L'Internationale between the Horizontal and the Vertical

Speaking and writing is not neutral, not just in the sense of meaning, but especially in the sense of the act itself: to speak, to write – somewhere (from a specific place, at a specific place). What is told therefore produces at least two sequences of effects: the sequence of that which is told, spoken; and the sequence of that which is brought about by doing so. What is also important, apart from their eternal incompatibility (e.g. there is nothing a priori subversive about using the word »subversive«), is that the second sequence is incomparably broader than the first and that it not only incorporates elements of linguistic meaning, but is also connected to a variety of other apparatuses: social, institutional, interpersonal, intimate etc. The first sequence can think of itself as independent, but is always already trapped in the second one. This does not mean it is subordinate to it, but merely that it cannot escape from it – that they are always in several different correlations.

The greatest victims of this divide are benevolent and idealistic humanisms when they pronounce on freedom, equality and similar universalistic ideals in places that are the places of (re)production of public morality and as such the cogs of the very machine that produces the opposites of these ideals. What is important is not only the status of the speaker, but also where the speech itself is situated, which machine it is a part of. Although the basic point here is that we can never truly control the place of speech and its influence on speech, we can nevertheless explore this place more thoroughly. We have to at least delineate its contours in order to have an approximate idea where we are situated and which machines are running on our own practice.

This is why before I began to write the second post1 on this blog, I had to look up on L'Internationale a bit more. This post is the result of my mini-investigation. I would like to point out that we will not merely try to figure out what L'Internationale is, but we will also use a concrete example to explore a problem field that is much broader than the example.

If we focus on the texts that are available on the website (under the categories Confederation and Colophon), we see that L'Internationale is a confederation of several European museums of modern and contemporary art that form a network in order to cooperate more easily when it comes to exchanging artworks and collections as well as forming simpler pathways for contents (artistic, curatorial, experimental and pedagogical practices) that these museums produce. The creation of the federation is envisioned also as a combat strategy in the fight against the globally hegemonic cultural institutions that dictate both the ways and possibilities of representation of art (which they are supposed to, above all, incorporate into capital relations) as well as the very global historical narrative of art. So far, L'internationale has been fulfilling its mission through two projects: 1957–1986. Art from the Decline of Modernism *to the Rise of Globalisation, in operation from 2010 until 2012, and *The Uses of Art – On the Legacy of 1848 and 1989, which began in 2013 and will terminate in 2018. Both projects applied for cultural programs of the European Union and were financed by them as well.

When reading the texts about L'Internationale on the mentioned page, we soon realise that the projects were financed by the EU, since their rhetoric follows the content categories as determined in the calls for proposals and tenders. These categories are: »citizenship«, »civil society«, »national assets«, »democracy«, »civil institution«, »trans-European civil society«, »transnational identities«, »international model of heritage«, »common heritage«, »common cultural references«, »European society« and, last but not least, »renewed social contract«. Furthermore, the title of the current project reads »Legacy of 1848 and 1989«, where the first year represents the national-liberal revolutions of the 19th century and the second the fall of the Eastern Bloc and the historic triumph of Western democracies and capitalism. These are all elements of ideology that the European Union has been persistently and aggressively implementing into the pores of local environments through diverse mechanisms.2 The basic premise of the EU is to glorify liberal ideas (freedom, citizenship, civil society, the public and the private) in conjunction with creating a unified cultural foundation or rather a unified tradition of the inhabitants of Europe. Yet in the same way that at the time of the historic rise of the capitalistic mode of production the creation of the liberal state gave rise to the expansion of the administrative apparatus and consequently disciplinary and bio-political mechanisms as well, and in the same way that at the time when class division was at its peak the »Spring of Nations« took on the role of unifying structurally conflicting social classes, nowadays the European Union is also playing a double game of administrative submission and cultural unification of those it considers to be »Europeans«.3 The very term »civil society« conceals, in its seeming opposition to the state, radical inequalities among the people, and at the same time, in its background, a machinery is thriving – a machinery that is constituted of complex mechanisms of selective access to possibilities of self-representation in public space.4

The source of financing is not problematic by itself; the problem is that drawing on EU funds is the very foundation for assuming tender rhetoric and categories that, even when we are cynical about them and do not take them seriously, still effect the contents and programs that actually take place. On the one hand, this is a proliferation of the liberal rhetoric in public discourse, and on the other, a process of casting social contents into the moulds of tender categories, which can be, without any reservation, understood as the administration of subjectivity by the European Union.5

However, in these texts, alongside tender rhetoric and ideology of the EU, we can detect another ideology that is opposed to the EU one. It is a form of anti-repressive and anti-capitalistic ideology that can be identified in those places, although more scarce, where we hear mention of »the non-hierarchical«, »solidarity« and »the common«. The most obvious example is the very name of the confederation, L'Internationale, adopted from the workers' anthem L'Internationale, »which calls for an equitable and democratic society with reference to the historical labour movement«.6 The disagreement is conceptual – between two conceptual compounds for which the word »international« stands for: the song Internationale is about the unification of the proletariat or the workers' parties of the world in the struggle against capitalism; the notion »internationalism«, however, is about the »non-hierarchical and decentralised internationalism, based on the values of difference and horizontal exchange among a constellation of cultural agents, locally rooted and globally connected«.7 The values of difference and horizontal exchange are undoubtedly praiseworthy, but what happened between the first and the second »international« is that proletarians transformed into »cultural agents«. While proletarians are individuals in a specific relation to the means of production (from which they are alienated, possessing only the ability to work), which a priori provides them with a political orientation and a place in the class conflict, »cultural agents« have no political orientation by themselves and are seemingly politically neutral. Yet as follows from different Marxist critiques of neutrality, universality and similar notions, it is the very pretension of neutrality that places the carrier of this predicate on the anti-revolutionary side of the class conflict. The problem of replacing proletarians with »cultural agents« is further exacerbated when we realise that the horizontal and nonhierachical solidarity network of exchange is now bound to the latter. No matter how we understand the syntagma »cultural agents«, whether as individual cultural institutions or as individual professional workers in the cultural sphere, it is evident that the status of the »cultural agent« is exclusive and that the access to it is conditioned by complex mechanisms of selection. This is what the last part of the aforementioned quote about »local deep-rootedness and global network« is referring to. If we take the metaphor of deep-rootedness a bit too seriously, we can easily imagine a smooth horizontal global space of pure exchange and communication between »cultural agents«, yet one that is based on vertical arrangements of individual agents that by their roots in the ground of the local environment pump nutrients or substances necessary for the upkeep of the global environment of exchange. A horizontal of equality based on a vertical of inequality and exploitation. In more concrete terms, a completely non-contradictory realisation of the idea of the L'Internationale is the one where all interlinked institutions cultivate solidarity among themselves, exchange collections, ideas and experts (curators, established artists, theoreticians etc.), while at the same time maintaining a strict internal hierarchy and policy of exploitation, since solidarity ends at the external side of the »cultural agent«. The positive aspects of L'Internationale therefore face another threat besides the proliferation of the ideology of the European Union: it is the construction of a new hegemonic force in the area of culture, only that it, unlike the Western one, is not oriented towards controlling the global art market that excludes the East, but towards a cultural hegemony in the EU that is based on exploitation and exclusion of unqualified or unprofessional workers, precarious workers and others that are in an a priori subordinate position, from the horizontal solidarity.

The institutions of the modern age, cultural ones in particular, are by no means in an enviable position. They are sailing between Scylla and Charybdis of uncertain financial resources, political and economic pressures and fulfillment of their own mission, for which it seems that it has collapsed in on itself in the last 50 years. Yet it is in this very uncertain and precarious situation that one can see the potentials for exploring different forms of institutions and social practices. In the texts on L'Internationale, we can read, among other things: »L'Internationale declares that art and its institutions have the power to question and challenge their own specific systems, as well as the formal structures of institutions in general, and to be an appropriate platform for the discussion of a renewed social contract.« For something similar to happen, it will be necessary to expand the area of »difference and antagonism, solidarity and common« from the interinstitutional field into the very interior of individual institutions. This can therefore be a very interesting direction conceptually and politically, we only need to give the following reply to the last part of the sentence regarding the renewed social contract: There will be no contract!8

Izidor Barši

1 — The reason why I'm doing it now is quite simple: laziness and precarious situation prevent me from constantly following up on all the contexts in which I am situated. Besides, the first post was a collective effort, so the responsibility for situating it was dispersed – this tells you something about the relationship to the collective and the relationship to the proper name.

2 — The key ones being: neoliberal economic impoverishment or rather submission of Member States that, since the very beginning, have been in an unequal position in relation to the states that wield economic and political power (and »European values«) in the EU; degradation of national political apparatuses; providing the greatest possible influence over the national administrative apparatus (»European directives«, funds and calls for proposals).

3 — It is important to note that many inhabitants of Europe are not regarded as Europeans, but as foreigners, migrants, immigrants etc. Alongside the administrative violence that these people are subjected to, they are also victims of direct physical violence.

4 — When discussing the expression in The Vagaries of the Expression »Civil Society«: The Yugoslav Alternative, Rastko Močnik wrote: »Civil society was a slogan of anti-communist movements in the European Real Socialism of the Soviet bloc and, later, it was also the most important "alternative" ideology at the beginning of the reconstruction of capitalism in those countries. In terms of ideology, this "alternative" – at least the most vocal fractions in the countries of the former Soviet bloc – was liberal-democratic: it contended for the consequent realisation of the ideology in the name of which capitalism was being reconstructed. /.../ The moralistic actions of "civil society" are an ideological supplement and cosmetic varnishing of the economic, political and military pressures of transnational capital.« Retrieved 27 October 2014.

5 — In the documents of the EU, we can find the intention to change the self-perception of the citizens of Member States in a way that they will see themselves as Europeans first and members of national communities of which they are a part of second. Self-perception is, of course, largely connected to the cultural and historic narrative in which we are situated and upon which the EU is now directly encroaching through such projects.

6 — Retrieved 27 October 2014.

7 — Ibid.

8 — Every contract is a form of legitimization of unequal positions and serves as a foundation for legal exploitation, since all positions are essentially unequal and incommensurable.

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