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Month: July, 2017

Not all Politics is Identity Politics

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by Kenan Malik: 

‘All politics is identity politics.’ And ‘Without identity politics there can be no defence of women’s rights or the rights of minority groups.’ So run the two most common contemporary defences of identity politics. As criticism of the politics of identity has become more developed and fierce, so has the defence. So, I want here to begin a critique of the critique, as it were, and in so doing reassert the necessity for challenging identity politics.

Identities are, of course, of great significance. They give each of us a sense of ourselves, of our grounding in the world and of our relationships to others. At the same time,  politics is a means, or should be a means, or taking us beyond the narrow sense of identity given to each of us by the specific circumstances of our lives and the particularities of personal experiences. As a teenager, I was drawn to politics because of my experience of racism. But if it was racism that drew me to politics, it was politics that made me see beyond the narrow confines of racism. I came to learn that there was more to social justice than challenging the injustices done to me, and that a person’s skin colour, ethnicity or culture provides no guide to the validity of his or her political beliefs. Through politics, I was introduced to the ideas of the Enlightenment, and to the concepts of a common humanity and universal rights. Through politics, too, I discovered the writings of Marx and Mill, Baldwin and Arendt, James and Fanon. Most of all, I discovered that I could often find more solidarity and commonality with those whose ethnicity or culture was different to mine, but who shared my values, than with many with whom I shared a common ethnicity or culture but not the same political vision.

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‘Make It So’: ‘Star Trek’ and Its Debt to Revolutionary Socialism

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by A.M. Gittlitz (nytimes)

H. G. Wells’s foundational work of political science fiction, “The Time Machine,” predicted a future in which a small utopia of sprightly elites is kept running by a subclass that lives below the ground and is reduced to bestial violence. This prediction, carried to a horrifically logical extent, represented the intense wealth disparity of the Victorian England in which Wells wrote the novel. Judging from the major political narratives of the fictions of our era, films like “The Hunger Games,” “Elysium” and “Snowpiercer,” the certainty of a future rendered increasingly barbarous by class division remains essentially the same.

But this was not always the case. In 1920, Wells met Vladimir Lenin, a fellow world-building visionary who planned “the inauguration of an age of limitless experiment” to rebuild and industrialize his country from ruination by years of war, abolishing class society in the process. Wells was impressed by the pragmatic revolutionary and his planned “utopia of electricians.”

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Listen to Capital, Volume 1, by Karl Marx

Of course the method of presentation must differ in form from that of inquiry. The latter has to appropriate the material in detail, to analyse its different forms of development, to trace out their inner connexion. Only after this work is done, can the actual movement be adequately described. If this is done successfully, if the life of the subject-matter is ideally reflected as in a mirror, then it may appear as if we had before us a mere a priori construction.

My dialectic method is not only different from the Hegelian, but is its direct opposite. To Hegel, the life process of the human brain, i.e., the process of thinking, which, under the name of “the Idea,” he even transforms into an independent subject, is the demiurgos of the real world, and the real world is only the external, phenomenal form of “the Idea.” With me, on the contrary, the ideal is nothing else than the material world reflected by the human mind, and translated into forms of thought.

The mystifying side of Hegelian dialectic I criticised nearly thirty years ago, at a time when it was still the fashion. But just as I was working at the first volume of “Das Kapital,” it was the good pleasure of the peevish, arrogant, mediocre Epigonoi [Epigones – Büchner, Dühring and others] who now talk large in cultured Germany, to treat Hegel in same way as the brave Moses Mendelssohn in Lessing’s time treated Spinoza, i.e., as a “dead dog.” I therefore openly avowed myself the pupil of that mighty thinker, and even here and there, in the chapter on the theory of value, coquetted with the modes of expression peculiar to him. The mystification which dialectic suffers in Hegel’s hands, by no means prevents him from being the first to present its general form of working in a comprehensive and conscious manner. With him it is standing on its head. It must be turned right side up again, if you would discover the rational kernel within the mystical shell.

In its mystified form, dialectic became the fashion in Germany, because it seemed to transfigure and to glorify the existing state of things. In its rational form it is a scandal and abomination to bourgeoisdom and its doctrinaire professors, because it includes in its comprehension and affirmative recognition of the existing state of things, at the same time also, the recognition of the negation of that state, of its inevitable breaking up; because it regards every historically developed social form as in fluid movement, and therefore takes into account its transient nature not less than its momentary existence; because it lets nothing impose upon it, and is in its essence critical and revolutionary.

The contradictions inherent in the movement of capitalist society impress themselves upon the practical bourgeois most strikingly in the changes of the periodic cycle, through which modern industry runs, and whose crowning point is the universal crisis. That crisis is once again approaching, although as yet but in its preliminary stage; and by the universality of its theatre and the intensity of its action it will drum dialectics even into the heads of the mushroom-upstarts of the new, holy Prusso-German empire.

Karl Marx
London
January 24, 1873

 

The Dualisms of Capitalist Modernity Reflections on History, the Holocaust, and Antisemitism (Moishe Postone)

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The Dualisms of Capitalist Modernity – Postone

This chapter seeks to relate historical changes in public responses to the Holocaust and understandings of antisemitism, especially on the left, to the historically changing configurations of capitalist modernity since 1945. 1 Thinking about the two together can be clarifying: public responses to the Holocaust have tended to be structured by an opposition between abstract modes of universalism and concrete particularism – an opposition that also is constitutive of modern antisemitism. These responses have shifted with and are related to the changing configurations of capitalist modernity from the statist Fordist–Keynesian configuration of the 1950s and 1960s to a subsequent neoliberal one. Consideration of these large-scale configurations can illuminate the historical character of those responses; at the same time examination of those responses can shed light on these larger historical configurations. This problem complex can be fruitfully approached on the basis of a critical theory of capital, on the one hand, and one of antisemitism, on the other. Within the framework of a critical theory of capital the opposition between abstract modes of universalism and concrete particularism is neither ontologically given nor historically contingent but is intrinsic to the fundamental forms that structure capitalism, namely, the commodity and capital.2 Such an analysis grasps both terms of the opposition – abstract universality and concrete particularity – as remaining bound within the framework of capitalist modernity, however much positions based on each of them have understood themselves to be fundamentally “critical” or “radical,” pointing beyond the existing order. This essay seeks to problematize such “critical” positions by highlighting the one-sided character of each and by drawing attention to a historical shift from the predominance of critiques based on abstract universalism, characteristic of classical liberal thought and, with important differences, working-class movements, to the ascendancy of positions focused on concrete particularity, such as those expressed by liberation struggles that can be deemed anticolonial in the broadest sense. By suggesting that both sorts of responses remain immanent to capitalism, to its double character, the approach presented here problematizes the relation of each to the Holocaust and to antisemitism while contributing to a reflexive critique of emancipatory theory. Far from delineating issues of peripheral importance for critical theories of capitalism then, the problem complex of responses to the Holocaust and the changing configurations of capitalist modernity touches upon issues of fundamental importance for such theories. Within the framework outlined in this chapter consideration of those changing responses not only reveals their generally problematic character, but also illuminates the limits of the left in terms of its most fundamental self-understanding as a practical and theoretical critique of the capitalist order. What mediates these various moments, as I shall elaborate, is the issue of antisemitism. I shall only be able to present a preliminary sketch of this argument here. To do so I shall briefly describe the main features of the two general historical configurations of postwar capitalist modernity and also outline an analysis of antisemitism that distinguishes it from racism in general while showing it to be deeply intertwined with history as constituted by capital. Such an analysis could help conceptually distinguish political terror and mass murder (as expressed metaphorically by Buchenwald and Hiroshima) from extermination (as represented by Auschwitz). These distinctions are important not because the one crime is “worse” than the other but because the left, which has had few problems dealing conceptually with political terror and mass murder, has had difficulty grasping extermination. This difficulty reveals an inadequate understanding of antisemitism and relatedly an underlying weakness in apprehending the fundamental object of the left’s critique: capitalism.


From the book: Jews and Leftist Politics. Judaism, Israel, Antisemitism, and Gender ed. Jack Jacobs (2017)

Welcome to Hell: G20 Hamburg

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Announcing Continuous Live Coverage of the G20 in Hamburg – crimethinc

Welcome to Hell!

Today—July 6, the first day of an international mobilization against the 2017 G20 summit in Germany—we’re be posting continuous live updates, providing firsthand reports and analysis of the events in Hamburg. Tune in right here for continuous updates running late into the night and resuming on Friday if all goes well. We welcome field reports, footage, and updates. Send them to us at G20@crimethinc.com—we’ll sift through them, fact-check them, and blast them out into the world.


The Police Lost Tonight in Hamburg

Summing up the First Day of Resistance to the G20

A video overview of the days events.

While the city of Hamburg is slowly quieting down, there are still many streets on which demonstrators continue to keep the police at bay, pelting them with projectiles and building barricades. It is fair to say that the police will be busy all night. As we’re wrapping up our live coverage of the first day of actions against the G20 in Hamburg, it’s safe to say that the police lost tonight.

The residents of Hamburg woke up this morning to the news that a large number of Porsches had been burned in the outskirts last night, giving an indication of the ungovernable energy with which Hamburg would resist this intrusion.

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Several expensive cars burned this morning, likely in protest against the G20 summit in Hamburg.

Despite the police controlling busses and trains full of activists at the border, they simply could not stop the crowds that gathered in the city center for the Welcome to Hell demonstration. The crowds they had to fear were not a few radical activists listed in the files of the secret police, but the population of Hamburg itself, which came together in opposition to the militarized policing that the G20 forced on the city.

The German police had brought together approximately 20,000 officers, including troops from other EU countries, with the intention of utterly quashing resistance. They brutally raided the camp that activists set up to accommodate protesters, then attacked people who gathered to enjoy themselves in the streets on July 4 and 5. They did everything they could to spread fear, in hopes of intimidating people out of showing up to the demonstrations to express their feelings about capitalism and the state.

It didn’t work. The Welcome to Hell demonstration attracted multigenerational crowds prepared to participate in blocs, black and otherwise. Thousands of people came together with joy, courage, and determination. In response, the police attacked a permitted demonstration without any justification—creating panic, severely injuring many people, and making more than 50 arrests in the first wave of repressive violence.

Yet this only served to foment more outrage against the authorities, which spread all around the city in the form of burning cars, barricades, and multiple simultaneous clashes and demonstrations of thousands. The strategy of terrorizing and kettling people with tremendous numbers of officers using brand-new militarized police equipment and brutal force simply failed. There were too many people on the streets and the police lost control. They report that 76 officers were injuredin Hamburg tonight.

There was a lot at stake today. The German state and the world leaders wanted to show that they are in control, that their reign is popular—or, failing that, that they can successfully dominate the population. They wanted the world to see that they can freely harass, intimidate, and oppress people without consequences. They wanted to flaunt their power by bringing the G20 to a center of resistance. Instead, they demonstrated their weakness.

Tonight, with the help of courageous people from around the world, Hamburg stood up and said Enough. We are humbled and inspired. We will continue tomorrow.

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The Myth of ‘Cultural Appropriation’

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by Walter Benn Michaels

Even our own stories don’t belong to us

Vanessa Place, Kenny Goldsmith, Kelley Walker, Dana Schutz, Sam Durant — these are all white people who in the recent past have made what they intended to be politically transgressive art, and succeeded. But not in the way they were hoping for. Dana Schutz’s painting of the dead Emmett Till was not meant to insult Till’s memory. Sam Durant’s “Scaffold,” a sculpture critiquing the execution by hanging of, among others, 38 Native Americans, was meant as just that — a critique. The point of all these works was resolutely antiracist.

Indeed, if one were to criticize them as political art, it would not be for expressing controversial positions. Just the opposite: Among the visitors to the Whitney Biennial or the Walker Art Center, the antiracism to which all these artists are committed is almost uncontested, and their politics could more plausibly be characterized as anodyne than outrageous.

So what got them in trouble? It wasn’t a belief in white supremacy; it was their embodiment of white privilege, the privilege that enabled them to treat something that didn’t belong to them as if it did. “Not Your Story” read a sign at the Walker Art Center, in Minneapolis, protesting “Scaffold.” “The subject matter is not Schutz’s,” wrote Hannah Black in her open letter to the curators of the Whitney Biennial. The idea here is that when white artists seek to “imagine other peoples, other cultures, other identities,” as Hal Niedzvicki (a former editor of the journal of the Canadian Writers Union) recently urged all writers to do, what they’re really doing is less imagining other cultures than stealing from them. And, as the Equity Task Force of that same union put it in protest of Niedzvicki’s editorial: “The theft of voice, stories, culture, and identity are part of a long-standing settler agenda for cultural genocide and cannot be treated lightly.”

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