Precarity: A Savage Journey to the Heart of Embodied Capitalism

Thanks Flora Worley for alerting me to this piece from the fine folk at Transversal:


Precarity: A Savage Journey to the Heart of Embodied Capitalism

Vassilis Tsianos / Dimitris Papadopoulos

A. Introduction

There is an underlying assumption to the current debates about class composition in post-Fordism: this is the assumption that immaterial work and its corresponding social subjects form the centre of gravity in the new turbulent cycles of struggles around living labour. This paper explores the theoretical and political implications of this assumption, its promises and closures. Is immaterial labour the condition out of which a radical socio-political transformation of contemporary post-Fordist capitalism can emerge? Who’s afraid of immaterial workers today?
B. Immaterial labour and precarity

In their attempt to historicize the emergence of the concept of the general intellect, many theorists (e.g. Hardt & Negri, 2000; Virno, 2004) remind us that the general intellect cannot be conceived simply as a sociological category. We think that we should apply the same precaution when using the concept of immaterial labour. This is the case especially when the studies which acknowledge the sociological evidence of immaterial work are increasing, such as research in the mainstream sociology of work which investigates atypical employment and the subjectivisation of labour (e.g. Lohr & Nickel, 2005; Moldaschl & Voss, 2003), or even conceptualisations of immaterial labour in the context of knowledge society (e.g. Gorz, 2004). A mere sociological understanding of the figure of immaterial labour is restricted to a simplistic description of the spreading of features such as affective labour, networking, collaboration, knowledge economy etc. into what mainstream sociology calls network society (Castells, 1996). What differentiates a mere sociological description from an operative political conceptualisation of immaterial labour – which is situated in co-research and political activism (Negri, 2006) – is the quest for understanding the power dynamics of living labour in post-Fordist societies.

The concept of immaterial labour is capable of delivering a diagnosis of the present contradictions of production, but who’s afraid of sociological descriptions of the present, especially when they start becoming common topos in public discourse and in mainstream social science…


Keep reading the piece HERE.


JH – my quick response is that I find lots of interesting things here, though the authors happiness with phrase-coining – biosyndicalism – and a typically anti-Leninist ossified notion of the revolutionary party, and missing analysis of imperialism, made hard to go along with everything. Then towards the end, the very narrow view of dialectics made it clear that they miss how the cunning trickster or court jester is recuperated as adjunct support to power, contained and marginalized, rather than a basis for a politics that can win. Escape yes, but where to? Sounds like a Mad Max scenario to me, and they are building a neo-imperial Tunderdome in Tripoli, and Tina – there-is-no alternative/Sakoszy/Cameron/Obama – Turner is the new Aunty Entity for the end times.

Good to see Nikos Papastergiadis cited on Migration and borders. For more see the side bar.

A new book from Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak in 2012: AN AESTHETIC EDUCATION IN THE ERA OF GLOBALIZATION – harvard uni press


During the past twenty years, the world’s most renowned critical theorist—the scholar who defined the field of postcolonial studies—has experienced a radical reorientation in her thinking. Finding the neat polarities of tradition and modernity, colonial and postcolonial, no longer sufficient for interpreting the globalized present, she turns elsewhere to make her central argument: that aesthetic education is the last available instrument for implementing global justice and democracy.

Spivak’s unwillingness to sacrifice the ethical in the name of the aesthetic, or to sacrifice the aesthetic in grappling with the political, makes her task formidable. As she wrestles with these fraught relationships, she rewrites Friedrich Schiller’s concept of play as double bind, reading Gregory Bateson with Gramsci as she negotiates Immanuel Kant, while in dialogue with her teacher Paul de Man. Among the concerns Spivak addresses is this: Are we ready to forfeit the wealth of the world’s languages in the name of global communication? “Even a good globalization (the failed dream of socialism) requires the uniformity which the diversity of mother-tongues must challenge,” Spivak writes. “The tower of Babel is our refuge.”

In essays on theory, translation, Marxism, gender, and world literature, and on writers such as Assia Djebar, J. M. Coetzee, and Rabindranath Tagore, Spivak argues for the social urgency of the humanities and renews the case for literary studies, imprisoned in the corporate university. “Perhaps,” she writes, “the literary can still do something.”

Available 2012.

Read more about this book:



Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak is University Professor at Columbia University and a trainer of elementary school teachers in West Bengal.

Trinketization #Libya

So, with the trajectory of a screaming scud missile, SKY News hones in on the zero-degree-point of trinketization and renders ‘The Fall of Tripoli™’ as a pantomime circus. Pleased as I am with my hats, these guys have rendered the geopolitical as farce better than SZ or KM or BBC et al. How NATO saves (we mean it man).


Trinketization (aims):
➤ to note a certain fascination with objects has often meant an aversion to theory.
➤ take up the call of Adorno for an ‘Arcades orthodoxy’ (pace Benjamin) in that the description of objects is mediated, requiring a theoretical contextualization of things.
➤ take up case studies, trinkets, objects, material culture in a way that perhaps starts with commodities, but then adds market, money, production, circulation, division of labour, technology, training, credit, valourization and decline of the rate of profit into the mix as well. (pace Capital).
➤ so, I am thinking of Benjamin, maybe looking at how we maybe take the Arcades as a model, but want to not leave the manuscript up a mountain, incomplete and forever waiting for Adorno to read and critique. Well, at least recognizing its unfinished character. OR Michael Taussig’s work, where his myriad examples in My Cocaine Museum are assembled to order, how each of those curios has to make sense in a history, in syncopation with other examples in the archive of the imaginary institution, and provide a model for eloquence…
➤ start with an object and draw lines of significance around it. Take any object, say, perhaps the AK47, starting from seeing one used by a thug in a village (there is mention in Taussig’s book Law in a Lawless Land), its more widespread use by the rightwing paramilitaries, and the drug traders, and then the history of the FARC, of course the State machinations, the longer history of Colombia, and the International arms industry, the colonial geo-political system, the Soviet connection, the Kalishnikov family, the AK47 as the symbol of global struggle, of political liberation movements, and of course their betrayal, including in cinema, literature, photogenic media war etc… AK-47’s have – no surprise – become fashion items, jewelry, t-shirt icons, guitars etc – see here and here. More…
➤ seek to examine objects or items of congealed interest and place these theoretically and politically in a range of contexts, evoked through writing that attends to style and is inspired by the eloquence of things seen as significant. Objects matter, but not in themselves
➤ evoke and provoke the meaning and market of trinkets in ways that animate and surprise, making connections and associations that link up with a wider analysis of the current of capital as it unfolds in stuff.
➤ get something written. Sooner rather than later. Less planning, Learn to fire.


proposed by thomasgokey


Since 2007 we’ve seen a renaissance of self-organized spaces where knowledge is freely produced and shared, such as hackerspaces, alternative and artist-run schools like The Public School, The Art School in the Art SchoolThe University for Strategic OptimismThe Experimental College of the Twin CitiesThe Anhoek School and many others. What these spaces prove is that the teaching and learning that happens at “real” universities is not so special or elevated or rare or inimitable.

Over the past 30 years we’ve witness the neo-liberal transformation of universities, both public and private, into corporations, ones that produce a social relation between students and teachers in which both are exploited. Tuition has increased 900% since 1978 while tenure-track positions have been replaced by precarious adjuncts and grad students.

Due to the economy and austerity measures (which never seem to require austerity from the rich) humanities programs in particular have come under fire since the values they produce are not values capital recognizes.

The university is a factory as our friends in the UK have reminded us. In factories, the workers themselves have all the know-how. The know-nothing owners need the workers more than the other way around. The only thing the workers need is access to the means of production. With the shift to the kind of immaterial labor that takes place in the humanities the only thing we need is the student-teacher relationship itself and this is something we ought to be able to gain control of and determine for ourselves. Any café, public squareuniversity quad (or even a bank) can be transformed into a school. This exposes the corporate university for what it is, nothing more than a legitimized diploma mill, an ivy-walled bank that exchanges one form of credit (tuition) for another (academic). In this light it makes perfect sense for Syracuse University to sell out to JP Morgan Chase, they’re already in the same line of business.

The corporate “university” produces no value, it is simply a vampire that mediates this social relation between students and teachers. What schools like The Public School have shown us is that we don’t need this vampire at all. We can do it ourselves, we can become autonomous.

But at present what we do at The Public School or the Art School in the Art School et al. is not a threat to the corporate university at all for one simple reason: corporate universities have got a monopoly on accreditation. Right now they are the only ones who can notarize our brains. This is why they don’t mind at all when professors put their courses on YouTube where anyone can learn for free because this kind of learning doesn’t “count,” it isn’t recognized. The only value that the corporate “university” adds to the student/teacher relation is accreditation. Only the kind of education you have to pay them for counts, even when it is 100% identical as in the case of the UfSO.

In the spring of 2011 John Hutnyk taught a class at Goldsmiths University on Cultural Studies and Capitalism that was open to anyone in collaboration with The University for Strategic Optimism. The educational content was the same, but the students enrolled at Goldsmiths got formally recognized credit for the course whereas the students enrolled with the UfSO did not. We ought to be able to change this.

The task is how to weaponize (a non-violent weapon to be sure) The AS in the AS, The Public School, hackerspaces and similar schools. We want to turn these alternative spaces into weapons that can smash corporations and build true universities in their place. We want the administrators at Syracuse University (or NYU or Columbia or [fill in the name of your favorite loathsome corporate university]) to be scared shitless about what we can do without them, that we can educate our selves and each other without their vampiric interference.

What is needed to weaponize such schools is a networked, autonomous accreditation agency based on mutual recognition.

Thomas Gokey and Joanna Spitzner, representing the Art School in the Art School, invite other alternative educational ventures to meet at the NY Public School, not just to discuss these ideas, but to begin the active creation of such an autonomous accreditation agency. We invite all interested parties to join us in the flesh or in spirit (and by spirit we mean Skype).

We are all for education for its own sake. We are aware of the many difficulties and dangers of such a proposal. But even so there are many reasons to be optimistic that we can create an alternative accreditation system that does not simply reproduce the same nubureaucracy that governs corporate universities and that preserves the “education for its own sake” spirit of these various DIY projects. All we are advocating is making these DIY projects a genuine threat to existing systems of exploitation that currently exist within the university system.

JH: How to do this and still pay workers (including support staff, overheads, library, research, cafe, porters, what you would call janitors, grounds, tech, childcare, paint, etc)? Free at the point of delivery was a big consideration in our discussions – and there have been long discussions. In the factory, time is money, right, and workers control of factories still does not completely break that equation – a planned economy still requires some economic consideration. Differently distributed for sure, but… For this coming year, all our lectures in the Centre for Cultural Studies at Goldsmiths will be open free to the public (from October – though we are currently thinking about perhaps working up a viable sign up option so people are encouraged to come for ten week blocks). The degree will still cost for Goldsmiths students. So, how to make credit transferrable? The Europe wide Bologna process is a nightmare, but something like this/better than this can and must be pursued.

tax credits, corporate sponsorship, Govt grants and robbing banks – its been done – all on the cards I guess…

To the Zoo with Philosophy – Stiegler, Bears, Marx and Monkeys

Sadly, but perhaps sensibly, my section on Animals in Bernard Stiegler’s work had to be ruthlessly cut back for lack of space in the journal it was destined for (New Formations). The rest of the article will be available in the new year (its on Marx and Steigler, a critique of Stiegler’s use of ‘proletarianization’) but you can write me to get a draft. Here is the bit that was just cut out, with a new – perhaps too frivolous – first line… even if the rest is a bit frivvy too…

Animals Graze (a family drama) with Bernard Stiegler.

Let us go to the zoo with philosophy – favourite places for family outings – and look at the animals. There are a huge number of creatures to see – owls, eagles, lions, even a mole in Marx (well grubbed). The animal of choice, for Stiegler, is the stag that, both vigilant and grazing, can protect its young as it nibbles away at the undergrowth.

‘A grazing animal, for example, a stag (a forest herbivore …) is vigilant at the same time that it grazes, first with regard to the 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.[i]

This is Bambi in the bourgeois family but not the only animal example Stiegler offers (not surprising given Derrida’s fascination with beasts[ii]). In his autobiographical-theoretical book Acting Out, Stiegler refers to a flying fish to describe his experience of incarceration in prison. This entailed a separation from the world that allowed him to contemplate his milieu ‘as does a flying fish, above his element’.[iii] Certainly not your average jail-bird, Stiegler then plunged into philosophy. The animal metaphors are further consolidated when he writes of the radio, television, internet and audiovisual electronic technologies that engender repetitive behaviour like that of a ‘herd’ in Nietzsche’s sense.[iv] And of course the privileged animal in Stiegler’s work is the eagle picking away at Prometheus’ liver, the poor old partisan of recurrent time and order barely thanked.[v]

These animals become interesting when Stiegler calls for a new political economy and reviews several ways of overcoming tendential decline of profit rate, leading to a discussion of bears: In the nineteenth century the rate of profit was maintained by secularisation of belief via calculable science and technique, the new social projects of schooling, nationalism, health etc., progressively exported globally (on the back of astonishing violence); then in the twentieth century, by means of consumerism and capture of protentions through channelling of attention by way of new media, ‘psychotechnologies’ and service industry-entertainment industry expansion. To this would need to be added colonial markets, imperialism, war and the mining, metals, industrial agriculture, war and the arms trade, plus financial services.

Indeed, it is with reference to the last of these that Stiegler suggests the recent crisis is a collapse of the older moves to avoid the rate of profit’s decline, a collapse that occurs through short termism, time of knowledge and of investment erased, proletarianization of retention as loss of knowledge extensive. There is a contradiction that cannot be bridged – the rate of profit falls again. But the question to ask here might be if this is still to have understood, in Marxist terms, the tendency for the rate of profit to fall as a crisis of credit and an exhaustion of the fundamental expansion which had previously been the bulwark against credit problems? Looking to Stiegler’s characterisation of capitalism as system of protentions, should this not rather be understood in a larger geo-political continuum? For the nineteenth century the key strategy is colonial expansion and its economic plunder, for the twentieth century war and global militarism, for the emergent twenty-first century terror and control?

The tendential fall in the rate of profit is described curiously by Stiegler as something Marx posits in a particular way, but that Marxists, and ‘probably Marx’ did not understand it this way; that is: capitalism as ‘a dynamic system threatened by a limit that would be reached if the bearish tendency to which the very functioning of the profit rate gives rise were to achieve completion’.[vi] I am particularly interested in this bear. An animal that Marx does not reason with, according to Stiegler, even if this strange beast does not invalidate Marx’s identification of the tendency.

First of all, is it a bear? Does Stiegler get what Marx has in mind here? Capitals are competing with each other in a circumstance where expansion is necessary to maintain rollover of production at a rate that maintains profits and this cannot be sustained indefinitely without intervention of countervailing tendencies. Political expansion as well as credit. The discussion of speculative finance capital and time is of course relevant, but Marx on credit is, usually, not an unfamiliar topic, and it is just here that the focus on finance possibly misses something crucial both to the character of industrial capitalism, and to the argument about proletarianization. The usurers that Marx lambasts in the early chapters of Capital were not nice guys, and there should be no reason to applaud the activities of the creditors of big capital. These are not bears asleep in caves, but rather rogue traders – metaphorically beastly animals roaming the (financial) woods. But crucially, the analysis here is of mercantile and credit capital, not industry.

For sure, these bears also fight each other and create mayhem. Stiegler’s concern with the self-preservation of capital is not a concern of any individual bear. Capitalists eat each other. Greed is good, Gecko said (another animal). There are of course many rogue bears, even in Stiegler’s commentary, and Bernard Madoff is his prime example. Gecko too comes to a sticky end, and not in a jar of honey. But every time the bear appears Stiegler also tends to tell us about something of which Marx was ‘unaware’[vii] – in this case marketing, but in others it is always a new and unforeseen response of capital in America and so forth. For Stiegler, the proletarianized consumer’s libidinal energy is a new energy that Marx could not anticipate, even where Marx discusses consumption as productive. The bear in the woods however, is that Marx was working on his ‘economic shit’ and although his comments on circulation of commodities are possibly underdeveloped in comparison to his comments on factory production proper, this does not at all mean he ignored the sphere of consumption.

For Stiegler the capitalist system is bearish or fictitiously speculative, and we are told Marx failed to take this ‘fully into account’.[viii] I want to suggest, with respect, that the bear here is too easy to trap. Marx is not talking in the way that Weber of Schumpeter might talk of cultural determinants, or in a way that rests at the level of consumption peculiarly uninterested in what goes on in foreign woods where Goldilocks will not venture. Even at six volumes, the project of the book Capital is an unfolding analysis and incomplete, but there are sufficient hints and suggestions to assure us that credit is not the core of the analysis of industrial capital, but a supplementary tendency to be analyzed in turn.[ix] That this has been obscured is then compounded when we turn to the cultural.

The key to Stiegler’s thinking here is that the rate of profit no longer has to do with a credit crisis, but is rather the consequence of a culture of corruption, where capital becomes ‘Mafia-esque’ and a dominant, and Freud-esque, ‘consumption-drive’ is no longer to be understood in relation to the equation P equals surplus over constant and variable cost of production, that is ‘a profit that no longer bears any relation to the profit rate calculated by…’ Marx.[x] This form of capitalism ‘cannot be thought with Marxist concepts alone’.[xi]

The new economy associates the ‘bearish consequences’ of the present milieu of capitalism and ‘the tendential fall of the rate of profit and it’s consumerist counter tendency’[xii] with a stupidity that is the proletarianization of the nervous system. Though he does not move past the bear enclosure to other pens, this is the mentalist version of the trained gorilla captured in the evocative internet-generation phrase, that I owe to Matt Fuller, of ‘web monkeys’. These web monkeys are best imagined as the hapless operatives of a call centre keying in basic purchase information for a home delivery service, or better, the poor ciders condemned to work at ever more efficient algorithms for estimating consumer preferences from past browser clicks and purchases.

Web monkeys however are not to be thought of as new media start-ups (with funny haircuts and junk food addictions pace Douglas Coupland novels, they are rather the shock troops of short-term industrial and institutional transformation. In my own sector, we employ an ever greater number of these terminal-bound Promethean types, and of course every Professor is turned more and more into a data entry flunky by the administrative imperative. This is global and has happened in a fit of absence of mind (to which of course professors are also very much suspect). It is to his credit that  Stiegler notes the institution of new global universities as an alternative, in the battle for intelligence, to the onset of attention deficit disorder in the United States, but we might also consider that these Global Universities also have an imperious cast, and cautiously and not without concern for the pharmaceutical interests that profit from ADD and its key product Ritilin™, that the escalation and multiplication of attention deficit – ignoring protocols of media attentiveness – is globalism on the march. Though, in the face of this, and again with Coupland’s novels in mind, a willful refusal to attend might also be a basis for resistance and struggle. Another kind of university, learning to live despite mediatisation and real subsumption.

Missing in Steigler’s narrative here is the great critique of industrial capital in these forms – this has also been said of Derrida by Spivak.[xiii] An adequate grasp of industrial processing and specifically, in relation to proletarianization, the way industrial transformations drive deskilling and cooperation, is necessary to understand the present composition of capital. Stiegler’s analysis is often good for mercantile or credit capital – vicious and unacceptable – but it is not yet an analysis of what is at stake in industrial capitalism. This is compounded by a versioning of the tendential decline of the rate of profit that transmuted this ‘law’ into culture and corruption rather than credit as a culture of financial sector corruption-opportunism. We need more than fear of bears here. We need bears in the woods, shitting…

[i] Bernard Stiegler, Taking Care of Youth and the Generations Stanford, Stanford University Press, (2008) 2010, p78.

[ii] See the work of Richard Iveson on animals and Derrida’s Bestiary – PhD dissertation to be submitted to the Centre for Cultural Studies, Goldsmiths in 2011. This is also an opportunity to note that the disturbing picture in The Guardian (29.10.2010) of the baby elephant in a struggle with a crocodile (see pic) 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. But this is a dog eat dog world, and the animal kingdom is horrific rather than stupid, unlike the human terrain.

[iii] Bernard Stiegler, Acting Out, Stanford, Stanford University Press, (2003) 2009, p15.

[iv] Ibid., p48., my italics.

[v] Bernard Stiegler, Technics and Time 1: The Fault of Epimetheus, Stanford:, Stanford University Press, (1994) 1998, p202.

[vi] Bernard Stiegler, For a New Critique of Political Economy, Cambridge, Polity (2009) 2010, p75, my italic.

[vii] Ibid., p88.

[viii] Ibid., p89.

[ix] See the work of Felton C, Shorthall, The Incomplete Marx, Aldershot, Avebury, 1994.

[x] Stiegler, For a New Critique, p92.

[xi] Ibid., p87.

[xii] Ibid., p126.

[xiii] Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, ‘Ghostwriting’, Diacritics 25, 2. (1995), pp65-84.

Shopping Žižek – a commentary on a commentary (an addendum to ✪ 11 more notes 12&3 on #LondonRiots etc)

Slavoj Žižek’s commentary on the #LondonRiots indented, with my intemperate interjections interspersed in smaller italics (not indented). i – i – i – i. What I have done is copied the entire text from his LRB article (available free) and entered that here, in original order, nothing excised, so I could then add my own commentary, in italics, between the lines, So to speak. If you want to read the unadulterated version go direct to theLRB link here. Why do this sort of interruption – especially of someone from whom we learn a lot? Maybe I thought the joke title was only a little bit funny…

Shoplifters of the World Unite

Slavoj Žižek on the meaning of the riots

You are invited to read this free essay from the London Review of BooksSubscribe now to access every article from every fortnightly issue of the London Review of Books, including the entire archive of over 12,500 essays and reviews.

Repetition, according to Hegel, plays a crucial role in history: when something happens just once, it may be dismissed as an accident, something that might have been avoided if the situation had been handled differently; but when the same event repeats itself, it is a sign that a deeper historical process is unfolding. When Napoleon lost at Leipzig in 1813, it looked like bad luck; when he lost again at Waterloo, it was clear that his time was over. The same holds for the continuing financial crisis. In September 2008, it was presented by some as an anomaly that could be corrected through better regulations etc; now that signs of a repeated financial meltdown are gathering it is clear that we are dealing with a structural phenomenon.

So this is a familiar and yet slightly weird start. SZ has this bit about the much beloved Hegel, but he well knows the Marx routine from the Eighteenth Brumaire, which glosses the repetition of events and adds ‘but Hegel forgot to say that they happen the second time as farce’. SZ used this quip as a book title: ‘First as Tragedy, Then as Farce’ in 2009, and explained the gloss on Marx as an IQ test for those who might think a discussion of a return to communism after a century of totalitarianism was bad comedy – of course anyone who reacted like that should be forcibly dealt with, and he suggests confiscating the book from them. It turns out the book was a thoughtful commentary upon Sept 11 2011 and the 2008 financial crash… along the way providing some choice critiques of Hardt and Negri, democracy, liberals and so on, teaching us that: ‘we live in apocalyptic times … each of the three proceses of proletarianization refer to an apocalyptic end point: ecological breakdown, the biogenetic reduction of humans to manipulable machines, total digital control over our lives … at all these levels, thinGs are approaching a zero-point: “the end of times is near”‘ (p92-93)

We are told again and again that we are living through a debt crisis, and that we all have to share the burden and tighten our belts. All, that is, except the (very) rich. The idea of taxing them more is taboo: if we did, the argument runs, the rich would have no incentive to invest, fewer jobs would be created and we would all suffer. The only way to save ourselves from hard times is for the poor to get poorer and the rich to get richer. What should the poor do? What can they do?

Yes, nice words, nice questions. In an earlier commentary, on the French youth uprising in 2005, SZ mocked the ‘‘search for deeper meaning or messages hidden in these outbursts’ as an ‘hermeneutic temptation’ that ‘needs to be resisted’(Žižek 2008:65). Well and good. Do not offer us the meaning of the riots then – something like Mao’s advice to the Vietcong when they asked for assistance, Mao said ‘tighten your belts’. Ho Chi Minh replied ‘please send us belts’. Some advice misses the mark, but of course we are on the way to Paris…

Although the riots in the UK were triggered by the suspicious shooting of Mark Duggan, everyone agrees that they express a deeper unease – but of what kind? As with the car burnings in the Paris banlieues in 2005, the UK rioters had no message to deliver. (There is a clear contrast with the massive student demonstrations in November 2010, which also turned to violence. The students were making clear that they rejected the proposed reforms to higher education.) This is why it is difficult to conceive of the UK rioters in Marxist terms, as an instance of the emergence of the revolutionary subject; they fit much better the Hegelian notion of the ‘rabble’, those outside organised social space, who can express their discontent only through ‘irrational’ outbursts of destructive violence – what Hegel called ‘abstract negativity’.

This rabble comment – intentional cheap provocation – is pretty unwelcome alongside the reference to Paris, which is surely there to remind us that after the death of Bouna Toure and Zyed Benna, Sarkozy had called the rioters a rabble – or racaille. And why is it so hard to grasp the uprising in ‘Marxist terms’ – as if these were some fixed codec, always the same, never to be worked out anew in each contingency. Here we have people – well, so-called ‘rabble’ – breaking the bond between exchange value and commodity and its hard to see a Marxist angle? I find that pretty strange. Best look more closely for what is really going on. Let us how we don’t get some smuggled in parable about perception and the jedi mind-trick parallax wheelbarrow syndrome… oh no, its roll out number 346 of the barrow gag:

There is an old [old and worn – ed] story about a worker suspected of stealing [spurious accusation against the worker here] : every evening, as he leaves the factory, the wheelbarrow he pushes in front of him is carefully inspected. The guards find nothing; it is always empty. Finally, the penny drops: what the worker is stealing are the wheelbarrows themselves [the worker makes the wheelbarrows, the theft is by the factory owner who employs guards to ensure that the worker offers labour for free]. The guards were missing the obvious truth [truth, or ‘hermeneutic temptation at play here], just as the commentators on the riots have done [yes, we can agree perhaps that the commentators are the guards… stupid guards] . We are told that the disintegration of the Communist regimes in the early 1990s signalled the end of ideology[votextual shift of analytical level – I like it] : the time of large-scale ideological projects culminating in totalitarian catastrophe was over; we had entered a new era of rational, pragmatic politics. If the commonplace that we live in a post-ideological era is true in any sense, it can be seen in this recent outburst of violence. [here comes the zero-degree point again] This was zero-degree protest, a violent action demanding nothing.[nothing?] In their desperate attempt to find meaning in the riots, the sociologists and editorial-writers obfuscated the enigma the riots presented.

At one level, anything becomes enigmatic if you squint at it long enough. But I have been looking at this Zero degree point a long time and SZ has said some enigmatic things that keep on repeating. We should ask how the riots are a ‘violent action demanding nothing’? We can go back a bit to and earlier ‘event’ horizon and hear SZ say something that is now becoming very familiar. In his book ‘Welcome to the Desert of the real’, again citing Hegel, he had discussed New York on Sept 11 2011, suggesting ‘‘the ultimate aim of the attacks was not some hidden or obvious ideological agenda but – precisely in the Hegelian sense of the term – to (re)introduce the dimension of absolute negativity into our daily lives’ (Žižek 2002:142). Basically, the attackers had no message, and no list of demands:  “The spectacular explosion of the WTC towers was not simply a symbolic act (in the sense of an act whose aim is to ‘deliver a message’): it was primarily an explosion of lethal jouissance, a perverse act of making oneself the instrument of the big Other’s jouissance” (Žižek 2002:141). Later, in the book ‘Violence’, SZ calls terrorist attacks and suicide bombings a ‘counter violence’ that is a ‘blind passage a l’acte’ and an ‘implicit admission of impotence’ (Žižek 2008:69). We might pass over the curiosity that Žižek chooses the infirmities of blindness and impotence to characterise the terrorist suicide bomber, as if the twin towers indicated a doubled scene of masturbation (too much and you lose your sight) and castration (impotence, symbolic castration of the towers, mummy daddy, invocation of old psychoanalytic staples). But the task of a critical commentary is not just to stop and stare at the primal scene of nothing.

The protesters, though underprivileged and de facto socially excluded, weren’t living on the edge of starvation. People in much worse material straits, let alone conditions of physical and ideological oppression, have been able to organise themselves into political forces with clear agendas. The fact that the rioters have no programme is therefore itself a fact to be interpreted: it tells us a great deal about our ideological-political predicament and about the kind of society we inhabit, a society which celebrates choice but in which the only available alternative to enforced democratic consensus is a blind acting out. Opposition to the system can no longer articulate itself in the form of a realistic alternative, or even as a utopian project, but can only take the shape of a meaningless outburst. What is the point of our celebrated freedom of choice when the only choice is between playing by the rules and (self-)destructive violence?

No organization? And ‘the rioters have no programme’? ‘Opposition to the system can no longer articulate itself”. This blind acting out, deployed to the WTC in New York or to London, and similar to SZ’s view of the slums, where people are  ’in dire need of minimal forms of self-organization’ Parallax View (Žižek 2006:268),  is deeply problematic – why would we not diagnose this as a distortion of a kind of vanguardism, as an ego-driven projection on the part of the commentator who wants to critique the commentators, in a sub negative dialectic?

Alain Badiou has argued that we live in a social space which is increasingly experienced as ‘worldless’: in such a space, the only form protest can take is meaningless violence. Perhaps this is one of the main dangers of capitalism: although by virtue of being global it encompasses the whole world, it sustains a ‘worldless’ ideological constellation in which people are deprived of their ways of locating meaning. The fundamental lesson of globalisation is that capitalism can accommodate itself to all civilisations, from Christian to Hindu or Buddhist, from West to East: there is no global ‘capitalist worldview’, no ‘capitalist civilisation’ proper. The global dimension of capitalism represents truth without meaning.

Badiou? He too thinks there is no message: Badiou writing of September 11, 2001, starts his essay on ‘Philosophy and the War on Terror’ by saying ‘It was an enormous murder, lengthily premeditated, and yet silent. No one claimed responsibility’ (‘Polemics’ 2006:15). The fundamental lesson is not to see any of this as programmatic, until I tell you too. The main contradiction is here – no to the mute terrorists, rabble, rioters, commentators, yes to wordless world ‘events’ as interpreted by the blind jouissance of those who would still, despite all this, draw fundamental ‘lessons’ from globalization. Indeed, lessons, but not truth without meaning – rather, an analysis of contemporary capital that cuts.

The first conclusion to be drawn from the riots, therefore, is that both conservative and liberal reactions to the unrest are inadequate. [Yes, agreed]. The conservative reaction was predictable: there is no justification for such vandalism; one should use all necessary means to restore order; to prevent further explosions of this kind we need not more tolerance and social help but more discipline, hard work and a sense of responsibility. What’s wrong with this account is not only that it ignores the desperate social situation pushing young people towards violent outbursts but, perhaps more important, that it ignores the way these outbursts echo the hidden premises of conservative ideology itself. [yes,and with reactionary ultra-punitive ‘fightback retribution when the ideological goes wrong].When, in the 1990s, the Conservatives launched their ‘back to basics’ campaign, its obscene complement was revealed by Norman Tebbitt: ‘Man is not just a social but also a territorial animal; it must be part of our agenda to satisfy those basic instincts of tribalism and territoriality.’ This is what ‘back to basics’ [is this a cimena reference to the Christina Aguilera video?] was really about: the unleashing of the barbarian [Conan!] who lurked beneath our apparently civilised, bourgeois society, through the satisfying of the barbarian’s ‘basic instincts’ [more film refs!] . In the 1960s, Herbert Marcuse introduced the concept of ‘repressive desublimation’ to explain the ‘sexual revolution’: human drives could be desublimated, allowed free rein, and still be subject to capitalist control – viz, the porn industry [see, its was always heading to video]. On British streets during the unrest, what we saw was not men reduced to ‘beasts’, but the stripped-down form of the ‘beast’ produced by capitalist ideology [and some sort of ‘Wild in the Streets’ scary Zombie movie]

What SZ surely means is not what ‘we’ saw, but what the press and the commentators and the conservatives saw. What we saw was a lot different. From looting and violence to laughter and excitement, from community solidarity and euphoria to reactionary not in my back yard nimbyism. Maybe SZ means ‘what we were made to see’ when he refers to the stripped-down beast here. Surely he is not saying this was the ontological status of the streets at the time. This so-called beast was laughing, chanting, organized…

Meanwhile leftist liberals, no less predictably, stuck to their mantra about social programmes and integration initiatives, the neglect of which has deprived second and third-generation immigrants of their economic and social prospects: violent outbursts are the only means they have to articulate their dissatisfaction. Instead of indulging ourselves in revenge fantasies, we should make the effort to understand the deeper causes of the outbursts. Can we even imagine what it means to be a young man in a poor, racially mixed area, a priori suspected and harassed by the police, not only unemployed but often unemployable, with no hope of a future? The implication is that the conditions these people find themselves in make it inevitable that they will take to the streets. The problem with this account, though, is that it lists only the objective conditions for the riots. To riot is to make a subjective statement, implicitly to declare how one relates to one’s objective conditions.

Who is this ‘we’ you talking about white man? David Starkey and the stench of bourgeois race supremacy lines up alongside this kind of comment – what we can imagine about them others, them beasts, them out on the streets. Time to take a walk outside SZ. Am I too ‘cynical’ [its coming] in thinking that the madness of actually hearing from the youth is possible, necessary even. A grime track listing anyone? For starters. Who ‘we’?

We live in cynical times, and it’s easy to imagine a protester who, caught looting and burning a store and pressed for his reasons, would answer in the language used by social workers and sociologists, citing diminished social mobility, rising insecurity, the disintegration of paternal authority, the lack of maternal love in his early childhood. He knows what he is doing, then, but is doing it nonetheless.

Imagine a protester.. you may say I am a dreamer, but I’m not the only one who thinks it might be possible to do more than offer an easy mind game that does ventriloquy for social work – the catch here is the last clause of the above paragraph – the fetishists dilemma – knowing what’s going on and doing it nevertheless.

It is meaningless to ponder which of these two reactions, conservative or liberal, is the worse: as Stalin would have put it, they are both worse, and that includes the warning given by both sides that the real danger of these outbursts resides in the predictable racist reaction of the ‘silent majority’. One of the forms this reaction took was the ‘tribal’ activity of the local (Turkish, Caribbean, Sikh) communities which quickly organised their own vigilante units to protect their property. Are the shopkeepers a small bourgeoisie defending their property against a genuine, if violent, protest against the system; or are they representatives of the working class, fighting the forces of social disintegration? Here too one should reject the demand to take sides. The truth is that the conflict was between two poles of the underprivileged: those who have succeeded in functioning within the system versus those who are too frustrated to go on trying. The rioters’ violence was almost exclusively directed against their own. The cars burned and the shops looted were not in rich neighbourhoods, but in the rioters’ own. The conflict is not between different parts of society; it is, at its most radical, the conflict between society and society, between those with everything, and those with nothing, to lose; between those with no stake in their community and those whose stakes are the highest.

They are ‘both worse’ is Lenin, not Stalin – ‘both are worse’  from ‘What is to Be Done’ part 1, where Lenin is talking about two competing resolutions of the Jewish Workers Union in 1901. Surely a good Leninist should not mischievously be laying traps like this – checking to see if we are paying attention, misattributing classic quotes from the Vlad to Jo. SZ had already attributed this to Stalin in ‘Welcome to the Desert of the Real’ so I suspect its a moment of digital apocalypse cut and paste. The demand to deliver text in a rush. And I am doing it here – cut and say, paste and pay. But this is in the LRB, for which we are encouraged to subscribe. 

Zygmunt Bauman characterised the riots as acts of ‘defective and disqualified consumers’: more than anything else, they were a manifestation of a consumerist desire violently enacted when unable to realise itself in the ‘proper’ way – by shopping. As such, they also contain a moment of genuine protest, in the form of an ironic response to consumerist ideology: ‘You call on us to consume while simultaneously depriving us of the means to do it properly – so here we are doing it the only way we can!’ The riots are a demonstration of the material force of ideology – so much, perhaps, for the ‘post-ideological society’. From a revolutionary point of view, the problem with the riots is not the violence as such, but the fact that the violence is not truly self-assertive. It is impotent rage and despair masked as a display of force; it is envy masked as triumphant carnival.

Perhaps the problem with the commentaries are that they are not riotous enough, not triumphant, not able to see a revolution in carnival, in a moment, in assertion, even if not the ‘true self’ of the ideology carrying (where did you get that lovely outfit) demonstration of ‘irony’ is lagging behind.

The riots should be situated in relation to another type of violence that the liberal majority today perceives as a threat to our way of life: terrorist attacks and suicide bombings. In both instances, violence and counter-violence are caught up in a vicious circle, each generating the forces it tries to combat. In both cases, we are dealing with blind passages à l’acte, in which violence is an implicit admission of impotence. The difference is that, in contrast to the riots in the UK or in Paris, terrorist attacks are carried out in service of the absolute Meaning provided by religion.

This is a cut and past of the exact words from SZ’s book ’Violence’ that I discuss as note 20 in the second of 11 Notes (here). I could cut and paste to here, but then, nah. I repeat often enough as well. Its also not a crime, nor blind act, and certainly not religion.

But weren’t the Arab uprisings a collective act of resistance that avoided the false alternative of self-destructive violence and religious fundamentalism? Unfortunately, the Egyptian summer of 2011 will be remembered as marking the end of revolution, a time when its emancipatory potential was suffocated. Its gravediggers are the army and the Islamists. The contours of the pact between the army (which is Mubarak’s army) and the Islamists (who were marginalised in the early months of the upheaval but are now gaining ground) are increasingly clear: the Islamists will tolerate the army’s material privileges and in exchange will secure ideological hegemony. The losers will be the pro-Western liberals, too weak – in spite of the CIA funding they are getting – to ‘promote democracy’, as well as the true agents of the spring events, the emerging secular left that has been trying to set up a network of civil society organisations, from trade unions to feminists. The rapidly worsening economic situation will sooner or later bring the poor, who were largely absent from the spring protests, onto the streets. There is likely to be a new explosion, and the difficult question for Egypt’s political subjects is who will succeed in directing the rage of the poor? Who will translate it into a political programme: the new secular left or the Islamists?

This, though it might seem so to some, is not off message. The link to Egypt is not over cooked, the implications are important, there is something to learn. The pity might be that we do not also get a commentary on Libya, where another part of this struggle is being played out, not between Islamists and army in cahoots, but NATO imperialism and an opposition, a cruel twist on the colonial project, very useful for those keen to not, especially not, allow any links between the spirit of Tahrir Square, and Tunisia, Yemen, Syria, … Athens… Madrid… Malaysia… Do you remember how very very keen the British police were to not permit a Trafalgar Square occupation? However rife with contradictory forces these events were, they have meaning, and meanings struggled over, and changing, on the streets and in the commentariat, but also, perhaps, too early to tell.

The predominant reaction of Western public opinion to the pact between Islamists and the army will no doubt be a triumphant display of cynical wisdom: we will be told that, as the case of (non-Arab) Iran made clear, popular upheavals in Arab countries always end in militant Islamism. Mubarak will appear as having been a much lesser evil – better to stick with the devil you know than to play around with emancipation. Against such cynicism, one should remain unconditionally faithful to the radical-emancipatory core of the Egypt uprising.

Yes. Zindabad! But also the radical emancipatory core of the London uprisings. Even if this is still to come (yes, reference to Derrida intended – we are not abandoning reading theory, of course we are not – we will read it in the afternoons, between the square and the shops, in the breaks between the meetings.

But one should also avoid the temptation of the narcissism of the lost cause: it’s too easy to admire the sublime beauty of uprisings doomed to fail. [special pleading]. Today’s left faces the problem of ‘determinate negation’: what new order should replace the old one after the uprising, when the sublime enthusiasm of the first moment is over? [change of tone?]. In this context, the manifesto of the Spanish indignados, issued after their demonstrations in May, is revealing. The first thing that meets the eye is the pointedly apolitical tone: ‘Some of us consider ourselves progressive, others conservative. Some of us are believers, some not. Some of us have clearly defined ideologies, others are apolitical, but we are all concerned and angry about the political, economic and social outlook that we see around us: corruption among politicians, businessmen, bankers, leaving us helpless, without a voice.’ [How is this apolitical? THe ‘square’ is doomed when it become a paragde ground for the trooping of uniform ideas. The square is a debate, and struggle, a contest of interpretations. SZ has a role here]. They make their protest on behalf of the ‘inalienable truths that we should abide by in our society: the right to housing, employment, culture, health, education, political participation, free personal development and consumer rights for a healthy and happy life.’ Rejecting violence, they call for an ‘ethical revolution. Instead of placing money above human beings, we shall put it back to our service. We are people, not products. I am not a product of what I buy, why I buy and who I buy from.’ [Who calls this? A Manifesto? There are many – were there not many different calls? What is the emancipatory core here?]  Who will be the agents of this revolution?[Indeed]. The indignados dismiss the entire political class, right and left, as corrupt and controlled by a lust for power, yet the manifesto nevertheless consists of a series of demands addressed at – whom? Not the people themselves: theindignados do not (yet) claim that no one else will do it for them, that they themselves have to be the change they want to see. And this is the fatal weakness of recent protests: they express an authentic rage which is not able to transform itself into a positive programme of sociopolitical change. They express a spirit of revolt without revolution.

Yes, this gets towards the core problem of the square. The need for a vanguard party. But what sort of party? A party of the celebrity academics interested in parading the ‘idea’ of communism? Or a communist party made in the square (the square, you hippy dip, is a metaphor, gettit?]. I’ll be for the political party, though perhaps I won’t join, and I’ll not want to join the sectarian slagging match of fraction and faction, or rather, waferism – ever smaller slices of who has got the quotes on the Krondstadt (or on what Lenin said when) just so. But still, a party of the new type, I’ll support. Also of the old type. Get out your Mao. Read it in the square, fellow travellers.

The situation in Greece looks more promising, probably owing to the recent tradition of progressive self-organisation (which disappeared in Spain after the fall of the Franco regime). But even in Greece, the protest movement displays the limits of self-organisation: protesters sustain a space of egalitarian freedom with no central authority to regulate it, a public space where all are allotted the same amount of time to speak and so on. When the protesters started to debate what to do next, how to move beyond mere protest, the majority consensus was that what was needed was not a new party or a direct attempt to take state power, but a movement whose aim is to exert pressure on political parties. This is clearly not enough to impose a reorganisation of social life. To do that, one needs a strong body able to reach quick decisions and to implement them with all necessary harshness.

I’m sorry. Are there not also contradictions in Greece? Is there not also a racist, rightist, nationalist element in Syntagma Square? This ending is weird, not because of the call for a Party and the denunciation of ‘putting pressure’ on other parties – yes, yes, of course, of course – but that this scene of self-organising is more promising than Spain or Egypt or London. Why? Is it because there are no Islamists as there are in Cairo? (I am sure there are some). Is it because there are no overly inclusive manifestos as in Spain? Ha. Is it because the Greeks are not shopping as in London? bargain! No, I think there are deeper reasons as to why the commentators are concerned with their distance from meaning. I have learnt a lot from reading these laments, but I think the special pleading to be allowed to say – the ego investment in having a sponsored paywall ad say – is to be studied as well. This too is a question of the kind of organization and kind of leadership there must be in the party to come. Yes, take a ticket and wait your turn. I took mine, in italics. Thanks.

✪ 11 and still more Notes on the ‘Disturbances of London’, and England #riot #LondonRiot etc.

First 11 here, Second 11 here.

23. Abandoning rule by law the unrepresentative Government flaunts due process and encourages excessive penalties so as to ‘send a message’ to the youth, since its school holidays for two more weeks, and because they love the repressive apparatus as a Plan B when the bourgeois civil compact of polite society fails. Then while the Police tool up – Robocop, Robotruck, Robo-Judge (the Hanging Judges) – the upstart Vice PM steps in decisively to meet with the victims, let them have their say, encourage reactionary opinion, and distract from economic ruin to which his party leads capital (thanks, good job). This Con-Dem strategy bolstered by a lily-livered compassion they do not ever mean (funds for victims would do it!) and of course no hint of actually talking to, or listening to, the youth.

24. Broadcast media scramble to manage the hegemonic context but they cannot pierce the patina of distrust. Slick suits and lies from ‘scoop’ churnos. For the next uprising, for the one underway, for the new times, the elaboration, exultation and exhilaration of mobile communications is key. Yup. Already the youth know the street is a grid of attentions, announcements, information, runes – ride the electronic grapevine, multiply eyes and ears, many flies on the wall, stop the snitching and pass the parcel. It not news to see this glossed as running wild in the Matrix, fight them till we can’t, People’s CNN, You see he feels like Ivan, how you gonna come?

25. Intellectual response. Pah! Ian McEwan must not be permitted to write a novel about this, with some daft and ponderous middle-class sub-plot. The movie version must not be directed by Soderbergh/Boyle/Linklater/Bresson. Maybe Johnny Marbles can do it. If there must be films, ‘Ghosts of the Civil Dead’ (Hillcoat 1988) and ‘La Haine’ (Kassowitz 1995) are the antecedents. But prisoner support needs more than video nights. Prejudicial trial appeals, if recourse to law and lawyers must be, but a successful defense takes co-ordination and public campaigns.

26. Our media, their media. Proliferate and diversify. ‘We’ have flow, they just eaves-drop and lie at Inquiries. A pie in the eye to that. Make our own Inquiries – the people’s forum does not need a room for a mock trial, the hypocrisy can be shown and detailed everywhere, with amplification and hard focus. This is the first war of media autonomy and the juggernaut broadcasters cannot move fast. Scatter media confounds them, signifying nothing. Rumour, misinformation, disinformation, code – movements beyond legislation and control.

27. Pick your targets, don’t burn people’s houses, creative and symbolic violence can be just as powerful. Part way through La Haine the three friends of the main story are in the centre of Paris and linger awhile on a hill top with a splendid view of the iconic Eiffel Tower, built for the Great Exposition of 1900. In the film there are knowing references to intertextuality, for example in the scene where youths of the banlieues chase away reporters from the news press and also where ‘Hubert changes a billboard ad from “the world belongs to you” to “the world belongs to us”’ The scene that presents a critical inter-cinematic reference is instructive and occurs when, as Gerald Haughton’s review pointed out, ‘one of the three tries to “switch off” the Eiffel Tower by clicking his fingers – like [Leos] Carax’s Mauvais Sang [1985] and [Eric] Rochant’s World Without Pity [1989] – but here it steadfastly remains alight’. Alice Chapman notes the tower is ‘the only landmark we see’ in the entire film, and when the attempt is made to turn it off, another of the youths wisecracks that ‘only works in the movies’. Of course, just seconds after they leave, the tower does power down for the night. Cinema however shows the structure is just as susceptible to attack as other towers are – it has been destroyed many times: in the 1953 version of The War of the Worlds (dir Byron Haskin); it was (accidentally) blown up at the end of The Great Race (dir. Blake Edwards 1965); and melted by Martians (again) in Mars Attacks! (dir. Tim Burton 1996), and subjected to many other calamities, equivalent, if perhaps more flamboyant, than the tragedy that befell the double set of towers in New York (equally cinematic).

28. Does it worry you that some people, scholarly commentators even, me, can describe events like Paris 2005, London 2011, or New York September 11  or London 7/7 as obliging ‘us’ to ‘rethink the terms of social theory’ (Seidler 2007:xiii). With all due respect to the lives lost on those days, it seems obscene that these particular occurrences are the ones to make ‘us’ think. All over the world, and not only in the suburbs of Paris or London, another ‘we’ is subject to a relentless violence, visited by terror, danger, pursuit and threat every day. Social theory needed a rethink long before all this.

29. In 1972 Eldrige Cleaver wrote:

“The real revolutionary element of our era is the Lumpen, understood in its broader sense. What is lacking is a Lumpen consciousness, consciousness of the basic condition of oppression being the Lumpen condition and not the proletarian condition. In order for the revolutionary movement to progress, the Lumpen must become conscious of themselves as the vast majority, and the false proletarian, working class consciousness must be negated.” (Cleaver 1972)

30. In 2005 Immanuel Wallerstein on Paris:

 ‘It amazes me that people are surprised when the underclasses rebel. The surprising thing is that they do not do it more often. The combination of the oppressiveness of poverty and racism and the lack of short-term, or even medium-term hope is surely a recipe for rebellion. What keeps rebellion down is fear of repression, which is why repression is usually swift. But the repression never makes the anger go away’ (in The Guardian, 3 Dec 2005)

31. In 2006, Slavoj Žižek wrote:

‘We are thus witnessing the rapid growth of a population outside state control, living in conditions half outside the law, in dire need of minimal forms of self-organization. Although this population is composed of marginalized laborers, redundant civil servants, and ex-peasants, they are not simply a redundant surplus: they are incorporated into the global economy in numerous ways, many of them as informal wage-workers or self-employed entrepreneurs, with no adequate health or social security cover … (Žižek 2006:268).

It may be possible to disagree with Cleaver, Wallerstein or Žižek on several points here, but when Žižek suggests Marx was contemptuous of the lumpenproletariat, this list of complaints reminds me of the standard enumerations of standard academic class coding – a lament that they need to be organized, by academics! Rather than academics organizing themselves (lol).

32. Let us be careful, then, to read how Marx’s 1852 description of the Lumpen as a complaint about the way certain upstarts put themselves forward as a leadership. His tone, in describing the organization, or not, of the lumpen proletariat or the peasantry is critical of those who would appoint themselves leaders and describe them in these terms. The quotes are long, but we have to open them up beyond the usual known phrases – ‘they cannot represent themselves’ – and look for how Marx examines organizing and who is organizing. In part of his rampaging analysis in the Eighteenth Brumaire, Marx provides a list of those Louis Boneparte gathered together in the Society of 10 December in order to wrest control of the Empire from competing forces:

“On the pretext of founding a benevolent society, the lumpen proletariat of Paris had been organized into secret sections, each section led by Bonapartist agents, with a Bonapartist general at the head of the whole. Alongside decayed roués with dubious means of subsistence and of dubious origin, alongside ruined and adventurous offshoots of the bourgeoisie, were vagabonds, discharged soldiers, discharged jailbirds, escaped galley slaves, swindlers, mountebanks, lazzaroni, pickpockets, tricksters, gamblers, maquereaux [pimps], brothel keepers, porters, literati, organ grinders, ragpickers, knife grinders, tinkers, beggars — in short, the whole indefinite, disintegrated mass, thrown hither and thither” (Marx 1852/2002:63).

This is the most famous description – which is not yet a description of the lumpen, but of those Boneparte recruited to stand in for them. Marx continues further on:

“The small-holding peasants form an enormous mass whose members live in similar conditions but without entering into manifold relations with each other. Their mode of production isolates them from one another instead of bringing them into mutual intercourse. The isolation is furthered by poor means of communication and the poverty of the peasants. Their field of production, the small holding, permits no division of labor in its cultivation, no application of science, and therefore no multifariousness of development, no diversity of talent, no wealth of social relationships. Each individual peasant family is almost self-sufficient, directly produces most of its consumer needs, and thus acquires its means of life more through an exchange with nature than in intercourse with society. A small holding, the peasant and his family; beside it another small holding, another peasant and another family. A few score of these constitute a village, and a few score villages constitute a department. Thus the great mass of the French nation is formed by the simple addition of homonymous magnitudes, much as potatoes in a sack form a sack of potatoes. Insofar as millions of families live under conditions of existence that separate their mode of life, their interests, and their culture from those of the other classes, and put them in hostile opposition to the latter, they form a class. Insofar as there is merely a local interconnection among these small-holding peasants, and the identity of their interests forms no community, no national bond, and no political organization among them, they do not constitute a class. They are therefore incapable of asserting their class interest in their own name, whether through a parliament or a convention. They cannot represent themselves, they must be represented. Their representative must at the same time appear as their master, as an authority over them” (Marx 1852/2002:101)

Marx’s most misunderstood statement perhaps is the one that refers, to those who will support Napoleon III. ‘They cannot represent themselves’, he writes. Of course this is the peasants, the ‘potatoes in a sack’, but this representation of representation must be read in the context of talking about the various social groupings that were the players in a drama, on a stage, where Louis Boneparte (the Nephew upstart) was to strut his stuff. Marx clinches the argument when he says:

“Historical tradition gave rise to the French peasants’ belief in the miracle that a man named Napoleon would bring all glory back to them … But let us not misunderstand. The Bonaparte dynasty represents not the revolutionary, but the conservative peasant; not the peasant who strikes out beyond the condition of his social existence, the small holding, but rather one who wants to consolidate his holding; not the countryfolk who in alliance with the towns want to overthrow the old order through their own energies, but on the contrary those who, in solid seclusion within this old order, want to see themselves and their small holdings saved and favored by the ghost of the Empire. It represents not the enlightenment but the superstition of the peasant; not his judgment but his prejudice; not his future but his past” (Marx 1852/2002:10?).

33. So don’t get sucked in by boss media, there are other stories available. Don’t go calling people peasants (rabble, Racaille, thugs, criminals) when the Society of 10 December you seem to want is a ragbag of bribed and déclassé apologists, pundits and fuck-ups barely able to grasp a picture let alone the big picture. (People coming to get you soon I suspect – your career celeb days are over). Don’t go thinking you have to organize the unorganized, the revolutionaries are not unorganized, they are doing it themselves, they need to do it themselves, and need you to join with them, not parade around with a picture of Trotsky (not the worst you could do, but pointless) or to give oxygen to the clowns that would rule. The Eigtheenth Brumaire of Cameron and Clegg is being written and their strategy is in ruins. Gross and brutal repression in these days incites a hatred of capital that can only be good, step back from the vehicle now, or it burns like Paris 2005. Decommission Robocop. Decomission the commission. Decommission the Kangaroo courts. Stop. Cease. Desist.

First 11 here, Second 11 here.

Film screening “Vincent Who?” – Sept 12 2011 Amnesty International – The Human Rights Action Centre

Asian Pacific Americans for Progress & Islington Chinese Association
proudly invite you to the London Premiere of

“Vincent Who?”

A documentary on Asian American political empowerment


Monday, Sept. 12, 2011
7-9 pm

Amnesty International – The Human Rights Action Centre 
17-25 New Inn Yard 
London EC2A 3EA

Free Admission

(Ticket reservation on


In 1982, at the height of anti-Japanese sentiments following massive layoffs in the car industry, a Chinese-American named Vincent Chin (1955-1982) was murdered by two white car workers in Detroit. The killers were given a $3000 fine and 3 years probation. Outraged by this injustice, Asian Americans united for the first time to form a pan-Asian civil rights movement. This film (40 minutes) looks back at the historic case, but also asks how far Asian Americans have come since then, including the rise of anti-Asian sentiments directed at South Asians post 9/11.

A post-screening Q&A with writer/producer Curtis Chin aims to highlight the similarities and differences between Asians, both East and South, on both sides of the Atlantic. Co-presenter, Paul Hyu, actor/artistic director.  Introduction by Col. Brian Kay OBE TD DL, Chairman of Islington Chinese Association.

For more information on the film, please go to or email Curtis Chin at

Dan Cull ‘Riot Pron and links’

Dan Cull has done the round-up, found thanks to a ping-back, its well worth circulating, for the record, so to speak. Thanks Dan. More news anyone? Look out for the next round up which surely has to be of prisoner support, and 10,000 articles condemning the Cameron-Clegg-Milliband-Robocop repression…


riot pron and links

Chavez Campbell Predicted Trouble:

Eyewitness accounts:

The voiceless find their voice:

Anarchist perspectives:

Other viewpoints

Comics Respond:


Trade Union Response to Riots:

Community Responses:

Famous Academic Shows his Racist Side: 

‘sthaniya sambaad‘ (‘spring in the colony‘), Goldsmiths Tuesday Sept 6th, 2011

This feature film by Arjun Gourisaria and Moinak Biswas is well worth seeing.

sthaniya sambaad‘ (‘spring in the colony‘),

(105 min. 2009, 35 mm, cinemascope, EST).

Q & A with one of the directors.

6.15pm Tuesday Sept 6th, 2011 – Goldsmiths Cinema RHB Small Hall

please take a look at and also the blog for responses to the film.

A moving, and funny, story of life in a refugee colony south of  the city of Kolkata.


It follows the workshop on Vernacular Globalizations, in the same venue, starting 3pm, with Bhaskar Mukhopadhyay, Moinak Biswas and others.

All welcome, no charge.

Politicians, Cops, Judges and Journalists don’t wear jeans: Uniformity v. Levis.

OK, it is ironic since blue jeans are also a uniform, its commercial pap from a megacorp, it is like saying the real thing is coke and meaning the fizzy drink, it is a trinketized and aestheticized cash-in on the atmosphere of dissent in present-day London, and it is an advert that has already been pulled because the company fears a backlash that may accompany the vicious reactionary clampdown and paranoia fueled by lying politicians and complicit media, but it is worth having a tab linking to anything to might point to a world of expression even if it is being erased as we speak… while I neither condone or endorse this, ahem, here it is for as long as its still up on that revolutionary social media we know as YouTube:

More on that UfSO #riotcleanup or #riotwhitewash spike

Sofia Himmelblau responds to her critics

AUGUST 12, 2011
by flashbank

Postscript – A Response to Comments
Dr. Sofia Himmelblau
(This was written as a response to various comments made regarding my previous post and has also been reposted there)

My previous post appears to have sparked a huge amount of controversy….

Keep reading Dr Himmelblau’s response here.

Yesterday’s spike in stats:

Title Views
#riotcleanup or #riotwhitewash? More stats 11,479
Home page More stats 900
About More stats 390
An actual first-hand account More stats 203
Inaugural Lecture More stats 172
Conference: On Violence More stats 142
A riot is the language of the unread More stats 118
Contact More stats 97
Second Lecture More stats 94
“This is criminality, pure and simple…” More stats 50

✪ 11 more notes on ‘the disturbances™ in London’

The first 11 notes were here.

12. It is too easy to complain that the ‘rioting’ youth are merely obsessed with trainers and plasma TV. To say this misses the point, but it is more difficult for journalists to parse the process by which circulation, valorization, exchange, value extraction, surplus labour, alienation, and the fetishism that disguises social relations as relations between things operates. The ‘reporter-campaigner’ press is no longer on the job.

13. The insurrectionary youth seem to understand better than most what these goods are – theirs. They grasp the fetish character of commodities and the theft of property as time. In a radical way, the youth grasp, and break, the distinction between use value and exchange value. Fat cat neoliberals have thrived off expropriation, but now as the roosting pigeon heads homeward, with them having mortgaged the future to short-term gain, they seem perversely ignorant of causes. The sorry spectacle has them flapping about trying to fix the leaks where they see their interests and profits must be defended, as ever with a bolstered repressive apparatus, and having ransomed everyone else for their sorry survival.

14. In this context, jokes about ‘aggressive forms of late night shopping’ (ex cop on TV) are hypocritical ventriloquy of ruling class ideas, in that nearly every ‘older’ person I’ve heard talking about this first wishes the youth had a ‘cause’ (like they do!) but then wants to know where to buy one of these cheap hot plasmas, though without having to go to Tottenham for the pick up. Distorted and alienated interests are interests nonetheless – they are not the interests of Capital. Cut through this phantasmal comedy and it’s illusions of civic responsibility, morality and myths of political representation – contemporary Capital is nothing less than theft and plunder and should be hounded into the annals of history.

15. Lack of role models! The role models aren’t Kate Middleton and knowing what she wore, nor Beckham and his grooming products – the parade of privilege and property has them only as a window-dressing facade. The weapons trade, the mining industry, the micro-processing and conductor sweatshops, the off-shore processing zones, the anti-union, tax-free, labour intensive low-wage hell camps… These are the role models, also critiqued by the broken windows – the targets are tangential, but the sentiment is shared. Some are making the connections, and they are not just crusty old Marxists.

16. The youth hate the cops with good cause. Deaths in custody is a trigger, but stop and search, surly attitudes, bus dragnets, corruption, payola and more are not endearing plod to anyone. Defending prime property while letting lesser capital burn is an outrage, but expected given where we are just now in the volatile process of cyclical accumulation. The valorisation/conversion of expropriated surplus value through circulation within a stag-flationary recession that favours write-offs and fire-sales (primark, tkmaxx, budget airlines, and now many so-called ma-and-pa shops) means petit bourgeois traders suffer while big capital strives to recoup what minimal profit can be scarpered away before the fire sale season ends. The super rich survive, only slightly singed by scandals (dear Rupert), to then pounce to buy up the scorched earth as a bloody trophy upon which a new phase of accumulation is inaugurated. Class and location maps onto race and privilege to differentiate the cartography of valorised capital under this restructuring, so-called ‘crisis’ we are all in together. Some zones of manufacture and circulation entail very small margins with very large numbers – ahh, plastic goods – and if this mode of production, and a sharp end understanding of it, isn’t political, then what is?

17. The technique is refined in war. Invasion of Iraq, Afghanistan and gleeful opportunism after the Arab spring (Cameron visits an arms fair) follows the model of army and camp followers. The cowboy corporations rush to provide security services, building contracts, democracy-capacity-building workshops…

18. We do not necessarily need commodity chain analysis or a critique of colonial history to understand that here and there, local and global are co-constituted in an embrace of death. Seems like only the politicians have a vested interest in saying this is not political – and they criminalise all youth, and all revolutionary zeal, with the same golden Bullingdon toilet brush (I am still reeling at Boris Johnson’s image of Britain as ‘a broken washing machine with black fluid leaking out the back’ – even disavowing this version he reveals his gutter mind).

19. The looting is not political because the youth pick up on a general discontent, it is not political because police tactics are repressive and biased and will be extended on the back of this, it is not political because parenting and family values have been lost back in some nostalgic fantasy of the good war, it is not political because the cuts to services mean there’s nothing else for the youth to do. It is political because all of the above make it an insurrection. Our very own intefada part one.

20. It is not a blind passages a l’acte, comrade Žižek. In his book on violence, Žižek says (after the deaths of Bouna Toure and Zyed Benna on October 27, 2005 and the thousands of cars set alight): ‘the fact that there was no programme behind the burning Paris suburbs is thus itself a fact to be interpreted’ (Žižek 2008:64). That this might be described as a ‘blind acting out’ seems itself ironic and myopic, even when SZ is correct to mock the sociological ‘search for deeper meaning or messages hidden in these outbursts’ (Žižek 2008:65), especially if these searches are undertaken from the comfort of the television viewing room. Žižek himself spends two further pages explaining that the youth wanted to be recognized as French, and yet locates this events in a particular and peculiar way. I expand the parameters of the quotation already used earlier:

“The Paris riots need to be situated in a series they form with another type of violence that the liberal majority perceives as a threat to our way of life: direct terrorist attacks and suicide bombings. In both instances, violence and counter-violence are caught up in a deadly vicious cycle, each generating the very forces it tries to combat. In both cases we are dealing with blind passages a l’acte, where violence is an implicit admission of impotence. The difference is that, in contrast to the Paris outbursts which were a zero-level protest, a violent outburst which wanted nothing, terrorist attacks are carried out on behalf of that absolute meaning provided by religion” (Žižek 2008:69).

We cannot be sure Žižek has understood Paris here, nor should we be detained by his assertion that religion is the absolute designation of terrorism, but the ascription of ‘nothing’ as the meaning of the Paris riots certainly suggests some problems with commentary.

21 Media reportage as the official line, paving the way for more cops, more repression, less commentary, less critique – we have long known the idea of the independent campaigning journalist reporter has been swallowed up by embedded, churnalistic, press release and sub-tabloid eaves-dropper automatons. Recycled heavy rotation police reports and edits (let me see more of Mayor Johnson being hounded out of Clapham by rightly angry shopkeepers). That this 24 hr news cycle stresses recycle of items is just yet another cut in the stagflationary moment.

22. The ‘Lumpen R Us’. Well, not quite, but it does not hurt to have an aspiration. In his early text ‘A Report from Hunan’ Mao praises the ‘Movement of the Riff Raff’ (Mao Selected Works Vol 1 p29). The ‘riff raff’ are the ‘utterly destitute’ lumpen peasantry who we find in China as:

“completely dispossessed … People who have neither land nor money, are without any means of livelihood, and are forced to leave home and become mercenaries or hired labourers or wandering beggars” (Mao Vol. I P 32)

Mao then provides a detailed report on the achievements of these peasants as revolutionaries able to transform an uprising into Red self governance. Mao’s ‘Report from Hunan’ is a great example of engaged reportage and it provides a more balanced evaluation of lumpen elements. His amusingly titled section ‘“Its Terrible” or “Its Fine”’ is equally judicious. Mao is praising the ways the peasants had banded together to dominate the landed gentry in Hunan, how their organisation established the basic conditions for a defence of the gains, and the template for the pattern of protracted guerrilla war. His unconditional approval for the ‘Movement of the Riff Raff’ is unstinting in its praise for the violent suppression of counter-revolutionaries. He does not ever want to say they ‘go too far’ when they defend the revolution (Selected Works Vol. I).

Thus – build the revolution…

11 more points soon

The first 11 notes were here.

The best 11 you should know by heart – the point is to change it.

6.30pm from The Anchor, Deptford High Street, to Lewisham Town Hall 10 August 2011

Tonight (Wednesday), 6.30pm
Emergency demonstration against the cuts which caused the riots
6.30pm from The Anchor, Deptford High Street, to Lewisham Town Hall,
Called by a peoples’ assembly on the streets of Deptford last night.

Saturday, 1pm
Give Our Kids a Future! A North London Unity Demonstration
1pm from Gillett Square, Dalston to Tottenham Green

This march is called by The North London Assembly, a temporary
Assembly which saw 70 local community activists meet at the North
London Community House on Tuesday 9th August to discuss our reaction
to the riots of early August in Tottenham and Hackney. It includes
people from many Turkish and Kurdish community groups, like Day Mer
and Gik Der, and also the Haringay and Hackney Alliances for Public
Services who are all supporting this march. We state that this is not
us seeking to represent the community but it is our attempt to try to
bring unity to the community in which we live. It is neither
supporting nor condeming the events but seeking the most positive
outcome from them. This will be a positive and peaceful march with an
Assembly at the end for people to express what they are thinking about
recent events.

Bouna Toure, Zyed Benna, chased by Police, and dead – comment by Abdellali Hajjat

On October 27 2005 in Paris, 15 year old Bouna Trouré and 17 year old Zyed Benna were electrocuted after taking refuge in a power station while being chased by Paris Police.

“On October 27th, Bouna and Zied died of electrical burns when they fled from the police. Riots broke out in Clichy-sous-Bois and other housing estates across France. This is the first time since May 1968 that there has been urban violence of this magnitude; it is also the first time that young people from the neighbourhoods have risen up together, realizing that they share a common fate. This fate can be summed up as having no future but unemployment, low-income housing, daily humiliation and police racism, a ghetto culture that makes us outcasts, but which on a certain level is also a source of pride, because it’s ours” – from – accessed Dec 22005

Sarkozy called them racille – scum, rogues:

“But Sarkozy is not the only one who shows contempt for the popular suburbs. When certain “left-wing” leaders talk about “savages” or the “little Le Pens from the suburbs,” they are adopting the same approach of constructing dangerous classes. It is true that the social and political causes of the riots have been widely discussed in the French media (which for once avoided, for the most part, talking about the “fundamentalist menace,” unlike Sarkozy), but some left-wing sociologists and journalists also noted the “vacuum” or the political “desert” in the popular suburbs, where a majority of the descendants of post-colonial immigration live (either French or foreigners). They claim that France has been the scene of “jacqueries,” [translators note: “peasant insurrections”] like in the 19th century, carried out by the “lumpen of the lower proletariat,” “without class consciousness.” The implication is supposed to be that if some political force could only organize this rebellion, then all of its subversive potential could be directed in a revolutionary direction. From the comfort of their positions in the media and/or the universities, they do not hesitate to deplore the rioters’ “handicap”, for unlike class conscious workers there is no place for them in the Marxist framework. But in explaining this lack of political organization, they do not deal with the question of why the French left has been incapable of appealing to the people who live in the suburbs, and more specifically the fate of immigrant activists.” (by Abdellali Hajjat – France’s Popular Neighbourhoods Are Not A “Political Desert”).


Mao: Its Terrible or Its Fine.

In Report from Hunan Mao praises the ‘Movement of the Riff Raff’ (Mao Vol 1 p29). The ‘riff raff’ are the ‘utterly destitute’ lumpen peasantry who we find in China as:

“completely dispossessed … People who have neither land nor money, are without any means of livelihood, and are forced to leave home and become mercenaries or hired labourers or wandering beggars” (Mao Vol. I P 32)

Mao then provides a detailed report on the achievements of these peasants as revolutionaries able to transform an uprising into Red self governance. Mao’s ‘Report from Hunan’ is a great example of engaged reportage and it provides a more balanced evaluation of lumpen elements. His amusingly titled section ‘“Its Terrible” or “Its Fine”’ is equally judicious. Mao is praising the ways the peasants had banded together to dominate the landed gentry in Hunan, how their organisation established the basic conditions for a defence of the gains, and the template for the pattern of protracted guerrilla war. His unconditional approval for the ‘Movement of the Riff Raff’ is unstinting in its praise for the violent suppression of counter-revolutionaries. He does not ever want to say they ‘go too far’ when they defend the revolution (Selected Works Vol. I).

Thus – build the revolution…

[✪ or is this just building the Internets? – word press just tells me ‘This is your 1,000th post. Whiz-bang! This post has 270 words’. Happy thousandth bit of trinketization! Nice its a Mao one.]

✪ 11 notes on ‘the disturbances™ in London’

1. Punitive and class biased courts and police which condemn and kill the public while bonus-fat-cat bankers, expense-account scheming piggy-pollies and eavesdropping shop-your-mother-for-a-story journalists get away with it.

2. Massive jumpity-jump in hyper-profits and wealth of the super-rich while we get cuts to services, community support and local facilities, which means DIY street entertainment as last resort.

3. Economic factors paramount, racism the default position to defend white supremacist social structure of privilege. BBC report at 10.

4. Police looking at major cuts after years of corrupt payola-granola, selling the drugs they confiscate, taking bribes and kickbacks, farming out actual work to subcontracted half-beats and leaning on the completely bogus yellow union Police Federation to present them as human. Fail.

5. Have you noticed that at every demo the MET has offered up a sacrificial vehicle left as bait in the path of the march – stupidity or provocation?

6. Senior management responsible for horrendous blunders of course promoted. Chief Terror Dick etc., others suspended on full pay later reinstated. We need a new ‘Independent Complaints ABOUT the Police Commission,’ not a ‘POLICE complaints commission’ stacked out with coppers on secondment.

7. WE Need a juridical review, no more, the abolishment of the courts, replace with people’s tribunals, recallable delegates. Meetings to set up this Mondays.

8. End incarcerations, detention, bogus unequal persecutions, secret trials, detentions, control orders, exploding prison numbers, explode the prisons minister. Also, put bars on the windows of the banks and keep the criminal suits in there. Charge entrance fees for viewing rights, with peanuts available to throw at them to watch ‘em feed. Cuties.

9. Useless political non-opposition (are they on holiday?). Need a new type of Communist Party. Abolish the others sects/wafers – enough with faffing over whatever happened in the Krondstadt (and yes, I do know, but so what).

10. Sick of media denouncing people for shopping for trainers, its perverse not comic to focus on this without critique, and totally misses the serious point about commodity culture behind it all. Be organized people, be safe, cover up, don’t burn down homes, do walk tall.

11. ‘Everything under heaven is in chaos. The situation is promising.’ – we should try to get the quote right Z – 天下大亂,形勢大好 gives us ‘big good’, there is a difference between excellent and promising, so the future tense probably matters and promising is better.


second 11 here.


Deluded by the importance of writing, of setting down words in the hope that meaning, for writer and readers, coheres into something more than typing, I am convinced that there is a poetry, and a project, that demands and drives the page. Still. Television and video, internet, file-sharing, social media and meta-tagging all seem to have left the considered sentence behind. Instant messaging seems the antithesis of the timely analysis and prose that changes minds. Yet we do not have to fuck people over to survive, it is possible to change the way we think, there are times when it is necessary to go slowly, carefully and yet still crazily into the unknown. I have no idea if the topics I write on here are of interest. I do know it seems to me imperative we not ignore them. I do not know if I am right or wrong – I offer words experimentally.

current research interests (draft)

Current research interests include: global knowledge production and the history of ideas, archives and collections; architectural style and urbanization; trade routes, ports and the administration of commercial(ized) lives with multiple ‘locations’ (co-constitution and triangulation of sites); history of work and technology, especially with regard to mode of production debates; illicit trade and ‘piracy’ as catalyst for neo-liberal incursion; the politics of prisons and confinement.


Research in six areas is of particular interest at present:


– in terms of globalizing knowledge production, important scientific investigation and ‘collecting expeditions’ as well as key literary studies and publications which can be sourced to Bengal. For example, the first printed edition of the 1001 Nights was at Fort William College on the Hooghly in 1814 (ed: Shaikh Ahmad ibn-Mahmud Shirawani), as well as a second four volume edition (ed: William Macnaughten 1839) used by Burton for his translations (1885-86). In terms of collecting, this too must be sourced from the ‘other’ end than usually acknowledged. What labour and whose labour goes into collections, such as, for example, the Horniman Museum in South London which holds important records and collections of musical instruments related to Chhau dance traditions of Bihar and West Bengal, even as these collections are conspicuously uninterested in practitioners. In CCS Bhaskar Mukhopadhyay is also working on vernacular globalization and colonial era and East India Co. archive records regarding taxation on shipping, boats, on building boats, and port levy’s etc.


– in terms of architecture, the buildings of the East India company have significant resonance with those in other port cities such as Manchester and Melbourne largely by way of shared commercial enterprise in multiple locations. This is a record of connections amongst the global sites of early colonization that can sometimes be seen in buildings still standing (this is easier for later periods of course, compare the neo-Baroque of Calcutta’s Metropolitan Building on Jawaharlal Nehru Rd with Manchester’s ‘India House’, Melbourne’s State Savings Bank of Victoria, and the London War Office Building on Whitehall etc.).


– co-constitution of the Caribbean trade with the East India trade: the global connection reaches back to the earliest days – Job Charnock having ‘rented’, with military support, three villages on the Hooghly from 1690, The British had purchased land in Hooghly with silver gleaned from the sale of slaves in the West Indies (note: Charnok is not the ‘founder’ of Calcutta and the city was not ‘built by the British’ but by local labour. Reference mention of Saptagram in Bipradas Pipilai’s Manasa Mangala 1495).


– the changes in production narrative of the established scholarship might be reworked from the other end. In The Age of Revolution Hobsbawn notes that until the industrial revolution Europe had always imported more from the East than it had sold there (Hobsbawn 1975:34) and Marx notes the ruin of handicraft through the advent of machine production which ‘forcibly converts [the colonies] into fields for the supply of its raw material. In this way East India was compelled to produce cotton, wool, hemp, jute and indigo for Great Britain (Marx 1867/1967:451). The clue here is that these exports, crafts, conversions and re-organizations had to involve workers in situ – the changes were not produced from afar, but rather sourced on site. A history of labour, labour force, forms of work and workplace change, will look quite different if read from the ‘other’ end of colonialism.


– the Opium trade. This is often written up in terms of British gunboat diplomacy, but it is also curious how important the controversy was in Europe, how much of the sensibility of European public life was governed by events abroad. Marx, among many, also mentions the opium trade, recommending the Chinese ‘celestials’ legalize the drug so as to undermine the English traders. The baneful impact of opium is not only felt in China, but in India the trade ‘forces the opium cultivation upon Bengal, to the great damage of the productive resources of that country’ (Marx 1958 New York Tribune).


– colonial incarcerations – the development and adaptation of coercive punishments, legal protocols, discipline and incarceration. From the ‘Black Hole’ to contemporary terror laws’. Given the central role of the city in later political intrigues – Calcutta’s early ‘bad reputation’ is undeserved and should be countered. Thus if the Black Hole story must be told, it can be in a critical version: Marx calls the incident a ‘sham scandal’ (Marx 1947:81). In an extensive collection of notes made on Indian history, Marx comments that on the evening of June 21, 1756, after the Governor of Calcutta had ignored the order of Subadar Suraj-ud-duala to ‘raze all British fortifications’ in the city:

“Suraj came down on Calcutta in force … fort stormed, garrison taken prisoners, Suraj gave orders that all the captives should be kept in safety till the morning; but the 146 men (accidentally, it seems) were crushed into a room 20 feet square and with but one small window; next morning (as Holwell himself tells the story), only 23 were still alive; they were allowed to sail down the Hooghly. It was ‘the Black Hole of Calcutta’, over which the English hypocrites have been making so much sham scandal to this day. Suraj-ud-duala returned to Murshidabad; Bengal now completely and effectually cleared of the English intruders” (Marx 1947:81 my italics).


Marx also reports on the subsequent retaliation against and defeat of Suraj-ud-duala by Lord Clive (‘that Great Robber’ as he calls him elsewhere Marx 1853/1978:86), and Clive’s 1774 suicide after his ‘cruel persecution’ by the directors of the East India Company (Marx 1947:88). There seem to be very good reasons to conclude that the black hole incident is counterfeit. The single report from a ‘survivor’ some months after Clive’s savage response to Suraj-ud-duala’s occupation of Calcutta – the famous/notorious Battle of Plassey – reads very much like a justification forged to deflect criticisms of brutality on the part of the British forces.

Dale Farm, Demetre Fraser, Carnival – via IRR

Dale Farm activity day
11:00am, 6 August 2011 — An activity day at Dale Farm to help families facing eviction in a practical way.

March 4 Justice 4 Demetre Fraser
12:00pm, 13 August 2011 — A march for Demetre Fraser who died in police custody in Birmingham.

After-carnival music/awareness event
7:00pm, 14 August 2011 — An awareness event dedicated to those who have died in police custody.



via IRR