To receive the award, the three young men that comprise [the PG Group] came on stage wearing ski masks, announcing themselves to be the Moscow representatives of Somali pirates.“The future belongs to people in masks,” one member of the group said, to a stunned audience. “Your fat-cat lifestyle will soon end and then you’ll all be hung up high.” “We’re not joking,” he added. Silence descended on the room, followed by meek applause.
—John Varoli, “Jeers, Cheers Greet Kandinsky Winner, Painter Beliayev-Guintovt”
On December 10, independent critics, artists, and activists joined members of the Vpered (Forward!) Socialist Movement and the Chto Delat Work Group in a picket at the Winzavod Contemporary Art Center. The reason for the protest was the fascization of contemporary art and the art business, as exemplified by the nomination for and awarding of the Kandinsky Prize to Alexei Belyaev-Guintovt, the so-called stylist of the Eurasian Youth League.
As members of the beau monde and the art establishment exited their cars and entered the auditorium where the awards ceremony took place, they observed with a mixture of unease, squeamishness, and curiosity a group of twenty some leftist internationalists who were holding up a banner, handing out leaflets along with the new issue of Chto Delat newspaper (When Artists Struggle Together), and shouting such slogans as “Art Is Beyond Politics, Fascism Is Beyond Criticism!” “Kandinsky Is Ashamed!” and “Let a Thousand Flowers Bloom: Money, Swastikas, Crosses!” The “hosts” and guests of the awards ceremony nervously poked their heads out from the auditorium, people took snapshots, and a news crew from Channel One taped an improvised report of the action that is, however, unlikely ever to make it on the air.
Event organizers displayed tactical good sense: they decided that breaking up the picket would harm their business reputations, and this allowed the picketers to hand out as many newspapers and leaflets as possible.
Two VIP guests of the ceremony—thugs from the Eurasian Youth League—were drawn to the picketers’ banner, which featured the Eurasian Movement’s arrow-crosses, stylized swastikas, and the slogan “Kandinsky Is Ashamed.” After unsuccessfully attempting to seize the banner, the “Eurasians” entered into a political discussion with the picketers. They demanded to know how Belyaev-Guintovt and his fellow Duginites were fascists.
A reading of direct quotations from Eurasian Youth League manifestos and the published works of Alexander Dugin* made no impression on them, of course, and so the “Eurasians” renewed their battle to seize the banner. A long and fairly ridiculous scrum ensued. From time to time, the Eurasian warriors would scream things like, “He hit me!” and “He’s twisting my arm!” to the security guards. In the end, the rumpled Eurasians seized the banner and retreated into the auditorium, where they joined other honored guests in celebrating what turned out to be a brilliant victory for the Eurasian “stylist.” Meanwhile, the leftist activists continued their picket. They then quit the grounds of Winzavod. They left right on time: at the art center’s gates they ran into squads of policemen racing to the scene.
It is understandable why the Eurasian Youth League is so sensitive about the issue of fascism. When they were on the political fringe, in the nineties, Dugin and Co. were at liberty to say the most outrageous things. Now, however, as they incorporate themselves into the political (100% loyalty to the Kremlin), academic (the Center for Conservative Studies at Moscow State University) and cultural (ArtKhronika magazine, the Kandinsky Prize, etc.) establishments, they have to be a bit more cautious. That is why they recite the same ludicrous rote arguments every time they are challenged: that it is impossible by definition for “Eurasians” to be nationalists; that a delegate from Israel took part in their congress; and so on in the same vein. Closely linked to a wide variety of proto-fascist tendencies in politics and art of the past two decades (from the “neoclassical” school of the ultra-rightist Petersburg decadent Timur Novikov to the National Bolshevik Party and the Eurasian Youth League), Guintovt himself declares in all innocence that he is shocked by charges of fascism. He insists on his adherence to the Stalinist grand style, which he for some reason connects with the “avant-garde.”
It was for the work Brothers and Sisters, which depicts a multitude of schematically drawn people listening to a speech by Stalin in November 1941, that Belyaev received the famed Kandinsky Prize. For those who understand the general context underlying the ideology and mythology of the Duginites, this painting is a sacrilege. The people of the Soviet Union did not fight for exalted aesthetic visions of “snow-covered Hyperborea” or for Joseph Stalin as one of the “Lords of Eurasia.” First and foremost, they fought for the Soviet state against Nazism—a political form that, with the international crisis of capital looming in the background, embodied the panic of bourgeois elites. It is this same obscurantist conspiracy theory that the ideologues of the Eurasian Youth League and their handmaidens in the art world (Belyaev-Guintovt) are elaborating today.
…The central figures of the fascist state, the fascist myth, are the peasant, the worker, and the soldier. Up on high, as the supreme symbol of the tragic struggle with fate, with cosmic entropy, is the divine leader, Il Duce, the Fuehrer, the superman, who in his supra-individual persona realizes the uttermost straining of the national will to heroism.
…The elite will be wedded to the masses under the sign of a common predestination.
I think these maxims from the pen of Dugin make it clear why Belyaev-Guintovt and his ideology are the archenemies of the entire international leftist movement. But something else is clear as well: emotional accusations of “fascism” and wild activist interventions must be backed up by serious research of National Bolshevik and “Eurasian” doctrine. This research must expose the elements of fascist aesthetics and ideology that are central to this doctrine.
However we look at it, the outcome of this whole story should be viewed as positive. The purely inertial presumption of contemporary art’s “criticality” and “progressiveness,” which has long been based on nothing, is fading away. It has become completely obvious that contemporary art is just as much a field of ideological and political struggle as any other field. (But this is not only a Russian phenomenon: the west also has its emerging Belyaev-Guintovts.)
It is likewise obvious that there is a schism within the liberal art crowd and the intelligentsia as a whole. One part of this group proposes that we continue the postmodernist tack of interpreting everything as a precious game and/or gums to death the mantra “art is beyond politics/communism and fascism are one and the same,” thus tumbling into an even more reactionary stance: it is with the help of such neoliberal, “anti-totalitarian” slogans that fascistoid utterances are smuggled into the bourgeois mainstream. (This is what the slogans at our picket referred to.) These tendencies were once more confirmed during the awards ceremony when a member of the jury—a Deutsche Bank director—began screaming about “democratic choice” in response to protests, adding, “What’s wrong with being a patriot and a nationalist?”
As they observe with fright the connection of ultra-rightist form not only with the elitist salon, but also with the imperatives of the state, another section of liberals senses the necessity and inevitability of the “politicization of art” that leftists have been talking so much about. It is not, however, so easy to admit to oneself that philosophical thought, the artistic act, and direct political action are much more closely connected (in fact, they are indissolubly connected) than it had seemed to the liberal hegemony over the course of many years. Against this backdrop, the harsh albeit belated reaction to the prize (to its political rather than to its aesthetic aspect) on the part of the most successful leftist artists, Anatoly Osmolovsky and Dmitry Gutov, inspires us with hope. Perhaps a rejection of fascistoid bourgeois institutions will make possible a new “Left Front of the Arts”—a front based on the widest possible array of artistic strategies coupled with solidarity and common political perspectives? Perhaps activists and artists are, after all, capable of struggling together? It would be good if the picket at the Winzavod were a first step in this direction. Otherwise, all the Belyaev-Guintovts, Borovskys, Deutsche Banks and other such shit will not have been worth all the conversations and handwringing.
*…We are a Union of Masters, the new overlords of Eurasia. We will affirm our will sovereignly, unflinchingly, inflexibly. [Our] supremacy begins at home. It then spreads to [countries] near and far, in ever wider and wider circles, until it reaches the maritime borders of the continent. We are Eurasians precisely because our will overturns frontiers. It is knowingly wider than what is allotted, permitted, measured, acceptable…
…Our goal is absolute power.
…Because we are the lords of the earth, we are the children and grandchildren of the lords of the earth. Nations and countries bowed before us; our palm encompassed half the world; our soles trampled the mountains and valleys of all the continents of the world. We will take it all back.
…Everything that comes from America is impregnated with poison. Everything that is said there is falsehood and contagion. Everything that is done there should be crushed and thrown out. In order to preserve our “self” we must introduce strict anti-American hygiene…
…the decisive Hour of Eurasia has already struck… The GREAT WAR OF THE CONTINENTS is already approaching its final point.
…serving the Russian spirit, the Russian faith, the Russian tradition is the inner imperative of those who recognize themselves as full-fledged sons and daughters of the people. Among the new oprichniks, the value of one’s country, of the Fatherland, its power and might, become absolute values, which in turn enable one to take the measure of everything else. Russia is the true measure of things. That which fortifies, unites, and strengthens her and her people is good; everything that weakens her is evil. Thus the “ethics of the oprichniks” is born. And even if the majority of Russia’s citizens do not think in this manner, contemporary differentiated people should think and act precisely in this way. Motherland Rus above all.
…Fascism is nationalism, but it is not just any sort of nationalism; rather, it is revolutionary nationalism—mutinous, romantic, idealistic. It appeals to the great myth and the transcendent idea; it strives to incarnate the Impossible Dream in reality, to beget a society of heroes and the Superman, to transform and transfigure the world.
…The essence of fascism is a new hierarchy, a new aristocracy. Its newness consists precisely in the fact that [its] hierarchy is erected on natural, organic, clear principles: dignity, honor, courage, heroism.
…Russian fascism is not only several parties and movements that share a similar direction. It is the condition of social thought today. It is the combination of natural national conservatism and the passionate desire for genuine change.
…The blinding dawn of the new Russian Revolution—fascism as limitless as our lands, and red as our blood…
Sources (in Russian):