Book Review: Nancy Fraser, “Fortunes of Feminism”

Fortunes of Feminism is in first instance primarily a collection of powerful essays in critical theory by the feminist thinker Nancy Fraser – currently professor of Political and Social Science and also of Philosophy at The New School in New York. However, there is more to it than merely a collection of the usual kind, often titled something like ‘philosophical papers’, that simply intends to gather a philosopher’s most influential or representative articles over the course of a lifetime’s work. Rather, both the topic of the essays and their organization are themselves reflective. On the one hand, as we move from the earliest essays – written in the mid-1980s – to the more contemporary ones, we follow the development of Nancy Fraser’s own thought. This ranges from early feminist engagements with the thought and legacy of the Frankfurt School to the debates with, and incorporation of, the work of some of the major ‘poststructuralist’ thinkers such as Michel Foucault and Judith Butler. This culminates in an attempt to overcome their aporias through a move towards the mobilization of economic theory for new considerations of ‘the social’ and its defense. Continue reading “Book Review: Nancy Fraser, “Fortunes of Feminism””

Neoliberalism Closes the Nets Ever Further

Where there is capitalism, there will sooner or later be crisis. And where there is crisis, there will be resistance – and where there is socialism, there will be organized resistance. All the governments of West and East know this, and for this reason, everywhere the net is further closed, everywhere the political domain is restricted and the freedom of speech and of political expression further infringed. More and more the neoliberal era of capitalist rule shows its true face: in the name of liberating the citizen from the oppressive powers of the big state, it everywhere extends these powers and sharpens the knife it holds at the throat of anyone who might threaten to resist. In preparation for the 2012 Olympic Games in London, it has been announced that there will be “UK’s biggest mobilisation of military and security forces since the second world war”, and “during the Games an aircraft carrier will dock on the Thames. Surface-to-air missile systems will scan the skies. Unmanned drones, thankfully without lethal missiles, will loiter above the gleaming stadiums and opening and closing ceremonies. RAF Typhoon Eurofighters will fly from RAF Northolt. A thousand armed US diplomatic and FBI agents and 55 dog teams will patrol an Olympic zone partitioned off from the wider city by an 11-mile, £80m, 5,000-volt electric fence.”(1) So much for the spirit of peace and international sportsmanship the Games were to promote. The nakedness of the athletes has now been substituted with the nakedness of these displays of military power. The British state is imposing these on a city which only recently saw widespread rioting as a result of the exorbitant costs of living, the enormous rise in inequality, and the behavior of the state’s police force. It is for this reason that in Britain, comrade Seymour was quite right to oppose solidarity with the police forces in their campaign for the right to strikeat this particular juncture, such a right can only be used in order to give the police more resources with which to beat the working class into submission. Not coincidentally it is in the borough of Newham, where much of the Olympic activity will take place, that a great scandal has recently erupted over the aggressively racist behavior of the local police. Petty repression can only persist if backed up by displays of power, so as to say: “resistance is futile”. Continue reading “Neoliberalism Closes the Nets Ever Further”

A Question of Votes?

Among many progressive-minded people in the United Kingdom, the seemingly perpetual and unstoppable rightward trend of the Labour Party is a constant source of frustration and anger. Many have remarked on the massive gap in general political orientation between the Parliamentary Labour Party and the party activists, and in turn between the party activists and the Labour voter population one would normally expect. Yet the Blairite stalwarts always defend the course, slowly set in under Callaghan and Kinnock and totally dominant since the election of Blair himself, as essential to electoral victory for Labour. Without the votes, the argument runs, Labour cannot win a majority in Parliament, and without a majority in Parliament it cannot make policies, and to win the votes, it needs to ‘capture the centre’. Leaving aside the questionable sense of principle and the point of political parties this particular refrain exhibits, it is important to make the argument that it is also strategically wrong. Continue reading “A Question of Votes?”

Greece: The Domino Falls?

KKE banners on the Akropolis

KKE banners flutter on the Akropolis, calling on the peoples of Europe to rise up. A general strike has paralyzed the country; hundreds of thousands are on the march or stopped work; foreign leaders express their dismay; the government considers a national unity cabinet. Surely this must have been the scenario feared by the Royalists and reactionaries in the Greek Civil War, and by the colonels in their coup of 1967. But thanks to the greatest economic crisis capitalism has caused since the 1930s, it has become reality in the Hellenic Republic in these staid times of ‘liberal democracy’. With the financial and economic crisis hitting the debtor nations the hardest, the Greek government has been utterly unable to pay its outstanding debts and in order to save the European common currency it has to negotiate with its creditors in Europe and the IMF for a ‘bailout’ rescue plan if it is not to declare bankruptcy altogether. In first instance, it seemed a rescue package worth several billions spread over several tranches would be sufficient to save the Greek government’s financial position, but with economic conditions deteriorating by the day even these have not sufficed. The latest negotiations have seen creditors and ‘rescuers’ forced to accept an effective partial default of Greece on all its outstanding bonds of at least 50%, probably more.

However, such things are not done out of the goodness of the hearts of the friends of civilisation and freedom in Paris and Berlin. The penalty is to be paid by the people of Greece, as well as those of other southern European countries put at risk by the domino effect of ever diminishing bondholder confidence. The capitalist system knows no mercy, only the harsh demand that every debt is a credit, and this equation must equalize at whatever cost. With the threat of wholesale European monetary and credit collapse looming over them, the social-democratic government of Georgios Papandreou has seen no other choice but to implement the harshest programme of austerity Greece has known since the 19th century. This has led to a general strike against him and a chaotic confrontation outside the Greek parliament, in a sense the true ‘mother of all parliaments’, with KKE unionists and other demonstrators clashing with each other as well as riot police, while the assemblage of MPs passed the measures which would present the costs of the credibility of the eurozone in times of crisis to the Greek people. In a last-ditch attempt to salvage their democratic credibility, the PASOK leadership under Papandreou announced, without even informing their own cabinet, that a referendum was to be held on the question of continued Euro membership.

The very notion of a democratic decision on the economic future of the country was met with howls of outrage from the creditor’s governments abroad, as well as the liberal opposition party ND and even Papandreou’s own Finance Minister, Evangelos Venizelos jr. Papandreou was forced to withdraw the proposal. Even as I write, he has narrowly survived a confidence vote but is effectively forced to create a ‘national unity’ government with the opposition under Venizelos’ leadership, which will use its great majority of MPs (never elected under such a platform) to pass futher punitive measures on the Greeks. As always, when in a ‘liberal democracy’ liberalism and democracy come into conflict, it is the latter that loses. All the parliamentary formalities that normally hide the operation of the bourgeois state are thrown aside – the veil is lifted, and briefly all can see that the interests of small numbers of bondholders in Athens, Berlin, Paris and Washington supercede anything the Greek people may desire.

But such moments in which liberalism shows its true face are always moments of crisis in the double sense of the word. The Greeks themselves bequeathed this word to us, and it means a moment of confrontation, a moment where all can go wrong but also a moment of decision. All eyes are now on Greece as the first of the debtor nations which may buckle and collapse under the force of capitalism’s crisis. If it does so, others are expected to follow, such as the severely weakened economies of Italy and Spain. For the Greek people themselves, however, the cure is worse than the disease. To resolve the crisis of capitalism by capitalist means implies the restoration of the profitability of the banks, the credibility of the Euro bonds, and the victory of the creditor over the debtor: it means the great suffering of the majority in the interest of the wealthy minority whose property and interests are at stake. Now is the moment the Greek people and all of us decide whether we choose this path.

An alternative path exists. While most Greeks still have faith in the Euro as the guarantee of peace in Europe and the stability of their savings, a withdrawal from the currency would give Greece the opportunity for an independent policy. For this to be meaningfully on an international scale, it is not sufficient simply to devaluate under a Drachma and in so doing wipe out the creditors and the people’s savings alike. It must go further: the only opportunity is for Greece to declare a general default, to announce what David Graeber has biblically called a ‘Jubilee’ cancelling all outstanding non-commercial and state debts, and to prepare the way for an independent, socialist Greece which will never again risk its people’s living standards by hitching it to the destructive Juggernaut of international capitalism. This, too, means a better use of the state’s finances: instead of spending a proportionally massive percentage of its budget on sabre-rattling on the Turkish border, it would do better to restore Greek industry, improve the lamentable condition and inequality of Greek healthcare and education, and to disempower the monopolistic shipbuilders as well as the reigning political cliques. It also means the willingness of all Greeks to contribute their share to the reconstruction of the country, which in turn can only be done when a new government with a new approach regains the people’s trust. Only in this way can Greece have a lasting future.

One should not be so naive as to expect the powers in Washington, Berlin and Paris will allow this, nor will the ruling elites in Greece itself. It is no coincidence that the outgoing Papandreou government replaced, by surprise, its military commanders. The Greeks have all too fresh a memory of the Colonels’ Regime of 1967-1973, when right-wing militarists seized powers out of fear for the victory of the left; thousands were tortured, imprisoned, exiled and murdered in order to assure NATO her frontline base in the Cold War and the shipbuilders and landowners their property. Such a thing is not inconceivable even today. While it is not in the interests of Merkel or Sarkozy to drop liberal democracy just like that, big business interests may consider the option – Forbes already ‘jokingly’ suggested it. More likely is the ability of a ‘unity government’ to declare a state of emergency and in so doing attempt to destroy the unions’ and the demonstrators’ independent ability to resist the programme of austerity. Only the organised power of the Greeks can oppose them and prevent this, and in this they will need all the practical support from their friends in Germany, France, the United States and elsewhere they can get.

One should not imagine this crisis has seen its worst yet, and no Chinese deus ex machina will step in to save capitalism – it cannot be saved but at a cost so great that it is not worth paying. In the 19th century, the bankruptcy of many minor and middle-level powers, consciously engineered by their Western creditors, allowed the colonial or quasi-colonial takeover by Britain, Germany or France. In the 1930s, the Great Depression could only be overcome by the destruction of the Second World War, the greatest military cataclysm the world has ever seen. Only this wholesale destruction could destroy enough value to restore profit rates to the survivors so the system could continue. Shall our motto once again be: Vae Victis? Or shall we finally do away with this system, and say this time: Workers of the World, Unite?

NB: There is an interesting comparison to be made here with the article I wrote on the effects of the crisis in Greece in February 2010, when the effects were only just being fully felt. I was right to predict the necessity of a bailout for the EU major powers, but sadly the individual pressure on an isolated Greece I warned against has come to pass.

The Problem of Public Strikes


Recent times have seen a strong increase again in the number of industrial actions in the public or semi-public sectors, probably under the influence of the current crisis. Recently the court in Amsterdam enjoined the unions from striking in the public transport of the three largest cities in the Netherlands. This strike had been intended as a means of exerting public pressure against the plans of the Dutch government to increase the retirement age to 67.(1) In the meantime the United Kingdom is now witness to a large-scale action by the union CWU against the plans by Royal Mail to implement severe cuts in the services and pensions.(2) The latter of these however threatens to have a counterproductive effect, since Royal Mail is already under significant pressure under the name of privatization. If the mail services were to fully compete, the result would be that the private competitors would be able to obtain all the lucrative mail services by offering worse labor conditions, whereas the Royal Mail, because of its obligation to service, would be stuck with the ‘unprofitable’ mail (as is being seen to some extent already).

A different problem however with industrial action in the public services is the severe pressure they put on public opinion. Continue reading “The Problem of Public Strikes”