejecting colonial violence not in favour of particularism and the rhetoric of the “clash of civilizations”, but through the affirmation of authentic equality and solidarity. 

Budraitskis is a commentator of the first order and one of the most-awaited books this year will be his Dissidents Amongst Dissidents published by Kirill Medvedev’s legendary publishing house Free Marxist Press. The story of socialist dissidency in the Soviet period has few better authors than Budraitskis to reveal us this long-hidden and subterranean history.


Ilya Budraitskis

A second piece by Nikita Kadan with a follow-up comment by Yevheniia Moliar on the decommunization project underway in Ukraine. Kadan, one of Ukraine’s most interesting contemporary artists comments on the dismantlement of many of Ukraine’s Soviet-era monuments as part of what he terms ‘a game of non-distinction’ detailing the contradictions and faulty ideologization of the politics of memory. A game whose logic needs to be refuted, Kadan concludes:

Current day Ukraine activates historical memory as a space for political struggle, but this can be done not only in a “decommunizing” key. If one insists upon a certain rigour, addressed both to the past and to the present day, then it is necessary to refuse this protracted game, which sooner or later will remain only to be posited in a series of “past errors.”

Moliar in her comment on this piece points to the logic of stigmatization which leads in her viewpoint to

cleansing all that remains of public memory and of an, albeit contradictory, common history. 

Moliar along with Kadan both point to the need to avoid and resist the contemporary logic at play moving from as Kadan puts it Pantheon to Pandemonium whereby destruction is favoured over de-sacralization.


Apart from these translations published in recent months, a second text of mine has been printed in Russia’s New Literary Observer on the novel by Alexandra Petrova entitled Appendix. A novel that Zinovy Zinik in the Times Literary Supplement chose as one of his books of the year in 2016, it hasn’t been translated  into English although it seems as though there is some talk about this happening (and hopefully a translation into Italian will also appear). My review essay on the book entitled Recreating the multitudes on those dim shores: Between the Tiber and the Neva was an attempt to re-examine the novel from a number of its Italian sources giving that while the book is not solely centred on Rome  (Saint Petersburg is just as present), few Russian articles or commentators focused on this aspect. Appendix  is, to my mind, quickly becoming one of the central texts of contemporary Russian literature and its novelty is very much a challenge to the cultural status quo burrowing deep against the autarkic moment of the present day. It is a monumental text (832 pages) with dense allusions to a multiplicity of cultural references and as well as the direct and indirect references to those great twentieth century ‘Roman’ poets and novelists, Pier Paolo Pasolini and Carlo Emilio Gadda, it has the ambition of one of those foundational Latin American texts like Marechal’s Adan Buenosayres. It is also one of the great texts on a certain metaphysical homelessness and migration. I am rewriting my review essay in English hoping to republish it later in the year.


The author Alexandra Petrova