Doing the Russian Revolution Justice

The centenary of the 1917 revolution can be seen as a diversion from the trauma still fresh and experienced by every living Russian except the youngest. The Russian revolution of 1917 indelibly marked the course of the 20th century. Its centenary comes into a world once again seized with turmoil, and its import is far from settled, most importantly, in Russia itself. The stakes for Russian society are high: successful appropriation of mutually incompatible narratives about the past will allow Russia a viable future, indeed without it we may struggle to talk meaningfully about ‘Russian society’ at all. The Western coverage of the centenary of the February revolution has been, with few exceptions, faintly disapproving and dismissed the government’s approach as…

Moving towards Meta-Politics: Notes on Alain Badiou’s Political Criticism

Since the publication of Being and Event1 in 1988, Alain Badiou has established himself as inarguably the most ambitious philosopher in the Continental tradition in quite some time. His rapidly growing oeuvre has come to encompass metaphysics, ethics, politics, art, cinema and more. Badiou has truly taken it upon himself to build and defend a genuine philosophical system (once a faux pas par excellence) intended to stand next the great architectural edifices of Hegel, Kant, and of course Plato. The result has been something of a philosophical epiphany, with many scholars nostalgic for grand systematicty taking Badiou at his word that he is the real deal,2with other being more critical.3 All this makes thorough engagement with his work ever more…

Trump’s Law: Toward a Necropolitical Humanitarianism

On 5 April 2017, one day before authorizing missile strikes against Syrian targets, Donald Trump remarked during a press conference in the White House Rose Garden, ‘I will tell you that attack on children yesterday had a big impact on me — big impact.’ He elaborated: ‘When you kill innocent children, innocent babies, babies, little babies, with a chemical gas that is so lethal — people were shocked to hear what gas it was. That crosses many, many lines, beyond a red line. Many, many lines.’ Described as a visceral and instinctual reaction to the deaths of innocent children, Trump’s account of this event plays upon tropes of a break or conversion, a ‘flexible’ turn from the ‘America First’ paradigm…

A World of “Sound” and “Clash”: An Interview with Taru Dalmia (Part III of III)

We want to know more about the roots of your music. As we understand it, your music brings together a particular new take on reggae, ska, and techno sounds with powerful lyrics. How does this mixture relate to your aim to engage with social struggles? We are thinking here too about ‘tradition’ – an idea that for legal scholars simultaneously denotes social power, respect, order, patterns of thought, and, of course, obedience: inheritance, and mixing? T: In music as opposed to prose it is not just lyrics but sound that becomes a carrier of meaning. Bass music, dub music, deeply impacts upon people and can be powerful expressions of emotion, of political sentiment, even of metaphor. In the case of reggae in particular we feel that it lends itself very well to expressing the fractured militarised reality that we are engaging with…

A World of “Sound” and “Clash”: An Interview with Taru Dalmia (Part II of III)

Taru, as legal scholars the idea of soundclashing is extremely interesting. We know that speech and rhetoric have been always part of law, and yet it is hard to grasp the actual mechanics of using sound in our projects. How do you process, or how do you render into a material form, this idea of ‘soundclashing’? Specifically, how are technique and technology mixed at this point with politics, histories of violence and entrenched power asymmetries in order to produce something new, or at least something different? Taru [T]: There are different processes at play, depending first on whether we are talking about a recording or performance oriented endeavour and then also, the various musical outlets…

A World of “Sound” and “Clash”: An Interview with Taru Dalmia (Part I of III)

Introduction Taru Dalmia is a New Delhi-based Indian reggae/dancehall artist, poet, academic historian and social activist. Taru, also known as Delhi Sultanate, is the lead singer of The Ska Vengers, the mastermind behind Bass Foundations Roots – BFR Sound System along with his partner Samara Chopra, aka Begum X, one of the first Jamaican-style sound systems in India, and the co-founder of Word, Sound and Power with producer Chris McGuinness, a collective dedicated to producing documentary films and musical collaborations with grassroots movements. First attracted by the intensity, sophistication and rendition in a different medium of our own concerns with international law and the destructive motion of the global development project, World, Sound, Power was our entry point into Taru’s…

Brexit is upon us: what is to be done?

To know where we are going we must know how we got here. A long-established online politics forum currently has a thread under the title ‘Creating Lexit: What is to be done?’ A reasonable enough question, and the ‘creating’ admits we are a long way from a left Brexit right now. What struck me strongly reading it however is that I am not sure whether the vexed question of what is to be done by the left has changed with Brexit. I have watched left thinkers struggle to create a positive way forward from Article 50, and little consensus emerges. That in itself helps answer the question: How did we get here? ‘Here’ is not a good place. Due to…

On Racial Injury: Fighting the Dilution of Anti-Racist Legislation Is More Important Than Anti-Racist Legislation

Last year, following the terrorist attack in Nice, I met a European friend and colleague at a conference in Milan. I asked him how his Palestinian boyfriend was, a lovely man I have grown to care about. My colleague visibly upset informed me that his boyfriend has had a series of mishaps: a few weeks ago he was racially attacked by skinheads and was hurt seriously enough to need hospitalization. While in hospital, he was watching the news on TV when he saw the Nice terrorist drive his truck through the crowd. He was so affected that he had a violent seizure. Still feeling fragile and not fully together because of his racial bashing, the Nice event, beside its immediate…

Governmentality and the Management of the Circulation of ‘Extreme’ Ideas

In October 2016, the University of Sussex published its Freedom of Speech Code of Practice1 and its accompanying External Speakers’ Procedure.2 Like the many recent ‘Freedom of Speech’ or ‘External Speaker’ policies across higher education institutions in the UK, the main objective of these policies is to ensure University compliance with the Counter Terrorism and Security Act 2015 (CTSA). CTSA section 26 places the Prevent pillar of CONTEST on a statutory footing and requires that ‘due regard [is had] to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism’. Prevent is designed to ‘tackle extremism’ by ‘de-’ or ‘counter-radicalising’ persons and environments at ‘risk’. Under CTSA guidance, higher education institutions are to take steps to ensure compliance with Prevent. …

Al Khan al Ahmar, international law and the paradox of hope

Imagine living day after day unsure of when your home will be demolished. That will most likely mean having to quickly move elsewhere out of necessity, not out of choice. Will you be able to salvage some of your belongings, comfort your traumatised children as a bulldozer tears apart the memories of happier times laughing with loved ones in the comfort of your sitting room? And if you have to move so suddenly, how will you support your family, while you find a new job and possible source of income? For the Jahalin Bedouin living in makeshift dwellings in Al Khan al Ahmar and other Bedouin tribes living in villages scattered across the Israeli-occupied West Bank, waiting for that moment…

‘We did this’: Collective Guilt & the Tuam Mass Grave

“We all partied”: Fianna Fáil Finance Minister Brian Lenihan’s infamous phrase, in the early years of the financial crisis, encapsulated the drive, on the part of Ireland’s political and media establishment, to broaden collective responsibility for social and economic calamity as far as possible. The objective in mind was the socialisation of private banking debt, racked up by property speculators, and the corresponding cuts to public spending and services. In recent days, following the confirmation that eight hundred dead babies were interred in a septic tank at a former ‘Mother-and-Baby’ home in Tuam, there has been a similar dynamic in operation. In the characteristically overwrought tones that Ireland’s current Taoiseach reserves for moments of national outrage, Enda Kenny told the…

Europe must go back to the school of the world. As a student

In order to learn, Europe must be willing to un-learn many of its self-conceptions and many of its conceptions about the non-European world that brought it to its present place. Europe and the Global North as a whole are being assailed by a feeling of historical and political exhaustion. After five centuries of imposing its solutions on the world, Europe seems unable to solve its own problems and hands their resolution to multinationals, through free trade treaties whose purpose is to eliminate the last vestiges of the social cohesion and environmental awareness that have been achieved after the Second World War. In the USA, Donald Trump emerges more as a consequence than a cause of the disaggregation of a highly…

Zombie Capitalism and the Grinning Void

Please would you tell me,’ said Alice … ‘why your cat grins like that?’ ‘It’s a Cheshire-Cat,’ said the Duchess, and that’s why. Pig!’ She said the last word with such sudden violence that Alice quite jumped… ‘I didn’t know that Cheshire-Cats always grinned; in fact, I didn’t know that cats could grin.’ ‘They all can,’ said the Duchess; ‘and most of ‘em do’. ‘I don’t know of any that do,’ Alice said very politely… ‘You don’t know much’, said the Duchess; ‘and that’s a fact. (Carroll 2005, 82-3) Dorian Lynskey’s recent description of Milo Yiannoupoulos as a ‘smirking void’ (2017, np) recalled a scene from Wonderland, set in the Duchess’ pepper-polluted kitchen, which gripped me as a child with its…

#Strike4Repeal: Ireland’s Women’s Strike

This International Women’s Day sees women worldwide engaged in strike action. Irish women strike for repeal of the 8th Amendment: the constitutional provision which prohibits abortion except where the pregnant woman’s life is at risk, and the only means of avoiding that risk is to terminate it. But more than that, the law pledges the state to protect the right to life of the ‘unborn’, from the moment of implantation, against the actions of the woman who carries it. In recent years, this law has been used  to delay medical treatment to a woman suffering an inevitable miscarriage at the cost of her life; to keep a woman’s body on life support after brain-death in an attempt to prolong her second trimester pregnancy to viability;  to  forced Caesarean section…

Swedens of the Mind

This article was first published by Wildcat Dispatches: Speaking in Florida on Saturday 18 February, Donald Trump pledged to keep the United States safe from refugees, and pointed to catastrophes unfolding elsewhere as the reason: We’ve got to keep out country safe. You look at what’s happening in Germany, you look at what’s happening last night in Sweden. Sweden, who would believe this? Who believes it, however, is of significance only if we work through what it is they are being asked to believe. Trump inserted Sweden into a narrative chain that included the Daesh-related attacks in Paris and Brussels in 2015-16, thus intimating that a ‘terrorist attack’ had taken place. No such attack had taken place, of course, and…

Police and Protest in the Banlieue

On February 2, 2017, in the banlieue municipality of Aulnay-sous-Bois (North-East), 22-year-old Black man Théo L. was raped by a police officer, while three others were holding him. As of today, Théo is still at the hospital suffering of a 3.5-inch-long tear of his anus. The video showing the crime was quickly spread, provoking outrage country-wide, and making it impossible for police officers to deny the anal penetration with a telescopic baton to which Théo was subjected. However, the officers and the service within the police in charge of the investigation have since made the outrageous claim that what happened was an accident, going as far as forming the phrase “deliberate rape” to describe what the situation was not according to them, in an extremely…

The problem with the past is that it doesn’t pass: On the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution (RR)1 and also the 150th anniversary of the publication of the first volume of Karl Marx’ Das Kapital. Combining the two historic dates may seem strange because Marx never wrote in detail about the revolution and communist society and, even if he had, it is unimaginable that what he might have written could bear any resemblance to what the Soviet Union (USSR) was, especially after Stalin took over the leadership of both the party and the State. The truth is that many of the discussions raised by Marx’ book during the 20th century outside the USSR were an indirect way of discussing the merits and demerits of the RR. Now…

Torture Works? Beccaria’s Forgotten Lesson

Power structures and governments will resort to euphemistic labelling in order to sanitize morally reprehensible or illegal behaviour — this is neither new nor surprising.  A textbook example is the G. W. Bush Jr. Administration who tried to immunize inter alia waterboarding against criticism by calling it an ‘enhanced interrogation technique’. The roots of this practice can be traced back thousands of years. Thucydides branded this stasis where we engineer a shift in semantics, so that ‘words fit in with the change of events’, as an effort ‘to disguise one’s unmanly character’ (Thucydides 3: 82). Whatever one’s opinion of the new POTUS, Donald J. Trump, we cannot, I think, accuse him of being ‘unmanly’ in the above Thucydidean sense. For…

The Control Room: War, Exception, Threat

If the machinery of intelligence-gathering and war is never switched off, then we have truly entered the permanent state of emergency. This 10-minute video essay looks at control rooms in film and television since the 1970s, and identifies an array of technological apparatuses that both manifest and make possible an increasingly distributed kind of sovereignty. These control rooms display a set of related technologies – virtualization, remote control, simulation, real-time processing, networked computing, graphical user interfaces – that have become commonplace in popular screen narratives about imagined threats to modern society. The transformation of the theatre of war into a virtual, audiovisual, theatrical experience is part of a broader, deeper transformation of modern experience itself, including politics, under the sway…