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THE AVANT-GARDE OF TERROR

Joanne Richardson


All economy ultimately reduces itself to the economy of time, Marx said somewhere. And vice versa, time is economy, measurement and circulation for profit. The clock did not always exist. It was invented for the organization of life under the rules of exchange. Trade and the exchange of commodities necessitated movement through space, and the calculation of the time taken up by movement from a point to its destination led to the practice of attaching the money-form to chronological time.

Time = Money. Banal truisms always hide something precisely because they appear self-evident. In 2001 in Zagreb, during an exhibition made on the occasion of the 153rd anniversary of the Communist Manifesto, Darko Fritz, displayed Time = Money = Time on the electronic board of a tram. The tram's normal destination was from HDLU (the Croatian Visual Artists House) to the main square. But the tram did not follow its linear path to the square, it just circled HDLU. Unsuspecting passengers got on the tram and found out it was free, but they didn't reach their destination. The tram moved through space but without a goal and, in a sense, without time. This was one of several recent artistic projects in Eastern Europe that identify not with territory but with the act of movement itself. And this is also the distance that separates them from the historical project of the avant-gardes.

It's often said that Dada, as a movement, was born in Zurich on February 5, 1916. But this is wrong. February 5, 1916 was the opening night of Hugo Ball's and Emmy Hennings' Cabaret Voltaire, and they had invited artists who lived in Zurich, "whatever their orientation" to make presentations and contributions of all kinds. There was no Dada group, no unison under a common ideological programme, but just an eclectic gathering of people linked only by their opposition to the war. Ball, dressed as an obelisk, read abstract phonetic poems, others performed gestural dances wearing Janco's grotesque masks, and recited simultaneous poetry. The performances were ephemeral, consuming themselves in their act of production. Tzara's manifesto of 1918 captures the early mood of Dada: "To put out a manifesto you must want: ABC, to fulminate against 1,2,3, to fly into a rage and sharpen your wings to conquer and disseminate little abcs and big abcs, to sign, shout, swear, to organize prose into a form of absolute and irrefutable evidence ... I write a manifesto and I want nothing." The first Dada manifesto questioned the logic and the desire behind making manifestoes. It answered politics, but not from the inside in the language of a dialectical critique. Dialectics does not negate in an absolute, explosive flash, but piecemeal, by rejecting only what is irrational, dogmatic, or contradictory in the system, so as to strengthen its rational core, to enable it to grow and return a profit. Tzara once said, dialectics kills - it consumes the desire of life as it beats its wings against the limits of the impossible.

Dialectics temporalizes space and spatializes time. Different geographical territories are identified with stages of history, invested with the march of historical progress. Hence Hegel can interpret the geographical territory of the Prussian State as the fulfillment of the temporal logic of the becoming in-and-for-itself of self-consciousness. And time itself is spatialized, represented as a culmination of moments, never a simple present, always dependent on what comes before, and determined by what will follow. Time is subjected to a calculation of profit, it becomes a restricted economy in Bataille's sense. Time projects itself into a future that recuperates the losses of vanishing, ephemeral moments, and becoming is endured because it is always on the way to Being. Dada is time without space and space without time. Zurich became significant as the territory of the birth of Dada only because it was a non-territory or a kind of non-place. Those who gathered there were emigres of their own countries, having fled in protest of the national politics that led to the outbreak of the war. So from the beginning, Dada never identified itself with any territory and mocked ideological discourse - especially the manifesto-form as the most fanatical expression of the logic of territoriality.

It is through the laws and proclamations of their manifestoes that the avant-gardes instituted themselves as micro-nations, as states in miniature. If Dada began by not defining itself, if its members tried to define it years later but could never quite get it right, Surrealism launched itself in 1924 in the form of a dictionary definition: "Surrealism, noun. Psychic automatism in its pure state, by which one proposes to express the actual functioning of thought Surrealism tends to ruin once and for all other psychic mechanisms and to substitute itself for them in solving all the principal problems of life." Surrealism defined itself through its purity of vision, a vision that was total and sought to institute itself over the whole of the fallen world. From the moment of Breton's break with Tzara, Surrealism adopts a juridical tone. The break came in 1921 during the mock-trial of Maurice Barres for "crimes against the security of the human spirit." Barres had once been an admirer of Nietzsche and Stendhal but had become a nationalist and a leader of the reactionary League of the French Nation. The trial started as a typical Dada farce, Barres was played by a wooden mannequin seated in the defendant's chair. Breton played the judge, Ribemont-Dessaignes, the prosecutor, Aragon and Soupault, counsel for the defense, and Tzara and the others were witnesses. When Tzara protested to the grave overtones of what was supposed to be a mock trial, Breton was outraged that he was making light of the seriousness of Barres's crimes. With this first open clash of two incompatible worlds, Surrealism's trial and excommunication of Dada had effectively began, even if Surrealism as a movement still lacked a name.

After the mock trial, real trials followed. In 1925, after reading Trotsky's biography of Lenin, Breton saw the light and decided that the political line which Surrealism had been searching for could only be found in the doctrine of the Bolshevik Revolution. He published a confession in L'Humanite, "Only a semantic confusion has allowed the persistent misunderstanding that there was a Surrealist doctrine of Revolution ... There was never a Surrealist theory of Revolution. We want the Revolution; however, we want revolutionary means. Of what do these means consist? Only of the Communist International and for France, of the French Communist Party." Unwillingness on the part of Vitrac, Soupault, and Artaud to follow Surrealism into this new direction led to their expulsion from the group. Breton held a meeting in November 1926 at the cafe Le Phophete to explain the criteria for expulsion, "Consideration of individual positions: are all these positions defensible from a revolutionary viewpoint? ... To what degree are they tolerable?" In 1929 he sent a letter asking members of the Surrealist movement for an account of their present ideological position. Many refused to reply and were excluded by omission. Those who did reply were "invited" to a meeting on March 11 at the Bar du Chateau. Each man was singled out and put on trial for their moral qualifications. 7 more Surrealists (Baron, Duhamel, Fegy, Prevert, Man Ray, Tanguy, and Vidal) were judged unfit and excluded "by reason of their occupations and character." Ribemont-Dessaignes, disgusted with the juridical tone of the meeting, made a loud exit. He later wrote to Breton: "I consider that the self-appointed task of purification that you devote yourself to is absolutely counterrevolutionary. It condemns you to impotence which is the mark of the Surrealist movement ... You are the bureaucrats of purity and judgment."

Hugo Ball called Dada a "flight out of time" - not only out of its own historical time, but also out of time that measures itself dialectically, as projection. As production of ephemeral performances, events without goals, Dada existed without projecting itself forward; the present moment became self-sufficient, acquiring the sense of an infinite duration. It's Dada's existence without projection that became intolerable to Breton, who wanted the movement to become serious, to set goals, to become a project, to ally itself with the historical destiny of the proletariat. Surrealism is a re-dialecticization of Dada; Breton, exhibiting a mad passion for Hegelian language, labels Dada the mere negative moment, which must be negated and surpassed by becoming positive and abolishing the ephemerality of individual moments of intensity for the sake of a future promise. The double negation of Surrealism is a reintroduction into the world of serious politics and high literature. And a re-identification with territory, with a particular French political exigency dating back to the Jacobin revolutionary tradition, characterized by proclaiming negations and abolitions, affirming goals in advance, denouncing enemies and ideas that exceed the limits of the system - characterized, consequently, by a need for trials and excommunications.

History repeats itself, the second time not as farce, but as tragedy. In 1947, another Romanian Jew arrived in Paris, having changed his name from Jean-Isidore Goldstein to Isidore Isou, as an evident allusion to Tristan Tzara's (Samuel Rosenstock's) reinvention of his name. Isou's first act in Paris was interrupting a lecture on Dada by Michel Leris (with Tzara seated in the audience) to announce that "Dada is dead: Lettrism has taken its place." Lettrism, as a collection of a youth underclass, many of whom were unemployed, homeless or destitute, was also marked by a sense of alienation, of not belonging to a territory or identifying with a national ideology. Having rejected the proletariat as a passive, integrated class which had possessions and families to worry about and thereby lacking the ability to compromise itself, Isou saw the revolutionary potential as belonging to youth, to anyone "who does not yet coincide with his function." The character of youth, as Isou saw it, was its gratuitousness - it was outside the economy of profit, the dead time of the market, the moral imperative of work, and the dialectical necessity of the project. Guy Debord and the others who split from Isou and seceded to form the Lettrist International, enacted this gratuitousness in their daily existence by drifting through the streets of Paris in search for a passionate solicitation by the architecture, wearing painted clothing, and leaving traces in the form of graffiti on walls: "Never Work," "Free the passions," "Live without dead time." Having rejected economic prohibitions as obsolete, the LI dwelled somewhere on the margins of the economy through theft and other so-called "crimes." Lettrist films imposed a ban against images and refused representation, evacuating cinematic space. The LI spoke of their urban drifts and street actions as "ephemeral, without a future, passageways "

The LI stammered in a new language of the intensity of moments (the revolution actualized in a single deed), in which every desire became poetry. They created gestures and actions that were outside a dialectical economy of profit, separated from the banality of informational discourse, refusing the permanence of works. But they remained trapped in old structures and old forms of organization, invoking the Hegelian dialectic and Saint Just as the ghost of Jacobin terror. Gradually the group transformed itself from a marginal youth subculture to the Situationist International, self-proclaimed prophets of a new revolution who measured their value against all the previous names of history. They abandoned the primitive looking two page mimeographed Potlatch for the sophisticated and slick SI journal. Potlatch had contained strange, cryptic fragments, short poems, bursts of illumination. The SI issued long theoretical essays, definitions, and manifestoes that proclaimed theirs was the only coherent critique and true revolutionary practice. Since they alone possessed the correct theory, the SI expelled ideological deviations, and during its lifetime excluded 45 of its 70 members.

Why such an uncanny repetition, considering the different histories of Surrealism and the SI? Surrealism had copied an external model - the bureaucratic organization of the French Communist Party. But the SI not only repudiated the PCF and the small Trotskyist, Maoist and Guevarist groupuscules, but the question of how to avoid bureaucratic organization was at the center of its theory and programs. The unsigned "Instructions for Taking up Arms" claimed that the most important problem for a revolutionary project is "establishing new types of human relationships within the organization itself" which demand "participation on the part of everyone." In "To Have as a Goal Practical Truth," Vaneigem wrote that the SI "refuses to reproduce within itself any of the hierarchical conditions of the dominant world. The only limit to participating in its total democracy is that each member must have recognized and appropriated the coherence of its critique."

What Vaneigem describes as the non-hierarchical organization of the SI is similar to a band of equals or a society of brothers bound by the pact of the founding doctrine. Inside the band there is no hierarchy, everyone is equal, experiments are collective, actions and texts are produced together, often unsigned. Some people in the group may have more power because they do more work and take more responsibility but the momentary uneven distribution of power is inevitable and is not a matter of power being usurped. It's unfair to accuse the band of equals of reproducing a mode of social organization based on hierarchy and bureaucracy. Bureaucracy is characterized by representation and substitution. As Trotsky said in the context of Bolshevism, the party substitutes itself for the people, claiming to be their representative. Certain members of the party substitute themselves for the whole, and eventually one leader substitutes himself for the totality. Power is continually displaced and the field of action is removed from the majority, inevitably creating a culture of alienation. The band of equals is an expressive form of politics, characterized by immediacy and participation. There are no scales, no ascending or descending lines, and distinctions are not recognized. There's only one central distinction: there are members of the group bound by the pact, and then there are enemies. Enemies are completely other. It is not that someone who falls out of step with the pact becomes less equal; whoever deviates from the doctrine is no longer recognized as a being endowed with rights and value. Enemies become unspeakable, once excluded, their names are forgotten. As Alexander Trocchi said after he was excluded from the SI, "Guy wouldn't even mention the names of the people I was involved with ... exclusions were total. It meant ostracism."

Eliane Brau had been the first to speak of the necessity for "autoterrorism" - each member of the group needed to go through a rite of purification, a self-education in revolution, in which previous social relations, inherited habits and moral conventions had to be ruthlessly wiped out. Those who hesitated or only went half-way were judged traitors to the pact that bound the group together. The power of the band became enormous, extending its dominion over every detail of personal life and moral judgment, assuming the form of a guiding principle for the sake of which all other social relations were renounced. This is what every army dreams of accomplishing - cutting new recruits off from their previous lives so that the combat unit becomes their new family and the fear of letting down their brothers and comrades in arms becomes greater than the fear of sacrifice or death. Perfect love can abolish both fear and judgment.

The surface resemblance between the historical avant-gardes and terrorist cells reflects an underlying collusion between territory and terror. Territory is not the same as space - space is unbounded and amorphous, while territory is a juridical concept which implies delimitation and ownership. According to dictionary definitions, territory is a tract of land that is marked off to designate that it falls under the dominion of a political unit (a prince, a sovereign state, another form of government or an institution). The synonyms for territory are: confines, boundary, battleground, commonwealth, domain, dominion, protectorate, satellite, nation, state, country. Legal dictionaries make the etymological connection between territory and terror even clearer: territory is "a part of a country, separated from the rest, and subject to a particular jurisdiction. The word is derived from terrere, and is so called because the magistrate within his jurisdiction has the power of inspiring salutary fear by arrest and removal."

It's not a coincidence that "terrorism" as a word is born on the eve of the French Revolution as a euphemism for the power of the nation-state. Robespierre affirmed that terror is necessary "to found and consolidate democracy, to achieve the peaceable reign of the constitutional laws." To baptize a territory is to draw boundaries around previously unmarked space; territorialization is a mapping that is simultaneously physical and ideological. Terror follows from virtue defined as the "love of country and its laws"- it is not an accidental consequence of the newly founded nation but its internal emanation. The new territory created by the Revolution of 1789 is the Republic of France, in other words, the ideology of republicanism. The founding doctrine (expressed in the various manifestoes & decrees: The Decree Abolishing the Feudal System, The Declaration of the Rights of Man, The Constitution 1791, The Law of the Suspects, The Constitution of Year III) sets boundaries on the possible through the institution of laws, and it marks the inside from the outside through the concepts it invents. The founding law extends its protection only to citizens, and the "only citizens in the Republic are the republicans" or those who ally themselves ideologically with the revolution. The others, all the "assassins who tear our country apart" are potential enemies always lurking on the horizon, and the revolution demands that they be deprived of civil rights, spied on, denounced, incarcerated and guillotined. The first precedent for the criminalization of those who did not share the virtue of the republic was laid down during the trial of Louis XVI by Saint-Just: "The whole object of the committee was to persuade you that the King ought to be judged as a simple citizen, but I tell you that he ought to be judged as the enemy It is therefore the right of the convention as representing the whole people, to condemn the King to death and it better do so quickly." Terror is only the pursuit and elimination of what does not belong to the constituted territory. If this sounds despotic, then it is, in Robespierre's elegant phrase, only "liberty's despotism against tyranny."

The reign of terror left its mark on history not just through the notorious trials and executions but through the social transformations that followed from Jacobin ideology, which called for the centralization of the state and the equality of citizens through the leveling of ranks and social distinctions. Before the revolution, sovereignty was a private, transcendental relation between each person to the king as an indirect representative of god; with the revolution, modern sovereignty became an immanent, public relation of citizenship as people became bound to each other through their abstract relation to the law of the republic. In Saint-Just's utopia, which became real according to the ruse of history, citizens had to carry identity cards (called "certificates of good citizenship") issued by their local commune, and every house had to have documents posted on its door listing its legal occupants. Borders were invisible but everywhere, even inside the republic, and because their passage had to be strictly controlled, citizens needed certified documents to travel from one city to another. Territory was recreated as the mirror image of this new form of sovereignty - France was divided into a mathematical grid of departments, cantons, and municipalities to make public surveillance and adjudication of law easier and to facilitate the flow of commodities with increased speed. Each department was to be run exactly as its neighbor. Since differences were aristocratic, every effort was taken to eradicate individual cultures, regional dialects, and local customs. In schools language became standardized and curriculum was controlled by the state. In "Republican Institutions," Saint-Just proposed that "children shall belong to their mother until they are five years old; after that they shall belong to the republic until death." He also demanded that "Every man twenty-one years of age shall publicly state in the temples who are his friends" and that the punishment for refusal should be banishment. The ultimate scope of the terror was to abolish every detail of private life so that raising children, the character of people who lived in the same house, even relations among friends would become public affairs presided over by the state.

Antoine Louis Leon de Richebourg de Saint-Just, born on August 25, 1767, executed on July 27, 1794, prophet of a virtue that lay dormant in everyone's heart but had suppressed and twisted for centuries by the aristocratic masters of the old world, was one of the heroes and acknowledged ancestors of the Situationists, even back in their Lettrist days. The voice of Saint-Just haunted Debord's first film, Howls for Sade; the beautiful youth with the soft cheeks was remembered as one of the "enfants perdus" - a failed revolutionary, misunderstood by posterity, silenced by the march of history. Quotes from Saint-Just were borrowed ciphers in Situationist writings, reminders that "The only reason one fights is for what one loves," warnings that "Those who make revolution half way only dig their own graves."

The "decline" of the SI did not take place after 1968 but in the 1950s when the group transformed itself into a territory. When the Lettrist International fused with COBRA and changed its name to the SI, writing acquired primacy - as the re-presentation of earlier lived experiments in intelligible form and visible retroactively as a project that carried the historical weight of destiny. As the "coherent critique" became dominant and their experiences and ideas acquired mythic proportions, the tone of the writings also became increasingly juridical and self-righteous. The so-called "mistakes" and "imperfections" that were grounds for exclusion from the group were projected as a failure of individuals to measure up to the theory. In the end it was inevitable that reality itself should be condemned for not corresponding to the SI's theoretical predictions. The most vulgar display of retroactive bad conscience is the story about May 68 in "The End of an Era" and in Rene Vienet's book on the occupation movement. The SI rejected the interpretation by Cornelius Castoriadis (a former mentor whose theories they often plagiarized) that the students constituted the most radical impulse of the insurrection. In reality, that is, according to Situationist theory, the proletariat made a comeback as the vanguard of revolution after a long period of silence and stagnation. This interpretation contradicts the fact that the striking workers, when asked what they wanted, had most often replied with a demand for higher wages. The SI explain away this inconsistency by claiming that although what the proletariat "had wanted was revolution they had been unable to say it" since they lacked "a coherent and organized theory." The nascent revolution failed because the proletariat "proved incapable of really speaking on their own behalf" - in other words, they needed someone with a coherent critique to explain to them what they had really wanted but were unable to say.

The SI has sometimes been referred to as the last avant-garde, with their separation in 1972 marking the end of an era when art, radical desire and political militancy came together. The idea that the avant-garde is dead, which first became a fashion during the 1980s, was the product of two different collective fantasies. Conservatives like Achille Bonito Oliva and Arthur Danto announced that the avant-garde had reached the end of its history and attained the greatest era of freedom art had ever known - a mirror of the great freedom of the liberal utopia of the market. "New" left critics who spoke the language of Adorno (Suzi Gablik, Andreas Huyssen, Hans Magnus Enzenberger, and Nicos Hadjinicolau) viewed this liberal utopia of "reconciliation" as a euphemism for the completely administered society. They read the death of the avant-garde as the visible nightmare of a moment of unfreedom, a complete paralysis of the critical impulse resulting from their absorption and recuperation by the culture industry. Both fantasies affirmed the end of a mixture of radical art & politics, whether by obsolescence or impossibility. And both highlighted an external movement at the expense of the internal dynamic. The avant-garde is really dead, but not for the reasons invoked by the specialists of art. They were not innocent victims destroyed in their struggle with an external power - either crushed by totalitarian states or colonized by the culture industry - they were the vehicles of their own self-destruction. It's not a trivial thing that the term "avant-garde" was borrowed from military language - it refers to an elite group, organized by strict discipline, who goes into battle first to pave the way for the attack, perhaps sacrificing itself in the end so the army can advance the cause of its righteous war. If this metaphor started out as a parody, it became real in the course of history, and in the final instance, the avant-gardes became doubles of the very logic of territorial power they sought to challenge. It was the group NSK who, during the 1980s in Yugoslavia, unmasked this secret complicity in its most spectacular form.

Laibach was born in 1980 in the republic of Slovenia. Against the new wave of democratization that followed Tito's death, Laibach enacted a theater of power that was, as Boris Groys has called it, "more total than totalitarianism." Laibach appears on the stage in black quasi-military uniforms with armbands, against a background of fascist, communist and religious symbols, swastikas made of axes dripping blood, national flags and deer antlers, black crosses, and moving images of wartime footage. The music mixes the drum rhythms of military marches, instrumental techno beats, excerpts from political speeches by Tito: "We have shed a sea of blood for the fraternity and unity of our nations. We shall allow no one to interfere or plot from within to destroy this fraternity and unity." The rhythm of each song is repeated into the next at an obsessive pace, with the same rigidity as the body language of the performers. Emptied of content, Laibach performs the audience, holding up a mirror of servitude in which individuals abolish themselves by identifying with the ideology of the state.

In 1984 Laibach joined 3 other groups, Irwin, Scipion Nasice Sisters Theater, and New Collectivism, to found a 30+ person collective, NSK, Neue Slowenische Kunst. NSK defined itself as a uniform collective that took the State as a model of organization, industrial production as its method of working, and "identification with ideology" as the content of its aesthetic productions. NSK's strategy was neither an open denunciation of the power of the state, nor a parody of its operations, but an excessive re-staging of the aesthetic basis and seductive legitimation of territorial power. According to Zizek, by over-identifying with the language of power, NSK revealed the hidden reverse of what must usually be suppressed for power to function unquestioned. And the reason Laibach were considered dangerous by the Yugoslavian authorities who banned their performances was precisely because they took ideology more seriously than it is willing to take itself.

Following Zizek's lead, the small group of critics who have written about NSK have focused almost exclusively on NSK's relation to the State and the strategy of over-identification as the defining element which supposedly sets it apart from overt political critique as well as from the previous avant-gardes. But identifying with the mode of organization of state power was common to the hoaxes and interventions of Zurich and Berlin Dada as well as some of the early hoaxes of Surrealism and Lettrism. The Berlin Dadas established a "revolutionary central council" and demanded that all laws and decrees would be subject to its approval. In "What is Dadaism and what does it want in Germany," they called for the union of artists and intellectuals on the basis of the expropriation of property, the communal feeding of all, the introduction of progressive unemployment, the introduction of simultaneous Dada poems as communist state prayers, and the regulation of all sexual relations through the Dadaist sexual center! Johannes Baader interrupted the Weimar assembly to announce his candidacy for President of the World. Raoul Hausmann later called their actions and manifestoes "a monstrous mockery of all political tendencies." It can be said especially of the Dadas that they aimed to reveal the obscenity of state power, political parties, and ideological discourse. What's different about NSK is that it revealed the obscenity of the avant-gardes by over-identifying with their territorialism to the point of dissolution. NSK is dialectics at a standstill, repeating frozen fragments of the avant-garde image - the effect is like a record that skips, or of a found footage film in which an isolated gesture or a fragment of a slogan is repeated until the rhythm acquires a demented pitch, becoming unbearable. The negation is not recuperated in a positive movement that would complete the unfinished project of the avant-garde and reconcile its historical contradictions; on the contrary, any desire to identify with the legacy of the avant-garde becomes absurd.

History does not travel everywhere at the same speed. In historically underdeveloped countries (in Western Europe and especially in North America), a thousand and one appropriations of the Situationists are still in fashion under new labels like tactical media, communication guerilla, cultural jamming and aesthetic terrorism. The same old story is repeated with minute variations and less spectacular results: small groups with big pretensions come together, write countless manifestoes, issue new proclamations, occasionally make it into the media spotlight, have periodic quarrels and exclusions, and eventually break apart. These repetitions don't eclipse history as much as they appropriate it one-sidedly in terms of its beautiful slogans, while passing over in silence its consequent realities.

In Canada, I saw protestors against corporate globalization march with a soviet hammer and sickle against the background of the Canadian flag; in Germany on May 1, I watched demonstrators take to the streets wearing Che Guevarra t-shirts. Many of us would shake our head in disapproval over these examples, dismissing them as the outdated hallucinations of a revolutionary vanguard tradition that now deserves its place in the trashcan of history. The politics of the day is decentralized, nonhierarchical, horizontal, participatory and transparent. But is it necessarily less totalitarian? What the historical tradition of the avant-gardes showed is that the dichotomy between centralization and decentralization or hierarchy and horizontality were chimeras, false detours. The most antihierarchical groups can advocate total equality and participation among the members and at the same time be the most rabid examples of totalitarianism, excluding all those who fail to recognize or appropriate the coherence of the critique. If "actually existing socialism" deserves to be criticized it is just as much for its hierarchical chain of command and bureaucracy of privilege as for its dogmatism - the conviction that only its own worldview was correct, the inability to admit any contradictory ideas or criticism, and the exclusion of any realities which questioned the correctness of the theory. Some anarchists and antiauthoritarians today are also totalitarians - absolutely convinced of the righteousness of their beliefs, immune to any criticism, and incapable of dialoguing with anyone who thinks differently. At a recent Indymedia meeting, it was decided that during a public debate we should only talk about the positive achievements of the network and that no one should bring up recent scandals about the problems of the Open Publishing Newswire because this would betray the spirit of solidarity. At a festival of media makers in Amsterdam, an Italian "comrade" said to me that it didn't matter if the new tactical media avant-garde were using the same methods as the state or even neo-fascist groups and that we should stop criticizing each other because it was counter-revolutionary. Is this an old fiction we haven't yet learned how to live without?

A new form of group collaboration emerged in Eastern Europe in the beginning of the 1990s that was a conscious alternative to the old model of the avant-gardes. And it's not insignificant that it arose in those countries where decades of centralization of every aspect of life under the mystical shell of solidarity now provoked an immediate suspicion toward manifestoes, proclamations of 5 year plans, and one-line slogans which were devoid of content and betrayed only the incapacity to think the present. Whereas the tendency of the avant-garde had been an inward contraction toward unity under a common manifesto and programme, these new collaborative associations didn't come together as a self-promotion of ideas under a group name, but for the production of collaborative projects and works. As the desire for writing manifestoes vanished so has the importance of names. Ujlak was a group in Hungary, born in 1992, abolishing its name in 1995 (after they became well known), though they are still working together without any name. Ujlak - translated as the "new inhabitants" - was from the beginning a name without a name, since the name simply referred to their practice of using empty spaces like bathhouses, abandoned factories, and warehouses. Theirs was not an "occupation" since they didn't claim these space under their own name or seek to found a new territory - even one for an alternative culture - like the many squats or occupied autonomous social centers in other countries. Ujlak defined itself only through its constant movement from one place to another, always becoming for a moment the new inhabitants. A friend from the Romanian group the Institute, recently told me of their plans to take possession of a space, but added that "contrary to the cultural tradition that has been consecrated in Western Europe since 1968, our space will be evacuated and not occupied."


Budapest, 2001. Reedited 2003 for art-ist magazine, Istanbul.


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