International Women’s Day Reading List

From feminist theory, to history and contemporary politics, these are some of Pluto’s best books, old and new, that celebrate radical women.

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Revolutionary Learning: Marxism, Feminism and Knowledge by Sara Carpenter and Shahrzad Mojab Carpenter T03129

Revolutionary Learning by Sara Carpenter and Shahrzad Mojab explores the Marxist and feminist theorisation of knowledge production and learning. From an explicitly feminist perspective, the authors reconsider the contributions of Marx, Gramsci and Freire to educational theory, expanding Marxist analyses of education by considering it in relation to patriarchal and imperialist capitalism.  The reproductive nature of institutions is revealed through an ethnography of schools and pushed further by the authors who go on to examine how education and consciousness connects with the broader environment of public policy, civil society, the market, and other instruments of ‘public pedagogy.’

The book’s use of work by feminist, anti-racist and anti-colonial scholars means it will have significant implications for critical education scholarship, but its use value extends beyond educational praxis; providing the tools dissect, theorize, resist and transform capitalist social relations.

 

Captive Revolution: Palestinian Women’s Anti-Colonial Struggle within the Israeli Prison System by Nahla AbdoAbdo T02851

Throughout the world, women have played a part in struggles against colonialism, imperialism and other forms of oppression, but their vital contributions to revolutions, national liberation and anti-colonial resistance are rarely chronicled.

Nahla Abdo’s Captive Revolution seeks to break the silence on Palestinian women political detainees. Based on stories of the women themselves, as well as her own experiences as a former political prisoner, Abdo draws on a wealth of oral history and primary research in order to analyse their anti-colonial struggle, their agency and their appalling treatment as political detainees. Through crucial comparisons between the experiences of female political detainees in other conflict; a history of female activism emerges.

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Why we need Marxist-Humanism now by Robert Spencer

Today, anti-humanism is a dominant, even definitive, feature of contemporary theory, whereas humanism is dismissed as ‘bourgeois’ and ‘old-fashioned’, even a precept of Right-Libertarianism. For Humanism demands a reappraisal of humanist humanism2thought, establishing the historical context that resulted in humanism’s eclipse, critiquing anti-humanism, and conceptualising humanism in light of post-structuralism, queer theory, feminism and postcolonialism.

Whilst narrativising his humanist awakening,  editor and contributor, Robert Spencer, encapsulates the aims of For Humanism. He defends humanism against its outright rejection by certain strands of anti-foundationalist thought (namely postcolonialism and queer theory), and, in rebuking anti-humanism’s chief proponents, Foucault and Heidegger, proposes a humanist methodology of resistance, whilst demonstrating that Marxism has a place in humanist thought.

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When I first went to university to study English Literature I was interested to discover that words didn’t always mean what I thought they meant. It was a useful lesson, not least because among the many benefits of a literary education is the realisation that language, the main means by which humans encounter, experience and shape their world, is changeable as well as contestable. There are struggles taking place all the time over the meanings and uses of words. There were words that I liked that I learned to be suspicious of. In conversations with Marxists, I learned that it was not a good thing to be an ‘idealist’, the word did not mean what it appeared to mean to the eighteen-year old me. As I discovered that struggles over social, economic and political power played an equally prominent part in human history as the battle of ideas did, I realised that an idealist, was somebody who exaggerated the latter and downplayed the former. I was happy to accept that claim and I still am. However, I had much greater difficulty when one of my seminar tutors responded to a comment I made in class about David Copperfield with the disapproving remark that “that, Rob, was a very humanist thing to say”.

Puzzled by her disapproval, my interest in humanism began. This ongoing struggle over humanism’s meanings resulted in For Humanism, the book that my friend David Alderson and I have put together. To be a humanist or, still worse, a liberal humanist was evidently a bad thing; the belief in the distinctive value of the human individual was irretrievably bourgeois, akin to the Right’s belief in the inviolable private self. Now I had little truck with this objection. Anybody who has spent time in the company of Trotskyists will have seen the force of Oscar Wilde’s famous remark that the problem of socialism is that it takes up too many evenings, and for me the point of socialism was not to sacrifice the self to the collective but to fashion a society in which everybody had the time and the resources required to do their own thing. Collective struggle was required in the short term, granted, but only in order to make collective struggle unnecessary in the long term.

To be fair to the folk in SWSS, a few of them, it seemed, were quite happy to describe themselves as humanist, thus I was introduced to a bone of contention on the Left that has interested me ever since. I wanted to know how to be a Marxist and a humanist. The anti-humanist Marxists thought that humanism was bourgeois. Humanists preferred privacy to the collective, the individual to the working class, beauty to struggle, and so on. Anti-humanist Marxists distrusted humanism because it extolled the whole rights-based ideology of capitalism and therefore had a whiff of revisionism and political compromise about it. The Marxists I hung about with saw themselves as revolutionaries not as conciliators or coalitionists; one of them confessed to me that he had suspicions about a comrade who, he suspected, would have moral reservations about stringing somebody up from a lamppost! Not a predicament – I reflected to myself in a pub just off Norwich’s Dereham Road – any of us were likely to face any time soon.

Lenin notoriously told Maxim Gorky that he daren’t listen to Beethoven’s Appassionata too often because it ‘makes you want to say stupid nice things and stroke the heads of people who could create such beauty… And now you mustn’t stroke anyone’s head – you might get your hand bitten off. You have to hit them on the head, without mercy.’ I haven’t hit anybody on the head since I was about ten years old, and I’ve always had a suspicion about insurrectionary rhetoric of this kind. For me, the socialist revolution should not, in societies like ours at least, be an insurrection, but the concerted entrenchment and expansion of forms of democratic empowerment that will confront and supplant the overweening regime of capital and authoritarian state power. Let’s call that a ‘long revolution’, to borrow Raymond Williams’s term, provided that as much emphasis is placed on ‘revolution’ as on ‘long’, as Williams once added.

David Alderson and I, in For Humanism, wanted to remind readers of the value and strength of a specifically Marxist humanism that sees its’ social, political and economic goals as extensions and not blanket rejections of the liberal or bourgeois tradition of democracy, rights and freedoms. In other words, Marxism is a humanism. Granted, talk about democracy, rights and freedoms is usually employed as an ideological smokescreen to conceal the oppressions and exploitations of rapaciously capitalist dispensations such as ours. Most of us are free every five years or so to put a cross on a ballot paper, but the rest of the time our representatives take their orders from big business. Every human being on the planet has an inalienable right to things like a decent pension and free healthcare, but the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights is hardly worth the paper it’s written on. When these rights confront the right of capital to travel, suborn and exploit, force decides. But, as Adorno says somewhere, it’s not ideology that’s at fault here, but rather ideology’s pretension to correspond to reality. The ideals of freedom, democracy and rights are not wrong. What is wrong is the naïve liberal faith that they can be realized under present conditions.

We wanted to think about the reasons why anti-humanism had become such a dominant, even definitive, feature of cultural theory. What has made those who teach literary criticism and cultural theory grimace or recoil when they thought somebody was doing or saying something humanist? The answer is that they have relied on humanism’s enemies to tell them what the term means. The humanist tradition, with all its richness and complexity, its secularity, its commitment to democratic socialism, feminism and anti-imperialist struggle, its restlessly critical sensibility, its militant repudiation of every political and philosophical effort to define or control human beings, was simply written off on the basis of hatchet jobs done by dubious figures like Martin Heidegger and self-serving half-truths peddled by Michel Foucault.

In his lamentable ‘Letter on Humanism’ of 1947 Heidegger dismissed the human as just the latest impertinent effort to harass or constrain ‘Being’, the mystical invocation of ‘Being’ leading Heidegger’s work variously to Zennish otherworldliness, reactionary anti-modernism or the blood-and-soil mysticism of German fascism. Foucault, who was politically a very changeable figure, dismissed humanism as an antiquated and reactionary faith in the inviolable human subject. Humanism’s most influential post-war exponent, Jean-Paul Sartre, was described by Foucault as ‘a man of the nineteenth century trying to think through the problems of the twentieth century’. Foucault was similarly dismissive (and wrong) about Herbert Marcuse’. Undeterred by the fact that none of Sartre’s work makes any such claim about human subjectivity being static or exceptional or normative (indeed, it painstakingly makes the opposite claim), Foucault and his epigones presented all humanism as a sterile faith in the normative nature of subjectivity.

It’s my view that Foucault’s critique of humanism has been most influential and most damaging. For cultural theorists inspired by Foucault’s work, which is a large proportion of those working in the sub-disciplines of postcolonial theory, queer theory, feminism, ‘the human’ is just another reprehensible norm to be queered and subverted. For postcolonialists, for example, ‘the human’ is synonymous with European colonial power and its legacies. The aim of postcolonial criticism is then to ‘resist’ that power and to show how texts ‘hybridise’ the normative identities of nation, empire, sexuality, race, subjectivity and so on. The problem with this way of proceeding is that cultural theory and cultural criticism are thus locked into a repetitive pas-de-deux, the power of the human or of race becoming a formative principle that we are called upon to resist but not finally to overthrow. ‘Wherever there is power there is resistance’, says Foucault, which sounds comforting enough until one realizes that this little maxim works the other way too: where there is resistance there is power and always will be. It has always struck me that the notion of hybridizing identity or subverting the normal isn’t analogous with the purpose of the radical project: to become the dominant in its own right, take power and seek the political, cultural and institutional change that would make it impossible for prescriptive identities and norms to be imposed. The ubiquitous Foucauldian rhetoric of resistance is too imprecise. It says nothing about strategy and goals. It connotes the fending off of an adversary not the triumph over that adversary. Anti-humanism rose to prominence in the era of the ‘class war conservatism’ of neoliberalism. It represents a parasitic dependency on a system of ‘power’ that it despairs of being overturned. Anti-humanism is a pragmatic adjustment to a period of history that saw the organized forgetting of the revolutionary horizons of the Marxist or socialist humanism that we wish to rehabilitate.

So the purpose of our book was to show that the Marxist humanist tradition shows a way out of these dead ends. Humanism names a principle, the rights and capacities of human beings, that is being suppressed by systems of power and in the name of which transformative (rather than merely local or defensive) political projects might be launched. Humanism’s detractors have misrepresented it. It does indeed identify specifically human attributes and needs: for shelter, nourishment and any number of other physical provisions and for creative self-expression. But it does not identify the human as a ‘kingdom of values’, to use Sartre’s phrase, separate from or superior to the animal world and to nature. It does not impugn but esteems diversity, the infinitely varied creative capacities of human communities and individuals. It rejects the self-defeating notion that some sort of ‘will to power’ is an inviolable element of our political life. Its political principles are anchored in the vision of a society that conforms more exactly to the kind of beings that humans unalterably are: multifarious, creative, somatic creatures that feel pain and seek pleasure, dependent mammals capable of transforming that fact of mutual dependency into the value of solidarity. For Humanism ransacks the resources of a half-forgotten tradition. But it has no sterile reverence for the past, for bourgeois or colonial or patriarchal humanisms. Nor is it satisfied with cultural theory’s pragmatic rapprochement with the neoliberal present. It seeks a radically different kind of future. The plutocrats, mobsters and little Hitlers don’t scare us. We’re not here to ‘resist’ them, to organise in the margins or absorb power’s blows. We know what we’re fighting for.

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For Humanism: Explorations in Theory and Politics is edited by David Alderson, Robert Spencer.

It includes essays by the editors, in addition to, Timothy BrennanKevin Anderson and Barbara Epstein.

Neoliberalism: An American love story by Robert Chernomas and Ian Hudson

Trump’s declaration of an economy ‘for the people’ lead many to incautiously declare the end of neoliberalism. Such declarations were at variance with subsequent news of his plans for market deregulation, corporate tax cuts and his instating of the richest cabinet in U.S. history. Why do tired neoliberal economic policies, proven to be an abject failure, dominate the economic landscape?  In their new book, The Profit Doctrine, Robert Chernomas and Ian Hudson set to found out, critically examining the key proponents of neoliberalism; their flawed ideas and their flawed characters. In this exclusive essay, the authors look at America’s romance with Milton Friedman, Alan Greenspan and Robert Lucas and their theories and look to the future. 

In Donald Trump’s inauguration speech he boasted that his administration would take power from Washington and give it back to “you, the people.” As usual, President Trump’s headline is appealing but his analysis is appalling. While he is correct that economic policy in the US has turned against most of “the people,” it is not Washington that is the problem, at least not in the manner that Trump or his cabinet of business executives would have you believe.

In fact, contrary to what friedman-and-bushPresident Trump suggests, economic policy since 1980 has worked against most people in the US because of its dedication to corporate profits and the wealth of the business class. An economy that actually worked for the people would create stable growth, price stability, full employment, and the efficient allocation of resources. Some might even add to this list an environmentally sustainable economy and a reasonably equitable distribution of wealth and income. However, with the exception of price stability, the US after 1980 has delivered none of these things.

According to inequality experts, Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez, between 1973 and 2000 the average income of the bottom 90% of US taxpayers fell by 7%. Incomes of the top 1% rose by 148%, the top .1 percent by 343%, and extremely well off in the top .01% rose by an amazing 599%. Economic Policy Institute economist Lawrence Mishel calculated that in 1965, the average pay of the CEOs at the top 350 US firms (ranked by sales) stood at about 20 times the average compensation of their workers. By 2011, CEO income was over 200 times that of their average worker.

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Rough Sleeping in the 24hr City by Tom Hall

Tom Hall’s Footwork: Urban Outreach and Hidden Lives is a street-corner ethnography that looks at how urban modernisation, development and politics impact on the hidden lives of people living and working on the streets. From the rough hall-t02150sleeping homeless to street drinkers and sex workers, this book reveals the stories of the vulnerable and isolated – people living in the city that we often choose to ignore.

In these extracts, Hall introduces some of Cardiff’s homeless community: Gerald, Paul, Rose, Jackie, Wayne, Damian, Gemma and Carol, looking at how the politics of the urban landscape metes out injustices, limits the right to a home, impacts health and contrives relationships. 

In directing attention to homeless individuals my aim has been to people this book, early on, with those whose lives and difficulties are at stake throughout, if only just a few of them. I feel they are owed some visibility. But I do not want any brief description of individual character and circumstance to be read as a satisfactory, or even part-way satisfactory, account of the problem. Understanding why some people are homeless is best begun somewhere else. It remains the case that homelessness is something that (only) happens to people, however; and that is worth remembering. I have also, at points, obscured things: I have anonymised some of those I am writing about, protecting identities and changing some details – of appearance, sequence of events, particulars. I have done so to afford some privacy to those whose lives are already uncomfortably public. I hope this does not seem inconsistent. I have tried for balance: some visibility, but not too much. Were this book about homelessness, or, rather, about homeless people, things would be different perhaps. Instead, the homeless are a little off to one side of what I am really about here. Their lived circumstances animate others in various ways, as I have suggested, and it is those others, care and outreach workers moving around the city looking out for people in need, that this book is about if it is about any collection of individuals at all. Accordingly, Charlie is Charlie, and Dennis is Dennis, because I know them well and have shared their work; and they know me. Visibility – who sees who and on what terms, who sees their (own) name in print – has to be managed.

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Gerald sleeps (as I write) against the rear wall of the Glamorgan Building in Cardiff ’s civic centre. He may not be sleeping at all, may not have slept much all night, but he has made a place for himself there and has occupied it dependably for the last few months, wrapped in a sleeping bag with his minimal possessions arrayed around him. He doesn’t move much and doesn’t like to be disturbed; he can spend two or three days (and nights) in this same spot without seeming even to stand up. He must sleep some of the time.

The Glamorgan Building, once the county hall of Glamorgan, houses Cardiff University’s Schools of City and Regional Planning and Social Sciences; it is a large, neoclassical, listed (Grade 1) building. I work there, in an office on the first floor with a view out across the city, towards Cardiff Bay. Directly below my window a walkway runs along the side of the building and around a corner to a car park at the back. Here, squeezed between the tarmac apron and the rear wall of the building, under cover of a first-floor balcony and balustrade, are a couple of concrete benches and some bicycle racks; and this is where Gerald has established himself, where he was lying this morning as I passed him on my way into the building. It is a good spot, sheltered from the rain and mostly quiet.

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‘Even the President of the United States has to stand naked’: Trump Strips America’s Corrupt Democracy

‘How Corrupt is Britain?’ edited by David Whyte is a collection of powerful and punchy essays that shine a light on the corruption embedded in UK politics, policing and finance. In this article,  David Whyte extends his study of corruption to the U.S., turning his eye to President – Elect Trump’s recent appointments and the continued love affair between the U.S. government and private interests.

Donald Trump’s pitch to the people on the eve of the election in November was that only he could overturn the “years of sordid corruption” in the Washington establishment.   But his earliest appointments are beginning to line up like a familiar identification parade of establishment crooks.

His nominee as Secretary of State is Rex Tillerson the chief executive of Exxon Mobil, a company currently embroiled in a major Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) investigation for publishing false reports about its assets.  The ‘white nationalist’ Steve Bannon, appointed as White House chief strategist has been exposed for channeling millionaire donor funds through a ‘charity’ to fund his work for the extreme right-wing Breitbart News. nude-trump-1  And Trump’s newly crowned head of manufacturing, is Andrew Leveris, the CEO of Dow Chemicals who was also investigated by the SEC for fraud, although the case has apparently now been concluded.  Perhaps the icing on the cake is the appointment of the climate change-denying corporate lawyer Scott Pruitt to head the Environmental Protection Agency.

But the alleged frauds that tie those appointments together is really not the headline story.  The headline story is that, perhaps unsurprisingly, they all have a long track record of rabidly opposing any regulation that gets in the way of business.

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Trump’s Electoral Victory Signals Dangerous Turn in Capitalism by Peter Hudis

The freedom movements in the U.S., and indeed around the world, have been dealt a serious blow with the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States. This is one moment when “staring the negative in the face” without succumbing to either despair or superficial explanations of the reason for his election becomes especially important.trump-1

It is worth keeping in mind that Trump’s victory,
serious as it is, hardly constitutes a
mandate, given that Clinton obtained almost two million more popular votes than Trump. And this was despite widespread voter suppression in many states, where tens of thousands—especially African Americans and poor whites—were denied their right to vote (we can hardly consider it a “democracy” when some need to travel 50 miles to find a voting booth—which only seems to happen in areas that don’t vote Republican). Nevertheless, Trump will continue to proceed as though he has a mandate, and that is very serious business. One reason he can get away with this is that the Republican establishment that earlier denounced him over fear that he would wreck the party are now embracing him for delivering every branch of government into their hands.

Nothing would be more shortsighted than to think that Trump will prove to be the Syriza of the Right—that is, that he will disappoint his followers by accommodating to the neoliberal status quo and carrying out business as usual. He means what he says, and his cabinet appointees—which place outright neo-Nazis and white supremacists in the most powerful institutions in the land—provide ample proof of that. Given the magnitude of the events, it is worthwhile to underline the following…

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The Colombian Peace Accords by Jasmin Hristov

The Colombian government and leftist Farc rebels have signed a revised peace agreement to end more than 50 years of conflict, following the negative vote on a referendum for peace in September. In this article, written exclusively for the Pluto blog, Jasmin Hristov examines the results of the referendum and asks what the revised Accords holds for the future of Colombia. 

Peace negotiations between the Colombian government and the largest guerrilla movement in Latin America, the FARC-EP, took place in Havana, Cuba between 2012 and 2016. On August 24th 2016 a deal was finally hristov-peacereached. On September 19, declaring that the war in Colombia is over, President Santos formally handed the peace agreement to UN secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who called the deal ‘a victory for Colombia.’ The Peace Accords outline major commitments to land restitution, rural development, illicit crops substitution, they guaranteed the political participation of the guerrilla and their disarmament, and would create the Special Jurisdiction for Peace for a system of ‘Truth, Justice, Reparation and Non-Repetition’. Polls predicted that the peace deal will most likely be ratified[i]. However, to the shock of many Colombians and the international community, the peace deal was narrowly rejected with 50.21 percent voting ‘No’ and 49.78 voting ‘Yes’.

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