terre thaemlitz writings

On the theme of "Communism"
- Terre Thaemlitz

Excerpt of transcript to a radio performance that was part of a four-day series of broadcasts titled "ENTHUSIASM!, On the Theme of Communism," at the Frieze Art Fair, London, October 13 2006. Curated by Grant Watson and Sarah Pierce for Resonance FM, 104.4FM.


President [G.W.] Bush, in a speech given on September 4th before the Military Officers Association of America and diplomatic representatives of other countries that have suffered terrorist attacks, flawlessly portrayed the classic U.S. perspective on communism by saying, "Bin laden and his terrorist allies have made their intentions as clear as Lenin and Hitler before them." He possibly meant to say "Stalin and Hitler," rather than "Lenin and Hitler," but for any U.S. citizen to even be able to make that distinction means containing an awareness of communist history that, to this day, borders on treason.

The conflation of communism with fascism in the U.S. and other capitalist super-powers is ongoing. But it is important to remember the term Fascism itself is overloaded with false moralities from the Liberal Democratic World - false in that the Democratic World feigns eternally having damned Fascism, when in fact most contemporary criticisms of Fascism originated within left-wing and Communist groups, and were long dismissed by the Democratic world. Part of the reason for this dismissal was the fact that both the Communists and Fascists were initially vying for the support of a working class, so the bourgeois-centered Democratic World considered anti-Fascist propaganda from the Communists simply an aid in dividing the working class. Later, after the rise of Fascist states, their dangers were still overlooked by the Democratic World because they afforded both individuals and corporations tremendous opportunities for profit. Of course, given the histories of ethnic cleansing in traditionally Communist regions which continue to this day - and not to forget events in the U.S.A. such as the near successful genocide of Native Americans, as well as the absurd abuses of Israeli militarism which also just so happen to be made possible by U.S. support, everyone is floating in the same ocean of holocostic hypocrisy.

By comparing Bin Ladin to Hitler, Bush's statement also invoked the increasingly familiar image of "Islamo-fascism." But as columnist Katha Pollitt recently noted, the term Islamo-fascism is "a terrible historical analogy. Italian Fascism, German Nazism and other European fascist movements... were nationalist and secular, closely allied with international capital and aimed at creating powerful, up-to-date, all-encompassing states.... If only to remind us that the worst barbarities of the modern era were committed by the most modern people, it's worth preserving 'fascism' as a term with specific historical context." With time, the terms communism and fascism have both come to hold the appearance of analytical terms, while in fact being emotional ones, intended to get us to think less and fear more.

Or, depending upon our business, to think less and love more. Here in the context of the Frieze Art Fair, we can't overlook the way that Futurism's relation to Italian Fascism is often diffused and rendered palatable by citing that Tomasso Marinetti and other founding Futurists favored a more bourgeois and abstract play with the idea of violence, and that they had essentially cut ties from the right-wing populists by the time Futurism became the officially sanctioned Art of Italy under Mussolini. However, to perceive Futurists as mere idlers engaging in philosophical exercises void of violence is similarly misleading. For example, Marinetti was a well known supporter of Italy's invasion of Libya. Similarly, Marinetti, Boccioni, Sant'elia and Sironi had all served as military volunteers at Gallarate in 1915.

Of course, like the art critic's praise of Futurism, communism undergoes a similarly decontextualized positive spin by totalitarian and Third World emergent capitalist nations who tout symbolic alliances with Marxist and communist ideals as an affect of resistance to First World bourgeois culture. In this way, the term "communism" puts a modern face on such nations' internal ruling-class antagonisms that are actually archaically feudal in nature, the future of the "revolution" to be preserved by bloodline hierarchies. There is no doubt that within these contexts a Marxist view of class struggle is still incredibly helpful as an ideological basis for organizing resistance to First World globalization, particularly since the First World is obsessed with heartlessly reducing class antagonisms to a simple matter of "individual growth potential" and "lifestyle choice" - something First World citizens find increasingly possible to believe as our lower class standard of living rises by exporting our manufacturing miseries to the impoverished countries upon which our economies stand. But to confuse a grass-roots need for Marxist analysis as with attempted realization of utopian communist ideals in the Second- and Third-World is to replace it's critical potential with cynical ideological weaponry - just as Bush cynically waves the flag of "freedom" during the U.S.'s ongoing internal eradication of civil rights and social programs, and external expansionist militarism.

Whether it be the First World's negative conflation of communism with fascism, or the Second- and Third World's positive conflation of totalitarianism and emergent capitalism with communism, the term "communism" itself seems to have been coopted beyond any critical usefulness. It is here, with this word "communism," that our radio producers asked us to begin. Everything tainted by fascism, aesthetics and romance.

It is not a matter of cynicism to say the Frieze Art Fair is the wrong venue for this theme. It is not a matter of cynicism to say the art world doesn't care about any of this. True cynicism would be to assert that the art world does care about communism. We all know contemporary art is a pinnacle example of capitalist processes of reification and abstract value. Of course, this extends to determining the amount of money I have received for producing this very radio segment - a value which increases by my being here live, but which still does not surpass the cost of my airfare from Tokyo to London. Broadcasting on the theme of "communism" within Frieze's totally ineffective and impoverished economy of signs, it becomes increasingly difficult to conceal my underlying intention of simply trying to make enough money to pay my rent - as is the case with many of the staff here today.

It is only at this point of confessing my utter economic dependency upon systems I despise, and the personal sense of concession involved in discussing the theme of communism here in this context with you today, that - if only for a fraction of a second - Marxist analysis takes on a sense of necessity. Not on the communal level. Certainly not on the state level. But simply as a means of understanding the nature of certain oppressions. With this as a starting point, I'd like to imagine that any ensuing actions are not attempted realizations of communist ideals, but simply attempts to end the unacceptable, robbed of romance by the reality of consequence.