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Exiled in Mexico and hunted by agents of Stalin who will kill him two years later, Trotsky allies

with Breton to pen this manifesto denouncing the betrayal of the Bolshevik revolution. Fascism, the
rumblings of another world war, and fury at well-disciplined liarsthe apologists for totalitarianism
and reactionshape their overwhelming sense of urgency. Their manifesto exhorts progressive and
revolutionary-minded artists and intellectuals worldwide to organize.
Today, it is difficult to invoke revolution, a term embedded in the history of so many failures. Master
narratives have been ripped to shreds, and the word itself has been folded into capital. But the 1930s
were a time for revolution. In the 1960s and 1970s, another period of global churning, this manifesto
was again broadly circulated, translated, and debated.
Like so many manifestoes, its a call to arms. The shit is hitting the proverbial fan, and the mind and
body must respond. Some might cite the opening lines as evidence of the manifestos relevance. We
need only substitute our own litany of unbearable present realities: the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan,
torture, Katrina and its aftermaths, control unit prisons, extreme wealth for a tiny few while millions
Theres a tendency on the left to wish, not so secretly, for this awfulness. Suddenly it appears like a
vision, like the Virgin Mary at Fatima, as Chris Marker says in his epic film Grin Without a Catthe
state unmasked, the enemy exposed, for all to see. Sharpening contradictions engender real pain, the
necessary pre-condition for revolutionary consciousness and revolt. But oppression can grind people
down into nothingness. Torture destroys, hunger enervates, and depression kills the appetite and the
imaginative urge for change. The recurring dream of a revolution is the antidote for the nightmare that
surrounds us. Moralism is a salve, and the constant state of emergency becomes a mantra.
In 1938, the inevitability of revolution was not yet in doubt; the Marxist dialectic, the struggle between
worker/peasant and capitalist, would ultimately resolve in an armed clash and lead to a classless society.
Progress and development were not vexed terms whose collateral is a poisoned, depleted planet.
Trotskys idea of permanent revolution evoked perpetual, spiraling desire in the ferment of the
present. One must always fight for everything and everyone, but revolution is endlessly deferred; there
can be no revolution in one country. A high-pitched and elaborately worked set of political arguments
displaces the partial and fragmentary practice of everyday struggles. These imperfect instances of
reform, of the single issue, are spurned as delusions, or betrayals.
Contemporary theorists like Hardt and Negri and the radical feminists/political
economists/ethnographers J. K. Gibson-Graham have embraced the chant of activists internationally:
We want the world, and we want it now! Revolution is imminent practice, not some deferred future
thought. One need not seize state power to embody and effect transformations in collectivities and
consciousness. Scale can be small, because the local always coexists with the global. Thinking past the
present, into some imaginary, liberated future zone, eclipses the richness of the tracks that people are
making right now.
The Zapatistas and their autonomous zones in Chiapas, Mexico, are hugely inspirational. Worker-run
factories in Argentina are not only a matter of si se puede (yes, we can), of rescuing jobs from the
failure of neo-liberalization, but are experiments in social transformation: workers are simultaneously

managers. This is not peaceful coexistence, but the exercise of simultaneous counter-power. There are
no guarantees, of course, but these are incitements to hope.
The manifesto demands complete freedom for art, but also asserts that the supreme task of art is to
take part in the preparation of the revolution. How to reconcile these bold claims? The first connotes
an ever-expanding practice of freedom, while the latter implies an agenda, an ideology, a program. In
1961, Fidel Castro said, Within the Revolution, everything! Outside the Revolution, nothing. Who
decides this demarcation between inside and outside, good and bad, revolution and counterrevolution?
Its hard to talk about freedom, and know what we mean. Serge Guilbaut, in How New York Stole the
Idea of Modern Art, makes the case that U.S. cold war cultural policy-makers and analysts saw a
propaganda opportunity in the raw, unfettered gestures of abstract expressionismthe perfect sign of
western freedom.
If by freedom we mean autonomy for art, a different set of anxieties emerges about the sneaky return
of a modernist division between the aesthetic and the political, and the cooptation of art. Marx and
Engels wrote that capital is driven to expand, plunder, and nestle everywhere. This is truer now than they
could ever know. Capital infiltrates in both predictable and unforeseen ways, and assimilates everything
including our imaginaries. But the fact that every independent, sub-cultural, resistant, or insurgent
practice, whether in politics or art, can be appropriated and re-captioned by capital need not invite
despair, because the inverse is also true: Everything is (potentially) recuperable.
True art is unable not to be revolutionary, not to aspire to a complete and radical reconstruction
of society the artist is the natural ally of revolution.
These days, any claims of true and natural elicit instant skepticism. But both the French surrealist
and the exiled Bolshevik were influenced by Freud and the psychoanalytic project. They believed that
the life of dreams and the unconscious was a potentially liberatory force to overcome bourgeois
convention and morality; it was linked to revolutionary consciousness, a socially-shared creativity to
transform the world.
But this is also a matter of desire. The longing for the dissolution of the borders between art, love, and
revolution persistsfrom the romantics to the hallucinatory era of the 1960s, to now; from Courbet to
Che Guevara to Patti Smith.
Theres infinite hopebut not for us. Kafkas words, quoted by Axe St. Arena in the 1980s, speak to
the pessimism of our moment. The Zapatistas Revolution is an eternal dream offers a more hopeful
spin. From both the skeptics and the optimists, so much energy and desire: lots of little flames wobbling,
flickering in the wind, refusing to go out.