The fifth issue of Salvage. See more information about its contents here.
Jordy Rosenberg: Can you speak a bit about your formation as a poet and a Marxist? You've founded (at least) two different poetry collectives - Negative Press, "a gay Marxist poetry collective," and Vetch, a magazine of "trans poetry and poetics." How does your own work relate to the work of collectives-forming and the practice and labor of being part of a collective?More
A glance at the results of the Italian election in March confirms that the trend towards the populist right continues to gather strength in Europe. Support for the Five Star Movement sharply increased in the southern regions and in the islands particularly.More
by Alberto Toscano.
Over the past few weeks of the UCU strike to defend pensions, you have repeatedly crossed picket lines of lecturers and students from your institution. Many of us have asked you to support an action aimed at preventing the imposition of pension poverty on thousands of academics present and future, and to challenge the plunder of a collective resource, a process which is being driven by faulty economics and engineered by managers who have massively increased their own pay at the same time as they have squandered our deferred salary.More
‘What we believe in waits latent forever through all the continents’: The Paris Commune and the Poetics of Martyrdom in the Fin de Siècle Socialist Print Culture
by Owen Holland.
On 30 November 2016, Le Monde, and several other French newspapers, reported that the National Assembly had voted posthumously to rehabilitate the victims of the repression of the Paris Commune. Jean-Marie Le Guen, the Minister of State for Relations with Parliament, supported a text that ‘promotes the transmission of the memory’ of the Communards, whom the document refers to as ‘patriots’ and ‘insurgents’ whose values ‘inspired the Republic’. As the Fifth Republic teetered on the brink of full-throated authoritarian populism, and from within the midst of an ongoing state of emergency, one might regard it as an unusual moment at which to exonerate thousands of revolutionaries who aspired to overthrow the established order of rival nation-states in proposing a vision of international, working-class solidarity that cut across national boundaries. In part, the gesture of rehabilitation was little more than an opportunistic electioneering ruse on the part of an embattled neoliberal Socialist Party. Yet it was also very much in keeping with what Enzo Traverso, in his recent book Left-Wing Melancholia, has characterised as the ‘currently dominant humanitarianism that sacralises the memory of victims, and mostly neglects or rejects their commitments’, thereby stifling a more active politics of remembrance and mourning. How, then, might this belated gesture of accommodation on the part of the French state, at the very moment of its profound structural crisis, illuminate and speak to those more fugitive and transitory acts of remembrance through which generations of revolutionaries have sought to keep alive the memory, and to reactivate the political legacy, of the Communards?More
by Pearl Ahrens.
A French hamlet is being threatened by a multinational company’s plans for an airport. The eviction is being carried out by thousands of police officers and soldiers. Is it bizarre for the French state to deploy its army and police force against its own citizens to enforce the whims of a private company? Imagine a small English village having to defend its way of life against bulldozers and tear gas.More
Selim Nadi: How would you define Pan-Africanism?
Hakim Adi: Pan-Africanism can be considered both an ideology and a movement that grew out of the common struggles of those of African descent both in Africa and in the African diaspora against enslavement, colonial rule and the accompanying anti-African racism and various forms of Eurocentrism. The phrases Pan-African and Pan-Africanism did not emerge until the late nineteenth and early twentieth century but an embryonic form Pan-Africanism was in evidence in the eighteenth century with such abolitionist organisations as the British-based Sons of Africa, led by former enslaved Africans such as Olaudah Equiano and Ottobah Cugoano, which recognised the needs to Africans to unite together for common aims.
Since January, Syria has seen escalations in violence and civilian casualties in two conflict areas. Afrin, the Kurdish-held enclave along the Turkish border, has seen increased fighting since the Turkish military entered the area by force on January 19th this year. To date, the fighting has left an estimated 112 civilians dead. Meanwhile, in Eastern Ghouta, only a few hours’ drive away from Afrin, the Syrian military is finishing off final pockets of resistance through a brutal extermination campaign in which civilians are systematically targeted. Decisively reinforced by Russian air and Iranian ground forces, the bloodshed is reminiscent of the assault on Aleppo just over a year ago, during which more than 30,000 Syrians were killed. The civilian death toll in Eastern Ghouta has risen to include 1,070 civilians over the past three months.
As the tragedy in Afrin develops, North American and European leftist platforms have been disseminating calls by Kurdish armed groups for solidarity with victims of military violence in Syria’s northern district of Afrin. Such solidarity is much needed and deserved, but so is international solidarity with civilians elsewhere in Syria. Instead, the Western Left has largely remained silent in the face of the unimpeded massacre in Eastern Ghouta. The striking hypocrisy forces us to re-examine how our concept of international solidarity applies to the unarmed victims of this war.More
A place to call home. A simple thing. Labour once had a vision, housing for everyone, though what makes a home is perhaps not so simple. As Kim Dovey writes, home is deeply intertwined with our identity. It centres the relationship between ourselves and the earth, centres our connection to community and culture and society, to our past with its memories, and to our ability to grow into our full potential with the power to define our future. For many women, children and sometimes men this is made more complex by human violence or the weight of drudgery that too often transform domestic spaces to make of their walls a prison. Not a home, which in all of its physical, emotional and spiritual fullness should be a place of strength and safety.
A home should not be what kills us.More
by James Gurrey
"Use every man after his desert, and who should 'scape whipping?"
For as long as I have been a part of the Left, for most activists there has been a tacit subjective injunction at various times to feel guilty about various things: the fact that some are worse off than ourselves, that we are insufficiently active, that we are not politically ‘hard’ enough, that we have and enjoy different kinds of ‘privilege’. However there is nothing progressive about guilt. Quite the opposite.
Defining guilt as the projecting inwards of aggressive instincts we would otherwise project outwards, Freud considered it a conservative force, forming the basis of the social order, ‘the price we pay for our advance in civilization’.[i] Freud delved further into the phenomenon in his clinical work. In ‘Mourning and Melancholia’ he associated this internalisation of aggression with loss. This loss could be of an actual person, or something more abstract, like an ideal. Orienting Freud’s insights politically we might suppose that loss, in the form of dispossession or defeat, can manifest in feelings of guilt in the dispossessed or defeated. Could the guilt endured by those bearing the brunt of neoliberalism be symptomatic of a loss of democracy, and thus of some degree of control over our lives? If so then might working through guilt be a necessary step in the process of actualising our desire for democracy? Challenging a discourse of guilt can be interpreted as excusing injustice. This is not my intention—it was out of recognition of the recalcitrance of these problems, particularly as they persist within the left, that this piece was written. Morality may be a principle, but moralising is a tactic. Drawing from my own experiences from workplace organising, I want to suggest that it is rarely the best one.More
Women, children, and revolutionaries hate irony.
I. Gramsci is supposed to have claimed, in one of his recondite quips, that Marxism is ‘organised sarcasm’.
There is something terribly appealing about the idea of sarcasm, red in tooth and claw, being marshalled into the proletarian side of battle. It is ludic and yet hugely suggestive. And Gramsci certainly withered his opponents nicely when duty demanded it. What would the claim be like if it were true?More
The stricken punditocracy agrees that Donald Trump is missing a crucial quality, a je ne sais quoi necessary for his office. He may be president, but he is not presidential. The liberal world is in mourning for this dispositional quiddity, presidentialness.
According to one recent poll, 70 per cent of Americans surveyed held that Trump has – particularly in his genuinely startling use of social media, his deliberately offensive provocations – acted ‘unpresidentially’. Plucking examples from vast reserves, the LA Times decries Trump’s ‘self-indulgent and unpresidential demeanor’; the Village Voice his ‘unpresidential’ ‘antics’; the Atlantic ‘the unpresidential things Trump says’. And the angst is global. The Irish Times lists ‘[a]ll the unpresidential things Trump has done since he got elected’; according to The Guardian, asserting a taken-for-granted antipode, Trump is ‘tyrannical not presidential’; indeed for the Toronto Star, ‘Donald Trump defines the meaning of “unpresidential”’.
It’s common on the Left to point out what has apparently not counted as unpresidential: slave-owning; massacre; imperial butchery. What is there for which to hanker?More
To be homeless is to be nameless. He. The existence of a migrant worker.
The One Day Without Us campaign was launched in the UK in October 2016 ‘in reaction to the rising tide of post-Brexit street- level racism and xenophobia’ and, according to its website, ‘the divisive and stridently anti-migrant rhetoric emanating from too many politicians that has accompanied it.’ It held its target protest day on Monday 20 February 2017. ‘At a time when the political discussion about migration too often depicts a false narrative of “us versus them”, and when migrants are too often excluded from a debate that is supposedly about them, we wanted to provide an opportunity for migrants and British nationals to come together and celebrate the vital role that migrants play within their own communities.’ The campaign thus aimed to showcase a variety of pro-migrant sentiment and action across the UK. At my workplace, students and staff were encouraged to write on Post-its pinned to a map of the world their messages of support and solidarity, and what migrants meant to them. In other workplaces, one particularly striking message passing on social media emerged from a series of pictures of people contrasting what their work cohort looked like with and without migrants.More
Could you introduce yourself, by describing the formative experiences (academic and political) that strongly influenced you?
Politically, I was shaped by the social struggles of the late 1960s and early 1970s. My father’s family were working-class Jewish social-democrats, who, while voting for the US Democratic Party since the 1930s, were anti-racist and anti-imperialist. They supported both the civil rights and black power movement. My uncle, who was involved in the unofficial and illegal strikes among teachers in the late 1950s and early 1960s that won collective bargaining rights, broke with the New York City teacher union leadership when they struck against African-American community control of the schools in 1968. They also opposed the Bay of Pigs invasion and the Vietnam War from the outset — despite having voted for both Kennedy and Johnson as ‘lesser evils.’More
by Sarah Grey
‘Tamil will die a slow death
The languages of the West will triumph in this world.’
So says the simpleton;
Alas! what an accusation!
I. We live among the ghosts of languages.More
A note on the text: The piece that follows was originally given as a talk at the event ‘L’autonomie s’organise’ (autonomy gets organised) organised by Penser l’émancipation at the Bourse du travail in Saint- Denis, France, 2 March 2017. Other speakers were Morgane Merteuil, Toni Negri and Jean-Marc Rouillan. It addresses a context of creeping authoritarianism in French politics, as seen in two recent episodes. The first is the French government’s response to the November 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris. Following the attacks, the government declared a state of emergency giving extraordinary powers to search and detain people without judicial warrant. The state of emergency has been extended repeatedly since its declaration and at the time of writing is set to last until November 2017, making it the country’s longest continuous state of emergency since the Algerian War in the 1960s. Although the state of emergency has only had a limited effect on improving security, it has predictably led to widespread civil rights violations, notably in the suburban periphery, where France’s racially and economically marginalised population is concentrated.
The second episode is the introduction by the French Socialist government of a proposed revision of worker-friendly labour laws in February 2016, which provoked a massive protest movement that lasted most of the year. For months, French workers, students, and youth participated in a series of demonstrations, strikes, and occupations of public spaces to protest against the Socialist government. The government proposal, known as the ‘El Khomri Law’ (named for the Socialist Labour Minister) or simple the ‘Labour Law’, was designed to relax France’s labour laws by making it easier for employers to reduce pay, negotiate holidays and leaves, and lay workers off. Public opposition to the law was such that the government was forced to resort to a rarely-invoked constitutional article allowing it to effectively bypass parliamentary debate. The law took effect in August 2016.More
Too often people on the radical left find ourselves thinking with concepts we've inherited from the past that have become misleading because the realities to which the concepts refer have changed fundamentally. This happens a lot when we talk about the workers' movement.
As New York City transit union activist Steve Downs put it,
We speak about the labour movement and I think we tend to do it out of habit or maybe generosity or maybe even embarrassment, but there is no labour movement in this city or in this country, frankly... there is no unifying vision, there are no widely-accepted goals, there certainly is no forward momentum.
If we want to fight the new fascism, we must not only organise against it politically, but also understand its ideology. Far from being a morbid curiosity, this is essential for understanding twenty-first century fascism’s inner dynamics. Beyond racist tweets, memes, and Richard Spencer’s obnoxious media appearances, we need to lay bare the images, concepts, and ideas that form the core of alt- right thought. We must lay bare the alt-right imagination.
This imagination is an unstable and fractured thing, torn between two opposing ‘animal spirits’. These are Behemoth and Leviathan. Originating in the Bible, these beasts gained philosophical meaning in Thomas Hobbes’ political philosophy, and entered fascist thought through the writings of the Nazi jurist Carl Schmitt.More
“As long as you think you’re white,” James Baldwin said, “there’s no hope for you.”
And if this seems counterintuitive — as though one might think white people are the only people with hope — he went on to say:
“Insofar as you think you’re white, you’re irrelevant. We can no longer afford that particular, romance.”
There’s something odd, and challenging here. It’s a strange way to put it: whiteness is supposed to be a privilege, something those interpellated as ‘white’ are getting something out of, not — as Baldwin seemed to believe — doom.
At its best, in a Du Boisian style of analysis, we can talk about privilege as a set of material effects, relative advantages, which have the effect of consolidating the loyalty of working class ‘whites’ to a system that harms them. And acknowledging the inadequacy of privilege as a concept, we can consider it sous rature, under erasure but legible for as long as we haven’t an alternative.
But hold on. Let’s not move too quickly to sense-making; as we’ll see, it isn’t always our ally.More
‘I feel confined, only free to expand myself within boundaries.’
Major Motoko Kusanagi, Ghost in the Shell
In the 1995 anime version of Ghost In The Shell, we’re offered both the dream and the nightmare of trans politics. Ghost In The Shell is particularly incisive, in that it won itself a place in millions of young minds, including mine, without openly presenting itself as a film about trans lives. Yet the cyborgs, and Motoko Kusanagi in particular, are undoubtedly transgender: they choose and change their bodies based on what relationship they desire from that body. But the near-future Japan of Ghost In The Shell is horrific, an increasingly feasible mesh of neoliberal militarisation, racism, and class stratification. Except that the process of classing is expressed through how much self-determination, how many augmentations, people have over their body. Major Kusanagi, our protagonist, is essentially a killer cop, a spook, a witchfinder general, only slightly redeemed by her willingness to question whether she actually ever existed.
Those questions – Am I really real? Have I ever existed? Or am I a ghost of an identity? – are ones many trans people will recognise: the visceral confusion that comes about from knowing how you feel and experience your body, but having that experience jar so powerfully with what meaning other people and society give to it. It is a question that Ghost In The Shell’s non-cyborgs never really have to ask: as long as cyborgs exist then a certainty in their humanity is assured. In the same way, cis society rarely has to justify its claims to gender normality. Maybe it would be useful if it did.
A materialist transfeminism offers us a way to understand what capitalism attempts to do to the body, and Ghost In The Shell reminds us that there is no technological teleology escape hatch out of gendered oppression; a world where the apex of cyborg technology is utilised primarily to infuse certain bodies with more power for social control is a nauseating one, which determines which bodies are ‘real’ and accepted as authentic, and those which, through their transgressions, are deserving of violence.More
There’s a special kind of dread that breeds in the path of a hurricane.
They call it the ‘cone of uncertainty’ – that brightly coloured funnel on the weather map that traces the possible paths of a storm. It’s a statistical mishmash created from dozens of predictions of varying quality, and when you see the dark red centre touch your part of the map, you can almost feel the barometric pressure dropping. You might have days to prepare, days before you know whether it’ll really hit you and how badly. You might not have days to get out, not if the roads are clogged and the gas stations are mobbed; certainly not if you have to work and don’t have cash on hand. You hunker down as best you can, waiting for the first rainbands and the next, for the eye to pass over and the eyewall to return.More
by the Editors
We have said that there has not for decades been so good a moment to be a fascist. We have said that this is an epoch of unprecedented social sadism, that it is too late to ‘save’ the world, particularly in the face of climate catastrophe, and that we struggle instead because even rubble is worth fighting over. We have said we need a strategy for ruination. This we still hold. However, it would be a dereliction not to register the scale of recent shifts, the opening of possibilities. For a long time, if politics was ‘polarising’, as the Left incanted nervously, it seemed to be with only one pole. No more.
According to the speculations of techno-futurologists, left and right, the machines are here to liberate us. Most of the discourse is dominated by the neoliberal right such as Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee and Andrew Haldane, chief economist of the Bank of England. Their arguments, avoiding questions of exploitation, are naturally popular with the establishment. McAfee’s best-selling book The Second Machine Age has been lauded by leaders at the World Economic Forum.More
Since the 1991 publication of The Wages of Whiteness, David Roediger's work has fundamentally changed the shape of scholarship on race and racism in the US. In his latest book, Class, Race and Marxism, Roediger tackles the relationship between race and class in contemporary society, and questions many of the common assumptions of the Marxist left.
Below are a series of critical commentaries on the book by Satnam Virdee, Alana Lentin and Charles Post.More
by Alana Lentin
At the launch of David Roediger’s collection, Race, Class and Marxism it was invigorating to see so many people crowd into the un-air-conditioned space on a hot Friday evening to hear four brilliant thinkers talk about race. And so it was dispiriting that during Q&A a number of audience members suggested that an over-emphasis on ‘identitarianism’ is diluting the power of the left at a critical juncture in US politics. The picture they painted of a left fragmented by an over-wrought concern with positionality to the detriment of an emphasis on ‘materiality’ was gently and graciously debunked by David Roediger. His point - one he makes with convincing clarity throughout Race, Class and Marxism - is that there is no more ‘material’ subject than race; that there is no discussion of class in the United States without a deep understanding of how race and class are intimately and inextricably related.More
by Selim Nadi.
‘I'm a Maoist ... a good political programme is one that works.’— Emmanuel Macron
The 2017 French presidential elections were historical in many ways. The first crucial aspect is, of course, the fact that the Front National made it to the second round — eliminating the right-wing party (Les Républicains) and the Socialist Party (PS). Secondly, a very young, new president was elected: Emmanuel Macron.More