Against Simple Answers: The Queer-Communist Theory of Evald Ilyenkov and Alexander Suvorov

Georgy Mamedov & Oksana Shatalova, Bishkek
August 17, 2017

The following essay was written in today’s Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan, one of the Central Asian republics of the former USSR. It was translated by Giuliano Vivaldi, and was written by our colleagues, Georgy Mamedov, Oksana Shatalova. Cultural activists and organizers, Mamedov and Shatalova initiated a hub for radical cultural studies named STAB (School of Theory and Activism – Bishkek). They consider themselves non-dogmatic leftist thinkers and doers. From their ethical and political perspective, they attempt to avoid superficiality in approaching internationalism, intersectionalism, feminism, and acts of solidarity with excluded groups in post-soviet Asia, where state conservatism and certain forms of neo-capitalist imperialism are now taking more and more ugly forms, well known to many of our readers. Shatalova and Mamedov seek to revise the legacy of the unique, prophetic, soviet Marxist pedagogue and philosopher Evald Ilyenkov, who from the 1960s to the 1970s worked with blind-deaf-mute children in an internat[1] near Moscow. Shatalova and Mamedov try to examine queer-theories, or the queer-idea (in their own terms) of today through the lens of Ilyenkov and Alexander Suvorov’s (Ilyenkov’s former student who later became a scholar of psychology) radical theory and praxis, combatting the politics of identity with the tools of social determinism. 

This essay is accompanied by an art-work called “Queer City” (2017) by Metagalaktika, an anonymous art-group of architects and activists whose futuristic projects advocate struggles against all forms of oppression—sexism, racism, homophobia, Islamophobia, and class oppression. For their projects they use different media: video, photo, illustrations and performance. In this set of postcards, everyday urban spaces of Bishkek transcend into an alternative new world. “Queer City” shows ten Bishkek sites related to the history of the LGBT movement in the year 2047.


“Planetarium” postcard from “Queer City” (2017) by Metagalaktika.

In May 2012, for ten evenings at our space in Bishkek, we organized, along with Labrys (the oldest LGBT organization in Kyrgyzstan) a “Workshop of Unalienated Protest.” We gathered LGBT activists, artists, and other concerned people to devise images and slogans against homophobia and transphobia. All events at the workshop, including the final presentation on May 17th, the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, and Transphobia (IDAHOBIT), were open to a wide audience and garnered media coverage. This was an inspirational experience and we imagined that on the following May 17th we would hold an even larger public event. However, this “Workshop of Unalienated Protest” was to remain our largest public event in support of LGBT communities. In 2013, homophobia and transphobia, the year before seemingly just a matter of archaic prejudice, would become a major focus of contemporary state policy. In 2013 the Russian parliament would pass a law on “gay propaganda,” declaring the LGBT agenda the main antagonist of “traditional values,” whose defense and promotion would become the global mission of Putin’s Russia.

Kyrgyzstan is one of Russia’s most loyal former Soviet countries. Many inhabitants receive their information from the Russian media and the most popular politician in Kyrgyzstan is Vladimir Putin. So it is unsurprising that the political homophobia from Russian television screens has rather quickly shifted to real life in Kyrgyzstan. In the Autumn of 2013 the authorities prohibited the screening of the film “I Am Gay and Muslim” at the Bir Duino (One World) human rights festival,[2] and by the beginning of 2014, Kyrgyz deputies were already drafting their own law on “gay propaganda.” The draft bill “got stuck” between the Second and Third Readings in parliament and so was not passed into law, but by the discussion stage, radically-inclined ultra-right wing groups had already begun to perceive it as sanctioning their violence against LGBT people. The most dramatic display of homophobic violence, provoked by the draft bill, was the attack by ultra-right activists on the Labrys closed event on May 17th 2015. The event took place in a private location behind closed doors, but this did not stop ultra-right activists from disrupting this event through the use of threats and violence. At the beginning of the same year, persons unknown also attacked the Labrys office, throwing several petrol bombs through the fence. As this attack took place at night there were no casualties, but it was only through sheer luck that no fire broke out.

In 2017, the events we have held jointly with Kyrgyz LGBT organizations have taken place behind closed doors. Today, safety takes precedence over taking a public stance for LGBT communities in Kyrgyzstan. This short chronicle of social restrictions for LGBT people underscores only one aspect of the conservative turn in Kyrgyzstan. Indeed, the list of groups harassed by this conservative onslaught is constantly increasing. Amongst the first on the list are the more obvious Others—LGBT and national minorities and then human rights activists and non-governmental organizations.[3] Then the lists grow exponentially: today while Kyrgyz clericals hold forth on the need to legally authorize polygyny, eighty male deputies quit a session of the Kyrgyz parliament dedicated to a discussion on the situation of women and girls. Arguably the briefest and most succinct definition of the conservative turn would be this: a time of simple answers to complex questions. The most popular of these answers is xenophobia—the search for a scapegoat undermining social unity and harmony. This answer has a universal character and is applicable to different circumstances: for example, the Bishkek municipal authorities resorted in a painfully familiar way to the unprecedented wave of popular indignation at the barbaric policy of felling trees for the sake of road widening: those protesting were registered as provocateurs, as part of the so-called “third forces” benefitting from the disintegration of “stability” in society. In this way, it is sufficient to assert one’s right to breathe fresh air and enjoy the shade of the trees to become an Other, a provocateur, a fifth columnist, a pervert.

Nonetheless, simple answers in the conditions of the conservative turn are handed out not only by the right. The left, in the broadest sense, including feminists and LGBT activists, are no longer averse to giving simple answers to complex questions. And if the key to stability and harmony for the right are metaphysical categories such as spiritual purity and traditional family values, then scientific facts established experimentally were designed to provide the firm ground on which the left can stand. Positivism and scientism are seen by many on the left as the only argument against conservative obscurantism. This contributes to the fashion of retelling the neuro-biological gospel giving the biological hypothesis a certain aura with their “latest scientific sensations.” Neurobiologists are the contemporary incarnations of phrenologists and eugenicists, ready to record on C.T. scans, to second guess, explain and evaluate literally all manifestations of human nature, down to “goodness,” “love,” and “hypocrisy,” not to speak of “sexual orientation.”[4] Nowadays, the post-Soviet “progressive” media discuss in earnest “the genes of homosexuality” and the “neurological features of transgenderness,” and even leftists, feminists, and LGBT activists indulge themselves deploying essentialist theses to uphold the politics of identity (seemingly to prove that identity is “innate,” involuntary and, therefore fated: “that is how God and our parents’ genes created us”). This positivist discourse in the post-Soviet left also manifests itself in the search for some basis to mobilize politically. For many feminists, for example, such a ground becomes the “fundamental separation between men and women,” leading in practice to transphobia and the exclusion of trans people from feminist struggle. And for the post-Soviet left an opposing interpretation to facts acquires the characteristics of a crusade against postmodernism, discarding nearly all critical thought of the second half of the Twentieth Century from Baudrillard to Foucault, to Butler and Queer Theory.

Such answers do not satisfy us, and we are writing this text in a desperate attempt to defend complexity, simultaneously pitting ourselves against both right-wing bigotry, and a certain leftist fundamentalism. Our “complex” answer to the challenges of the conservative turn is formed at the intersection of two theoretical fields which, at first glance, have nothing in common–contemporary queer theory (or in a broader sense—queer idea) and radical Soviet philosophy, represented by the theoretical insights of the Soviet philosopher and dialectician Evald Ilyenkov and his student, the deaf and blind psychologist Alexander Suvorov. We shall base these answers on three (to our mind) key aspects of the queer-idea—anti-essentialism; a consideration of exclusion and stigma; and political and ethical radicalism—which, we are convinced, must form an integral part of contemporary left thought. These same three aspects are expressed in the Ilyenkovian conception of personality, which we will discuss in detail. However, our goal cannot be reduced to simply indicating this intersection—our resorting to the experience of Soviet philosophy which was inextricably linked with a view to actively transform reality, will allow us to impart theoretical and political radicalism to the programme we propose, which for several years now we have referred to as queer-communism.[5]

“London – A Moving Gay Club” postcard from “Queer City” (2017) by Metagalaktika.

Our understanding of queer goes beyond academic queer theory and refers to a broader and more heterogeneous field of approaches, practices, and politics of the body in the context of social relations—including activist practices—which we refer to as the queer idea. In spite of the broad nature and heterogeneity of conceptions and practices associated with the queer idea, one can single out a range of key characteristics, allowing them all to exist under one term. Firstly, the queer-idea represents a critique of the politics of identity, as at its base there lies a radical anti-essentialism, i.e. the notion that gender and sexuality, as well as other identities are not natural and innate, but are social phenomena dependent on concrete cultural and historical conditions. Or, in the words of David Halperin, queer identity “is an identity without an essence.”[6] Secondly, for the queer idea the connection between identity with exclusion and stigma is fundamental. Queer activist and writer Hugh Ryan in a post with the telling title “Why Everyone Can’t Be Queer” draws attention to the fact that the English word queer is collective designation for marginal sexualities and gender identities used both as an insult and as a label re-appropriated by political activists. And the term “marginalized,” in his opinion, is key to the understanding of the political significance of the queer-idea: “It isn’t about your specific sexual behaviors or identities; rather, it’s about how those things are appraised by the culture around you. This is the essence of queerness: To be queer is to be judged and to find community with others who have been judged similarly.”[7] A female acquaintance in a private conversation described a similar mechanism for locating otherness, this time on ethnic grounds: “You may not even suspect that you are Jewish, but they will not fail to point this out to you.” Consequently, to announce your queerness does not mean foregoing all possible identities and being “simply human”—from this perspective the queer idea loses its entire political content. In a political sense calling oneself queer means opposing the social system of distributing goods and privileges based on a politics of identity which defines one identity as “normal” while seeing others as “deviant.” A dependency of identities and exclusions on the cultural and historical conditions connected with them presupposes a significant ethical and political conclusion: these conditions can and must be changed. In this regard, we define the third aspect of the queer idea which can be designated in terms of its political and ethical radicalism, the utmost mode of political pressure, a kind of “degree of queerness,” to which the two preceding aspects can build up to. The political horizon of the queer idea in this sense radically differs from the mainstream LGBT movement whose aim is to normalize heterogeneous sexualities and gender identities. Normalization is achieved by accentuating similarity and simultaneously smoothing out differences: homosexuals do not differ in any way from heterosexuals because they also value love and family and wish to bring up children. For the queer idea normalization is an inimical concept. “Queer is the battle cry of deviancy,” Ryan declares.[8] The queer idea does not emphasize identity and similarity, but difference and particularity and throws down a challenge to established political thought that anticipates identity as the basis of collective action. The queer idea proposes a coalition politics of difference to replace an identarian politics of similarity. However, attention to differences is not the same as the exclusion of the common. In the politics of the coalition the common is not a precondition but rather the result, the horizon of collective action in which one of the main communist principles is realized—the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all. The political project based on a similar dialectic of the particular and the universal we call queer-communism.

Queer-communism insists that capitalist exploitation not only has a universal character—an absolute majority are forced to sell their labor to capital, but also a particular character: for women, homosexuals, transgender people, people of different ethnic groups, people with limited abilities and people with mental health issues, it creates specific conditions of exclusion and exploitation. And the queer-communist method of opposing this subjugation is to unite in a coalition movement which does not assume the subordination of the specific needs of different groups to one universal goal, rather each particular need should be taken as universal. The specific experience of exploitation also defines how different groups imagine a future without exploitation and thus the coalition liberation movement should develop as inclusive an image of the future as possible, reflecting the needs and aspirations of widely differing groups. Here it is apposite to recall one of the key theses of the Marxist Feminist Heidi Hartmann: “a struggle to establish socialism must be a struggle in which groups with different interests form an alliance,” and these groups should have their own “organizations and power base.”[9]

An important theoretical and practical source for current left thought could be radical Soviet philosophy. A thinker who can definitely be considered a queer communist was the Soviet Marxist theoretician Evald Ilyenkov. Recently his intellectual legacy has attracted a certain amount of attention from both theorists and scholars, but this interest has a largely academic character. We would like to indicate the relevance of Ilyenkov’s theoretical legacy to the current political situation.

“The Great Pleshka” postcard from “Queer City” (2017) by Metagalaktika.

Evald Ilyenkov (1924-1979) was a Soviet philosopher, a scholar of dialectical logic and the nature of the ideal. The most significant aspect of his thought in the context of queer-communism is represented by the Ilyenkovian conception of personality. In the opinion of the deaf-blind professor of psychology Alexander Suvorov (student and successor to the theoretical line of thought pursued by Ilyenkov), it is precisely the study of the multifaceted and harmonious development of personality which constitutes the core of Ilyenkovian philosophy. The basis of this conception is theoretical and political discourse, referred to above as anti-essentialism and which Suvorov retrospectively calls the “struggle with physiological reductionism.”[10] Indeed, Ilyenkov from the 1950s to the 1970s found himself at the epicenter of discussions on questions of the conditionality of human mental development. The discussion went on between proponents of the biogenetical and the sociogenetical approaches, that is between adherents of the “hereditary” and advocates of the “environmental” (nature vs nurture). Ilyenkov in this dispute was a partisan of the “nurture” side. Nowadays, such debates, it would seem, have lost contemporary relevance; both the hereditary and the environmental sides are deemed equally influential factors of mental development in contemporary psychology. However, the conflict between bio- and socio- principles has not been sublated, it has been “put on a pause button,” but not resolved. For us this conflict was, and remains, political (as seemingly any “neutral scientific knowledge” is political, especially knowledge about human nature), which, as we have remarked, has been particularly sharply felt in recent years in leftist, feminist, and LGBT activist spheres.

What does Ilyenkov’s concept of personality consist of and how is it connected to current politics? Building on activity theory, Ilyenkov claimed that personality was an exclusively social product: “all that which is human in man … is 100% (not 90 percent or even 99 percent) the result of the social development of human society …” Accommodating any “integrational” formula (a recognition of the biological as well as the sociological conditions of personality) was unacceptable for Ilyenkov; he considered the genetic factor merely a precondition among other natural preconditions, but its priority over others was to smooth out the object of research. According to Ilyenkov, if one were to be entirely consistent in the application of this “integrational” formula, then one would need to talk not of the “socio-biological” but of the “socio-bio-chemical-electrophysical-micro-physical-quantum-mechanical” understanding of the human being.

The personality, in Ilyenkov’s conception, is not something to be found “within” the human being, but something “external” to him/her/them. Personality is formed by a system of relations with other people through their shared historically-concrete social activity, through objects made by people for people, including such things as words. That is, personality is an individual expression (a form of “avatar”) of a historically formed social system. Ilyenkov is basing himself on Marx’s definition of the essence of man as the “sum total of all social relationships,” clarifying that in the original things are stated more expressively—not the sum total but the ensemble, “that is not the mechanical sum of single units but the multiplicity present in the unity of all social relationships.”

By way of empirically corroborating his conception, Ilyenkov invoked the pedagogical experiments of the specialist boarding school (internat) for deaf and blind children. The aim of these experiments was socialization and personal development of deaf and blind children, some of which had not possessed even the simplest skills of self-reliance or lost them after their loss of sight and hearing. The pedagogical practice at the school allowed Ilyenkov to promote his thesis that the “environment,” or “the ensemble of social relations,” determined not only the higher psychological functions but even elementary motor skills. In the opinion of Ilyenkov the psychological processes which we think of as “natural” and which emerge as it were by themselves are formed by the environment and not at all by some autonomous unfolding of a genetic programme. For and before the emergence of higher psychological functions, jointly-shared activities of adults and child are necessary: initially for the mastering of objects and then for the mastering of words. Ilyenkov recounts how the teachers at the school taught their pupils to use a spoon: “the work of hands according to a schema—according to a trajectory not defined by biological needs, but by the form and arrangement of objects created by human labour, created by human beings for human beings” requires actions from a human being, “whose schema have been laid down neither in the organic scheme itself nor in its object (let’s say porridge), but only in the form and purpose of the spoon….” Ilyenkov claims that a child even must be taught bipedalism. A human being simply does not exist before its socialization: “the forelimbs of a newly born child” can only potentially “transform themselves into human arms” (as Suvorov recalls, Ilyenkov once “went so far to call the organism of a newly-born child … ‘a piece of meat’”). From this it follows that not only identity, but all our humanity without exception, all personality traits, are formed in the process of the interaction between a child and other people and are, correspondingly, non-fated and malleable.

This militant anti-essentialism of Ilyenkov was dictated by a Marxist historicizing logic—so consistent that it provoked dismay in more cautious colleagues: “Some comrades are afraid that such a theoretical position may lead in practice to an underestimation of the biological and genetic innate characteristics of individuals, or even to levelling and standardization… It seems to me that, on the contrary, any concession—even the minutest—to the naturalistic illusion in explaining the human mind and human life activity will sooner or later lead the theorist making this concession to the surrender of all materialist positions …. Here one can say ‘remove the claws and the whole bird is lost.’ For one begins with arguments concerning the genetic …origins of individual variations in one or another human ability, and ends concluding that these same abilities are natural and innate” which eventually leads to “the perpetuation… of the historically-shaped and inherited mode of the division of human labour.”

A major component of the Ilyenkovian concept of personality is its attention to the excluded, oppressed groups, whose oppression is underlined by the denomination of these groups with the term “minority.” Ilyenkov was preoccupied by the issue of self-fulfillment of people with sensory disabilities. In as much as personality develops outside natural limits, then its self-fulfillment is defined by the ensemble of social links and not biological “limits to health potential”, a formula criticized by Suvorov in so far as in his view, “limitations” are generated not by “health possibilities,” that is, organic preconditions of the individual but by social conditions. In other words, society can both facilitate personal self-fulfillment as it can establish barriers to its development, the latter Suvorov characterized as “social pathology”: “…I am referring here to the possibilities not only of health but also of access to social infrastructure (buildings, transport) and culture in general (especially education). Therefore, the major demands of the disabled throughout the world are the creation of so-called ‘barrier-free environments’: eliminating everything that obstructs an access for people with limited physical abilities to sites of social infrastructure, education and everything else. But if the potential of inclusion in human nature are limited (above all socially and only then in the second and third instance medicinally and pathologically), then these restrictions can be alleviated or even completely removed by eliminating that which gave rise to their social pathology.” Suvorov follows the egalitarian line of Ilyenkov, advocating “the creation for all people without exception of real conditions for the development of their abilities in any directiom.” This equality does not imply “a levelling down” is not a standard package of public goods for the “statistical majority,” but a rigorous taking into account of very diverse people.

“Brain Queerification” postcard from “Queer City” (2017) by Metagalaktika.

In a letter to Suvorov Ilyenkov remarked: “…deaf-blindness does not create a single, even wholly microscopic problem, which would not be a universal problem. Deaf-blindness only makes them more acute, it does nothing more.” The understanding that even the most specific issues are, at the same time, universal ones also requires a corresponding resolution—one simultaneously particular and universal. In other words, the universal resolution of the specific problems of the disabled (and we should add: women, homosexuals, transgender people, migrants) should consist in the compatibility of their resolution. This practice of the joint existence and resolution of general problems of people without disabilities and people with disabilities, Suvorov calls an “anti-extreme coalition.” Invalidity is an extreme situation both for the invalid as well as for his/her close ones, and the only way of alleviating the acuity of this situation is to share it, creating as broad a coalition as possible. An anti-extreme coalition may be both a political project just as it can be an everyday practice. Suvorov recalls how he, to lessen the load for his close ones, asked a wide variety of people for the help he needed as a deaf-blind person, for example, to passers-by in the street so that they could help him cross the road.

Finally, the theoretical work of Ilyenkov is charged with political and ethical radicalism. Commenting upon the militancy of his teachers’ anti-essentialism, Suvorov performs an apparently unexpected intellectual move, declaring that it is not a question of the biological and social proportions of personality. Ilyenkov’s radicalism results not from his radical denial of the influence of genes and hormones (actually the extent of this influence is simply not important) but by the fact that relying on the biological factor in personal development relieves society of its responsibility for this development. In other words, the anti-essentialism of Ilyenkov is attributable to an ethical position. As Suvorov remarks, “Ilyenkov focuses on the social nature of personality not because he underestimates the significance of the ‘biological factors,’ but because he is fundamentally against any attempt whatsoever to relieve the responsibility for how a child is included in this ‘ensemble of all social relations,’ that which represents this ‘ensemble’ and how this personality emerges while included within this ensemble … Ilyenkov categorically insists on this to the fullest degree, on the ‘hundred percent’ measure of humanity’s responsibility for itself, for each ‘bearer and authorized representative of a culture common to all.’” In another part of the same text Suvorov declares: “The classical formula of spiritual health is the trinity of ‘truth, goodness and beauty.’ I prefer another sequence for the parts of this formula: goodness, beauty and truth. Truth is taken from first place and placed last because an inhuman and ugly truth is not truth.” This extremely significant claim is in opposition to positivism. Positive knowledge, according to Ilyenkov and Suvorov, in principle cannot constrain ethics (which is impossible to exclude from the sphere of knowledge about humanity), on the contrary, ethics should constrain knowledge: its aspects, accent, and the statement of the problem. Let’s have a thought experiment and imagine the unimaginable: sexists are proved right that women have a lower intelligent quota. And what significance can this have for our understanding of human nature? If we use the method and logic of Ilyenkov and Suvorov then our answer will be: none. An inhuman and ugly truth is not truth. It is really not the truth, insofar as we are obliged to eliminate this indication of inequality, social pathology and rebuild the ensemble of social relations. In other words, the social determinist approach of Ilyenkov was conditioned not just by the coherence of a Marxist method, it was the conscious ethical choice of an anti-fascist. Suvorov reflects on this in his text “The Ethical Conditionality of the Work of E.V. Ilyenkov”: “references to the ‘biological’ often served and still serve … the goal of justifying everything anti-human, everything worse in the human being … And so Ilyenkov could not bear it when some scholar took the position: ‘Lombroso, of course, went too far, but there is something in his work….’ An anti-fascist, a participant in the Second World War, he immediately scented the enemy, immediately rushed to storm enemy theoretical fortresses, however thoroughly they masked themselves.” Such a position is extremely close to our way of thinking: queer-communism, we are convinced, is above all a question of ethics.

Ilyenkov’s conception of personality had a practical sense as a theory designed to transform existing reality in accordance with Marx’s famous thesis “philosophers have hitherto only interpreted the world in various way, the point is to change it.” The works of Ilyenkov are no exception here, but part of the large Soviet psychology project for the development of a theory of “a multifaceted and harmonious development of personality” developed under the cultural and historical paradigm of Lev Vygotsky.[11] A significant aspect of this theory was its fundamental orientation towards practice. Ilyenkov’s conception of personality was a significant part of this research, whose grand purpose was to define social conditions conducive to the realization of the “multifaceted and harmonious development of personality.” A brief formula for the “multifaceted and harmonious development of personality” would be those very Suvorovian notions of “goodness, beauty and truth.” Or even more briefly—“freedom.” Freedom for Ilyenkov is a synonym of personality, widely variable possibilities of the development of personality in social reality. From this there follows a conclusion that is just as counter-intuitive as it is characteristic for left axiology. If one takes into account that personality is a social construct, then freedom as a synonym for personality is to no lesser degree a construct. In other words, freedom is cultivated. The dialectics of freedom consist of this: in order to be free, it is necessary to rigorously build freedom, and, what is fundamentally important, through the efforts of the whole society. A similar activity approach marks the distinction between the queer-idea, denaturalizing the differences between people, and the queer-communist idea, which goes one step further and problematizes the reconstruction of social relations in such a way that the differences between people no longer becomes a reason for exclusion and stigma.

In this sense, the queer-communist idea of Ilyenkov and Suvorov appears more radical, daring and decisive than the queer idea as such. The queer-idea examines the existing situation, but with a seemingly open orientation towards the future, it is wary of clearly imagining that future. Here the queer-communist idea is also at variance with the liberal idea, which propagates an isolated autonomy of personality—the freedom of personality in the liberal weltanschauung seems to spring up out of nowhere like some wild flower, and here the liberal idea coincides with biodeterminism. Supposedly, the important thing is not to prevent personality from freely unravelling, nor to hamper “the authentic I” with disapproval and rejection, nor to sever by inappropriate intervention the petals of young buds sprouting from themselves and for themselves. The notion of “the inappropriate” “repressive” intervention as opposed to “benevolent” “natural”» self-realization implies a biogenetic approach whereas a sociogenetic approach would signify either an arbitrary one producing social pathology or the freedom of personality. This intervention in no way replaces the activity of the forming personality. On the contrary, such activity is fundamentally necessary but it is impossible without sharing this activity with others, without being launched and initiated by others. Both activity and reactivity here are part of a unified dialectical process, including, in the words of Suvorov, “induction from those leading the process, and one’s own attempts; both development and self-development… not that which is embedded ‘in mum and dad’s genes,’ but that which is embedded in jointly-shared activity….”

Such an “answer,” suggested by Marxist thinkers, is categorically not a simple one, insofar as it presupposes an enormous ethical and political responsibility. But only this path, in our view, opposes fascism, segregation, and chauvinism, dangers more or less evident in biodeterministic approaches. In this sense, the Left does not have the right to simple answers.


[1] Internat – in the soviet times a type of school where students stayed on a permanent basis. Each internat was typically dedicated to a deeper study of certain disciplines. Example: School-internat for Mathematics, School-internat for Language Studies, etc.

[2] David Trilling, “Kyrgyzstan: Rights Activists Condemn Ban on Gay Muslim Documentary,” Eurasianet.org, 1 Oct. 2012.

[3] Editor’s Note: In Kyrgyzstan, copying the tactic of the Russian authorities and mass media, the authorities attempt to create a stereotype of the “hidden enemy within,” represented by NGO’s and human rights activists, who purportedly play into the hands of the big Other (the West), which attempts to undermine stability in society operating on location through its agents, under the cover of “human rights,” “equality,” and “progressive values.” Very often the West is represented by the official Soviet anti-Western rhetoric: corrupted by money, with manners considered progressive in the West at variance with the modest life and the necessary poverty at home. In Russia at a moment of political and economic crisis in 2014-15 the so-called “Law on Undesirable Organizations” was enacted. Amongst those organizations which, under the provisions of this law were forced to wrap up their activities in Russia, were Russian offices of several international human rights and charitable foundations. Regarding these rhetorical clashes and the domestic policies of the authorities cf. the essay by Ilia Budraitskis, “The Specters of Munich.”

[4] As an illustration see, for example, Robert A. Burton, A Skeptic’s Guide to the Mind: What Neuroscience Can and Cannot Tell Us About Ourselves (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2014).

[5]Queer Communism Manifesto,” School of Theory and Activism – Bishkek (STAB), trans. Mohira Suyarkulova, 2013.

[6] David Halperin, Saint Foucault: Towards a Gay Hagiography, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995), p. 62.

[7] Hugh Ryan, “Why Everyone Can’t Be Queer,” slate.com, 14 July 2016.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Heidi Hartmann, “The Unhappy Marriage of Marxism and Feminism: Towards a More Progressive Union,” Capital and Class 8 (1979): 1-33.

[10] In the article, excerpts of works by E. Ilyenkov and A. Suvorov have been taken from the project “Reading Ilyenkov” (http://caute.ru/ilyenkov/index.html) and from the official site of Alexander Suvorov (http://suvorov.reability.ru/).

[11] Lev Vygotsky (1896 – 1934) pioneering early soviet psychologist who increased the number scientific tools profoundly in the Psychology of Pedagogy and Development.

Georgy Mamedov & Oksana Shatalova

Georgy Mamedov & Oksana Shatalova

Oksana Shatalova (1972) and Georgy Mamedov Мамедов (1984) are curators, researchers, authors and participants in many artistic projects. They are authors of the book Queer-communism as Ethics (Free Marxist Press, 2016). They have worked together since 2007. In 2011 they entered the curatorial group of the Pavilion of Central Asia at the 54th Venice Biennale; in 2012 (together with Аsel Akmatova) they opened the STAB (School of Theory and Activism) in Bishkek. The sphere of their research interests include the history and theory of culture, contemporary philosophy, cultural politics, gender theory, and queer theory. ........................................ STAB (School of Theory and Activism, Bishkek) is a Central Asian artistic and research initiative whose members see art as an instrument of social criticism, a territory of solidarity, and a practice of radical imagination. STAB works on a seasonal basis: with a public programme in spring and an educational programme in autumn. Each Spring from March through June there takes place a Spring Creative Report—a large thematic public programme whose theme in 2017 is that of Queer Futurology. In Autumn, STAB’s Evening School runs from September through to December, combining a theoretical reflection with artistic imagination. The 2017 evening school, “When the Subaltern Speak,” will be dedicated to the 100th anniversary of the October Revolution.

Leave a Reply