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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Leila Khaled: The Poster Girl of Palestinian Militancy’ International Woman’s Day

We’re celebrating International Woman’s Day with ‘the poster girl of Palestinian militancy’ and subject of Sarah Irving’s biography: Leila Khaled. Leila Khaled: Icon of Palestinian Liberation tells the story of Khaled’s remarkable life as a female activist in a man’s movement. From hijacking planes, to her involvement in radical sects, Leila Khaled’s activism made her as era-defining as Che Guevara.

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When Leila Khaled hijacked her first plane, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine was a left-wing organization with international links and the declared intention of winning the return of the Palestinian people to the lands they had left only 20 years before. This was the era of Che Guevara, killed in Bolivia just two years earlier, and of liberation struggles in South East Asia. The right of oppressed peoples to resist by armed means was discussed worldwide, and the heroes of these movements decorated the walls of student bedrooms and left-wing homes. The second wave of feminism was also breaking, adding another aspect to the environment in which news of this young female hijacker would be received.

In Leila’s Middle East home, Israel had just defeated the combined armies of Egypt, Jordan, and Syria in the Six Day War, humiliating the Arab world militarily and capturing the remaining Palestinian territories west of the River Jordan and north of the Sinai. Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, including thousands of refugees from the initial establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, had been living under Jordanian and Egyptian rule, but were now subject to Israeli military occupation. Despite this, the world’s attention to the Palestinians themselves was minimal. They were seen by the West as a small, dispossessed refugee people, caught up in the hostility between Jews and Arabs in the Middle East, and of little importance except as an excuse for aggression by Arab powers. Amongst the Palestinians of the refugee camps of Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria, discontent had been brewing. A resistance movement, which had been growing since the mid 1960s, had been further radicalized and popularized by the Six Day War and by Palestinians’ increasing suspicion of the hollow support voiced by Arab regimes. As Rosemary Sayigh, who lived in Lebanon throughout the 1970s, puts it:

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‘Feminism is for Everybody’ bell hooks for International Woman’s Day

bell hooks’ Feminism is for Everybody is the antidote to every ‘when’s international men’s day?!’ tweet. Designed to be read by all genders, this short, accessible introduction to feminist theory, by one of its liveliest and most influential practitioners, seeks to rescue feminism from esoterism and academic jargon; simplifying, arguing and convincing.

 

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Everywhere I go I proudly tell folks who want to know who I am and what I do that I am a writer, a feminist theorist, a cultural critic. I tell them I write about movies and popular culture, analysing the message in the medium. Most people find this exciting and want to know more. Everyone goes to movies, watches television, glances through magazines, and everyone has thoughts about the messages they receive, about the images they look at. It is easy for the diverse public I encounter to understand what I do as a cultural critic, to understand my passion for writing (lots of folks want to write, and do). But feminist theory — that’s the place where the questions stop. In- stead I tend to hear all about the evil of feminism and the bad feminists: how “they” hate men; how “they” want to go against nature — and god; how “they” are all lesbians; how “they” are taking all the jobs and making the world hard for white men, who do not stand a chance. When I ask these same folks about the feminist books or magazines they read, when I ask them about the feminist talks they have heard, about the feminist activists they know, they respond by let- ting me know that everything they know about feminism has come into their lives thirdhand, that they really have not come close enough to feminist movement to know what really happens, what it’s really about. Mostly they think feminism is a bunch of angry women who want to be like men. They do not even think about feminism as being about rights — about women gaining equal rights. When I talk about the feminism I know — up close and personal — they willingly listen, although when our conversations end, they are quick to tell me I am different, not like the “real” feminists who hate men, who are angry. I assure them I am as a real and as radical a feminist as one can be, and if they dare to come closer to feminism they will see it is not how they have imagined it.

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Whose revolution? Neil Faulker on the centenary of the October 1917 revolution

In this new essay, Neil Faulkner, author of the newly published, A People’s History of the Russian Revolution, embarks on a myth-busting mission, to right the wrongs that history teaching and writing has accorded to our historical understanding of the Russian Revolution.

Team Stalin? Team Trotsky ? Who does the Russian Revolution belong to?

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The gap between the organised Left and street protest grows ever wider. This is manifest in the failure to connect the discourse around the centenary of the Russian Revolution – an icon and bastion of the Old Left – with the recent Women’s March and Stomp Trump Protests – a lure for young newcomers, fresh to the struggle.faulkner-t03173

One of the main reasons this failure to connect one popular struggle with another is the way in which the Russian Revolution – the most misunderstood event in modern history – has long been caricatured. Essentially, it is conceived as the work of a brilliant leader (Lenin), an underground party (the Bolsheviks), and a carefully managed, military-style coup (the October Insurrection). In my book, A People’s History of the Russian Revolution, I seek to disprove this: arguing that the Russian Revolution was, above all, an explosion of mass democracy and self-activity from below.

Returning to the caricature, it has been the central thread that runs through a variety of historiographies on the Russian Revolution. Most recently, historian Simon Sebag Montefiore, writing in that veritable quarry of political insight, the London Evening Standard, provides an example of the right-wing, ‘bourgeois’ version, largely dominant in mainstream academic and popular writing these days:

‘It is naïve (or maybe too early) to compare the disaffection of the Brexit or Trump elections with the violence, class war, and secret-police terror of the great revolutions, French, Russian, or Iranian. The real parallels today lie in methods and style – the cold powerbroking and political culture of Lenin, Stalin, and their successors: on the one hand, the cult of ruthless power; on the other, the culture of disinformation to delegitimise democracy, truth, and other liberal hypocricies.’

Poor old Lenin! He’s clearly going to have to weather a tough centenary year, he is even to blame for Trump.

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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.

Why we won’t celebrate the anniversary of the Irish Free State.

It has been 95 years since the formation of the Irish Free State, but the event has an uneasy presence in Irish history, particularly for the radical Left. Kieran Allen, author of ‘1916: Ireland’s Revolutionary Tradition’ and ‘The Politics of James Connolly’, considers why the event that began the process of unraveling the British empire will not be met with fanfare.  

Following the massive centenary anniversary of the 1916 rebellion – comprised of exhibitions, parades and revisions to the school syllabus – it is prudent to ask: will there be a similar celebration of the formation of the Irish Free State? The answer: unlikely.

Almost 95 years ago, on January 16th 1922, the British garrison at Dublin Castle handed michael-collins-dublin-castleover its keys to the IRA guerrilla leader, Michael Collins. The castle had long been a symbol of British rule in Ireland and the transfer of its administration was warmly welcomed by the Irish people. The story goes that the colonial officer in charge of the handover to Collins complained that he was seven minutes late, to which Collins retorted ‘we have been waiting over 700 years’. This display of boldness and its place in the Irish historical imaginary is typical of Ireland’s sanctifying of Collins. A mood of romance and dynamism follows Collins, oft-contrasted with Eamon De Valera; the ‘Irish Machiavelli’. Though the inclusion of the oath of allegiance to the British monarchy in the Anglo-Irish treaty is cited as the reason behind the subsequent civil war, it is implied that the clash of these two personalities led to the subsequent civil war.

These folk tales of Irish history hide a much deeper tragedy. In reality, the vote for the Treaty by a majority of Sinn Fein representatives in the Second Dáil and subsequent formation of an Irish free state was the point at which the Irish revolutionary process was buried. Continue reading

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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