“This is the first issue of a magazine being edited and published by some of the former editors of The Fox. Why are we publishing another magazine?
While it is true to say that most of our production and history is appropriated, this process is certainly never air-tight. In any struggle against such appropriation, progressive forces emerge and coalesce. There may be little we can do to stop this magazine from becoming another coffee-table class diversion; there is much we can do to make sure that isn’t all it becomes. Of course the forms this struggle takes are of necessity transitional, as Red-herring is transitional.
We aren’t volunteering here as the “organic intellectuals” of any cultural struggle or movement; nor are we claiming that our activities assume any logical priority in this struggle. In fact, we clearly recognize that what we are doing should, like everything else “made-in-New York,” be regarded in many ways as yet another red-herring."
Selected Subject Headings
- Artists Meeting for Cultural Change
- Capitalism and art
- Class consciousness - United States
- Communism and culture
- Communist Party of the United States of America
- Cultural policy - United States
- Federal aid to the arts - United States
- Iranians - United States - political activity
- Labor unions and the arts - United States
- Monopolies - United States
- Politics in art - United States
- Radicals - parodies, imitations, etc.
- Social mobility - United States
- Socialism and art
Even though we only excerpt a very brief fragment from Red-herring’s first editorial one could discern in it certain ambivalence about the publication’s role and function in New York’s late 1970s cultural landscape; its editorial collective appears to embrace a nagging discomfort that is made evident in the self-reflective criticism that opens the following issue, Red-herring’s last:
“The problem with the first issue wasn’t that it came from New York. So does this one. The problem was that our practice was still organized by the New York art world--and however much our changing worldview demanded that we separate ourselves from it, we ended up talking almost exclusively to the audience of the New York art world. To adventuristically proclaim that we were “openly working for socialism,” while remaining a small, isolated petty bourgeois group of artists, was to relegate class struggle to the realm of ideas. We didn’t fully grasp, then, that it wasn’t enough to talk about “the interest of the working class” if we weren’t integrated with the masses and taking up mass issues in both theory and practice.”
It turns out that a solution to this conundrum was not found as Red-herring folded after the second issue and the collective members disbanded; according to one of them, Michael Corris, “in late 1978, the Red-herring editorial collective was riven with internal conflicts as well; the contentious issue being, ironically, the continued autonomy of the magazine in the face of overwhelming pressure to throw our lot in with those for whom culture was nothing more than a political weapon.” 
We point to this editorial turmoil in order to place Red-herring in a context, not to focus on the demise of a progressive cultural attempt in a political landscape about to enter decades of conservative overdrive, to date; after all, we rather describe the documents, what one can encounter while perusing the pages of both issues, what was actually done.
Each number had a different format: the first, tabloid-like, the second, a standard magazine size; yet both issues shared what could be described as a “bulletin board” functionalism; the magazine has an intentional immediacy that is closer to a newsletter than to a journal or magazine; we find legal information on public policy in "What’s in the hopper?": a survey of capitalist cultural legislation, passed and pending, and announcements for political rallies, like Down with Shah; the editorial collective’s working papers, Organization: a collective working paper, next to calls for action, Boycott this museum!, and even West Coast dispatches dissecting the San Francisco Art Commission’s policies.
Amidst this urgency we can also trace a desire to connect their own critical quest with peers from the past, a genealogical trace to their struggles; Langston Hughes's words are reproduced, as well as an article on the Artist’s Union from the 1930s, a decade in which artists and cultural producers in the United States embraced and enacted a truly progressive vision and was supported by Federal programs; a testament to the country's collective longings.
As to demonstrate that political engagement can also be amusing, Red-herring abounds with parodies, cartoons and comics, among them the classic Salami tactics: or, how to write an article for a ‘radical’ art-magazine, or C. K. Conridge’s touching comic Two roads, in which a politically engaged couple reflect upon, and live, the contradictions arising while trying to live up to their progressive beliefs.
In the editorial collective’s words, Red-herring’s themes were “basically this process of political and personal change--this struggle against the “self,” as the Chinese might say.”
In 2014, the “Chinese” might be saying something totally different, but what remains is an endearing and important document that didn’t fear to face the painful, but also creative contradictions that artists and cultural producers face, now as then. Auspiciously for us, struggles for liberation and creation continue, albeit in a changed form.
The long march, to go on, as it were.
To peruse the indexed contents of Red-herring, please log into the database.
“[Editorial],” Red-herring (New York), no. 1 (January 1977): 2.
“Editorial,” Red-herring (New York), no. 2 (1978): 2-3.
Michael Corris. “Inside a New York art gang: selected documents of Art & Language, New York.” In: Conceptual art: a critical anthology. Ed. by Alexander Alberro and Blake Stimson. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1999: 484.
The museum in question is the Whitney Museum for American Art in New York. The boycott is called by Artists Meeting for Cultural Change. For a thorough understanding of the polemic, please refer to An anti-catalog, yet another important document made available by Primary Information. Further information can be found on their website.
“Editorial,” Red-herring (New York), no. 2 (1978): 2-3.