Russian Aesthetics Under Capitalism (Rethinking Marxism Symposium)

UPDATE: For those interested in the discussed issues, good sources (in Russian) are Moscow Art Magazine and Scepsis (Скепсис), the former journal has a Russian (original) version of Sofronov’s essay Why I Am a Marxist.

New Rethinking Marxism ( Volume 20:3, July 2008 ) has a symposium dedicated to a discussion of contemporary Russian Marxism and aesthetics – the theme itself is worth attention, since after the end of the Cold War the assumption is that Russia abandoned itself dark Marxist past and rushed into a new bright capitalist future – see excellent essay by Vladislav Safronov Why I Am a Marxist in the same issue (356-366). The participants are listed below:


Russian Aesthetics under Capitalism

Edited by
Yulia Tikhonova and Susan Jahoda


Jack Amariglio
Blue Noses Group
Chto Delat
Yevgeniy Fiks
Dmitry Gutov
Susan Jahoda
Fredric Jameson
Olga Kopenkina
Yahya M. Madra
Artemy Magun
Anatoly Osmolovsky
Alexei Penzin
Alexandr Skidan
Jacques Ranciere
David Riff
Vladislav Sofronov
Yulia Tikhonova
Dmitry Vilensky

Here’s a short bit from the Editor’s Introduction (hopefully short enough not to violate the copyright):

In this issue we devote fully one half of the pages to an extraordinary symposium on the rethinking
of Marxism, politics, and aesthetics in contemporary Russia. At the invitation of RM, Russian-born, U.S.-based curator Yulia Tikhonova, in collaboration with RM Art Coeditor Susan Jahoda, set out to document the ideas and debates that surround and infuse the activities of a vibrant group of intellectuals, artists, and activists in Moscow and St. Petersburg. The resulting symposium includes their own observations and reflections – Tikhonova’s in an introductory essay, Jahoda’s via evocative
photographs of surviving and recent Russian iconography reproduced throughout the collection – as well as contributions from an exceptional group of Russians and international scholars: Jack Amariglio, the Blue Noses Group, tChto Delat, Yevgeniy Fiks, Dmitry Gutov, Fredric Jameson, Olga Kopenkina, Yahya M. Madra, Artemy Magun, Anatoly Osmolovsky, Alexei Penzin, Alexandr Skidan, Jacques Ranciere, David Riff, Vladislav Sofronov, and Dmitry Vilensky. Together, they give evidence that,
eighteen years after the fall of the USSR, under the conditions of ‘‘Jurassic capitalism’’ and authoritarian political rule, there is renewed interest in Marxism as a source of critical thinking and cultural practice.

At first glance, the conditions for a Marxist renaissance in Russia could not be less propitious. There is, of course, the weight of Soviet history – the stifling effect of official Marxist teachings, the strictures imposed by socialist realist aesthetics, and the lack of contact with many of the ideas that reanimated Western Marxism. In the present, the fact that, according to Forbes, Russia now ranks second only to the United States in the number of billionaires speaks to the predatory nature of the kind of extractive capitalism that is fueled by oil revenues, sanctioned by a neoliberal religious orthodoxy, and dominated by the particular interests of a narrow elite surrounding Vladimir Putin. But reality is never so one-sided. It is precisely the effervescence of different engagements with Marxism – of revisiting old ideas and promises, challenging official dogmas (both Communist and neoliberal), and imagining new ways of thinking, creating, and acting within current circumstances – that is evident throughout this symposium.

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