They hold the scissors, we hold the rock

“They hold the scissors, we hold the rock. General Strike, 15.12.2010. Workers from the book sector.”

Poster from yesterday’s general strike in Greece.

via Jodi Dean

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Jameson on Utopia

The Utopians not only offer to conceive of [. . .] alternate systems; Utopian form is itself a representational meditation on radical difference, radical otherness, and on the systemic nature of the social totality, to the point where one cannot imagine any fundamental change in our social existence which has not first thrown off Utopian visions like so many sparks from a comet.

Fredric Jameson, Archaelogies of the Future: The Desire Called Utopia and Other Science Fictions.

The Missing Centre

While we’re plugging Grit-TV, I should also note Thomas Frank’s recent appearance was a really on-point rebuttal of the half-arsed centrism of the media classes.  In this clip, he says:

Right, ok we’re shifting gears here to the political science conversation, which is that the centre is what always prevails in American politics.  Where if a party gets too far to the right or too far to the left, they get smacked back to the middle and the median voter sits in judgment on all things great and small, right?  This is always the logic used to excommunicate the left wing of the Democratic party.  But, a very curious thing has happened in the last couple years.  The Republican party which got smacked around pretty badly in 06 and 08 and instead of scampering back the middle, what did they do?  You had John Boehner, the mastermind of the whole situation, move really sharply to the right.  Instead of embracing the moderates, they excommunicated them, they kicked them out of the party, they primary them, and what happened?  They just won.  They just won, Laura Flanders.  It’s a political philosophy embraced by political science professors and Washington Post columnists and those people, it turns out, don’t win elections for you.

I think this is so key.  The mythical centre (sorry I can’t use the US spelling, it is just wrong) doesn’t have anything at stake, doesn’t need anything but the status quo.  By appealing to the “centre”, you forget that the class interests of the many lie to the Left, that people need better working conditions, better pay.  What they don’t need is to live in the Magic Wish Land of the Right, where the middle-class still exists and a 205k-a-year salary is somehow being oppressed…  and that is where centrism leads us, by legitimising the utter bullshit of the Right and moderating it a tad.  In essence, it accepts the false framing, the false forced choices.  The “there is no alternative” to neo-liberalism line.

As a parallel, the “centrist” positions on abortion takes the impossible position that there is a median between having a choice and not having a choice by accepting that so we should therefore limit some forms of abortion–thus accepting the very presumption that women cannot (always) be relied upon to make their own choices.  This centrist move unwittingly (or wittingly) forms a part of the broader “chip chip chip” anti-choice strategy as Melissa McEwan at Shakesville has called it.

No, Thomas Frank is quite right, centrism is a dead end for the Left as well as the Right.  The very field of struggle needs to be transformed, so that the universal, the equitable, the just, the social, become not just lipservice but actually politically viable options.

Student Protests

I was reading Mark Fisher‘s piece on “Kettle Logic” last night, and thinking:

there is surely an unavoidable generational dimension to the current situaiton. Witness Paxman’s patronising treatment of young protesters on Newsnight last week. Transformed from attack dog rentasneer into the kindly, avuncular advocate of capitalist realism, Paxman “explained” to the teenagers that, yes, it’s unfair that he received an education completely gratis and that they will have to pay thirty grand, but sadly, that’s just how things are – there’s no money left. Generational affiliation here is a matter of political decision. I effectively belong to Paxman’s generation in that I too received higher education completely free of charge. But the issue is question is whether one finds it conscionable to stand by while the young systematically denuded of the “privileges” that we took for granted. It’s true that higher education has been massively expanded over the past thirty years, but that isn’t the fault of the young. They are the victims of an ill-thought and poorly planned out experiment in the expansion of the sector which successive governments have pursued on the grounds that the UK would need more graduates in order to be internationally “competitive”. It’s not even as if the young have the alternatives to higher education that once existed. So here they are: the ConDemned, and it’s down to us whether we stand with them or watch them get further sold out and abandoned.

Because student protests seem to have a different tone to them than other forms of “identity”-affiliated protests. As Emily pointed out in chat, people with privilege often construct their identity against the Other in ways that make true solidarity and empathy difficult.

But students? Well, most of us can relate to the young even when we are no longer young. We’ve been kids, idealistic and angry, even when we haven’t been kids in a while. It’s a more porous barrier than race, gender, hell, even class.

So even aside from the visuals like these:

British schoolgirls holding hands around a police van, covered in graffiti. There is resonance to the image of the young people in the streets that transcends the usual lines drawn between the protesters and the rest of us, shrugging “Suck it up” as we walk by. And there’s something about cuts to education–education that used to be free to all, rich or poor–that transcends so many of those lines. It’s a rallying cry. It’s spectacular, and very real.

Culture itself is resisting

A beautiful image from Italy of students using mock books to cover themselves in a protest.  The description at Wu Ming Foundation:

Students and teachers on the war path. Riots and demonstrations all over the country. High schools and universities occupied by the students. Violent clashes with the police in front of the Senate. Berlusconi’s education reform is encountering blatant opposition, and the fact that the government is in crisis makes the movement raise its multifarious head even more. This afternoon, in Rome, students confronted the cops while carrying shields with book titles on them. The meaning was: it is culture itself that’s resisting the cuts; books themselves are fighting the police. It was in this incendiary midst that our novel Q showed up, and in good company to boot: Moby Dick, Don Quixote, Plato’s The Republic, [Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari’s] A Thousand Plateaux… These pictures appeared on the websites of the most important daily papers.

The Argentina rebellion

On Democracy Now, Amy Goodman talked with Ezequiel Adamovsky, a historian and activist, about the changes that have occurred in Argentina since the economic crash there in 2001:

Adamovsky:  I think the most important thing to take into account was that Argentina, during the 1990s, was the most extreme experiment in neoliberal transformation. We had the most radical program of reforms at that time, which ended up in massive unemployment, impoverishment of more than half of the population of the country, and in 2001, finally, the collapse of the whole economic system. At the same time, we had a crisis of credibility in the political system. Since every single political party was proposing the same types of measures, neoliberal measures, population lost confidence in all politicians at the same time. So we—in 2001, we had the vast majority of the population rejecting neoliberal measures and not having any political alternative in the established political parties as to how to continue ruling this country.

So that was the moment in which the rebellion happened. And the rebellion was basically, at the same time, a rejection of austerity measures and also a rejection of the political system. The main slogan of the rebellion was “They must all go,” meaning that all politicians should leave the political scene. So, up until this, there was no political alternative then. But the most interesting aspect of the rebellion was that precisely at that moment, large social movements started to experiment new forms of political representation, new political slogans and programs. And some of the measures that you just mentioned, which Néstor Kirchner took after 2003, were actually the measures that the rebellion itself was proposing. For example, the renewal of the Supreme Court was one of the demands of this vast social movement in 2001.

Interesting to contemplate in the light of the similar “there is no alternative” rhetoric in both the US and the UK–they all must go strikes me as a nice rallying cry.  Adomovsky goes on to talk about workers re-appropriating government funded private businesses which have been abandoned because they’re “too unprofitable.”

Why France Matters

Excellent post by Rick Wolff at Truthout about what the recent round of general strikes in France mean for that country, and why they should matter for those in the US too.

The French strikes and demonstrations are coalescing around some basic demands that go far beyond the rejection of Sarkozy’s demand for a two-year postponement of retirements for French workers. Contrary to so many US media reports, that particular issue was never what brought out millions of demonstrators and strikers; that was the bare tip of an iceberg. The issue that mobilizes the French is the basic question of who is to pay for (1) the collapse of global capitalism in 2008 and 2009, (2) the ongoing social and personal costs of high unemployment, loss of homes, reduction of job benefits, and the general assault on most citizens’ standards of living, and (3) the costs of ending the crisis. The French masses have already absorbed and suffered the costs of (1) and (2). They have drawn the line at (3). That they now refuse.

Instead, they demand that the costs of fixing capitalism’s crisis be borne chiefly by taxes on the banks, large corporations, and the wealthy. Those groups are declared to be (1) those most able to pay, (2) those who benefited most from speculations and stock market booms before the crisis began in 2007, (3) those whose investment and business activities were key causes of the crisis, and (4) those who got the biggest, earliest bailouts from governments subservient to them. As the Sarkozy government becomes increasingly isolated and reviled, the French capitalist elite — known there as the “patronat” — must begin to worry. That elite wants Sarkozy to preside effectively over a peaceful, docile, and profitable France, not one convulsed by such powerful oppositions.

Read the rest!