Antonio Gramsci 80th Anniversary Reading List

Antonio Gramsci can be regarded as one of the most significant Marxists of the twentieth century who merits inclusion in any register of classical social theorists. A founding gramsci 1member of the Italian Communist Party, he was arrested by Mussolini’s fascist police and spent 11 years in prison, where, in spite of rapidly deteriorating health, he wrote the three volume essay collection known as The Prison Notebooks. He died 80 years ago today due to health complications he suffered during his detention.

Gramsci’s theorising of cultural hegemony continues to have a significant bearing on Marxism, but in pointing to a singular achievement we must not underestimate the impact of his writings on education, civil society, crisis, the individual and ideology. A Gramscian dialectic can be applied to disciplines across the social sciences and the humanities and the books chosen here attest to this interdisciplinarity. Each of the five titles chosen for our Gramsci Reading List recognise the need for an open-minded approach to his work, necessary to capture the multiple branching out of his thought and a practical interest in understanding the here and now of contemporary events.


Using Gramsci: A New Approach by Michele Filippini

To quote Stuart Hall, ‘Gramsci gives us, not the tools with which to sFilippini T02985olve the puzzle, but the means with which to ask the right kinds of questions’. This book is something of a ‘how-to’ for Gramsci’s thought, to read Gramsci is not always easy, he plunges into debates now obscure and engages in a range of topics that at first seem unrelated, here, his thinking is artfully crystallised by Michele Filippini, making this book perfect for scholars, as well as those new to his work.

Working from the original Italian texts, Filippini also examines the more traditional areas of Gramsci’s thought, including hegemony, organic intellectuals and civil society, and in doing so proposes a new approach to one the most popular and relevant thinkers of the 20th Century.


Solidarity without Borders: Gramscian Perspectives on Migration and Civil Society Alliances edited by Óscar García Agustín and Martin Bak JørgensenAgustin T03061

‘This book’s Gramscian perspective provides a welcome corrective to nationalist migration scholarship that naturalises borders and a migrant/native divide.’  As borders – geographical, national, cultural and religious – are tightened, applying a Gramscian dialectic when analysing migration reveals the relationship between “the diverse oppressive effects of the dominant order” and the emergence of solidarities between migrants and non-migrant actors.’

The book provides case studies including the Gezi Park Protests in Turkey, social movements in Ireland and the Lampedusa in Hamburg among others, Solidarity Without Borders explores the diversity of new migrant political actors; solidarity and new alliances across borders; avoiding misplaced alliances; and spaces of resistance.


Gramsci on Tahrir: Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Egypt by Brecht De SmetSmet T02976

Gramsci’s term ‘passive revolution’ was coined during the interwar period, it refers to a significant change that is not a rupturous one, but a slow and gradual metamorphosis. Gramsci on Tahrir explores the relevance of the Gramscian concept of passive revolution, applying it to the complex dynamic of Egypt’s revolution and counter-revolution.

Forces acting in Egypt provide a clear example of a state with the absence of strong hegemonies and capable counter-hegemonies. Through a Gramscian analysis of the Egyptian revolution, we can see how the situation demonstrates how both national histories and global power relations enable, define and displace popular resistance and social transformation.


Gramsci is Dead: Anarchist Currents in the Newest Social Movements by Richard J. F. DayDay T01079

Does it really benefit social movements to aspire to achieve cultural hegemony? Richard Day sets out to discover whether activists should aim to promote their own culture and its accompanying values and norms in order for them to become “common sense”.

To quote Ann Hansen, author of Direct Action: The Memoirs of an Urban Guerilla and recently sentenced to life imprisonment for blowing up a cruise-missile component factory, ‘Day has decided to pick up the pen instead of the Molotov cocktail’; scrutinising Gramsci’s theory, in order to develop new forms of self-organisation that can run in parallel with — or as alternatives to — existing forms of social, political, and economic organisation. Ultimately concluding that culture should court affinity, rather than hegemony.


Subalternity, Antagonism, Autonomy: Constructing the Political Subject by Massimo ModonesiModonesi T02749

This is an English edition of a highly influential work by the Mexican political theorist. Reviewing the works of Gramsci – as well as, Antonio Negri, E. P. Thompson, Spivak, Laclau and Mouffe – Massimo Modonesi weaves together theory and political practice, relating theorising of subalternity, antagonism and autonomy to contemporary movements in Latin America and elsewhere.

Through the application of a Gramscian dialectic when analysing the character of Latin America’s Pink Tide governments we are able to comprehend just how germane Gramsci’s work is.



All books are available to buy from Pluto Press.

Thoughts on Antonio Gramsci by Michele Filippini

Antonio Gramsci died on the 27th April 1937, 80 years ago today. In this blog, Michele Filippini, author of Using Gramsci: A New Approach dissects the evolving function of Gramsci’s work, exploring the move from a historically conscious reading that shaped politics in practice, to the interdisciplinary appeal of the new theoretical impulse.


Those who do not produce things (in the wide sense) cannot produce words.

Antonio Gramsci, 1912


In 1987, Eric J. Hobsbawm wrote an article for the Italian journal Rinascita, informing readers that Antonio Gramsci was among ‘The 250 most cited authors in the Arts and Humanities Citation Index 1976–1983’. This ranking of famous names from the sixteenth century onwards, only included another four Italians: Giorgio Vasari, Giuseppe Verdi, Benedetto Croce and Umberto Eco. The publication date of the index is significant: Gramsci died on 27 April 1937, and as this citing indicates his fame was very much of a posthumous nature, beginning at the end of the Second World War with the publication of the thematic volumes of his prison writings.

So, what happened during the thirty-year period to transform a leading political figure, the Secretary of the Italian Communist Party, imprisoned by the Fascist regime, into a leading intellectual figure for the international left, but also a classic in political theory?

This success was influenced in particular by the political-cultural atmosphere in Europe and the USA during the 1960s and 1970s, as well as by an intense period of anti-colonial and emancipation movements in the rest of the world. During this period, Gramsci’s writings were divulged to the four corners of the world, in the wake of the publication of a famous anthology of the Prison Notebooks in English. This initial phase of the internationalization of Gramsci’s thought was characterised by the political use of his writings within the context of emancipatory struggles that were quite different from the struggles Gramsci himself had been involved in: struggles against Latin American dictatorships, against colonial regimes in Asia and Africa, for civil rights in Europe and the USA and also in favour of Eurocommunism.

This initial phase has since been accompanied by a second phase coinciding with the start of the new millennium. In the last fifteen years, there has been a strong revival of interest in Gramsci’s work. While the first phase was characterized by its evocation of the historical experience of international communism, aided by the hagiography of the martyr of the Fascist regime, and based on the attempt to identify a version of socialism different from that of the USSR. This second wave of interest has proven capable of reaching the most varied of cultural contexts and disciplines and is founded on a less constrained approach to Gramsci’s historical experience. Although this has at times led to interpretations and ‘uses’ of Gramsci’s writings that are of a misleading nature, and caused the arbitrary disengagement of his concepts from the Marxist and materialist sphere in which they were forged. Nevertheless, in the majority of cases the ‘political character’ of Gramsci’s writings, together with their emancipatory and critical spirit, have been largely preserved.

The new approach to Gramsci’s work adopted in gramsci 2my book Using Gramsci is set within the context of this ‘shifted’ use of Gramsci’s theoretical instruments across a broad range of disciplines (political science, education and pedagogy, language, cultural studies, international relations, subaltern and postcolonial studies, anthropology, geography). This is an attempt to provide scholars of these disciplines with an interpretation of Gramsci’s writings, offering a precise historical/theoretical reconstruction that is, however, devoid of all the esoteric features that normally characterize a restricted and specific community of scholars.

In contemporary debate, Gramsci’s concepts are caught in a bind: they are in danger of being diluted to such an extent that they are no longer useful, on the one hand, and of remaining hostage to the historical circumstances that produced them, on the other hand. To get around the first of these two problems, Gramscian discourse needs to be reconnected to the large-scale changes taking place at the time he wrote; however, in order to resolve the second problem, like all classics, said discourse needs to be rendered available to contemporary analysis, which sees the present characterised by different, but no less epoch-making, changes.

An indication of this kind was offered by Gramsci himself when he wrote that the:

‘Search for the Leitmotiv, for the rhythm of the thought as it develops, should be more important than that for single casual affirmations and isolated aphorisms’.

As rightly claimed by Alberto Burgio, what is felt in this quotation is ‘the genuine concern that an overly respectful reader may prove the least well equipped to understand. Gramsci is aware of the paradox whereby the actual fetishism of writings may, in the case of the Prison Notebooks, produce perverse effects, causing the author to be attributed with positions and thoughts that in reality may be the exact opposite of those actually held’. One of the aims of this new use-focussed approach is thus to follow the rhythm of Gramscian thought, and to provide a solid basis for those wishing to utilise his categories in the fields of sociology, political science and the social sciences in general. The path followed is somehow in an upward direction, from the individual to society, although the central theoretical problems remain the same, all of which are linked to the changes brought by the advent of mass politics, which had generated ‘social governance’ needs previously unheard of. Looked at from this point of view – that of a mass, politicised society – Gramsci reformulated the Marxist vocabulary of his time, and one century later has provided us with a conceptual toolkit that can be used to understand the contemporary crisis of a world that Gramsci himself had witnessed


Using Gramsci: A New Approach by Michele Filippini is available to buy from Pluto Press.


Michele Filippini is Researcher in the Department of Political and Social Sciences at the University of Bologna. He is the co-ordinator of the digital library and has been in the board of the International Gramsci Society, Italy. He is the author of Leaping Forward: Mario Tronti and the History of Political Workerism (Jve-Crs, 2012).

‘Voices from the ‘Jungle” Stories from the Calais Refugee Camp

To coincide with the publication of Voices from the ‘Jungle’, we present a blog, introduced by one of the book’s editors, Katrine Møller Hansen, and accompanied by the voices of the book’s authors: the Calais Writers.


This book brings together the personal stories of people who lived as refugees, during 2015 and 2016, in the Calais camp on the northern French coast, just 26 miles from the UK: a camp that was often called the ‘Jungle’. For the authors, that have all left behind CalaiswritersT03221loved ones and a place of belonging, the ‘Jungle’ became home for a short or a longer time. Through poetry, prose poems, diary entries, photography, drawings and conventional accounts they narrate their personal experiences, life stories and they imagine the lives that lie ahead of them. We hear about the borders – geographical, national, cultural and religious – they have crossed, drawn or dissolved on their journeys and in their search for better and safer futures.

The authors want their voices to be heard and they call for audiences willing to listen. Aware that they are becoming objects of distrust and fear and that they have been depicted as benefit cheats, criminals and terrorists, they take control in this book, of their own representation. However, they do not speak in unison. Differences in opinion appear and the stories may ‘disagree’ with each other. Through such conversations, the book displays the human face of the current world crisis. This implies a multiplicity of truths and life trajectories rather than one homogenic narrative or life story. Their collective voices negotiate what it means to belong and to be human and their stories may resonate with any reader that queries into the human consequences of the displacements and human rights violations we witness today.


Image 1 Photo by Babak Inaloo (from Iran)

Caption: This is the fence. It is close to the car ferry and to the place where I first was arrested with my friends with the fake passport. We tried going by bus. This place will always remind me of that day.


Image 2 by Babak Inaloo (from Iran)

Caption: This is a very horrible place here, but people are living.


Image 7 Photo by Babak Inaloo (from Iran)

Caption: This is in the morning with the people from Care4Calais.



Voices from the “Jungle” is structured in a semi-chronological fashion; the writers begin with memories of their homes and the wars and persecution that lead them to leave, they then chronicle their journeys, record their experiences of the camp and, finally, write of their lives after the ‘Jungle’. Here are extracts from the Home, Journey and Living in the Jungle sections:



Everyone in the ‘Jungle’ has left behind a life, loved ones and a home. Some prefer not to write about it, as remembering what they left is too painful. For those who do, memories of childhood and home are coloured by the journey that has led them here, and their everyday existence in the ‘Jungle’. Many of the authors wanted to give a detailed and full record of where they came from and why they were forced to leave behind everything that was dear to them. On one hand, these stories help us understand why people from different countries and regions have all arrived in the ‘Jungle’ at the same time; on the other, they show us w shared between us all: the dreams we had as children.

Ali Bajdar (from Iraq):

My father and brother worked in a big city far from the village. They were the providers for the family and had to go there to earn money for our food. At times during the war, they couldn’t come back to the village. We saw them maybe once a month. We heard about the war on the radio, heard about how  Daesh  kills people, how old people and young women are being captured and killed. You can even see it on Facebook. When you hear and see these things, when you know what they are capable of, you also know  what  you need  to  do  when  Daesh  arrives  –  you  need  to  run. One morning at 7am, we  heard  shooting  in  the  village and people were yelling, ‘Daesh is coming!’ I ran back home  to  look  for  my  mother. My mother was not in the house, I could not find her. The only thing we could do was to run, so we did and I had to leave without her. We could not bring anything with us, there was no time.

Majid (from Iran):Chapter 3 Figure 4

I am interested in describing the bad situation in my country. I am so angry about it. Especially for young people, it’s very difficult.

In general, I can say that there are no freedoms in Iran. Many guys who are here in Calais are escaping from wars, civil wars and miseries which they face in their countries. But for Iranians, it is totally different. The problem of Iran is the lack of freedom – any sort of freedom: freedom of speech, freedom for your personal life, freedom of religion.

There are lots of restrictions and limitations in Iran. As examples, you can’t have a boyfriend or a girlfriend. Drinking alcohol is prohibited. We haven’t any night- club, even one, in Iran. Going to parties is forbidden. If the agents of the secret police catch you, they put you in jail.

Another example: you can’t listen to music in your car, at any volume. But your car is your own personal environment. If you increase the volume, they stop you and say it is against the rules of Islam…

The problem is that they say many things are against the rules of Islam. They interpret everything according to their opinions.

Another important thing, especially for women: They  have  to  wear  the  hijab. It’s compulsory. Most Iranian women don’t like it. Young women resist these rules; they want to live freely. It’s an Islamic rule to cover your hair, but it should be optional. It’s not good; everything that is forced, does not have a good result. It’s all interpretation. If you go to different Islamic countries, their versions of Islam are totally different. For instance, in Turkey, which is over 90 per cent Muslim, many women do not cover their hair.

I have lived more than three decades in Iran. When I look back, I think that things are improving every year. They have reduced their restrictions every year. Maybe it’s because of the pressure on them.

I faced another problem: changing my religion. This is so dangerous. If you were born in a Christian family, this is no problem for you. But if you were a Muslim and changed your religion, this is a problem. They will kill you, put you in jail, or make lots of problems for your family – sisters, father, mother.

For this reason, lots of guys who have changed their religion have gone to other countries. Last year, when Angela Merkel opened the German borders, it was the best opportunity for them to leave the country and reach a safe land that respected their religion, their thoughts, their attitudes.



The dangerous and circuitous journeys undertaken by migrants and refugees to reach the so-called ‘haven’ of Europe have been documented at length since the summer of 2015 – broadcast over 24-hour rolling news coverage and social media platforms, replete with bold red arrows showing the trajectories of migrants and refugees from across Asia and Africa as they converge on Europe.

However, this version of journeys undertaken often fails to acknowledge the ways in which refugees are held up and forced to find more dangerous alternatives. It conceals the people and organisations responsible for the life-threatening conditions under which refugees move across into Europe. Over the course of the first eight months of 2016, the number of people who reached European shores via journeys across either the Mediterranean or the Aegean Seas stood at over 268,000.

While sanctuary from conflict and persecution is often found in neighbouring countries – 86 per cent of all refugees are located in the Global South – finding social, economic and political security for the displaced is not guaranteed. This chapter draws attention to this shortfall, which propels refugees on to more journeys. The accounts that follow describe some of the constraints which refugees face. The authors vividly describe the exposure to continued violence and risk of life that confronts them on their journeys.

Shaheen (from Afghanistan):

So the day came. They took us to the beach – that was around midnight. Then they pumped the boat. The boat was just for five people and they put 22 of us in it. There was a small engine on the boat. They started the engine, and we sat in the boat. Then they showed us a light glimmering in the distance. They said, ‘That is Greece, and you have to go towards that light’; and we started our journey.

After two hours and even with the best of luck, we found ourselves at the midway point and out of fuel. There was 20 litres of petrol with us at the start that the agents had given us, and we put in the petrol; that was at around three o’clock. The sea waves were very powerful and scary. There were two women and three children with us; they were crying. So we started the boat engine again. We moved towards the small flickering light.

We had been travelling for an hour after we re-started, when we realised we had lost our way. Someone was saying we should go to the right, and another was saying to the left.

Then, unfortunately, the air from the boat began seeping out. Someone shouted, ‘Hey, the boat is going soft!’ Right away, I knew that there was a hole in the boat. Everybody started checking their life jackets.

With a sudden powerful wave of water, we were submerged under. In a minute, we lost each other. The water was cold and my jaws started shaking; I couldn’t even shout and water had gone in my mouth; I started choking. The water was extremely salty. After about twenty minutes, I saw some people in life jackets, so I shouted out at them.

That was a very hard time for me. There are no words with me to explain that situation. May Allah save everyone from that situation. Finally, I was thinking that these were the last moments of my life. I said, crying, ‘I can’t save my life; now I am dying, Please God help me for my children, help me for my good deeds and good dealings with people.’ I even lost my voice.

After an hour, I saw a light in the distance. I thought my head was spinning, but really the light was coming toward me, and thanks be to God, it was a Turkish police boat. I just raised my hands and they shouted in a loudspeaker. Again, I raised my hands and they saw me, and they took me. It was only when they put me in the boat with them that I closed my eyes.

I  saw  when  I  opened  my  eyes  after  two  or  three hours that there were only five of us. I was surprised that we were a group of 22 but now only five. I asked the policeman, ‘Where are the others?’ He said, ‘We just found  you  five  boys.’  I shouted, ‘We  were  22 persons!’ Then they started searching again, but unfortunately they didn’t find anyone else. I cried so much, and  then  I  asked  them  about  one  of  my  friends  by the  name  of  Haroon. The officer  asked  the  boys  on the other side, ‘Anyone by the name of Haroon here?’ Haroon  shouted, ‘I  am  Haroon!’ I  heard  the  voice, and then I became happy, a little bit.’ Thanks to Allah, one of my friends is saved.’ Then the police took us to the hospital, because some of us were a little bit sick. treated us well, and two days later, they left us in Istanbul.

Mohammed Ahmed (from Sudan):

I travelled to Libya by car through the desert for 15 days; then we reached Libya. We tried to find out how to get a job, and then we got a job, but the country is not safe and does not have a government. It just has militias and rebels. Sometimes when they see you on the street, especially when you are Black, then they stop you and check your pockets, and take all that you have got, and they tell you, ‘We don’t want to see you again in  these  places.’ Sometimes,  when  you  go  to  work, after  you  did  your  work, they  just  tell  you  that ‘We don’t have money for it.’ If you talk, they just kill you for no reason. And also, they call Black people slaves.

Chapter 3 Figure 7b



After long and hazardous journeys, all the authors of this book arrived at the ‘Jungle’ refugee camp outside Calais in northern France. In this chapter, authors present their accounts of their early time in the ‘Jungle’: a place no one wants to live in, yet also a place that camp residents made into a valued temporary home.

Habibi (from Afghanistan):

My parents are in Afghanistan. I didn’t tell them, ‘I’m living in the “Jungle”.’ When my mum calls, I say, ‘Actually yeah, they gave me a very nice house here.’ Sometimes they tell me, ‘Send me a picture.’ I go to a volunteer’s house, taking pictures of it, sending them to them. As if I have a really nice house. I cannot tell them the truth, that I’m living the ‘Jungle’ life. And the tent: for four-and-a-half months I was living in a tent.

Safia (from Afghanistan):

When we arrived, I said to my children, ‘It is so dirty’, and I told them we were not going to stay for a long time, that we are going to the UK. When I had the baby and I went to the Jules Ferry Centre2, I got a big room and many women came together to live. But still I prefer to live in a caravan because there are not too many people. In the Jules Ferry Centre, there will be 14 or 16 women all together in one room with the children. I chose the caravan for the little one, so the baby can be quiet, and I can be with my husband, which is not possible in the Jules Ferry Centre – he has to live outside it. You need your husband close to you to he you. It would be harder to be without my husband.

Africa (from Sudan):

It was big trouble for me when I came to Calais. I couldn’t believe that this is Europe. Is it true that this place exists in Europe? Where is humanity, where is democracy? Where is all this bullshit? They just write it in the paper. I think, because we have come here, we are not human beings, we become animals, a new kind of animal. A new kind of animal that has developed at this time; it’s known as ‘refugee’.

We came here to see this really ‘dignified’ European life. Yes, I like it; it is a good life for the people. I don’t want to talk about differences between white people and black people.  It is like we have been deserted. Because this is Europe, a place of humanity.

Many people ask me why  I  haven’t  applied  for asylum  in  France.  But this situation, here  in  the ‘Jungle’, is not likely to be one that encourages anyone to get registered in France.

Babak (from Iran):

It is me who is making this world and no one and nothing can help it better than myself.

All it takes, is to believe in myself and confront my fears!calais 7

I remember during the first week that I arrived in the Calais camp (the ‘Jungle’), after two horrible nights, I went to the Dome, a place where physical exercises were being conducted by volunteers. People were singing songs and everyone was going on the platform in turn. I always hated my voice. I had never sung before, but that night, I went up, closed my eyes and sang a song. Everyone enjoyed it, and I won a prize. I realised it was easy. For doing this, I only needed to believe in myself and break the fear inside me.

All the troubles and fears we create for ourselves are the products of our thoughts and it is us who make demons out of things. In reality, life is beautiful. We make it difficult; we build walls and are scared of facing them. If we believe in ourselves, we can make impossible things possible and prove that there is nothing impossible!

We have the power to achieve what we want. You can be a great footballer, a fantastic actor, perhaps a successful vendor or even a good writer! I managed to receive a prize although I had a horrible voice.

All it takes is to close our eyes to our fears.


The book’s final chapter explores the lives of refugees once they have left the ‘Jungle’. Some managed to reach and settle in the UK or other European countries, others claimed asylum or were taken to a new shelter in another part of France. There are many different realities of camp life to be explored and this is only a minute selection, but contained within the pages of the Voices from the “Jungle” a vivid picture of struggle, survival and human resilience is painted.


Voices from the ‘Jungle’: Stories from the Calais Refugee Camp by the Calais Writers is available to buy from Pluto Press.


The ‘Calais Writers‘ include Africa, Riaz Ahmad, Eritrea, Ali Haghooei, Babak Inaloo, Mani, Milkesa, Shaheen Ahmed Wali, Shaqib, Teddy and Haris Haider, who are all former inhabitants of the Calais refugee camp.


Credits for embedded images:

Image 4: 

Stencil by Mani (from Iran)

Caption: My mother: You are so far, so far. What can I say? Just, ‘I miss you’, not more, not less.

Image 5: 

Photos by Zeeshan Javid (from Pakistan)

Caption: Some camp residents’ views of police and journalists.

Image 6: 

Photo by Habibi (from Afghanistan)

Caption: All over it’s full of water, it’s like a river here. Nobody can pass, because it’s too muddy.


VIDEO: Mya Guarnieri Jaradat presents ‘The Unchosen: The Lives of Israel’s New Others’

The Unchosen: The Lives of Israel’s New Others draws on a decade of courageous and pioneering reporting by Mya Guarnieri Jaradat. In it, she brings us an unprecedented look at the lives of asylum seekers and migrant workers in Israel, who hail mainly from Africa and Asia, and who are experiencing oppression and discrimination at the hands of the Israeli state.

Mya will be touring across the USA this summer. Make sure you catch her at one of her talks. 

The Marikana Massacre: The government that pulled the trigger and the workers who survived it

Revivifying what are only recent memories of massacres by the state during the apartheid era, the Marikana massacre occurred on 16th August 2012, when policemen shot down 112 striking mineworkers, killing 34. Resistance by the ANC and the press to label the incident a massacre (‘Marikana shootings’ was the preferred terminology) at once exposed the easy analogy between Marikana and previous mass shootings at Sharpeville or Soweto, the fraughtness of South Africa’s difficult reckoning with its past, and how violence and the covering up of violence remains an intrinsic part of South Africa’s political structures and institutions.

Luke Sinwell, co-author of The Spirit of Marikana  a fascinating recent history of post-Apartheid South Africa, emphasising the crucial role of workers in changing history – has written here about the fight for justice by the workers that survived the massacre and the prosecution of 72 police for their role in the events.



The recent decision taken by the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID) to prosecute 72 police for their role in the events related to South Africa’s Marikana massacre is welcome, but it may obscure the truth that the African National Congress (ANC) government pulled the trigger. The Sprit of Marikana: The Rise of Insurgent Trade Unionism tells the story of the agency of those workers who survived it.

On 16 August 2012, 34 black mineworkers were gunned down by the police in Marikana, a platinum mining community which is a two hour drive to the Northwest of Johannesburg. No police were killed or injured on the day and hence the event has been called a massacre. Judge Ian Farlam was tasked by the African National Congress (ANC) President Jacob Zuma to chair and subsequently provide the main findings and recommendations regarding the killings in Marikana which took place. The Marikana Commission of Inquiry then sat for 300 days.  By the end of June 2015, nearly three years after the historic killings, a final report was submitted by Farlam.lohmin mine

This report however was at best watered-down and failed to connect the dots regarding the chain reaction of government intervention which started from the top (through deputy President of the ANC Cyril Ramaphosa) and eventually led to an excessively forceful attack on thousands of striking mineworkers including the deployment of 782 policemen in Marikana, some of which were equipped with R5 rifles each capable of shooting 600 rounds of live ammunition per minute.

In evaluating the official evidence and findings, one is also struck by a certain liberal persuasion which infects the language of Farlam’s report, preventing him from seeing the evidence presented at the commission through the eyes of mineworkers.  Mineworkers are, throughout the report, homogenized into a mob intent on using violence, intimidation and killing as their main tactics of mobilization. While one cannot deny the existence of these tactics amongst what appears to be a minority of mineworkers, it is clear that this is a gross oversimplification given that, as the evidence indicates, the vast majority of mineworkers acted peacefully and simply sought to negotiate with those authorities who they came in contact with.

In this context, the IPID’s recent decision to prosecute 72 police for their role in killing the mineworkers is certainly welcome, but it does not get to the root cause of the killings. By now, I think most of those who look into what happened in Marikana will conclude that 16 August was no accident. It was a pre-meditated attempt to destroy the independent working class organization which was fermenting at Lonmin platinum mine in Marikana. At the commission of Inquiry, Ramaphosa claimed that ‘we are all to blame’. His testimony has unfortunately exemplified the government’s approach to dealing with killings at Marikana.marikana

As time passes this looks less and less like a diplomatic explanation that can reasonably be taken at face value and more like a malign attempt to over up the truth. From day one workers have known that truth. As the symbolic meaning of Marikana becomes sharpened and engrained in ordinary people’s minds, the idea that it was an unfortunate tragedy will become a thing of the past. What we need now is education campaigns as well as mass mobilisation in order to ensure that those who were responsible for the killings, are prosecuted and the justice for the mineworkers and their families is met.

Thirty-four mineworkers were massacred in Marikana, but that did not stop the determination of the mineworkers to remain united. Indeed, the infamous demand for R12,500 per month (equivalent to approximately $1000 per month and which workers were demanding from their employer when they were massacred), originated as a reasonable and hopeful request by Rock Drill Operators (RDOs) who undertake unbearable work, in extremely dangerous and scorching hot environment, only to arrive back in their homes in their corrugated iron shacks to await another tough day of work. My recent book, The Spirit of Marikana: The Rise of Insurgent Trade Unionism tells the story of the micro-processes through which mineworkers organized in order to emerge victorious despite the most extreme forms of state violence against civilians in the post-apartheid period. It brings the story to life through in-depth interviews with strike leaders who survived to tell their story.

To them the industrial action at Marikana and its surrounding areas the strikes were literally a matter of life and death. Many of the workers that I and my research team engaged with continue to vow that they would die, if not to realize their demand for a living wage, then for the rights of workers more generally. We have experienced Marikana and the platinum belt strike wave a step removed from these realities. Nevertheless we believe we have been closer to the action, both in physical proximity and in spirit, than virtually anyone else known to us who has done (or is likely to do) extensive research on this topic.

The Sprit of Marikana: The Rise of Insurgent Trade Unionism is a detailed ethnography story of the micro-politics of resistance that began prior to the massacre at Marikana and culminated in 2014 in the longest strike in South African mining history. It provides a classic example of how seemingly ordinary workers developed a critique of the hegemonic discourse of their employers, formed a counter-discourse based upon their lived experiences, and then undertook a series of actions in order to transform their reality and – unintentionally at first – the political face of South Africa.


The Spirit of Marikana: The Rise of Insurgent Trade Unionism in South Africa by Luke Sinwell and Siphiwe Mbatha is available to buy from Pluto Press.


Luke Sinwell is a Senior Researcher at the University of Johannesburg. He is co-author of Marikana: A View from the Mountain and a Case to Answer, co-editor of Contesting Transformation: Popular Resistance in Twenty-First-Century South Africa and the author of numerous articles on participatory democracy and contentious politics in South Africa. He is the General Secretary of the South African Sociological Association (SASA).

Israel, Migrants and the right to nationhood

Mya Guarnieri Jaradat’s new book, The Unchosenexamines Israel’s harsh and worsening treatment of these newcomers and in doing so presents a fresh angle on the Israel-Palestine conflict, calling into question the state’s perennial justification for mistreatment of Palestinians: ‘national security’. As we stand witness to mass deportations and charter flights, Guarnieri Jaradat’s blog forces us to confront the exclusionary and dispassionate preconditions imposed on those seeking to belong to a nation.


The Unchosen: The Lives of Israel’s New Others, is a culmination of a decade’s worth of reporting on the lives of Southeast Asian migrant workers and African asylum seekers protest, Tel Aviv, Israel, 13.2.2014African asylum seekers in Israel. Studying these two groups of non-Jewish ‘others’ throws the Israeli claim that its treatment of Palestinians is predicated on security into harsh light; rather, it shows that Israel’s relationship with Palestinians and other non-Jews is predicated on racial separatism and couched in its overriding concern about maintaining a Jewish demographic majority. The treatment of non-Jews can be understood as a feature of Israel’s particular brand of settler
colonialism. Put best by Drs. Neve Gordon and Nicola Perugini in their book, The Human Right to Dominate:

‘Not unlike other forms of settler colonialism, in the Israeli case colonial power is exerted also through the coloniser’s desire of appropriating the position of the native, of “going native.” … the coloniser’s nativeness can, so to speak, be achieved only through a twofold process, beginning with the dispossession of the colonised and followed by protecting the coloniser from a presumed invasion carried out by the colonised.’

The initial dispossession, happened in 1948 with the displacement of some 700,000 Palestinians. As for the ‘invasion’, many Israelis imagine this happening not militarily but demographically; they worry that they’ll be outnumbered. In recent years, the Israeli obsession with demographics—which Dr. Tally Kritzman-Amir, an Israeli lecturer and legal expert in immigration, refugee, and international law, refers to as the ‘fear of numbers’—has been extended beyond the indigenous population to non-Jews in general. Separation is one manifestation of this ‘fear of numbers.’

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Pluto Podcast Episode 1 – ‘Footwork’ with Tom Hall

Our first podcast is with Tom Hall, the author of Footwork: Urban Outreach and Hidden Lives. A street-corner ethnography of the homeless living in Cardiff, drawing on the themes of urban regeneration, lost space and the 24-hour city. It’s an insightful and at times very funny portrait of hidden lives, an ‘erudite book about city life that exudes a deep but irreverent sense of humanity.’ Do have a listen…