Posted by Rainer Ganahl, appendix Q6, activism on December 17, 2000 at 14:47:42:
In Reply to: Question to Rainer Ganahl Q6 posted by Craig Martin on December 14, 2000 at 08:07:04:
Rainer Ganahl: (appendix: activism – agents of change)
What actually has happened to the agents of change? Who is changing something today and why can “doing nothing or art” be some kind of activism?
We remember, that for the French Revolution the changing agency was the heroic beourgois revolutionary subject; with Hegel, it was the absolute spirit of history expressed through the state; with Marx it was the proletarian revolution carried automatically out by a rather homogenous class of people rendered paupers, miserable and uniform by the laws of capitalistic society; with Gramsci – who acknowledged that Marx was wrong in this prediction by observing increasing social, economic, intellectual and institutional complexity - it was rather through political mediation and representation from organic intellectuals acting within a differentiated civil society in a fight over hegemony that transformative change would take place. But in the first half of the 20th century in Europe we see fanatically nationalistic, fascist, communist and ordinary but victimized masses in the streets, on the battle fields, on trains, in labor and concentration camps. The very agents of industrialized death by war, by terror and mass-killings were petrified parties and “strong men” (Franco, Hitler, Stalin etc.) who actually closed off the process of political mediation and representation of the variety of fractions in civil society. We saw instead murderous ideologies of hatred, chauvinistic and racial arrogance, discrimination, anti-Semitism, anti-classism and so on that didn’t allow any counter-narratives, counter-politics or unapproved social or private activities. All complexities were reduced to simplistic formulas that annihilated anything else in the most brutal way. Political processes and decision making were forcefully reduced to an authoritarian degree zero.
Marx who lived at a time when the rural classes were destroyed and forced into the most abject working conditions in the then newly formed industries could rightfully assume that this process was to go on and homogenize and universalize industrial and capitalist misery. Therefore he counted in a Hegelian, teleological style on the emergence of a unified class that would automatically carry out the proletarian revolution bringing society to a non-antagonistic reconciliation where differences wouldn’t play any role anymore. Such was his utopia which he never really depicted but of which he thought it would take care of itself once private property and the division of labor were abolished. This of course, never happened but instigated dictators of the left and the right to force and beat reality – institutions, groups, minorities, people - into simplistic bloody subordination.
In the second half of the 20th century Adorno and many others were praising the non-identical in identity, the differences in society, institutions and politics. Uniformity in the so-called Free Western World from the 60s on wasn’t anymore forced and enforced by the state, by parties and by dominant ideology. Minority rights were granted and are – very optimistically speaking - today more or less taken for granted by the United Nations and by a majority of the people governed by liberal modern democracies, thought the quotidian practices might be different depending on the country, the place, the social strata, the institution, the group and on each individual. This process was the result of liberation fights, of student and worker revolts, of anti-racist, anti-apartheid, anti-war movements, of sexual liberations, gay and lesbian affirmations, ecological protests and many more. Uniformity during our period has been more achieved through consumerism, media and spectacle industries which – paradoxically enough – also have differentiated tastes, classes, consumption and individual behavior.
Today, in a highly complex, contradicting, globalizing society critical agency can and should take on many forms including excessive consumption and/or non-consumption, total spectacle and/or non-spectacle, art and /or kitsch, theory and/or lust, prostitution, drugs. This list can be as long as there are different interests and activities. As long as they all want to interact respectfully, articulate themselves via legitimate political and cultural media, resist simplistic definition making, solutions and coercing terror emancipatory projects of all kinds for a better, more just and peaceful world will be possible. Activism therefore, under the premises of today’s heterogeneity, could consist also just of having pleasure, intellectual and/or sensual pleasure, by – for example: just reading Marx even if there is little or no chance to imagine disenfranchised proletarian masses walking down Fifth Avenue in New York thought illegally enslaved, non-English speaking, exploited sweat shop or sex workers exist in large numbers in this city as everywhere else. There are only some AIDS activist walks and the NY marathon which reduces social, economic and cultural differences quite impressively for a temporal moment of competition under the banner of health and some sponsor’s names. Activism, as long as it isn’t over-institutionalized, over-professionalized, corrupted by extrinsic interests, corporations, fashion and political organizations will always continue to have the potential to change people and their world. Of course, there are many ways of being activist via political associations, fashion, corporations, special interest groups or institutions as well. To a certain degree, today, the less activism fits given notions of activism, the more it might proof effective. Isn’t it?
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