Tuesday, 16 October 2012

The neighborhood is the new factory

by Liz Mason-Deese, Viewpoint Magazine 

In 2001, Argentina suffered an economic crisis, similar to the one that much of the world is experiencing today. After more than a decade of IMF-mandated structural adjustment, which only deepened poverty and unemployment, the government was forced to default on over $100 billion of public debt and declared a state of emergency in an attempt to calm public unrest. Despite a military-imposed curfew, thousands of people rushed to the streets and forced the president and other politicians out of office with the chant “que se vayan todos/ni se quede uno solo” (they all must go/not one can stay). These protests were the culmination of years of organizing in response to increasing unemployment and simultaneous reductions in welfare programs as part of neoliberal policies. Workers were taking over factories, the unemployed blocking highways, migrants occupying unused land. When joined by the spontaneous protests of the middle class in December, the mobilizations were able to overthrow the government as the president fled Buenos Aires in a helicopter. The movements were not only the largest mass mobilization in Argentina since the 1970s, but also qualitatively different from earlier movements: not interested in taking state power, nor in working more jobs and longer hours, they struggled to create new forms of life, including new forms of socio-spatial organization and the production and distribution of wealth. In the ten years following the crisis, the strongest of the movements, the Movements of Unemployed Workers (Movimientos de Trabajadores Desocupados, MTDs), has continued on this path, even as the country has recovered economically and has so far been able to resist the effects of the global crisis.
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Thursday, 04 October 2012

The Right against the city

by Antonis Vradis, Antipode

“Reclaim our cities”. “Self-organise”. “Take neighbourhood action”. Consider these slogans for a moment. Sound familiar? Indeed they should, echoing as they do a body of scholarship (e.g. Amin and Thrift 2005; Butler 2012; Chatterton 2010; Dikeç 2001; Harvey 2003; Leontidou 2006; 2010; Marcuse 2009; Mayer 2009; Simone 2005) stemming from Henri Lefebvre’s (1996) idea of the ‘Right to the City’ (henceforth ‘RttC’). Despite this common origin, interpretations of the Lefebvrian “right” have been most diverse; perhaps his own often-times abstract writing has inadvertently caused this scholarship to reach outside the confines of his own political allegiance and thought: ten years ago, Mark Purcell (2002) protested that the original RttC notion was more radical than his own concurrent literature would make it appear. But today, a reformist interpretation of Lefebvre might be the least of the worries we are faced with here, on the south-eastern shore of the Mediterranean that is the Greek territory. 
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Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Senzeni Na?

by Chris Rodrigues, Rolling Stone

By the time you read these words, the miners of Marikana will have long crossed the river Styx. Contemplate dear reader: These men with dirt in their pockets, their ears ringing with the noise of exploding lead, the holes through their bodies.

Imagine some nocturnal body of water. And a boat, with such passengers, steered by a ferryman with a sure stroke. In this version, Charon, as the Greeks knew him, doesn't require silver coins. And even if he did, he wouldn't ask anything of these rock-drill operators who, long before they were mown down, had already begun sacrificing limbs and lungs.

Perhaps this river guide, as he places a blanket over their shoulders, quotes passages from Bertolt Brecht:

"You who will emerge from the flood/ In which we have gone under/ Remember/ When you speak of our failings/ The dark time too/ Which you have escaped".

"And yet we know: Hatred, even of meanness/ Contorts the features./ Anger, even against injustice/ Makes the voice hoarse. Oh, we/ Who wanted to prepare the ground for friendliness/ Could not ourselves be friendly".

These men are aware that they trouble so many more people now than when living with asbestos and bilharzia – they were faceless and unregarded. They are informed that the same company that point-blank refused to meet them has since offered - via one its shareholders – to pay for their funerals. When they were alive they knew that a sweetheart union had sent them up shit creek and at this moment in time - travelling down another wretched river - they couldn't care less about future promises.

In this expanse these illiterate subterranean figures are, in the phraseology of Abahlali baseMjondolo, "professors of their own suffering". They can draft PhD's on the political economy of death. They can riff better than any broker about the price of platinum. They can wax like lawyers about police statements.

But what still embitters them is their understanding that they would have to be reincarnated many times over to earn what the CEO of Lonmin did in one single year. Comparing their salary of R48 000 per annum with Ian Farmer's (2011) earnings of R20, 358, 620 amounts to an, approximately, 424 years discrepancy. Taking a recent estimate of average male life expectancy in South Africa (49.81) and deducting just 18 childhood years from that would mean even if they worked every day of their adult life - they would have to do so over 13 unlucky lifetimes!

Such is the normalisation of this capitalist metaphysics that the rival union has been universally rebuked for wanting to reduce it to a ratio of 1 year: 4.26 life spans. No wonder these strikers then entrusted the magic realism of a sangoma, for nothing today needs to be more urgently remedied than "reality".

In the old myth, Charon takes our souls to the kingdom of Hades where we appear before three tribunes who decide whether we are worthy of entry into the Elysian Fields – an altogether middle-class sounding quietus.

Instead, picture a black-sooted boatman accompanying these men to a hill on which is gathered – from across time - hundreds of thousands of spectres just like them - an infernal rabble. They are mostly young because the poor die first. Amongst them are French peasants and Haitian slaves. There are Russians with pitchforks and Spaniards with rifles. There are Naxalites and whole generations of South Africans. Yes, some with knobkerries, machetes and spears!

They are all reciting Brecht's words in the hope that they reach the ears of the living:

"But you, when the time comes at last/ And man is a helper to man/ Think of us/ With forbearance".
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Tuesday, 12 June 2012

The day after the day after tomorrow

by Antonis Vradis, City

The world is watching Greece: hands on smartphones, fingers on shutter buttons breathlessly waiting to capture and tweet the iconic Fall of the Euro…

In the minds of many the images are already there, alive and vivid: locked-up ATMs, angry crowds banging at empty bank building shutters Argentina-style, an overnight return to national currencies and then… then what? The most pressing questions of course lie further ahead, yet our obsession with The Moment, it seems, has obfuscated our collective ability to grasp or even simply try to imagine what these days could look like. More importantly even, it has obfuscated that —as always— the new world is built in the shell of the old. A careful reading of events unfolding on the ground in the country at the present moment can help us trace the possible futures lying ahead of us.
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Friday, 08 June 2012

Restore Democracy! Etienne Balibar and Others Declare Solidarity With Greek Left

Following on the chain of events that, in just three years have plunged Greece into the abyss, everyone knows that the responsibility of the parties in office ever since 1974 is overwhelming. New Democracy (the Right) and PASOK (the Socialists) have not only maintained the system of corruption and privilege — they have benefitted from it and enabled Greece’s suppliers and creditors to profit considerably from it, while the European Community institutions looked the other way. In these conditions, it is astonishing that the European leaders and the IMF, posing as paragons of virtue and severity, should busy themselves in trying to restore to office those same bankrupt and discredited parties by denouncing the “red peril” as embodied by SYRIZA (the radical Left coalition) and threatening to cut off food supplies if the new 17 June elections confirm the rejection of the “Memorandum” that was clearly shown on 6 May last. Not only is this intervention in flagrant contradiction with the most elementary rules of democracy but also its consequences would be terrible for our common future. That alone is a sufficient reason for us, as European citizens, to refuse to allow the will of the Greek people to be stifled. However, the situation is even more serious. For the last two years, the European Union, in close collaboration with the IMF, has been working to strip the Greek people of their sovereignty. On the grounds of stabilizing public finances and modernizing the economy, they have been imposing a draconian system of austerity that is stifling economic activity, reducing the majority of the population to poverty and demolishing the right to work. This neo-liberal style “rectification” program has ended up by liquidating the instruments of production and creating mass unemployment. Pushing it through needed nothing less than the establishing of a State of Emergency unparalleled in Western Europe since the end of the Second World War. The State’s Budget dictated by the Troika, the Greek Parliament is reduced to acting as a rubber stamp; the Constitution has been bypassed several times. This stripping away of the principle of people’s sovereignty goes hand in hand with the humiliation of the whole country. Here, indeed, it has reached its peak — but this does not only apply to Greece. All the peoples of all the member countries of the European Union are considered of no account when it is a matter of imposing a system of austerity that runs counter to all economic rationality, of combining the operations of the IMF and the ECB in support of the banking system and imposing governments of unelected technocrats on them. The Greeks have, on several occasions, make clear their opposition to this policy that is destroying the country while pretending to save it. Innumerable mass demonstrations, 17 days of general strikes in the course of the last two years, actions of civil disobedience like the movement of the “indignant ones” in Synatagma have shown their rejection of the fate to which they were being doomed, without any consultation. What response could be expected from this cry of despair and revolt? A doubling of the lethal dose and of police repression! It was then, in a context where the government had completely lost all legitimacy, that it was decided that a return to the ballot box seemed the only way of avoiding a social explosion. However, the situation is now very clear — the results of the 6 May elections leave no doubt about the mass rejection of the policy being imposed by the Troika. Now, faced with the perspective of a SYRIZA victory at the 17 June elections, a campaign of disinformation and intimidation has been launched both inside the country and at European level. It aims at excluding SYRIZA from being considered a trustworthy political representative. All means are used to disqualify it, starting by labelling it as “extremist” like the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn. SYRIZA has been accused of all the vices: swindling, double speech, irresponsible or infantile demands. If we were to believe this hate-filled propaganda, which is taking up a racist stigmatization of the whole Greek people, SYRIZA is endangering freedom, the world economy and the building of Europe. Therefore is it the joint responsibility of the Greek electors and of our leaders to block its way. Brandishing the threat of an exclusion from the euro and other forms of economic blackmail, a manipulation of the people`s vote is being set up. It is a “shock strategy” whereby the dominant groups are making every effort to turn the vote of the Greek people to serve their interests — that they pretend are also ours. We, the signatories of this text are unable to stay silent faced with this attempt to deprive a European people of their sovereignty, of which elections are the last resort. This campaign of stigmatizing SYRIZA must cease at once as well as the blackmail of exclusion from the euro zone. It is up to the Greek people to decide their fate, rejecting any diktat, rejecting the poisons that their “saviours” were giving them and committing themselves freely to the forms of cooperation indispensible to overcoming the crisis together with the other European peoples. We, in turn affirm that: it is time for Europe to understand the signal sent out from Athens on the 6 May last. It is time to abandon a policy that is ruining society and placing the people under ward-ship so as to save the banks. It is most urgent to put an end to the suicidal drift of a political and economic construction that is transferring government to “experts” and institutionalizes the omnipotence of the financial operators. Europe must be the work of its citizens themselves so as to save their own interests. This new Europe for which we, like the democratic forces that are emerging in Greece, hope and for which we intend to fight is that of all the peoples. In every country, there are two politically and morally antithetical Europes in conflict: that which would dispossess the people to benefit the bankers and that which affirms the right of all to a life worthy of the name and that, collectively, gives itself the means to do so. Thus, what we want, together with the Greek electors and SYRIZA’s activists and leaders, is neither the disappearance of Europe but its refoundation. It is ultra-liberalism that provokes the rise of nationalisms and of the extreme right. The real saviours of the European idea are the supporters of openness, and of the participation of the citizens, the defenders of a Europe where popular sovereignty is not abolished but extended and shared. Yes — Athens is indeed the future of democracy in Europe and it is the fate of Europe that is at stake. By a strange irony of history, the Greeks, stigmatized and impoverished are in the front line of our struggle for a common future. Let us listen to them, support them and defend them! Étienne Balibar is professor of philosophy at the Université de Paris-X. His books include "Reading Capital," "The Philosophy of Marx" and "Race, Nation, Class." Vicky Skoumbi is chief editor of Aletheia (Athens). Michel Vakaloulis is a philosopher and sociologist. continue reading

Sunday, 08 January 2012

Democracy as a Community Life

by Achille Mbembe, Johannesburg Workshop in Theory and Criticism

What might be the conditions of a radical, future-oriented politics in contemporary South Africa? Interrogating the salience of wealth and property, race and difference as central idioms in the framing and naming of ongoing social struggles, Achille Mbembe investigates the possibility of reimagining democracy not only as a form of human mutuality and freedom, but also as a community of life.
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