The fifth issue of Salvage. See more information about its contents here.
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 Elia El Khazen
In early October, the Egyptian regime arrested fifty-seven people on charges of “debauchery,” ‘inciting sexual deviancy’ and ‘joining an outlawed group’ as part of a continuing security crackdown on Egypt’s LGBTQ community, which now includes ten to fifteen years in jail for those charged as homosexuals. The raising of a rainbow flag during a concert for Lebanese band, Mashrou’ Leila – whose lead singer is openly gay – the preceding week in Cairo triggered a media frenzy that prompted the arrests. The local media supported these arrests by publishing numerous articles and interviews inciting hatred against groups and individuals with non-conforming gender identities and sexual orientations.More
The election of Donald Trump and the resulting uptick of racist violence since November 2016 has placed the issue of fascism back on the agenda of the US left. In the past few months, socialists, anarchists and other radicals in the US are debating what fascism is (and is not) and how (or how not) to fight it. Among the issues this essay addresses are whether our defense of 'free speech' extend to fascists or do we attempt to 'no platform' fascists? Do we merely attempt to outnumber fascists or physically confront them as well? Do we rely on the state and university administrations or mass mobilizations from below to oppose fascism? Whether anti-fascist organizing is a diversion or necessary element of rebuilding militant labor and social movements?
Brexit has made immigration an impossible subject to avoid, and in several trade unions and the Labour Party socialists are divided. Three schools of thought predominate. They are all rotten. Each of them borrows from enemy arsenals rather than recovering the left’s lost language of 'proletarian internationalism'. It is a coarse, imperfect dialect from the early years of the twentieth century, the language of Lenin and his comrades. It seems often hopelessly outdated now but in speaking about migration its central innovations – stressing that modern politics is a contingent and a necessarily transnational affair – make for a refreshing contrast with the certainties that only later froze into premises for our own stale debates.More
Two years have passed since the Greek government, composed of Syriza and the right-wing “Independent Greeks” party, bowed to the pressure of the European “institutions”, following a referendum in which an overwhelming majority of Greeks rejected further EU-imposed austerity measures.
The period since then provides the necessary time distance to reflect soberly on the Greek experience during the tumultuous period between January and July 2015, as well as the meaning of the referendum and the Greek government’s hitherto record in office. From today’s perspective, it can easily be argued that Syriza's attempt at achieving real change not only failed miserably; it also inflicted a major blow to the Left’s credibility on an international scale.
However, before any appraisal of Syriza’s record in office since the summer of 2015 can commence, it is important to narrate some of the facts as such. In other words, to use the classical Marxist method of crosschecking public discourses with historical reality. In doing so, we wish to give an overview of the factors leading to Syriza`s strategic retreat. We reject the moralistic notion of a “betrayal” on the part of Syriza`s leadership, arguing instead that the roots of the party’s subsequent trajectory lie with the structural weaknesses of the party’s overall strategy in the years preceding the assumption of office by Alexis Tsipras. We ask if - even at the last moment before the capitulation to the creditors’ terms – the objective conditions for an alternative path existed.More
George Souvlis: By way of introduction, could you explain what personal experiences strongly influenced you, politically and academically?
Neil Davidson: I was born in Aberdeen, the regional centre of the North-East of Scotland, in 1957. Of all the major cities in Scotland, it was the one which retained the closest links to the surrounding countryside well into the twentieth century. The greatest of all North-Eastern novels (and an outstanding work of Marxist Modernism), Lewis Grassic Gibbon's Sunset Song, is essentially about the end of the local peasantry in the aftermath of the First World War – and in many ways it tells the story of my family. My maternal grandfather, Wullie Farquhar, was a farm servant on the estate at Monymusk who migrated to the city in the late twenties where he got a job as a mechanic on the trams and then on the buses. My grandmother Helen was always too ill to work. My mother Margaret was born in the thirties and went to school during the War: she was one of the brightest girls in her year, but Granny and Granda Farquhar obviously couldn’t afford to pay for further education, so she went to work in a bank as a typist, then as a secretary. My paternal grandfather was an industrial worker on the Donside paper mills, but I never knew him as he contracted a lung disease from breathing in paper fibres (this was before the tyranny of Health and Safety) and died during the War – an end hastened by pre-NHS experimentation with radiation treatment which burned off large sections of his skin and required my Granny Davidson to change his bandages twice a day. My dad Doug was also academically talented and won a state bursary to go to one of the private schools (Robert Gordon’s) he couldn’t possibly have gone to otherwise – one consequence of which was that he always knew professional middle-class people who were much better off than we were. Dad trained as a radiographer while doing his National Service in the army during the early fifties and that became his job at the Aberdeen Royal Infirmary once he was discharged.More
Sara Farris Interviewed by George Souvlis
George Souvlis: Would you like to introduce yourself by describing the formative experiences (academic and political) that strongly influenced you?
Sara Farris: I grew up in a little town of 12,000 people in Sardinia (Italy). I was politicized there and it was definitely in this period – between age 12 and 18 – that I had some of the most formative political and academic experiences of my life. I come from a working class family; like many of their generation, my parents invested strongly in education in order to secure the social mobility of their daughters. I also grew up in a family in which discussions about politics – or I should rather say – my father’s monologues about political events both national and international, were routine at the dinner table. My father was some kind of a socialist, who strongly believed in social justice though he was very skeptical about the possibility that the workers, as he knew them, would be able to bring about any type of social change.More
Last March, a party launched by a consumer-oriented blog eight years before topped opinion polls for the first time in its history. Mixing fruitfully the rage against political elites and the sanctification of common citizenry, the Italian Five-Star Movement (Movimento Cinque Stelle, from now on ‘M5S’) and its founder (Beppe Grillo, a comedian with a four decades-long career) have earned the trust of roughly one out of three potential voters, and are projected to remain the most innovative political actor of the 2010s.More
by Shane Burley
Even though the banquet hall was equipped with an open bar, a few attendees kept streaming down into the hotel lounge, buzzed on cheap-wells and jokes stolen from the forgotten back-alleys of 4Chan. After several conference attendants had gone up to the bartender asking if they have ‘Seen Kyle,’ stretching their arm out in a Roman Salute, the one-upmanship that has characterised the Alt-Right kicked in. A conference goer using the handle ‘Imperial Eagle’ decided to enter the bar in his homemade Nazi uniform, complete with antique WWII-era combat medals. If that did not get the police involved, it would have been the two solid days of drunken Seig Heils and blaring N-words, so loud they reverberated like a gunshot.More
Gareth Dale Interviewed by George Souvlis
George Souvlis: By way of introduction, could you explain what personal experiences strongly influenced you, politically and intellectually?
Gareth Dale: It’s the proto-politicization of childhood that interests me most—the way in which psychological individuation occurs in relation to socialization, and the construction of social circles which simultaneously involve relations and attitudes of domination and oppression.More