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Saturday -- 07.16.11 -- How to Represent a History Politically -- with Chto Delat? and friends

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Saturday -- 07.16.11 -- How to Represent a History Politically -- with Chto Delat? and friends

1. About Saturday
2. Short Dialogue about the Present
3. Useful Links

1. About Saturday

When: 7:15 pm
Who: Free and open to all
Where: 16 Beaver Street 4th floor
What: Screening / Discussion

Building off of the last two events:
Touching on our contemporary forms of thinking living
Thinking about Palestine in relation to Marxist and Third World Internationalism

The question of recent and not so recent history kept intervening in every attempt to speak about contemporary struggles and practices. Those questions of relating to history will be on the table directly in this Saturday's event. Some of you are already familiar with Chto Delat?, the collective of artists, activists, and thinkers from Moscow and St. Petersburg. We organized an event together in 2006, and some of you may have met them at an informal meeting organized with other artists in the Fall of 2010.

Two members of the collective – Dmitry Vilesnky and Nikolay Oleynikov (see here are here in New York participating in the Ostalgia exhibition at the New Museum with a new commission “The Rise and Fall of Socialism, 1945-1991” and it is at their behest that we invite others who may be interested to discuss the challenges revisiting the socialist and communist past (especially here and now).

We will begin the event with a screening of 'Perestroika Songspiel' a film by Chto Delat?. Please find details further down in the email.

Below is a text proposed by Dmitry as introduction to the evening:

How to represent a history politically?

The case of ex-socialist bloc.

We invite you to a discussion triggered by the opening at The New Museum exhibition “Ostalgia” ( which is one of a handful of attempts to comprehensively present to an American public, the work of artists from ex-socialist countries – “From the Baltic republics to the Balkans, from Central Europe to Central Asia” (from the press release of the show)

But should we feel any nostalgic feelings in regards to the collapse of socialist bloc which happened 20 years ago? How do we feel today in regards to the past living through the period of globalization and neo-liberal governance?

How could we find political models and displays which help us not to betray an emancipatory potential hidden and betrayed, in its own way, by the real politics of socialist states? What lessons can we gain from all socialist developments in economy, culture, everyday which we're not subjugated to the logic of capital and 'free market'?

In Europe the discussion on postsocialist or postcommunist condition and “communist hypothesis” have become widespread in recent times (we should remember “Postcommunist condition” research project, publication and exhibition “Privatisations” initiated by Boris Groys in 2005 ( ; ongoing “Former West” project ( , the Idea of Communism series of conferences, “Progressive Nostalgia” ( exhibition and numerous projects of smaller scale).

It looks like that they have formed a major topic of attention in all parts of Europe but being transported to the US they definitely recode their meaning and relevance. We would like in particular to focus on the work of translation. How it happens and transforms the core of the message - transforming it into something new - from one time to another, from one political system to the system that negates it, from one universal (socialist) language of communication to the communication of money and prestige.


2. Short Dialogue about the Present

You have felt the need to organize a discussion in parallel to the exhibition 'ostalgia' in which Chto delat (What is to be Done?) is participating. We imagine that in addition to people living in New York, there will be others who could enrich the discussion. Maybe, as way of invitation to anyone who will join the discussion, it might be interesting to discuss your relation to this exhibition, what you have tried to do in that context, and where the questions are for you?

It is hard to say before I see the show and finish our work - we got free hands and quite good conditions for realisation - and for us it is a continuation of the experiments with time lines that we have started to make in Istambul - so let's put as a question that we definitely want to try to answer on Saturday

How do the questions you bring to the table regarding the soviet history relate to the contemporary political struggles in Russia today? And what are the major strands of alignment artists, activists, and thinkers are taking in relation to these contemporary developments?

I think that very Benjaminian struggle over all lost chances in the past are very important in our situation - a few years ago we have published an issue on experiences of Perestroika or What does it mean to lose?

see here:

We have problematised the issues of failure and our situation as a sort of double failure of 1917 and 1991 - very dramatic - so we are doomed to return to these traumatic and inspiring events.

There has been a growing sense in the last years, since the evident unsustainability of neoliberalism and capitalist 'development,' even in economic terms, of an emergent counter-power, a constituent power emerging. Maybe one feels it most in North Africa, across parts of the Middle East, Mediterranean, and of course Latin America. It may lack overall coherence, and all the movements are not explicitly anti-capitalist, but the maladies they resist or confront are its offspring. And just as this last phase of accumulation and 'development' has been uneven, so too have its consequences of devastation and dispossession.

How do these developments, both the negative consequences and the poles of resistance translate into the Russian context in this last period?

Unfortunately, the Russian situation is very reactionary and it is a big paranoia of power to stop any form of democratic development and debate - 'real' politics became a total farce and resistance is very weak and unorganised.

How does your own analysis both globally and situated in the Russian context, inform your groups' strategies and approaches?

To make a very long talk short, we learn how to act in a 'winter time.'

In October of 2006, we met in New York and discussed the idea of Moscow after Moscow. Here maybe the main consideration was that of a post-soviet life with particular focus on experience of the city, in the midst of a proliferation of neoliberal experiments in urban spaces globally. If we think of 2007-9 as the fall of another paradigm and understand that today's crisis is far more than an economic blip, how to then begin to imagine and embody what this post-socialist AND post-capitalist life will be like?

You start with a small collective and see how it operates... and share those experiences.

How much of this imaginary is locked in the subjugated or forgotten histories and how much remains to be invented?

Nothing is forgotten and many things should be invented anew - we Marxists live in a tradition.

What are the concepts and practices that remain most important to you within this struggle at this time?

Ohhh - you are really heavy - need a bit of time to spend with my family - keep provocation on my side - How to actualize the concept of democratic centralism? How to combine ascesis and desire? Spontaniety and Organisation? All issues around dialectic and method.


3. Perestroika Songspiel

a film by Chto Delat
Musik by Mikhail Krutik

Our project deals with a key episode during perestroika in the Soviet Union. The action of the film unfolds on August 21, 1991, after the victory over the restorationist coup. On this day of unprecedented popular uplift it seemed that democracy had won a final victory in our country and that the people should and would be able to build a new, just society. How did our heroes see that society? This is the question we try to answer in our film.The film is structured like an ancient tragedy: its dramatis personae are divided into a chorus and a group of five heroes. Our heroes are key types generated by the perestroika era, each of them with a particular vision of his/her role in history: a democrat, a businessman, a revolutionary, a nationalist, and a feminist. They act and they dream. They analyze their actions, their place in society, and their vision of the country’s political path. The chorus is the incarnation of public opinion. It makes moral judgments on our heroes and it foresees their futures, as if it were gazing on the proceedings from the present day.

Our film analyzes the specific configuration of forces during this supremely important historical moment of contemporary history. It critiques political naïveté while also showing how difficult it is for people to realize their vision of the future together.

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