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George Souvlis

George Souvlis is a doctoral candidate in history at the European University Institute in Florence and a freelance writer for various progressive magazines including SalvageJacobin, ROAR and Lefteast.

    Class, Race and Capital-centric Marxism: an interview with Charlie Post

    by George Souvlis, Sebastian Budgen, Jeremiah Gaster and Charlie Post.

    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.’

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    How Syriza Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love the Status Quo

    by George Souvlis & Leandros Fischer

    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.

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    The National Question, Class and the European Union: An Interview with Neil Davidson

    Neil Davidson interviewed by George Souvlis

     

    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.

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    Marxism, Religion and Femonationalism: An Interview with Sara Farris

    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.

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    From War Economies to the War on Terra: An Interview with Gareth Dale

    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.

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    Feminist Organising and the Women's Strike: An Interview with Cinzia Arruzza

    by Cinzia ArruzzaGeorge Souvlis & Ankica Čakardić.

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

    Cinzia Arruzza: This is a difficult question to answer, as I became an activist at the age of thirteen, and since then my whole life has been shaped by this fact. If I had to identify the experiences that have most shaped my political commitments and way of thinking, I could come up with the following list. First, coming from a poor working-class family from Sicily, which exposed me to class injustice and inequalities, sexism, and Italy’s internal soft cultural racism against people from the south (especially in the Nineties, when the Northern League had a surge in the North on an anti-South agenda). When I was a teenager, the turning points in my politicisation were my conversations with a Marxist high school teacher of history and philosophy, who was a neighbour and a friend, reading the Communist Manifesto and Lenin’s State and Revolution, and participating as a high school student in the struggle of the workers of a Pirelli plant in my town, which was shutting down and laying off hundreds of workers who had no hope of finding another job, given the level of unemployment in Sicily. Then the years spent organising the students’ movement in Rome and subsequently the global justice movement. On an intellectual level, my encounter with Daniel Bensaïd, spending years reading Marx’s Capital and Plato, reading Marxist feminist texts and, later, my discovery of black Marxism once I moved to the United States. Also, I would say that moving to New York City has been a turning point on many levels, one of which was my exposure to the US brand of racism, which made me realise how many of my earlier assumptions about capitalism were either wrong or incomplete. But I would say that I’m still in the process of learning, provided this process will ever end…

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    Logistics, Counterinsurgency and the War on Terror: An Interview with Laleh Khalili

    Laleh Khalili interviewed by George Souvlis

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

    Laleh Khalili: I grew up in Iran in the 1970s and early 1980s and being the daughter of Iranian leftist revolutionaries – and later political prisoners and later still exiles – indelibly marked the way I look at the work. On the one hand, growing up in an intellectual leftist household meant introduction to a rich seam of literature and history – not only those of Europeans, but also of Russians and Latin Americans. It meant that names like Che Guevara and George Habash, Angela Davis and the Black Panthers, Ho Chi Minh and General Giap, Salvador Allende and Fidel Castro, Sartre, De Beauvoir, Genet, and Costa Gavras, Garcia Marquez and Cortazar and Neruda, Kazantzakis and Gorky and so many others were familiar and their politics considered familiar.

    On the other hand, my parents’ experiences of incarceration and exile and the resultant dislocation, decimation and devastation made me acutely alive to the workings of this form of violence and inevitably wove world-historic events into the fabric of my personal life.

    Without these two sets of influences –both intellectual and experiential– I don’t think I would have ever produced the kinds of academic works I eventually produced.

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    The Kurdish Struggle: An Interview with Dilar Dirik

    Dilar Dirik interviewed by George Souvlis

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

    Dilar Dirik: As a Kurd, you can never run from your identity, because your identity is essentially political and the level of your political consciousness acts as a self-defense as the only way to secure your survival and existence. That is why insistence on the free expression of your self-determined identity is portrayed as political controversy, nationalism, or terrorism by the capitalist-statist system.

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    Labour and Resistance in Asia: An Interview with Kevin Gray

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

    Kevin Gray: My undergraduate degree was in Chinese Studies, although I quickly became aware of the limitations of Area Studies in terms of its methodological nationalism and its related tendency to try and explain all social, political and economic phenomena with reference to historical and cultural legacies internal to the country in question. While the thought of Mao Zedong, for example certainly contains within it influences of traditional Chinese literature and philosophy, this hardly seemed adequate to understand the broader phenomena of the Chinese revolution and modern state-building in the country and its broader international context. Yet, there seemed to me at least to be a recurrent tendency to try and explain such processes with relevance to particularist historical-cultural factors. Following graduation, I also spent four years living in South Korea, in Kimpo County to the west of Seoul to be precise, just a few short kilometres from the border with North Korea. Perhaps more than any intellectual influence, this experience of living in what was both an industrial and highly militarised environment led me to become acutely aware of the intersections between developmental and geopolitical trends in the region. According to the popular narrative, South Korea had at that time just graduated from developing to developed country status only to be hit by the Asian economic financial crisis. At the same time, the engagement strategy with the North pursued by the Kim Dae--Jung and then Roh Mu-Hyun coincided with a vigorous popular movement against the role of US militarism in the country, which led me to develop an interest in the role of social resistance to both neoliberalism and US imperialism. As a result of these intellectual and personal experiences, I opted to study International Relations at postgraduate level in order to develop my analysis of such trends. After a brief flirtation with World Systems Theory, I found that with Gramscian approaches to International Relations I was able to develop a framework that could incorporate quite complex interconnecting processes of the politics of capitalist industrialisation, geopolitics, and social resistance. These are still very much the issues that drive my research, both in relation to East Asia and more broadly.

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

    Warren Montag interviewed by George Souvlis.

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    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.

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

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    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.

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    Feminism and Social Reproduction: An Interview with Silvia Federici

    Silvia Federici interviewed by George Souvlis and Ankica Čakardić

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    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.

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    Ordoliberalism and the Death of Liberal Democracy: An Interview with Werner Bonefeld

    Werner Bonefeld interviewed by George Souvlis

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    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.

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

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    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.

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    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.

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

    Tithi Bhattacharya interviewed by George Souvlis

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    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.

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

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    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.

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