Brexit and the Politics of Resignation

Peter Denson and Stuart Kirsch’s article Capitalism and the Politics of Resignation (2009) hits at this cynicism common among young people who operate knowing that much of the world is highly problematic but taking part anyway. I teach at a university, and am seeing the students’ work quality decrease, see them become less satisfied with university, seeing increasingly dysfunctional IT systems introduced, and I do this because teaching can be great and, more importantly, my capacity to effect change is entirely circumscribed. Here, after seeing that traditional modes of resistance and negotiation have been co-opted to the benefit of corporations, Benson and Kirsch (2009) suggest that we are left with a cynicism, a pragmatic acceptance of systems, and a deferral of resistance.

I see the Brexit as being somewhere along those lines, an act of cynicism, a play toward resistance that never truly saw itself making any change, that – perhaps because of the widespread cynicism – came to radically change the UK. It’s tragic that the people who are suffering structural subordination, who’ve been consummately exploited by people like Farage in the scapegoating of immigrants, are likely the ones to suffer further crises as austerity attempts to level the UK’s ship. It’s all the more tragic that the cynicism of working class people was so widespread that they could vote as one without realising that they were doing so, without thinking that anything would change.

Temer’s Brazil

Highly interesting thoughts on the Rousseff coup; I know she wasn’t terrific for Indigenous groups in Brazil, but at least her election was democratic.

One of the things that distinguishes impeachment in Brazil compared to the US is what the president does during the hearing. Whereas in the US, a president facing impeachment continues to serve as president, in Brazil, the president is removed from office for 180 days, and the Vice President becomes President. In this context, then, […]

via Early Thoughts on What a Temer Administration Looks Like — Americas South and North

New Marxisms

Is it possible to conceive of new Marxisms?

I have attended several universities, and there are many commonalities. One of them is the revulsion the Socialist Alliance elicit. As a student, many left-leaning people would express their dismay at the SA’s combativeness and arrogance, and say things such as:

  • ‘This is the hard thing – I really agree with them, I do. But they are just despicable’
  • ‘They just like the idea of revolution’

I’ve found similar opinions among students at UniMelb, and have found that even the academic staff – from a broad range of political positions – find them irksome. At UQ, there was a ponytailed fellow and a fedora-wearing fellow. Each of these guys were treated a synecdoches of Marxism, or as representing the bad points about socialism – angry, unfashionable. People said that the SA were expressing good ideas, but were engaged in so much identity work that their group became repulsive.

What I’d like to know is how Marxist ideas maintain their appeal within this crowd. A week or so ago, I attended a public lecture organised by the SA about refugees asylum policy in Australia. Many things were said that I agreed with; humane ideas, decent hopes, and some salient political science. However, toward the end of the lecture, there was a discussion of an incident at Lady Cilentro Hospital in South Brisbane, where the medical personnel refused to discharge a refugee mother and her newborn daughter to Border Force, who intended to return them to Nauru, because they felt that it would compromise their commitment to care. These staff recognised the stories coming from the detention centres indicated that returning the patients back to these situations would compromise the Hippocratic Oath, and they refused to discharge. Many refugee advocates – including SA – camped out the front of Lady Cilentro Hospital, inspecting vehicles to see if Border Force personnel were in entering vehicles, or if the refugee mother and Baby Asha were in leaving ones.

An incredible event – Kon from the ASRC put out a tweet suggesting that Australians buy those in the blockade a pizza, and there were so many pizzas bought that large stacks of them were donated to community housing and homeless shelters in the area.

However, in the discussion at this public lecture, the speaker said that ‘the lowly payed employees, the cleaners and receptionists and wardies were the ones that orchestrated this – the people that make so little money, but who are the ones upon whom all the profits are made’ or words to this effect. Then they said ‘see what happens when the working class people band together?’ and the crowd nodded sagely.

However, in the Lady Cilentro event, it was nurses and doctors that refused to discharge – obviously cleaners have no power to discharge patients – and, from what I understand, it is the doctors and pharmacists that generate all the profit in health, not the cleaners and working class workers. Moreover, research indicates (forthcoming) that the working class of Australia (and the world) supports our governments cruel detention procedures. The traditional Marxist narrative of profit from the working class, revolution with the proletariat, doesn’t hold in this instance. But it was deployed and received comfortably.

I wonder what a new Marxism looks like, one that recognises that working class people are the people who are voting in large numbers for Trump in the US, or voting in support of the Coalition in Australia, and that it is minorities and educated, white middle-class people that typically vote for the ALP and Greens. The Marxist tropes don’t have the salience they once did.

This is not to say that socialism is wrong, Marx is useless etc. etc., but, on the topic of whether or not Marxism is fashionable, I wonder to what extent it can be – or to what extent it might need to be – refashioned in order to reflect our political realities, and not the tested ideas of struggle and resistance.

The Great Australian Silence

In Australia, there are two independent movements to reclaim Australia. Both are making themsleves known at rallies in public areas, and both are attracting supporters that are established in the public sphere. Each of them are presenting a conception of Australia which has either been lost or is at risk of being lost. However, only one of them is drawing the attention of the mainstream media.

The first movement is that of Indigenous Australians. Late last year, the Abbott government, in response to the budget emergency (which, though worse is now fine according to Joe Hockey) turned the funding of remote Indigenous communities in Western Australia over to the Barnett State Government. This prompted Barnett to state that these communities were unsustainable, and has declared to cut services to 150 of them. This, to my eye, is a type of decision that has become increasingly common in recent years, and analogues of this mode of decision making can be found in multiple fora. It is by appeal to efficiency that an actor can say ‘This can’t be helped’.

At my work, there are employees with terrific bills to pay, who ask for more hours to work. The bosses will often say that they cant, that they’re sorry, that its just the time of year, or that its just business or that their hands are tied. There is an asymmetry here; should an employee be asked to work some overtime to cover a shift or some such thing, they do not have recourse to the ‘just business’ trope. And if they say something like ‘This is not in my best interests’, then they are no longer a team player. Their answer will be an ‘i don’t want to’ or an ‘i have plans’ – personal, rather than business reasons. Often these responses see employees fall out of favour. They cant refuse with the absolution of guilt that ‘its just business’ carries. They do not have appeal to the efficiency that can tie someone’s hands.

Similarly, Barnett’s decision to coerce people from their land is framed in economic terms. They are unsustainable. Or Tony Abbott’s “lifestyle choices”. The moral landscape is undergirded by an economic landscape; that these lives can be considered an unnecessary burden permits these decisions to be made. However, individuals do not have recourse to legitimise their lifestyles, without conforming to efficiency.

The reclaim movement is a movement that is a conservative, nationalist movement with a dubious understanding of the political reality in which they dwell. They fear Sharia law being implemented in Australia, and don’t like halal certified foods for its potential connection to terrorist groups. They are taking form in the United Patriots Front, Australian Liberty Alliance and several other groups. I recently found out my favourite uncle is sympathetic to their views, a highly disturbing dinner.

What is interesting here is that two groups are making similar claims to the same country, but only one is receiving attention. A solidarity rally took place in Brisbane at the end of March, and saw around 800 people listen to speakers, watch dancers and listen to music, and later took to the street to show their opposition to the closing of Indigenous communities. A Reclaim Australia rally, in the same square the following week, saw several hundred fewer attendees and, according to various publications, was only noteworthy for the clashes between protesters and counter-protesters. However, there has been enormous coverage of these rallies. The Indigenous movements have been covered only briefly, with no great detail or analysis.

The anthropologist W.E.H. Stanner wrote of the ‘Great Australia Silence’ toward Indigenous Australians. Here we see, as well as silence, a drowning out of attention. Those that write about the nationalist and racist Reclaim Australia movements are sure to be sympathetic to Indigenous movements, just perhaps not committed to it. But why? There is an openness to, say, refugees, but it’s quite unsettling to have to apply this same openness to oneself; to force oneself to be intellectually and morally tolerant of their own presence in a country is a deeply unsettling thing. But, in practice, this sees the amplification of other causes – the expression of support for multiculturalism and its values – at the expense of discussion of Indigenous issues, firstly, because it’s easier for progressive people to write about, and, secondly, it’s a less unsettling topic for progressive people to read about.

The people writing about the Reclaim movements are drawing attention to serious issues in Australian society, but they are only reviewing that which is conspicuously bad, the articulation of negative theses in our political landscape. However, there is the second issue here that these views are articulated over the top of claims to land and country that are more legitimate or justified, and, at the very least, where there exists genuine oppression.

However, this is unsettling. It is unpleasant to be forced to accommodate oneself. Moreover, Indigeneity in Australia requires a certain degree of deferral – as Wittgenstein said, ‘Whereof one cannot speak, one must remain silent’. But the silence here is not brought about an inability to speak, but an unwillingness to be unsettled. So journalists don’t write, progressives don’t read; the Great Australian Silence – it’s just business.