*The online criticism journal hosting the original version in Spanish of this essay is currently unavailable
The central theme of Pedro Reyes’ “Permanent Revolution” installation project and puppet play at the Jumex Museum in Mexico City is the heritage of the ideas that inspired communism seen from the point of view of the triumph of androcentric and anthropocentric neoliberal capitalism in the 21st Century. The project includes public workshops for creating agit prop paraphernalia teaching people how to protest: engraving (to print bills), binding (to produce pamphlets), drawing (political satire) and writing (manifestoes). As part of the project to be seen at the new Jumex Museum at the Plaza Carso complex, were also granite busts of Ernesto Che Guevara, Frida Kahlo and Vladimir Lenin. The public performance with 25 hand made puppets began with a microwave TV commercial, and the mise-en-scène takes place before an exquisite stage that represents a modernist-style public library. The puppets were conceived by Japanese artist Takumi Ota, who gave life to historical characters: Che Guevara, Joseph Stalin, Adam Smith, Karl Marx, Lenin, Leon Trotsky, Milton Friedman, Mao Tse Tung, Henri Ford, Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, David Alfaro Siqueiros, Julian Assange, Steve Jobs, etc. And to fictional characters: Mili, Moni, Miss Hipatia, Salim Rascagarra and Nico. The performance starts in the Topus Uranos, a kind of heaven for historical figures where they are divided in two camps: the “bullies” and “snobs” and the “rebellious” and “hippies”; they discuss politics presenting complex ideas through reductive slogans such as: “The proletariat must rebel”, etc. Besides from being extremely boring both for adults and children, the script, as almost all Mexican cultural production addressed to children – which tends to insult their young intelligence – is splattered with language and references to popular culture (Televisa, Ricardo Arjona, Salma Hayek’s Frida, the Oscars, Dora the Explorer, the Thundercats); seeking to entertain, it includes dumb jokes, strident effects and hysterical attitudes in the characters.
Most of the story takes place in a dying public library, as we learn, because it is no longer “self-sustainable.” The library’s director, Miss Hipatia, receives an eviction order on behalf of Salim Rascagarra, an entrepreneur-oligarch who plans to build there a corporate commercial and entertainment complex called “Freedom Towers.” Mili and Moni, two friends who often visit the library to read and to see their friend Nico (who lives there, as the library offers to him a strange Welfare State collision between public library and orphanage), take up the task to rescue the building; not as a public service that supports public education and democratic access to knowledge and information, but because they do not want Nico to lose his home. With this first twist in the script, it becomes evident that Reyes’ ideological “screwball” is neither comical nor confusing, but profoundly transparent in its neoliberal revisionist vocation. When Mili suggests occupying the library to save it, Moni responds: “Ew! We’re not (public school system) teachers.” All of a sudden, a figure on a hood, which is Julian Assange in disguise, throws two books at them: Capital and The Wealth of Nations. Assange’s role in the play is not to defend access to information repressed and censured by governments and corporations exercising democracy’s fundamental right of transparency of information, but to vouch for access to information in general (is this not a basic right precisely ratified by public libraries?). Seeking to learn how to make money and save the library, the kids put the books inside the “Smart-o-wave,” a device Nico invented; they add Che Guevara’s The Motorcycle Diaries and all of a sudden, Che Guevara, Adam Smith and Karl Marx jump out of the microwave. To the tune of “The International,” the thinkers narrate an elliptic history of communism. The kids conclude that the philosophers and their ideas are not helpful for solving concrete problems; in this case: finding funds to save the library. Mili and Nico, therefore decide to revive two monumental figures of Mexican modern art, whose political trajectories – or rather, their relationship to the Communist Party, communism as an assumed political position and the Soviet Union – transcended national politics: Siqueiros and Rivera, who are invited to paint murals in a competition with the purpose of having the library classified as “Historical Heritage” site in order to save it (as in misogynist art history, Kahlo’s role in the competition is that of being mere supplemental decoration and here, sexual object). One of the rules of the competition is that each painter may revive a model of their own choosing through the Smart-o-wave; this is when Trotsky (Rivera’s model) and Stalin (Siqueiros’) enter into the scene to revive the drama of the Stalinist scission in Mexico under the obscure and reductive affirmation (in this context) that “We are all puppets of the system, after all.” Meanwhile, other characters cede to their animal drives and begin to pursue individual desire: Diego starts inhaling thinner while Che Guevara hides away with Hipatia to have sex, and Trotsky and Kahlo revive their legendary romance. Moni, a dumb, superficial and climber blonde is convinced by Salim Rascagarra to counterattack and steal the “Smart-o-wave” so that they can revive his teacher, Milton Friedman, to help them solve the problem of the mural competition and thus seize the library.
In the next scene, Smith, Friedman and Ford, the pillars of contemporary neoliberal capitalism, explain to Moni how the system works, and she sums it up to the public: “The private sector has bought public services to destroy them through bankruptcy; it has expropriated citizens from the nation’s wealth, and has made the financial debt public with financial rescuing.” Moni’s narrow and abstract description of capitalism, obviates the fact that neoliberalism, more than a policy of privatization, implies the hijacking of the commons: not only natural resources and infrastructure, but also knowledge, language, images and affect. Neoliberalism, moreover, is a strategy of domination that uses the State to promote certain competitive dynamics that benefit the super rich. In that sense, neoliberalism is less a strategy of production, than a massive transfer of wealth that has brought inequality, environmental devastation, food crisis, dismantling of the Welfare State, debt crisis, austerity measures, decrease of purchasing power and increase of unemployment. Finally, neoliberalism is a system based on the scission between private (domestic)/public domains and has the sexual contract at its basis; that is to say, neoliberalism is a system traversed by the sexual division of labor, imposing the nuclear family model and unjust economic roles, by thriving also on the unpaid, invisible labor, of the reproductive sphere.
When Moni “understands” capitalism, she betrays Rascagarra and converts to the library’s cause; with the Smart-o-wave, she revives Steve Jobs, the figure that embodies in this context an ideal symbiosis between capitalism and socialism, and who will deal with the problem. For Jobs, to fight to preserve and old library that failed to survive the comings and goings of the market, is a mistake; from his point of view, what we must consider is that the “value” of a book, is the information it carries within itself. In that way, and in sync with Calros Loret de Mola’s documentary film De panzazo (2012), produced by Televisa and financed by Mexicanos Primero, A.C., a group that lobbies for the privatization of Mexican education, Reyes’ effectively displaces the question of public access to knowledge as a fundamental domain of political struggle to transform it into a matter of “democratic” access to information through private technological devices. Jobs presents his invention, the “iWei”, a device to digitize books and to make all information available of the world to the world; for Jobs, the virtualization of information (and its availability) are a natural result of progress and technology. Because Jobs’ invention makes the library obviously “obsolete,” the mural competition becomes unnecessary. In spite of that, Rivera paints the “Mural of Digital Revolution,” a version of the “Man at the Crossroads” panel of his infamously torn mural in 1933 at the Rockefeller center in New York, reproduced a Bellas Artes in Mexico City. In Reyes’ version of the mural, Steve Jobs appears at the center carrying one of his iconic devices next to a cat. Once Jobs has solved the problem of the library, the kids expect that Rascagarra will either adopt Nico or find him a place to live, and it appears that the screwball comedy will have a happy ending. The characters, however, try to get a hold of the Smart-o-wave for personal benefit. This is when Stalin’s already grotesque parody – every time that he exits the stage he becomes a bat – becomes even more partial: we find out that Stalin wants to use the Smart-o-wave to change history by mating men and monkeys and produce monsters so that he can get more attention and get made more movies about him than Hitler – he imagines that what would make him more famous than Hitler would be his aberrant transgenic practices. Reyes makes a further parody of Siqueiros’ figure; in a personal vendetta, Siqueiros makes a “bomb mural” that he viscerally makes explode against “the corruption of revolutionary ideals.” In the meantime, Salim Rascagarra realizes that there are more important things than his “Freedom Tower” and as a “socially responsible good capitalist,” decides to transform the library into the “Gutenberg Foundation.”
Ultimately in this comedy, the revolutionary figures are Assange and Jobs, who represent a kind of “third way,” between neoliberalism and socialism: communicative capitalism. According to Jodi Dean, communicative capitalism is an ideological formation in which capitalism and democracy converge in networked communication technologies under the ideals of access, inclusion, discussion and participation, which materialize in the expansion and intensification of global telecommunications. Following Dean, however, digitalization, acceleration and storage of information intensify negative elements of capitalism. For example, the enthusiast participation in personal and social media is a trap that increases surveillance while work, culture and entertainment are being accelerated and intensified with the consequence that communication has ceased to be the critical “outside” to the system.
We must also take into account that in the script, “La revolución permanente” confuses Wikipedia (the project of gathering all the information of the world in a virtual place available for everyone, the continuation of D’Alambert’s illuminist project) with Wikileaks: Julian Assange’s project for which he has been trapped for two years in the Ecuadorian embassy in London surveyed day and night for 50 policemen. Assange’s gesture to denounce the information that governments or corporations suppress or censor from public space because it has to do with the way in which state and corporate agencies mechanisms control us, questions the logic of the basis of “Western democracies” and their utopian basis on mass media transparency. Moreover, the fact that the “communist” tendency of the WWW (which implies the free flow of the common of information) is being regulated and censored with the Secondary Laws of the “Federal Law of Telecommunications and Radio Broadcasting” that President Peña Nieto has recently passed in congress is ignored. The implications of this law are worthwhile mentioning here, given the utopia of transparency of communication and information availability are the constituents of the “third way” that Reyes proposes in the play: a “competent authority” is enabled to block access to websites and contents which purportedly affect national security; that the telecommunications providers maintain a database with users’ personal information and of any contact they may have done through communication networks. Legalizing direct State espionage to its citizens, the law allows to temporarily block telecommunications signals in critical places and events in the name of public security. Ironically, because of a nominal issue, the law benefits Televisa, the audiovisual communication empire belonging to Emilio Azcárraga, the “namesake” for the story’s apparent villain: “Salim Rascagarra.” This character combines the name of Televisa’s emperor with Carlos Slim’s, the two if not most powerful, the most visible Mexican oligarchs and thus an easy target. Moreover, as we will see below, the performance ends up reaffirming the hegemonic idea that capitalism – with its denial of economic relevance of the spheres associated with femininity, and based on masculine experience in the markets to define economic normalcy – is the only alternative.
This is achieved by setting forth a tendentious revisionism of the history of Marxism, Maoism, Socialism, Leninism, which appear as defeated and demonized ghosts. Marxism is interpreted as a failed ideology, the fossilized reminder of an experiment that went terribly wrong. Amalgamating “communism” with the Soviet Union to vilify it – as the Nouveaux philosophes have been doing since the 1970s – “La revolución permanente” posits it as a kind of negative ideal before which the only sustainable and real paradigm for universal organization of the collective is (communicative) capitalism. The signifiers of communism appear emptied out of sense and context: “The International,” Mexican Muralism, public libraries, Che Guevara reduced to his Motorcycle Diaries. In this frame: if there was Lenin, then Stalin; if there was revolution, then gulag; if there is a Party, then there are purges. Reyes thus presents communism as an imaginary immutable object, as a lineal process whose end we already know. Communism, however, as an idea, is an extremely open thought process that implies reclaiming the commons and the common, an alternative conception of the economy, a way of organizing the collective to achieve a more egalitarian distribution of wealth. What is at stake today is that contrary to socialism, neoliberalism implies acting on behalf of self-interest in detriment of the common good. The values proper to hegemonic economy are based on individual worth; for example, neoliberalism understands women’s liberation as an array of individual processes and fails to address the question of patriarchy: there is equality of opportunities, but they are set above equality of results and salary, while independence is conceived as insertion in the market as workers and as consumers. This system of power relations conditioning the way in which the economy works, following Slavoj Zizek, is of a post-political order in which the only conflict that is considered legitimate is framed by the morality of personal “security” against crime and/or terrorism. On the one hand, in contemporary political discourses (and in discourses of the left too), the concept of “worker,” has disappeared, and on the other, (as it happens in “La revolución permanente” with the public education system) it is consistently demonized in a class war fought from above. In this context, there is no common political enemy except for that framed by “illegality” and crime denounced by the middle and upper classes that march on the streets dressed in white demanding that the government “do its job properly.” In the case of indigenous communities (augmenting in number) fighting against expropriation of their lands and exploitation of their natural resources, the enemies are the “government” and “transnationals” which, however, enemies without a face, slippery, abstract, manifesting themselves in legal battles and in counterinsurgency disguised as “organized crime.” This abstraction reflects the basic violence of capitalism, which is no longer assignable to neither individuals nor concrete ideas, but that is objective, systemic and anonymous.
Overall, the logic behind the script of “La revolución permanente” is null, as it invokes great concepts as CAPITALISM, REVOLUTION and RESISTANCE in a grotesque manner, through simplifications, empty statements and misogynist stereotypes built upon vulgar dualisms. Hollowing out concepts, the tone of the performance is that of intellectual marketing of hegemonic ideology. We can no longer speak of propaganda but about soft indoctrination with the point of view of the ruling classes. At the center of Reyes’ play there is a questioning about what it means to be revolutionary, who is the true revolutionary and what it means to be revolutionary. One of the characters states: “To be revolutionary is to demonstrate against the government and to dance naked drinking tequila.” Then, Siqueiros decides to “train” Mili, an online artivist, with karate lessons to transform her into a “soldier of the revolution.” Mili and Siqueiros, however, fall out when it turns out that for the muralist, revolution is made with blood and sacrifice and for Mili, revolution means posting a video on Facebook. Surreptitiously endorsing the criminalization and jailing of young people who have participated in the past two years in demonstrations and manifestations, by promoting the practices of self-modeling and individual consumption are highlighted as places for action more important than large-scale organized movements. If militancy used to imply risking one’s life and dying for one’s ideas, today it is reduced to works of art and audiovisual productions as substitutes for political action. The aesthetic approach represented by Mili’s artivism, disconnects politics from organized struggle, transforming politics into a matter of spectacle. In this manner, spectators can pay to feel radical without having to get their hands dirty, while the dominant class maintains its position and the contradictions of this class and the rest is not made evident as such.
The search for individual interests fulfillment as the only possible solution to capitalism’s problems, is reaffirmed by Diego Rivera when he concludes that: “The revolution does not live neither in Marx, nor in Lenin, nor in Trotsky… the permanent revolution lives in all of you.” With a similar approach, one of the key phrases that render the ideological discourse transparence in Reyes’ script is pronounces by Mili:
“Let’s not be afraid to act to seek what we really desire!”
“Long live the Permanent Revolution!”
The “permanent revolution” is thus the pursuit to fulfill our own desires cultivating personal interests, which not only alludes to the libidinal economy, but to the fact that the “permanent revolution” is the logic inherent to capitalism. That is to say, in order to survive, the capitalist system needs to constantly revolutionize its material conditions of existence and therefore, it is perpetually escaping its own contradictions (this is also known as creative destruction). In other words, in order to be continually productive, capitalism needs to get rid of obstacles and antagonisms that limit its material existence. And because its goal is to unleash productivity, eliminating the concrete contradictions of its existence, neoliberal capitalism is the permanent revolution. Taking this into account, Pedro Reyes’ “La revolución permanente” left me a strange feeling, especially at the end when the puppets invited the public to yell-out: “I believe in Marx, I believe in Trotski, I believe in Mao, I believe in communism and I believe in the permanent revolution.”
As the declarations of the Mexican Soccer Association during the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, before potential sanctions for discrimination and homophobia by FIFA, that the chant “puto,” addressed to the other team’s goalie at the moment of kicking the ball to start the game during the Mexican team’s games, is not homophobic, the ideological distortion in Reyes’ permanent revolution is extremely ideological: “The Permanent Revolution” is the subjective equivalent of the practice and doctrine of the free market, transforming dissidence into action in the name of self-interest. In this context, the political goals are personal elections of life-style; instead of defending a vision of a better world, less unequal and of production of the common for and by the collective, the message is that there is no other option than to fall into the seduction of individualism, consumerism, competition and privilege. From this point of view, the absence of a common goal is the equivalent of the absence of a future.
Moreover, the script denotes anxiety of communism, as it is invoked reductively and as a proper name, set forth as a threat to be suppressed. Contrary to the version of communism presented by Reyes, communism is an alternative political energy to capitalism; the desire for communism manifests the need to abolish capitalism creating practices at the global level for cooperative and communitarian equality (the self-organization and autonomy experiments of the normalistas in Guerrero, the self-defense groups in Michoacán, or the Zapatistas in Chiapas are good examples of this, and this is why they have been systematically attacked). The desire for communism is to change the perspective of “neoliberal democracy,” defined in opposition to the fascisms of the 20th Century. It implies to reconfigure the components of political struggle in order to have as goals general inclusion, changes in lifestyle, militant opposition, the creation of organizations (party, councils, work groups, cells), above all, it implies to fight for the sovereignty of the collective above the economy through which we produce and reproduce ourselves. Communism is also healthcare for everyone, environmentalism, feminism, public education, right to collective negotiation, progressive taxing, paid vacations, bicycles and bicycle roads not only in affluent neighborhoods, to regulate the financial market, to tax the rich and corporations, to protect natural resources and the commons. In sum, Pedro Reyes’ “Permanent Revolution” is the negation of politics and experimentation that sets forth a conformist relationship to the museum and that represents the submission of critical thinking to the Global Military Industrial Museum Complex.
Jodi Dean, Democracy and other Neoliberal Fantasies: Communicative Capitalism and Left Politics (Durham: Duke University Press, 2009).
· Jodi Dean, The Communist Horizon (London and New York: Verso, 2012)
· Roberto García Hernández, “¡Viva la revolución permanente!” Gatopardo (Junio 2014) disponible en red: http://www.gatopardo.com/EstilosHomeGP.php?Id=822
· Daniel Guerrero, Carta sobre la reforma de telecomunicaciones, disponible en red: https://www.dropbox.com/s/loe23gkt8qqoufh/INICIATIVA%20LEY%20CONVERGENTE%202.pdf
· Amaia Pérez Orozco, Subversión feminista de la economía (Madrid: Traficantes de sueños, 2014)
· Slavoj Zizek, The Fragile Absolute (London: Verso, 2000)
· Slavoj Zizek, “What is an Authentic Political Event?” New Statesman, February 12, 2014, disponible en red:
 On August 19, 2013, a contingent of the public school teachers’ syndicate (CNTE) occupied the Zócalo as well as other important avenues in Mexico City to protest against President Enrique Peña Nieto’s Education Reform (towards privatization). The demonstrators were subject to public lynching through the mass media, and were blamed for disturbing city’s traffic and peaceful citizen’s everyday lives. On the eve of the celebration of Mexico’s Independence on September 15th, they were forcefully evacuated from their posts. On September 27, 2014, three buses full of normalistas (public school teachers to be) were brutally attacked, many were wounded, a few killed and 43 were illegally kidnapped by repressive elements of the State and taken away in official vehicles to an unknown location. Their whereabouts are still unknown.
 Jodi Dean, Democracy and other Neoliberal Fantasies: Communicative Capitalism and Left Politics (Durham: Duke University Press, 2009).
 Daniel Guerrero, Carta sobre la reforma de telecomunicaciones, disponible en red: https://www.dropbox.com/s/loe23gkt8qqoufh/INICIATIVA%20LEY%20CONVERGENTE%202.pdf
 Slavoj Zizek, “What is an Authentic Political Event?” New Statesman, February 12, 2014, disponible en red: http://www.newstatesman.com/culture/2014/02/slavoj-zizek-what-authentic-political-event
 Jodi Dean, The Communist Horizon (London and New York: Verso, 2012)