#4 Order Prevails in Washington
February 2017

The fourth issue of Salvage. See more information about its contents here.

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    Disaster Islamism

    by Jamie Allinson

    image: Reuters

    Of what is Islamic State the name? Since September 2014, the self-styled caliphate and its adherents have captured and then lost thousands of square kilometres of territory in Syria and Iraq, killing – and in many cases enslaving and torturing – thousands of people in the process; faced aerial bombing campaigns by both the US and Russia; established affiliate groups in at least eight countries; and carried out (or won the allegiance of the perpetrators of) at least seventy attacks outside of Syria and Iraq. In the summer of 2016 alone, ISIS, or people claiming affiliation to them, launched seventeen separate attacks. ISIS is qualitatively different to any previous terrorist organisation. The forces of Islamophobic reaction, not least the new US president, have lost no time in occupying the hard-right space opened up by mainstream policymakers in response.

    ISIS’ attacks, and the now-clichéd slick production of their ghastly propaganda videos, induce a feeling of political vertigo – of living in collapsing times. That the creation of this effect is precisely the intention of ISIS does not make it any less appropriate.

    Amongst those who reject the securocratic response to ISIS, a sequence of displacement usually follows. No one seems able to argue the old saw that one person’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter: on behalf of whose freedom are ISIS fighting? Instead one finds the impulse to decolonise mourning: insistent reminders that for every Orlando there is a Beirut, for every Paris a Quetta, as if once grief is equitably distributed a solution will be reached. Or else a kind of security politics from below: the arguments that ISIS is not being bombed properly; the (false) claims that Western powers have somehow created ISIS by arming the Syrian opposition, or those (true but inadequate) that the organisation is a result of the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Not all these responses are equally wrong: the gut reaction that something is falling apart is probably right. Where to begin with a materialist analysis of this horrifying mess?


    Stormont’s House of Cards On the Edge of Collapse

    by Andrew Johnson

    image: Pacemaker Press

    The 2 March election for the Northern Ireland Assembly is, barring a huge upset, likely to see a rough continuity in the strength of the political forces. The real question is whether the DUP and Sinn Féin – who will almost certainly retain their dominance on both sides of the sectarian divide – will be able to revive their joint government, or whether a period of instability and direct rule from Westminster will follow.


    Celebrity Apprentice: Notes on the US Election

    by Benjamin Kunkel

    The acute capitalist crisis of 2008 has in the years since developed into a chronic complaint, to be managed but not overcome. In wealthy countries, ultra-low interest rates prop up consumer spending and, for investors, inflate the value of stocks, bonds, and other paper or digital assets. Swollen private portfolios induce luxury spending, and the size of the resulting wealth effect, as Alan Greenspan liked to call it, does a lot to determine what volume of crumbs spills from the banquet table in the form of worker’s wages. Because the rich spend a smaller proportion of their income than others, asset-price Keynesianism, as it has been called, is an inefficient way to inject demand into an economy. But the method has its allure: what could suit the rich better than rapidly rising prices for what they have to sell – namely, financial assets – while prices of the ordinary goods and services that they buy fall short of even the 2 per cent annual increase sought by central bankers as a minimum rate of inflation? To purchase the results of toil with the weightless gyrations of fictitious capital is a good bargain.


    Trump's Airport Kingdom

    by Sam Kriss

    Like everyone else, I went to America for Trump’s inauguration. The whole vast European media establishment has its quadrennial migratory stampede, rushing over to the marshy grazing-grounds between the Susquehanna and the Potomac, to watch the great empire pretend to be very proud of itself as it ceremoniously shits its pants. Colour: bright orange; a firm 6 on the Meyers Scale. But the ceremony alone is never enough. Something about America sets people digging underneath. You plunge speeding into the murky hinterland, planting the photogenically indigent in front of your GoPro to hear the land itself speak through their mouths, and say what it really thinks of Donald Trump. You find mysteries in the Masonic sigil of DC’s street plan. You find secrets chained up in the basement of Comet Ping-Pong Pizza. You try to unearth the outlines of the Indian burial ground, the one that’ll explain why walls of blood are always surging through the shining city on the hill. America keeps on doing unutterably awful things, so you go there, and try to find out why. But first you have to go there. When I flew in to JFK airport, the line for customs was packed with anxious British journalists, tapping their feet, scratching for a cigarette, desperate to get out there, past all this endless bureaucracy, and start their work of finding out what the age of Trump would really be about. And meanwhile, the answer surrounded them.


    The Left, Corbyn and Labour's Future: Interview with Alex Nunns

    Alex Nunns interviewed by Richard Seymour

    Richard Seymour: Reading your book on Corbyn [The Candidate: Jeremy Corbyn’s Improbable Path to Power, O/R Books, 2016], one is immediately struck by the fact that you have opted for an incredibly detailed, textured history and analysis. There’s a sense in which a relatively minute but powerful historical moment, when you unpack it, seems to illuminate almost every dimension of British politics. It’s almost as if you’re painstakingly assembling the telling details, the moments, the testimonies, which otherwise might be lost. So the first question is what does this tell us about the kind of book you set out to write? 

    Alex Nunns: I set out with two objectives. The first was simple: to explain how Corbyn became the leader of the Labour Party. I didn’t know the full answer when I started, and I wanted to get to the bottom of it. The mainstream media, of course, was resolutely determined not to understand what had happened, because to do so would have undermined their insistence that it was some kind of political nervous breakdown. I was disappointed—but not at all surprised—at the complete absence of intellectual curiosity on display. Here was a once in a generation, maybe even once in a century political upset. Journalists at the Guardian and the BBC, for example, might personally have opposed Corbyn, they might have thought his leadership was bound to fail, but at the very least they should have considered it interesting, worthy of explanation. Instead they acted in a way that laid bare how the media is an actor in the political drama, not a dispassionate observer of it—the priority from the beginning was to delegitimise Corbyn rather than to report on him. It was fascinating to watch it happen, to read comment pieces and watch news reports and think, ‘You’re behaving exactly as any crude Marxist analysis would predict, like an automaton, and you don’t even seem self-aware enough to realise.’ Actually the first chapter that I wrote was about the media, even though it appears quite late on in the book.


    SERF ‘n’ TERF: Notes on Some Bad Materialisms

    by Sophie Lewis

    Sylvia Rivera (with Christina Hayworth and Julia Murray) by Luis Carle

    As I sit down to write this, I am haunted by images circulating in the wake of another brutal murder. In one of them the person in question, still living, has the gloved hands of a Turkish riot cop on her arm. Hande Kader, may she rest in power, was a sex-working trans woman of colour whose life we have, once again, collectively allowed haters and the state to take away. To say ‘rest in power’ is obviously the very least we can do. Now Kader becomes another of our foremothers.

    A friend is starting out in sex-work and is isolated and scared. Another likely can’t afford the electrolysis she isn’t sure she wants (along with the other components of the medical ‘pathway’) but she’s just purchased some hormones illegally, exactly as she warned her clueless GP she would, having had her NHS wait-time for gender reassignment extended further into the future than she could bear.

    Soon, we will invoke Hande Kader on Transgender Day of Remembrance. How many corpses can one memorialise in one lifetime?


    What’s the Matter with the ‘White Working Class’?

    by Richard Seymour

    On both sides of the Atlantic, there is one group of people who terrify and enrage the punditocracy. The legend that is the white working class, a trope long in gestation throughout the noughties, has finally struck back with a vengeance. Conservatives in government, Brexit, and now President Trump.

    The ‘white working class’ used to provoke mainly a form of sentimental nostalgia and patronising endearment. It was a tea towel memory, a commodity, not something that had real influence. But the terror arising from this wave of global reaction is producing an interesting anti-democratic backlash amongst liberal-minded opinion-formers. The lefty vicar, Giles Fraser, has argued that Trump’s win is a good case for a hereditary monarch. A royal head of state, he argued, would provide a structure of meaning that guaranteed national cohesion and attenuated the bitterness of democratic contestation. But this backlash against the ignorant voter has been developing for some while among sections of the intelligentsia.


    Althusser, Spinoza and Revolution in Philosophy: An Interview with Warren Montag

    Warren Montag interviewed by George Souvlis.


    George Souvlis: Would you like to present yourself by focusing on the formative experiences (academic and political) that strongly influenced you?

    Warren Montag: My political and intellectual formation was governed, fittingly I suppose, by a logic of the encounter: that is, I was extraordinarily lucky. If I had not been in the right place at the right time and in proximity to the right people, I would not have thought or written as I have. In the mid to late seventies in Los Angeles (to which I returned after receiving my B.A. from UC Berkeley), I met both Geoff Goshgarian and Mike Davis and we soon formed a kind of collective with a few others (in particular I remember Samira Haj, now a historian at CUNY, I believe). We also organized a study group in which we read the three volumes of Capital, as well as Mandel’s Late Capitalism and other works.


    The Middle East and Marxist History: An Interview with John Chalcraft

    John Chalcraft interviewed by George Souvlis.


    George Souvlis: By way of introduction, could you explain what personal experiences strongly influenced you, politically and academically?

    John Chalcraft: I grew up the son of a social worker and a vicar in a provincial milieu. I remember defending a motion supporting the miners’ strike with a friend at a school debate in the 1980s and being genuinely surprised by the anger our stance aroused in our conservative context. Cycling alone in North Africa in my late teens had a major impact on my perceptions of a part of the Third World that I still viewed at that time in unexamined Orientalist terms. Discovering the writings of Noam Chomsky and John Pilger in my early twenties was a very provocative intellectual and political experience. Their arguments were at odds with the dominant understandings I had inherited. I was also frustrated in regard to the lack of non-Western history on offer in my undergraduate days. This frustration and provocation set up much of the questioning and intellectual drive that took me into critical scholarship and a PhD in the history of the Middle East.


    Trump: Day One

    by Lizzie O’Shea


    On inauguration day, Washington DC was a dystopian urban desert. Black grill fences lined downtown streets in multiple directions, concrete barricades squatted around every corner, and helicopters droned endlessly overhead. There were few cars, the whole place overrun with an array of Trump supporters, including many men in suits, army personnel, and the very occasional protestor. The city was awash with all kinds of grey. The only colour was ominous red caps emblazoned with ‘Make America Great Again’ and several confusing, expensive-looking signs about Jesus. 


    Feminism and Social Reproduction: An Interview With Silvia Federici

    Silvia Federici interviewed by George Souvlis and Ankica Čakardić


    George Souvlis and Ankica Čakardić: What were the formative experiences for you politically and personally?

    Silvia Federici: The first most formative experience in my life was WWII. I grew up in the immediate postwar period when the memory of a war that had lasted for years, added to the years of fascism in Italy, were still very fresh. At an early age I was aware that I was born into a world deeply divided and murderous, that the state far from protecting us could be an enemy, that life is extremely precarious and, as Joan Baez’ song later said, “there but for fortune go you and I.” Growing up in postwar and presumably post-fascist Italy it was difficult not be politicized. Even as a little girl I could not help not to be antifascist hearing all the stories my parents told us, and my father’s tirades against the fascist regime. I also grew up in a communist town, where on May Day workers sported red carnations on the jackets and we wake up at the sound of Bella Ciao, and where the struggle between communists and fascists continued with the fascists periodically trying to blow up the monument to the partisan and the communist retaliating against the headquarter of the MSI – Movimento Sociale Italiano – which everybody knew was a continuation of the now banned fascist party. By the time I was 18 I saw myself as a radical, that at the time the prototype struggle was still that of factory workers or the anti-fascist struggle.


    Ordoliberalism and the Death of Liberal Democracy - An Interview With Werner Bonefeld

    Werner Bonefeld interviewed by George Souvlis


    George Souvlis: Can you tell us a bit about your intellectual and political formation?

    Werner Bonefeld: One of my most important formative experiences was factory work. Studying was easy in comparison. I studied at the Universities of Marburg, Berlin, and Edinburgh. At Marburg the Marxism on offer was very dogmatic. It did not encourage people to think for themselves. I left after two years to continue my studies at the Free University of Berlin. In Berlin a few things came together, as it were. My favorite Professor was Agnoli, who was one of the most distinguished Marxists of his generation. He allowed his students to think. He welcomed it. He was a great orator. Part of the degree programme was to do work-placement. I first worked as a removal man and then as a research assistant at the West-German teachers’ union, for which I got paid. Never before had I earned money by reading and writing (my research was into alternative schooling as opposed to public provision). I quickly understood the meaning of Marx’s insight that to be a productive labourer in not a piece of luck but a great misfortune. One might add, nor is it an ontological privilege, as a whole tradition of historical materialism saw it. I studied in Berlin at a time of great restlessness, from the peace movement to the squatter movement in the early 1980s.


    A Letter from Eugene Debs on Immigration

    My Dear Brewer:

    Have just read the majority report of the Committee on Immigration. It is utterly unsocialistic, reactionary and in truth outrageous, and I hope you will oppose with all your power. The plea that certain races are to be excluded because of tactical expediency would be entirely consistent in a bourgeois convention of self-seekers, but should have no place in a proletariat gathering under the auspices of an international movement that is calling on the oppressed and exploited workers of all the world to unite for their emancipation. . . .


    Salvage Perspectives #4: Order Prevails in Washington

    by The Editors

    Not since 1943 has there been a better time to be a fascist. The ‘liberal order’, the demise of which has been the subject of ruling-class hot takes for some years now, does indeed appear to be in a shabby state. Trump’s election – on which more within this issue – follows on from the vote for Brexit as a body blow to the politics of the ‘extreme centre’ in the very lands in which it was born. Victory for the far-right Freedom party in Austria’s presidential election was very narrowly averted: should Marine Le Pen win the forthcoming French presidential contest, against which no sensible punter would now bet, the resulting scrap of hard-won relief will evaporate. Then the UN security council will be led by the fascist- through hard-right of US, French and British politics, plus the distinct market-Stalinisms of Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping. In the second rank will be the hard-right Narendra Modi of India, and the Brazilian inheritors of a soft coup for austerity. This is not a world in which it is growing easier for workers to organise economic self-defence, or develop political organisations to achieve class demands.

    Screenshot from 2017-01-09 11:43:14


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    by John Merrick


    Walking down the wooden steps last Monday night, the dead-eyed glare of Young Labourites hit you hard. Three days into conference and the bum-fluff and teenage skin is showing through; their father’s suits, 20 years of growth and ale before they fit, are beginning to crease and stain. What kind of twilight zone for the young and awkward had I stepped into?


    Latin America: From Reform to Resistance - An Interview with Jeffery Webber (part 2)

    Jeffery Webber, interviewed by George Souvlis


    George Souvlis: 10 year ago Evo Morales was elected president of. In your article dealing with the Bolivian regime titled, "Fantasies Aside”, you argue that there’s a reconstituted neoliberalism in Bolivia under Morales. Is it a neoliberal regime, and if so, why and how does it differ from previous neoliberal regimes in the country? To what extent do indigenous people participate substantially in the policy making of the regime? Is any indigenous liberation taking place?

    Jeffery Webber: I think the tenor of debate in scholarly accounts of Latin American political economy, around neoliberalism, post-neoliberalism, and neo-developmentalism, have tended easily to degenerate into semantic turf wars that often obstruct careful assessment of continuities and ruptures in countries such as Bolivia more than reveal new insights. So I’ll try to avoid that dynamic here, and just say, to start with, that I first made the argument that the Morales regime’s political-economic strategy since 2006 could best be characterized as “reconstituted neoliberalism” in my 2011 book, From Rebellion to Reform in Bolivia. The later magazine piece you mention was a response to subsequent criticisms of that book coming from a certain crude, left-populist, celebratory position of the Morales regime and defensive apologia of any and every action it ever undertook.


    Latin America: From Reform to Resistance - An Interview with Jeffery Webber (part 1)

    Jeffery Webber interviewed by George Souvlis

    The history of Latin America has always been central to left-wing history and politics; and never more so than the past 50 years. Since the rise of Allende's government in Chile and it's brutal suppression after Pinochet's US-backed coup, to its use as a testing-ground for neoliberal restructuring, and the subsequent rise of autonomous social movements and the Bolivarian "pink tide" of left governments, there is much we can learn from the continent. In the first of a two-part interview with Jeffery Webber, Senior Lecturer at Queen Marys, University of London, he analyses the contradictions in the contemporary Latin American left, and offers a detailed analysis of the politics of the continent since the 1970s.


    The Colonial, Postcolonial and the Politics of Anti-Imperialism: An Interview with Tithi Bhattacharya

    Tithi Bhattacharya interviewed by George Souvlis


    The ascent of Narendra Modi as Prime Minister of India has brought to light the dark underbelly of Indian society - often seen in Europe and North America as a beacon of democracy and hope for the Global South. Modi, in many ways, shows the strong continuity between the strategies of the British colonial rulers of India and the Indian post-colonial elites in their respective forms of social domination. In this interview with Tithi Bhattacharya, professor of South Asian History and the Director of Global Studies at Purdue University, she discusses Modi's upper caste, majoritarian violence; the nature of the postcolonial India state; her work on the bhadralok class; gender violence and social reproduction; and Palestinian solidarity and the BDS movement.


    Finance, Economics and Politics

    by Tony Norfield


    The financial system accentuates all the absurdities of capitalism, but it does this in a way that can make finance appear to be separate from the capitalist economy, rather than an inevitable outgrowth from it. Almost every observer of capitalism makes a distinction between the ‘real’ and the ‘financial’ economy. Even those who would claim to be anti-capitalist often advocate policies to save the capitalist economy from the vagaries of disruptive financial markets.

    A division between a ‘real’ and a ‘financial’ economy can seem to make sense, especially given the extravagant rewards of financiers who seem to perform no function other than to boost their own incomes and wealth. A closer look at how the capitalist economy works, though, throws a very different light on what is happening. We need to recognise that the global economy is dominated by a small number of countries and their corporations – and that the financial system is a means by which they maintain their privileged status in the world.


    White Overseers of the World

    by Zachary Sell


    For Cedric Robinson, capitalism has been characterised by chaos which cannot be captured by a unifying language.i If that is the case, it is not for lack of trying. In the mid-nineteenth century, abolitionist discourses sutured diverse geographies by interpreting the world within dichotomies of slavery and freedom. While this imagination enlivened abolitionist struggles against slavery in the US and beyond, it also elided the forms of colonialism and expropriation that visions of free labour rested upon. By foregrounding what Jairus Banaji has called the ‘incoherence’ of free labour, this essay considers the ways in which projects that have sought to universalise free labour have depended upon the proliferation of coercion.ii


    Europe, Democracy and the Left: An interview with Geoff Eley

    Geoff Eley interviewed by George Souvlis


    There is no doubt that in 2008 the capitalist system in Europe and in United States suffered a severe shock from which has not yet recovered. Suggestive indications of this "permanent crisis" are the draconian austerity packages that the economic elites implemented as a response to these developments triggering the dissolution of European Union, the collapse of democratic institutions, the impoverishment of the working people and emergence of far-right movements and parties throughout the European continent.

    Few are more appropriate to explain such developments in their historicity alongside the rise of Nazism and Fascism in the interwar period, and the historiographical complexities around these issues, than the British historian Geoff Eley. His work on the history of Germany and the authoritarian regimes of the interwar period; the role of class, gender and race in current debates within the field of historiography; and the inextricable trajectories of European democracy and the European left give him an insightful understanding of today's political momentum and its meaning for the left. In particular, Eley’s contributions in the field of history have transformed the way we deal with the origins and the nature of autocratic politics, the history of the non-Stalinist left and the liaisons between history and politics.


    Guarding Capital

    by J. A. Bujes


    In the summer of 1981, I took a job as a security guard at the Bank of America World Trade Center in San Francisco. I had signed up for the Latin workshop at U.C. Berkeley, and working the graveyard shift was the only way I could attend class each day, complete hours of homework every night, sleep, and pay rent. I had to have a job, and it had to be a job that allowed me to study while working. I had a friend who had a friend who was assistant manager on that shift, and they were always looking for bodies for graveyard.


    Technically Female: Women, Machines, and Hyperemployment

    by Helen Hester


    Femininity, Technologies, Work

    In an advert for Recognition Equipment in 1966, a young woman with a charming smile places an arm around her male colleague’s shoulder, and rests her head gently against him as he tries to read some very serious and important paperwork. The tagline declares, ‘Our optical reader can do anything your key punch operators do. (Well, almost.)’ It’s limitations? The copy informs us that the machine ‘can’t use the office for intimate tête-à-têtes’ or ‘be a social butterfly’. All it can do is its job, reading and computing data at the rate of ‘2400 typewritten characters a second’. Another, published a year later, and quite clearly a sequel to the first, uses the same tagline, this time accompanied by an image of a heavily pregnant blonde. Unlike this woman, we are told, Recognition Equipment’s office technologies ‘can’t take maternity leave. Or suffer from morning sickness. Or complain about being tired all the time.’ It should be clear to the viewer which of these things is more useful to have around the office.