Beware the Ivory Dwellings of the Left: Political Purity in the Face of Fascism

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For some time we have been witnessing the rise of racist nationalism and fascism in many parts of the world. In Europe and North America, significant elements of both the Brexit and Trump campaigns propagated explicitly racist ideals, albeit to varying degrees. Whether you understand Brexit and Trump as having triumphed despite or because of the racism that dominated both campaigns, the reality is that these victories have legitimised white supremacy in alarming ways. Despite the increasing rise in racist violence and rhetoric, some on the Left are reluctant to acknowledge the severity of this political development, in part because of a preference to perceive the Brexit and Trump victories as anti-establishment movements/the end of neoliberalism/expressions of the legitimate grievances…

The (in)stability of change: The Italian constitutional referendum

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Basta un SI [a YES is enough], is the slogan coined by the campaign for the approval of the Italian constitutional reform to be either confirmed or rejected on December 4th, in the nth referendum of these troubled European years. If the reform is rejected, according to the YES campaign, ‘everything will remain the same’. 60 years after the publication of Tomasi de Lampedusa’s novel The Leopard, with its (in)famous passage – ‘everything needs to change, so everything can stay the same’ – the Italian political rhetoric is yet to be updated. While change is apparently constant (one point will suffice: 63 governments in 70 years), the story goes, everything remains the same. Widespread corruption (according to Italians’ perceptions), systematic…

Going Rogue

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Though I do like breaking femurs You can count me with the dreamers Like everybody else, I got a dream… (I’ve got a dream, Tangled) The jig is finally up, politics isn’t running as normal anymore (although ‘the oppressed’ always knew that the ‘state of emergency’ was normal, reminding us that our ‘amazement’ revealed the paucity of geopolitical and chronopolitical maps). The unanticipated and unpredicted – Brexit, the growing popularity of the right across Europe, and now, my focus here, the election of Trump in the US – have illuminated key blockages and sites of struggle in the contemporary political and economic and cultural landscape as, using proper names as improper political shorthand for what are really movements, Sanders, Corbyn,…

Seven Theses on Trump

The response to the election of Donald Trump has been sweeping and swift. Massive and continual protests have taken place in a number of cities across the United States. Students have led walkouts and called for the creation of sanctuaries on many university campuses. A petition calling on the members of the Electoral College to vote in favor of Hillary Clinton, the clear winner of the popular vote, has already gathered millions of signatures. Progressive organizations such as Black Lives Matter and Our Revolution have begun a coordinated fight back against Trump’s openly fascistic agenda. On the other side, a spate of hate crimes—over 700 as we write this, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center’s tabulations—has spread across the…

Darker with the Day: Notes on Fascism, Exception & Primitive Accumulation

Francisco de Zurbarán

The particular historical juncture in which we find ourselves raises more than obvious concerns with regards to the status of our polities. To be sure, things were never neat and clean, as most things are within the capitalist horizon. Ominous signs of the looming catastrophe were already out in the open for a long time, at least ever since the fateful 9/11 or the 2008 Wall Street stock market crash. The archive of this blog can easily attest for these worrying trends. It was up to the attentive observer to follow and to reflect on the historical unfolding of the state of exception[1] and of the crisis of the capital. The conjunction between the two is crucial. On one hand…

You want it darker? Trump’s aberrant community & why he still won’t win

Pale Kaczynski: Washington DC & Pinocchio

Trump comes as the deranged savior, channeling all the frustration and spite towards the ruling class, a sort of dark Angel of political retribution. But if anything, he will intensify the Washington Consensus, he will govern for the Davos people, with the Davos people in a world tailor-made by the Davos people. He incarnates savage capitalism without mediating institutions, without the disguise of a correct discourse which mutates as soon as it crosses the threshold of law and civility. In this sense he is a glitch in the machine that allows us to see the objects and discourses of domination literally. With Trump´s outlandish election, the more progressive Liberals in the US are nauseated because they are coming to terms…

The Coming Culture Wars in Trumplandia

Catastrophe by Lala Gallardo

War was declared in United States of America last Tuesday. There was no official signing of authorisation, it was announced through the proliferation of images and slogans across 24-hour news-cycles, like our contemporary wars on drugs or terror. Following from those wars on abstracted symbols, this war will be one waged over meaning itself, of the ways people understands themselves within history. Benjamin’s Angel warned against presupposing the linear progress of history and last week, the victory of Donald Trump’s promise to ‘Make America Great Again’ heralded not just the eruption of a new political moment but one that will, within itself, seek to redeem and condemn different revolutions of the past. April 2011 American conservative commentator Andrew Breitbart releases…

Judith Butler: Performativity

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Key Concept Butler’s notion of ‘performativity’ is most famously associated with her views on gender and is important for critical legal thinkers because performativity is deeply entangled with politics and legality. Her focus on performance has been widely influential because performance and performativity enable discussants to move beyond analyses of legal definition or status to consider the political and social discursive forces that construct and normalize legal or political practice. For Butler, performativity is not solely an extension of discourse theory as her later works suggest bodies “speak” without necessarily uttering. This brief review will provide an abbreviated history on the conceptual genesis of the term “performativity,” how Butler (re)defines and employs it, and finally how Butler’s account may be…

Give back the Gweagal shield

Gweagal shield, (Photo by the British Museum)

Even if you are a regular visitor at the British Museum, you probably haven’t noticed the Gweagal shield. It hangs on a hoall of the ‘Enlightenment’ room, a long regal chamber lined with glass cabinets and dotted with shiny white busts of colonial explorers. It has the feel of an imperial trophy cabinet, displaying a large collection of unrelated objects from taxidermied rare birds, to Chinese porcelain bowls, Ancient Egyptian and Greek statues, Roman jugs, Native American totem poles, Maori tikis, fossils, shells and the jaw of an extinct elephant. The Gweagal shield is wedged to the wall by nails in a cabinet at the far end of the room, hovering above this brief explanation: This thin and banal description…

Trump, Mair and the Gods that Failed

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 The election of Donald Trump as President of the United States, much like the Brexit vote in the UK earlier this year, has been greeted by mainstream commentators with a mixture of vapid incomprehension and shrill, moralistic denouncement. The emptiness of these responses reflect a central problem for liberals, centrists, so-called ‘leftists’ and others in advanced capitalist countries, namely that their gods have failed them. Capitalist development and competition, wedded to (and notionally tempered by) limited, representative democracy and consensus politics have all proven inadequate to the historical tasks before them. The capitalist system is in profound crisis, dating from at least the 1970s, and as a consequence traditional models of acceptable politics are collapsing. This tendency has been well…

The US election & the systematic failure of modern politics

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Should we be surprised by Donald Trump’s new position as President Elect?  According to exit polls, and the weight of media and expert opinion, we should be.  Yet the highly unlikely, if not absolutely impossible, has happened, and with Hillary Clinton’s phone call to the Trump campaign conceding the election, Trump has secured the Presidency of the United States.  This has caused understandable outrage, and indeed fear, particularly amongst minorities.  Internationally, the markets that had strongly bet on a Clinton win panicked, then rallied, and now sit in fragile stability, waiting for the next shock.  Yet should we be surprised? Really, we shouldn’t.  In his apparently unexpected win, Trump follows a number of unexpected results, another example of those things…

First Thoughts on Trump

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Just woke up in Beirut to US Brexit surprise. Retitling my lecture this afternoon to WTF?? First thoughts: There are at least 4 big things going on–class, race, global context and gender. 1) Class: The neoliberal governing consensus is collapsing and the elites can not believe it. The polls, pundits and media were wrong all through primary season, underestimating both Sanders and Trump. The big money donors could not believe that Sanders could almost win the nomination, that JEB Bush could fail. In the US, this collapse could cut either left or right. Sanders pulled it left, Trump pulled it right. Meanwhile no elite institution in the country could read the tea leaves–because the interests of Wall St, MSM, global traders, Dem…

The Political Party: When Politics Are Depoliticizing

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So long as we operate on the premise of an abstract and immanentist national unity, political parties and the false economies upon which they operate will thrive. It is finally election day in the US and soon the drawn out, often intolerable, play of American electoral politics will come to a close. One of the hardest things to watch during the course of this presidential election has been how the genuine sense of disempowerment and desire for change felt by so many people in the US has been exploited for the ends of political parties, which themselves care little for anything but their own ends. Long neglected communities are encouraged to fear, blame and ultimately hate those who are different…

Nancy Fraser: Subaltern Counterpublics

Kirchner's Weinstube

Key Concept Subaltern counterpublics are discursive arenas that develop in parallel to the official public spheres and “where members of subordinated social groups invent and circulate counter discourses to formulate oppositional interpretations of their identities, interests, and needs”.1 Nancy Fraser, coining the term from Gayatri Spivak’s “subaltern”2 and Rita Felski’s “counterpublic”,3 argues that counterpublics are formed as a response to the exclusions of the dominant publics and that their existence better promotes the ideal of participatory parity. Fraser, in her influential essay “Rethinking the Public Sphere: A Contribution to the Critique of Actually Existing Democracy”, starts off by highlighting the importance and indispensability of Jürgen Habermas’s concept of public sphere in critical social theory and democratic practice. Habermas traces the…

Decolonizing Sexualities: Foreword by Walter Mignolo

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Decolonizing Sexualities: Transnational Perspectives, Critical Interventions, edited by Sandeep Bakshi, Suhraiya Jivraj, and Silvia Posocco has just been published by Counterpress to much acclaim. CLT are pleased to republish the foreword by Walter Mignolo. Decolonial Body-Geo-Politics At Large Colonialism is not satisfied merely with holding a people in its grip and emptying the native’s brain of all form and content. By a kind of perverted logic it turns to the past of the oppressed people, and distorts, disfigures and destroys it. This work of devaluing pre-colonial history takes on a dialectical significance today. — Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth I ‘Transnational queers of colors’ is a recurrent expression in the introduction and in the rest of the volume. For Sandeep…

Remembering Pasolini, Thinking About Calais

“Porcile” (“Pigsty,” 1969)

Pasolini’s courage and passion is more relevant today than ever as Europe slips into the hands of a dangerous rhetoric of fear which finds shape in the form of normalisation of zones of exception. Forty-one years ago, on 2 November 1975, Pier Paolo Pasolini, a Marxist, an intellectual, a film director and a poet was murdered by a 17-year-old boy and maybe more collaborators who were never identified. His death was extremely brutal: Pasolini was beaten with a nailed stick and run over by his own car several times. The way Pasolini was exposed to violence before he gave his last breath almost became a symbol of his own artistic legacy. Often, parallels have been drawn between the two. His…

Africa in the Dock: On ICC Bias

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The International Criminal Court does not, and cannot, exist outside politics and its activities reflect that. ‘Cheers and chants, tears and embraces, rhythmic stomping and applause’: such was the reaction by diplomats at the close of the Rome Conference in 1998 establishing a statute for the creation of an International Criminal Court (ICC).1 Such wild displays of enthusiasm are a distant memory today. Burundi, South Africa and now the Gambia have all announced their plans to withdraw from the Court and a host of other African countries may follow: Kenya, Uganda, Namibia, Chad and the DRC have all been touted as next in line. Defenders of the ICC are understandably defensive. The absence of the world’s major powers—the US, Russia,…

#NauruFilesReading: Articulating the Violence of Australia’s Refugee Policy

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Film captures unsanctioned live reading of the Nauru files outside the Australian High Commission, London. This year Australia House, London, has been on the receiving end of a high level of protest activity over Australia’s policy of indefinitely detaining refugees on remote Pacific islands. Protests have ranged from guerrilla projections of the faces of dead refugees and secret footage from inside the Nauru and Manus detention centres, to regular vigils, a boat incursion and an occupation. In late August, London-based anti-racist activists carried out a durational performance involving the reading of the Nauru files, a database of over 2000 incident reports leaked from the Australian refugee detention centre on Nauru, a performance which has since been mirrored in several cities…

The Republics of the Jungle

Sir Izhar (2016)

The Jungle is not just a camp for the undocumented, it is also a social body and above all a political subject; the way it has evolved gives us insights into how the political problems that produced it can be resolved. On the 26th of September 2016 the President of the Republic François Hollande visits Calais to address the problem of the Jungle, the camp that is now the biggest slum in the Republic. Whilst he does not visit the Jungle he declares its existence unacceptable to the Republic and pledges to dismantle it “definitively, entirely and rapidly”. This is an analysis of why that may be easier said than done. For the Jungle is not just a camp for…