Monday, 25 May 2015

The End of the University

In her splendid and pithy recent book Undoing the Demos: Neoliberalism's Stealth Revolution (2015), the American political theorist Wendy Brown argues, in dialogue with Foucault's 1979 College de France lectures on the 'birth of biopolitics', that neoliberalism is not merely a set of economic arrangements, but a form of rationality itself.  This helps to explain neoliberalism's extraordinary success in attaining almost global hegemony.  It is not, and has not been, simply a set of ideas or practices derived from Friedman and Hayek, or from the governments of Reagan and Thatcher.  Rather, in the fullest senses of Gramscian hegemony, it has succeeded in inserting itself into the full range of human activities, experiences and values.  It has succeeded in convincing most of us that the values of our often plutocratic/bureaucratic/corporate masters are actually our own, and that they answer to and express our own most fundamental interests.  It is this strength-in-depth that has permitted neoliberalism to emerge from the recent economic and financial crisis - which it helped to produce - apparently almost unscathed.  Never Let a Serious Crisis Go to Waste, as Philip Mirowski put it in an eponymous study of the durability of conservative economic thought.  The solution to the crisis of neoliberalism has been, it would seem, more neoliberalism.

Nowhere more than in the western university, as this blog has noted on several occasions.  The strength of Brown's book is that it shows how the value-system of neoliberalism has suffused higher education - particularly in America, but in Europe also.  Not only does this work to compromise the pure good of learning, but it also, in fact, threatens our democracies.  Universities are not just knowledge factories, but arenas where political subjectivities are developed and refined.  Universities help to produce and inculcate ideas of the public good, of how to live what Aristotle called 'the good life', and, as a consequence, of democracy itself.  The hollowing-out of our universities by neoliberal rationality is at the leading edge of the hollowing-out of our democracies.

And here is yet another example of the ugliness of the corporate university.  Various Western higher education institutions have been induced - presumably mostly by money - to set up branches and units in various of the Gulf emirates.   New York University, located in Manhattan mostly around the West Village and Washington Square, has been constructing a campus in Abu Dhabi.  There, it has happily turned a blind eye to the corrupt and often racist work practices and conditions for labourers on its sites in this princedom.   Here, on the Jacobin website, Jonah Walters, an undergraduate student at NYU, writes cogently and bravely about his own university's implication in a complex of power, corruption and abuse which is the antithesis of the university's professed humane values:

The Exploitation University



Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Afterlives of the Commune

I recently drew attention to Kristin Ross's striking new book on the Paris Commune, posting an interview with Ross which was originally published on Jacobin's website.

Now I want direct readers to a wonderful collection of maps of the shifting topographies of the Commune, published by Leopold Lambert, and linked by Verso:

Chrono-cartography of the Paris Commune


This link takes the reader to the exciting and interesting website/blog of Leopold Lambert, an architect and cartographer working both in Paris and New York.  At the moment, clicking on M. Lambert's site brings me to a SiteAdvisor warning, but hopefully he will clean up his site, or otherwise fix it, so that such impediments to its being read will cease to be.





Friday, 15 May 2015

Nakba - A Time To Reflect On Damaged Lives

Today is Israel's 'Independence' Day.  As this blog has already noted, it's never clear just what or who Israel declared independence from - the Ottoman Turks were long gone, the British Mandate was ending, no Palestinian state ever came into being (thanks to Israeli ethnic cleansing and a secret agreement with the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, negotiated in part by a young Golda Meir).

Better to think of this day as that on which the state constructed on the basis of the expulsions then already underway came into official being.  Palestinians now call this Nakba Day, the day of the catastrophe. Israel's triumphal 'birth' was made possible by the forcing out of 700,000-800,000 people, and the destruction of over 400 of the villages in which those people had once dwelt.

Israel likes to see its independence as legitimated by UN General Assembly Resolution 181, passed in November 1947.  But this is a cynical and hypocritical ideological ploy, since Israel worked hard to expunge the other state or potential thus legitimated, and took over much of its territory in 1947-1949, conquering the remainder in June 1967.

Here's some reading for the day:

First, a link to the blog of the Institute of Palestine Studies, which takes the reader to a collection of images of Palestine before and after 1948, focused on the cities of Jaffa, Haifa and Jerusalem:

 Nakba Day 2015

From Electronic Intifada:

Forced to leave grapes on the vine: the open wounds of May 1948


Also from Electronic Intifada, an important overview from Joseph Massad:


Palestinians and the dilemmas of solidarity


From Mondoweiss:


‘So wait, the Nakba is…?': Listening to Israelis discuss the Nakba


Israel’s state ideology tantamount to the ongoing Palestinian Nakba

For Palestinians, history is never behind us': Family memories on Nakba Day



Monday, 11 May 2015

That Story - Seymour Hersh Debunks The Official Line On The Killing of Bin Laden

Seymour Hersh, one of America's most renowned investigative and foreign correspondents - the writer who revealed the My Lai massacre in Vietnam in 1968, and who was crucial in exposing Israel's secret nuclear programmes to the world in his  book The Samson Option - has walked into a dense sandstorm of official calumny and denial with his new article on the death of Osama bin Laden.   Here's his essay - published not in an American journal, but in the London Review of Books:

Seymour M. Hersh: The Killing of Osama bin Laden

Alexander Cockburn was much too elegant and decent a writer ever to wag his finger and say 'I told you so', but were he still with us, he'd be glad to see Hersh's story out now.  Here he is, extraordinarily prescient, back in 2011, just four days after Bin Laden's assassination: 

Bin Laden's Assassination: a Volcano of Lies



Sunday, 10 May 2015

Letting Britain Bleed

The British general election result is depressing for all on the left or with a scintilla of liberal sentiment.  The first-past-the-post voting system has produced a Tory majority, even when Labour may have actually increased its vote (marginally) in percentage terms.  The divisions between the south of England and the rest of the country have widened more than ever.  A Conservative government will retain its ludicrous nuclear arsenal, continue to behave at times as if Suez had never happened, and continue to immiserate large swatches of the population - it offers economic 'stability' but this will only be the stability of continuing class polarisation, of the expansion of precarious employment, and Little Englandism vis-a-vis Europe and immigration.

On the other hand, we must also note that what Tom Nairn famously called 'the break-up of Britain', writing at the same moment as the Sex Pistols sarcastically yelled 'God Save the Queen', progresses apace - Scotland is surely lost to 'Great Britain', with unpredictable results for the whole of the UK, and Northern Ireland in particular.  Just how positively will it reflect on Cameron and his 'Conservative and Unionist Party' to preside over Scottish secession?

The major job now in British politics is the fate of Labour: how the party will recover, or finally die.  Here are some articles worth reading on this matter.

Tariq Ali, writing on Counterpunch, says that Labour should be let bleed:

Farewell to the United Kingdom

David Runciman on the London Review of Books: 

David Runciman: Notes on the Election


Richard Seymour on his excellent website Lenin's Tomb:

This is not 1992


Here's a fine list of reading on the Verso website to prepare for the fight ahead with the Tories, but note also Tariq Ali's stricture in the comment-space of this piece on what he sees as the publisher's sentimentality about the UK:


A Conservative nightmare



Wednesday, 6 May 2015

The Meaning of the Paris Commune

For a few weeks in the spring of 1871, Paris was ruled by the last great revolutionary movement to shake France until the événements of May 1968.  The Commune, which lasted in its full form from March 18 until May 28, arose from a particular conjuncture - the ongoing radicalisation of French and particularly Parisian workers from the 1830s, and the defeat of the French regular army in the war launched against Prussia by the headstrong and ignorant Napoleon III, which culminated in the siege of Paris by Prussian forces, and led to the collapse of the Second Empire.

In a situation where the city of Paris was barely defended by regular forces, the National Guard, a local militia, became the primary armed defense of the city.  In doing so, it also became the conduit by which the workers' movements and various revolutionary movements, most notably the Blanquist radicals, sought to seize power and either rival or displace the national government, which was reassembling its strength outside Paris.  For a brief time, a socialist-republican urban government ruled the city.  Eventually, in the last week of May, the 'bloody week', the Commune was defeated and destroyed in an orgy of violence by French nationalist soldiers, which included the burning of the Tuileries Palace and the Hotel de Ville.   The brutal culmination was a series of massacres at Pere-Lachaise cemetery, where the last 150 Communard soldiers, having surrendered, were summarily shot at what is still known as the Communards' Wall.

Kristin Ross, a distinguished cultural historian and professor of comparative literature at New York University, can legitimately claim to be one of the pre-eminent historians in English of French culture and of its insurrectionary moments.  Her book May 68 and its Afterlives is one of the best books on that turning point of French culture, and she published a book on Rimbaud and the Commune some years ago.  Now we have her new book, Communal Luxury: The Meaning of the Paris Commune, freshly published by Verso, and already hailed by Fredric Jameson and Joan Scott as both a vital intellectual history of the Commune, and Ross's own manifesto for new ways of thinking our future, suturing the interests of radical Paris in 1871 to the new revolutionary movements of our own times.  Here is Ross, interviewed in - appropriately enough - Jacobin:

The Meaning of the Paris Commune



Monday, 4 May 2015

Selective Compassion - Zionism from the Standpoint of its Non-Palestinian Victims

One of Edward Said's greatest essays is 'Zionism from the Standpoint of its Victims', which was published originally in the inaugural edition of Social Text, and also as a chapter in Said's 1979 book, The Question of  Palestine.  The essay is magnificent in its yoking together in a relatively brief span (about 50 pages) the full range of his erudition and his critical acumen - literature, history, politics and theory, all woven into a seamless counter-narrative to Zionism's self-aggrandising Whiggish story of the ingathering of the Jewish 'nation', of its 'making the desert bloom' in Palestine, and its creation of a new state.  Said's basic point is that the story of Zionist-Jewish triumph - to a great degree a very real triumph - can only be properly understood, and finally countermanded, by a recognition of the accompanying shadow story of the Palestinian society that was destroyed to make Israel possible.  A properly dialectical understanding of the situation in the Middle East requires - for historical, but also for political and even ethical reasons - a reading of these stories as mutually dependent.

Some years later, the distinguished Israeli-Iraqi scholar, Ella Shohat, published an essay of arguably equal importance and power, 'Zionism from the Standpoint of its Jewish Victims'.  Shohat's argument was that Zionism was essentially a European Ashkenazi creation, and that Mizrahi Jews, encouraged or forced to come to Israel after 1948, had suffered a racial 'othering' at the hands of the Ashkenazi-dominated society of the new state not altogether unlike that experienced by Palestinians left behind in pre-1967 Israel.  Zionism, that is, set up a hierarchy not only of Jews and non-Jews, but also of Jews and Jews that needed to be de-Arabised or flensed of their Middle Eastern heritage.

In the 1980s, during the Ethiopian famines, Israel put in place an airlift, to bring the Falasha Jews, now called Beyt Yisrael, of east Africa to Israel.  The project was cast in the Western media as essentially a rescue operation, but in fact Israel's creating conditions for Ethiopian Jewish aliyah was always also a political matter.  It must be noted, of course, that the Emperor of Ethiopia, Haile Selassie, had not permitted Beyt Yisrael emigration to Israel, and equally, it was only in 1977 that Israel decided that the Law of Return applied to this Jewish community at all.

The fate of the Ethiopian Jews in Israel has not been easy, and this too points to the quasi-ethnic hierarchy on which Israel is built.  Tensions between the Ashkenazi or 'white' Jewish elites, and the African population have now issued in violence.  Here is an essay from Mondoweiss, on this disturbing topic: 

'Baltimore is Here: Ethiopian Israelis protest police brutality in Jerusalem

An extra-territorial demonstration of this attitude is dramatised by Israel's 'aid' operations in Nepal, in the wake of the recent catastrophic earthquake.  Here is Belén Fernández dissecting the ideology, or political intentionality, of Israeli humanitarianism on Jacobin:

Israel’s “Selective Compassion”



Saturday, 2 May 2015

Thinking the Palestinian Disaster - Born of Design, Not War

I have been reading Ilan Pappe's book, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine (2006).   The book is notable for its effort to shift understanding of what happened in Palestine in 1947-1949 from a paradigm or framework of 'war' (where the emergent Jewish state was at war with Palestinian guerrillas and with the neighbouring Arab states, and the refugee problem was an unfortunate and unlooked-for outcome (though fortuitous and God-given, for Zionism) of that fighting) to the paradigm or framework of 'ethnic cleansing' (where a conscious effort and prepared plan for the pushing out of the Palestinian population was executed, both before and then in parallel with the war with the Arab states).  Pappe is not the first author to make this argument - it was made by Nur Masalha, Norman Finkelstein and most notably Walid Khalidi before him.  But he makes the case interestingly, charting the expulsions of Palestinians at times on a village-by-village basis.  Sadly, the book is undertheorised - there is a large literature now on 'ethnic cleansing', including important and powerful studies by the likes of Michael Mann and Ben Kiernan, but Pappe makes no effort to learn from this body of work - poorly edited, and not always referenced with the rigour such a potentially controversial argument needs, and this has permitted Pappe's rivals and enemies, notably Benny Morris, to launch powerful attacks on the book and its thesis. 

This thesis is of the greatest importance.  Mann argues that ethnic cleansing is or can be the 'dark side of democracy'.  By this he means that in many democracies a dangerous isomorphism emerges between the demos, and a dominant ethnos; i.e. that 'the people' in whom sovereignty is vested becomes identified with a particular ethnos or ethnic group.   The reason this idea is of great significance in regard to Israel/Palestine is because it allows us to think Israel's democracy and its ethnic exclusivity together, dialectically, in the manner of the Israeli geographer Oren Yiftachel, who has famously dubbed Israel an 'ethnocracy'.  This in turn allows us to wedge open the description of Israel as 'Jewish and democratic', and to show its inconsistencies and hypocrisies.

This critical task is particularly important as we approach the sixty-seventh anniversary of the birth of the state of Israel and the Nakba that overlaps and intertwines with it, and the forty-eighth anniversary of the occupation of the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and the Golan Heights.  Just look at those comparative timelines.  It's time we recognised that the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza and the Golan is no anomaly, but is fundamental to the nature of Israel as it has developed.  The occupation is, in a strong sense, Israel writ openly.   Whereas inside the Green Line, the mailed fist of ethnic supremacism wears the velvet glove of putative democracy, in the Territories the gloves are off, and the hidden violence of the 'Jewish' state is exposed in all its narcissism, cynicism and brutality.

Here are the links to a battery of articles - particularly concerned with Palestinian testimonies of the Nakba - posted by the Journal of Palestine Studies for free, to mark this moment:

Author: Fauzi Al-Qawuqji 

Author: Fauzi Al-Qawuqji

Author: Fawaz Turki

 Authors: Mamdouh Nofal, Fawaz Turki, Haidar Abdel Shafi, Inea Bushnaq, Yezid Sayigh, Shafiq al-Hout, Salma Khadra Jayyusi, and Musa Budeiri

Author: Ghada Karmi

Author: Adel Manna’ 

Author: Muhammad Hallaj

Author: Sami Hadawi


Why BDS Matters, How It Can Be Effective

On April 16, Bashir Abu-Manneh, who after undergoing a harrowing and deeply contentious tenure battle at Barnard College in New York now teaches at the University of Kent, spoke at Trinity College Dublin on the state of the struggle between Israel and the Palestinians, and addressed the issue of boycott, in particular the academic boycott.  This event was organised by Academics for Palestine, the grouping of Irish academics assembled last year to campaign for boycott in the Irish third level education system.

Here is Bashir's excellent talk, as published on the Jacobin website:

The Occupation and BDS