DAY 223:

August 25th, 2017 § 0 comments § permalink

I can’t put it better than my friend Sam Salih from Mitilini, who is obviously like me annoyed at the number of volunteers who are giving themselves praise for their amazing actions and showing photos of themselves beaming as they distribute stuff to the refugees as they (the refugees, not the volunteers) emerge from their hiding places.

‘If you helped someone (he says), you don’t need to post hundreds of posts, picture’s to get benefits of him from people around, keep going and stay quiet, and let your actions on the ground and reality speak not your fake media actions ! Thousands of people need help so do not injure human dignity and convert into profit and business .

اذا ساعدت احد ما ، فلا يحُتاج نشر مئات من الصور والمنشورات الإعلامية لأستغلال الموقف، ابقى استمر وحافظ على هدؤك، بالأفعال تُحكم وتُبرهن الخير على الأرض وفي الواقع ، وليسَ الإعلام المزيف التي يستغلها البعض ، ..
الآلاف يحتاجون المساعدة، فلا يمكن جرح كرامة ذلك الإنسان على اساس مساعدة انسانية وتحويلها إلى ربح وتجارة Furthermore, if like me you’re a correspondent of Muslimaid, you’ll have been getting countless messages about how you needed to give £46 or £92 on the 1st of Dhu’l Hijja to get lots of merit, with no pictures and no Facebook thanks. I didn’t have the money spare, so as so often I’ll have to do without the merit.

Not that they didn’t need help in France, of course. As Care4Calais says:

‘We always need dedicated volunteers to:

  • Look for those who need our help who are sleeping under bridges and in ditches and in small, muddy camps in the cold.
  • Help in the Dunkirk camp with cooking and the
  • Calaispic(OK, it’s a glamorous volunteer picture. Sorry.)
  • women and children’s centre.
  • Go to Paris where the situation is desperate and refugees are freezing on the streets.
  • Visit CAOs where our friends from Calais are lonely, isolated and not getting the help they need.
  • Visit those in detention who are scared and alone.
  • Sort and organise our warehouse that makes everything else possible.
  • Co-ordinate all the work that is needed now all across France.

I wouldn’t dream of suggesting this is the only worthwhile thing you can do – you might be researching a cure for arthritic knees, for example, or organising against the cuts in care for the elderly (two causes which are naturally close to my heart). But it’s worth considering if you’ve time to spare.

At the Movies

You’ve probably missed ‘Strike a Rock’, Aliki Saragas’ brilliant film about women survivors of the Marikana miners’ massacre in South Africa. War on Want brought it over for a few memorable showings with two of the leading women, Primrose Sonti and Thumeka Magwangqana present and speaking about the struggle. I can’t find a link to the film (though it’s easy to find the trailer). But coincidentally, I’ve written  a review which you may read if you’re a subscriber to the popular mag RS21. In case you aren’t, here it is:

On August 16th 2012, 34 striking miners were shot dead by the South African security forces, in what has become knpwn as the ‘Marikana massacre’. There has been no apology; no one has been found guilty. The confrontation has become a defining moment in the developing story of post-apartheid South Africa. It’s a story of exploited mineworkers in violent conflict with the bosses, the police, the ruling ANC (still fresh from its victory over apartheid), and the ‘company union’, the National Union of Mineworkers; and it has been told in two films so far. The powerful 2015 documentary, Miners Shot Down by Rehad Desai, which won top honours at that year’s Emmy awards, tells the contested story of the massacre drawing on footage which Desai shot in the weeks leading up to it.

Aliki Saragas’ new Strike a Rock (circulated by War on Want as part of a campaign against neocolonialism) is again a documentary, but a very different one; it focuses on the life of the survivors. In a finely ironic opening scene the CEO of Lonmin congratulates the people that the ‘difficult times’ have been overcome; the union, the company and the ANC government are seen to be in a profitable alliance. Cut to the impoverished streets of Marikana where the shot miners’ widows, grandmothers Primrose Sonti and Thumeka Magwangqana are trying to survive and to win justice. Their organization, Sikhala Sonke (‘we are crying together’) must lead the women to take on the complex task of building unity in daily confrontation against  the many levels of a ruthless power structure.

The film, as the story of this organization, is rooted in the daily life of women, demanding justice at the same time as they cope with survival in the bleak,constantly flooded houses of Marikana. It relentlessly returns to Lonmin’s 2006 promise to build 5,500 houses, constantly shelved; and contrasts the dishonesty of the company and its allies to the fierce desperation and commitment of the women. (Saragas’ company, Elafos Productions, is explicitly feminist and implicitly socialist.) Strike a Rock combines a variety of beauties, strongly and physically presented (the landscape, the women in their daily life and friendships, closeness, laughter, song) and their surrounding horrors – the dirt and misery of the shantytown, the original massacre, and the men who still justify and profit from it. Primrose ‘wins’ the adoption of the opposition EFF to become an MP; but in present-day South Africa under the one-party rule of the ANC, this is almost valueless.

At a turning point, Primrose the battling MP and Thumeka who carries on the fight at home become estranged. This breach in the crucial relationship is – because of the role that the relationship plays – a particularly painful moment; and the straightforward process of confrontational dialogue which leads to resolution is a healing, recalling the complex, not always accepted role of ‘reconciliation’ in South Africa.

Inevitably to me, Strike a Rock recalled to me a much earlier underground classic of miners’ struggle, the 1954 Salt of the Earth which, with blacklisted Hollywood director Herbert Biberman and a mainly amateur cast of Mexican immigrants, told the story of miners on strike in a New Mexico zinc mine against the company; and, in an unforgettable plot twist, centred the resistance on the community’s women who must take the men’s place when they are banned from picketing. At a distance of sixty years, a great deal separates the two films. They share an emphasis on the place of a group of women as the human core of a mining community. Aliki Saragas is a young graduate of the Cape Town Centre for Film and Media Studies, so that where we may assume Biberman had Eisenstein, John Ford and Fritz Lang at the back of his mind, Saragas’ camera is underpinned by fifty years’ more recent history of radical and feminist films from Chris Marker to Chantal Akerman to Five Broken Cameras. The impressive achievement of Strike a Rock fixes the camera eye on the life of the township and its women where resistance, constantly visible, grows naturally out of those harsh conditions (the rain, the puddles, the struggle for food and fuel) which nurture solidarity; with occasional reminders of the places where the profits end up.

Strike a Rock never loses sight of the politics, and closes with Sikhala Sonke’s reasonable, (but ‘impossible’?) demands: a full apology for the massacre, punishment for the guilty, the immediate implementation of the promised building of affordable housing, a living wage. Can South Africa, still dominated by its neocolonial relation to the mining industry, achieve the second revolution which that would entail?


Clearly my promotion of the Hermes’ Experiment’s exciting experimental work has struck a chord (geddit?) and I’ve been inundated with requests for more of their stuff from those who can’t make it over to Dalston or Snape Maltings to hear them live, and who find the rival Petrol Girls a bit too exciting. So, as a taster, here’s ‘Improvisation‘.

DAY 222: The charities are forced to give up

August 17th, 2017 § 0 comments § permalink

We must recognise the danger. ‘Europe’ is turning increasingly nasty; and is recruiting states such as Turkey and, worse, Libya, to act as its nasty policemen. Given which, we shall have to make an even greater effort to unite the forces of humanity – surely they are still there. As I quoted earlier; the Times was of the opinion that ‘for the sake of Europe and the developing world a much harder line must be drawn in the sand between them’. Steps are now being taken to achieve this.

The task of rescuing refugees, in flimsy boats and at risk of drowning, from the sea has been left to a handful of soft-hearted charities  notably Doctors without Borders/MSF and Save the Children – neither of them an extreme left organisation. And while the European leaders argue about how they are supposed to deal with refugees, the actual day-to-day responsibility for search and rescue of drowning people, which is a legal obligation, has been left to MSF and the like – just as the French government washed its hands of the camp at Calais, leaving it to Care4Calais and others to look after the inhabitants.

And now in a new twist this possibility is now being taken away from them, leaving no provision at all, with threats on one side from the Libyan authorities and on the other hand insistence from the Italian state that charities should sign a ‘code of conduct’.“For us, the most controversial point … was the commitment to help the Italian police with their investigations and possibly take armed police officers on board,” [charity] Jugend Rettet coordinator Titus Molkenbur said. “That is antithetical to the humanitarian principles of neutrality that we adhere to, and we cannot be seen as being part of the conflict.”

Médecins Sans Frontiers said in a statement: “MSF strongly denounces the threats on NGOs operating in the Search and Rescue zone.

″[These threats are] an additional attack on NGOs conducting lifesaving search and rescue operations and could subsequently CHILD-REFUGEE-1_NEWcause additional deaths and suffering in the Mediterranean Sea.”

Over 90,000 migrants have been brought to Italy this year on top of the half a million brought over the three previous years.

Around 2,230 people, most of them fleeing poverty, violence and forced military conscription, died in the first seven months of 2017
trying to make the sea crossing.

The actual number of dead is likely to be far higher as many boats leaving the Libyan shore simply disappear and are not seen again.

Ships operated by aid charities have noted a marked reduction in the number of rescues required in recent weeks gericaultwhich coincides with the newly-launched Italian naval mission.

The numbers making the journey had been slowing over recent months but dropped sharply during the first weekend of the operation as 1,124 people were intercepted, according to the International Organisation for Migration.

But aid groups suggest the apparent stemming of one problem is exacerbating another far bigger issue.

Marcella Kraay, MSF-OCA Project Coordinator currently aboard the Aquarius, told HuffPost UK: “This may sound like a solution of the problem [of people-trafficking] but actually it’s more a case of ‘out of sight, out of mind’.

“What this actually means is people are being returned to Libya which is not a safe place.”

That is – if you read anything on conditions in Libya, in general and for refugees, a huge understatement. If you can bear to, static1.squarespaceread the report of Refugees International on the conditions in Libya (no central authority to control; the prevalence of rape, imprisonment, torture for all).


To quote a friend: ‘All of this is leading to the abandonment of the most vulnerable people on this planet. Their little rubber boats aren’t capable of making the 70 miles, packed with 140-160 people. They’ve only been getting so far before the conditions rip their flimsy dinghies apart, leaving the rescues to happen in a SAR zone that is between 12 and 24 miles off the Libyan Coast. And the Libyan Coast Guard has shown already that it is not currently capable of rescuing all of the people.

With so many NGOs pulling out, who will be left to do the rescues that are so needed? And who will report the tragedy that is about to ensue? Can we expect the Libyans to testify how many people have drowned as a result of their threats?’

Here’s Halo Gharib playing the violin – which some Kurds are still able to do. Baris Yazgi, like many others, was not so lucky: the 22-year-old Kurdish violinist had disappeared for two days after telling relatives of his dream to study music in Belgium, and his mother couldn’t get through to his phone.

It was not until the Turkish coastguard found the body of a young man clutching a violin that the news they feared was confirmed.

“With pictures we recognised him,” said Baris’s brother, Cengiz Yazgi. “He loved his violin so much that he didn’t let it go when he drowned.


DAY 221: Turn of the screw

August 10th, 2017 § 0 comments § permalink

To stop worrying about how well I’m writing…

It was only a matter of time, I suppose, before the ‘respectable’ media adopted the same language about refugees as that used every day by a) e.g. the Daily Mail, b) the many people who post remarks about refugees, Muslims, for that matter women, gays, minorities in posts on Facebook which make your flesh creep.

Now Clare Foges in the Times (always supposed to be the voice of the ruling class) has come out with an open call: migrants should be left to drown in the Mediterranean or be tortured to deathdeath in Libya, for the sake of Europe.  To quote:

‘The migrant crisis of the past few years has been a lesson in the dangers of allowing heart to overrule head.

 Turning back the boats might not be a palatable proposal short-term but until and unless the central Mediterranean is viewed as a route of no hope, the numbers will increase, along with the profits of the people traffickers. ‘For the sake of Europe and the developing world a much harder line must be drawn in the sand between them?

The second great pull factor is the UN’s woefully out-of-date Refugee Convention.

Its definition of an asylum-seeker as anyone with a “well-founded fear of persecution in their own country” is elastic enough, with a little imagination, to cover many millions of people.’

There is so much dreadful, poisonous rhetoric (and it goes on) in this piece that I can only hope that some decent person on the Times (lol) intervenes to stop its spread. Let’s remember when the Refugee Convention was drafted – in the aftermath of a catastrophic war which left millions starving, with their homes destroyed, often their families killed, and having a reasonable fear of persecution – from Nazis or Stalinists or some other ruthless authority. The word ‘persecution’ was not put in the Convention by bleeding heart liberals who were allowing heart to overrule head as they always do; it was put there because Europe was full of people were being persecuted, and some idea of justice prevailed. And the persecution goes on.. Does Clare think that when Yazidis claim to be persecuted by Daesh (say) or Eritreans claim to be living under a dictatorship, they are spinning a tall story to appeal to  gullible soft hearts? Is that why they cross the sea in leaky boats? Did she watch – for example – the video of the girl who left Kobane in such a boat?

If the Convention is out of date, it is because the west has continued to find ways of circumventing it – the Dublin Regulations come to mind. Which parts of the Convention, I wonder, are to be amended or scrapped? Foges suggests that the definition of a refugee as  ’someone who is unable or unwilling to return to their country of origin owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion’ is woefully outdated  and elastic; and yet rights groups in this country will testify that it’s extraordinarily difficult to establish a claim, at an interview where the Home Office inquisitor has been trained to disbelieve. The Convention further says that if you are such a frightened person a) you should not be penalised if you’ve entered the country illegally and b) you shouldn’t be subject to refoulement or being sent back. (Remind me how many Syrians have so far been taken into the U.K., as opposed to Jordan? and what the respective GDP’s of those two countries are.) The U.K. accepts all the provisions of the ‘woefully outdated’ Convention;but it’s almost impossible to gain the status of a refugee here. Notably, to become a ‘Convention refugee’ you have first to be in the U.K., and (since we’re a fortified island) it’s  almost impossible to get in – a friend of mine, after bribing smugglers, spent a terrifying 24 hours shut in a container on a ship from Belgium to Newcastle. Once you’re foolin, for the moment you’ll possibly be accepted as a refugee if you’re Syrian, although not if you come from a different war zone. In order to be accepted you have to go through the gruelling interview process, and we should spend some time on that, although it’s less traumatic than being thrown into the sea. A caseworker for the Home Office – describing the other side of the process – wrote about the changing standards of this work in the Guardian recently:

‘Our asylum system is nowhere near adequately staffed and resourced. I worry how my former colleagues are coping after years of cuts, and changes to immigration rules which have been accompanied by very little staff training on how to implement them properly.

The work was hard, sometimes harrowing, but often rewarding. Like many areas of public service, there is no typical day for an asylum caseworker. Cases are radically different and so is the trauma suffered by the people you interview. One day you might be dealing with female genital mutilation, the next someone who has lost a family member to the Taliban.

New recruits routinely deal with claims involving murder and torture, with little or no emotional training, preparation or support. Decision makers are now less prepared for this type of work than they were a decade ago because the initial training is about half as long as it should be.

It would be stupid to pretend that everyone who works in the Home Office is motivated by the same public service ethos that drove me and the vast majority of my colleagues. There were undoubtedly some who would all too often trivialise and belittle the experiences of the people who came to us for help. But by far the most pernicious factor was the politics of it. Regardless of how idealistic you are, you learn quickly what is expected. A great deal of my initial training was about establishing “credibility” – largely, how to explain that you disbelieve someone’s story. We would use example claims as case studies and practise writing refusal letters.

Managers back then were reasonable about allowing time to decide cases, but ultimately we have always been moulded from day one to be sceptical. This has its merits in the job, but isn’t entirely healthy.

And the danger of that scepticism was brought more sharply into focus as time went on. A restructuring in 2013 resulted in several hundred years of collective experience walking out of the door. We had been told the job was being downgraded and, in essence, their days were numbered. Some who left got other Home Office jobs; many did not.

After that, targets increased to the point that almost everything became subservient to the end-decision. We were set a target of 220 “units” a year. Only an interview or a decision would count as a unit – any casework would not.

If I had to call social services because I was concerned about a child, it didn’t count towards this target. It might be an afternoon’s work to do all the right referrals, but ultimately this wouldn’t be credited. That sort of work was disincentivised.

If you wanted to do the right thing, you would have to take the productivity hit and risk performance management procedures, ultimately with the threat of dismissal.’

Have we let our hearts rule our heads, and are we letting too many asylum seekers in? What would be the cost of financing a massive change in the culture of this country which gave the migrant or refugee a positive profile? Of countering the hateful propaganda emanating from the likes of Foges, or from the Daily Mail? We throw away vast amounts of money on pointless weapon systems, and can’t find the pennies to make blocks of flats safe,brokenhouse to prevent the incineration of masses of poor people – because otherwise, we’d be allowing our hearts to rule our heads. This has always been the logic of the ruling class; it’s just becoming more so.

Recently, I’ve found a new occupation on a slightly different front of the war against what we used to call the repressive state apparatus; working with those who are in the unhappy position of being ‘NRPF’ or no recourse to public funding. The point being that if you’ve succeeded in forcing the hard faced minions of the Home Office to allow you what’s called ‘Leave to Remain’ (for example because you have a British passport and it would be difficult for them to keep you out) they make it (the remaining) conditional on your never asking the state for any of the money e.g. benefits they’d give the free born Englishman. As time goes on, you marry, have children, your spouse leaves you and refuses to contribute  as spouses do; so you become destitute. Because it’s against the European Charter of Human Rights or some such bleeding heart liberal instrument that your children should be thrown on the streets and starve, you are allowed to appeal to the Home Secretary (lol again) to lift the NRPF condition. As you can imagine, this involves lawyers, petitions, sheaves of documents proving how destitute and deserving you are. I’m volunteering with a delightful bunch of people in a hall down Upper Street one day a week, fighting these battles; taking statements or editing petitions or cooking a wholesome vegetarian lunch or minding the children. It’s all essential work (else the families would be on the streets; and it takes the busy Home Secretary three months or more to make up her mind; and if she decides you’re an undeserving case you have to go for an appeal. So we’re back withhamlet Hamlet, didn’t I quote him the other day?

For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
Th’ oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely,
The pangs of despised love, the law’s delay,
The insolence of office, and the spurns
That patient merit of th’ unworthy takes,
When he himself might his quietus make
With a bare bodkin?

I refer you to Thomas F. Hargis’ seminal article ‘The Law’s Delay’ in The North American Review Vol. 140, No. 341 (Apr., 1885), pp. 309-315 (it’s on JStor but you can find a way to work around that). As for the pangs of despised love, the Times thankfully hadn’t got round to finding a way to legislate for them.

DAY 220: Change gear

August 3rd, 2017 § 0 comments § permalink

As I’ve been complaining, and if i’d had any readers they would too, the standard of this blog – content and type – has fallen off disastrously in the past two years (as Facebook keeps annoyingly reminding me, with repeats of the much more interesting and creative posts of one or, better, two years ago). It is, then, time for a massive reappraisal or rethink, a new mission statement perhaps. With so much going on in the world, it’s too easy to  get distracted by trivia like the killing of countless civilians in Mosul; [Or the fact that I've lost two pairs of glasses and my passport in the space of, I think, three weeks. How is this possible? You'd need to see the state of the flat.] or the enforced cessation of the humanitarian work of NGOs on the Greek mapchiosislands; or the endless refusal of the Calais authorities to do as the law tells them and stop harassing refugees; or the shortage of water and indeed everything else in Gaza. I have been feeling that I should encourage a more positive mood by any means I could in the first place by obvious means – playing classic Abba tracks like ‘Dancing Queen‘, which points out that there are other things in life than those which seem to preoccupy me all the time – particularly Friday night when the lights are low. Or, in a different mood,juice juice vocal ensemble whose arresting songs are a good contrast to Abba. And I haven’t even got on to Alsarah and the Nubatones, who I had the pleasure of hearing last week.

As you see, there are more than one way of approaching the present conjuncture. Are you part of the solution, as Eldridge Cleaver used to say, or part of the problem? Or are you not sure which?

In some distress, looking for a solution – or indeed for a problem, sometimes they can be useful too, I stumbled upon a review (recommended by a ftiend) of Holly Lewis’ recent ‘The Politics of Everybody’ in the popular lightweight mag RS21, while trying to get a bit of sleep. Since to my regret I spend too little of my time on revolutionary Marxist, feminist and queer politics – any of them, I mean – it was all new stuff to me, which isn’t to say it kept me awake. But surely, reader! we have to keep in touch with what these intelligent people are saying, or we’ll end up turning out the same mindless crap and dancing to the same Abba tunes with no hope of a fundamental shift in the relations of production.

review by Bill Crane

‘One of the most promising trends on the intellectual left in recent years is the emergence of a strong and sophisticated Marxist-feminist current of academics and activists. The identification of the social reproduction of the working class as the root of women’s oppression under capitalism has become increasingly accepted. (Editor’s note: you can read an introduction to social reproduction by Tithi Bhattacharrya here.) Social reproduction is beginning to develop a coherent and compelling framework for  analysing developments as far apart as the increase in violence against women in the global North and the outsourcing of reproduction to an army of ‘disposable’ domestic workers, to the double or triple burdens on women workers in countries such as India and China.

While the current of Marxist engagement with queer theory has not been as strong as with feminism, the relative dearth of Marxist analysis of queer oppression has been noted and is beginning to be remedied, with the appearance of work by authors such as Sherry Wolf, Peter Drucker, David Camfield and Colin Wilson.

In this field, Holly Lewis strikes me as the immediate standout. Her 2016 book, The Politics of Everybody, is every bit as audacious as its title suggests. It is a landmark work of engaged revolutionary politics striving for a left in which ‘Marxist-feminism’ or ‘queer Marxism’ is redundant because it is self-evident, while sharpening the razor of criticism our tradition has provided us going back to Lenin and Marx. It demands to be closely read by everyone dedicated to revolutionary Marxist, feminist and queer politics alike.

Social reproduction feminism has its origins in the domestic labour debates of the 1970s. Its most comprehensive statement came in 1983 with Lise Vogel’s book Marxism and the Oppression of Women: Towards a Unitary Theory, a text that was forgotten for some years until republished as part of the Historical Materialism Book Series in 2013.

Vogel’s book attempted to overcome two barriers in Marxist-feminist politics: (1) the relative silence of the classical Marxist tradition on the sources of women’s oppression under capitalism and (2) the preponderance of ‘dual systems theory’ that had come to dominate the debates on domestic labour, with many Marxist-feminists proposing that the home was a centre of a transhistorical patriarchal mode of production operating alongside the other surplus-extracting modes of production such as slavery, feudalism and capitalism.

[I interrupt this fascinating discussion of modes of production with the news that I now have a total of FOUR unpaid jobs in the 'voluntary' sector:

1. Safe Passage - easily the most prestigious, but they only seem to require that I should let them know when I'm going to be available in the next fortnight;

2. Refugee Rights Data Project - me and other proles like Salma who I met at a cafe in Turnpike Lane the other day make a list of 'resources' i.e. URLs of articles relating to refugees with a bit of commentary which someone will pull together somewhere along the road and hopefully produce a terrific report;

3. European Database of Asylum Law - I summarise a recent asylum case, picking out the startling and novel features and send it (the summary) off to a lady in Belgium, who approves it (hopefully) and publishes it in that prestigious forum;

4. My recent favourite, Unity Project; some people in Upper Street whose mission seems to be to help destitute Islingtonians with NRPF (no recourse to public funding - how bad is that?) Volunteers like me and a bunch of students talk to the clients and take notes and every now and then a lawyer drops by and sets us straight on what we're doing. And we have a great lunch!

What a full life. And I've got away from answering the phone, which I was never any good at, at least in the opinion of my supervisors. But to return to the mode of production:]

Marxism and the Oppression of Women takes as its point of departure some suggestive remarks in volume one of Marx’s Capital relating to how the labour-power of each worker must be reproduced anew before each shift by means of the subsistence wage. The working day is thus divided into a part in which the worker reproduces their own labour-power, for which they earn a wage, and a surplus part spent for the profit of their employer. This applies to all members of the working class, regardless of what body parts they have.

But the ruling class takes advantage of the sexual reproduction of human beings. Those with body parts coded as female are set apart by their presumed ability to bear children. During the period of pregnancy and afterwards, the amount which they work (and hence produce surplus-value for the boss) must be limited. These biological facts of reproduction, while they may not interfere with production in pre-capitalist kinship and tributary societies, are not readily compatible with capitalist production because of the need to maximise surplus-value. On this basis arises sex discrimination in employment and a gendered division of labour.

This basic contradiction within capitalism, Vogel writes, results in ‘a class struggle’ resulting in ‘a variety of forms of reproduction of labour.’ While the generational reproduction of the working class by its female-bodied members has come to be the norm under developed capitalism, other methods have been seen throughout history. In the eighteenth-century Caribbean, it was commonplace to work slaves to death and replace them with new ones imported from Africa, and today in many parts of East Asia capitalism relies on a ‘dormitory labour regime’ in which women workers reside and work for set periods under extreme conditions, returning periodically to their home villages to reproduce their own and the next generation’s labour-power. At the same time, social reproduction of the working class in the North is increasingly dependenton guest-workers from the South.

It was the class struggle in England, the US and other parts of the developed capitalist world during the late nineteenth century that resulted the nuclear family as the standard form for the social reproduction of the working class. On the one hand, workers’ struggles resulted in a larger family wage in which (some) adult males as ‘heads of their households’ could afford to keep their whole family, but on the other, the ruling class succeeded in the imposition of Victorian cant-sit-downmorality and the acceptance of women’s ‘natural role’ being in the home, working to reproduce current and the future generations of labour-power.

Yet the same process of the Industrial Revolution, by concentrating workers of all backgrounds together away from their families and village norms, gave play to freer expressions of same-sex attraction. Thus, at around the same time early homosexual identity was in formation, capitalism was coming to depend on a form of reproduction which was, in the fullest sense, heteronormative. In The Politics of Everybody, Holly Lewis writes:

Economics is the origin of the ‘normativity’ in heteronormativity: not intolerance of difference or the other, not a pure desire for power or an abstract need to control, not a lack of sexual creativity or dullness, not a Eurocentric racial spirit. It is the fact that the generational replacement of the labour force requires sexually active people with certain body parts to go through extended periods of non-activity. The capitalist class benefits from this generational replacement, but it does not want to make any concessions to the people who make it happen. Social gender and the management of sexuality under capitalism are shaped according to the struggle over who pays for what is necessary to socially reproduce the working class (pp. 182-3).

There are many ways in which the boundaries of social gender are violated under capitalism. Some (cisgendered, heterosexual) women refuse to marry or have children, and work on their own account. Some (cisgendered men and women) openly express their same-sex attraction in relationships that cannot contribute to the biological reproduction of the next generation of workers. Trans women, from the capitalist point of view, shirk their obligations of working and providing for a family by openly expressing their identity as women, while trans men reject their assignment as women, and of their supposed role as carers and nurturers.

Lewis thus explains the root of queer oppression as violations of gender boundaries deeply enmeshed with the reproduction of the labour force. This abstract treatment, as with Vogel’s account of women’s oppression, only points to the possibility of queer oppression as we know it under a heteronormative system of capitalist social reproduction. The form that oppression of women and queers takes in any given capitalist social formation must be related to contingent historical circumstances, especially the class struggle cited by Vogel over exploitation and reproduction. And then there are struggles based around what Lewis refers to as ‘schematic politics where… oppression is detached from theories of exploitation’—identity politics (p. 190).

Lewis’ treatment of identity politics is what is likely to prove most controversial among radical intellectuals and the broader activist left. Yet, for my money, it is not only the most provocative, but one of the most theoretically astute of such engagements thus far. Leftists of any ideological background will find that even if they disagree vehemently with her arguments, they must raise their theoretical game in response.

Her arguments against intersectionality theory are a case in point. Since its popularisation by Black feminist legal scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw in the 1980s, [I should say in passing how amazed I am that, all that way back in 1989 when I had no idea of how you wrote for a law journal, Kimberlé who was a good ten years younger than me, was coining the word of whose significance I've only vaguely now become aware] terms of intersecting oppressions have been subject to a vast range of uses and abuses. On the one hand, when most refer to Flavia Dzodan’s dictum, ‘my feminism will be intersectional, or it will be bullshit,’ they mean, as Lewis acknowledges, to call to task those feminisms which have represented the experience of the white, Western, middle-class woman as the universal and rightful representative of all women.  In and of itself, intersectionality has proven a valuable contribution to feminist and queer struggles.

But on the other hand, it has become clear just how far the terms of intersectionality can be stretched. Last year during the Democratic primaries, Hillary Clinton in response to the Sanders campaign’s forceful attacks on poverty and economic inequality and Clinton’s own record in enforcing a massive wealth transfer from poor to rich in the nineties, said ‘We face a complex set of economic, social, and political challenges. They are intersectional, they are reinforcing, and we have got to take them all on.’ Later, she took to Twitter to announce ‘It’s not enough to talk only about economics. We have to tackle racial, economic, & environmental justice—together.’

Neither Kimberlé Crenshaw, nor the Black lesbian feminists of thecombahee Combahee River Collective who early in the 1970s articulated the concept we call intersectionality today, should bear any blame for the Clinton campaign’s ghoulish misuse of the term to deflect criticisms of her neoliberal record. However, in The Politics of Everybody, Lewis finds that even Marxist incorporation and defence of intersectionality (for example, that of Sharon Smith) is fundamentally lacking.

Hillary Clinton stretches the terms of intersectionality, claiming to support gay rights and other ‘intersectional’ struggles but hiding her own record in enforcing a massive wealth transfer from poor to rich in the nineties, including from poor LGBTQ-identified people.

Why? Lewis conceives of identity politics as theory that sets different kinds of oppression apart from exploitation—the process of extraction of surplus value which undergirds every human society. And if one specific process of oppression—for instance, the history of anti-Black racism in the US from seventeenth-century slave ships to twenty-first-century police cruisers—is understood as having a dynamic that is separable from the mode of surplus extraction (though proponents of intersectionality do not usually insist they are historically separate), it makes sense that different ‘modes of oppression’ can each be understood as a separate dynamic understandable in reference to itself, even where they jostle and scrape against each other in history. Therefore, as she writes, in the intersectional model, ‘each oppression is a vector with a nebulous origin intersecting with the individual subject: race, gender, class, sexuality, appearance, ability and so on cut through at various angles,’ which cross at the body of each individual subject (p. 273).

Lewis notes two flaws which make the metaphor of intersection weak and confusing. The first, as I have hinted, is that oppression is neither theoretically nor historically separable from exploitation. Racism, sexism and other forms of oppression do not collide with the body out of the blue. They emerge and are perpetuated within a material matrix. To paraphrase Barbara Jeanne Fields, racism did not pre-exist American slavery. The ideological construction known today as race emerged out of the need to justify the expanding and immensely profitable system of plantation slavery in a country claiming legitimacy based on radical and egalitarian democracy.

We should not be content to consider ways where exploitation and different kinds of oppression coincide, which intersectionality at its best allows us to do. We must deal in terms of concrete historical processes in which the specific process of the extraction of economic surplus holds the key to all forms of the production and reproduction of life that grow out of this basic relationship.

Lewis’ call to replace the ‘vector model of oppression’ with ‘a unitary, relational model’ therefore strikes me as compelling. ‘Class,’ she argues, ‘is primary—not in the sense of more important, but in the sense of being the limit, the foundation, the point where profit is extracted and the point where it can be challenged. The centrality of class is tactical, not moral’ (pp. 274-5).

Class-based critique of the intersectional model is frequently ridiculed as an attempt by white cishet men to evade responsibility for the inequalities they perpetuate in maintenance of their privilege. Conceived this way, the argument that class rises above oppression erases other kinds of oppression. But Marxists of any worth do not say class is more important than race, sexuality, gender identity, or ability. We say merely that it sets the rules of the game within which they play out as moments in a mediated but differentiated historical totality.

Both myself and Holly Lewis  argue in favour of unitary class analysis over the unmoored, reified oppressions of the vector model. And yet, arguing will  not always entail the ability to persuade. Lewis’ clear and frequently dazzling arguments will, I am sure, enable many who are already on their way from identity politics to class politics to hasten their progress. But to those who are deeply committed to the various frameworks, whether that is Afro-pessimism, trans11trans-exclusive radical feminism, queer nihilism or something else entirely, neither what she says nor my own substandard interpretation of her words will very likely count for much.

Some wonder whether the division between class politics and identity politics need be so sharp. Peter Drucker, in his review of the book, believes that her sharp critiques of queer theory seem overly offensive, and that a more conciliatory approach would allow Marxists like Lewis to achieve a higher level of nuance and greater power of persuasion. But where the rubber hits the road, as I am sure Lewis would agree, is at the point of putting ideas into practice.

Take her discussion of homonormativity. Lisa Duggan coined this term in 2002 as a label for those practices in queer life which do not ‘contest dominant heteronormative assumptions and institutions, but uphold and sustain them.’ The debate in queer communities over gay marriage in the US is a case in point, with many radicals arguing against pursuing marriage equality as a goal because it assimilates queer relationships into the heteronormative standard of marriage and the bourgeois property relations that it makes official.

Lewis explores various faults in the concept of homonormativity through the Christopher Street Pier controversy in Greenwich Village, a neighbourhood on the Lower West Side of Manhattan that has been an historic centre of LGBTQ culture. In the early 00s, a group of older, white, wealthy gays who owned businesses and rented homes in the area campaigned for the expulsion of poor, working-class and homeless, mostly Black and Latinx queer youth who congregated at night around the Christopher Street Pier. They went as far as to establish a community patrol named after a product for delousing.

Should we see this as a gay elite policing queer identity to uphold and sustain heteronormative institutions? Lewis argues that this conceals a fundamentally mistaken assumption—that business- and home-owners on the one hand and working-class, poor and surplus people on the other ever were, or could ever be, part of a single community in the first place:

I find it difficult to imagine that these upper-class gays and the gay city officials who support them would be less likely to push Black youth off their property if their presentation confirmed to gender norms. I see no evidence that this is a case of a gay elite patrolling queer identity. Instead, I see business owners expelling non-customers. I see landlords concerned with property values. I see the racist assumption that Black youth are dangerous (p. 228).

Conversely, from the perspective of class politics, ‘it would have been clear from the beginning that a cabal of property owners worried about the bottom line would conspire against the poor regardless of gender presentation.’ To be intelligible to a queer nationalist logic, ‘class dynamics are rewritten as a problem of affect, resulting in community betrayal.’

Rewriting class as a problem of affect bears a direct practical consequence: it confuses politics with presentation. Thus, radical queer communities which vote by consensus, eat vegan, practice free love and share music are coded as radical-oppositional, while monogamous gay partners and families are coded as bourgeois-normative, in both cases regardless of the actual position they have within the capitalist system or the politics they express. The child of a banker who lives in a commune and performs spoken-word poetry becomes in every instance more radical than the working-class lesbian mother who shops at Lidl.

Drucker objects to this formulation on the basis that ‘Marxists understand… no subject position guarantees revolutionary consciousness,’ and that ‘We need to support anti-capitalist struggles, whoever wages them, in all their complexity.’

No subject position guarantees revolutionary consciousness. Precisely. As Gregory Myerson writes, ‘good theories of racism are not equivalent by definition to what its primary victims think.’ Good theories of queer oppression, also, are not reducible to what people defining themselves as radical queers think.

Lewis’ answer to the dilemma Drucker sets up cuts as fine as a razor: ‘Being queer/trans is neither reactionary nor radical.’ What follows is worth quoting at length:

The argument that capitalism thrives off normativity ignores the fact that it also thrives off diversity, pluralism, fashion and market segments. While the heteronormative family is productive for capital, queer urban individualists and drop-out counter-culturalists are also productive for capital—the former as ‘creatives’ in the labor market, the latter as a surplus population (or, in the US, low-cost service industry labor). Queers without children are also not entirely outside the family matrix in that unmarried and childless family members are often taxed with eldercare. It is romantic to think that you can change the world through diverse sexuality, creative self-expression, and communal bonding. But you can’t…

Thus, those who are gender non-conforming are not necessarily poor; those who are gay and lesbian are not necessarily middle class. Opposing normativity is a politically empty gesture. Queer culture is not anti-capitalist. And neither is queering culture (pp. 275-6).

How effective Lewis’ forceful, indeed combative, restatement of class politics is against the politics of queer identity will depend on the reader. However, I came away from The Politics of Everybody fully persuaded that the problem is the real gulf between the perspectives of class politics and identity politics, not that she has called attention to it. By clearing the deck in such a forceful way, she has done us a great service no matter what side of her arguments readers fall on.”

So why don’t we round off this already lengthy (if mostly stolen) post with Lee Mokobe’s What it Feels like to be Transgender:

The first time I uttered a prayer was in a glass-stained cathedral.
I was kneeling long after the congregation was on its feet,
dip both hands into holy water,
trace the trinity across my chest,
my tiny body drooping like a question mark
all over the wooden pew.
I asked Jesus to fix me,
and when he did not answer
I befriended silence in the hopes that my sin would burn
and salve my mouth would dissolve like sugar on tongue,
but shame lingered as an aftertaste.
And in an attempt to reintroduce me to sanctity,
my mother told me of the miracle I was,
said I could grow up to be anything I want.
I decided to be a boy.
It was cute.
I had snapback, toothless grin,
used skinned knees as street cred,
played hide and seek with what was left of my goal.
I was it.
The winner to a game the other kids couldn’t play,
I was the mystery of an anatomy,
a question asked but not answered,
tightroping between awkward boy and apologetic girl,
and when I turned 12, the boy phase wasn’t deemed cute anymore.
It was met with nostalgic aunts who missed seeing my knees in the shadow of skirts,
who reminded me that my kind of attitude would never bring a husband home,
that I exist for heterosexual marriage and child-bearing.
And I swallowed their insults along with their slurs.
Naturally, I did not come out of the closet.
The kids at my school opened it without my permission.
Called me by a name I did not recognize,
said “lesbian,”
but I was more boy than girl, more Ken than Barbie.
It had nothing to do with hating my body,
I just love it enough to let it go,
I treat it like a house,
and when your house is falling apart,
you do not evacuate,
you make it comfortable enough to house all your insides,
you make it pretty enough to invite guests over,
you make the floorboards strong enough to stand on.
My mother fears I have named myself after fading things.
As she counts the echoes left behind by Mya Hall, Leelah Alcorn, Blake Brockington.
She fears that I’ll die without a whisper,
that I’ll turn into “what a shame” conversations at the bus stop.
She claims I have turned myself into a mausoleum,
that I am a walking casket,
news headlines have turned my identity into a spectacle,
Bruce Jenner on everyone’s lips while the brutality of living in this body
becomes an asterisk at the bottom of equality pages.
No one ever thinks of us as human
because we are more ghost than flesh,
because people fear that my gender expression is a trick,
that it exists to be perverse,
that it ensnares them without their consent,
that my body is a feast for their eyes and hands
and once they have fed off my queer,
they’ll regurgitate all the parts they did not like.
They’ll put me back into the closet, hang me with all the other skeletons.
I will be the best attraction.
Can you see how easy it is to talk people into coffins,
to misspell their names on gravestones.
And people still wonder why there are boys rotting,
they go away in high school hallways
they are afraid of becoming another hashtag in a second
afraid of classroom discussions becoming like judgment day
and now oncoming traffic is embracing more transgender children than parents.
I wonder how long it will be
before the trans suicide notes start to feel redundant,
before we realize that our bodies become lessons about sin
way before we learn how to love them.
Like God didn’t save all this breath and mercy,
like my blood is not the wine that washed over Jesus’ feet.
My prayers are now getting stuck in my throat.
Maybe I am finally fixed,
maybe I just don’t care,
maybe God finally listened to my prayers.



DAY 219: The separation of powers

July 28th, 2017 § 0 comments § permalink

Oh, my dears, back to reality! Which bit of it would you like to be in? Having done a brief tour d’horizon  of places one would rather not be (I mentioned Ferguson, Calais of course, Raqqa, Mosul, a few days ago, and you can add others as you like – Jerusalem?) I’ve been reading a fascinating digest of what’s wrong with everywhere – which partly arises out of my new ‘job’ as a compiler of digests for the ecthr European Database of Asylum Law, first time I‘ve put the Ll.M. to use. Idly reading through law digests, as one does, I found the obviously essential work of a somewhat obsessive lawyer by the name of Kester Ratcliff  (; and don’t blame me if you find you’ve exceeded your bandwidth). This work looks like it’s only got 58 pages, and so is much shorter than Mirzakhani and Eskin’s ‘Isolation, equidistribution, and orbit closures for the SL(2,ℝ) action on moduli space’ referred to in the last post; but its (the listicle’s) multi-layered structure has you constantly wandering though hyperlinks of hyperlinks to recent arguments on the ‘EU-Turkey EU--TurkeyAgreement’ -which is the basis for returning thousands of already miserable refugees from Greece and elsewhere to Turkey.

For example, you find yourself inexorably drawn to, inter alia, Birgit Sippel’s pertinent question

DEBirgit Sippel (Germany)

in the European Parliament  (March 2016):

“According to the Lisbon Treaty, an international agreement having an impact on ‘ordinary’ ‘EU legislation should be negotiated by the Council or the Commission in compliance with Article 218 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) and approved by Parliament, which ‘shall be immediately and fully informed at all stages of the procedure.’ (Article 218(10) TFEU). The very aim of these provisions is, on the one hand, not to put Parliament under pressure to transpose into EU legislation measures which have not previously obtained its consent and, on the other hand, to implement the ‘bona fide’ principle with the third country concerned. Notwithstanding these clear provisions at Treaty level, a so-called ‘EU-Turkey Agreement’ has been negotiated by some Member States (with the participation of the Commission) and then finalised by the Heads of State and Government of the Member States meeting with the Turkish Prime Minister. Despite its generic title (‘Statement’), the agreement provides for several obligations on both sides and a mutual monitoring mechanism.

1. Does the Council consider that the ‘EU-Turkey Agreement’,refturkey which covers domains currently under EU exclusive and shared competence, is binding under international law and/or EU law?

2. If so, why was the Agreement not negotiated and concluded in compliance with Article 218 TFEU?

3. If not, has the Turkish counterpart been informed of the non-binding nature of the Agreement and of the fact that some aspects may not be implemented as expected?”

Pretty tough question, eh? The natural conclusion (I don’t think there was a satisfactory answer) is that the EU-Turkey Agreement is illegal; an executive action, like so many we’ve seen lately in the US, without legislative sanction; and that refoulements of refugees to Turkey – and the designation of Turkey as a ‘safe third country’ come to that are equally contrary to international law, and to EU law come to that. Another link (in Ratcliff, are you still with me?)will lead you to the leaked France-Germany note of last February which proposes ‘that (implicitly) all those entering the EU would be removed to non-EU countries willing to host them, and kept there in conditions which minimally guarantee their survival and non-removal to unsafe countries.’

What Ratcliff concludes, and I think his argument is hard to fault – but in a way we all knew it anyway – is that the whole of Europe, fearing a right-wing backlash in home countries if they were anything but uniformly repressive to refugees, have done their damnedest, bent or broke the rules, made up law as they went along – so as to avoid that generosity to the stranger which the Gospel (along with other world religions not to mention Kant) teaches.

So back to particular places and what can we do, apart from not doing harm? I’ll past in an appeal from Izzy, but you’re likely to find enough other ones for different dark places.

‘I have been on the ground of the refugee crisis for nearly two years, but most of my time has been spent on the island of Chios; an open air prison for those fleeing war-torn countries via Turkey.

As time has rolled on, money and support have dried up. The situation is entering a chapter of darkness we haven’t yet seen, unlawful detention, beatings, fear and overall neglect is growing at a huge rate.

We have totally run out of the funding we use for emergencies which can be anything from housing for those not considered vulnerable but indefinitely so, for food or clothing in special situations or transport among other things.

The people we try to reach are the ones that are often forgotten, your support and donations have never been more needed.

Please give what you can and share this post.

Thank you.

I should add that the air of crisis is shared by most organisations working it the field – MSF, Amnesty, RRDP, as well as smaller grass-roots organisations – all doing what they can to deal with the enormous indifference of the world.



DAY 218 – The magic wand

July 22nd, 2017 § 0 comments § permalink

So today, considering the complete disasters surrounding us all, which range from Grenfell Towers to Calais to Chios, and farther afield to the starvation in Gaza and Yemen; and to the slaughter in Mosulmosul and Raqqa; it seemed like a good time to turn this blog’s attention to more long-term, nay eternal questions. There is no more poignant illustration of what I’m talking about (how’s that for a flowery phrase then?) than the juxtaposition of Maryam Mirazakhani’smaryam monumental and timeless ‘Magic Wand’ theorem with her recent death from cancer at the age of 40. It seemed the least I could do to abandon. for today, the daily trivia of massacre and brutality, and try to explain the theorem to those of my readers who aren’t already familiar with the MWT. The theorem is clearly credited as joint work with Alex Eskin, but I hoped that Alex  - and indeed Amir Mohammed, also credited – would forgive me for concentrating on their beautiful and prematurely lost collaborator, as I tried to dash through the main points of their 204-page paper.

A long time ago when I was in analysis (did it work? does it ever? what does that mean?) my analyst asked me to explain my work, i.e. what was it to ‘do’ algebraic topology, which was the racket I was in at the time. Can you give me a session? I said; and, in what I still think was an amazing feat, I produced a passable explanation of what algebraic topologists do for the mathematically illiterate inside a 50-minute analytic hour. Who paid? Who do you think? Analysis, the ‘talking cure’, works on the basis that the analysand pays to talk, about n’importe quoi. Why would the analyst pay, even if he/she learned something?

Anyway, back to the 204-page paper. The more I tried to explain, indeed understand it, the more plain it became to me that I was hopelessly out of touch with today’s mathematics; so that even the neat 15 page summary by Anton Zurich in Gazette des mathematicians 142 left me struggling amidst measured laminations and other heavy stuff unfamiliar to me. So while I refer you without hesitation to Zurich who  adds a biography of Mirzakhani, and a character study, and much more, I decided to see where I got with her earlier work – as one might prefer to present Beethoven’s Razumovsky quartets rather than, say, the C minor op. 131 to folk who don’t really get on with chamber music in the first place; his account of the theorem (when he gets to it) is still a tad opaque to those of us who are quite happy dealing with the fine points of LGBT+ oppression or intersectionality or appealing expulsion decisions on the grounds of Article 8 of the ECHR but who go all weak at the knees at the mention of non-ergodic flows and such.

So, what’s the picture? You have a surface. You cut it up into bits. You’re cutting it up along ‘straight lines’, or geodesics as they’re called in the surface trade. Screen Shot 2017-07-20 at 09.08.55How many are there? Well, the longer they are, the more there are (is this obvious?) How long are they? And do they divide it it up – i.e. if you cut the surface along one, does it fall apart? Many of these questions, with their ramifications, are some of the things which preoccupied Maryam; you can see and hear her talking about them rather excitably here.

In her early work, such as, or ‘Growth of the number of simple closed geodesics on hyperbolic surfaces’ (and you can get it free, compared to all the evil social science journals which force you either to pay Sage loads of money or to be an academic if you want to read their stuff), she still wants to know how many of these curves there are, how many of them split the surface, and so on. And, rather than tire my poor brain and overstretch yours, I thought we could zoom in on one – to me – astounding statement near the end of that paper: ‘Roughly speaking, on a surface of genus 2, a long, random connected, simple, closed geodesic is separating with probability  17‘ . Note how precise we mathematicians are, with our ‘roughly speaking’ and ‘long’

Screen Shot 2017-07-22 at 12.00.48A surface of genus 2, and some rather short simple closed geodesics on it. The one  in the middle is separating, the one on the right isn’t – OK?

and think of a long random connected simple closed geodesic on a surface of genus 2. Is it separating? My picture is supposed to help with the concept, if not with the reasoning; and you’ll have to picture a long nonseparating closed geodesic for yourself.

But what you’ll find in the paper which leads to that weird figure 17, is an actual calculation (pp. 122-123) of the number of (non)separating closed geodesics – or the volume of the space of such, which looks equally magical. If I could have mastered the typography, I’d have given you the formula. Pretty cool stuff, eh? Go off and think about it; and stop trying to create wi-fi systems for refugee camps  or unburn-out burnt-out aid workers, if only for a moment. That limiting ratio of long closed simple geodesics will still be there, like Kepler’s laws or Darwish’s poems or the chromosome number of the fruit-fly, when you and I and the Home Secretary and the refugee camps and the volunteers and the NGOs and the UNHCR, and the PMLA for that matter,  are the shadow of a shadow, the memory of a memory.

I have been thinking about it, and I can’t say it really helps me much; but it’s worth thinking about such things, and I recommend it to you. And then we’ll return to the old rants.

And here – with no particular relevance – is the troubadour Guillaume of Aquitaine’s ‘Song of Pure Nothingness’; or at least the beginning.

Screen Shot 2017-07-22 at 13.05.42  

Which, ideally, would be a cue for Tansy Davies’tansy setting of the song (which I heard at the Victoria in Dalston which I’m ceaselessly recommending as a music venue); except that Tansy hasn’t put it on Youtube or anywhere else that I can find. We’ll have to be content with about two minutes of female troubadour music from her ‘Troubairitz‘.




DAY 217: Coffee

July 15th, 2017 § 0 comments § permalink


Of course , coffee is bound to lead to innumerable other reflections. (But why start with  coffee? It could be tea, currently being distributed to refugees in Paris by a group inevitably called Solidarithé, It connects with education, naturally, since I’ve just learned to make passable Turkish or Greek or Arabic coffee in the classic little pot; and I’ve been assigned the task of finding out all that’s been written – on refugees, in the last three years – and enter it into what will be a formidable database. My education, reader, will connect with yours.) But back to Calais. (Eh?) It seems inconceivable – but it’s the case – that despite constant arguments and court decisions that the clearing of the jungle was chaotic, unjust, and a general abuse of human rights, conditions there go on every day getting worse: As Médecins Sans Frontières, who should know, declare: ‘Calais has become a cage in a jungle’ I quote:

‘From 12th to 16th June 2017, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) teams visited Calais to provide medical care. While there, they witnessed the extent to which public authorities are tracking and harassing migrants and those who try to support them.

Several hundred Afghans, Eritreans, Ethiopians, Sudanese and Somalis are currently in Calais, waiting to make the perilous and uncertain journey to Great Britain. Initiatives by local and national charities, whose access to the site has been bitterly negotiated with Calais town hall and the prefecture of the Pas-de-Calais department, offer them some respite.



Most of the ‘officially tolerated’ assistance (i.e. food and clothes) is provided in a distribution area, almost entirely fenced off since 13th June, not far from the site of the ‘Jungle’ that was dismantled in October 2016. Only one round of distribution was until very recently permitted by the town hall each day. It started at 6pm, under heavy supervision by the security forces; the gendarmerie, which guards the site during the day to prevent any gatherings before 6pm; the riot police (CRS, Compagnies Républicaines de Sécurité); the national police, the crime squad, and the border police (PAF, Police aux Frontières).

Assistance is offered by local and national groups working in the area (Utopia 56, l’Auberge des Migrants amongst others), British groups such as Refugee Youth Services and Refugee Community Kitchen, and individuals. Medical consultations run by Médecins du Monde and Gynécologie sans Frontières take place at the same time, while phone charging stations are set up by private citizens.

The sudden emergence of hundreds of people from the woods at distribution time makes for some surprising scenes. The migrants talk about being treated like animals. This feeling couldn’t be better illustrated than by the fenced distribution area, which resembles a cage, whose door is opened from time to time, ensuring that migrants don’t get too close and can’t escape.

Distribution lasts a little more than an hour and is clearly inadequate for providing food to all. A priest at St Joseph’s church allows Secours Catholique and Refugee Community Kitchen to prepare and provide a second meal, water and a place to rest to those who dare to venture into town. There is no tap to use for drinking and washing.

Beyond these two schemes – one authorised, the other just about tolerated – any attempt to provide assistance in the town is banned. Groups of migrants are dispersed by the police to prevent them from gathering and staying in one place (what the French authorities call ‘fixation points’); alongside any attempts to offer them additional help. Our team was present at one of the police’s attempts to prevent the distribution of sixty or so meals. The officer in charge of the operation, questioned by a member of our team, said ‘One meal a day isn’t enough, but I have my orders.

The migrants, some of whom are still only teenagers, sleep in the forest, in the marshes, or on the sand. They are generally in good physical shape, but they are exhausted and suffering from skin diseases linked to the disastrous sanitary conditions, eye infections due to tear gas exposure, sprains, and flesh wounds. Sometimes the police come in the night to drive them away, spraying their clothes and sleeping bags with tear gas as they do so.

The extreme precariousness of their living conditions, combined with psychological fragility, addictions and personal tensions, sometimes result in violence. Early in the week of our visit, for example, two migrants were slightly injured when an altercation arose at the end of a distribution line. The police didn’t intervene: according to an officer at the scene, they are specifically ordered not to.

By the end of our visit, our observations echoed those of the French human rights Ombudsman (Défenseur des droits), who criticised ‘the inhuman living conditions suffered by exiles in Calais’ in a press release issued on 14th June 2017. While institutional practices of hostility have become commonplace in recent years, rarely have the authorities seemed so determined to subject migrants to harassment.




Within this context, we would like to express our solidarity not only with the migrants, but also with local associations and individuals trying to offer much needed assistance. We also call on the authorities to respond positively to the recommendations made by the human rights Ombudsman, and we support the emergency legal appeal (the ‘référé liberté’ procedure) brought before the Administrative Court by charities on 15th June, aimed at forcing the State to provide the necessary services. Unfortunately, it seems that the French public authorities are only capable of acting when put under pressure by the public and the law.

On 16th June, one day after the emergency legal appeal by charities and the same day this piece was first published in Le Monde, the state police informed local aid groups that distributions would from now on be authorised all day, until 8:00pm, on the predefined distribution site. Nonetheless, the pressure on migrants remained high, as both local and national authorities showed no tolerance for permanent settlements or distribution of aid on any other sites. Distributions continue to be interrupted by the police.

On June 26, 2017 the administrative court, while ruling against creating a new centre for migrants, stated that migrants should have access to food, water, showers and toilets. Within an hour of the ruling, Calais mayor Natacha Bouchart declared that she would appeal. Arguing that the decision was unacceptable to her, she stated that she would not comply with the ruling. She justified her decision by saying that ‘solutions exist outside of the Calais region’. Six to seven hundred migrants are currently in Calais, almost three hundred are sleeping in the bushes in the neighbouring town of Grande-Synthe, and several hundred more can be found on the streets of Paris and Saint-Denis. No doubt more migrants will arrive in France in the coming months; for some of them, their only plan will be to get to Great Britain. Dispersing them and making them invisible through violence, on the one hand, and hindering solidarity efforts, on the other, should not and must not be the defining features of the French state’s reception policy.’

Amen. But why am I quoting this? Partly to fill up space, obviously; also, because it’s of concern to me and should be to you. We seem to be, across Europe, a permanent ‘state of exception’, to borrow a phrase from some fashionable lefty philosopher (Agamben?) where the law is no-law. And yet, lawyers persist in arguing, with the help of interpreters, for the hopeless hungry refugees and sometimes seem to gain a stay in the advancing tide of inhumanity. As in UKUT262 ,


The Tribunal

‘R (on the application of AM (a child by his litigation friend OA and OA) v Secretary of State for the Home Department (Dublin – Unaccompanied Children – Procedural Safeguards) (11 May 2017)’. Here, you may remember, the Home Secretary has been trying to keep out a suicidal 16-year-old Eritrean whose uncle is settled in the UK. As the judge observes:

“I am in no doubt that [the Applicant's] current situation is both causative and exacerbating of his psychiatric disorders. It does not meet his developmental needs of adult support, social relationships and stable accommodation. His needs are only being met in a very basic way – make shift accommodation, some level of education and food. It is clear that [the processes] have had a detrimental impact on his mental state, as seen as his increased suicidality with plan on how he would act. This shows his state of desperation and hopelessness .

The delay is having a significant exacerbating impact on his mental state causing him increased distress and increasing his despair. [He] is severely struggling with the delay in being reunited with his uncle.

This relationship has particular meaning, given his orphan status. A withdrawn state indicates a decline in his mental state.

Existing in this dissociated state over a chronic time period is very detrimental for children. In my professional experience, it worsens prognosis over time and makes it harder to treat young people as this emotional functioning becomes their norm despite it actually being maladaptive and pathological for them.

[He] is at risk of becoming actively suicidal if prompt reunification does not occur as his mental state will deteriorate further.

[His] prognosis would be significantly improved with a prompt transfer to the UK so he can be with an adult he identifies as supportive and whom he trusts, ie his uncle.” And so – you’d think reasonably – the Upper Tribunal decided that OA should be allowed in.  I strongly encourage you to make a strong coffee (see earlier) and read the whole judgment. In such narrow chinks in the state’s armour, it seems, we have to trust.

In the words of  No Doubt, (who I thought I was going to hear this week but didn’t) ’I've asked myself/How much do you commit yourself?‘. Or, as Aperghis put it – brilliantly interpreted by Heloise Werner – well, I’m not quite sure how he put it, but it was dead eloquent.

DAY 216: The gatherings

June 24th, 2017 § 0 comments § permalink

Oh, if only the nation elected its prime minister at Glastonbury, eh? Or by any form of popular acclamation. Yesterday was (probably) the last night of Ramadan, and my plan was to go to my local mosque, Finsbury Park, where three days ago a racist driving a white van had rammed into worshippers, killing one man and seriously injuring several. It’s a social centre in our part of Islington and they were having a multi-faith commemoration and iftar. I had to go and join what was a popular Islington event.

The crowd was impressive (several hundred, I reckon about three quarters Muslims) and diverse. On the bus down I met Maggie, who with a team was bringing down boxes of flowers in pots to hand to worshippers- a gift from a local ‘healing centre’. The Stop the War Campaign could have taken lessons from the brevity of the ceremony, where about twelve speakers from different faith and community groups, from the council and the police(!) spoke strongly for about two minutes each on the value of our community and the mosque within it; and of unity and tolerance. An audiologist from UCLH found me a seat – thanks for that.

It was all over in about half an hour, and we went on to prayers and the iftar. On a personal note I was lucky to meet up with Cassy Paris whose testimony on the Calais jungle when it was still new two years ago moved me to get involved. (See no. 142 of this blog for a fuller account.) It was a good evening.

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But the realities of politics aren’t like that, it would be good if they were. As things are, understanding what’s going to happen is a complete nightmare for simple souls like me who don’t understand how you can have bring a bunch of fanatical creationists into the government without breaking the Good Friday Agreement. I’ve been spending more time discussing with some of my twitter friends whether we could celebrate the defeat of the EU by undoing decimalisation and bringing back the half-crown, the bushel and the peck. I raised the possibility that this might bring down neoliberalism as the neoliberals would find the maths too hard (while maintaining gay marriage and other social gains which don’t seem to depend on the number system. It may take two to tango, but that doesn’t say anything about what genders the tangoists are.)
But I think I have strayed off the point. As we all know, when St Joseph of Arimathea arrived in Glastonbury, he struck his staff into the ground, where it flowered and became the Glastonbury Thorn. It’s not
glastorecorded who was then ruler of Britain, though King Arthur seems a good bet, and he got the job by pulling a sword out of a stone. Which could be a way of dealing with contested elections. And he had, of course, no ambition to lay any claim to Scotland or Ireland. But the symbolism of the Round Table seems to echo that of the EU. Many a knight probably complained about the way in which building standards were being imposed on his castles.
In lieu of a print poem, I’ve been reduced to what’s maybe commoner these days: a Youtube poem, featuring Jude Cowan Montague‘s Gaza poem ‘The Messengers’ in Resonance FM’s iconic Borough studio. Not strictly related to anything I’ve been discussing, it relates to a general despair about the events around us.
I’ve never had the gall to post a song by the Incredible String Band, whose outlook seemed to coincide so closely with mine about fifty years ago. So here, if you don’t know what they sound like (or even if you do) is ‘Kooeeoaddi There‘ – Glastonbury many years before its time.


DAY 215: More

June 19th, 2017 § 0 comments § permalink

Which could mean all sorts of things, of course (one thinks of Oliver Twist); I’m today, on the anniversary of her death, thinking of Jo Cox: ‘we are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us’. How much more time do I have left to think these thoughts? Why don’t I have more friends to collaborate with me and stop me writing so much nonsense, as I so often do?

Indeed, we’re even more divided than before, as is shown by the reactions to the Grenfell Tower fire: between those who are angry and appalledScreen Shot 2017-06-19 at 08.38.19 and those who are – for whatever reason – indifferent. Between those who understand that deregulation and corporate capitalism have created a culture in which is’s legitimate for the writers on the  Mail and the Sun to attack safety regulations and support cutbacks in fire services routinely - and that this culture is potentially lethal – and those who go along with the attacks and cutbacks.

I’ve seen half a dozen clips on twitter, and I’m sure it’s a fraction of the total, many distressed, angry, even breaking down; I think of Akala, of David Lammy (both friends of fire victims, and it’s not a coincidence). On any statistical test, the majority of dead are black, immigrants, marginalised; the owners and their spokesmen are white and well-off. The election gave us a chance to overcome this division, by putting a reasonably diversified bunch of people into government. But the rulers are determined to cling on to power, by making deals with far-right Irish racists; it’s how the system works, particularly when the signs are that an election tomorrow would bring in a thumping Labour majority.

We have still to be patient; it’s the tactic of the poor; angry,2C26A6E000000578-3232004-image-m-18_1442072742837 not submissive, but patient, believing that we are capable of victory. The rulers, the one percent, are much more defensive than they were a year ago even.

I was at a Momentum meeting in Wood Green this evening (that’s more than usually irrelevant). The mood was not uniformly optimistic, as one might have expected: ‘We are young, we have Jeremy, we won the election, who can stop us?’ As you might indeed expect in these days when disasters seem daily to pile on one another, it was a coupling of recent victory with a more sober assessment of the dangers ahead. It seems right. Have I posted ‘Komm, Hoffnung‘? I think I have, even recently. It bears repeating.

LOOK BACK IN ANGER, a poem by Les Nicholls

Timber plastic concrete and steel

Burned with a fury that hardly seems real

Taking with it the old the young of varying races

Scenes etched on our minds of their terrified faces

Babies mothers husbands and friends

The names of the missing on a list without end

Look back in anger now with total disgust

Betrayed by those people in whom they should trust

This was no act of god this was utter neglect

This was a lack of compassion and social respect

Look back in anger at the warnings ignored

Shunned by their landlord to whom they implored

We are shocked as a nation as this horror unfolds

And full of emotion as the stories are told

We have seen religion and culture all put aside

United in anger for all those that died

A public inquiry will not bring back the dead

it will not help those people who need to be sheltered and fed

Look back in anger as they talk and debate

While anger and despair haunt those left to wait

Look back in anger at the political spin

But the anger now rises as our patience grows thin

This tragedy occurred in a land of prosperity

In a home for the poor besieged by austerity

This suffering was caused by ignorance and conceit

It was an avoidable  horror we must never repeat



DAY 214: Inferno

June 15th, 2017 § 0 comments § permalink

I feel this is something of a metaphor (don’t we all love metaphors?) for the current state of affairs, of blogging, of my mind: I’d dealt with my rumination on the astounding and encouraging election result; and was preparing for a lengthy discussion of the music scene in North London as I see it, when the Grenfell Tower disastergrenfell struck, with the following consequences:

1. It displaced all other news – and that at a moment of national crisis, when we had (we have) no idea of who is to govern us;

2. It brought into the foreground questions (which should have been there all along) of how the rich act with complete disregard of health and safety regulations, which they treat as ‘red tape’ constraining the entrepreneur;

3. It brought together a multiplex of underfunding issues – of safety inspectors, rescuers, hospitals, firefighters,

fightersall down to the same mean-spirited (but very profitable) neoliberal culture which has prevailed for years, and is still central to our government. I appeal to you, citizens, let us give one more push and get these rotten apples in the rubbish heap of history, where they belong!

But seriously, reader, do you not despair of that Twitter culture which constantly chains you to the events of the last six, nay the last two hours? So that all your latest comments, however thoughtful, lose validity because you don’t know, can’t know, what’s just happened? I’m not seeking to disparage what I’ve just said; and the General Election, however ‘snap’, has been on the way for some time. But all these Daesh attacks (to take one random example) distract the blogger’s attentions from the eternal verities where it should rest. In particular – to take  the example towards which I was heading  - from contemporary music in Dalston. Back in November (I think) I was moved to write about the amazing Aphty Khea who performed in Kentish Town (post 197, I think, if you’re looking). I quote:

‘A tall woman in a long dress12814670_1117701058261868_7769792526235084374_nstrode onto the stage and began to set up (a daunting array of synths and other electronic equipment). This took the best part of half an hour. Did the audience know what was to come? I didn’t, I was getting restive, and when Aphty Khea (for it was she) finally unleashed her repertoire on the pub, I was completely bowled over. That someone who by rights should be performing for huge sums at the South Bank was playing for charity at the Fiddlers Elbow! I hadn’t heard such a dazzling, provocative display of pure art – I’d like to say for years, but I have a duty to my journalist’s conscience (is there such a thing?).’

Gutted is the usual term for what I was, to find that I’d just missed Aphty’s last gig for some time – and that in CamdenTown on Tuesday; I could easily have got to it. I’d set my sights on a different offering, compositions by the well-known (but not to me) composer Tansy Daviestansy who specialises among much else in dead modernist settings of translated troubadour ballads. The link will (should?) get you to ‘Troubairitz’ which is precisely that. A small crowd of enthusiasts sat, many on the floor (not me) and waited through some longish periods of drumming and stuff; between the real event, which was a series of recent and not-so-recent Davies offerings. Before heading off into the sticky Dalston Ramadan night.

Much earlier, of course, Arthur Brown of the Crazy World attended the Universities of London and Reading and studied philosophy and law, but he gravitated to music instead, forming his first band, Blues and Brown, while at Reading and produced his number 1 single ‘Fire‘, which is where we came in. None of his studies – even law? – led him to speculate, as he should – on the profitability of fire.

Or the irresponsibility of rulers. I suppose we could go back to Conrad’s Lord Jim (again, it’s only about 100 years) to find some lessons on how the British abandon health and safety regulations, particularly when Muslim pilgrims are involved. Preachy Marlow refers in Jim’s case to the ’struggles of an individual trying to save from the fire his idea of what his moral identity should be.’

A City’s Death By Fire – Poem by Derek Walcott. (This has no particular relevance but what the hell.)

After that hot gospeller has levelled all but the churched sky,
I wrote the tale by tallow of a city’s death by fire;
Under a candle’s eye, that smoked in tears, I
Wanted to tell, in more than wax, of faiths that were snapped like wire.
All day I walked abroad among the rubbled tales,
Shocked at each wall that stood on the street like a liar;
Loud was the bird-rocked sky, and all the clouds were bales
Torn open by looting, and white, in spite of the fire.
By the smoking sea, where Christ walked, I asked, why
Should a man wax tears, when his wooden world fails?
In town, leaves were paper, but the hills were a flock of faiths;
To a boy who walked all day, each leaf was a green breath
Rebuilding a love I thought was dead as nails,
Blessing the death and the baptism by fire.