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Books read in 2017 and to be read in 2018.


It’s that time of year for book and film lists. I’ve been a slow reader this year and so maybe I’ll play around with a number of lists regarding the books that I have read, the books that I’ve started to read but will finish in 2018, the books that I’ve bought in 2017 and promise to myself that I’ll get round to reading them in 2018 (although fear that I may not get round to reading them before 2020), the books that I’m really ashamed about not having read, the books that haven’t been translated and prove that English-language publishing houses have followed the fashion noted by Juan Rodolfo Wilcock of employing farm animals as their readers  or are run by the same kind of cultural isolationists that tend to predominate in the London film critic mafia.

Anyway here’s my list of books that I’ve read and have really enjoyed during 2017 (some of them published well before 2017) and other books awaiting my free time and so on.


Alexandra Petrova’s 2016 masterpiece Appendix which I’ve been reading and re-reading since its publication

The one major novel that was published back in 2016 and which I’ve been reading and rereading is a book which has yet to be translated but which I do hope to publish an English-language review of somewhere. This book is Alexandra Petrova’s 832 page novel Appendix. My review of it came out in Russian for the New Literary Observer (НЛО) in the late Spring and I’m hoping to rewrite my English-language review about the book soon. It won the Andrey Bely literature award last year but suffice it to say that not only I but many others, including one of Russia’s best literary critics, Alexander Skidan, believe it to a major literary breakthrough in Russian letters. Through eight major characters and numerous minor characters the novel takes up one of Pier Paolo Pasolini’s uncompleted projects of ‘translating’, or rather in Petrova’s case, ‘transplanting’ the Aeneid into contemporary Rome (and St Petersburg). Zinovy Zinik rightly chose it as one of his Books of the Year last year for the TLS and had this to say about it:

In her monumental novel Appendix (NLO, Moscow), Alexandra Petrova, an émigré Russian poet and translator, who moved to Italy in 1998, has managed to exorcize the traumas of her Soviet past by mingling them lyrically with those of idiosyncratic characters on the outskirts of life in a contemporary Rome unknown to foreign visitors.

It is rather impossible to summarise this novel in a few words but suffice it to say that its Rome is as memorable as the Romes of Pier Paolo Pasolini and Carlo Emilio Gadda and to me at least has something of those memorable foundational city novels of Latin American literature such as Marechal’s Adan Buenosayres. It is like those novels a most memorable depiction of migration and deftly avoids the autarkic moment of much contemporary Russian, European and British letters. It is too good a novel to be ignored by English-language publishers (and Italian-language ones at that) and let’s hope that some publisher has picked up on this genuine masterpiece.


I’m rather happy than a number of my recommedations for translations of foreign-language titles have been published in English. The book Sex of the Oppressed  is now published by Publication Studio in a translation by Jonathan Platt and one of the titles I highlighted in another blog post, Nanni Balestrini’s Vogliamo Tutto, has been published by Verso after having come out in a small Australian book publishers, Telephone Publishing back in 2015. I am also delighted that Elsa Morante’s fascinating poetic tract The World Saved by Kids and Other Epics has found its way to an English-language publisher. 2018 should be the occasion for the long overdue publication of Larry Riley’s translation of Roberto Arlt’s The Flamethrowers, a book which was Number One in my list of books that needed to be published in my ‘If there were only another Feltrinelli’ blogpost back in 2013  way before I had even heard of Larry’s translation. Rachel Kushner’s novel of the same name is another novel I’ve finally got round to reading this year- it deserves considerable praise for its telling portrait of the Italian 1970s (Kushner  was the author asked to write an introduction to Matt Holden’s Balestrini translation). Let’s hope that if Balestrini ever gets translated into Russian, Alexandra Petrova will get to write the introduction given her own treatment of the Italian 70s in her novel.


Matt Holden’s translation of Nanni Balestrini’s classic collective epic on the Italian ‘Hot Autumn (now republished by Verso)

Otherwise I’ve been mainly reading non-fiction this year. The two film books that mainly caught my attention were Jack Sargeant’s Flesh and Excess: On Underground Film. Those interested in what I have to say about the book can go to my review of it for Senses of Cinema but here is my concluding sentence regarding the importance of this book for any understanding of the other history of cinema:

When a major reimagining of film, and a rewriting of the “other history” of cinema is undertaken, Flesh and Excess will surely be seen as an urtext of this grand alternative history.

My beautiful picture

An image from a film by Aryan Kaganof which serves as the cover for Jack Sargeant’s excellent new work on Underground Cinema Flesh and Excess.

I’m presently reading Duncan Ritchie’s excellent overall history of Underground Cinema which takes a more straightforwardly historical approach. So far I think it is excellent and is a great accompaniment to Sargeant’s book. I’ll never tire of recommending, too, Mikhail Trofimenkov’s Film Theatre of War, which I still think is the film title that people in the English-language film publishing world should translate. Any radical political publisher would also be wise to get their hands on such a title given its superb rediscovery of the history of anti-colonial cinema. (I’ve been banging on about this title for some time now and hope people start waking up to its significance).

Another film book that came out this year and which I’ve managed to read is Werner Schroeter’s own account of his life. A memoir written with the help of the critic and his friend , Claudia Lenssen, Days of Twilight Nights of Frenzy deserves notice. I’ve seen little of Schroeter on the big screen but his Reign of Naples will always be in my list of top films. Schroeter may not be as much a household name as Fassbinder but it would be a terrible shame if he were written of film history. He merits a major retrospective just as this title deserves a large readership.


Two more film-related books that I’ve read are Philip Cavendish’s The Men With the Movie Camera: The Poetics of Visual Style in Soviet Avant-Garde Cinema of the 1920s and Agon Hamza‘s more philosophy-related Althusser and Pasolini: Philosophy, Marxism and Film. The former is a welcome look at the stories of the unsung cinematographers behind the 1920s breakthroughs in Soviet cinema and the latter is a fascinating attempt to talk of two rarely combined authors Louis Althusser and Pier Paolo Pasolini through the prism of philosophy and film. In Russian I’ve read the recently published biography of Gennady Shpalikov, the Soviet Vigo. Director of just one film but author of a number of classics, Shpalikov would have celebrated his 80th birthday this year were it not for his tragic suicide at the age of 37. Nontheless, the traces he left in cinema deserve to be picked up. Anataoly Kulyagin’s biography fills in some of the details of Shpalikov’s life but it is Shpalikov’s poems, scripts and stories that truly deserve to be published outside of Russia along with a retrospective of the films that he scripted (together with his own A Long Happy Life).

Of the other Russian books read this year, I have already reviewed Ilya Budraitskis’ Dissidents Among Dissidents for this blog, another book that merits a long review is one of the major titles to come out on the Left Russian Avant-Garde of the 1920s. Published several years ago for the Higher School of Economics publishing house, Igor Chubarov’s The Collective Sensibility: theories and practices of the Left Avant-Garde is a major study of all the various avant-gardes that made early Soviet art of such universal importance. Chubarov is a leading contemporary theorist in Russia and it is about time that the western Left discovered more of the kind of debate that is going on in Russia itself. Both Budraitskis and Chubarov’s work in translationwould certainly help informed western Leftists to orientate themselves to further understanding the real legacy of the October Revolution in both arts and politics. Talking about the legacy of the Russian Revolution, or rather the complexities of the Soviet Century, Mikhail Ryklin’s own look at this through the optic of his own family history, Doomed Icarus which has recently been published by НЛО (New Literary Observer) books, is well worth reading (or well worth insisting that an English-language translation of it be published).

Doomed Icarus

Mikhail Ryklin’s look at sections of the Soviet Century through his own family history, Doomed Icarus. An author long worth translating into English.

Having contributed with a translation and commentary on one of the most fascinating texts of the great Soviet philosopher Evald Ilyenkov  (Cosmology of the Spirit), for the most recent issue of Stasis Journal, it is vital to mention the recent publications of books of Ilyenkov’s early essays. Two volumes have been published by Moscow’s Kanon publisher of texts and material relating to Ilyenkov’s philosophical thought. While an earlier volume was devoted to the circumstances surrounding the famous theses that Ilyenkov and Korovikov published and tried to discuss in the early post-Stalinist Philosophy Faculty of Moscow State University, this new volume includes the very texts of these theses, hitherto not yet unpublished but undiscovered in full as well as many other pieces by Ilyenkov both previously published and hotherto unpublished. These texts come alongside major text by Vladislav Lektorsky, the late Ilya Raskin and Ilyenkov’s daughter Elena Illesh. Ilyenkov has yet to be given the recognition he merits but it does seem that his star is on the rise. Especially with a new documentary film made about his life by filmmakers Pyotr Laden and Sasha Rozhkov. Other Soviet philosophy books read or initiated have included Sergei Mareev’s new book on Vygotsky, and the book that most requires reading in 2018 are the unpublished Vygotsky writings from his notebooks and edited by the superb Vygostky scholar Ekaterina Zavershneva. A real treat.


Selections from the notebook of Lev Vygotsky, published in Russia this year.

My reading of the Soviet historian Boris Porshnev has commenced this year with possibly his most accessible book, an account of the life of Jean Meslier (the first promoter of atheism, himself a priest, and the presumed author of the famous quote regarding entrails of priest and noblemen: “He wished that all the world’s high and noble would be hanged and strangled with the entrails of the priests.“. Porshnev biography is an excellent tract trying to rescue Meslier from the false redaction of his thoughts by Voltaire. Porshnev convincingly argues that Meslier not only the first atheist,was also very much a communist thinker. I’m not sure whether Porshnev’s biography has been reprinted much since it was first published in the mid 1960s but let’s hope that it will get some notice once again and not just in Russia.


Boris Porshnev’s excellent biography of atheist priest Jean Meslier and presumed author of  celebrated quote about strangling noblemen with entrails of priests.

Porshnev has an essay devoted to him in the recent edition of Stasis which I mentioned above, and I’m glad to say that a copy of his book On the Origin of Human History is on my desk read to be rea in early 2018.

Other authors read in 2017 have included John Berger, notably his Landscapes book, Bento’s Sketchbook and a number of his Portraits. I’d loved Zinovy Zinik’s short History Thieves as much for its form as its storytelling– I’ve always wanted to compose a work that is ninety per cent footnotes to ten per cent text so Zinik’s nod in that direction delighted me more than irritated. I hope that 2018 will be the year when I catch up on his other works.

What more to add? It has also been a year of reading some Enzo Traverso and Marc Auge. I’ve finally got round to reading Andrei Bitov’s A Captive of the Caucasus.  I’ve started on Catriona Kelly’s promising St Petersburg: Shadows of the Past. And while it’s been the centenary of the Russian Revolution the only major work I’ve read on that subject has been China Mieville’s October. Wonderful narration that sometimes veers into depicting the Revolution as Slapstick (the story of Lenin’s wig for some reason often comes to mind). I don’t know if I’ll get round to reading Danilkin’s biography of Lenin in 2018, but I really do hope to read the various essays by Yaroslav Leontiev in the recently published book Reds. Jointly written with Yevgeny Matonin it is sure to tell us about other leftist figures and forces in the Russian Revolution that we rarely hear about, less crassly than James Medhurst does. 

I started Langston Hughes’ excellent autobiography and hope to finish it in January. Who knows which of these books (old and new) I’ve got colonising my workdesk I’ll get to read but, yes, there’s hope for them all in 2018:

  1. Giorgio Agamben – Che cos’e la filosofia? (What is Philosophy?)
  2. Alexander Skidan – Сумма Поэтики (Summa poetica)
  3. Oxana Timofeeva – История Животных (The History of Animals)
  4. Victor Misiano – “Другой” и Разные (The ‘other’ and various)
  5. Alexander Brener – Ка, или Тайные, но Истинные истории искусства (Ka, or the secret but truthful histories of art)
  6. Louis Althusser – The Future Lasts Forever
  7. A. Meshcheryakov – Awakening to Life
  8. Elena Aleksieva – The Nobel Laureate
  9. Ricardo Piglia – La Forma Inicial (Conversaciones en Princton) – (Conversations in Princeton)
  10. Georg Lukacs – The Theory of the Novel
  11. The Practical Essence of Man: The ‘Activity Approach’ in Late Soviet Philosophy (ed by Vesa Oittinen and Andrei Maidansky)
  12. Edward Upwards – In the Thirties


etc, etc, etc.

And then there’s the books still yet to be purchased:

  1. Georg Lukacs – The Destruction of Reason
  2. Sarah Schulman- The gentrification of the Mind: Witness to a Lost Generation
  3. the novels of Aleksandr Ilyanen
  4. Eugenie Zvonkine’s study of Kira Muratova
  5. Franco Fortini’s Attraverso Pasolini
  6. the Katerina Clark books I’ve yet to read (especially her ‘Moscow, the fourth Rome)
  7. the Maxim Kantor novels still unread
  8.  Ricardo Piglia’s Diaries of Emilio Renzi
  9. some of China Mieville’s sci-fi stuff
  10. Marco Bertozzi’s history of Italian Documentary film
  11. Benjamin Noys – The Persistence of the Negative: A Critique of Contemporary Continental Theory
  12. Alexei Tsvetkov – (Король Утопленников) King of the Drowned

etc, etc, etc

And then there’s that copy of The Mad Patagonian by Javier Pedro Zabala that the American author Rick Harsch has lying in wait for me as soon as I set foot in Trieste again and which will undoubtedly set back my other reading by a month or so given its purpotedly monstrous size. Of course there is Harsch’s The Skulls of Istria to read too…


The Mad Patagonian


In Praise of Newcastle.


Freedom City

In Russia my thoughts often turn to how one could flag up regional centres that few cultural historians or cultural commentators ever deign to visit, let alone write about. Indeed, I have long wanted to write a piece on the unusual cultural history of the Kuzbass. Novokuznetsk, the town where I lived for nine months in 2002-2003, does have the potential for an unwritten history. Aside from being the city where Dostoevsky first married during a brief stopover on his way to exile in Semipalatinsk, it produced one of the most interesting currents of photography in the late Soviet period, the Triva group or the so-called Novokuznetsk School of Photography. Then there was the Ilya Ehrenburg novel The Second Day, set in and very much based on his trip to the industrial city which was at the heart of the First Five Year Plan (by the end of the First Year Plan and for three decades, the city was to be known as Stalinsk). During those same years there was a visit by Joris Ivens to film aspects of this industrialisation process. Moreover, there are many curious stories of other international revolutionaries coming to Novokuznetsk and the other cities of the Kuzbass such as the German ‘Red Robin Hood’ Max Hoelz and the Dutch communist engineer and founder of the Kuzbass Industrial Autonomous Industrial Community, S.J. Rutgers. In the UK other regional cities tend to get an equally raw deal in the popular imagination as to what constitutes centres of culture.

Newcastle is a case in point. My first brief visits to the city in 2015 coincided with my work curating (together with Geetha Jayaraman) a Pasolini retrospective and exhibition and one which managed to bring a number of impressive speakers to the city. The Turner nominated artist, Craigie Horsfield made one of his extremely rare visits to the UK to speak about Pasolini’s Uccellacci e Uccellini (Hawks and Sparrows) with Daniel Bird. Other speakers included the author of Poor but Sexy Agata Pyzik; one of the UK’s more interesting film critics and a Wearsider to boot, Neil Young and the London-based Sicilian philosopher Federico Campagna. A far more impressive line up than events marking the fortieth anniversary of Pasolini’s death held in London.

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The first screening of the 2015 Pasolini Retrospective in Newcastle’s Culture Lab with Craigie Horsfield, a former Turner Prize nominee(centre picture) , film scholar Daniel Bird (to his right), Geetha Jayaraman( far right) Ian McDonald (far left) and myself.

During my 2015 trip to Newcastle I was fortunate to stumble upon an exhibition in the Laing Gallery entitled ‘For Ever Amber’. Detailing the decades-long work of the Amber Film and Photography Collective (coming together in 1968) whose production aimed to document the working class and marginalised communities of North East England, it paid tribute to one of the most impressive collections of post-war social photography in the UK. Indeed, the term ‘For Ever Amber’ was coined by none other than Henri Cartier-Bresson who spent his 70th birthday at an earlier retrospective of Amber’s work. In spite of the links with Cartier-Bresson and a highly-impressive photo and film collection of truly global significance, it took many decades for even the Laing Gallery to fully acknowledge their significance, and they still have yet to gain their due recognition outside of the Tyneside.

Remember Cable Street

One of Syd Shelton’s photographs detailing the Rock Against Racism movement

As my 2015 trip coincided with the renovation of the Side Gallery, I only visited it on this year’s trip. Based in an easy to miss location, my visit showed me precisely why the Side Gallery deserves a reputation as one of the most interesting national galleries. Two exhibitions were running there simultaneously and both were inspirational. Downstairs a collection of Syd Shelton’s photographs on the Rock Against Racism Movement in the late 1970s – a piece of history more than ever relevant in contemporary Britain. Upstairs were the moving portraits and photo’s detailing segregated America and the US Civil Rights Movment by Gordon Parks. Perhaps, the most moving part of the exhibition was the film and the series of portraits on the Fontenelle family from Harlem which was at the heart of the exhibition. Devised as an attempt to explain to the readership of Life why ‘race riots’ were happening in the late sixties, Parks was very much the chronicler of this period of American history. Looking through information about earlier exhibitions at the Side Gallery one can only marvel at why its name is not more well-known as one of the go-to photography venues in the UK. Next year promises to be a significant one too, at the beginning of 2018 it will be hosting two post-Soviet exhibitions on Lenin statues (entitled Looking for Lenin and an exhibition based on formerly prohibited photography sites in Belorussia).


Gordon Parks portrait of the Fontanelles at the Poverty Office in Harlem

The exhibition tied in well with a year-long celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of the visit by Martin Luther King in 1967 to receive an honorary degree from Newcastle University, the first and only UK university to award him this honour. An installation work entitled Freedom (directed by Ian McDonald and produced by Geetha Jayaraman- the people behind the 2015 Pasolini event) to celebrate this visit and to reflect on the contemporary echoes that this visit has, was on show at the Great North Museum in Newcastle. No strangers to innovative film practice, their four-screen installation deserves a much wider audience. A three screen installation was specifically devoted to the visit of Dr Martin Luther King to Newcastle containing both contemporary and archive footage linking the historic visit and speech to its own time and to the present time, and a further fourth screen (located elsewhere) with its poetic mediation on light and darkness based on Martin Luther King’s account of a moment in his earlier journey to India manage to further broaden the horizons of thinking about King’s visit to Newcastle in 1967.


A frame from Ian McDonald and Geetha Jayaraman’s Freedom installation

The power of the installation work Freedom was due, in no small way, to the generous space afforded it by the museum. The three 5 metre screens in the centre of the hall meant that the effect that the film had on the viewers was, no doubt, a more powerful one than it would be were this to be given a lesser space. The three screens almost ensure that the scenes provoked in the viewer a larger amount of reflections than a single film and also gave the viewer a desire to go to multiple viewings (each viewing allowing for a new reception to the film). Second and third viewings definitely helped one discover further elements.


The three screen installation of Freedom in the Great North Museum in Newcastle

The contrasting images and footage of Dr Martin Luther King’s speech at Newcastle and the events surrounding a contested visit by Enoch Powell to Newcastle in 1969 along with footage from recent pro-migrant demonstrations and with footage from a Donald Trump speech (with which the film begins) allow one to reflect on the links rather than necessarily giving the audience a didactic perspective on the images. The fourth screen  filmed in Kerala in a place where Martin Luther King had previously visited added an almost metaphysical note to parallel to King’s words on the dialectic between light and darkness. Moreover, the authors by giving their work the title of Freedom manage to generate in the spectator new questions. The deliberate lack of commentary or voiceover in this work reinforces this reflective nature of their installation. Hopefully, this installation will find its way to other venues (Brighton has been talked about as a possible second venue). It would be a shame for such a powerful piece of work to be limited to a single venue.

At the same museum 25 photographs by Charles ‘Teenie’ Harris, a Pittsburg photographer who documented the years of segregration are supplemented by oral accounts of the period. The oral and visual combination worked well. While Gordon Parks may have been a more significant photographic figure, Harris’s photo’s have managed to capture a wide spectrum of human experience in the town of Pittsburg lending a vivid realism to the image of the city in early post-war America. The ability to listen to oral recollections of the times while observing the photographs was also a very successful feature of the exhibition and a brilliant curatorial decision.


One of Charles ‘Teenie’ Harris’s photos of Pittsburg life in the ‘Not As It Is Written’ exhibition at the Great North Museum.

I only caught the tail end of the year-long celebrations of the brief visit by Martin Luther King to Newcastle but from some of the exhibitions designed to celebrate this symbolic visit, Newcastle has managed to create some powerful cultural events and make a relevant cultural intervention in the contemporary moment (alas I have yet to visit the Tyne and Wear’s large Contemporary Art Centre, the Baltic, which also celebrates King’s visit). Newcastle’s (and the North East’s) cultural vitality deserves to be celebrated and reminds us that many of the most interesting cultural stories and phenomena come from the regions rather than the capital (the parochialism of many of London’s film critics is clearly in evidence when set beside the far more cosmopolitan and wide-ranging film criticism of Tyne and Wear’s best film critics, namely Neil Young and Michael Pattison, for example).

To return to my own Russia-centric obsessions, I’m left wondering how the history of Russian literature would have been altered without Yevgeny Zamyatin’s journey to Newcastle in World War One . Maybe one can also muse on how Bukharin’s brief arrest in the city (a year prior to Zamyatin’s visit) may have imperceptibly modified the course of history.

Interrupting the Monologue: Ilya Budraitskis ‘Dissidents Among Dissidents’.


Cover DissAmonDiss

One would have hoped that the occasion of the centenary of the Russian Revolution would have lead to a serious reimagination of both the event in itself as well as the legacy and history emerging from this monumental event. In the English-speaking world many books have been rolling off the press in an attempt to reread this event in a number of ways. China Mieville’s October was arguably the best-written of the actual accounts of the revolutionary year. It’s a matter of argument whether many other volumes have contributed to a genuine reimagination of 1917 or have played more to the need for contemporary myths of the revolution. For many though (and especially amongst the Western left) the need to tailor the myth of October to one’s political position has counted more rather than any general re-evaluation of the Russian Revolution or the Soviet experience per se.

What is certain, though, is that the conversation about the Revolution and its legacy within the Western Left has taken place in complete ignorance of the conversation that the critical Russian Left has been having. This ‘non-communication’ is, of course, not new. There has always been a significant divergence between the discourses of Russian Leftists and Marxists and those in the West. Yet some of those barriers which went up in Soviet times after being eliminated have since metamorphised into other parallel barriers. Certainly there exists a rather one-sided exchange: a well-read Russian leftist might well know of western writers on Russian 20th century and contemporary history and, in general, will know of a large spectrum of contemporary western thinkers but this is very rarely reciprocated by western leftists. Clearly this has much to do with the general lack of translations of left Russian authors (and the rare willingness of western journals and publishers to discover Russian authors), and so one-way traffic that intellectual thought has moved is only reaffirmed further. In recent decades a small conduit has opened up through the world of art: indeed, many Russian leftists are published more often in art journals than they are in the conventionally political leftist public spheres. Otherwise any contacts that there are have been restricted to the academic sphere. It is only the very occasional site such as the excellent Left East which covers some of the more contemporary debates in the Russian (and East European) post-Soviet Left and is not specifically addressed to an academic audience. One author whose voice definitely is worth listening to is that of Ilya Budraitskis whose first major collection of essays, Dissidents Among Dissidents has just been published in Russia.

Ilya Budraitskis

Several of the essays by Ilya Budraitskis in his collection of nine essays published by Kirill Medvedev’s Free Marxist Press have been published in English either on Left East or in the more arts oriented e-flux. But most have either been published only in Russian or not published at all. The fascinating title essay (which takes up almost half of the book)has never been published previously and offers us a completely new picture of Soviet history. Budraitskis recunts the history of Leftist (and indeed often Marxist) dissidency throughout the post-war period. Moving from the late Stalinist period to the demise of leftist dissidency in the early 1980s, Budraitskis depicts in his brief tour the extraordinary range of left opposition in the Soviet system. An opposition that could be formed around cultural clashes (for example a 1,000 strong demonstration protesting against the authorities attempt to prevent discussion of Picasso in St Petersburg during a memorable exhibition of the painter as well as the spontaneous Mayakovsky Readings in the late fifties) to full-scale working class revolts (Novocherkassk may have been the largest one but as Budraitskis has pointed out it was certainly not the only one). The underground Marxist Circles and regional worker-inspired dissidency along with the story of Samara’s Proletarianists are given some space of their own. Budraitskis then explains the historical demise of leftist dissidence (its growing marginalization in the larger dissident community in the 70s and its rout in early 80s). He manages to include fascinating historical material on individual figures of this left/Marxist dissident such as that of Boris Weil history highlighting the singular role that Lenin’s ‘State and Revolution’ played in forming Marxist Leninist dissidency. Not ignored either was the international situation and the Hungarian and Polish revolts in 1956 were to have resonances at the Soviet centre too.


This central text on the extraordinary story of dissidency from the Left in the Soviet period is accompanied by eight other texts of varying size but all well worth the read. Even the smallest of Budraitskis’ texts – his discussion of late Soviet detective films and his relating the genre to the oncoming Capitalist onslaught of the late Soviet system helps us reflect more on the political economy of a genre, just as his reflections on the Soviet and the Post-Soviet queues allow us to take stock the reality of changes from a depiction that is both Marxist but one imbued with that need (as Yurchak puts it in his preface to the collection) to lay bare the myths within which we move.
Boris Weil

The first essay of the collection The Eternal Hunt for the Red Man is a brilliant discussion through the works of Svetlana Alexeievich and Vladimir Sorokin of the decommunization process.Budraitskis gives a trenchant critique of the lustration and decommunising practices that often underpin the ideological texture of the works.

Budraitskis doesn’t hesitate to discuss the role of the intellighentsia in the Soviet and Post-Soviet period.In his essay on Intellighenstia as a style, he strives to explains how it was formed, contrived as a group with a commonality of form and style while playing a different social role in the pre-Soviet, Soviet and post-Soviet eras. Other informed discussions have been opened up by Ilya Budraitskis and his historical excursion into Moral (or Ethical) Anti-Americanism. A short piece follows on the Strange Rebirth of the Trotskyist Conspiracy whose first mover in contemporary times is President Putin himself, who has a number of times invoked such a threat in his speeches while fighting his own immaginary battle with the spectre of the permanent revolution. Once again in a few pages Budraitskis manages to illuminate both contemporary Russia and the traces of Soviet and pre-revolutionary Russia’s that have been reinvented in the present and marshalled by the Russian elites.

Budraitskis’ final essay Legacy without Heirs is an essay on the legacy of the October Revolution and is worth far more than many of the writings that have appeared in English over the past year. In less than fifteen pages, Budraitskis uses some of the lesser known texts of Lukacs and an early text by Gramsci (who depicted it as a revolution against Das Kapital) to give a perspective of the dilemmas and paradoxes of the October Revolution. Budraitskis’ text leads us on to some brilliant considerations as to the Kantian rather than Hegelian outlook of the revolutionnaries in formulating their revolutionary task. Once more Budraitskis emphasizes the centrality of Lenin’s text State and Revolution (which as we saw was one of the major texts helping leftist dissidents to understand the shortcomings of Soviet society). Using an expression of Lukacs the Soviet revolutionaries were more than conscious that their task was that of ‘expelling Satan with the hands of Belzebub’. In this way with the help of commentators like Budraitskis we can begin to rethink more of the complexity of the October Revolution and take stock of what Soviet society actually was. Through such intelligent re-readings one opens up new vistas in which the pleiad of alternative Soviet thinkers (Ilyenkov, to give just one example) would regain their genuine due.


Kemplerian fantasies of Brexitland (Part 1) Some Dantesque retributions for kipper ideologues.


they would be left hanging from the lamposts for as long as was compatible with hygiene

(Viktor Kemplerer)

Victor Kemplerer

I must admit today I’ve been gripped by Kemplerian fantasies. After little more than a month in Brexitania I can’t help fantasising about a certain reversal of fortunes happening one glorious day, a kind of 25th April of the British soul. A day when the odious band of grotesque characters populating the current British political and cultural canvas would suffer something along the likes of that which Mussolini suffered in April 1945, transformed from a sadistic and almost omnipotent dictator to a piece of meat hanging upside down in Milan’s Piazza Loreto. Maybe a certain variation of punishment is called for (after all they are a rather pathetic band and like Klemperer I’d mete out the more sadistic retribution for the ‘professors’ like Ferguson). But let’s not limit our fantasies to mere lampposts and intellectuals or professors, as Victor Kemplerer once did. After all as Dante has shown us artfully in his Inferno there are a great variety of punishments which can fit those varied crimes.

So perhaps we can start with that noxious imperialist, Niall Ferguson who takes a perverse joy in tweeting pictures of lions and Union Jacks while extolling public opinion surveys showing that the imperial bloodlust of the Brits has not abated. Apart from boasting how the Brits love their Empire, Ferguson treats this as a kind of personal victory with a cry of aggro “I won, you bastards” just as a footbal hooligan does upon the victory of his team moments before he falls into that comatose alcoholic stupor which is so de rigueur amongst the Brits:

Surely one should not deny the ectasies of Empire to Ferguson himself. He may like, in the spirit of Kafka’s Officer, to experience the joys of Empire for himself. A short stint at a Mau-Mau Kenyan gulag set up by the Brits in that kippers fantasy era of the 1950s might work wonders. Would he still be praising the delights of having “bottles (often broken), gun barrels, knives, snakes, vermin, and hot eggs … thrust up his rectum” while being “whipped, shot, burned, and mutilated”? It could be done ostensibly in the form of Ferguson’s direct personal observation of how the Empire was so hunky dory. We could then have our imperial Niall report back.

Time for a reversal of roles? Surely imperialist advocate Niall Ferguson deserves a taste of Empire from the other side

Then we have that BBC frequenter of lowlife, foul-mouthed fascists the BBC’s very own ‘go homer’ megaphone, Nick Robinson. Just to remind people of how low he enjoys stooping here he is again enjoying every moment while posing with Britain First’s ‘leading lady’, Jayda Fransen:


Mr Robinson certainly likes to do more than his fair share of shit stirring in the very spirit of those nationalist nutters. A bit more BBC-like, full of innuendo instead of BF swagger but more than happy to hint that citizens who may have lived in the UK for several decades should never dare consider it to be their home:

Rather than auguring him a simple stint of stateless homelessness somewhere in limbo, perhaps his punishment could have a more avian ring to it, how about a faux Hitchcockian finale? Such as being  mauled alive by a cackle of noisy and marauding cockrels given the murderous fantasies he publicly harbours towards these creatures? (Katie Hopkins, of course, deserves to find herself in a parallel Room 101 with some killer cockroaches given her own penchant for drawing human parallels to these creatures, ). Surely, an exemplary finale for Ms Final Solution. A pity that the species depicted below is already extinct. (though let’s hope that in the location that Hopkins is destined for they’ll be resurrected in an embodiment of Nikolay Fedorov’s cosmist vision).


Sadly extinct killer cockroaches which, alas, could have been the perfect comeuppance for Katie ‘final solution’ Hopkins

David Starkey, the monarchist with the perfect nose for poking up the Queen's arse as modern day Groom of the Stool

David Starkey, the monarchist with a perfect nose for poking up the Queen’s rear and who would surely be delighted to be nominated as modern day Groom of the Stool.

What better fate for that chief monarchist and Henry VIII worshipper qua first Brexiteer or Brexiteer primus inter pares give or take a few years, David Starkey to become a modern day Groom of the Stool aiding monarchs with their excretions: initially he would be called on to serve with loving sycophancy the rear of Elizabeth II and then after she croaks would find it his duty to extract dung from Charles Windsor. Though, indeed, he may well be disappointed as Charles’ voice and entire demeanour are surely tell tale signs that he is a long-term sufferer of chronic constipation. Be that as it may, few more accomplished monarchist brown nosers can be found in this septic isle and I’m sure Starkey would love to bring back that noble profession in style (a profession which he himself has described in genuinely loving detail). The only drawback would be that for Starkey himself the nomination would surely be received as career promotion rather than retribution.


There’d surely be little disgust on David Starkey’s face were he to be promoted from simple monarchist brown noser to an official modern day Groom of the Stool.

Expect some more Dantesque penances, nemeses and fitting retributions for today’s panoply of Brexiteering grotesques in sequel posts.


Discovering the work of Maria Galindo in desolate Brighton


The San Antonio filmmaker in Barcelona

Brighton always has a different rhythm for me. It’s not always a place where I make discoveries. A dull time can be had here (in spite of the faux bohemian reputation of the place) and I often feel that the often negative literary depiction of the place by any writer of worth (or without worth for that matter) who has ever lived here is merited: there’s little joy to be found in the works of Patrick Hamilton, Helen Zahavi, Colin Spencer. Also I always cherished the Samuel Johnson quote about Brighton, a place he clearly visited reluctanctly: ” it was a [place] so truly desolate , that if one had a mind to hang one’s self for desperation at being obliged to live there, it would be difficult to find a tree on which to fasten the rope.” Brighton now has the trees but the desolation is still there (the blurb on the Italian edition of Zahavi’s Dirty Weekend described Brighton as the city of British despair). Then there is that final apocalpytic passage in Graham Greene’s Brighton Rock (Greene reportedly and sensibly visited the town only for one day before writing his novel) as negative as the finale to Kafka’s The Trial.

However, rather than letting this be a long diatribe about Brighton, it is also a city where Art (and even film art) in some form or other occasionallly comes to visit: Monicelli shot parts of his Girl with a Gun here, Quadrophenia, as every local will forever be telling you, was shot here and apparently the district of Whitehawk (of all places!) was once designated to become the location for a British Hollywood (not that this would be a synonym of film art, mind you). In any case that dubious plan was soon dropped. Brighton (well, Hove actually) was even, as Georges Sadoul noted in his history of world cinema, the place where the principle of montage was first born. In spite of my joy when I read Owen Hatherley’s piece on Brighton in his work A New Kind of Bleak and his brother’s brilliant and succinct epithet about the town (“fucking toytown”), it was, nonetheless, I have to admit gridgingly, the town where after all I did see Buñuel’s great eye splicing moment in El Perro Andaluz when around 15 years of age. Of course turbo-charged capitalism has done its bit in closing down all the independent cinemas since that time and the once semi-courageous Duke of Yorks cinema where the extraordinary shock of Surrealist revelation assaulted my vision and stayed in my memory forever (I also once found myself sitting through an eight hour film comprised of Buddhist chants in the same cinema, though, admittedly I left after six, but did enjoy the Godard, Visconti, Buñuel and other retrospectives that the cinema once brought to its screens). Now, alas, as well as starving its staff, this Picturehouse-owned movie theatre is mainly engaged in an attempt to bludgeon the critical faculties of cinemagoers in Brighton to a bloody pulp by offering up two week-long force fed servings of Dunkirk, or the latest James Bond or, to cite one particularly galling example from a number of years ago, The March of the (Fucking) Penguins.

The Cinemateque in Middle Street once upon a time provided an even more daring offering of film delights (I remember rare early Dovzhenko’s were shown there and a host of truly unusual films) but that, too, closed down (not to mention a cinema up North Street that while famously having as many rats turning up to film screenings as humans, reportedly screened some excellent films only for the location to be then taken over by the chain Burger King a few decades ago. However, as I found out this summer by chance bumping into a Texan filmmaker in the street and whose film was showing at a venue I was ignorantly unaware of (upstairs at the Caroline of Brunswick pub) there are still unusual surprises to be found. The occasional film evenings there are designed to show you the kind of films that rarely get distributed in the amorphous and dessicated film world of today.

Caroline of Brunswick

Caroline of Brunswick, Brighton

It was there that I managed to see two short films by Maria Galindo- one shot in Texas and entitled The Witch Hour and another shot in Brighton called Nurse Shirley Foster. These are very short films (the former just under twenty minutes and the latter less than six) and it is a difficult task to review such a short excerpt of a filmmakers work. Yet they are films which live and breathe unlike most of the trash served up for us in multiplexes. They are what Italians call examples of cinema demenziale (literally demented cinema) : parodies to the nth degree of dysfunctional worlds. The Texas of The Witch Hour, a tale of dubious oil barons and hardware stores, racoons and murderous jokers visiting revenge and chaos upon an odious and fatuously asinine family of Trump supporters. The father figure and oil baron finally dispatched to hell by the bewitched and frenzied wife who has finally and unwittingly, it seems, done something right in her inane life spurred on by the spell cast on her by the maligned shop assistant from the hardware store.

a cadre from Witch Hour

A frame from Witch Hour

Shirley Jaffe in Clockwork Orange

Shirley Jaffe in Clockwork Orange

Galindo’s shorter film Nurse Shirley Foster was conceived, planned and shot in a mere month. It’s five and a half minutes, though, are a delight. And are a hymn to the monsters produced by the sleep of cinema. Starring in the film is Shirley Jaffe, the nurse from Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange. The short film seems to be a fantasia on the nurse’s nightmares provoked by her previous role in the world of film. Accompanied by a wonderfully dissonant piece of saxophone music, this wordless piece remains in the imagination well after it has been shown. Galindo’s demential style seems to have climbed new heights in this short film. It would be a pity if this curiously infectious addenda to a cinematic classic weren’t to find a wider audience.

Shirley Jaffe in Nurse Shirley Foster

Shirley Jaffe in Nurse Shirley Foster

A cadre from Nurse Shirley Foster

A frame from Nurse Shirley Foster

I have yet to watch Galindo’s feature length films. Life’s a Bitch was filmed in Barcelona and is sure to show a very different side to her film oeuvre (an account of her filming and the film itself can be found here). Rats Eat New York City seems not yet to have been finished and is apparently somewhere in post-production if I’m not mistaken. But the shorts do have merit. Last night walking home after the film screenings a thought suddenly arose in my mind: wouldn’t Maria Galindo be an excellent filmmaker to adapt that wonderfully demented forgotten classic of Twentieth Century literature, The Stereoscope of Solitary Beings by Juan Rodolfo Wilcock. In any case the presence of Maria Galindo (and existence of her films) and the discovery of filmic life in this desolate city has since brightened up my view of Brighton a little.

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

Pyotr Pavlensky: We live between Fascism and Anarchy.



With the news that the actionist artist Pyotr Pavlensky has been sent to the notorious Serbskiy Institute of Psychiatry in a clear case of punitive psychiatry (for more on this case and its context read an excellent blog post here:, there is clearly a need to highlight and protest this fact. But also a need to listen to the ideas of and concepts of Pavlensky himself. Here is a small extract that was published in a Russian magazine and will be part of a forthcoming book on the artist in the context of Russian actionism. 

The original interview with Anastasia Belyaeva was printed in Snob magazine on the 16th February, 2016 (and is an extract from a forthcoming book).

It’s recently been announced that the organisers of the “Innovation” Art Prize have removed the action “Threat” by Pyotr Pavlensky (in which he set fire to the doors of the FSB building in Moscow). This is an extract from a book about to be printed “Pyotr Pavlensky in Russian Actionism” and which the publisher Ilya Danishevsky allowed the magazine Snob to publish an extract from.


Let’s talk about your audience. I am curious about this. In an interview with a Ukrainian television channel you stated that art should articulate because it’s rather difficult for people themselves to articulate why the state is crushing them. Your mission then is one of articulation?

A kind of dispersal is taking place. We all find in ourselves in a similar, political, situation. Basically certain conflicting things are happening with us, fairly unpleasant things. The question lies in what is happening, what and in what way. Everyone senses this in some way or other. But the problem is articulating what the authorities are doing – for they disperse all this. Someone reads the news, goes to a shop, walks along the street or has to go to work and he or she sees that all that is happening around is bad but this ‘badness’ is somehow dispersed.

You articulate this for your audience?

Well yes for those who can see and hear all this.

When you articulate, if you want your message to be heard you need to make some corrections to the stereotypes that people have, to their cultural code which they are not prepared for. It seems to me that as a result that those people who need some kind of explanation are simply not able to read your message and those who are able don’t need any explanation. So there is, perhaps, some senselessness to all this.

Those who are able don’t require explanation and those unable…

The audience of the state TV channels when they see your actions at most feel certain negative emotions- it’s unpleasant, repulsive for them. Then they are told for what reason you have done this. And this ‘displeasure and repulsion’ is somehow all mixed up with the reason for which you did this.  

This is my very raison d’etre for my work. These temporary alienations are intentional. This precedent remains and then something happens and so a person will return to this. One user from a social network wrote to me to tell me that at one point he was against, very much against all this which I do. I wrote to him something in reply. And he wrote to me a letter that in the past he would write a lot against these actions but then he came up against certain situations in life. It seems that  the authorities pressured him in some way. Now he supports such actions and wanted to apologise for his former stance.



I’ve come up against many situations and I’ve got a rough idea as to how people react to my actions. An excessively emotional response, as a rule, can be found a lot only on the internet. In real life when I meet people as a rule I see that people understand things very well. Only once in the metro was there any clash with someone, not even a clash, but a guy simply started to become hysterical when he recognised me. A rather young guy recognised me in a metro car. He began to check my image with that on the internet and then started to run along the carriage. We are all travelling, the train is moving and he is running through this carriage calling on people to rise up against me, to join forces against me. Not one person supported him. He stuck his iphone to people’s noses and they just brushed him aside as some kind of crazy hysterical citizen. I observed how people reacted. Not gaining any support he began to accuse me of humiliating our country, humiliating him, the square (Red square?) and something else. It become clear from people’s glances that even if they recognised me… I didn’t see amongst these people any kind of incomprehension towards me, or any aggressiveness. People are rather more understanding than not.

About that user of social media who wrote to you- was it pleasant to have such a reaction?

Of course, he supports some of my ideas.

Is this a rather unique case or does it periodically happen- this ‘I’ve finally understood you?’

Yes it does happen now and again. There is a whole range of human responses. Sometimes I feel the force of this whole range of reactions. When one prepares oneself for some kind of action the different public reactions start to float through my mind at moments of greatest pressure. And when you start to remove yourself in some way from this pressure there is a certain understanding at a certain level. Why can’t I even see this reaction in my mind? Because one bases one’s view on one and the same resources – the internet, maybe the television, papers and some other media. We all nourish ourselves with the same sources of information. And I confront this range of responses afterwards, after the action has been realised. And naturally there are both positive and negative responses.

And up to then it remains in some kind of lonely …

It will always stay like that, you began to say that this is an issue that some understand and some don’t. It’s such a thing that if I begin to think in this way and with these categories so as to make these actions more understandable, and that I need to do it like that elsewhere, then this will end up as a kind of populism. I’ll end up trying to please someone. This is not my goal.

It’s not a task. The task is to reduce things to some minimum and then in the process develop some clear symbols.

A body wound up in barbed wire, what could be clearer? You understand that here there is no way that one could be even clearer than this.



It seems to me that there is a kind of clear reaction when people see a man nailing his scrotum on Red Square and the first unfounded response is that people will name you an exhibitionist or homosexual. That is the initial Russian response- something is not right with him in the head. And in Russia abnormality is associated with homosexuality and if you’re a homosexual the thinking goes you’re a pervert. Regarding such reactions don’t you think, don’t you feel that the essential point is somehow being washed away?

If you’re talking about how the media tries to influence the response, then of course they are constantly attempting to make the pendulum of reactions swing between picturing it as a criminal act and that of an insane act and so one can always expect a certain incomprehension. But it’s another question as to whether this has an influence on people who actually see the action. During the ‘Fixation’ action one woman was constantly asking “What’s wrong with him, is he sick?” Of course this is rather sad that such a cult of psychiatry has such power over public consciousness. However, if some kind of genuine conversation about the psychiatric norm does start then that’s just great. That’s my first point. Second. About this gesture …. I’m trying not so much to invent some new gesture, not to concoct some original act. The gesture of nailing one’s scrotum is basically quite culturally entrenched. It is a gesture which prisoners sometimes use.

In relation to what do they make this gesture?

It’s related to many different situations.

As a protest?

Yes. To carry to an extreme their lack of freedom. The impossibility of movement. Often there are wooden floors. And they peg themselves in. And where can you shift him to? A person is already imprisoned, and here he has fastened himself in. This is fixation. And you know when I speak in my text about the way the country is turned into a prison camp, about a police state, I’m not talking about this lightly. 10 November was Police Day.  Each year banners are hanging everywhere in the city – 10 November, long live our beloved police! All these signs on the surface. I work with these signs because they are a part of culture. It’s important to mark where all this comes from if one is to talk about the work with contexts. Without this the gesture of prisoners would remain behind these fences, doors and yet more fences. With these large number of barriers information just doesn’t get to us, one can’t even find photographs of this because no one in the prisons will be prepared to document this in such a way. Everyone knows that this is happening somewhere behind a large number of doors. And here this is happening at the very centre. However, if truth be told, a very conditional border was removed. 10 November, banners, books with the memoirs of dissidents and prisoners – these are markers which link everything in a single statement. If this doesn’t exist then a passerby will start to think: Red square, naked, I don’t know…  I would dispute this notion of the naked exhibitionist, why naked, a person is naked because he is deprived of everything, even his clothes. The level of impoverishment is an indicator of absence.


No, not vulnerability. There was no attempt to talk about this. Naked is an expression of a condition, stripped, denuded, deprived of everything. It is, on the other hand, the body in general that which can be found under any clothes. In any case clothes mark you, are some form of mask. Building up some kind of identity. Whereas the body is simply body. All bodies in some way or other are similar.

To what extent are the police a part of your actions?

Basically a very important part. To a large extent they do it all, they arrange this all. There everyone changes places.

In the sense that they arrest you?

No, in the sense of how they react to it. It is not my body which turns out to be a victim. Everything is constructed so that the figure of authority is, in fact, a victim of the situation because they find themselves in a subordinate situation. They need to obey regulations. This is a work on Subject-Object relations. The law-enforcement officials are afraid in the first instance but they are obliged to exercise their authority.

They are obliged to free you.

To do something – or to free me…

The fact that they are the authority and are obliged to free you, does this fact become a revolutionary reversal of roles or something else?

They become the objects of this situation. That is they… I think that this is an important moment: the state objectifies people, compels them to subordinate themselves to regulations, somehow to move within a range of permitted and non-permitted actions, to find themselves in such a corridor.  A man who submits is an object. When he realizes an action, he becomes an object, brought to a certain level perhaps. Beside while initially they are objects performing certain functions they then also become art objects. They want to neutralise and so they have a certain authority. They have a task to neutralise events, eliminate, cleanse the streets or squares. But this compels them to serve opposing goals. They begin to construct events. They become actors in these events. Everything is built through them. My own action is kept to a minimum. I simply sit there and do nothing. Or just stand there.

And if they hadn’t come, would you have still sat in Red Square?

Yes. It’s unclear how an event develops until it actually takes place. It is enough to denote a certain reticence. And the situation is then constructed around that reticence. Because the police, ‘ambulance’ or simply people who would attack me or do something else are simply a part of the social body. Something happens, some kind of rejection (or stigmatisation)- this, too, is a kind of interaction. A senselessly hermetic situation- I came, I left. Another important fact is that I speak with everyone in the same way. I communicate with journalists, with psychiatrists, with investigating officers in the same way. There exists definite rules as to how all this is drawn out. If one keeps to the rules of reticence and doesn’t react to signals from the authorities then there need not be any cooperation with it. I remain stationary and at that moment when the action comes to a concluding stage, when the doors have been closed then I begin to talk and to talk with everyone in the same way. I make no difference between journalists with whom I will tell all and, for example, an investigating officer. I could, of course, as it were, mock the investigating officer but it is not mockery as such. It is I who draws him into an artistic event. What did these dialogues lead to? Who attained their goals in this situation – art or the bureaucratic apparatus? And I with my work…

And if everything in the country was fine, what would you have done?

I don’t know.

So one could say that the worse the situation is in the country, the more work you’ll have?

I get it. What kind of situation. It’s an unrealizable utopia. There will never be such an ideal society and state. It seems to me that there are certain things in the nature of people- subject-object relations, an understanding of power, these things subordinate all others.

You don’t particularly like the concept of power? I take it that, roughly speaking, you believe that it can’t be a good thing, something reasonable? Can power be a good thing?

I believe not, because the task of power is to create a fully predictable individual. Because an unpredictable individual is a dangerous indvidual. The closer a person gets to the condition of Subject then the more he leaves some barriers, looking for something new and this is dangerous for people because he becomes ungovernable in this case.

Would you have protested in any country in the world?

Not in the same way. You must understand that there are different contexts. I’m not a professional protestor.

Protest art?

Political art. I’m not a professional of protest art. Political art and protest art are far from being one and the same thing. Protest art comes from poster art. There is a “NO” there and here there is a “YES”. This would be an over generalisation. I take as a premise that political art is work with control mechanisms.

Fine. Political art. Would you have exercised political art everywhere?

I don’t know. If I were to live in another country maybe I wouldn’t have exercised political art. Proceeding from how I now think I would probably have found some way in which to work. But maybe it would something close in form because different countries, different control systems give birth to different ways of suppressing the human imagination.

And is there a model or a regime of government which would be ideal for you? Anarchy perhaps?

Probably anarchy is an ideal model. I realise that its ideal is held in place by its unrealisability. It’s unlikely that humankind will decide to sacrifice the advantages of scientific and technological progress to a utopian vacuum of power (anarchy). Anarchy is a liberation from some kind of paradigms, it is resistance, a rejection of some or other enforcement of rules. Anarchy is precisely a work on the elaboration of the concept of power.

Anarchy is the closest idea for you? Or maybe something else too?

Yes it’s possibly close to me in some way. There is an insurgent anarchism and then there is another form of anarchism. Anarcho-communism is some kind of delirious contradiction. The dictatorship of equality against the dictatorship of freedom. Or there is one or there is another. It’s difficult to imagine the advent of punk culture in a dictatorial regime of general equality.

Would you like to live in a state where anarchy ruled?

There can be no state where anarchy rules.

A city.  Where everything like this is created. There is anarchy. And there in any case something is built up.

Undoubtedly. That’s why I answered anarchy. The life of a person is spent in permanent struggle for his subjectivisation, for his self-assertion becase all possible resources, forces, interests and, in the final resort, other people or someone else, groups of people work towards that objectivisation, towards that subordination. Even if a pseudo-anarchic structure were to be built… then in any case there would arise groups or structures who will begin to turn all that…

To systematise it.

Yes, to turn it into a hard bone-like content mass. And it is easier to reject these dogmas because they have not managed to become a political disenchantment. History persuades us that the lesson of the 20th Century didn’t prevent Kibbutzim fit a secular idea of the commonwealth of property along with a defence of the growing and sacred borders of the state of Israel. All this needs to be rejected. This constant self- assertion. This is like an endless trial.

Is there some kind of ideal model for the existence of a person? Is this possible? So see it for yourself: so that nobody could usurp you, you don’t intersect with anybody? 

It’s difficult for me to say. It all depends on a the human being. It all depends on the person. A person must overcome that which was imposed on him …


Globally – there’s a movement towards an anarchic model.

After which everything will once again run around in circles?

Without a doubt. There’s a certain range or continuum, of course. Like in the song: “Everything which is not anarchy is fascism” We find ourselves between these two poles. Fascism, clearly, not in terms of the Italian model or some other but as a kind of generic term. Fascism as absolute dictate, absolute and total control. And then there’s the other pole: anarchy as some kind of absolute freedom. In fact between them everything oscillates.

And in the middle is everything normal between these two extremes?

I’ve never thought about what can be found in between. I don’t know what’s in between. In between there is a dull liberalism with its shoddy political correctness.

I’m trying to understand what aim you have in that essentially closed circle. You understand that which would be wonderful will never in fact be realised.

In actual fact what is it that changes society and in general gives us some kind of transformation. Certainly not any political templates or schemes, because it is precsiely our work on cultural codes which is the most significant thing here. Conceptual precedents influence how people relate to that which happens around them, it is one’s reflexes produced by one’s relationship to different situations. Which associative models are activated there and how the individual gives a situational response. The person may give a quick response or may, reflecting, make a decision. And it is this field where the struggle takes place. Of course regimes change. There was a Soviet regime (tr.n here Pavlensky uses the pejorative word formed from the word Soviet which is hard to translate into English), before that there was the monarchy, the Russian Empire and now there is this regime. In any regime the military and security services are those with power. In 1917 there was a revolution, there were changes and there were significant changes in the cultural sphere. In art and in terms of how people related to each other. There was a movement for 15 years and then a reaction, the Bolsheviks smothered everything and things were forcefully rolled back.

Do you have some kind of “Super-idea” regarding what you are doing? Where are you taking all this? What point between fascism and anarchy seems to you the most appropriate?

One undoubtedly needs to push everything in the direction of anarchy because…

So that something moves at least a little bit?

Even for things to remain as they are one already needs a certain effort. If one makes a great effort one can move things a little further. There is a very strong force moving us towards the other side, towards fascism and absolute subordination. Working towards this are the strong resources of state apparatuses, an entire system of authorities. This is a constant collision. It will not cease. For me it is on this field where the head on clash takes place. It’s ridiculous to dream that those forces which are an obstacle will eventually dissolve, disappear somewhere and then we will suddenly find ourselves in anarchy and live under a different model. I think there is a more realistic perspective on things. But if we are to discuss things theoretically then, of course, when you loosen certain frameworks, move some borders further away then you will help others, those who come after you.

A trip to Moscow Tsiolkovsky’s bookshop(1) On Aleksei Tsvetkov’s ‘Column Left, Marx!’ (or Fifty Shades of Red)


A copy of Alexei Tsvetkov’s latest book published by the radical Russian publisher ‘Free Marxist Press’.

Back in Russia – and that means one of my first trips will be to the two bookshops where you can be sure that all the necessary books are to be found. Since Moscow is a city with a decreasing number of bookshops- according to a report by the Moscow Times in late July there are now only 226 bookstores for a population of 12 million and few of these bookstores will stock radical publishers my first trips are to Falanster and Tsiolkovsky. Tsiolkovsky, indeed, is associated with the writer Alexei Tsvetkov whose latest book is the first book I rushed out to buy.

The writer Aleksei Tsvetkov at Tsiolkovsky bookshop.

Tsvetkov, the writer and activist (not to be confounded with an older generation Alexei Tsvetkov – also a writer but more a poet and essayist rather than an essayist, novelist and activist that would describe the younger Tsvetkov) was recently awarded the prestigious literary award, the Andrey Bely prize for his book novel ‘The King of the Drowned’ and has written a fine book entitled ‘Pop Marxism’ that surely deserves some consideration from foreign publishers regarding having it translated.  The new book by Tsvetkov is a pun on a military command and could be rendered something like ‘Column Left Marx’. In a Facebook remark a few months ago Tsvetkov joked about writing a book entitled ‘Fifty Shades of Red’ and this surely would be a fine title. It moves from Tsvetkov’s superlative essay on the Last Soviet Marxist Evald Ilyenkov (which I translated here) to another similar piece on Lenin’s rival Bolshevik philosopher and sci-fi author Alexander Bogdanov . Considerations on the Russian revolution and the figure of Lenin are then followed by a piece on What Is Contemporary Marxism? And then finally we move to the German Red Army Faction (RAF- Three Red Letters).

From the Rote Armee Fraktion to Fassbinder marks the barrier from politics and theory to the cultural front with Tsvetkov attempting to answer the question ‘what makes Fasbinder a comrade?’ Tsvetkov stays with film trying to explain how we can understand the apparent ‘Hollywood Marxism’ of films such as Hunger Games, Elysium etc. After a piece on Besson’s Lucy, Tsvetkov takes us into the realm of poetry where he gives us a political map of Russian poets: liberal stoics, rightist national pessimists and leftists awaiting Mayakovsky finally find a classifier who can write with some nuance on their political stances. Political music is the next subject. Finally in the cultural section Tsvetkov explores the magazine Bolshoy Gorod and dissects their cultural politics with the suggestive subheading of ‘An attempt at a Class Reading of Liberal Propaganda’. Then Tsvetkov subsection number three is entitled ‘Personal’ but here, of course, the personal is political. Chapter titles are ‘My First Meeting’, ‘My First of May’ and then a short piece answering the question ‘what were my first inner revolutions?’ Noting that the artist Anatoly Osmolovsky once stated that he became a leftist after viewing Godard’s ‘Pierrot le Fou’, Tsvetkov’s also undertakes an analysis of those moments of inner revolutions that turned him to the left. Further pieces describe the short-lived Russian Occupy moment – the ‘Occupy Abai’ experiment in May 2012 in Chistiye Prudi. A curious week or so in the life of Putin’s Moscow: a time when Central Moscow was occupied even by a grazing cow. A trip to London (entitled ‘London Calling or Chupa Chups with Marijuana’) and a piece on Tsvetkov’s intriguing ‘eurodroog’ (I’m not sure if this Burgess neologism exactly fits but neither does ‘Euro friend’ quite capture this character) and their conversations about Russia.  The final section is devoted to childhood- though, mainly Tsvetkov’s daughter appears at the main interlocutor and dramatis personae in this section. I remember Toni Negri’s first translator into English once telling me how he sent a letter to him (probably before emails) asking him how Negri would explain the Marxist theory of time to his seven year-old daughter. Negri, apparently, never replied. Emery surely had the wrong interlocutor, for Tsvetkov shows us how in both this book and in his earlier ‘Pop Marxism’ there is a leftist thinker prepared to explain Marxism as much to his young daughter as to political activists and university students but then, as Tsvetkov suggests with his first piece here entitled ‘The Child as Teacher’, it is as much his daughter who explained Marxism to him as vice versa. The pieces here entitled ‘Children’s Politics’, ‘Children’s Mysticism’ and discussions of Soviet children’s literature such as ‘Neznaika on the Moon’ are promising leads to a new genre in which Marxist thought can be formulated.

By the way Tsvetkov’s book has just been nominated for the Nose Literary Award. The award is based on the number of votes from the public and Tsvetkov has promised to sing the Internationale from the stage if awarded main prize. So get voting! Tsvetkov’s book is published by Kirill Medvedev’s excellent and undersung Free Marxist Press. I’ve already written about their excellent volume entitled ‘Sex of the Exploited’ and in my next post I hope to mention a few more books by this publisher – including Medvedev’s own translations of the poetry of Victor Serge and Kirill Adibekov’s fine translations of Kenneth Rexroth (Abdibekov’s is one of Russia’s most interesting, but lesser known, film curators) and has worked on some fine film programmes for one of Russia’s best film festivals 2morrow/Завтра Another book discovered at Tsiolkovsky yesterday was Ilya Falkovsky’s ‘Book of the Living’ -a kind of veiled autobiography by another extraordinarily important figure in Russia’s underground culture who needs to be discovered soon. But all this is for a future post.

The logo for Kirill Medvedev’s Free Marxist Press

Hypocrite politique – mon semblable – mon frere (the equal logic of Putin and Bildt versus the logic of social protest).


That events in Greece and the astounding victory of No in the referendum over the troika’s austerity diktat’s will have consequences far beyond Greece is obvious. Much too early days to tell what all these consequences will be- I think that much depends on the mobilization of forces in Greece and Europe. But there is a certain angle to this story that few are talking about. Few commentators are turning their memories or attention to another revolt which happened not too long ago- notably,the Maidan along with what were the anti-Maidan’s. It’s obvious that Greek’s Syntagma revolt is not a replication of the swell of popular activity in various parts of Ukraine in 2014 but Paul Mason’s use of the term ‘People’s Power’ is surely an accurate one in so far one can call both Syntagma and Maidan popular earthquakes against ‘unbearable situations’ and stifling political realities.

Daniel Trilling was one of the few on twitter to mention Maidan and ‘Syntagma’ in a tweet after the referendum result with this observation: Suspect the overlap between those who praised Maidan protests and those who are praising Greece’s “No” is quite small.  Indeed. For months now pro-Maidan liberals have been highlighting what they saw as the European left’s hypocrisy over Maidan. Now the boot is surely on the other foot. Now it is those Euro-liberals who fully deserve their full share of being charged with hypocrisy. Not only that but their tools and their language are slowly and surely becoming more Putin-like as time goes on.

What have been the reactions of the Carl Bildt’s and Martin Schulz’s and the Euro-establishment to the Syntagma revolt? Threats of regime change, massive use of TV propaganda, use of fear tactics, hissy fits all point to a certain symmetry to Russia’s establishment vis-a-vis. Carl Bildt’s tweet stating that Greece has refused the help that other Euro countries have offered them and that this is tragic carries that unmistakable whiff of the undertones of Putin-speak and the same mafia-like logic of spitefully punishing the renegade (even if that ‘renegade’ is an entire people). The fact that 61% of the Greek people have said ‘no’ to all the television channels, the Euro-establishment, and ‘everyone who is anyone in Greece’ and Europe suggests that it is not just Putin who has lost touch with reality but Merkel and her minions too.

It is surely time to forge new transnational forces in the two different parts of Europe (East and West) before these become impossible. Indeed the logic of a Second Cold War suits both the Bildts (who immediately tried to ratchet up this Cold War and opposing block logic in a tweet today stating that Greece doesn’t want to reform. Ukraine is doing it. Greece got massive help. Ukraine got very little by comparison) as well as the Russian establishment. Corporate logic (of the Gazproms and western banks) demands this.

Their logic will demand a new momentum in the new Cold War just as the logic of the nay-sayers from Greece to Armenia in their common resistance to austerity will require its own momentum and internationalist thrust. Especially now that there will be a growing common logic to protests from Ukraine (as long as national logic subsides) to Russia and Armenia. A logic of primarily social demands- whether it be the work to rule by doctors in Russia, Electric Yerevan’s response to hikes in electricity prices along with Greece’s defiant resistance to austerity should find a common thread running through Maidan, Bolotnaya, Syntagma and Liberty Square. A logic that would threaten the Putin’s and the Gazprom’s, the Ukrainian oligarchs and the Carl Bildt’s, Angela Merkel’s and troikas of the world who not only speak with the same language of power but are even beginning to share the same intonation and tone of voice.

Notes Towards a Manifesto of Kibalchich Cosmism


Nikolai Kibalchich, regicide and pioneer of space travel.

In line both with the fact that I have been feeling for some time that individual texts are no longer adequate to the situation in which one finds oneself in locally, nationally, globally and cosmically and in line with a certain despair at the ways in which nationalist (or exclusivist or partial) hysteria is gaining ground I want to propose a kind of collective manifesto (or a group of collective manifestos) that can be written in various ways to be determined. All I have is the title of the Manifesto: ‘Towards Kibalchich Cosmism’ and a list (to be published gradually) of quotes, texts and examples of human resistance and liberation.

A mention of Kibalchich on facebook a few weeks ago and a quote from the 1920 Cosmist Manifesto restoring that memory through association today led me towards the idea that Kibalchism has great potential as an idea responding to the present human stage of our imprisonment in national and nationalist or geopolitical logics. Cosmism, space travel and the expropriation of cosmism by Eurasianists, or rather the God, Tsar and Fatherland version of cosmism should surely be countered by a new form of cosmism. If Nikolai Fedorov’s ideas are expropriated by a variety of Huntingdon-inspired nationalists then why not formulate a Kibalchichesque Cosmism as alternative. Kibalchichesque Cosmism can become a universal alternative precisely because it is inimical to national and hierarchical ideologies and there is no chance that Kibalchich can be appropriated by establishments anywhere. A regicide who used his scientific theories both to dynamite tsars and to clear the path to space exploration, Kibalchich is surely the ultimate cosmist who can speak up for universal liberation. Interestingly the fact that he was the paternal uncle of Victor Serge (or Victor Kibalchich) may indicate another key reason for developing a form of Kibalchichism.

Nikolai, arrested and jailed for lending a prohibited book to a peasant, was also a pioneer in rocket propulsion and was the explosives expert for Narodnaya Volya who eventually assassinated Alexander II.  Arrested and imprisoned soon after he still worked on his scientific ideas even at death’s door before his execution:

“When his men came to see Kibalchich as his appointed counsel for the defense,” said V.N Gerard in his statement to the special committee of the senate, “I was surprised above all by the fact that his mind was occupied with completely different things with no bearing on the present trial. He seems to be immersed in research on some aeronautic missile; he thirsted for a possibility to write down his mathematical calculations involved in the discovery.”

The idea that space exploration was first discovered by a regicide surely indicates one thing: real progress will be achieved through liberation and liberation through revolt. So if the global investment banking class wish to expropriate Nikolai Fedorov (by some accounts a control freak and eugenicist), migrants, proletarians and other marginalised groups still have their Kibalchich at hand

What can Kibalchich Cosmism be?

Kilbachich didn’t have time to develop a fully thought out theory having been locked in prison cells and dying at the hands of the tsarist hangmen at the age of 27 or 28. Yet surely just like Luther Blissett, Nikolai Kibalchich needs some form of collective identity re-appropriation. In the figure of Kibalchich universal revolt can surely be reconnected to the idea of universal liberation and scientific progress. So why not turn his name and his example into a collective theory.

The aim of my next post is to list texts and historical figures which and who (to my mind) could be the inspiration for this Kibalchichesque Cosmism.