Chto Delat? / What is to be Done?

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The collective Chto Delat (What is to be done?) was founded in early 2003 in Petersburg by a workgroup of artists, critics, philosophers, and writers from St. Petersburg, Moscow, and Nizhny Novgorod with the goal of merging political theory, art, and activism.

The group was constituted in May 2003 in St. Petersburg in an action called “The Refoundation of Petersburg.” Shortly afterwards, the original, as yet nameless core group began publishing an international newspaper called Chto Delat?. The name of the group derives from a novel by the Russian 19th century writer Nikolai Chernyshevsky, and immediately brings to mind the first socialist worker’s self-organizations in Russia, which Lenin actualized in his own publication, “What is to be done?” (1902). Chto Delat sees itself as a self-organized platform for a variety of cultural activities intent on politicizing “knowledge production” through redefinitions of an engaged autonomy for cultural practice today.

The array of activities is coordinated by a core group including following members:

Tsaplya Olga Egorova (artist, Petersburg), Artiom Magun (philosopher, Petersburg), Nikolay Oleynikov (artist, Moscow), Natalia Pershina/Glucklya (artist, Petersburg), Alexey Penzin (philosopher, Moscow), David Riff (art critic, Moscow), Alexander Skidan (poet, critic, Petersburg), Oxana Timofeeva (philosopher, Moscow), and Dmitry Vilensky (artist, Petersburg). In 2012 the choreographer Nina Gasteva has joined a collective after few years of intense collaboration. Since then many Russian and international artist and researchers has participated in different projects realized under the collective name Chto Delat? (see descriptions of each projects on this web site)

020_opening-kronstadt

Chto Delat? collective in Kronstadt in 2005
Standing: from the right: Oleynikov, Gluklya, Timofeeva, Shuvalov, Tsaplya, Riff, Penzin; Sitting: Magun and Vilensky

 

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Oxana Timofeeva | MANIFESTO FOR ZOMBIE-COMMUNISM

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In the initial formulation of the notion of Revolutionary Situation (in his article Mayovka of the Revolutionary Proletariat) Lenin describes two conditions for a Revolutionary Situation, which were later summarized as “the bottoms don’t want and the tops cannot live in the old way”. Later, Lenin adds one more condition: the readiness of masses for revolutionary action. In his text Left-Wing” Communism: An Infantile Disorder he even claims that for the victory of Revolution it is necessary that the majority of workers are ready to meet death in their struggle. The greatest of Lenin’s achievements was to proclaim, at some point, that the revolutionary situation is now and not somewhere in the future.

Let’s forget for a moment about the tops and the bottoms, and concentrate on these verbs: “don’t want”, “cannot”, “are ready” (to act, to meet death). Here, we deal with unwillingness, impossibility, and mobilization. Living in the old way is not desirable any more, and it is not possible, so that one is ready for everything. That’s what I call despair.

The border between hope and despair is very subtle. There can be a moment where they are almost indiscernible, but right after this moment – when THIS is not only undesirable, but impossible, and absolutely unbearable, – in brief, when hope slips away, or rather leaps into despair – there is a point of no return. Only those who are desperate are ready to die in this struggle – not because they hope for a better future, but because they cannot stay in the present. Desperation simply means that things cannot stay like this. And here is the difference – until there is no hope, true revolutionary action is postponed.

There are three types of hope:

  • That things will get better (and therefore we should either patiently wait and do nothing, or even support the status quo – to prevent changes which can bring about a bad outcome);
  • That things will get better if we struggle (that is, we can make the world better, improve it);
  • That things will get worse (they are not so bad now, the future will produce more trouble, a revolutionary situation will follow, we must prepare ourselves for it, etc.);

The first kind of hope is conservative and reactionary, the second progressively reformist (and functions effectively, making а perfect balance between capitalism and social-democratic struggles), and the third one – messianic. Thus, operaists or accelerationists are convinced that capitalism inevitably leads to a catastrophe, that things will finally get so bad that it will provoke a revolutionary situation, giving us a chance: capitalism will destroy itself, and we must either wait for this moment of self-destruction, or else hurry it along. The moment of the greatest catastrophe and the greatest danger is in the future (which means that while our present might look not so nice, it is still, somehow, tolerablе – in comparison to, say, an ecological catastrophe which will happen in the very near future, as was shown in the recent film Interstellar by Christopher Nolan, and other Hollywood movies).

Catastrophic communism rejects all three kinds of hope. No, this situation will not miraculously get better, and we cannot improve it and make it more tolerable, since capitalism is fundamentally wrong (little improvements in the condition of the working class in Sweden are balanced by hyper-exploitation in India, etc.), and it cannot really get worse because it is already the worst, there is no salvation. This is the situation of despair, or a revolutionary situation, when one cannot, does not want, and is ready for everything. Forget about the future, you are fighting not because you hope to improve your condition, but because this condition cannot be tolerated. You act out of impossibility. A desperate person can move mountains – it’s not hope which gives her this force, but anger, solitude, hunger, extreme unhappiness, pain, the unbearableness of her desire or need.

One does not have hope, one is doomed, but this is so fundamentally and absolutely wrong and unjust, that one simply cannot stay in this hopeless and desperate situation, he is urged to act here and now, this cannot be postponed.

As soon as we consider ourselves as living beings, we always have reason to postpone acting – once one is alive, there is hope (at the very least a miracle can happen). In the contemporary vitalist biopolitical regime life is recognized as a sacred value, and Lenin’s idea of readiness for death for the revolutionary cause sounds almost criminal. Nothing, no political ideas and ideals can be as sacred as individual human life, they say: there are always alternative ways of life and forms of life which are to be praised.

But what if we are not alive? The zombie is the one who is dead, who therefore does not have any hope, but still has a desire, and consciousness, or bodily feeling, or even a kind of instinct or inertia related to the fact that the extreme injustice of his situation cannot be tolerated – this is the ultimate despair. As already dead, he just cannot live, and that is what, paradoxically, makes him undead, or a living dead. His decomposing body is not individual any more, it does not belong to any person. А zombie does not have an individual life, nothing to take care of, and yet he does not consent to rest, he still desires, and his impersonal body acts.

When we think about the zombie apocalypse, we tend to identify with the survivors (forgetting, for example, that in capitalism one survives at the expense of the other – isn’t this fact already absolutely unbearable?), but what if we are not among those happy survivors? What if we are already on the other side? Forget hope: revolution starts in hell.

 

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