We Make Our Own History – Book Launch transcript and video

November 26, 2014

The launch for Laurence Cox and Alf Gunvald Nilsen’s new book, We Make Our Own History: Marxism and Social Movements in the Twilight of Neoliberalism (Pluto, 2014) took place at the annual Historical Materialism conference at SOAS, London earlier this month. Below is both a video of the event, and the authors’ written presentation. You can find out more about the book on the Pluto website, here.

We Make Our Own History explores the relationship between Marxism and social movements, and in particular how this works in the specific historical period that we are calling the twilight of neoliberalism. Before opening up for our guests on the panel, we want to try and summarize the key arguments in the book. Read the rest of this entry »

Criminalizing the Victim: The Life Story of Rasmea Odeh

November 25, 2014

Rasmea OdehNahla Abdo

Since her birth and until this day, that is during her 67 years of struggling for justice, Rasmea Odeh has been the victim of injustice in both her homeland and her host country as well.

Rasmea was born in Lifta, an affluent village between Jerusalem and Jaffa.  This village is described as one of Palestine’s largest and wealthiest communities in the Jerusalem region. The beauty of this village, as described by Zochrot (an Israeli Jewish and Palestinian organization)[i], is evidenced through ‘the old homes which are still standing upon the overgrown hillsides… homes which pay tribute to that prosperous past’. The population of the village in 1948 was approximately 2,550 (including 2,530 Muslim and 20 Christian Palestinians). Like most Palestinian villages, many of Lifta’s residents were dependent on agriculture and cultivated 3,000 donums (3 km2) of land, including 1,500 olive trees.

However, like more than 400 other Palestinian cities and villages, between 1947 and 1948 Lifta was destroyed, forcefully depopulated and ethnically cleansed, rendering its population refugees. It is true that the story of Rasmea’s Lifta is the story of the Palestinian Nakba (the Catastrophe of the creation of the state of Israel). However, the close proximity of Lifta to the neighbouring village Deir Yassin has further aggravated its population, leaving its imprint on Palestinian collective memory and on Rasmea’s own personal memory. Read the rest of this entry »

Israel sows despair and senseless violence – Jeff Halper

November 25, 2014

A Statement of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD) 19/11/14

And the “Zionist answer” to the downward cycle of senseless violence in which Jerusalem finds itself: house demolitions, mass arrests, revoking the ‘residency’ of native-born Jerusalemites, closing Palestinian neighborhoods with concrete blocks, arming Israeli Jewish vigilantes and cheap shots at the last person who believes in a two-state solution, Abu Mazen. Everything, that is, except an end to occupation and a just political solution. This is what happens when a powerful country forgoes any effort to address the grievances of a people under its control and descends into raw oppression.

Israel is not in “the grip of a terrorist onslaught,” as Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu stated in this press conference tonight; it is in the grip of senseless violence spawned by despair and repression. The Palestinians, having lost all hope of the Occupation ending and a tiny state of their own, imprisoned in tiny islands of their country, victimized, impoverished, lacking the minimum in individual and collective rights, displaced, even their only place of refuge, their homes, demolished (some 48,000 Palestinian homes have been demolished in the Occupied Territory since 1967), have been reduced to lashing out. Threats to al Aqsa mosque – and there are palpable threats coming from the Israeli right, which wants to partition the holy site as it did to the Ibrahimi mosque in Hebron – only add to the danger that what has been until now a political conflict that can be resolved may turn into an uncontrollable religious war.

Israel, having given up all pretense of seeking a just solution, has answered Palestinian despair with pure, atavistic repression. Once again Prime Minister Netanyahu’s analysis is dead wrong: the “core of the violence,” as he puts it, is not the Palestinians’ refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state (they recognized the state of Israel on 78% of historic Palestine 26 years ago), but Israel’s refusal to address – even acknowledge – Palestinian national rights and claims. His “Zionist answers” of increased repression are empty of any political policy that could ease the conflict; not only do they not deter, as an IDF commission concluded in 2005, but they inflame the situation and lead to an endless downward spiral of violence. The Israeli political scene has deteriorated to raw revenge – and revenge for both crimes and acts of resistance that could have been avoided by a genuine Israeli aspiration for a just solution.

In the meantime, the people suffer and hatred prevails, stoked by the only party strong enough to end it all, the Occupying Power, Israel.

Jeff Halper is the head of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD). His new book, War Against the People: Israel, the Palestinians and Global Pacification, will be published in September 2015.

Taking What’s Ours – A review of The Squatters’ Movement in Europe

November 12, 2014

Anitra Nelson, author of Life Without Money (Pluto, 2011) has reviewed two new books for the online publication Overland. One of them, The Squatters’ Movement in Europe, was published by Pluto in May this year. You can read the review, as well as some other great content, on Overland - we’ve also reproduced it below.

Anitra Nelson

Kollective T02744In general, the laws of capitalism protect the interests of property owners and big bosses, particularly the one per cent. As capitalism expands and intensifies, the laws multiply. Writers have difficulty claiming copyright and earning their just rewards. Australian federal court judges recently threw out an appeal from Cancer Voices Australia about a decision that DNA and RNA can be patented. Bailiffs turf you out when you stop paying your rent or mortgage off. If the bosses decide, thousands of us can be made redundant – essentially, forced not to work.

But capitalists’ exploitation of nature and people is the subject of increasing resistance, as life on earth is threatened by the climate change caused by capitalism. Two very readable recent books explore anti-capitalist practices: The Squatters’ Movement in Europe: Commons and Autonomy as Alternatives to Capitalism, written by scholar-activists of the Squatting Europe Kollective (SqEK) and edited by Claudio Cattaneo and Miguel Martínez López, and The Village Against the World by Dan Hancox.

The first is a pioneering work on a relatively neglected topic: squatting as a political action and to fulfil otherwise unmet needs for housing. Despite the book’s European focus, some chapters draw on examples from the US, with authors discussing the cultural diversity within squats, their meaning for our urban environmental crises and legal codes.

The observations and experiences are easily transferable, except that Australian squats are neither as extensive nor as visible: see the Australian Museum of Squatting created by squatter enthusiasts Iain McIntyre and Shane McGrath who run 3CR’s SUWA (Squatters and Unwaged Airwaves) show, and the international site Squat!net for SqEK and recent Australian news. Read the rest of this entry »

Ricketty Piketty: The Road to Non-Market Socialism

October 30, 2014

The following article originally appeared in Progress in Political Economy (PPE). Read it in its original context, here.

Thomas PikettyPiketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century was the diving off point for the opening session of the recent Historical Materialism Australasia 2014 conference in Sydney. Valuably, Piketty exposes increasing economic inequality, highlights the burgeoning filthy rich and argues that deep inequalities are the natural state of any capitalism unfettered by state redistributive and welfare programs. But the panel I led raised a number of concerns about Piketty’s approach. Here I draw from my talk about the vexed issued of inequality for the Left in general and the particular stance of non-market socialists.

The gesture to Marx’s Capital in Piketty’s title is annoying given Piketty engages cursorily with Marx. In a New Republic (5 May 2014) interview he even misrepresents him, saying: ‘In the books of Marx there’s no data.’ Not surprisingly Piketty only offers a narrow statistical analysis of developing inequalities in income and wealth especially recently and mainly in advanced capitalism.

Inequality represents a double-edged sword for the Marxist left. Inequality in owning assets and income levels are living breathing proof of capitalism’s deepest failings. But addressing inequality often slides into reformism. Union demands generally support capitalism unless linked overtly to a revolutionary agenda ending capitalism. Unionisation has fallen since the 1980s. Radical unionism has been decimated. Read the rest of this entry »

‘Told You So’ Is Bitter Sweet: Confessions of an Author

October 29, 2014

Robin Hahnel discusses the down-side to the vindication he felt on completing The ABCs of Political Economy


‘After I wrote the first edition of The ABCs of Political Economy in 2002 came the “rush” of vindication:

  • I warned about the dangerous downside potentials of liberalising the financial system. But did anyone listen? No. And sure enough the world suffered the worst financial crisis in five generations five years later.
  • I explained why insisting on fiscal and monetary austerity in exchange for IMF bailout loans for stricken third world economies only worsened their plight. Only to have the European Commission and European Central Bank impose even more draconian austerity on Portugal, Ireland, Greece, and Spain – the infamous PIGS – driving the Southern European economies into a full blown depression, and the miring the entire Eurozone in a double dip recession, poised to dip once again.
  • I explained why the sensible response to a recessionary slide is expansionary fiscal policy. Only to see the Obama administration change the subject from fiscal stimulus to deficit reduction in the winter of 2010, killing any hope of an early recovery in the US.
  • The simple “corn model” in chapter 3 explained clearly why increasing inequality is the predictable result if wage rates in labor markets, and interest rates in credit markets, are determined by the laws of supply and demand. Only to see center left as well as center right governments in every advanced economy push financial liberalization and labor market “flexibility.”
  • I devised a simple “public good game” to explain the inescapable logic of why actors will predictably fail to voluntarily contribute sufficiently to public good provision. But did anyone apply this logic to international climate negotiations to conclude that voluntary greenhouse gas emission reductions would be woefully insufficient, and only mutually agreed to, mandatory reductions could possibly prevent unacceptable climate change? No. Instead in Copenhagen in 2009 the Obama administration scuttled progress toward mandatory reductions made in the Kyoto protocol, setting international climate negotiations back twenty years just when scientists were telling us that the “climate problem” was much more immanent and acute than they previously believed.

In short, writing a new edition of The ABCs of Political Economy in 2014 was not very difficult because the theory and models in the 2002 edition were precisely what one needed to know why our economies were becoming more unstable and unfair, and why the measures governments were taking aggravate rather than ameliorate problems.

But unfortunately my rush of vindication as an author was short lived, and was soon replaced by dismay, followed by anger, followed by despair. Bad economics continued to create new accidents waiting to happen. Bad economics responded to crises with counterproductive policies. Bad economics threatens not only the economic wellbeing of the vast majority, but the health of the planet as well. As the carnage kept mounting the “I told you so” rush of vindication did not feel good for long.

Read the rest of this entry »

Between Truth and Power: Latour’s Political Philosophy

October 28, 2014

by Graham Harman

‘In Bruno Latour: Reassembling the Political, I claim that Latour’s approach to political theory poses a strong challenge to reigning paradigms in the discipline. Politics since the French Revolution, whatever the complexities of any given historical moment, has habitually been carved up into “Left” and “Right” orientations. Indeed, this is how all of us instinctively classify each person we meet in political terms. As Emerson famously put it, every nation has its progressives (“The Party of Hope”) and its conservatives (“The Party of Memory”). Bruno Latour has always been difficult to place on this familiar spectrum. Clearly he is not a radical Leftist, having little in common with Jacobin countrymen such as Alain Badiou and Jacques Rancière, who are prepared to sacrifice everything in the name of egalitarian principle. In fact, Latour is sometimes tarred by the Left as a “neo-liberal,” though this label is always too vague and too broadly applied to anyone who pulls up short of calling for instant Revolution.

Yet Latour also cannot plausibly be viewed as an adherent of the political Right, despite his unapologetic Catholicism and his famous polemic against modernism. One can hardly imagine Latour signing up for a “Party of Memory,” in view of his fondness for novel hybrid fusions of humans and non-humans: it is not for nothing that cyborg theorist Donna Haraway is an enthusiastic reader of his work. The difference between Left and Right actually has less to do with hope and memory than with the conception of human nature as basically good or basically troubled. In the former case, as for example in the writings of Rousseau or Marx, the innate goodness of humans is alienated or crushed by some external corrupting force— whether agriculture, metallurgy, society, ideology, or capital. In the latter case, as in the works of Hobbes or Carl Schmitt, the human being is viewed as a basically dangerous entity, and hence an iron fist is preferred to the innate corruption and disorder of our natures. These two opposite theories of human nature already show us why Latour is hard to classify as Left or Right: namely, Latour has no theory of human nature. The topic does not seem to interest him much, or at least has little place in his philosophy. What matters for Latour instead is the constant reshuffling of human and nonhuman actors in various networks; as they enter and exit various networks, actors change their character accordingly, including human actors. They do not have some inherent good or evil nature that would be either oppressed or restrained by authority.

Yet there is a different polarity in modern political theory, one that cuts across the Left/Right distinction and is also of far greater relevance to the political theory of Latour. I speak of the difference between what we might call Truth Politics and Power Politics. I have already mentioned Rousseau and Marx as exemplars of the Left version of Truth Politics: the truth is basically already known, but is prevented from becoming reality by various social, economic, or ideological obstructions. Yet there are also Right versions of Truth Politics, as found for instance in the teachings of Leo Strauss. Here Socrates is interpreted not as someone who seeks the truth without finding it, as the name philosophia suggests. Instead, Socrates already knows the truth: that humans are not equal, but are arranged in a permanent hierarchy of types that transcends all historical context. Philosophy is dangerous for the masses, yet philosophers must conceal this fact with coded writing and esoteric signals, convincing the masses that they are normal patriotic and religious citizens in order to avoid the fate of Socrates himself. But this elitism is merely the reverse of the supposed egalitarian truth, since both think the truth is already known to some smaller or larger group. This sort of Truth Politics has nothing at all to do with the thought of Latour, who completely forbids any direct access to a “truth” that might trump the uncertain struggles between competing actors.

Read the rest of this entry »


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