Monthly Archives: January 2011

Valences of the Contemporary Police State: “The Rise of Street Extremism” in the UK

First this, from F for Philistine:

UK Uncut protested today [January 30] at Boots, who avoided a £87m tax bill last year by relocating their head offices to Switzerland. Protesters were today handing out leaflets, and occupying the store since the news of Boots’ tax-dodging comes at the same time as we hear of massive cuts (sorry, restructuring) to the NHS.

The protest was peaceful, and good-natured. Several shoppers joined the demonstration, and once we left the store to hand out leaflets on the street, passers-by were wishing us well and cheering us on. One woman marched up to the manager of Boots and asked “Is this true?” waving a leaflet in his face. He shrugged and told her, unfortunately, it was, but it wasn’t a decision he was involved in. I chatted to a Community Support Officer about his bike (it’s far superior to mine), and we spoke to the manager of Boots as well: there wasn’t any ill-will about.

Then, as I was stood next to the locked automatic doors, I noticed that a police officer was asking a woman to remove a number of leaflets she’d placed in the gap between the door. The woman asked why she was being asked to do so. The policewoman initially said “Littering” then claimed it was criminal damage. At this point the woman objected to being touched on the arm by the policewoman. A number of people started taking photos of the exchange, then she was arrested by two officers who led her towards a thoroughfare next to Boots.

A number of protesters followed to keep an eye on the situation, chanting “Shame On You”. At this point, one of the officers, CW2440, used CS gas on a number of protesters nearby. I decided to film from a distance, rather than follow, as can be seen in the footage below:

I saw at least 7 people who had been sprayed in the eyes including a journalist, with three men particularly badly affected. One protesters had contact lenses in, which reacted with the spray. If you’ve never been tear-gassed before, it’s horrific. You can’t see, you’re in extreme amounts of pain, and massively panicked by the fact that you have no clue where you are, or who is around you. I called an ambulance, who confirmed they’d be there as soon as possible. At this point, three police officers with slightly different uniforms arrived at the scene: Legal Observers later told me they were Diplomatic Police, and definitely had tasers, though may also have been armed. Boots staff were shocked by the scenes, and an optician and first aid team inside offered to help those injured. The ambulance arrived soon afterwards, and took the three worst affected inside, initially thinking they could treat them in the ambulance. After 15 minutes, they confirmed they’d be taking them to hospital. A police officer then started speaking to us, informing us of how to make a complaint, asked us if we had the contact details of those injured then told us the number of the officer who’d used CS gas. Another officer later came over to a legal observer I was talking to and confirmed that Officer CW2440 had been the one to use gas on the protesters. I’ve never seen police officers offer up this type of information before, though am happy to be corrected.

It was a hugely jarring thing to witness, and I wasn’t affected. The policing was initially calm, and hands-off then suddenly became massively over zealous. That CS gas was used on one of the busiest streets in London in response to people simply chanting is terrifying. I’ve often thought criticism of the police can be a little unproductive, but today has made me think otherwise.


Well, that is all very nice, but what does it mean? Fortunately, the UK, like any other largish country with a proud tradition of democracy, has lots of experts on hand to defog our brains when nasty people try to hand us leaflets in high street shops. Like this blue-ribbon panel of well-spoken chaps in suits, who reveal that it is the Trotskyists who are to blame and make helpful suggestions on how to crush the current Red Menace:

Here is how the think thank responsible for convening this panel in its “Ideas Space” described it and the distinguished panelists:

There are increasing signs that significant sections of the extreme left have little intention of confining their opposition to Coalition policies to peaceful, democratic protest.  In recent weeks we have seen riots over student tuition fees, the forcible closure of high street stores by flashmobs and also growing demands for industrial action to undermine the Coalition administration, including from the leader of Britain’s biggest trade union.

Do these actions portend a dangerous new trend towards the use of physical force?  If so, what can and should be done to prevent this phenomenon becoming a regular feature of the national landscape?

Peter Clarke CVO OBE QPM – former Head of the Counter Terrorism Command and former Borough Commander in Brixton during the 1995 riots
Rt Hon David Maclean – former Minister of State at the Home Office and Parliamentary Adviser to the Police Superintendents Association
Paul Mercer – UK’s pre-eminent expert on extremist groups and author, Longman’s Directory of British Political Organisations
Henry Robinson –  Anti Terrorist community and street activist and former Irish republican prisoner


Editor’s Note. Thanks to Comrade E. and Sons of Malcolm for the heads-up.

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Chto Delat: What Is To Be Done Between Tragedy and Farce? (Amsterdam)

For their new exhibition at SMART Project Space, ‘What Is To Be Done Between Tragedy and Farce?’, Chto Delat map the complexity of Russia’s political and social context in the form of a comprehensive programme consisting of spatial installations, performances, lectures, film screenings, publications, and workshops. They have constructed a critical reflection of Russian reality for the viewer through a series of wall drawings that seek to explain why they continue to oppose the current development of the country and the mode of governance.

Join us at SMART Project Space for the first in a new series of commissioned exhibitions by the Russian collective Chto Delat (What is to be done?). Chto Delat has been active since 2003 and is composed of artists, philosophers, and writers with a leftist position on economic, social and cultural agendas. Their diverse activities merge cultural knowledge and the production of art with activism and political theory.

The universal question “What is to be done?” historically marks the position of the left in merging tactics and strategy of their politics, whilst matching intellectual ideas and everyday practical work. The answers are always locally and historically conditioned. For their new exhibition at SMART Project Space, “What is to be done Between Tragedy and Farce?,” Chto Delat map the complexity of Russia’s political and social context in the form of a comprehensive programme consisting of spatial installations, performances, lectures, film screenings, publications, and workshops.

This is the first time they have set this task upon themselves, deciding to work with an enormous and chaotic database of information that represents Russian reality. Oil production figures, records of homeless people, tax revenues and levels of wages, numbers of murders and birth rates, the growth of inequality and the military-industrial complex, the index of xenophobia and depopulation, and the list goes on and on.

In her recent article on Chto Delat, Elena Filipovic writes of the collective’s double role as “representing a certain history while overcoming common preconceptions in order to act as international translators”.

They have constructed a critical reflection of Russian reality for the viewer through a series of wall drawings that seek to explain why they continue to oppose the current development of the country and the mode of governance.

In the first three rooms, a representation is shown on the situation in Russia and how it has changed over the last 10 years – a crucial decade in the life of the young nation state. The first concentrates on the different factors of formal and official growth in all possible spheres of economy, politics and everyday life. The second shows different forms of conflicts based on real cases taken from recent social and political life. The third focuses on the human dimension of the transformation, trying to raise the issue of possible scenarios for the future.

The fourth exhibition space is dedicated to the Songspiel Trilogy, which is shown together for the first time with some objects that served as props for previous Chto Delat films. Additionally, key films realized by Chto Delat between 2003 and 2009 will be shown alongside wooden panels showcasing fragmented print-outs from the pages of their newspaper publication from different years. A reading room is also integrated into the exhibition to show all Chto Delat publications and a selection of books that collective members have recommended.

The last space in the show is constructed as a workshop conceived by Gluklya (Natalia Pershina). The collection of clothes on view represents the outcome of participatory workshops, the Shop of Utopian Clothes, run with different social groups in St. Petersburg. Through this collective artistic work, the realities of these often under-represented individuals of St. Petersburg society are given empowerment. Through the course of the exhibition, a similar workshop will be conducted with members of local migrant communities, adding a new dimension to the piece. It is meant to create a dialogue around the migrant situation in the Netherlands and address the needs and problems of those whose lives are affected by it.

An integral work entitled 48-Hour Communal Life Seminar: Where Has Communism Gone? takes place at the beginning of February, which culminates in the public staging of a Lehrstück (‘play for learning’) under the same title, that sets out to examine the current climate in politics and utopian potential.

Chto Delat are present in Amsterdam for the entire duration of the exhibition – turning SPS into a platform for discourse, research and debate.

The project at SPS is realised by: Tsaplya (Olga Egorova), Nikolay Oleynikov, Gluklya (Natalya Pershina-Yakimanskaya) and Dmitry Vilensky. For more information on the group, see

For interviews, more information, video and photo material, please contact Una Henry, Tel +31 (0)20 427 59 51 or e-mail In case of publication, please mention:

Opens Saturday, 22 January 2011, 19:00. The exhibition runs until 13 March 2011.

SMART Project Space
Arie Biemondstraat 111, 1054 PD Amsterdam

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Milton Rogovin: The Forgotten Ones

Milton Rogovin: The Forgotten Ones (2003; Harvey Wang, director; Best Documentary Short, 2003 Tribeca Film Festival)

This short film celebrates the life’s work of photographer Milton Rogovin, who was 93 when this film was shot. After being blacklisted by the House Un-American Activities Committee in the 1950s and subsequently losing his optometry practice, Rogovin dedicated his life to photographing the residents of a depressed six-block area in his hometown of Buffalo, New York. Rogovin’s first series of portraits of Lower West Side residents was completed in 1972. Over the next twenty years, Rogovin returned two more times to re-photograph his subjects. The film follows him as he returns one more time to the Lower West Side to take a fourth in his series of once-a-decade portraits.

Benjamin Genocchio
Milton Rogovin, Photographer, Dies at 101
The New York Times, January 18, 2011

Milton Rogovin, an optometrist and persecuted leftist who took up photography as a way to champion the underprivileged and went on to become one of America’s most dedicated social documentarians, died on Tuesday at his home in Buffalo. He was 101.

He died of natural causes, his son, Mark Rogovin, said.

Mr. Rogovin chronicled the lives of the urban poor and working classes in Buffalo, Appalachia and elsewhere for more than 50 years. His direct photographic style in stark black and white evokes the socially minded work that Walker Evans, Dorothea Lange and Gordon Parks produced for the Farm Security Administration during the Depression. Today his entire archive resides in the Library of Congress.

Mr. Rogovin (pronounced ruh-GO-vin) came to wide notice in 1962 after documenting storefront church services on Buffalo’s poor and predominantly African-American East Side. The images were published in Aperture magazine with an introduction by W. E. B. Du Bois, who described them as “astonishingly human and appealing.”

He went on to photograph Buffalo’s impoverished Lower West Side and American Indians on reservations in the Buffalo area. He traveled to West Virginia and Kentucky to photograph miners, returning to Appalachia each summer with his wife, Anne Rogovin, into the early 1970s. In the ’60s he went to Chile at the invitation of the poet Pablo Neruda to photograph the landscape and the people. The two collaborated on a book, “Windows That Open Inward: Images of Chile.”

In a 1976 review of a Rogovin show of photographs from Buffalo at the International Center of Photography in Manhattan, the critic Hilton Kramer wrote of Mr. Rogovin in The New York Times: “He sees something else in the life of this neighborhood — ordinary pleasures and pastimes, relaxation, warmth of feeling and the fundamentals of social connection. He takes his pictures from the inside, so to speak, concentrating on family life, neighborhood business, celebrations, romance, recreation and the particulars of individuals’ existence.”

Milton Rogovin was born on Dec. 30, 1909, in Brooklyn, the third of three sons of Jewish immigrant parents from Lithuania. His parents, Jacob Rogovin and the former Dora Shainhouse, operated a dry goods business, first in Manhattan on Park Avenue near 112th Street and later in the Bay Ridge section of Brooklyn. After attending Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan, the young Mr. Rogovin graduated from Columbia University in 1931 with a degree in optometry; four months later, after the family had lost the store and its home to bankruptcy during the Depression, his father died of a heart attack.

Working as an optometrist in Manhattan, Mr. Rogovin became increasingly distressed at the plight of the poor and unemployed — “the forgotten ones,” he called them — and increasingly involved in leftist political causes.

“I was a product of the Great Depression, and what I saw and experienced myself made me politically active,” he said in a 1994 interview with The New York Times.

He began attending classes sponsored by the Communist Party-run New York Workers School, began to read the Communist newspaper The Daily Worker and was introduced to the social-documentary photographs of Jacob Riis and Lewis Hine.

Mr. Rogovin moved to Buffalo in 1938 and opened his own optometric office on Chippewa Street the next year, providing service to union workers. In 1942 he married Anne Snetsky before volunteering for the Army and serving for three years in England, where he worked as an optometrist. Also in 1942, he bought a camera.

Returning to Buffalo after the war (his brother Sam, also an optometrist, managed the practice in his absence), Mr. Rogovin joined the local chapter of the Optical Workers Union and served as librarian for the Buffalo branch of the Communist Party.

In 1957, with cold war anti-Communism rife in the United States, he was called before the House Un-American Activities Committee but refused to testify. Soon afterward, The Buffalo Evening News labeled him “Buffalo’s Number One Red,” and he and his family were ostracized. With his business all but ruined by the publicity, he began to fill time by taking pictures, focusing on Buffalo’s poor and dispossessed in the neighborhood around his practice while living on his wife’s salary as a teacher and being mentored by the photographer Minor White.

His wife, a special education teacher, was a collaborator throughout his career and helped him organize his photographs until her death, in 2003.

Mr. Rogovin’s photographs were typically naturalistic portraits of people he met on the street. “The first six months were very difficult,” he recalled in a 2003 interview, “because they thought I was from the police department or the F.B.I.

But he gradually built trust, giving away prints of portraits in exchange for sittings. He never told his subjects what to do, allowing them to pose in settings and clothing of their own choosing.

“These aren’t cool sociological renderings but intensely personal evocations of a world whose faces are often missing in a culture that celebrates the beautiful and the powerful,” Julie Salamon wrote in The Times in 2003 on the occasion of a Rogovin exhibition at the New-York Historical Society.

Mr. Rogovin began his Storefront Church series in 1961 at the invitation of a friend, William Tallmadge, a professor of music at State University College at Buffalo who was making recordings at a black church on the city’s East Side. The success of the series encouraged Mr. Rogovin to devote more and more time to photography and persuaded him that photography could be an instrument of social change.

In 1972 he earned a Master of Arts in American studies from the University at Buffalo, where he taught documentary photography from 1972 to 1974. The next year he held his first major exhibition, at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo.

In the next years his photographs were published in several books and widely exhibited; a show of his work is currently on view at the Gage Gallery in Chicago. Many are in the collections of museums, including the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. The Library of Congress acquired his archive in 1999.

In addition to his son, of Forest Park, Ill., Mr. Rogovin is survived by two daughters, Ellen Rogovin Hart of Melrose Park, Pa., and Paula Rogovin of Teaneck, N.J.; five grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.

In his later years, as his health declined, Mr. Rogovin used a wheelchair and no longer took photographs. In 2009 he was nominated for a National Medal of Arts but was not selected.

His activism, however, was undimmed — he attended political rallies and antiwar protests into his final years — and his social conscience remained acute.

“All my life I’ve focused on the poor,” he said in 2003. “The rich ones have their own photographers.”


Editor’s Note. Thanks to Louis Proyect for bringing the sad news of Mr. Rogovin’s death to our attention.

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Reartikulacija No. 10,11,12 and 13 Is Out!


What is the point of criticizing the system today when there has already been so much written about it? Or better, is it possible to produce a real critical reflection upon the ever more poignant forms of exploitation and subjugation to interject into the collective consciousness in order to provoke a change? We are confronted with various ideas holding that critical discourse is a warning sign against the impossibility of the system to function, that it involves but the raising of social awareness and the localization of the common denominator of the new global struggle that might perhaps unleash resistance against the dominant power structure – capital, and more precisely, profit and private property. The problem is not in the critique as such, but in the way in which it is formed, in its definition, conceptualization and rationale. Therefore, the question arises as to what theoretical basis to draw upon in redefining critical practice and what theory to call upon for intervention to occur. It is precisely for this reason that radical critical practice aims at producing radical theoretical discourse that takes shape at the intersection of different social practices – from art, philosophy, theory to political activism – organising upon them its own practice, incorporating them into its own agency and, more importantly, intervening through them into the social structure as a whole. Radical critical practice is not marked only by multilayered agency, but also by a new political engagement that allows for the repoliticization of the politically castrated subject.

The project Formation of Radical Critical Practice analyzes and brings forward the role of production of radical critical discourse in the present, its intervention into the social structure and its potentiality. The extension of context that is established through the multilayered mode of agency enables a simultaneous intervention into different social fields, their improvement and change. In order to understand this shift, one needs to understand new paradigms and structures that allow for the establishment of these relationships at the practical level, where particular projects trigger a social reaction, as well as at the theoretical level, where a project means building and upgrading the tools needed for the researching and analysis of the ever more strained social conditions.

The present multiple issue of Reartikulacija presents these very formations, analyzing through scientific, artistic and activist agency various social agents that frame contemporary society as the necrosocial, theory as a mere brand and activism as a style. Moreover, it brings forth systematically chosen projects, theories and artistic practices that by way of their analytical power and artistic and critical activity offer the option for a radical possibility here and now.

Finally, the situation of Reartikulacija is getting worse with each issue – censorship is occurring at the level of receiving the necessary funds for publication, financing project partners are slowly disappearing, money supply is curtailed, and public resources are inaccessible due to bureaucratization. These last are only accessible, so to speak, to the handful of those whose routine operations tally with the state’s vision of art, culture and theory meant to pragmatically take the line of least resistance, producing not-too-critical works and carrying out an increasingly managerially efficient and capitalist-oriented global informational program.

Marina Gržinić and Sebastjan Leban

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Reartikulacija is published by: Society HCHO

The project is supported by: Erste Foundation, Ministry of Culture of Slovenia, Luminus, IRWIN, Kiberpipa, SRC SASA

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Owen Hatherley: The Occupation of Space

Owen Hatherley
The Occupation of Space

Sometimes, the self-referential, apolitical worlds of art and architecture intersect with politics in unexpected ways. One such telling cross-over took place during the winter’s student protests; on the same day as the 30 November demonstration across central London, there was a story in the local and architectural press that, for me, summed up much of what students were fighting against.

This was the granting of planning permission to something called ‘The Quill’, a tower of student housing for a London SE1 site close to Renzo Piano’s ‘Shard’ – only this was aimed by developers at students from nearby King’s College. It’s a fine example of contemporary architectural idiocy, a lumpen glass extrusion full of clumsy symbolism. The flurry of steel spikes that gives it its name is ‘inspired by the literary heritage of Southwark’ – as stated on the websites of both the architectural firm SPPARC and the developer, Capita Symonds – but it’s a reminder that students are far from the privileged, cloistered group that some present them as. It’s the obnoxiously detailed tip of an iceberg, an epitome of the years of awful student housing that has resulted from the partial privatisation of education.

Developers have made large quantities of money out of some of the bleakest housing ever built in the UK, marketing it as student accommodation usually on sites which would otherwise be allotted to ‘luxury flats’ or other ‘stunning developments’. Student-oriented property developers like Unite and the amusingly named Liberty Living are, amongst other things, revivalists of the prefabricated construction methods favoured by the more parsimonious councils in the 1960s, and their blocks, all with attendant ‘aspirational’ names – Sky Plaza in Leeds, Grand Central in Liverpool – recall the worst side of modernism, in their cheapness, blindness to place and total lack of architectural imagination. Inside, they’re a matter of box rooms leavened by en suite bathrooms, for which the developers charge outrageous rents. The most apparently ‘luxurious’ of them – the skyscraping Nido Spitalfields in London, charges £1,250 a month for each of its self-described ‘cubes’.

It’s also a reminder that students were encouraged under New Labour to be an ideal combination of indentured serfs and aspirant yuppies. The actual conditions of students’ existence in the 2000s, from the poverty of their housing, to their catastrophic debt, to their part-time jobs in call centres, to their years of unpaid intern labour, were bleak indeed; but all was hidden by an oxymoronic language of inclusivity and privilege – they might have been living in cupboards, but they were cupboards with plasma screen TVs; they might have felt underpaid, overworked and tithed, but were also constantly reminded of how lucky they were to enjoy the hedonistic student lifestyle. Suddenly, under the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition, one half of that bargain – the expansion of education that accompanied its part-privatisation – has disappeared, and we’re now witnessing the fallout.

So it’s worth keeping New Labour’s student architecture – desperately private, paranoid, gated, restricted, securitised – in mind when you think of the occupations of universities that have been such an important part of the student protests. Implicitly or explicitly, this is the kind of space they are reacting against. It is a protest against the coalition, to be sure, but it’s also a magnificent rejection of the fear, quietism and atomisation that was the result of earlier policies. The students’ use of space is equally fearless.

The first student protest against education cuts was well before the trebling of fees was announced by the government, in response to the University of Middlesex’s decision in April 2010to axe its well-regarded Centre for Research in Modern European Philosophy, and it’s an interesting comparison with the wider protests seven months later (see The Matter at Middlesex?). The Con-Lib coalition’s aggressively philistine and class-driven rhetoric was amply anticipated by the Middlesex management. In a prefiguring of the current attack on the Humanities, the University’s Philosophy Department – with the highest Research Assessment rating of any of its departments – was clearly considered surplus to requirements, at an ex-polytechnic orienting itself towards business and lucrative overseas campuses in Dubai and Mauritius – eagerly moving to ’emerging economies’ like any architectural firm.

The advertisements for Middlesex courses at the Tube stations nearby to the north London campus aptly illustrate how the neoliberal student is conceived of as a series of demands that are alternately hedonistic and utilitarian, and always grimly conformist. Headed by ‘I want to be more employable’, one of them continues: ‘I want to be the best. I want to do my own thing. I want to excel. I want to go to the gym. I want to study business law. I want to see West End shows. I want business sponsorship.’ And with particular bathos: ‘I want to see what’s possible’.

The interesting thing about Middlesex University is how totally suburban it is – a series of disconnected outposts in several outer north London boroughs, and the various protests at Middlesex suggested what could, and possibly couldn’t, be done to politicise these places, which are so far from the metropolitan idea of protest as something which happens in highly symbolic central locations (the London sites of recent governmental cuts protests have been Parliament Square, Whitehall and Millbank). Middlesex has multiple campuses in suburban north London,with an effect of maximum decentralisation. The first occupation took place at Trent Park, the campus where the philosophy department is based, in one of those places where the ‘green belt’ instituted around London in the ’30s is not entirely fictional.

For over a week, Trent Park became a ‘transversal space’, i.e a Free University, with speakers and actions taking place inside the usual university spaces. One point about Middlesex, which made the protests there so unlike occupations at the School of Oriental and Asian Studies (SOAS) or the London School of Economics (LSE), is that the institution is already the model of the neoliberal university – dispersed, atomised, with no particular traditions of Glorious Rebellion.

If, as Mark Fisher argued in his book Capitalist Realism, the 2006 youth protests in France – in which students demonstrated against a bill that would have allowed employers to fire people under the age of twenty-six more easily – were easily presented as conservative attempts on the part of the students to retain privileges, then Middlesex, and the protests of winter 2010, are the opposite – rather, they are what happens when an already neoliberalised student body tries to politicise itself. If, as Middlesex Occupation banners insisted, this particular university is a factory, then like the factory it has learnt one of the principal lessons of the twentieth century – if you want to avoid conflict, decentralise, be far away from the (imagined) centres of power, disappear from public view, and make the question of who actually holds power as opaque as possible.

The tactics of surprise and spectacle used at Middlesex have clear correspondence with those used by recent occupiers, albeit here on a much larger scale. At the first major occupation, at SOAS in November 2010, it was especially interesting to see the movement dealing with such a central location, right next to Russell Square, where it was much easier to reach a public of some sort than it had been in Trent Park. The place, which is as of now still under occupation,has had the feel of an activist enclave for a while now, and a large banner reading ‘THIS HAS JUST BEGUN’ currently flies in front of the college. Somewhat larger, and for that and other reasons the focus of much of the media coverage of the events, was the occupation of University College London (UCL), at the other end of Bloomsbury. As fans of Michel Foucault would appreciate, students picked the capacious Jeremy Bentham Room for their base of operations (‘Jeremy Says No!’ read one poster, depicting the eighteenth-century thinker; adjacent was another poster reading, inscrutably, ‘Jeremy Also Says Panopticon’). The Slade School of Art, just opposite, soon followed UCL into occupation – as, indeed, did countless other universities up and down the country, and both SOAS and UCL had a board listing those which had followed suit.

The spatial politics of the occupations themselves are obviously worth consideration. From what I could see at UCL in December, the ten days of hundreds of people sleeping together in one very large room had brought a certain intensity to the proceedings, and had shown how much the protests are becoming not just a critique of the singularly grotesque millionaires’ austerity government, but also an attempt to imagine a new kind of everyday life. When I spoke there about student housing and the atrociousness thereof, more than one of the assembled students said something along the lines of ‘Yes, we know that’s awful, you don’t need to tell us – but we’re here creating something different, something positive, by ourselves’.

That would be of little interest, though, if it were just confined to what is undeniably a fairly elite university. The UCL occupation was extremely adept at the use of both the media and space itself to publicise their cause. Not only were they quite astonishingly media-savvy – one corner of the room, a round table dotted with laptops, bore the title ‘RESPONSE’, and was constantly sending out communiqués on Twitter and elsewhere – but they were also keen to use the space around to draw attention to their demands and those of the student movement in general. This was part of the rationale behind their involvement in pickets of Vodafone (who allegedly recently evaded £6 billion in tax) and of Topshop (whose boss Philip Green is also allegedly both a prolific tax avoider and a Conservative-Liberal coalition adviser, which makes a nonsense of the coalition’s already outrageous slogan ‘we’re all in this together’). It was also the rationale behind one of the protest’s more inspired actions, a temporary occupation of the nearby Euston Station, a politicisation of the seemingly advertising-bound technique of the ‘flashmob’. As well as using the space to argue their case to the assembled commuters, UCL students also produced a parodic Evening Substandard newspaper, in a prescient recognition of the media’s hostility to them. The now-utopian (but once mundanely social democratic) promise of its headline, ‘New Era of Welfare for All’, showed the students’ contempt for the prevailing rhetoric of guilty masochism presenting itself as austerity.

Thus far, the student movement has tried to avoid the tedium and predictability that marred the last decade of protest in the UK – whether the polite, and for all its numbers easily ignored, ‘Stop the War’ protests in 2003, or the various sparsely attended ‘Carnivals against Capitalism’, which were usually easily kettled and symbolically brutalised by the police. Kettling, a method first used in the UK on a large scale at the 2001 anti-capitalist protests in Oxford Street, currently seems to be the automatic response to any large scale protest on the streets of London. In response, students have developed strategies to avoid police kettles. The riot police’s approach to this unpredictability has been harsh indeed – at the time of writing, over 100 complaints have been presented to the Independent Police Complaints Council.

Some speculate that police tactics were a form of revenge against the students’ confident, unexpected use of the streets – specifically, revenge against the embarrassment of the police as they failed to stop the sacking of the Conservative headquarters at the first large student protest at Millbank. Nonetheless, a spectacularly servile media preferred to cover the mild harassment of two royals, as opposed to, say, the police’s near-fatal attack on the student Alfie Meadows, or the dragging of a 20-year old with cerebral palsy, Jody McIntyre, out of his wheelchair and across the pavement.

Yet, throughout, this enormously unpredictable movement has shown that it will use the city as it likes. There’s no better riposte to the grim, circumscribed, privatised urbanism of the last thirty years than that.

This article was originally published on

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January 19 Committee: Art Against Nazism (Call for Artworks)

Emory Douglas, one of the greatest political graphic artists of the twentieth century, minister of culture of the Black Panther Party (1967-1980), and illustrator of the party’s weekly newspaper, will take part in the graphic art marathon initiated by the January 19 Committee. Emory Douglas entered the annals of art history as an uncompromising leftist activist by fighting for the rights of African-Americans. Retrospectives of this living classic’s work took place in Los Angeles and Manchester in 2007–2009. The street art exhibition Art Against Nazism will mark the first showing of Douglas’s work in Russia. Douglas has officially confirmed that he will be participating and has given the January 19 Committee, the event’s organizers, the right to reprint his his famous poster Afro-American solidarity with the oppressed people of the world (1969).

Douglas will be joined by other internationally renowned artists who have sent the January 19 Committee their street art pieces with a clear antifascist message, which will be reproduced in the form of stickers and posters.

These stickers and posters will be appearing in the cars, passageways, and escalators of the Moscow metro right up until January 19, 2011. The goal of the exhibition is to show that artists are in solidarity with the antifascist agenda of the January 19 Committee, to show that they also feel the urgent necessity to fight neo-Nazism here and now. The Committee also hopes that the appearance of these works in the Moscow metro will provoke people who are not yet involved in this struggle to become active.

The artworks will be posted on the Committee’s official web site, where they can be downloaded for further distribution. The Committee calls on artists and activists to join this action by producing their own artworks encouraging people to join the antifascist demonstration on January 19.

The January 19 Committee hopes that this exhibition will spur Muscovites to take part in a peaceful march against neo-Nazi terror and that other Russian cities will join in this protest action.

The following artists have confirmed that they will be participating in the street art exhibition:

Affinity Group (Russia)
Etcétera (Argentina)
Société Réaliste (France)
Rosella Biscotti (Italy; Netherlands)
Babi Badalov (Azerbaijan; USA; Great Britain; France)
Alexandra Galkina (Russia)
Zampa di Leone (Serbia)
Rigo 23 (Madeira; USA)
Nikolay Oleynikov (Russia)
Darinka Pop-Mitić (Serbia)
Nikita Kadan, R.E.P. Group (Ukraine)
Ivan Brazhkin (Russia)
David Ter-Oganyan (Russia)

The Committee calls on artists, activists, and concerned citizens to produce and distribute works on the struggle against neo-Nazism and to join the antifascist march in Moscow on January 19, 2011, at the Timiryazev Monument on Tverskaya Boulevard.

More information:
Send your works in .jpeg format to the Committee’s e-mail address:

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Filed under activism, art exhibitions, contemporary art, open letters, manifestos, appeals, protests, racism, nationalism, fascism, Russian society

January 19 Committee: Call for Antifascist Demonstration, January 19, Moscow

Call for Antifascist Demonstration, January 19, 2011, Moscow

January 19, 2011 will mark the second anniversary of the murders of two antifascists, lawyer Stanislav Markelov and journalist Anastasia Baburova. They were murdered in Moscow in broad daylight, shot in the head by a gunman.

The murders were brazen and demonstrative. Although from the outset various explanations were given for the murders (as a lawyer, Markelov had handled cases in Chechnya, both against the federal forces who tortured and murdered Chechen civilians, and the Chechen leadership, who are suspected of kidnapping and murdering people; he had also represented journalist Mikhail Beketov, who was nearly beaten to death in autumn 2008, in his court battle with Khimki mayor Vladimir Strelchenko), Stas and Nastya’s comrades in the antifascist movement assumed that neo-Nazis had been involved. For it had been Stanislav Markelov who had pressured law enforcement authorities to conduct a thorough investigation of the murder, in the spring of 2006, of the young antifascist Alexander Riukhin. It was thanks to Markelov’s efforts that the authorities were unable to sweep this case under the rug or drop it altogether. It was thanks to his persistence that police investigators not only came up with a list of suspects, but also brought the case to court. Half of the people involved in Alexander’s murder were arrested and convicted for the crime, while the rest were placed on the federal wanted list.

Today, we have almost no doubts that law enforcement authorities have Stas and Nastya’s real murderer in custody, along with his female accomplice. Their court trial should begin soon. These two people are neo-Nazis, and one of them is in fact one of the people who was involved in the fatal attack on Alexander Riukhin but was not found by the authorities after being placed on the wanted list.

The murderers have been apprehended, their trial will soon begin. Does that mean society can breathe a sigh of relief?

No, it does not.

Dozens of less publicized racist murders take place in our country every year. The victims of these murders are Russian citizens of non-Slavic appearance as well as immigrants from former Soviet republics and former Soviet allies. S0viet-era international solidarity (whether fictitious or real) has been replaced by ethnic intolerance, by hatred towards people who are different, who speak a different language, whose eyes are differently shaped, whose hair and skin are a different color.

As a rule, we don’t remember the names of these victims of neo-Nazi terror. Often we don’t even learn their names: the press merely informs us that someone has murdered a citizen of Uzbekistan, a citizen of Kyrgyzstan, an Azerbaijani, an Armenian, an immigrant from Vietnam, a refugee from Afghanistan. We do not see their faces or the faces of their grieving relatives. It as if they pass anonymous into nonexistence, inhabiting our consciousness for the several seconds it takes us to read this terrifying news on our computer screens or in the pages of a newspaper.

But in fact none of the people who have died at the hands of neo-Nazis murderers is nameless. None of these people was born in a test tube, bereft of pain, reason, love, attachments, and hope. All of these people were brought into this world by mothers. Each of them had families and friends, people whom they cared about and who cared about them.

This problem, which was long ignored both by Russian society and the Russian authorities, was raised only by the local ethnic communities of the murder victims and by young antifascists, the same people whom lawyer Stanislav Markelov had befriended and defended, the same people in whose ranks journalist Anastasia Baburova (who herself had immigrated from Simferopol, in the Crimea, to Moscow) had stood.

A year ago, on the eve of the first anniversary of Stas and Nastya’s murders, people who had known them united together in the January 19 Committee to commemorate their lives and deaths in a worthy manner, and say a decisive “no!” to neo-Nazi terror. The members of the committee belong to different parts of the Russian social movement, and they have different views of our country’s present and future. And yet on January 19, 2010, they joined around 1,500 other people in an antifascist demonstration in downtown Moscow, braving minus twenty degree weather and active interference on the part of the Moscow police. The demonstrators included both people who frequently protest against the authorities and people who might not have taken part in public protests since the perestroika era. These people were joined by folks who had never participated in a demonstration before: society had begun to recognize the problem of neo-Nazi terror, and caring people were moved to act whatever their age, social status, profession, sex, and so on. The march was joined by students and pensioners, confident middle-aged professionals and poor people who had lost hope of making it, members of the intelligentsia and young workers, all kinds of different people. What united them was a troubled conscience, an intolerance of neo-Nazi murders, and shame for their country and city, a city in which such medieval monstrosities have nearly become a norm of daily life.

As we see now, a year later, this protest was more than timely. It is possible that it happened too late. In any case, the events of December 11–15 in Moscow and other Russian cities have proven that neo-Nazism has not been cowed. Extreme right-wing ideas have struck a chord with large numbers of young people, and these masses of young people, who were badly educated and poorly brought up during the years of the Yeltsin-Putin stagnation, are willing to engage in violence. The half-forgotten, moth-balled Russian word pogrom was heard again: the crowd on Manezh Square was on the point of starting a genuine pogrom, and the crowd that gathered outside Kiev Station four days later was prepared to engage in fighting, stabbing, beating, and shooting.

During those same days, people also asked where the antifascists had been. Why hadn’t they tried to confront the raging neo-Nazis? There are several possible answers to this question. First, why don’t you try to stand in the way of a crowd like that yourself? Second, try organizing resistance to an aggressive crowd of neo-Nazis, people who think nothing about murdering and beating other people, when you have become the target of a harassment campaign (if not a witch hunt) on the part of the authorities. These were the conditions faced by Russia’s youth antifascist movement during the second half of 2010. Police searches, police dragnets at concerts, arrests, and violent interrogations by police who wanted to force testimony from them: this was what being antifa meant in 2010, not educational work amongst young people, cultural events, publishing literature, and even the martial arts and football tournaments that young antifascists had still been able to organize in 2009.

Sensing that the young antifascists were a rising force, the state has thrown the entire weight of its police apparatus against them. Meanwhile, neo-Nazis have been holding their legally sanctioned Russian Marches, convening round tables and posing for journalists in expensive hotels, and continuing to murder the defenseless – janitors, petty laborers, teenagers. While the state was unleashing its dragnet against the antifa, the neo-Nazis were trying to go respectable, to show the authorities and the business world that they could be a source of “order” during a complicated economic and political situation, that they were capable both of doing the dirty work and putting on a fashion show in well-ironed shirts and ties.

This fashion show crystallized on Manezh Square in early December. Judging by the absence of real measures to find and punish the people who organized that riot, certain high-ranking Kremlin officials found it to their liking.

Given this situation, the January 19 Committee declares the need for all people opposed to Russia’s slide into the abyss of nationalism to unite and organize solidarity actions. We live in a huge country, and we are all different. Our country is divided by contradictions, arguments, and discrepancies, and at the end of the day we aren’t obliged to like each other. But we are united on one point: Nazism, which in the twentieth century brought incalculable suffering to our country and other countries of Europe, Asia, and the Americas, is once again blazing a bloody trail. It is too late to say that it must not rise again. It is already rising again, and now we have to talk about how to stop it.

We call on all honest people, people who value the ideals of freedom and justice and just plain normal life in our country, people of different nationalities, religious confessions, convictions, and guiding principles, to join us in an antifascist demonstration in Moscow and other Russian cities.

This will not simply be a memorial action to remember the dead – Stas Markelov, Nastya Baburova, and many, many others. January 19, 2011 must become a day of determination, a day of protest, a day of struggle against the fascist threat in Russia.

Demonstrators in Moscow will gather at 7:00 p.m. on January 19, 2011, at the Timiryazev Monument (near the Nikitsky Gates at the beginning of Tverskaya Boulevard). We will have more information about the route of the demonstration and slogans in the coming days. Check for updates at the January 19 Committee web site:

Stop neo-Nazi terror! Save Russia from the ultra right-wing threat!

As long as we’re united we can never be defeated!

—The  January 19 Committee


Filed under activism, anti-racism, anti-fascism, open letters, manifestos, appeals, protests, racism, nationalism, fascism, Russian society

David Riff: Notes on Voina

David Riff
Notes on Voina

There are moments in life that make the fineries of art criticism seem inappropriate. Аesthetic differences are overshadowed by political choice: either yes or no, for or against. The arrest of two key artist-activists from the art group Voina is a case like that. On November 15, 2010, law enforcers detained Oleg Vorotnikov (aka “Vor” or “Thief”) and Leonid Nikolayev (aka “Lyonya the F*cknut”) for an action carried out two months before, in the course of which activists flipped a police car near the Mikhailovsky Castle in Petersburg, ostensibly to retrieve a child’s ball that was stuck under it, as a YouTube video – the actual artwork – shows. Though the damage was small, this was a step too far for the Petersburg police, who sent officers from Center “E” (a task force formed to combat “extremism”) on a special ops mission to Moscow to apprehend the culprits. They have been in custody ever since, on charges of aggravated criminal mischief. If they are convicted and given the maximum sentence, they face up to five years in jail.

No matter how skeptical one might be of Voina’s practices, it is impossible not to demand their immediate release. Russian law enforcers tasked with combating extremism go after artists who flip militia cars and paint phalli on bridges and charge them with hate crimes: “criminal mischief motivated by political, ideological, racist, nationalist or religious hatred or enmity against any social group whatsoever,” the social group, in this case, being the Petersburg police. This interpretation of the law stands in the same line as the application of Article 282 of the Russian Federation Criminal Code, a law designed to stop the “spread of national or religious discord,” but used to persecute curators and artists who broach Russian Orthodox religious taboos. And this while lethal right-wing extremism and national-religious fundamentalism go unchallenged, tolerated if not engineered by the state.

The perverse argument of victimization by representatives of the dominant culture will sound familiar; nationalists often construct their identitarian discourse on the “threat” by people from a “clashing civilization.” For example, when 5,000 neo-Nazi football hooligans held an unsanctioned demonstration in front of the Kremlin, their chief demand was for the state to protect them from people from Dagestan and other distant places, and law enforcers are inclined to concede to that demand to a point. Reviewing the footage of December 11, you can see Russian riot police holding back despite massive provocations and failing to protect migrants from getting beaten up, individual acts of heroism aside. According to one high-ranking law enforcement officer on TV, the police acted “loyally” until physically attacked. That is, they were “loyal” to the neo-Nazi football hooligans…

Another interesting slip of the tongue on the night of December 11 was when the head of the Interior Ministry, Rashid Nurgaliev, explained the violence as an eruption planned and inflamed by the radical left. Indeed, the so-called Centers “E” are known for harassing leftists of all ilk, including antifa activists, anarchists, and free trade unionists, as well as artists and intellectuals, simply because they are easy to raid, frame, and intimidate, though probably a little confusing to monitor. The chief instrument is that of any protection racket: undiscriminating, random violence. That is, masked Interior Ministry troops carrying automatic weapons and riot gear could bust down the door of a seminar held by leftist intellectuals, or confiscate editions of a newspaper where a libretto of a songspiel makes an unfavorable mention of Vladimir Putin. They could also randomly call in activists for questioning, and frame them with possession charges, if they prove uncooperative as in the case of Artem Loskutov in Novosibirsk, who was framed with marijuana possession charges and has been persecuted by law enforcers ever since.

Over the last years, such random violence has had a great effect, bringing home the overall securitization of Russian society (sometimes it seems like more than half of the male population work as security guards) to the art scene; it has produced a top-to-bottom system of self-censorship that runs all the way from printers and technicians, via editors, copywriters, PR specialists, and journalists to curators, critics, and artists, who collectively begin to enforce a system of taboos, if not to pander directly to those “silent majorities” that might potentially feel persecuted. Though there are not so many artists who seek permission from the Moscow Patriarchate to exhibit works with religious themes yet, the majority of Russian art professionals shies away from any politics beyond harmless spectacle, opting instead for a defense of “free art” and “autonomy,” which, under present conditions, can and should be understood as autonomy in a heavily guarded luxury ghetto (if the artist is lucky) or autonomy below the horizon of visibility or on the margins of society (if she or he is not lucky or really lucky, depending on how you see it). The right of artists to “live by their own laws” is predicated on the vast privileges of their patrons, and disappears once artists operate in the outer world in any visible manner.

Thus, it seems very tempting to defend Voina by demanding the impossible and asserting artistically motivated hooliganism’s right to offend. Andrei Erofeev, one of the defendants in the “Forbidden Art” trial and Voina’s principle supporter, makes such an argument, likening the group to firemen who break down the doors of burning buildings. This line of argumentation claims that artists should have a certain immunity from prosecution because they follow their own law, which includes the right to exercise satire and provocation, designed for minimal material damages and maximal social effect. In this argumentation, the action is obviously not motivated by political, social, national or religious hatred but by the experimental drive of the artist (in this case, the collective artist Voina); outrage and material violence (more of a threat and a taunt than a reality) are artistic devices, actor’s ploys, justifiable means subordinated to positive aesthetic and political ends. That is, Voina lays claim to a specific type of aesthetic violence that redefines art from outside its normative shell; it’s an old Dadaist method redeployed again and again throughout the twentieth century, and it only works when the transgression of aesthetic law coincides with that of administrative law, when the threat of violence and sanction are real and become self-evident, when the apparatus reacts with all its overwhelming stupidity. The apparatus’s reaction is a part of the artwork, in other words; the arrest becomes an aesthetic device, not so much a means as an ending.

What disappears, unfortunately, is the possibility to criticize Voina’s actions as art or to see them as art at all; solidarity with political prisoners requires that any discussion of their work be reduced to the level of supportive political commentary. They don’t need analysis, as long as it doesn’t directly serve the cause of vindicating them. As Ilya Budraitskis, one of the organizers of the rally held in support of Voina in Moscow on December 18, put it, “The time for aesthetic discussion about Voina was over once the activists were put in jail,” arguing that any aesthetic criticisms would, at this point, add to their predicament. Artist and theorist Anatoly Osmolovsky takes a diametrically opposed position: he writes that Voina was uninteresting to him until the arrest, and then launches into an attack on the group’s actions as a rehash of actionist strategies that he himself helped to pioneer. Osmolovsky’s article expresses a widespread sentiment that curator Oxana Sarkissian sums up: “I can’t support Voina’s artistic strategies, because they are inappropriate to our time.” Meaning: ten years of “normalization” under Putin have made radical public art impossible, and Voina, effectively, proves it yet again.

Art can only be “political” when it is criticized, attacked and/or endorsed by an art community and a broader audience, but it can only be art when the audience can appreciate, discuss, and criticize it without being held to a question like “do you want them to go to jail or not?” The point is that in the nineties, this was possible: Osmolovsky’s performance of laying out the word khui (“dick”) in human letters could be interpreted precisely because its then-still anonymous authors could successfully evade any punishment, because politics had not been silenced, but, on the contrary, was going up in flames. Moscow Actionism, one could see, was predicated on a strange power vacuum in the period of shock privatization and its political failures, a theater that unfolded in failed pubic space and an as yet uncontrolled no man’s land: it famously took the police over an hour to respond in any way to the barricade Osmolovsky built in 1998 down the road from the Kremlin. The early 2000s changed all that, redefining all the fields of visibility in Russian society, and effectively banishing artists to their autonomy zones.

Voina has flaunted those new conventions, but its actions were only art for as long as they created and exploited those new vacuums that have been arising within what outwardly seems quite forbidding and total, for as long as they evaded arrest. Of course, the risk of arrest was always part of the game; in fact, in one YouTube video, Vorotnikov taunts an employee of Center “E” and admonishes him for shaking down another activist. But arrest does not necessarily mean a cold New Year’s in prison, with the prospect of broken families. Voina was actually famous for caution, for “smart activism,” for flaunting the law without ever actually risking more than a misdemeanor. Many of my students dismiss their work not because it is risky or breaks taboos, but because it seems too calculated, planned as a spectacle with actors playing clearly defined theatrical roles, too close for comfort to the spectacular nature of football hooligan politics under Putin. One student actually said that his contacts on the radical right were big fans of Voina and saw them as brave allies in the battle against the police, obsessed with protecting its own interests (as a minority), instead of the interests of the (equally persecuted) Russian majority.

Such interpretations underscore the importance of art criticism, which suddenly seems more than appropriate, simply to avoid confusion and to keep Russian neo-Nazis from claiming Voina for themselves. Once they are released, we can discuss what might be wrong with Voina’s general pose, whether it is romantic or cynical or crazy or all of the above. We can talk about why the political motives are intentionally vague. We can wonder why Voina (and everyone else) is so clear about anti-authoritarianism but not much else. Why this obsession with the state and the elite? Isn’t it Bakuninist? Power, imagined in overly abstract terms, and countered with overly abstract means? This is typical for post-communist politics, and one of the reasons why Voina’s actions resonate so broadly. There is also a counter-tendency in Voina that seems more promising: one that addresses the dispersed violence in the everyday, as present in a nightclub frequented by neocons as in your average megamall. This could be one point to begin the discussion; another is that a lot of Voina’s work is conscious trash and camped-up kitsch, briefly captivating, but very much calculated for intermedial scandalizing effect. The rather traditional transgressive image of the romantic bohemian commune, having pregnant group sex in a zoological museum, does little to hold up the spread of fascism through the everyday, just as releasing roaches in a courtroom cannot stop yet another biased court from reading its verdict. The court can, however, stop us from ever discussing any of those topics and from seeing Voina’s actions as art, simply because it is unethical to attack them while they are in jail. In Russia, verdicts take a long time to read, and even longer to write.


Editor’s Note. To find out more about the work and history of the Voina group, the story of their arrest and updates in this case, and how you can help the arrested activists with their legal defense and in spreading the word, go to Free Voina.

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