Category Archives: capitalism

Corporate Watch

Corporate Watch is launching a new project called Corporate Rule
(http://corporate-rule.co.uk), which they intend to be a dynamic showcase
for some of the best independent, corporate-critical research on corporate
power, sparking debate and provoking action.

Corporate Rule is a web-based resource featuring new and old research into
the relationships between corporations and various social, economic and
political structures and institutions. The project aims to explore the
mechanisms deployed by corporations in exercising and accumulating their
power over the decisions made in what are often called ‘democratic’
countries, with a specific focus on how this plays out in the UK, and the
ways in which corporate ideologies and discourses facilitate this by
co-opting and/or suppressing people’s active democratic participation.

The project also highlights alternatives to this mode of living and
organising, providing examples of real democracy in action and looking at
ways forward in opposing corporate rule. Some of the content might be
published in the future as a series of topical briefings. To find out more
about the project, please see http://corporate-rule.co.uk/drupal/about.

Wages for Housework readings

Selma James and Dalla Costa (1972), The power of women and the subversion of the community (pdf)

Selma James et al. (1975), Sex, Race and Class

Ellen Malos (ed.) (1980), The Politics of Housework

Alice Kessler-Harris (1981), Women Have Always Worked: A Historical Overview

Selections from Leopoldina Fortunati (1995), The Arcane of Reproduction: Housework, Prostitution, Labor and Capital

Maria Mies (1998), Patriarchy and Accumulation on a World Scale: Women in the International Division of Labour

Mariarosa Dalla Costa & Giovanna F. Dalla Costa (eds.) (1999), Women, Development and the Labor of Reproduction: Struggles and Movements

P. E. Perkins (2000), Feminist understandings of productivity (pdf)

Precarias a la Deriva (2006), A Very Careful Strike: Four hypotheses the commoner (pdf)

Kathi Weeks (2007), Life Within and Against Work: Affective Labor, Feminist Critique, and Post-Fordist Politics, ephemera (pdf)

P. Cunninghame (2009), Italian feminism, workerism and autonomy in the 1970s: The struggle against unpaid reproductive labour and violence, Mute Magazine

links kindly filched from our friends at Generation Online.

 


1968
Wages for Housework G. W. F. Hegel Ludwig Feuerbach Karl Marx Alfred Sohn-Rethel Jean-Paul Sartre Antonio Gramsci Commodity Form Louis Althusser Nicos Poulantzas Georg Lukacs Uneven Development V. I. Lenin Productive/ Unproductive Labour Regis Debray C.L.R.James Lucio Colletti Immaterial Labour George Bataille Pierre Macherey Exodus Antonio Negri Dialectics Guy Debord Hasdai Crescas Andre Glucksmann Braudel - Annales School Saul Alinski Surrealism Aglietta - REGULATION SCHOOL POST MARXISM - Hindess  & Hirst Maurice Godelier Refusal (to work) I.I.Rubin International Situationists Roger Garaudy Resnick/Wolfe/ Rethinking Marxism Piero Sraffa Existentialism Alexandre Kojeve Etienne Balibar Maria Rosa Dalla Costa Silvia Federici

 

UfSO international (New York clocks in)

The recent UfSO exposé of Coutts & Co saw simultaneous action take place on both sides of the Atlantic.  Whilst the UfSO undertook its creative action in the face of upper-class bankers Coutts & Co’s creative accountancy, a coordinated lecture was staged at Coutts’ New York offices.

On the 28th and 29th Jan UfSO featured in an initiative from New York’s The Art School in the Art School, which saw them present work including recent UfSO action in the ‘I know you know I know you know‘ exhibition, curated by the ACE Curatorial Collective at Hunter College’s Times Square Gallery.

In conjunction with this and in solidarity with UfSO the group attempted to gain entry to Coutts New York offices and staged a reading of the UfSO lecture on site.  We would like to express our gratitude to them for doing this and encourage similar affiliated actions or autonomous educational interventions from like-minded groups across the globe.  Off-shore mobility can be no defence in the face of global action.  We call for globalised mass action in the face of a coordinated, world-wide attack on public values, jobs, workers rights and access to education.

See here for UfSO Pages

News Flash Coutts-Flash

This was just sent in to me from wherever the off shore institutional base of UfSO is just now (having done a deal it seems):

Friday, 28 January 2011

For immediate release

Flashmob at Coutts, private bank to the British establishment

Today the University for Strategic Optimism (UfSO), light-heartedly flash-mobbed the head office of Coutts in 440 Strand, London. Dressed-up as wealthy bankers, the group presented the bank with a giant blank cheque representing the bailout it has received from the UK taxpayer. Coutts is a private bank for the super-rich and although almost entirely publicly owned by the UK tax-payer (as a subsidiary of RBS) and its main business is to help its wealthy clients to avoid paying taxes.

The peaceful action was carried out by the University for Strategic Optimism, a university based on the principle of free and open education, a return of politics to the public and the politicisation of public space. Its previous activities have included other flash-lectures in banks and shops; interventions on the tube and a conference on violence, presented live from the Parliament Square kettle at last year’s student protests. For more info, see the UfSO blog http://universityforstrategicoptimism.wordpress.com (video of today’s action coming soon).

As the queen’s own bank, Coutts is very selective of its customers and half a million pounds is the minimum requirement to open an account there. But even if you can’t afford to bank with Coutts, as a taxpayer you are among the majority shareholders of its parent company, RBS. With branches throughout the UK, Coutts specialises in what it calls ‘wealth management’ on behalf of its super-rich customers – in other words, helping them avoid paying taxes.

Coutts, one of the oldest pillars of the British financial establishment, was adopted as the location of the UfSO’s latest action in order to highlight the ridiculously unfair situation of UK taxpayers propping up a financial institution that exists primarily to help the wealthy avoid paying those the very taxes that keep it in existence. Those not rich enough to bank with Coutts are paying through their contributions for a bank that enables the wealthy to avoid them. The injustice of this situation is staggering. What’s even more staggering, is the fact that it seems very few actually realise what it is that Coutts does, and that it received funding from the government bailout.

When the government claims there is no alternative to the ongoing, devastating cuts to public services, welfare and university education, we need only look to Coutts to see that lie graphically exposed. The government is using our own money to prop up a bank, which exists in order to encourage wealthy individuals, whose private fortunes could more than tackle the deficit, to avoid paying their fair share. With its antique wallpaper and private banqueting suites, publicly owned Coutts is a parody of private privilege and vividly exposes the criminal ideology behind this government’s fire sale of our treasured public institutions. The corporate advertising slogan of such a bank should be: ‘Pay your taxes so the super-rich don’t have to’. Whilst the government is using our money to help out these tax avoiders, public services that we all rely upon are being systematically dismantled and sold off. This is the serious issue that the UfSO seeks to draw attention to with today’s action.

Contact: universityforstrategicoptimism@gmail.com
http://universityforstrategicoptimism.wordpress.com

Sunbeams and Colonial Adjustment

IRNA news agency interview:

Do you think the cause of these objections in Britain is increasing university ‘s fees or other issues like the government’s policy, economy and other things play role in it? Why the government officials did not fulfill their promises for fixing the fees?

The unrest in Britain is described in the media as about fees, but not a single student I have talked to, nor member of staff or other supporter of the anti-cuts campaigns, has failed to point out that its not primarily about fees but about a generalized attack by the neoliberal capitalist ruling class upon a very wide range of people.
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The betrayal and hypocrisy of some politicians of course attracts some anger, but few people really have any faith that the parliamentary officials offer real alternatives – the chant on the streets is for ‘revolution’ – though of course there are many, many other chants. Some are personal – ‘Nick Clegg shame on you, shame on you for turning blue’ is one polite one – others are less polite. Some evoke the horrible days of Margaret Thatcher. Maggie Maggie Maggie, out out out! Possibly the most commonly mentioned reference points for current feeling in the UK are Thatcher’s Poll Tax riots, the 1930s anti-fascist actions in Cable Street East London, the Suffragettes fighting for the women’s vote at the start of the 20th century, the Chartists fighting for voting reform in the 19th century, or the support for the Jacobins (Coleridge and so on) in the 18th century – all of this is interesting, but in new circumstances with new tools. For example video sites and social networking as a mode of organising is well advanced. What the campaigns really need however is to link up more with international movements, such as those in Palestine, Iran, Nepal, South America and so on.
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An analysis of why the Government are implementing these cuts now is also very important in international terms. The deficit is not the largest the UK has had, but the neoliberal capitalists are taking the opportunity of a coalition government to implement a wide restructuring - a kind of structural adjustment – that will destroy the welfare state compact of the post WW2 period and further open the way for global corporations to profit, while ensuring increasing restriction and hardship for most. In some sectors this situation is also seen by Government as an opportunity to introduce restrictive and draconian – even proto-fascist – policies. This happens in several areas in different ways, and with different levels of party support. For example around immigration, using the justification of the imagined threat of ‘terror attacks’ – which of course is a racist coding, by an old imperial power keen to continue colonial politics where it can – the restrictions are cross-party, which is to say, each of the parliamentary parties is vying to see just how racist they can be. It appears to be slightly different on housing, which in the hands of the Con-Dem coalition is a sort of ‘ethnic cleansing’ programme for the reserve army of labour, who are to be consigned to the northern telemarketing work camps. On education and education funding specifically, as many have noted, none of the mainstream parties are truly unable to offer a progressive position. This is not yet to begin to address the scandals of banking bailouts, corporate bonuses and tax avoidance, rampant greed, the global mining and military industry death machine – and shareholdings in such – and other ruling class atrocities. The parliamentary path will not address such concerns, if anything is to be done they must be swept aside.
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What do you think about Britain ‘s police reaction to the students? Isn’t there any peaceful way to counter the protests instead of violent attack to the students?
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Police reaction to the students has been quite extreme, very violent provocation, use of horse charges, batons, beatings, very agressive so-called ‘tactics’, named after kitchen appliances, but clearly designed to escalate tensions. In a time of cuts to all social services the police have an interest in making themselves seem useful, and of course they – like us – know things are to get more volatile over the coming months. They have colluded with the press to find ‘front page’ sensation images, such as relatively insignificant anarchist actions, or the sacrificial offering of the Prince’s ride (the Royal vehicle) which was allowed onto streets in full knowledge that that was where militants were rampant. It can be assumed this was not merely a communications error, but rather a gamble that a dint in the rolls Royce would make a better cover story than the pictures of Santa Clause trying to break into the treasury (during, it must be said, a recession). Of course the violent attacks on students, the vast majority of them teenagers, was an error of judgement on the part of the police (as the BBC reporter quipped about the Prince, ‘heads will roll’), but the scandal of the Royal car was a fairly tame incident – it was not after all St Petersburg!, nor was it Cromwell helping execute another Royal called Charles in 1649. The repaint job done on the Prince’s ride has of course been seized upon by desperate politicians. Even the Prime Minister has been caught out in a lie about what was happening, saying that Police had been pulled from their horses and beaten at parliament – when video footage shows the policeman who fell from his horse was trampled by his own animal, with no students near him at all. The massive numbers of injured protesters – including one who had to have 3 hours of brain surgery – suggest the police have been the instigators of violence. I have witnessed this in person – in every protest it is the police that have been looking for a fight. As I suggested before, it is in their interests to seem to be needed.
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The protesters are angry for sure – and the reasons are clear. Many accept the need for direct action, ranging from graffiti on state buildings, statues, occupations of colleges, to actions in shopping centres and commercial businesses, because this is proven to be the only way to be heard. 2 million people marched in London (1 out of every 30 Britons) against the invasion of Iraq and Tony Blair did not listen at all – instead lying his way toward war criminal infamy. He will not be tried in the international criminal court until there is a mass movement demanding a different kind of Government in the UK. It may be starting here – Blair was Thatcher’s child and now his party is in power, disguised as a coalition, but dragging all politicos into exposure. An alternative is in the offing. It is certainly necessary – the only kind of democracy worth fighting for is the one that fights at home – not bombs other countries on suspect whim and because Jesus has chosen you for a sunbeam!

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Western countries always claim that most of developing countries don’t observe human rights. Don’t you think that human rights and the right of protests for the students and other parts of people in west and especially Britain are ignored by the governments?
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Human rights is a category that favours Western Govt criticism of so-called ‘developing societies’. The evidence of Guantanamo, special rendition, deportation, immigration policy, complicity with torture, increased civil liberty restrictions – and even recently the arrest and detention of WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange, all show that human rights is a meaningless phrase. Even if there are examples of abuses and atrocities in other countries, the record of the UK has never been clean. Never. It would be a grand idea to make it so.
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The £100 Pound Shop

Trinketization is clearly escalating over the river in Dalston, and I can’t say I disapprove.

I have said before: Shopping is civil war. Here is evidence.

But then, its choice, so do head out to support this venture where you can (perhaps by shoplifiting?)

Point your browser here:
http://www.onehundredpoundshop.com/our_promise_to_you.html

(thanks to Joel McKim for discovering this)

 

Baby Elephant V Crocodile v Bernard Stiegler

‘A grazing animal, for example, a stag (a forest herbivore …) is vigilant at the same time that it grazes, first with regard to he possible proximity of predators; it can, moreover, even while grazing and protecting itself, also protect its young, as well as its grazing mate, who is herself protecting her young’ (Stiegler 2009/2010:78).

- I am worried that Bernard has only found the bourgeois family reproduced in the Bambi forest scenario, but this is also an opportunity to note that the disturbing picture in The Guardian today of the baby elephant versus the crocodile had a moral narrative – the herd of elephants together made sufficient noise to fend off the croc. For once, perhaps despite itself, The Guardian offers up something noteworthy about popular resistance.

National Instruments

On the initiative of Moinak Biswas, Film Studies Jadavpur Uni, Kolkata, and with great input from Rosalind Morris, but initially inspired by the Preservation in Globalization workshop convened by Gayatri Spivak and Jorge Otero-Pailos, an interesting redevelopment seems possible. A disused factory site adjacent the Jadavpur campus was toured by our group in early December. A documentation of the site has begun by photographers invited by the Jadavpur Media Lab has generated some great pictures, see here. The site was left pretty much intact when the factory closed in 2003 – well worth  a look.

Now (see below) there is a plan to gut the site and turn it over to the engineering faculty. The site is huge – there is room for something alongside. Hence, the following draft international petition:

For continued innovation at the National Instruments site, Jadavpur.

The redevelopment of the National Instruments site offers a rare opportunity to look forward and back at the changing dynamic of industrial production. The extant materials, documents, personal effects, and machinery (lathes, punch card clocks, work desks) provide a physical record of workplace experience now passing. Jadavpur University, with its reputation, scholarship and global reach is well placed to facilitate an innovative approach that builds upon the proud history of NI and looks forward creatively to new developments.

A simple shroud should not be passed over this accumulated wealth of objects, and labour, from the past. The factory remains might be best preserved by the University in a working space that is devoted to tracking the transformations of industrial production and workplace experience in India. That a museum and art/technology laboratory has been proposed is supported by international scholars, a large number of whom have visited the site and/or noted the initial documentary work produced by Moinak Biswas and his team. We consider this an excellent, exciting and potentially rewarding possibility for joint work and international co-ordination. Scholars would seek international funds to locate research projects on labour history, urban development, new economy (service sector, technology, privatization) and co-research in joint ventures with Jadavpur scholars and students. A truly international project to unite workers of the world might be reanimated here.

The idea is that various people will sign this and it be put to the Jadavpur heads to consider the proposal, from Media Lab and Film Studies, to do something interesting with the site. Well, I think its interesting. I used to work in a similar factory as a grubby teenager. My dad spent a very large part of his life in one – Stanley, Nunawading, Melbourne, Australia. I have a touch of the heebie-jeebie’s looking at the machines, especially the drills where I had spent long low-paid days… (the picture I have used is from a post by Madhuban Mitra and Manus Bhattacharya – with thanks)

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Giving some history of National Instruments, and of the original preservation project and future plans, Moinak writes:

The factory started off in 1830 under the name ‘mathematical instrument maker’, then became ‘mathematical instruments office’, both serving mainly the ‘survey of india’ instituted by the east india company. During ww1 it got seriously involved with the defense dept., became national instruments factory; was relocated to the premises you saw in 1957, renamed ‘national instruments limited’ (NIL) as a public sector unit under the union govt. the factory mainly made optical instruments for survey, measurement, photography, etc. and was popularly known for its national 35 camera. It fell into some crisis first in the 60′s, and then into a more serious one in the 80′s, got referred to the board of industrial and financial reconstruction (BIFR). Manufacture stopped in 2003. most workers accepted the voluntary retirement scheme (VRS) and left in march, 2003. 64 employees remained on campus and witnessed the ruination. In 2009, jadavpur university took over the property with the aim of building an extension campus for the engineering faculty.

the media lab of the dept of film studies at jadavpur undertook extensive photo documentation of the premises in june, 2009. we commissioned 10 young photographers and filmmakers to shoot for 4 months on the premises, covering everything possible. we have a bank of 20 thousand still images and 60 hours of video footage. a blog from the stills (http://darklythroughalens.wordpress.com/) and a couple of films have been made. more projects will follow. we have shot interviews with many ex-employees. it’s now a substantial labour and industrual landscape archive.

but there should also be preservation of a different kind. the university has started renovating parts of the buildings, and will soon remove most of the equipment and files, etc. we were thinking of proposing the creation of a space, using one big room like the canteen you saw, which will preserve their products, some of the tools, machine parts, workers’ id papers, bills, service documents, policy documents, the punch card machines, etc, and at the same time be an active space for independent art practice, including independent film screenings, installations, etc. the major problem is to persuade the university to spare that space. it would pay more serious attention to an international community of artsits and intellectuals. but we should keep in mind what can be sustained and how far, given the public funded university framework in india, and given the fact that anything doing with art has first to prove its vialbility to the engineering faculty dominated.

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This is great stuff – history and potential. But there are also things to debate. University take over of the fading industrial economy has a long track record (see here, here and  here). Is it really possible to tamper with such trajectories? Besides drafting the above call at Moinak’s request, I also offered my two pice worth of cynicism earlier in the discussion [note: I was a bit ill at the time]:

Moinak, your sentence on the the creation of a space that will both preserve the NI worker’s “products, some of the tools, machine parts, workers’ id papers, … punch card machines, etc, and at the same time be an active space for independent art practice” is a great start. But I wonder if the museum/archive route is too passive, and might not claim much in terms of physical space in the building (when it all should be kept in those terms - see Mao Mollona’s excellent film on industrial steel machinery in Sheffield, where a fully functioning workshop has been maintained 1890′s era machines in working, and profitable, order). I also wonder if, importantly, the preservation argument does enough in conceptual terms within the overall regeneration/transformation of the economy and the University – a discussion I imagine that must be going on, and needs new thinking.

I am acutely aware that here “anything doing with art has first to prove its viability to the engineering faculty dominated”, and wonder if the focus of what we present might be geared towards this. That said, I am stumped for where to look for initial funds, or clearly marked ‘preservation funds’. It is not my forte. However, ongoing funding could also be geared into the conception.

An Art/Laboratory would probably have pedagogical, research and creative components.

At issue is who inhabits the space, what it provides, and outcomes now and for the future.

Thus, neither a mortuary service for fading industry, nor a hollow art scene doing a ghost dance for dead capital (tried and tested, but too often turned into mere foyer or coffee shop – eg Tate Modern), the project has far greater inter- and intra- disciplinary purchase, and potential as for very wide participation. The former workers, the Jadavpur students, local residents, the city in general, and both national and international research teams across many areas can be drawn into the nexus of this site conceived as instrumental to the transition between older and newer economic modes. Research, teaching and creativity all have a role in transition.

A range of projects, both national and international – but many funded internationally – could locate in dedicated space within the project:

Possible internationally funded Research Projects for Instrument Lab

- changing infrastructure of economies, history and globalization, technology and colonialism, warfare and commerce, education and training history (see journal of the Confernce of Socialist Economists)

- class composition and worker’s inquiry, labour history, transition economies and the transformation of work, co-research with workers of older and newer economic production (this is a project I would like to pursue between Goldsmiths, Queen Mary Business School and Jadavpur – funded by Economic and Social Research Council UK perhaps, the Co-Research would involve workers paid as researchers in both discontinued production such as National Instruments, as well as in new industries in Kolkata such as creative economy, service sector, media and telecoms. They would be researching, documenting and theorizing their own conditions of work – aim initially at a three year project @ £500k for 4 paid researchers on site, plus money for collaborative work).

- precision capitalism, mathematical arts of production, skill, craft and body/machine knowledge: instrument hand and brain, cyborg labs then and now (Fuller/Harwood/MUTE or RAQS?).

- obsolescence and regenerative second life, industrial remains and urban renewal, science and fiction, creative revival as life force in cities (see P.Hall and M.Castells: Technopoles of the World).

- photographic imaging and war/industry convergence (as digital is to analog; globalization is [not] to industry)

- teaching exchange, especially in cultural studies of work, education, training, urban preservation and curating (possible Network Grants at £70k each)

These projects in various ways – there would be many others possible – would be conceived to locate researchers at Jadavpur, employed locally and internationally, and would work with local constituents and stakeholders (workers, researchers, students, local residents, support staff). Each would entail a pedagogical exchange function, as well as a display (installations, museum, art) aspect. The point is to keep this alive to change, the transformation of work, of class composition, or urban environs, and of the university itself (as universities move to project based work, and older models of disciplinary containment are supplemented).

Ahhh, now I have written all this down I think maybe its not strong enough yet to stave off the impending disposal of most of the workplace artefacts, beautiful machines (valuable machines) and other remains, but those remains are the resource and raw material of something potentially great in the future. Our labour can reanimate them – the sweat of our friends to whom we owe a debt (not just of mourning).

Sorry for the Derridisms – the flu drugs again kick in…

LDN-BRU – talk, 3rd October 2009

I am off to Brussels soon to speak about cities….
Flyer_Verso_LD_01

Warm It Up Moloko-plus my little droogies – I could teach you, but I’d have to charge

mister-mayhem-415x248In another fine mess, the University of East London contributes to the escalation of madness that also saw Will Hutton foolishly pontificating against G20 protesters on the BBC two nights ago as part of a series of suits trotted out to do defensive work in anticipation of the coming protest. Lovely of the press to do this kind of warm up stuff when this kind of one-off event comes around. It adds a certain frisson.

People have asked me if I will be protesting against the G20 on April 1st, and I want to stress that I protest against them every day, and against the G50, G100 and any Gee whizz propaganda scam cooked up by the executive committee. I’ll be about of course, though I am also interested in building political outlooks and alternatives for more than a one-day carnival-cum-police training exercise in crowd containment. This 1 in 365 fractional theatre is no doubt striking, you’ve got to love these occasional stage-managed inversions of the bourgeois order, repleat with boarded up shopfronts, bankers wearing trainers, and anthropology professors outrageously suspended for giving puffed up interviews to local tabloids (its clearly mockery, viddy the picture, read the article). That said, the idea that the G20 protest might turn into a velvet revolution is intriguing, so do bring a snack for the lock down. There surely does need to be an alternative to this rotten, corrupt and unequal system – and although its going to take more than a street party on April Fools day, if we thought about it in terms of larger fractions and what is needed to win we might be getting somewhere (a party organization, overturning of class divisions, open borders, anti-racism that is more than wearing a badge, end of the arms trade, free education [hence this post's title - warm it up] and more). G20, G19, G18, G17… – how many days would it take to get all velvety? Arise comrades, another world is necessary.

In the meantime, Chris Knight needs to be re-ininstated, this sort of reaction is just mad. Again, check out the photo from the article that caused the furore – its clearly pantomime. And the ‘Guardian’s’ intrepid reporter seems to have a bit of the Will Hutton’s about him too – if you compare the ‘Evening Standard’ original article on Chris Knight – see comment one below for the text – I think you can clearly see that the process of escalation is carried out here too. Richard Rogers to the rescue. AwaY. With friends like these, who needs enemies…

Professor suspended over claims he incited G20 violence

• Interview creates trouble for anthropology expert
• Protest organiser revels in ‘perfect storm for enemies’

The G20 Meltdown protesters intend to converge on the Bank of England from four directions. Each group will march behind one of the “four horsemen of the apocalypse”.

Richard Rogers The Guardian, Friday 27 March 2009

One of the leading organisers of next Wednesday’s Financial Fools’ Day protests was last night suspended from his role as Professor of Anthropology at the University of East London, on full pay.

Chris Knight, who has been a lecturer in anthropology at the university since 1989, and professor since 2000, was informed of his suspension yesterday evening, and was told it was because of an interview he gave to a newspaper this week in which he is quoted as “inciting criminal action, specifically violence against policemen and women and damage to banking institutions”.

In an interview with the Evening Standard, Knight was pictured with a placard bearing the slogan “Eat the bankers”, and quoted as saying: “If they [the police] want violence, they’ll get it”. He is also quoted by the Standard as advising bankers that on April 1 “if you’re thinking of coming in, my advice is don’t”.

Knight, along with fellow UEL anthropologist Elizabeth Power and former Liberal Democrat councillor turned activist Marina Pepper, set up the G-20meltdown.org website and began to host meetings to which they invited other green and anarchist groups.

Knight told the Guardian last night that he was doing everything possible to make sure there was no violence next week. He said he had set up the protest group with theatrical rather than violent aims.

“I’m doing everything possible to make sure that all the anger of the middle classes doesn’t turn into violence. That’s why we do all this play-acting. We’re being nice to the bankers – we’re burning them as effigies. Of course we don’t want violence. If there’s a huge ruck, the press will photograph it, and our vision about a different planet will not get reported.”

He added: “But it’s going to be hard. The message to police is ‘if you press your nuclear button, I’ll press mine’. It sounds like a threat? Well, yeah – don’t do it. If you want violence, you’ll get it.

“I know I’m in my own bubble. But in my bubble I’m predicting we’ll have a velvet revolution in the next week or so …The police, backed up by the army, will try to hold the ExCel centre. While they hold that, they will lose London. Then I think Gordon Brown will go.

“It’s a perfect storm for our enemies,” he added. “I cannot believe my luck. It’s happening 800 yards from my campus … The media are doing all our work for us.”

Fragments on Athens

GREEKXMASI received lots of mail on Athens, and of course thought the xmas tree stuff was very seasonal. Ho Ho. The best detailed message (quoted below) came from a close friend whom I’d visited there years ago, en route to Cairo. This year, having enjoyed one of the few Christmases I’ve had in Europe (usually in India or Australia in December, somewhat warmer, though of course not escaping the commercialism) I think the Athens events amount to a jolly expression of hope that says more than the fantastical scenes that will grace the start of 2009 after the Democratactic election in the USA. So, rather a Greek Christmas than the Israeli attacks on Gaza for holiday cheer: 2008′s last post goes to a Greek who says:

“I have to confess that I did feel that the world can’t be so wrong when all these people (of different ages, backgrounds, perceptions) went out in the streets and started going mad (and here I refer to the hoodies smashing banks – to the crowd’s applause – as well as to the grannies who swore at the police). I always remain anti-violence but pro-outrage…”

The original message reads:

“Sorry for the late reply; I returned to Athens a week after the shooting of the 15-year-old and it was still a havoc. I don’t know how one feels when living in a state of war but it did feel like being under siege. I just couldn’t go anywhere; the shops were closed, cars would no longer circulate in the streets, the police were spreading tear gas in a frantic fashion… On top of that, there was the bitter realisation of my age: I am now 30 so there is for the first time in my life the full conscience of “the gap” between myself and the people I grew up with. Half of my friends earn crazy money working for the banks and chains that the other half are smashing with a rage. It was like -apart from the crowd/”anarchists”/hoodies/

terrorist elements and police divide- standing amidst two completely different worlds, one pro-order  and the other against it (both parties with different -and mostly ego-driven if I may say- agendas). So after a few days I decided to leave Athens and make an experiment, that is to switch off my phone and remain phoneless and webless, having the TV news as my only link to what was going on in my neighbourhood (also branded as a “bohemian no-go ghetto area” – please!!!).

It has been a shock, John. The power of the screen, yet again. And the filtering of points of view. And the careful selection of words, demonstration of feelings, sonic accompaniments for the events… I came back to Athens yesterday and started talking to friends and neighbours, checking indymedia and relevant greek sites (btw, for the description of the events indymedia is pretty fair once more), only to realize that the “reality” was completely different to the one propagated by the media.

Apart from the serious bits that we can of course discuss when we see each other next, some trivial observations are these:

- It all started round the corner from where you were photographed next to the “colour TV, black and white life” writing on the wall. Ironically, ten days after the beginning of the events, a group of people occupied the set of the national television’s 3pm news with black banners in white letters reading “Stop watching and go out in the streets”. Which also reminded me of this conversation you had in Athens (back in 2002/3?) with a so-called anarchist who was saying to you “we have to go out in the streets, man!” to which you had impressingly replied at the time “no, we have to get into television! Look around you, people are not out in the streets, they are watching TV”. And this is where the reversal takes place here: people occupy publically-funded TV time to urge us to go out in the streets.

- The police ran out of tear gas (!!!), thus started using expired one. The latest I’ve heard was from a friend who, during a rally, discovered a used tear gas can that had expired in 1987! Also, two days ago the syndicate of Exarcheia residents decided to officially sue the greek government for the inconsiderate and extreme use of tear gas in the area.

- Old people went out in the streets and “attacked” the police with their walking sticks while swearing at them for misuse of authority. And this is partly the images that we never get to see on TV or the internet: the maddening “crowd” is not just teenagers and 20somethings that want to smash everything but also middle-aged and old people who are simply outraged.

- Thirty members of the police force constantly guard the Christmas tree in the centre of Athens (Syntagma square) after the previous one was intentionally burnt. Quite ironic too, come to think during last summer thousand of acres were burnt thoughout the country (an act of arson, in order to get planning permission to build in areas previously designated as forest conservation areas) and nobody was there at the time to extinguish the fire.

I still have no clearly formed opinion about what is going on. It definately started not as an act of violence but as one of outrage, that has its roots in events and situations that are only partly related to the work of the police. However, it now feels more like a “revolution for the sake of it” more than anything else. The hoodies smash shop windows and people flood in to get free laptops, shoes, clothes etc. Luxury cars are left in the midst of the police/”anarchists” war in order to get them burnt so that they can claim their full money back from the insurance (whereas if they sold them they would only get half the money). Shop owners state huge damages in order to make some money on the side. In general, it tends to become a repetition of the greek attitude of “let’s earn something out of it at least”. I am not saying that there is no meaning in all this any more, only that the more it becomes institutionalised (if one can say that) the more its initial focus is lost”

I of course asked if I could post all this here. Good reply:

“you can post a version of this “report” but please make it clear that I am not attempting to interpret things or offer the general picture (I ‘ve had enough of people giving their own and only valid general picture of the events -while promoting their own agendas and even living in different cities while pretending to have a very clear opinion of what “Exarcheia at war” [sic] feels like- and my aim here is definately not that), only to share the way I see some fragments of the situation”.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year

A Radical Education.


Education is not a model good.

I went to hear a pretty interesting discussion from Irit Rogoff, Florian Schneider and Kodwo Eshun as part of the build up to their Berlin Education Summit. There’s been quite a bit of chatter about this on various lists, which is fine, but this was the first time in a while I’d really tuned in (battling a debilitating sense of we’ve been here before and before and before [for sanity's sake I've disabled the previous three links]). Irit kicked off with comments on two tendencies in thinking about education in Europe, the Bologna Process aiming at some sort of compatibility conversion coherence across degree offerings in the EU countries. The second tendency a proliferation of self-organising Arts School formations, or what Florian called ‘non-aligned initiatives converging around “education”‘. Education here is becoming a ‘model’ for various initiatives, where the key terms are, it seems to me, ‘new methods’, new initiatives, new models, ‘radical pedagogy’, ‘collaborative work’ and proposals ‘to change the terms of the debate away from a purely bureaucratic engagement with quantitative and administrative demands and from the ongoing tendency to privatize knowledge as so-called “intellectual property”‘. So far so good. I guess. The Summit is the coming weekend.

I did not take accurate enough notes at the talks, but I was a little uneasy even where I welcome these ideas and where I have a lot of ground on which to agree. The problem is that when we think of Education as a model, I want to retch for my gum. What is it to promote education as a model in the new economy – creative economy, culture industry – context of the abstracted immaterial multitudinous spaces of net-activism et al? I am not convinced.

Here, for example, a key sentence I would like to discuss:

‘The model of education has become central to a range of creative artistic practices and to a renewed interest in radical pedagogy. As a mode of thinking an alternative to the immense dominance of art as commodity and display as spectacle, education as a creative practice that involves process, experimentation, fallibility and potentiality by definition, offers a non-conflictual model for a rethinking of the cultural field’

Seems to me there are several things going on here. Not all of them thought through as radically as might be. Forget the ‘non-conflictual model’ since this is relegated to the cultural field and we know that class conflicts are not operating there, correct? The ‘thinking as alternative’ to art really does grab me. An alternative to commodified art, though, would be what? Fabulous possibilities distract me – Popular votes on which pictures hang on the walls. The Tate Modern emptied out. No more National Gallery souvenir postcards. Free access, and free coffee, to all museums? No, that is not what is meant – what we have is a renewal of experimentation, creative practices, process and potential. Although interestingly the word ‘fallibility’ cuts diagonally across these invigorating, but you have to admit, fairly standard educationalist terms, I am not concerned too much with the threat this model will pose to commodification. Confined to the cultural field or not, this is, surely, just what the smartest employers want – new thinking, new opportunities.

Rather, it seems, the model of education needs to be rethought, since this kind of modelling is perhaps one of the main ways in which the promotion of education is a promotion of some pretty old modes of thinking. This thinking is smuggled in at the very moment that it claims to be new. A radical pedagogy in a context where education is seen as a good model, is still education that has not thought through the ways this very model operates to train operatives for hierarchy within the cultural economy and hierarchical society at large. Education as a model has not yet thought through the ways education is not simply or unproblematically a social good.

There is another view; someone might be forgiven for insisting that education is more often about affirmations and consolidation of eurocentric, patriarchal, hierarchical class-based, systems of Fortress exclusion. The playground as learning curve, leaning towards the tuck shop, the in-group, the out-group, the fashion parade, the Cinderella School for Creative Types, the finishing School for corporate dining, the Endomol drill surveillance routines, the preparatory sessions for international diplomacy, the wanker complex, the God complex, military formation, alpha drones, beta drones, innovation and incubation centres, career prospects CV padding, cultural studies clubs and Diners’ Club, life skills, open day – these and many more ‘lessons’.

I totally agree that the old collegiate model of Education should not be protected, worn and frayed as it is. But to renovate that model with a ‘radical pedagogy’ without questioning the projected model as model is also suspect. For conflict then. For delinking from Capital, since breaking the divisions between those inside and outside the old model can also prepare the ground for even greater commodification, commercialization. What if we saw education as a Trojan Horse for exactly that old enemy, and then looked for ways to tow the thing out to Margate and burn it down.

“They have something of which they are very proud. They call it education. It distinquishes them from the goatherds” – Nietzsche, I think from the fifth section of part one of Zarathustra.

Kodwo of course then started his talk with anecdotes and humour, and thereby twisted all this around in several other directions. I am not so sure his trip to Mumbai, testing (another great educational game) Mike Davis’s formulas about slums by making a film, will work to displace the deeply entrenched prejudices that slum-talk now carries in theory-circles (see here), but his notion of education as creative sabotage is as appealing as his insistence on talking about Scritti Politi and Luciana Parisi from CCS. Futurism, delinking from capital, creative sabotage, fallibility, the pre-emptive unalignement from models and – did I hear a feint echo – the ruthless criticism of everything that exists (Marx to Ruge) were bouncing around even as the model was reinforced. If this is the way the Summit goes, it will be an engaging weekend at school indeed. All summits need a good saboteur.

Theory of Shit

In Volume III of Capital Marx has a little section discussing the utilisation of ‘waste’ (Abfällen) in the production process. Capitalists search for economies at the best of times (i.e., when they gloat over ever greater extraction of surplus value) – but this becomes more urgent for them when the costs of production increase, by agitation or because of rises in the cost of raw materials. Nothing worse than an event that jeopardises rates of profit, hence protections, tariffs, search for new cheaper sources of material, associations to regulate production, and so on. These are joined with technical innovations, streamlined organisation, adulteration of products to stretch it further, cut corners, various dodges and wheezes and all manner of gains (the wheezing is of those who must work longer hours).

Maybe waste is not always the best way to think of this, or rather it should be thought of more fundamentally, faced more explicitly. Felton Shortall at Goldsmiths last month talked of Marx getting on with writing his ‘economic shit’. I’ve not yet tracked down that reference, but was amused to find on page 77 of the English translation this discussion:

‘The same is true of the second big source of economy in the conditions of production. We refer to the reconversion of the excretions of production, the so-called waste, into new elements of the production process, either of the same, or of some other line of industry; to the processes by which this so-called excretion is thrown back into the cycle of production, and consequently, consumption, whether productive or individual … It is the attendant abundance of this waste which renders it available again for commerce and thereby turns it into new elements of production’ (Vol.III:79-80 L&W)

‘Exkremente’ is the word Marx uses, which is then termed Abfällen in the gloss, ‘so-called waste’. There is something to be said for a critique of recycling that would need to be raised here – I am not anti-environmentalism except where its bosses’ environmentalism – an ideology of productivity gains will not save the planet. Here the recycling is a consequence of increased production as industry expands, and is a direct consequence of the capitalists interest in off-setting the rise in cost of raw materials (perhaps because uppity suppliers of such materials wanted a better deal for their stuff). Whatever the case, the consequence of Exkremental production recalls Marx’s discussion in Volume I where the bread the workers got to eat was shown – by those heroic factory inspectors, such as the immortal Leonard Horner – to be adulterated with all manner of gunk- eg., sawdust, chalk, and worse:

‘Englishmen, always well up in the Bible, knew well enough that man, unless by elective grace a capitalist, or landlord, or sinecurist, is commanded to eat his bread by the sweat of his brow, but they did not know that he had to eat daily in his bread a certain quantity of human perspiration mixed with the discharge of abscesses, cobwebs, dead black-beetles and putrid German yeast, without counting alum, sand, and other agreeable mineral elements’ (Vol.I:249 Intnl Pubs)

There then follows an extended discussion of the working conditions of bakers (hungry Marx – later he dwells on a recipe for soup!) and of the adulteration of other consumer products. As he also does later on in Vol III, here he notes that waste products find their first uses in medicine: – according to Parliamentary Commission reports on the adulteration of means of subsistence, even opium was found to contain wheat flour, gum, clay and sand, with several of the examined samples containing ‘not an atom of morphia’ (Vol.I:601n). Bad quality drugs is still too often the rule.

The discussion of waste in Volume III has to do with large scale production and economies at a time where needs must ‘force’ the capitalist to find ways to maintain rates of profit amidst various constraints or while necessarily expanding production – [we are very soon getting to crisis theory and the tendency of the rate of profit to fall etc.,]. I am entertained here to observe that discussions of excrement often come at times of impending crisis and capitalist paranoia.

So I think this excrement-crisis linkage could be claimed as basis for understanding the turn to shit in some of the work of, say, Georges Bataille (World Wars, depression), or Dominique Laport (1960s France, 1968 as a whole – all that horrid tie-die). In popular culture too – Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket springs to mind – ‘you will find yourself in a world of shit’ as the Marines trudge through the wasteland they made of Vietnam – and in the 1980s Salmon Rushdie’s Padma the dung-lotus asks: ‘what’s the point of all your writing-shitting’ (Midnight’s Children). [Another time I need to go back to read Artaud - 'my woks are only waste-matter, once they leave my body they cannot stand up by themselves' in Derrida Writing & Difference].

But do we have a satisfactory theorist of shit who can relate it to crisis and economics? What is all the discussion of pollution, climate change and carbon footprints telling us today about our decrepit world (what’s a carbon footprint if not code for something else?). Mick Taussig’s book Defacement looks closely into the pan to reveal the public secrets at stake – we all shit, we don’t discuss it (but some turd has nicked my copy). Maybe I want a theory of rubbish that treats this global muck. A waste processing theory, a sewer-age. All too predictable (regular) I am sure, but what a wonderful world in which we live.

Learn To Like It – archival 1990 ……………. . [click to enlarge]

four quibbles

Several arguments I’ve had lately have stalled in what I am tempted to call a kind of ‘ontological disarray’. That is, the people I start these conversations with, in affable conviviality (ie in the pub) seem to give up too quick and angry. We each know these are necessarily first moves, so why concede/defer? Is it because I am slurring my words horribly, and threatening to punch people? But I am pretty sure that is not what is going on, at least not every time. Here for the record are the themes:

1. Contemporary art is not revolutionary and smells bad

Artists and critics have merged in a discursive boosterism that promotes ‘contemporary art practice’ as the be all and end all of socio-cultural or intellectual worth. This is at its worst when the boosterism is mitigated by an enthusiastic embrace of, at least a rhetoric of, challenge, critique, interdisciplinarity or conceptual experimentation (these are not ‘the same’). Sometimes the prime pumped place of the artist-critic-practitioner is glorified as disruption, provocation, and even chaos. It seems as if the dilemmas and complicities that stalled Dada and mainstreamed Surrealism vis-a-vis politics (no less than three major exhibitions planned) plots the tempo of the treadmill upon which we are condemned to run forever.

2. Piracy-smear

Pirates have been in fashion for quite a while, despite the efforts of Disney and Johnny Depp. Is it just a shallow question then to ask if they are still worthy of our attention? – either as the forgotten first wave of neoliberal capitalism, or as cool multiculturalist anti-slavery activists with boats. This theme at least has a Deptford connection, and appropriately the argument was on the steps of the Town Hall - and was over the work of another of those celebrants of pirate-chic whom I quote here:

“The decade between 1716 and 1726 was the golden age of piracy, Marcus Rediker informs us. The significance of piracy during these years was twofold – it was multiracial and it was against the slave trade. They blockaded ports, disrupted the sea lanes. The pirate ship ‘might be considered a multiracial maroon community.’ Hundreds were African. Sixty of Blackbeard’s crew of a hundred were black. Rediker quotes the Negro of Deptford who in 1721 led ‘a Mutiny that we had too many Officers, and that work was too hard, and what not.’ They also prevented the slave trade from growing. This was the complaint of Humphrey Morice, MP, Governor of the Bank of England, owner of a small fleet of slavers, who led the petitioning to Parliament and who suffered severe losses in 1719, the year that serious blacking commenced. A naval squadron was sent to west Africa. Four hundred and eighteen pirates were hanged. The conjuncture of apparently very distant forces, struggle for common rights and the Atlantic slave trade, in fact met in intimate proximity” Peter Linebaugh in Mute

Linebaugh has a good line on Daniel Defoe though – and we can hear the echo of Marx’s comments on Crusoe from part one of Capital, which is always fun. Here is Linebaugh again:

“Robinson Crusoe, Mariner was published in 1719. The book dramatises the labour theory of value, glories in the intricacies of the division of labour, and puts the European foot (Crusoe) on the African neck (Friday). Alexander Selkirk, the actual person who was the prototype of Robinson Crusoe, died in February 1721 as a sailor in a naval squadron that was sent to west Africa to extirpate the piracy interrupting the slave trade” Peter Linebaugh in Mute

OK, Let’s discuss.

3. Consmopolitanism yak yak

The debate in Manchester called ‘the conversation‘, where I was lucky enough to share the stage with Mary Louise Pratt, descended into something not quite farce. Is the discursive effort deployed to elaborate an equitable global cosmopolitanism worth the effort? I mean, compared to other efforts to organise and institute an alternative to Capitalism? THe conceptual arabesques around cosmo seem very often to rehearse Eurocentric imaginings (Hedwig was right to say: ‘You, Kant, always get what You want’).Is this Kantianism from outside not quite close to a plan that contains cross-border disruptions in a cultural resource marketing regime? I have yet to consume all though, having just bargain bonus snapped up Kwame Anthony Appiah’s book Cosmopolitanism ‘because’ it has a special extra half-size promo wrap with picture and quote from none other than Kofi Annan. Whoa, bestseller! [Thus, more on this is to come - a longer post on the conversation with M-L-P that I have been saving... too lazy ... to write up soon... promise...]

4. “Maoist” Philosophers are hot stuff, shaboody

Alain Badiou as the latest theorist refashioned from obscure secret to the next theoretico-personality cult idol of the chattering teacher-class, as reviewed by Peter Osbourne in Radical Philosophy. I was intemperate enough in my criticisms of this to suggest what those theorists who become publishing fashion (as it has to be said is the fate of AB, no matter how excellent are the efforts of Alberto Toscano et al) are rarely elevated on the basis of their personalities. Rather, the personality cult here is that of the veritable hordes parading amongst the campus seminar cliques carrying aforesaid idols’ books and quoting key concepts like badges. Of course I am not against sloganeering – heaven forbid – but a slower reading and a resistance to the way display table choices shape debates might be welcome. That conversations about Mao, or politics, or borders, or democracy are shaped by a confluence of The Today Show (radio current affairs) and the display of shiny books shelved by author name (in places like the LRB or Tate Bookshops) seems just another sad consequence of the same idolatry because the discussion never gets beyond personal presentation. The latest theorists now, the next ones quick. Shop shop shop. But I am among the worst in many ways – buying books on impulse because of the quality of the binding, because of an innovation in format (Iconoplush!) and other foibles that deserve attention. This is very far from Mao. As is Badiou. Try this instead: Comrade Gaurav at Goldies.

[Pics are Michael Leunig cartoons - from my Saturday paper every week in Melbourne through the 80s and 90s].

Trinket Crimbo

XMAS TEACHES KIDS TO LOVE CAPITALISM

This old graffito favourite (I will post pics sometime) returned to mind this morning when I was rudely awakened by some god-bothering Bishop (Nazir Ali) on Radio Four’s Today Programme complaining in ever so slow plummy tones that something about diversity legislation – vaguely referenced as ‘political correctness’ – meant that some employers were stopping employees from putting up tinsel at work or employees were reluctant to put up workplace xmas trees for fear of offending co-workers of other faiths. This being an issue in the workplace strikes me as ironic and beside the point – as in missing the point by a whisker, but certainly missing. The trouble is – as the BBC went on to explain – they could find no employers who had actually ‘banned’ christmas; that there was no expectation that the churches would not be well attended come the day; and that calls for a return to celebration of the ‘summer festival’ that was colonised by Christianity were not really likely and frankly seem a bit, um, medieval.

Now it might surprise some that I am a fan of old Charlie Dickens, but maybe he did not make the connection between work, money and christmas clear enough when he got the ghosts to work their sentimental magic on old Ebeneezer. At least he made the connection, unlike the radio this morning. Maybe the BBC team were just filling the Today programme stocking with a seasonal puff piece, and I shouldn’t be bothered, but I do get misty eyed when I think of all the misery – work work work till you die, ho ho ho – that is inaugurated with the early years’ induction to capitalism that 25/12 and the fondly remembered fat fool (‘money bags’) entails.

Redistribute wealth in commemoration of the day after – 26 December is Mao’s birthday – instead of this conjunction of church and capital that jingles your bells in mockery of your creative labour – only a few coins left rattling in your pocket, creativity appropriated by the bosses, entombed in a data entry capsule, force fed on stale fruit cake to fatten you up for a slaughter that takes about 50 of your very best years…

Off to the beach then – bah humbug. ha ha ha. (the pic is from Xmas 1962)

John Styth Pemberton’s Real Thing – 3am


Back to Blighty, past 3am and I can’t sleep – good, so that’s back to normal then. Jet lag is the real thing.

But the real thing is coke. Aren’t you glad that ain’t true. I like those Cola slogans from the past: In 1896 the company’s slogan was ‘Coca-Cola: a brain tonic for women and children’. In 1944 as GIs were marching up the road to Rome, killing fascists and handing out nylons, the slogan was ‘Coke: Universal Symbol of the American way of Life’. In the 1960s: ‘Coke is it’ – wow man. And in an apocryphal story (I guess – its also sometimes said of Pepsi in China) there was a northern Thai dialect that did not have abstract nouns and so everything had to be contextualised – someone’s hope, Miller time etc – and so the literal translation for the slogan ‘Coke Adds Life’ came out brilliantly as ‘Coke brings your ancestors back from the dead’.

Now Humphrey McQueen has a fine book on Coca Cola called The Essence of Capitalism which I’d happily recomend, but I got the slogans from a helpful little text in German that goes on about nefarious links between Santa and the corporation (see the story about the Sundblom ad of 1931; but also see Snopes for a technical critique of the suggestion that Coke invented the jolly red giant who – as I think we could gloss it – teaches kids to love capitalism).

I remember visiting a temple in Northern Thailand once and at a stall inside the temple grounds, selling coke from specially ‘donated’ coke frigidaires, I spoke to a Coke executive who was on holiday and he related the then company ambition to get Chinese Cola consumption levels up to the level of Australian consumption of a litre per person a year. This would then yield more profit than American consumption, which was an 8 Oz bottle per person per day (late 1980s) . I am not sure what is the scarier statistic, the one about American consumption, or that the exec said that Coke’s only competition in China was water.

But most recently the campaign against Coca Cola and its corporate crimes has taken off in India, and elsewhere. And with good reason… As the cat Felix Guattari said it: “it is clear that the third world does not really ‘exchange’ its labour and its riches for crates of Coca-Cola… It is aggressed and bled to death by the intrusion of dominant economies.” (Guattari 1996:238). cited in Souvenirs.
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