22 Jul 2017

The Philosophy of Marx by Etienne Balibar

The Philosophy of Marx 
By Etienne Balibar (translated by Gregory Elliot and Chris Turner)
Verso, 2017
240 pp., $38.95

Etienne Balibar notes ‘The general idea of this little book is to understand and explain why Marx will still be read in the twenty-first century, not only as a monument of the past, but as a contemporary author - contemporary both because of the questions he poses for philosophy and because of the concepts he offers it.’ (p.1).  And with some reservations, I feel he achieves this goal.
While is a thought provoking book, it may disappoint readers who seek either an introduction to Marx’s philosophy or a straightforward account of how Marx’s ideas can inspire focussed political action in the 21st Century.  There is a very useful guide to reading more about Marx’s philosophy and some very clear panels describing key thinkers and themes from Gramsci onwards.  However Balibar discusses some very complex and subtle ideas, that demand a good knowledge of Marx’s key works, as well as those of such far-from-easy thinkers as Kant and Wittgenstein, along with structuralist, aleatory and post-modern thought.  In short, this is a sophisticated and in depth examination of the topic, but not the first place to look if you are new to Marxist philosophy and want to find a way in!
Despite being neither directly politically practical or an easy book, it is extremely stimulating.  It richly rewards the effort to read and is full of original insights and exciting notions.  Balibar has condensed the last fifty years of his work closely reading Marx’s text to very good effect.
Balibar hints that it is wrong to read Marx’s work and to extract one clear and unambiguous set of principles from it.  Both academics and sectarians are tempted to argue that they have the correct reading of Marx and that other readings are wrong.  Balibar argues that Marx was driven by a number of shared passions, advocating communism, class struggle, materialism and human liberation.  Marx sought to show how political change might be possible in a particular context.  Because the context changed, so did Marx’s philosophy; if it is possible to construct a Marxist philosophy (a task that Balibar rejects), this philosophy, far from being fixed, will change with changing circumstances.
Balibar argues that it is wrong to seek a Marxist approach based on the texts of Marx to all political, social and indeed philosophical questions.  It was once said that only religion pretends to know everything, a thesis strongly echoed here.  Balibar argued that attempts have been made to fix the meaning of Marx’s work, from Engels' synthesis after Karl’s death to Stalin’s Dialectic Materialism.  Yet Marx’s pursuit of liberation was, according to Balibar, a product of an open and ever changing system.
Two historical contexts are seen as particularly influential on Marx’s philosophical work.  The first is the series of uprising in the early part of the 19th Century, which shaped the construction of the Communist Manifesto.  The second was the creation and bloody defeat of the Paris Commune, when in 1871, the workers created their own self-governing society.  The defeat of the revolts of the 1840s made Marx focus on the emergence of capitalism.  The Paris Commune strengthened his belief that working class self-emancipation was possible.  Bailbar notes that Marx was always rethinking his ideas, so any fixed doctrine of Marxism does not reflect his efforts.  Equally Marx was not an academic but a communist; he kept rethinking because liberation requires a constant effort to recalibrate revolutionary thought.
Balibar, even though he rejects the concept of a philosophy of Marx as a complete set of ideas, identifies a number of important themes.  One is the notion of transindividualism, Marx rejected both structuralism and pure individualism.  We are not trapped by unchanging structural factors, this would make social change impossible, but we don’t act as pure individuals. We are influenced by wider forces.  Noting Marx’s use of the French word ‘ensemble’, Balibar stresses that human society is collective because it is the product of human interactions, thus transindividualism is an appropriate and useful concept.  The ways in which we come together in particular social classes, is also stressed as a continuous historical force in the book. 

Given this rather post-modern interpretation of Marx’s approach and the difficulty of many of the ideas, it would be easy to reject the book as irrelevant to the political tasks we face in a world of climate change, violently mutuating capitalism and right wing political monsters such as Donald Trump.  In fact, while it requires effort and doesn’t produce simple answers I would certainly recommend it.  The German Marxist scholar and prominent ecosocialist Frieder Otto Wolf provided a foreword for the German edition. It’s a shame it is not included in this edition; I am sure it would have been of interest to many Greens and ecosocialists.


5 Jul 2017

Elinor Ostrom's Rules for Radicals




My next book will be out in the autumn, its a guide to Elinor Ostrom, first woman to win the Nobel for Economics, published by Pluto.
Elinor Ostrom was the first woman to win the Nobel Prize for Economics. Her theorising of the commons has been celebrated as groundbreaking and opening the way for non-capitalist economic alternatives, yet, many radicals know little about her. This book redresses this, revealing the indispensability of her work for green politics, left economics and radical democracy.


Ostrom has often been viewed as a conservative or managerial thinker; but Derek Wall's analysis of her work reveals a how it is invaluable for developing a left political programme in the twenty-first century. Central to Ostrom's work was the move 'beyond panaceas'; transforming institutions to widen participation, promote diversity and favour cooperation over competition. She regularly challenged academia as individualist, narrow and elitist and promoted a radical take on education, based on participation.

Her investigations into how we share finite resources has radical implications for the Green movement and her rubric for a functioning collective ownership is highly relevant in order in achieving radical social change. As activists continue to reject traditional models of centralised power, Ostrom's work will become even more vital, offering a guide to creating economics that exists beyond markets and states.'
Chapters
 1. Elinor Ostrom's Radical Life
2. The Commons: From Tragedy to Triumph
3. Climate Change, Ecology and Green Politics
4. Beyond Markets and States
5. Deep Democracy
6. Feminism and Intersectionality
7. Trust and Cooperation
8. Science for the People
9. Transforming Institutions
10. Conflict and Contestation
Bibliography
Resources for Change
Index

3 Jan 2017

Peace in Kurdistan Campaign OPEN LETTER TO THE TIMES

Peace in Kurdistan Campaign
OPEN LETTER TO THE TIMES

Dear Sir,

We write in response to an article “Corbyn linked to Lobbyists behind Istanbul bombers” published in your newspaper on 17th December, 2016. See article here: https://peaceinkurdistancampaign.com/2016/12/23/article-in-the-times-corbyn-linked-to-lobbyists-behind-istanbul-bombers/

We appear to be the so-called lobbyists referred to in the title of the article.

Peace in Kurdistan is a voluntary organisation formed in 1994 by the late Lord Avebury, the playwright Harold Pinter and several other leading writers and journalists with the objective of campaigning for a peaceful political solution to the Kurdish Question, as is stated in its title.

This campaign has widespread support from independent analysts, lawyers and academics in the UK, Europe and internationally including Noam Chomsky. Our list of Patrons includes MPs and members of the House of Lords from a broad spectrum of trade unions and UK political parties including the Labour Party, The Liberal Democratic Party, the Green Party, Plaid Cymru, Sinn Fein and the Scottish National Party, including, as your article points out, Jeremy Corbyn and Kate Osamor. We note with interest that you highlight only those two names out of the full list of 30 patrons.

Peace in Kurdistan is pleased to work with the Kurdistan National Congress (KNK), an organisation based in Brussels and working for a concerted strategy for democratic solutions to the Kurdish question, within existing states. We are also pleased to work with the HDP which is a democratic political party in Turkey, which had 80 MPs elected in the general elections in Turkey in 2015.

For some 17 years now, we have supported the international campaign for the de-listing of the PKK.  We have also supported the release of its leader, Abdullah Ocalan, who we say is crucial to the success of peace negotiations with the Turkish government.

We continue to be convinced that there is a strong case for delisting the PKK. Since Ocalan was arrested in 1999 and sentenced to life in prison, he has become an advocate for peace and reconciliation among Turkish citizens, including those of Kurdish origin. Heralding the peace initiative of March 21, 2013, Ocalan wrote: “We reached the point where weapons should go silent and ideas speak.” We also continue to hold out hope that the peace initiative can be re-started as we believe that only a peaceful, political solution will be effective.  
Your correspondent, in the same article, reports that Mr. Salih Muslim, co-chair of the PYD (Democratic Union Party), not as reported the YPG (People’s Protection Units),  spoke at a meeting in Edinburgh University. The PYD is not a military organisation but a political party at the forefront of the political and diplomatic struggle against ISIS in Syria and campaigns for a political and democratic solution to the conflict in Syria.  The system of Democratic Confederalism, within the borders of the existing state, includes “recognition of cultural, national and political rights, and develops and enhances their peaceful struggle to be able to govern themselves in a multicultural, democratic society” (PYD).
Your correspondent also mentions that the Turkish authorities recently issued an arrest warrant for Mr. Muslim. However, she fails to mention that Turkey, following the failed coup attempt in July of this year, has witnessed a deeply disproportionate and authoritarian reaction by the authorities, resulting in the issuing of thousands of arbitrary arrest warrants against all manner of people, from health workers, school teachers, journalists, academics and judges, including the one against Mr. Muslim. 

Peace in Kurdistan was established to draw the world’s attention to the oppression of the Kurds and to seek a peaceful way forward to the Kurdish conflict. At the time, such oppression was intense. It seemed hardly conceivable that it could get worse. But it has – and PIK’s role in publicising the extreme violence and repression that the Kurdish people are living under in Turkey is as important today as it was in 1994.

There have been credible reports of widespread systematic human rights violations against Kurds in Southeast Turkey perpetrated by Turkish security services over the last year. The government continues to block independent  investigations into allegations of killings of civilians, mass forced displacement and the widespread destruction of property within a system of blanket, round the clock curfews on 22 towns and city neighbourhoods. Peace in Kurdistan reiterates its calls for the Turkish authorities to allow the United Nations Office of the High Commission for Human Rights to enter and conduct an investigation. We would expect articles published by The Times to include at least some political context when discussing issues such as the Kurdish Question. We feel that both the tenor and content of the article in question did not meet the required press standards of accuracy and balance.

Yours sincerely

Dr Thomas Jeffrey Miley, lecturer of political sociology, Cambridge University
Thomas Schmidt, General Secretary, ELDH European Association of Lawyers for Democracy and World Human Rights, Germany
Professor Bill Bowring, Barrister, School of Law, Birkbeck College, University of London
Michael Gunter, professor of political science at Tennessee Technological University, US
Kariane Westrheim, Professor, University of Bergen, Norway
Mark Thomas, author and journalist
Alastair Lyon, solicitor
Christine Blower, NUT International  Secretary
Simon Dubbins, UNITE International Director,
Bert Schouwenburg, International Officer, GMB
Margaret Owen OBE, barrister and director of WPD
Dr. Jessica Northey, Co-International Coordinator of the Green Party of England and Wales
Dr Derek Wall, Co-International Coordinator of the Green Party of England and Wales
Lord Hylton
Lord Rea
Jill Evans MEP
Nadje Al-Ali, Professor of Gender Studies, SOAS University of London
Mary Davis, Professor of Labour History at Royal Holloway, University of London
James Kelman, author
Dafydd Iwan, former President, Plaid Cyrmu
Dr. Federico Venturini, independent researcher
Dr Johanna Riha, epidemiologist
Nick Hildyard, policy analyst
Patrick Huff, social anthropologist
Amber Huff, social anthropologist
Steve Sweeney, journalist
David Morgan, journalist
Jonathan Bloch, author
Melanie Gingell, barrister
Anne Gray, CAMPACC
Dr Les Levidow, Senior Research Fellow, Open University
Maggie Bowden, General Secretary, Liberation
Stephen Smellie, Secretary, UNISON Lanarkshire
Lilian Macer, Convener Unison Scotland
Margaret Gallacher, Chair Unison South Lanarkshire
Margaret Cook UNISON NEC
Dr Sarah Glynn
Lindsey  German, Convenor, Stop the War Coalition
Rahila Gupta, journalist and activist
Amrit Wilson, writer and activist
Sarah Parker, Haringey Left Unity
Dr Ibrahim Yahli , Psychiatry Doctor, Chair of Kurdish Community Centre
Robert Atkins, lawyer
Ruth Webster, senior manager in the charity sector
Joe Ryan, Chair of Westminster Justice and Peace Commission

3 January 2017
NOTES
 https://www.gatestoneinstitute.org/9596/turkey-kurdish-problem

Peace in Kurdistan
Campaign for a political solution of the Kurdish Question
Email: estella24@tiscali.co.uk
www.peaceinkurdistancampaign.com
Contacts Estella Schmid 020 7586 5892 & Melanie Gingell - Tel: 020 7272 7890
Patrons: Lord Rea, Lord Dholakia, Baroness Sarah Ludford, Jill Evans MEP, Jean Lambert MEP, Jeremy Corbyn MP, Hywel Williams MP, Kate Osamor MP, Elfyn Llwyd, Dafydd Iwan, Former President Plaid Cymru, Sinn Fein MLA Conor Murphy, John Austin, Christine Blower, NUT International Secretary,  Simon Dubbins, UNITE International Director, Doug Nicholls, General Secretary, General Federations of Trade Unions, Bruce Kent, Gareth Peirce, Julie Christie, Noam Chomsky, John Berger, James Kelman, Margaret Owen OBE, Prof Mary Davis, Dr Thomas Jeffrey Miley, Mark Thomas, Nick Hildyard, Stephen Smellie, Derek Wall, Melanie Gingell, Steve Sweeney