The enemy of your enemy might still be your enemy. Because, complexity. Because, nuance. Because, concrete analysis of concrete situations. How much do I really need to underline this?
I raise the point because the tendency to try to distil the situation in Ukraine into one or at most two relatively simple contradictions is apparent in abundance. Lindsey German's article
for Stop the War is a classic instance of this. It attempts a 'clarification' of the political stakes, largely by way of clearing away complicating clutter and allowing people to see the interests of US imperialism and its allies at work. But in so doing, German's article resorts to utter nonsense and embarrassingly crude reductions.
For example, the article reduces the 'colour revolutions' to simple acts of US orchestrated client-installation. This is crass. That the US has intervened in, and attempted to shape the outcome of these revolts is hardly in question. That in some of these revolts, they have played a far more significant role than in others is also not in question. That in Ukraine, this took the form of funding a series of lobbies, think-tanks and 'civil society' groups, is also uncontroversial.
However, one would think that socialists, and particularly marxists, would have more interest in: why masses begin to move; why they respond to particular slogans; why they assemble around particular political leaderships and organisations; and why certain influential layers are able to take command
of a situation they neither created
. One would expect, surely, some attempt to work out why anyone thought to form 'people's councils' and 'self-defence forces' in such a situation; why a parallel government was formed in Kiev; why the symbolic targets of popular rage should be a statue of Lenin; why the popular demands should include for a time integration into the EU; and so on. (This
is a rather good interview on that subject.) German evinces no such interest.
Indeed, while German gestures toward the complexity of the situation, the effect of what she actually says ("historical divisions ... complex and difficult to overcome ... highly contested" etc) is to evoke that complexity as a barrier to understanding. It is so summary, so glancing, that she may as well have said, " it is, after all, a country far away, of which we know little...". It is not analysis, and it is not internationalism.
And if imperialism is really the only factor that deserves analysis, then the power of Russia and Russian-allied oligarchs in the east to help put Yanukovich in power in the first place, and its considerable economic leverage over that government, ought not to be ignored. Masked Russian troops occupying the Crimea, likewise. Because, and of course this also applies to Syria in ways that German's article obscures, there is more than one imperialism operating in Ukraine.
A logical corollary of the above error, however, is to then reduce the overthrow of Yanukovich to something which the US "oversaw". If all that matters is the analysis of US imperialism in the situation, then the key in this situation is to work out the ways in which the US has power over the situation. Yet there is simply no evidence that the US has had a very significant role, let alone the executive, overseeing role, in deciding the outcome of these struggles.
As Volodymyr Ischenko writes
, what we have seen is a genuine mass uprising, "overwhelmingly supported in western and central Ukraine without majority support in the eastern and southern regions, leading to a change of political elites". This change of political elites has led to a right-wing government, fusing neoliberals and nationalists who have no interest in fulfilling any of the class demands of the popular layers of the rebellion. This could and most likely would have happened without the US government lifting a finger.
Perhaps as serious an analytical error as the above, though, is to reduce US imperialist strategy to the manoeuvrings of "neocons" who, supposedly, are desperate "for war with the Russians". This is simply vulgar populist drivel on German's part. The neoconservatives are hardly the currently dominant force within the US government. The dominant foreign policy elites in the Pentagon and State Department are a mixture of realpolitikers and liberal imperialists. Robert Gates and John Kerry are the leading personnel here, and only by the most tortuous logic does either of these two qualify as a neoconservative. This sort of polemical focus on "neocons" doesn't simply evade the question of Russian dominance in Ukraine, but actually shifts the focus away from any analysis of US imperialism. It is soft on imperialism.
A subordinate aspect of this over-simplification of imperialist motives in the region, incidentally, is that the relationship representation of Ukraine's fascists as uncomplicatedly "allies" of the European Union. The major fascist organisation to have gained in these protests, the Svoboda Party, is far from simply pro-EU. It has pro-European to the extent that it is white supremacist, and linked to a series of European fascist parties which are bitter opponents of the EU, and is itself quite explicitly hostile to the EU
. The geopolitics of the situation are such that a protest against Russian domination initially took the form of a pro-EU protest (remarkable as that is), but the fascists were always a minority current in it, are a minority in the new government (reactionary though it is), and are most likely not
the allies and instruments of the EU agenda in the country.
The key reduction, though, which lies behind everything else, is to limit the analytical and political imperatives to the British Left to those of identifying and combating imperialism on the part of the US and its allies. One would think that socialists had never protested the Soviet invasions of Hungary or Czechoslovakia. The rationale for this reduction is bizarre. German says that those who want to oppose Russian imperialism in Ukraine and Crimea are "ignoring the history and present reality" of the region. She does not say how, but goes on instead to offer this non-sequitur:
"The B52 liberals only oppose wars when their own rulers do so, and support the ones carried out by our governments. The job of any anti-war movement is to oppose its own government's role in these wars, and to explain what that government and its allies are up to."
The 'job' of an antiwar movement, on this account, is thus to precisely mirror the attitude of the B52 liberals. This goes much further than the old saw that "the main enemy is at home", which obviously would not preclude international solidarity. Ruling out analysis of and opposition to Russian imperialism in this context simply doesn't follow. Perhaps it is a version of the tactic known as 'bending the stick', or exaggerating a point in order to counteract entrenched ideas. If this is the case, then it is a particularly debased form of realpolitik, relying as it does upon an extremely cynical view of people as essentially manipulable objects of an elite political strategy. After all, what happens when the situation changes, the imperative changes, and you must suddenly start exaggerating in the other direction? Will people simply accept it, credulously, and forget about how much this new exaggeration jars with previous exaggerations? You see, even as realpolitik, it doesn't work. If everything you say is a predictable exaggeration, then people stop listening to you; you stop being effective.
Presumably, however, there is a theoretical edifice sustaining all this. Lindsey German is, apparently, a marxist and not some simple-minded libertarian, nor a bombastic Russia Today analyst. But since the theory is impossible to infer from German's polemic, it unfortunately comes across as facile opportunism, and any theory that does now emerge to bolster it - even should it direct us to seize the 'key link in the chain' - will tend to look like a post hoc rationalisation.
This is a serious problem, precisely to the extent that US imperialism continues to be the dominant global force that German says it is. There will be further wars, further interventions. But Stop the War, which is at present still the only significant antiwar organisation in the country, is beginning to make a habit of fucking up. Its decision to invite 'Mother Agnes' to its conference, withdrawn under pressure, gracelessly and without a serious political explanation
, was one example of such. It resulted in a politically disastrous picket of the same conference by Syrian opposition supporters. Now, Lindsey German has publicly aligned Stop the War with a position that is analytically vacuous, politically derelict, and soft on imperialism. And to expend so much political capital on that, quite unnecessarily, when Russian military intervention is a far more pressing reality than any potential US military intervention... well, that isn't smart realpolitik either.
About time I completed this series.
The two weeks following the public eruption of the rape scandal were ones in which the central committee and the apparatus was almost totally incapacitated. There were no expulsions. There was no direct communication from Vauxhall. Everything we heard suggested that there was a funereal mood in the headquarters, with leading members breaking down into tears, or weeping into pints of lager.
At a personal level, the short-term relief and catharsis of publicly lancing the boil started to give way to a new fear: they might not actually fucking expel me, and I would actually have to actually stay in and fight as I was urging everyone else to do. Worse, I would be expected to evince 'leadership'. In an organisation where the majority of people already thought I was suspect because of my mildly heretical leanings on Syriza, I would have to persuade people that the organisation was in such a severe crisis that the entire leadership had to be overthrown and replaced with... well, something nicer. I would have to attend branch meetings for the first time in years, that would be fun.
The first sign of an organised backlash was from among more hardcore members of the organisation who started to query whether it was really in our tradition to 'automatically believe' women when they alleged rape. (Rosie Warren's responses
to this question
are salutary.) They reminded us of the Scottsboro Boys, a comparison that drew spittle-flecked, bulge-eyed incredulity from those of us, still a minority, who understood that Comrade Delta was not an oppressed black man from the Deep South in the 1930s, much as he may have felt he was in his soul. They started to mention that Seymour was some writer who thought he was above the party, who never attended branch meetings, and who was actually heading in a reformist direction. Wasn't it just possible that I was cynically exploiting this crisis in order to build a British Syriza?
Throughout all this, frantic emails and furtive messages were exchanged as we sought to build up an email group, the basis for a new faction of some type. We quickly pulled together a few dozen people and gained a more or less national view of the unfolding situation - we got report backs from meetings, conference report-backs and so on. We heard when suspected oppositionists within the centre were taken aside, interrogated, bollocked, and threatened with being sacked or expelled - indeed, sackings and 'sideways promotions' did take place. It was only, in my view, the scale and publicity of the organised backlash against the leadership that prevented a far more efficacious purge of the centre.
The official reaction to my own denunciation therefore came after a fortnight of breakdown on the part of the apparatus. Now, the usual procedure when I had said something wrong on the internet was for two members of the central committee, known to the faithful as Bishop Brennan and Father Jessup, and to the wider world as Alex Callinicos and Joseph Choonara, to sit me down in a coffee shop and quiz me about my wrongness. I would be gently bollocked, but also have my ego fluffed. "A lot of people hang on your every word, Richard, you really must watch what you say..." Well, not this time. Although Callinicos, upon phoning me up, appeared to be doing his best to maintain his usual charm - quite bizarrely, given the circumstances - he was obviously rattled. Not as much as I was by his fucking phoning me, mind you, but he seemed not to have his shit together to the normal degree.
There had been... a breach of some sort. They wanted to meet me, and discuss some of the things which I had been saying. They wanted to persuade me that these things were untrue. Could I come down and meet? Just himself and Joseph again? I abandoned the phone call and frantically consulted with fellow factioneers. Why should I go along by myself? This wasn't just about me. This was an attempt on the part of the leadership to isolate the problem by scapegoating one person for a deep, systemic crisis which they had created. And also, what exactly did they want to discuss? I was told I should demand a group meeting in which CC members confronted all of us, and dealt with us as a bloc. I was told that the tactic of isolating individuals was a classic managerial technique, and was intended as intimidation, so I should at least equalise the numbers.
When Callinicos phoned back, his disarray was greatly aggravated. As he tried to explain that the meeting was about why I had been shouting my head off to the whole world that the CC was corrupt and covering up rape allegations and all sorts... his voice choked and he broke into quite audible, mournful sobs. I froze. My stomach froze. He was a sixty year old man, of colonial aristocratic pedigree, and fairly tough I assumed. The last thing I expected or knew how to deal with was him weeping down the phone. He was back to normal quite quickly, and a meeting was eventually negotiated in which I could bring along one other person "as a companion" but that was all. But still, I confessed to comrades that everything about this situation made me sick, and I really didn't want to be doing it.
In preparation for the meeting, we had emailed discussions and caucused beforehand. I was warned that the CC would try to get me to admit some error or other, and that this admission would be used as a weapon with which to bludgeon me, regardless of the significance or veracity of the confession. So, if they produced some fact or other of which I was unsure, I should simply say "I need to discuss it with my comrades". The only question was, what would Choonara's role be? He was supposedly some top secret ninja dissident on the CC, although his main role to date seemed to have been to phone people known to be in the opposition and warn them about 'the radical elements' who were pushing too far, too fast. So, in the meeting would he be anything but a sock puppet of Callinicos? Short answer: no. He sat there, eyes grimly sweeping the floor, saying little, but backing up the boss on everything he did say.
I took with me a comrade who, though quite mild-mannered and unassuming, I knew to be tough and intellectually confident. (I think Callinicos was frightened of him. At one point, when I tried to explain that I wasn't trying to trip him up with my questions, the professor angrily retorted "no, but he is!")
The first thing that Callinicos did was attempt to take the initiative by demanding to know what this cover-up was that I had been talking about.
I said, "you mean you don't know...?"
"DON'T PLAY GAMES WITH ME!" Callinicos retorted, really channelling Bishop Brennan at this point.
I replied, a little uncertainly (because this had to be a ploy) that my understanding was that serious sexual allegations had come to light before the 2011 conference, and that conference was led to believe that essentially 'Comrade Delta' was accused of little worse than mild harassment.
"This is nonsense, absolute nonsense." Callinicos scoffed.
He went on to explain that the charge of any kind of cover-up was false because in fact, there were no allegations to cover-up prior to that conference. "What there was, was a dispute between two people over what they said had happened. And the central committee mediated in that dispute." I considered this legalistic game-playing, but it formed the fulcrum of the central committee's argument. I was then invited to admit, as had been predicted, that I had got this detail wrong. I could have argued, since I didn't believe I had got anything wrong. But the sensible play was to say, as I did, that "I have to discuss this with my comrades."
The discussion moved on to how the party crisis had come about. I suggested that it was patently obvious, given what had happened, how it had been handled, and the nature of the internet and media, that the party would be thrown into crisis as a result of this. Callinicos and Choonara maintained that the crisis was not inevitable, and that the true responsibility for it rested with whoever had leaked the conference transcript, then Tom Walker for what he had said in his resignation statement, and then myself for what I had written on my blog. (I was also blamed for the trouble in the International, as if I had ever been that organised in my life.) They could give no account of any mistake they might have made, although Callinicos did at one point airily permit that of course mistakes are always made without mentioning anything specific.
On the matter of the disputes committee, which was notoriously filled with acquaintances and direct political subordinates of the accused, we were assured that there was in fact no problem. What I had failed to understand, what I plainly did not understand, what I obviously had complete contempt for, was political morality. You see, it is the "political morality" of a revolutionary party which ensures that if members of a disputes committee, long-standing cadres, believe that someone is guilty of rape, they will discipline that person. I suggested, of course, that they would be far less likely to 'think' the person guilty given their relationship to the accused. The comrade who had come with me raised the issue of 'unconscious bias' in the context of such a trial-by-mates. It seemed an obvious point that, even if the best of intentions, individuals who knew Delta and were politically subordinate to him, but knew the complainant not at all, might have some bias. Yet we had to overcome several rhetorical hurdles to even get a vague, shrugging admission that the disputes committee members perhaps knew Delta better than most members. Eventually, Callinicos admitted that unconscious bias was always a potential problem, but asserted that this was why there was a committee, a large panel, not just one person. I said that this wasn't much help if most of the panel was subject to this potential bias.
I sensed that the weakest point for the leadership in the party was that they were asking members to carry the can and defend a position that none of them, in their workplaces, coalitions, union branches or whatever, could practically defend without incinerating their credibility. So, I asked what strategy the central committee had for how to handle this shitstorm going forward, neither Choonara nor Callinicos offered any answers. Callinicos said that the question was whether one accepted the legitimacy of the democratic decisions taken at conference. If those decisions were accepted, then everything follows from that. I said "but where does that lead to, Alex?" No reply. When I suggested that we, the opposition, at least had an answer to dealing with this issue, Callinicos said that our answer was "surrender". When pressed as to what we were surrendering to, he changed the subject.
In general, the central committee gave the impression that they were in denial. When asked if the party was now toxic, or becoming so, Callinicos said 'no' because he had just come back from a UAF demo with Tony Benn, David Lammy, and two leading SWP members, etc etc. (There were so many responses like this from the hacks: I just came from a paper sale, and no one mentioned it. I was just petitioning at a bus garage, and ordinary workers couldn't give a fuck.) Otherwise, when further pressed as to whether he thought this was all just going to blow over, Callinicos said after a long pause, "we'll see". Well, we saw alright.
I was struck by two things in this meeting. Callinicos was bitter, paranoid and insulting, but ultimately running on empty.* Choonara may as well have been furniture. The only point at which the pair of them had any offensive at all was when they challenged: "you are fighting for the leadership of the party, whether you like it or not; what do you intend to do if you win?" I pointed out that I was not there as a delegate but as an individual, and that I therefore had to decline to say. Callinicos argued that we were inciting a very irresponsible rebellion since we had no perspective about how to deal with "little things like fascism and austerity that you don't want to talk about".
This was clearly cynical coming from the central committee, and not terribly convincing given the failure of our anti-austerity strategy, and the quotient and hype and bullshit surrounding our limited successes on the anti-fascism front. Nonetheless, our lack of an alternative would become a serious issue. The crisis had only just opened up a whole series of issues to do with the party's failure on gender politics, oppression, democracy, the internet, the global crisis, the analysis of neoliberalism, the state, and so on. The initial instinct of most of us in the opposition was to try to return to the resources of an untainted Cliffism - a gesture which quickly gives way to pallid sentimentality: "Hallas, there was a comrade! Widgery! Now there was a comrade! Foot! What a comrade!" And so on. But as we thought, the less it was clear that this 'tradition', for all that was good about it, possessed in itself the resources that were needed. This was one reason why, once out of the organisation, the initial wave of leavers quickly began to drift off in different directions.
Callinicos had been angered throughout the meeting by us taking notes. He repeatedly demanded, particularly of my confederate in the meeting, "what are you doing? What are you writing? Stop writing!" At the end of the meeting, he demanded from both of us that we undertake not to publish our notes all over the internet.
"Don't worry," I told him. "This isn't for blogland."
"Get out," he snapped.
* In fairness, to him, his humour hadn't entirely deserted him. At one point, I tried to explain that this wasn't all about me, and I didn't see myself as a leader. He retorted, "you call yourself 'Lenin' on your blog." I said "yes, but with a small 'l'." "Not nearly small enough in my opinion," he rejoined. Suh-nap!
I have been given permission to publish this excellent paper from the Penser l’émancipation, closing plenary, Nanterre, on February 22, 2014. It was written and delivered by the excellent Houria Bouteldja, a member of Le Parti des indigènes de la République.
Before I begin, I would like to give a small introduction, emphasizing four points:
1/ I would like to warn that my discourse is not Leftist. It is not Rightist either. However, it is not from outer space. It is decolonial. I am inclined to say that, after I finish, it would be up to you to decide if it is leftist or not, or in other words whether it could belong to you, or in other words whether you think it can be incorporated in the political programs of the radical Left.
2/ I would also like to ask you to keep in mind that I am an indigène of the Republic, that this constitutes a political and social status, and that my speech is therefore rooted in the social and historical experience of a colonial subject. This positionality introducing paradoxical conflictualities and a certain dialectic within the struggle, revealing a social divide along a different axis: one of race and coloniality of power, which often blurs the Right/Left divide. This blurring is what we attempt to explain through the concept of “space/time”, which I will not have enough time to develop here.
3/ I would like to add that I belong to a political organization, within which we think in terms of political stakes, power relations, and strategy and not in terms of abstract morality and principle.
4/ Last, keep in mind the following quote by Sadri Khiari: “Because it is the indigènes’ indispensable partner, the Left is their primary adversary.”
In “Français d’origine contrôlée”, a recent documentary by Mustapha Kessous broadcasted on France 2 on the 30-year anniversary of the March for Equality and Against Racism, which retraces the trajectory of immigrant activists, one of the interviewed activists, Hanifa Taguelmint explains: “In 83, we offered ourselves to France. We gave ourselves to her. I’m pretty sure that if on that day we had been told ‘Go ahead, eat ham!’, I don’t think we would have refused. We offered ourselves to France and she didn’t want us. She didn’t want us. But we were really willing… The French national motto was the most beautiful motto in the world in our eyes. The most beautiful. Something went wrong. Terribly wrong. There was like a 'system failure' in history at that moment. We got up to tell France we love you, love us back. And we went back home with our tails between our legs. So I think something happened”.
I would like to pause at two powerful points in this quote:
1/ “We were ready to eat pork”: Today, this kind of talk would be unthinkable. No muslim, even the least practicing muslim would dare, or want, or contemplate making such a statement. Such an integrationist/assimilationist project would be perceived as high treason, a form of alienation, and a serious renouncement of oneself, one’s history, and one’s cultural heritage. 30 years after, we are in a different world.
2/ “We got up to tell France ‘we love you, love us back’.” I interpret this as follows: We who are not legitimate in your eyes, who are towel-heads, who are not real French “de souche”, mold us into French people. Indeed, the March for Equality and Against Racism was not a struggle for wage equality, or for raising the minimum wage, or for retirement pensions. It was a struggle of colonial subjects demanding to be treated as legitimate citizens. Plainly, to become French just like everybody else. The first necessary step would have been to end criminal police brutality. “We are not hunting game animals for the police”, they used to say. Their demands were not met, since instead of true citizenship they were only given the right to be immigrants for a longer period of time. They obtained the new 10-year residency permit. This was not what they were demanding. Their true demand was to “be loved”. And I must tell you that it is still the case. And believe me it saddens me to say it. However, the radical and progressive Left, wary of anything that does not fit neatly in socioeconomic frames, does not understand this. Alain Soral, however, understood. And in his own way, he is giving the children of post-colonial immigration the possibility to become the true French citizens they dreamed of becoming. And a considerable segment of this youth is receptive to his call. Of course, he sets some conditions: the defense of the flag and the nation, and a patriotic, strong and manly Islam. But in the process he fulfills a central social need. I must add that it is the best offer that the white political realm has made towards them. Not that I adhere to it myself, but one cannot deny that no other offer is coming from the white political realm in their direction. Moreover, Soral’s offer has come after thirty inglorious years for the institutional Left on the one hand, and for the radical Left on the other.
So what has happened between these two generations: the potentially pork-eating immigrants who were tied to the Left and the non-pork-eating immigrants drifting towards the Right? We have just celebrated the 30-year anniversary of the March for Equality and Against Racism. But the big celebration did not take place. The autonomous immigrant movements missed the mark. It was an anniversary that we should have celebrated with great pomp, because it marks the moment when the immigration question forced itself into the white political realm, and because it marks the first blows against the white and immaculate republic.
Certain immigrant spaces have tried to celebrate, but their lackluster attempts did not resonate. The PS tried as well, and struggled to ride the wave of the Taubira affair last autumn, but their worn-out moral anti-racism, in the style of SOS Racisme, is at death’s door. Indeed, for the past thirty years we have been witnessing a general shift to the right in french politics. The consequence: most of the official representatives of anti-racism have followed this trend, and most of them have supported the racist law “against religious symbols in schools”.
So the legitimate anniversary did not take place. Neither did a co-opted version of the anniversary. But the candles were blown. And who blew them? Dieudonné and Farida Belghoul! Thirty years after the spectacular entrance of the indigènes on the French political stage in the company of their friends on the Left, here we are again: a new occurrence in the political arena. As spectacular and resounding as ever. Only this time with “our friends” who are not on the left, and not only on the right, but on the far-right. That is a middle finger, a big “f*ck you” to the Left. Or if you prefer, a quenelle. This pendulum swing to the right, contrary to appearances, is one of liberation. We are freeing ourselves from an embrace that has suffocated us, crushed us even. A group rarely vows eternal loyalty to political organizations that do not serve that group’s interests. From this materialist point of view, populations coming from immigration or from the popular neighborhoods have no reason to stay loyal to the Left. And they are right. Their fault lies not in freeing themselves from the Left. It lies in the fact that they are going from one master to another; of changing guardians. Their mistake is that they chose the easier path, and avoided the paths of autonomy. Of course, we in the PIR know that it is immoral and suicidal to conflate left and right, and especially to conflate radical left with far-right. We know that the latter carried out and will continue to carry out racist raids attacking Blacks and Arabs, vandalizing mosques, desecrating cemeteries, and defending white supremacy. And we haven’t forgotten that despite its paternalism, its islamophobia, and its eurocentrism, in short despite the fact that it belongs to the white political realm, the radical Left envisions itself as part of liberation projects, and have always been on the side of the undocumented immigrants and on the side of immigrant's struggles against imperialism. That is why, as I have said in the introduction: “Because it is the indigènes’ indispensable partner, the Left is their primary adversary.” However, the PIR is the PIR, and the social indigènes are the social indigènes. Most of them are not politically organized because they were abandoned, or more precisely because on the one hand they were excluded from the white political realm, and on the other hand they were prevented from self-organizing autonomously.
1/ On the front of the institutional Left, we have witnessed: the neoliberal turn of the PS in 1981; the advent of flabby ideas, of abstract humanism, of moralistic anti-racism, embodied in SOS racisme, which replaced frontal and firm ideologies; the rise of the National Front; the first and second Gulf wars; the affairs of the Islamic veil in schools and the subsequent laws consolidating State racism and islamophobia; the impunity of the police. We have also seen the institutional Left wrecking the autonomous movements and systematically co-opting the elites of the immigration movement. There was also the control of the mosques by the state, the February 23, 2005 law recognizing the “positive work” of France in the colonies, unashamed support for Israel, and the uninterrupted pursuit of Françafrique.
2/ On the front of the radical Left, we have witnessed: complicity of parts of the radical Left with moralistic anti-racism; hostility towards autonomous immigration movements; collusion and active complicity with islamophobia; focusing on fascism at the expense of structural racism and a critique of white supremacy that cuts across the radical Left itself; the centrality of the Holocaust at the expense of the history of colonialism and slavery; clientelism in the neighborhoods (in particular in Communist Party municipalities); white anti-Zionism, that is an anti-Zionism that is supportive of resistance movements that resemble the left (the PFLP for example) and that is contemptuous of those who do not resemble it (such as Hamas at the time of the attacks against Gaza).
3/ On the front of the immigration movement and the popular neighborhoods: there was the Vaulx-en-Velin riots at the end of the 80’s; the 2005 riots; systematic racial discrimination; a continuous process of pauperization and increasingly precarious conditions in the popular neighborhoods (unemployment rates four or five times higher than the national average); the plagues of drugs and AIDS who have killed thousands of sons and daughters of immigrants and have traumatized thousands of families; the continuation of police crimes; the systematization of police racial profiling; massive islamophobic violence since 9/11; incredibly violent ideological campaigns accusing the indigènes of antisemitism, sexism, and homophobia, and accusing them of producing insecurity and of soiling France’s national identity.
In light of the institutional and radical Left's inability to take into account the demands of the popular neighborhoods, and in light of the institutional sabotage of any autonomous political organizing in these same neighborhoods, a considerable portion of immigrants’ descendants found refuge, at first, in the figure of Tariq Ramadan, who offered an alternative to the failed republican integration project. In substance he was saying: “you are full French citizens but you do not have to give up who you are. Fight for your rights as French citizens, but fiercely defend your dignity: it is not for sale.” I will not give the details here of an unpleasant, painful and heavily consequential event: the way Ramadan was received by the Left, including the radical Left, when he seeked, in vain, to engage with the European Social Forum. A merciless war was declared against him. With very few exceptions, almost no one within the radical Left took the trouble to defend him or, more precisely, was capable of recognizing his political potential. Dare I say, this Left was not even capable of being opportunistic. In other words, it was not capable of being political. Because to pretend to fight Tariq Ramadan, there had to be an alternative. What did those who accused him of being the Devil suggest in his stead? Nothing. Or at best, there were two types of suggestions: “the most important struggle is class struggle” and “we must trust the values of the republic.” No comment. And since there was no alternative to Tariq Ramadan, in a way Dieudonné has come to take his place. Today, if we were to strictly consider the political offer that Dieudonné and Soral embody, it is currently the one that best conforms to the existential malaise of the second and third generations of post-colonial immigrants: it recognizes full and complete citizenship within the Nation-state, it respects the muslim character within the limits and conditions put forth by Soral.
It also designates an enemy: the Jew as a Jew, and the Jew as a Zionist, as an embodiment of imperialism, but also because of the Jew’s privileged position. The one who occupies the best seat in the hearts of the White, a place for which many indigènes are fighting. Because they dream of becoming the Prince’s favourites, but without questioning that Prince’s legitimacy: the legitimacy of the White Man. As we, in the PIR, often say: “The spontaneous ideology of the indigènes is integrationism.” And in the end, if Soral’s strategy is working, it is also because he revalidates arabo-muslim virility that was the target of racism and colonialism -- I will not detail here another episode, the one with Ni Putes Ni Soumises and Femen. We must not forget that those who are 25 years old today, and who form the greatest battalion of Dieudonné and Soral were between 13 and 15 years old during the period following 9/11, the period of collective hysteria against the veil and Tariq Ramadan, the emergence of Ni Putes Ni Soumises, the 2005 riots and the second war against Iraq. Needless to say all this leaves a mark.
Must we condemn this youth? Are they fascists? My reply is No! No, because the reasons of these defections are structural. If there is no fertile ground in this country for breeding qualified political activists of immigrant backgrounds, it is because appropriate spaces do not exist or are too precarious to ensure the transmission of memory, to accumulate knowledge and to capitalize. The struggles reflect the immigrants’ condition: disparate, precarious and lacking clear political directions. I don’t blame them. I blame those who have excluded them from their organizations in the name of class unity, and I blame those who have actively prevented the autonomous organizing of immigrants. And lastly I blame -- but gently -- the immigrant activists who have not been able to organize our unity.
The fact remains, however, that today we are destitute. I do not think we should panic in reaction to the pendulum swing which has pulled a significant portion of the postcolonial populations from the left to the right, even to the far-right. I am not saying that the situation is not alarming. I am simply saying that we should stop and think. I am also saying that this may be a divine intervention pushing us to reflect collectively. I dare add that, in my long experience of missed opportunities, the time for us to be political is now or never, because we are living a moment of truth. This is what the PIR is trying to do in the midst of general incomprehension. Let me give you an example:
When Manuel Valls attacked Dieudonné and the affair grew to the extreme proportions we know, we in the PIR found ourselves under fire from two groups:
1/ Many indigènes, Blacks and Muslims, demanded that we publicly express our support for Dieudonné.
2/ Our white allies demanded that we condemn him once and for all.
Now, the trouble is that we are not integrationists. And integration through anti-semitism horrifies us just as much as integration though White universalism and national-chauvinism. We abhor anything that seeks to integrate us into whiteness; anti-semitism being a pure product of Europe and the West. As a decolonial movement, it is self-evident that we cannot support Dieudonné. Yet we could not condemn him in the manner of the white Left, because there is a certain dimension that has escaped the Left, but one that is clear to any indigène with a modicum of dignity. It is what I have recalled in an interview in 2012: “For me Dieudonné is not Soral, because he is a social indigène. I cannot treat him as I treat Soral. I thoroughly disagree with his political choices: the fact that he has been seduced by Soral’s nationalistic views, that he knows nothing about Palestine and Zionism, and his alliance with the far-right. At the same time, I feel ambivalent. I would start by saying that I love Dieudonné; that I love him as the indigènes love him; that I understand why the indigènes love him. I love him because he has done an important action in terms of dignity, of indigène pride, of Black pride: he refused to be a domestic negro. Even if he doesn’t have the right political program in his head, his attitude is one of resistance.” I now add that in the eyes of the indigènes, this is what they see in him first and foremost, rather than seeing the nature of his allies. A man standing upright. Too often were we forced to say “yes bouana, yes bouana.” When Diedonné stands up, he heals an identitarian wound. The wound that racism left, and which harms the indigènes' personnality. Those who understand “Black is beautiful” cannot miss this dimension, and I emphasize, this particular dimension in Dieudonné.
Because we have refused integration through the far-right and because we identify with Dieudonné’s dignified stance, we could neither give in to the pressure from the indigènes, nor to the white pressure. We obviously seeked to explore a third way that explicates the present analysis. For the White Left, the most important thing was to declare that Dieudonné is a fascist. For us, it was more important to say that Dieudonné is the product of the White political milieu and more precisely of the Left and its renouncements. For this reason, we were boycotted. My goal here is not to lament our fate. I would like to underscore the fact that not only the Left has boycotted us, but more importantly we were also boycotted (so to speak) by the far-right. Dieudonné’s and Soral’s fascist friends understood that we were not their friends. We can only deplore that the Left has not noticed this. On the other hand, we have succeeded in symbolically achieving what every immigration movement must aim for: uniting the indigène opinion. Indeed, we have satisfied the demands of the majority of our people, even the most Dieudonnist, because -- pardon the expression -- we did not drop our pants. In other words, we have remained, to borrow Césaire’s expression, fundamental indigènes. This proves that the indigènes in France are not on the right or the far-right. They just need a political project.
At this stage, I would simply like to say that you and we have respective tasks to fulfill: we at PIR and in any other organizations from the neighborhoods or immigrant organizations, we must organize the indigènes autonomously. For your part, you must develop what Sadri Khiari calls a “domestic internationalism”; to understand that a fraction of the colonial empire is today within France’s continental borders, that the colonial/racial divide is a structural internal divide inside France, and that now is not a time for solidarity with the immigrants and their children, but it is a time for constructing alliances that respect our mutual autonomies. We should be considered allies. Not as a population that needs be saved, but as a group that participates in the collective liberation struggle, including the liberation of White people. For this to be possible, we must be accepted as we are: a group that is racially and socially dominated, not necessarily clear-cut on several issues: not clear-cut on capitalism, not clear-cut on class struggle, not clear-cut on women, not clear-cut on homosexuality, not clear-cut on Jews. As any group, we carry thousands of contradictions, which should be resolved in a dialectical manner within large groupings that have defined a common enemy and that respect the spaces/times of everyone. Needless to say, the project uniting us must be a project of radical justice for all. A generous project. A liberation project. For this, one must necessarily accept to get one’s hands dirty, as C. L. R. James advises us:
“The movements which seek ‘to drive the Jew out of Harlem or the South Side’ have a valid class base. They are the reactions of the resentful Negro seeking economic relief and some salve for his humiliated racial pride. That these sentiments can be exploited by fanatical idiots, Negro anti-Semites, or self-seeking Negro business men, does not alter their fundamentally progressive basis. This progressiveness is in no way to be confused with the dissatisfaction of the demoralized white petty-bourgeoisie which seeks refuge in fascism. American reaction can and probably will finance or encourage some of these movements (Bilbo and Back to Africa) in order to feed ill will. But the Negroes are overwhelmingly proletarian, semi-proletarian, and peasant in their class composition. Such is the whole course of American history that any nation-wide Fascist movement (however disguised) will be compelled to attack the Negro struggle for equality.”
"The strategic dimension of neoliberal policies has paradoxically been neglected in the standard 'anti-liberal' critique, in as much as from the outset this dimension formed part of a global rationality that has gone unspotted.
"What, precisely, is to be understood by 'strategy'? In its most common meaning, the term refers to 'the means employed to attain a certain end'. The turn of the 1970s and 80s undeniably employed a whole range of means to achieve as rapidly as possible certain well-defined objectives (dismantlement of the social state, privatisation of public enterprises, etc.). In this sense, it is therefore perfectly legitimate to refer to a 'neoliberal strategy'. By it is to be understood the set of discourses, practices and power apparatuses aiming to establish new political conditions, to alter the rules of economic functioning, to transform social relations in such a way as to attain these objectives. However, although legitimate, this use of the term 'strategy' could be taken to imply that the objective of generalised competition between enterprises, economies and states was itself developed on the basis of a well-thought-out project, as if it was the subject of a choice just as rational and controlled as the means put at the disposal of the initial objectives. It is only a short step from this to thinking in terms of a 'conspiracy', which some have quickly taken, especially on the Left. Instead, it seems to us that the objective of a new regulation through competition did not pre-exist the struggle against the welfare state in which, by turns or simultaneously, intellectual circles, professional groups, and social and political forces engaged, often for different reasons. The turn began under the pressure of certain conditions, without anyone yet dreaming of a new, world-wide mode of regulation. Our thesis is that this objective was formed in the course of the confrontation itself; that it imposed itself on very different forces by dint of the logic of the confrontation; and that it thereafter played the role of a catalyst, offering a rallying point for hitherto relatively scattered forces. To seek to account for the emergence of the objective on the basis of the conditions of a confrontation that was already underway, we must resort to a different sense of the word 'strategy' - on that does not derive it from the will of a strategist or the intentionality of a subject. It was precisely this idea of a 'strategy without a subject' or 'without a strategist' that was developed by Foucault. Taking the example of the strategic objective of moralising the working class in the 1830s, he argued that it produced the bourgeoisie as the agent of its implementation, it being far from the case that the bourgeois class, as a pre-constituted subject, conceived this objective on the basis of an already developed ideology. What is involved here is thinking a certain 'logic of practices'. In the first instance, there are practices, often disparate, which employ techniques of power (in the first rank of which are disciplinary techniques); and it is the multiplication and generalisation of such techniques that gradually imparts an overall direction, without anyone being the instigator of this 'push towards a strategic objective'. There can be no better formulation of the way that competition was constituted as a new global norm on the basis of certain relations between social forces and economic conditions, without having been 'chosen' in premeditated fashion by some 'general staff'. To bring out the strategic dimension of neoliberal policies is therefore to reveal not only how they result from the selection of certain means (in the first sense of the term 'strategy'), but also the strategic character (in the second sense of the word) of the generalised competition that made it possible to confer overall coherence on those means."
- Pierre Dardot and Christian Laval, The New Way of the World: On a Neoliberal Society
, Verso, London & New York, 2013, pp. 148-150.
There's an essay of Gramsci's, on 'Americanism and Fordism', which attempts to draw out what is modern and rational in the cocoon of batshit pseudo-science and moralism that went by the name of Fordism.
We may think of Fordism as being to do with mass production, high productivity and thus relatively high wages, with Taylorist assembly line methods being used to break down tasks and speed up completion. This is the image that is most current. But in fact, it is much more than that. Fordism is about the political and ideological domination of workers by their employers. It is about moral regulation and demographic rationalisation. When the boss doesn't just want to know what you are doing on the shop floor; when the boss wants to know about your family life, your sumptuary propensities, your sexuality, what sort of music you listen to - that is Fordism proper. That is the Fordism of northern US industries, but also of southern textile towns.
In this era, the political and ideological domination of bosses in the workplace is a lot more subtle than this, and a lot less to do with hands on regulation of workers' lives. There are, of course, insidious forms of surveillance and control. A worker can be fired for tweeting the wrong thing, Facebooking a diss of an annoying manager, blogging a view that brings alleged disrepute to the firm. But generally speaking, the employer can rest assured that other processes guided by the state will ensure that labour power is reproduced in a satisfactory way. One way to look at this is to say that the most irrational, paternalistic elements of managerial culture have been expunged, although anyone who pays close attention to managerial doctrine would be hard-pressed to say that pseudo-science has decreased its grip.
Nonetheless, forms of political and ideological domination continue to be very important to the production process. Forms of ideological domination would include, the accumulation of knowledge of the production process and its careful distribution among only select groups of employees, the maintenance of bureaucracies involved in keeping information on employees and any ongoing issues they have (the HR department in any large corporation), the deployment of professional and occupational ideologies (often in the context of training), and so on.
Political domination in this context is the way in which workplace authority is exercised, the organisation of the resources in the workplace to secure cooperation, obedience and even consent. This can take the form of junior managers pulling people up for excessive toilet breaks, at the most trivial level, and disciplinary cases at a more serious level; but it can also take the form of more consensual practices such as workers facilities, incentive payment schemes, scented blocks in the toilets, a small amount of extra tartar sauce for the cafeteria fish-sticks, and so on. Practices which one might assume to be 'economic' in the sense of being geared toward raising productivity, might also have a more 'political' function in helping consolidate the authority of the managers, ensuring orders are treated as legitimate, and thus preventing breakdowns in the flow of production, union militancy, or at its most extreme, forms of politicised rank and file insurgency.
So, this is an observation about Gramsci's observation that 'hegemony begins in the factory'. I take this to mean not just that the workplace is the cellular basis from which the fabric of a hegemonic bloc can be constituted, but rather also that the hegemonic practices and strategies that shape the wider society tend to be condensed and reflected in the workplace too. Hegemony 'begins' in the workplace, but only because the workplace is where the most fundamental social antagonisms that structure the entire social formation are concentrated most visibly. I think this particular relationship of the workplace to hegemonic domination is actually demonstrated in Mark Rupert's excellent book, Producing Hegemony, about the Fordist system in the post-war United States. And it occurred to me that this might actually be a more pressing matter than we realise when it comes to class struggles, particularly since the fact of class struggle itself means that such domination can never run smoothly, that it is always something that is having to be constructed, that the preferred mode of domination may be resented or contested not just by workers but by middle managers and so on.
in the Volkswagen plant in Chatanooga
, Tennessee, cannot be attributed in any simple way to employer opposition. The bosses have a strong hand if they decided to use their rights to engage in union-busting, precisely because of their established forms of political and ideological domination. That VW agreed to remain 'neutral', declining to use their strong hand, suggests management were as close as management ever gets to being in favour of unionisation. This is probably because for a large multinational manufacturing firm, having a union act as a mediator between managers and workers is not necessarily a bad political strategy. It often improves productivity and efficiency.
In this case, though, the wider hegemonic strategies of the Right (involving anti-union campaigns, local political elites, GOP politicians, and so on) achieved what management chose not to attempt to achieve, precisely by linking in to opposition within the plant among not just a section of junior management, low-ranking supervisors and so on, but also the better paid, skilled workers. It was the latter who organised anti-union campaigns inside the plant - sections of the workforce itself, vehemently opposed to any union presence, more so than VW management!
Union mishandling played a role in this, of which more in a moment. However, to grasp how they fucked up so badly, it is necessary to see how they were fighting on a terrain that was far more structurally loaded against them than they perhaps realised. The real question is not why unions fuck up in their bureaucratic, back-room way, but why workers were so available for the Right. This sort of outcome cries out for a neoliberalism-in-their-souls form of analysis.
Part of the explanation is the fact that VW's hegemonic regime was already working comparatively well. Wages were relatively 'high', conditions were better than anything most workers in that region were likely to see, the company offered good car deals which is not insignificant, and so on. The material situation offered spaces in which the Right could insert its narrative - you risk losing these comparative advantages if you sign on with UAW, because UAW will cause the plant to go bust, just like in Detroit, and they'll give away all your money to Democrats while doing so. There was even a basis for a classic reactionary-populist strategy, since the union had a recent history of making big concessions to employers, and its agreement with management demonstrated a commitment to keeping the company's cost advantages intact: UAW's conniving with management shows that they don't care about ordinary workers the same way that Grover Norquist does.
But, of course, and this is one place where UAW seem to have gone badly wrong, the Right understood that workplace class struggles condense and reproduce the tendencies of established by struggles outside the workplace. They mobilised; they sought a 'community' response, in a state disproportionately dominated by Republican-voting white evangelicals, who see unions as an auxiliary of the Democratic Party and thus of gun control and abortions. The Right fought a battle through popular opinion, mobilising entrenched common sense assumptions in a field of struggle much wider than the workplace or a few media outlets. UAW, by contrast, seem to have fought a narrow campaign, resisting the urge to get involved in community organising, politicise their campaign, raise 'divisive' issues or talk about anything other than how great their relationship was with VW management. Their approach to organising was not just bureaucratic and top-down, not just tactically conservative, but actually oblivious of a large part of the fight.
Hegemony begins in the workplace, alright. One side won because they understood this; and the other side didn't.
You can pre-order
a copy of Against Austerity and get it cheaper, and win a signed copy and a bunch of Pluto freebies.
Pluto writes: "Pre-order Richard Seymour's book 'Against Austerity' TODAY! Get it for just £10 (normally £12.99) and the chance to win one of 30 signed copies. See more (#PunAlert
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If you can pick up a coin in front of an Atos 'health professional', you're fit for work.
Atos is incentivised and pressured
to declare the people it assesses 'fit for work'. And it does so with striking consistency, regardless of how severely disabled or ill people are. In the earliest review of statistics
back in 2009, it was discovered that of 189,800 assessed, 130,500 were found fit for work. Four in ten people diagnosed with seriously debilitating illnesses such as multiple sclerosis or Parkinson's have been excluded from disability benefits
and forced to seek the meaner employment support allowance. Cancer patients
have been forced to attend 'back-to-work' interviews.
One could go on and on, but by now the injustices of Atos and the disability benefit cuts have been done to death. The question is, what is all this for? It is not a medical procedure. The criteria are not medically informed.
Nor do I believe it is primarily about penny pinching. Certainly, the sums spent on disability benefits are not insignificant. The UK budget last year was £694bn. Of a total welfare budget of £159bn, Disabled Living Allowance amounts to £12.57bn a year, while incapacity benefit amounts to less than £5bn. Shifting a section of those claimants from incapacity benefits to employment support allowance will save some money, certainly. But the government could just as easily recoup such sums by other expedients.
Nor is it necessarily about reducing the volume of state activity. The deployment of Atos, the intensive scrutiny, the constant interviews and reviews, may be outsourced
- but ultimately that is just another form of state action, another manifestation of the interpenetration of state and capital particular to neoliberalism. The same will be true of the entire Department of Work Pensions when they have privatised it
. So, what is really at stake here? Why is this a priority?
There is a way of answering this question that stresses the moral individualism of neoliberal capitalism, the punitive logic of 'the market', and so on. Hence, analysts speak of: i) the marketisation of disability provision; ii) moral conditionality of provision, iii) the dichotomy between the needy recipients and those who must be disciplined back to work. This is okay, but it's quite descriptive. I think a potentially more productive way into this subject is via the neoliberal concept of ‘human capital’. The idea that far from being coherent ‘individuals’, we are basically assemblages of different forms of ‘capital’ (physical, cognitive, erotic, etc), which vary between individuals. These physical or mental assets are seen as forms of capital to the extent that they can be put into circulation to yield an income stream.
'Human capital development', as a supply-side instrument for boosting 'employability', has been a central aspect of UK government employment policy for some time. This might take the form of, for example, using cognitive behaviour therapy and other techniques to modify and improve the employability of residents in high-unemployment areas.
Now, the government’s policy on disability benefits has always been framed in terms of ‘helping people back into work’, which is seen as more dignified and so on. Underlying this is the view that disabled people get trapped in a cycle of non-accumulation of human capital because they are locked out of the labour market, and thus can’t get adequate training or education. The task, therefore, is to find a political technology that can lever them out of this rut and into a working situation, where every incentive compels them to maximise their human capital. This will, of course, make them find ways to become 'employable' and, so the logic goes, lead to improved income and life chances.
The Atos critera are about doing exactly this. The use of so-called ‘health professionals’ to drive people off the welfare rolls has caused great consternation. But it is important to make sense of what these They are a disciplinary technique designed to disseminate the ‘entrepreneurial’ ethic among the poorest.
And things like this work. They produce subjectivities that have lasting and politically significant effects. Consider this piece by John Harris
. Look at the statistics on attitudes to welfare, and how they have changed over the generations. Note the anecdotes, the interview material. Not only do people on low incomes blame people on welfare for not having more get-up-and-go, more drive, more will to get out there and make money; people on welfare blame themselves
If this is effective, it will not be long before you have interviews with disabled or sick employees, who are absurdly working through cancer, or multiple sclerosis, or serious physical pain or impairments. And they will say of the majority who remain on the increasingly miserly benefits system: “I did it for myself, I don’t see why I have to support a bunch of people who want to lay about on benefits”.
“Foucault implicitly and explicitly draws on Marx’s arguments in Capital to help explain the logic for historical change. Foucault always introduces Marx as supporting evidence and never as a figure to be disproved. As Foucault makes clear (221), capitalism could not exist without the form of control that Foucault calls ‘discipline’ and discipline could not succeed without the rise of capitalism. In many ways, one of Discipline and Punish’s main projects in its treatment of class-struggle, power and knowledge is to provide a way for new students of Marx to escape the PCF’s increasingly unfruitful use of the terms ‘ideology’ and ‘false consciousness’ as explanations for why the working class submits to middle-class authority. … At its heart, Discipline and Punish is a stunning dismantling of the cherished bourgeois ideal of the individual and the political, economic and cultural valences of that concept. … Foucault uses Discipline and Punish to argue that the cultivation of the individual in these terms camouflages the middle class’s desire to become the dominant group within a capitalist economy. The scene of the contract obscures actual power inequalities, Enlightenment reason is linked to coercive force and the humanist mythos of the authentic personality of the individual has been historically constructed as a device to control threatening collectives, namely those of the working and lower classes.”
|— ||Anne Schwan, Stephen Shapiro, How to Read Foucault’s Discipline and Punish, Pluto Press, 2011|