The Raue Affair: Origins, Supreme Court, and What’s Next


The ongoing affair surrounding the attempt to dismiss Tom Raue has played out in the Supreme Court, where it was decided this week that the Board has the power to dismiss Raue in the way prescribed by its governing documents. It seems like an appropriate time to look back on the affair and consider what comes next. After all, Tom has not yet been dismissed and the case against him, notwithstanding this week’s ruling, remains dubious.

  •  The Origins

It all started with a report written by Alexandra Hardy, a senior HR member of the USU. Hardy’s report was the result of her investigation into the events of open day on 31 August 2013. During the course of the day, a group of NTEU and student protestors disrupted an on-stage USU event in order to spread information about university management’s intransigence in enterprise bargaining. Tom Raue was a member of the…

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Marching to the limits: The non-coverage of March in March and other protests

The big story about March in March according to my Newsfeed is that there aren’t stories on March in March. The Age provided some relatively sympathetic coverage, but it wasn’t on Sunrise and the SMH relegated it to the online edition. With numbers like fifty thousand being reported for Melbourne, ten thousand for Brisbane, ten thousand for Sydney, seven thousand for Newcastle and Lismore- even one thousand four hundred for Gosford to name just some of the Marches, it seems likely that over one hundred thousand a participated in total, even accounting for rally figure inflation.

Still, no coverage.

Apparently the “Convoy of no Confidence”, an event in which, at most, hundreds participated, merits three days non-stop coverage.

Still no coverage of March in March, the second or third largest day of protest ever held in Australia.

It’s useless to moralize. Papers and television stations exist to sell advertising space. They do so by attracting readers and viewers. These days their audience is substantially more sympathetic to the Liberal party than the general population is. Add in the rarefied elitism of journalists, who have always been skeptical of the idea that shouting can or (should be allowed to) change the world when there’s a conversation to be had on their terms, and the papers and televisions were never going to be greatly interested. Consider also the political agendas of people like Rhineheart and Murdoch, who have clearly thrown in their lot with the Liberals for the time, and it’s a wonder MiM got a mention at all.

So fist waving at the paper and the tele screen won’t go anywhere. A more productive conversation needs to be had. We need to talk about what happens to rallies when it can no longer be guaranteed that they will receive coverage, however large they may be. You might think that rallies without a supportive media are useless. After all, rallies are simply a collection of individuals gathered in one place, with the same view, repeating that view through chants, signs etc. Without the cooperation of big media- part of the very establishment these protests often claim to despise- they become very nearly pointless, witnessed only by a relative handful of passers by. The mystery is that anyone would imagine otherwise.

I don’t agree with this view, but I do think we need to grapple with it. In order to move beyond the looming possibility of irrelevant rallies, we must consider the limits of rallies and and what rallies are capable of within those limits. We must consider what possibilities are afforded by a gathering of people who all hold the one view in the one place, for if rallies are to be effective they must not simply be an endpoint.

It seems to me that the main possibility afforded by gathering those who want change together is that it provides scope for planning, for building power, for expanding networks, and for nourishing spirits in the conversations during a rally and afterwards. A rally should not be a destination or the end result of a long build up. It should be a spring pad for what comes after. In our conversations at rallies, and in the work we do to promote and spread them them, this must be our focus. Simple things anyone can do, like handing out stickers to put up and holding workshops and get togethers after can all help in this.


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Misery and Debt by Endnotes, a reply

In Misery and Debt, Endnotes argue that Capital accumulation tendentially means the growing ‘irrelevance’* of labour. Labour is thrown onto the street, forced into junk jobs- into low paid and often precarious jobs in the service sector. They further propose this is the process by which the proletariat is made, by which, to quote Marx, capitalism creates its own gravediggers.

If this were the case, if capital accumulation rendered labour increasingly less in demand for capital intensive projects, forcing a larger and larger portion of labour into low capital intensity jobs, we would expect that the inequality in capital at one’s workplace per worker would be on the increase. Crucially Misery and Debt claims that this process is visible throughout the world. Thus we selected the United States, because of its size and the richness of the available data, and calculated an estimation of the inequality of capital per worker using the Theil index of inequality from 1948 to 2000. The results showed a small decrease in inequality of fixed assets per worker over the period.

Photo: Inequality in fixed capital per worker from industry level data.
Thus we found endnote’s hypothesis of a growing exclusion of the bulk of the working class from the means of production unsupported in America 1948-2000.

Unfortunately, the statistics we used meant that we could not measure inequality below the industry level- at the level of the firm- which means our estimates of the inequality of capital per worker. But unless there has been some special rise in inequality within industries outstripping movements in inequality between industries this should not make a difference- and the kinds of rising inequality endnotes describe would most likely appear at the between industries level of analysis.

Tim Scriven & Kieran Latty

*Irrelevance is our phrase, not theirs. It is not a very accurate way of looking at things, and our brief summary does not substitute for reading the text, which contains many intricacies we’ve not examined here.

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The Brief Refutation of Most (Right) Libertarians

If it is to fit with the actual political beliefs of most libertarians, (right) libertarianism as a political philosophy needs to do two things:

1.Show that property ownership isn’t simply an arbitrary legal or culturally recognized claim, but represents a real moral entitlement that must be respected.

2. Show that actual, existing claims to property ownership are, at least largely, legitimate property claims. (In other words, that most apparent property claims really do reflect property ownership.)

It’s obvious though that 1 & 2 are in tension. Because if stolen goods should be considered as property, and theft is legitimate, effectively anything goes, but by the libertarian’s own standards, almost everything is stolen. Consider, for example, the vast amounts of corporate property which, on a libertarian account, are basically stolen goods since they would be impossible without subsidies. Consider also the vast quantities of land which are stolen, especially and most obviously in colonized nations like Australia, North America etc.- but even in Europe there is probably not a stretch of land that has not been stolen at some point. Worse, the illegitimacy of this property ripples out through the economy. If own a widget maker which is, effectively, stolen goods, and I make widgets with it, those widgets are not mine and I don’t have the right to sell them, they are effectively stolen goods. If I do sell them the new owner is an owner in name only. Thus like an infection, illegitimacy spreads through the economy, and everything is effectively stolen goods.

Some Libertarians respond with the suggestion that before we could enter into a Libertarian Utopia, a phase of redistribution is necessary. Effectively they drop (2). Cut it all up, and give everyone an equal or other non-arbitrary amount they suggest. But while they may argue this from the armchair, in the daily conduct of political debate they always seem to accept and defend existing property claims as legitimate.

Libertarians must either A) Join the left in calls for the existing situation of property division to be abolished. B) Admit that their view simply amounts to the acceptance of the status quo, whatever that may be.


Since this apparently wasn’t clear enough in the initial post, suggestions that although things haven’t been ideal thus far, but henceforth we can go forward in a libertarian manner fail as a reply for a number of reasons, but the most obvious is that in order to proceed that we’d need to accept some division of the world and the things in it into property.  To see what I mean, imagine every person in the world decided they wanted it to function in a libertarian manner. They were all satisfied that each person should be complete master of their own property. But the problem arose what division of the world into property would they use? They could use the conventional division, that is they could say that if x belongs to you in this world you get to keep x in the new libertarian society, but this would be as arbitrary as any other precisely because of the argument I’ve outlined here.

Theories of right grounded in the concept of property cannot be purely ‘forward looking’ because concepts of property, of who owns what, are either arbitrary or can only be applied with reference to past affairs. In the hypothetical situation of transition libertarian who does not want to engage in redistribution really has two choices, they can keep trying to justify the present through the past, or they can throw their hands up and say “everyone gets to keep what the old statist framework thinks they are entitled to just because.” A theory promised a justification of property relations ends up simply declaring that you shall keep whatever the existent state of affairs said you should keep.

A related libertarian strategy of response has been to suggest that even though the present state of distribution is based on theft, it should be changed, because this would involve more theft, and thus violence. But this is based on a subtle confusion between two senses of theft- theft in a moral sense, and theft in the sense of taking something from someone- whether they happen to be entitled to it or not.  If you’ve previously stolen my diamond ring, and while you are not looking I take it back, that’s clearly not theft in any sort of moral sense, even though in a colloquial sense I may have “stolen” it back. Thus the argument that we cannot change the existing distribution even if it is based on theft because changing it would be theft, misses the fairly obvious point that this would only be theft or initiation of force or whatever one wants to call it in a libertarian sense were the goods I took from you actually yours.

Finding angels among the demons

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Towards #FullQueerCommunism

So a friend was just banned from the queer network for, among other things (all of them equally baseless), posting a video of Black Panthers chanting “No more pigs in our community” on a thread.


In case you can’t read the text it says that “slurs” which might offend queer police officers are bad- that it’s a problem that Pat’s posts might affect the delicate feelings of queer cops (and how delicate their feelings must be, being a traitor to your gender and/or sexuality is just so hard).

Ray also argues that Pat isn’t in the position of the Black Panthers, no doubt true, but does Ray think that the Black Panther’s attack on the police was limited to a particular standpoint? It was supposed to be, in a sense, universal in scope.

This is the perfect case study in why an identity is not a politics. An identity might help you reach a certain level of political awareness, but it’s possible to be oppressed in countless ways and still fret about the feelings of the police.

Anyway I bring this up because if we want a radical queer movement, which doesn’t concieve of radicalism as intensified moralistic handwringing, it’s obvious we have to build it ourselves. The current queer movement has two wings- a a “left”-wing and a right-wing. The right-wing worries about looking respectable and the absorption of queers into the existing social. The “left”-wing seems mostly concerned with norms of interpersonal respect and language in popular culture and everyday interaction. In effect while the right tries to squeeze us into existing social mores, like respectable monogamy, the “left” demands that new social mores be constructed to fit us into what exists.

Neither pose  a total critique  of the existing social order. We need a movement that recognizes that the fundamental ways in which this world reproduces and expands itself presuppose our oppression, and thus what exists must be dismantled by us (that is the “us” who produce this world, the vast bulk of humanity) both for the sake of our liberation and the liberation of all.

In other words, we need a movement which recognizes that our particular oppression as queers is one of the conditions  of oppression as a whole. That our movement is part of a larger whole and can find its greatest utility, for ourselves and others, as an aspect of the real movement to abolish the present state of things- communism.

Power to all those who stand against the violence of the police.


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Notes on a scandal- Facebook’s community standards

Censorship. A difficult matter at the best of times. Almost every one quarter sensible person, even on the right, would agree that this doesn’t even begin to be worthy of censorship:

The image is from the delightful page “Anarchist memes”. I know of a few pages its been removed from by Facebook, though it still seems to be up on the new incarnation of the anarchist memes page.

By contrast, have a look at this most unlovely image. A few months ago I reported this image to Facebook as hate speech:


Given that the image suggests that feminism is a Jewish conspiracy, it’s clear racism and I and anyone else with their head screwed on would think its sexist as well. In any case- A-grade racism, thus prototypical hate speech, simple, done.

Facebook didn’t think so and my complaint was rejected. Well,  I thought to myself, that’s pretty appalling- but I suppose they must get a lot of complaints, and consequently they must have set the bar very high. Disgusting but explicable.

Just in case you think this sort of thing is an isolated incident, witness this delightful image from the lovely “White Women Against Feminism” page:


What a joker.

But no, it’s not simply a matter of avoiding the censorious. This morning I learnt that the following image was removed as hate speech, having been posted by the popular page, “Anarchist Memes”:

Not only was the image removed, Anarchist Memes was deleted* . I was now thoroughly perplexed.

So I did some digging and found a leaked copy of Facebook’s criteria for deleting or keeping images. What I found was fascinating. Did you know that empty threats against ordinary people, and being referenced negatively,  are not grounds for deletion, but empty threats and negative references against police officers are grounds for deletion of content? Thus “Dan the bricklayer is a pig” would not be deleted whereas “Dan the cop is a pig” would be deleted?

Did you know that images depicting burning of the Turkish flag are grounds for deletion? As are maps of Kurdistan. And apparently images of earwax. It’s also against the rules to insult someone for being white, male or heterosexual, now personally I think it’s pretty childish to insult someone on this basis, but did they really feel it had to go in the rules?

Still, nothing in the rules seemed to justify the deletion of anarchist memes. Perhaps the decisions are more or less random. After all, given that the third world workers who make these decisions are paid a dollar an hour, why shouldn’t they be?

Facebook’s code, and especially its application, is arbitrary and seems to favor the right. This is not a trivial point. So much of what we do- ordinary life and activism alike, are embedded into it. Moralism will not save us, nor will individualistic boycotts. Facebook, like all corporations, is and will continue to act in the interests of the self-valorisation of capital (crudely speaking, profit). We can and should organize ourselves. Rightwing protests that Facebook is private, and can do what it likes, only serve to expose the hollowness of such sentiments. We live much of our lives in such “private” venues, and it would be foolish to allow others to control us through them.

Against Facebook, and its world, and thus for ourselves, and our lives.

*a new page has been setup, which you should like in solidarity, though the page is a teensy bit liberal

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This essay draws heavily on Selma’s James justly famous “Sex, Race and Class.” This brilliant work contains the clear foundations of a Marxist conception of the relationship between capitalism and oppression which neither reduces the importance of oppression, nor suggests gender and race oppression are separate social systems to capitalism. I’d suggest reading “Sex, Race and Class”, it’s better than anything I could write.


The problems of this world appear to us, at first, like a huge pile of broken things; War, poverty, environmental destruction, and of course racism, sexism, queerphobia and ableism to name a few. The view that these forms of strife are not independent but have a common essence is what I will defend here.

What is objectionable about identity politics is that it construes, at least implicitly, various social struggles as fragmentary and particular fights around specific identities. Granted, identity politics generally concedes that these identities intersect and interact, and oppression is mutually reinforcing, but any notion of the underlying unity in the order of things through capitalism is rejected. This in turn leads to inaccurate, or at least unnuanced, analysis of topics like privilege and the basis for solidarity. The point we will be arguing here is not that we shouldn’t fight around specific identities, but that we must see these fights as components of a larger struggle, the struggle between the producers and the ruling class.

I am going to argue that the various forms of oppression center on capitalism, or a system where a few individuals own the means of production, and primarily live off the takings from them. Meanwhile most have no choice but to work for a living, or if they can’t find work, live on charity or unemployment benefits.

Capitalist society is by its very nature class society, so it’s important to be clear on what we mean by class here. The most popular way of looking at class bases it on how much money you earn, what schools you went to, whether you like high-brow or low-brow art etc. However, none of these are directly related to class in the sense we mean. Class in the Marxist sense, a sense also used by many anarchists, is a question of whether you earn your living through your labor, or through ownership of the means of production. Those who earn their living through work are said to have ‘surplus labor’ extracted from them. These victims of surplus labour extraction are said to be the proletariat or working class.

What many critics of Marxism, and even many Marxists, don’t realize though is that we don’t merely have surplus labor extracted from us at formal jobs and workplaces. For example, home-makers who raise children and clean houses are doing labor which is absolutely indispensable to the maintenance of the workforce. Capital needs that labour in order to continue, yet domestic labour is not paid for directly. Instead homemakers in effect receive a portion of their spouse’s income.

Students at schools and universities are doing work that capitalism needs to function, they are transforming themselves into value added human capital, yet they are also not compensated for their work directly. Instead they are given the often false promise of higher wages or better jobs down the track if they do well.

Then there are even stranger ways still that surplus labor is extracted from us. If you’ve ever used a self-serve checkout, labor is being extracted from you; you are effectively doing some of the work for the capitalist who is selling you things. If you’ve ever used Facebook, you’ve helped generate information which is then used to market products to you and your friends.

We can go further than that. If you’ve ever given a friend a shoulder to cry on, you’ve done some of the emotional labor that capital needs to keep its producers healthy. We are always doing things which keep this society running for the disproportionate benefit of a few. Almost every single person who reads this will be a worker, yet most of you have never worked in a factory in your life.


So we’ve seen that this extraction of surplus labor can happen anywhere- in the home, at university, and of course at our jobs. The division between those who do most of this labor, and those who benefit from it through their ownership of the means of production, defines the division between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie, in other words the division between the producing class and the ruling class.

But class can’t just exist as this simple abstraction: some do the work and some profit. It needs more than just this one single asymmetry. Marx said that the peasants of France were like potatoes in a sack, homogenous. Each village, each farmstead and in a sense even each peasant was similar. With French peasants this wasn’t a threat to class society, because of their geographic dispersion and the difficulties this created for them in organizing effectively.

Among the working class though, if there were no internal divisions, there would be little preventing us from revolt. Without the logic of competition within the working class itself revolution would be a quick inevitability. The only sustainable working class is a working class riven with divisions. Thus the working class is organized into a series of binaries or oppositions, one part of which is superior in power and the other subordinated. To name a few such divisions, men and non-men, straights and queers, whites and people of color, white collar workers and blue collar workers, workers in the Global South and the Global North. The division between the producers and the exploiters can only be sustained through a proliferation of other social divisions. Proper class analysis always attends to the intricacies of how the class is structured, for the way it is built also constitutes the chains which restrain it from action.

In addition to dividing the working class, these splits also serve to create specialists. Women are nudged into being reproductive laborers, housemakers and the like, and also into various forms of care work such as social work and nursing. People of color are channeled into low paying jobs, and all too often into the prison industrial complex. Trans* people are often funneled into sex-work. When we realize the vast complexity of the different types of labor people do, white collar and blue collar, waged and unwaged, legal and illegal, it becomes easier to see the intricate patterns class takes in relation to oppression than when we are stuck with an image of the proleterian as factory worker.

All too often, Marxists have accepted the following picture of the working class. In the first instance it just is a sack of potatoes, secondary to that there are divisions and differences. I would like to emphasize again how deeply wrong this is. In addition to being an abstract relation of surplus labor extraction, class is always a concrete institution with indispensable specificities. These specificities are not merely “unfortunate” for us or “fortunate” for the capitalists; class cannot live separated from its specificities, any more than a body can live separated from its organs. Those organs may change and mutate over time, some might even come in and out of existence. Nevertheless the organs as a whole are absolutely essential to the body. It is not merely that the body causes the organs to come into existence, rather, neither can survive long without the other. Really they are one.

What I am proposing is not that class is primary. Class is no more primary than, for example, gender- because gender is absolutely essential to defining the actual shape that class takes in our society. Rather I think that class is not the same sort of thing as these other modes of oppression. In order for class to be sustained it needs a whole series of differentiations and complexities. Any capitalist society without such differentiations would be overthrown quickly. Modern class society cannot be a sack of potatoes. Oppression is vital part of that structure of differentiations and complexities class needs to live and prevent us from living.


Anyone who wants to defeat class society has an interest in weakening the divisions created by oppression. If one were to attack a body, it would be prudent to target its vital organs. If class society depends on the division of the working class into dominant and subaltern components then we must oppose those divisions.

Moreover, it is useful to make a distinction between relative advantages and absolute advantages. It’s obvious that straight people have it relatively better than queer people, white people relatively better than people of color and men relatively better than non-men. But this does not imply that both groups in each couplet wouldn’t be better off if oppression were defeated. If every form of oppression is deeply valuable to capitalism, and if every worker has a tremendous interest in the defeat of capitalism, this would suggest that every worker has an interest in the defeat of every form of oppression.

If working class men ultimately benefit from patriarchy, then it is unclear how non-males could persuade them to fight against the oppression of women, except through abstract appeals to morality. However, if we see that we have a common enemy it is clear why working class men should be allies to working class women, because the liberation of one is bound up in the liberation of the other. Our solidarity should not be based on charity; rather it should be based on a shared path to liberation.

The solution to attacking the system of relative advantages given to parts of the working class is not to pretend that they don’t exist, but to recognize that fighting and ultimately defeating them through the abolition of capitalism is essential. Precisely because the advantaged within the working class lose out less from oppression, and are often even duped into thinking they gain from it, it is important that those most interested in defeating every form of oppression, the oppressed group themselves, have space to organize autonomously against their subjugation.

I’m concerned that the picture of oppression as made up of a series of separate cultural institutions which are independent but interacting has encouraged movements to think that their various interests are either potentially opposed to each other or at least not intimately linked. When we realize that we have a shared enemy, we can act in a greater spirit of love, solidarity and mutual support, fighting oppression more effectively both within our own left spaces and within broader society.

The concept of privilege needs to be interrogated, though not rejected. The relative differences in status and power of various sections of the class are real and must be fought, but in the ultimate sense no one in the class gains from them. In talking about privilege we need to be very clear on this point, because of the strength our common interests give us.

Recently I was attacked by a bigot in the street. Partly because our society does not really care about such things the worst that happened to him was a black eye. Surely then he gained from queerphobia? That depends what you mean by gained. Certainly he was better off without repercussions, but he would have been even better still living in a society where gender and sexuality simply didn’t exist, and consequently either capitalism didn’t exist, or its hold on us was weakened.


So I’ve argued that it’s absolutely essential to attacking capital to attack oppression, indeed every attack on oppression is an attack on capital. What about the converse, that in order to attack these forms of oppression we must ultimately try to dismantle capitalism?

Capitalism doesn’t simply passively benefit from divisions in the working class problems. Rather capitalism works to sustain them. The popular culture it produces mirrors existing prejudices back at us. The way its wage systems are structured means that it renders many more women dependent on men than men dependent on women. The so called justice system is really a prison industrial complex which serves mostly to defend property rights and simultaneously maintain white supremacy, othering and criminalizing people of color. Then of course there is the savagery of the job market, turning us against perceived enemies in a frantic effort to get what we need to live.

But what about prejudice, the subjective component of oppression, wouldn’t that stick around after a revolution, even if the material base of oppression in the extraction of labor is defeated? It’s one thing to abolish the class structure, but how would this act to end things like racist slurs, queer bashings or even rape?

I don’t think that anyone could guarantee that ‘interpersonal’ oppression would disappear immediately if capitalism were defeated. However I also don’t believe that prejudice is simply a free-floating system of ideas. Rather I think that without the material bases that capitalism provides for prejudice, such as the production of competition between groups, racist, sexist and queerphobic popular culture and the massive violence of the state, prejudice would fade.

In school we are taught that prejudice is a mistake that people tend to make sometimes. We are rarely, if ever, taught to think about the systematic roots of oppression. Our whole society tells us that oppressive conduct is primarily a mistake that individuals make, as if it were a problem similar to lying, being mean or cheating at cards. The truth is though because prejudice is not natural it must be constantly reinforced. The ways capital does this are immeasurable- by dividing communities so we only spend time with people like us, by the generation and propagation of images of prejudice for mass sale, by telling us that our jobs are at threat because of women or people of color. Thus I think there is reason to be confident that just as oppression of all sorts is indispensable to capitalism, so capitalism is indispensable to all forms of oppression. Now you might argue that prejudice could continue indefinitely after the dismantling of capitalism because it is embedded in our discursive structures or something like that. But even if you do think that it, it seems clear that there would be far more space for fighting such things in a non-capitalist world.


A useful way to sum this up might be to contrast three models. The first model, the Classical Marxist model, suggests that the class divide is society’s most fundamental divide. From this arise other divides, sexism, queerphobia, racism and the like. The second model, the model we have been critiquing, suggests that society is defined by a plurality of divides, which while they may be mutually reinforcing, are independent.

The third model, that we are defending, is similar to the first model in that it suggests that class is society’s fundamental divide, but also similar to the second model in that it doesn’t see gender, race and sexuality as the mere effects of an underlying class contradiction. Rather it suggests that there is only one social contradiction. The contradiction between the producers who labour and the rulers who control capital. Call this contradiction what you like, but taken as a state of being, rather than a process of struggle, we call it capitalism. The ongoing social battles which constitute gender[1], race and sexuality are moments in the war of the producers and rulers.

But what about the objection, already alluded to, that it seems unlikely that oppression will end the moment capitalism does? Surely even if different forms of oppression will eventually splutter out in a non-capitalist world, their persistence, even if temporary, proves their separateness?

Take a bowl and smash it. Fragments will fly everywhere. Does this demonstrate that they were not one? After capitalism is defeated, all sorts of problems will persist for a while, some of them obviously class based (illiteracy, ill health from a lifetime of poor working conditions, even snobbery), others obviously associated with sexism, racism and queerphobia, but no less based on class for all that.

It’s worth reiterating, the conjecture that the defeat of capitalism is tied to the elimination of all forms of oppression does not mean that oppression doesn’t need to be struggled against. Grasping that oppression via identity is inextricably linked to capitalism tells us that to fight capitalism, we must fight oppression based on identities. Thus I finish by echoing Selma James:

Power to the oppressed and therefore to the class.

[1] Incidentally I think this is a very important point that is often missed. Genders, races and sexualities are not states of being; they are battles in the social war. Gender, for example, is an ongoing process of struggle.

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Trigger warnings and run away safety culture

Safety is an interesting concept. What do you think you need in order to feel completely safe? What would make you feel safer? Here’s another question, would spending countless hours thinking about what would make you feel safer, make you feel safer, or would it trap you in a spiral of ever increasing anxieties?

The left has become obsessed with safety in a way we find counterproductive. This includes institutions like trigger warnings, and other ways of relentlessly trying to avoid triggers. Our critique will focus on institutions created around preventing triggering, particular the trigger warning. However it could be extended to some other forms of concern about safety on the left. This is not to say that we consider safety to be unimportant or uninteresting. We feel the left has gone out of balance on these issues, and consequently is harming vulnerable people.

The kind of focus on safety in interpersonal contexts that we are critiquing here about has no limit. There will never be a point where people stop saying triggering things to each other without trigger warnings. Instead we are left with a permanent war for safety, as futile as a puritan war on sin or the American war on drugs. In our opinion it is at least as counterproductive.

We say counterproductive because for us and many of the people we’ve talked to about this, nothing serves to reinforce our ongoing experience of trauma quite as well as endless fussing about safety. Every trigger warning, every discussion about whether or not something might be triggering, brings to the edge of our consciousness the experience of trauma, but doesn’t even give us the opportunity to face it head on. As we scroll through the Facebook pages and read:

Trigger warning- Rape

Trigger warning- Depression

Trigger warning- Suicide

Trigger warning- Violence

Over and over and over and over again we are constructed, over and over, as the vulnerable subjects of trauma. We are reminded of trauma by endless efforts to exclude it. Not only do the memories still come, but we are increasingly encouraged to see those memories as triggering. Past experiences that we may not have previously thought were traumatic begin to be experienced as trauma.

All we can say is that in our experience, trigger warnings have not been helpful. We suspect that this experience is quite common. We also suspect that many trauma survivors have been encouraged to think that trigger warnings are helping them cope with their trauma, where in reality trigger warnings have been counterproductive.

We recognize that there is a diversity of experiences, but tentatively propose the abolition of trigger warnings, and similar institutions which aim to exclude triggering experiences.

To put the case in point form:

1      Trigger warnings make us less safe by encouraging us to obsess over our safety. The more time we spend thinking about it, the more we begin to identify as unsafe. Things that were previously just at the margins can become quite threatening. Constant debate and discussion about safety won’t let it out of our minds, and so thinking about the concept begins to overwhelm us.

2.       Trigger warnings make trauma, and our recollection of trauma, eternally salient. Thus we encounter not just the word “rape”, for example, but a reminder that rape may remind us of our trauma, the association between our memories, and the traumatic experience of those memories, is strengthened. At the same time we never directly confront our memories full on, so we have the worst of both worlds, trauma is at the edge of consciousness, but not quite there. Trigger warnings seem to be helping, because they enable us to avoid full blown recollection of trauma in contexts where they are used consistently, but in the long run the practice strengthens the traumatic aspects of our memories.

3.       Trigger warnings enable us to avoid recollecting trauma. You may respond that this gives us the choice of whether to confront our trauma or not, but things are not so simple. When we are given the option of avoiding recollections of trauma, it can be hard not to take it. Trigger warnings can enable the self-destructive behavior of avoidance. We may not wish to engage in such avoidance, but the temptation is strong, and trigger warnings have the potential to enable that.


Written by a group of trauma survivors of which Tim is a part.


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Identity politics and materialism, the practical differences

To my delight, The Case for Class has generated considerable discussion lately, so I thought I’d try and expand on it a little, in particular to make clearer some of the practical differences, since the discussion is a little abstract at the moment.

The first thing you must understand is that identity politics and class politics are not simply different areas of activism. Identity politics does not mean “politics done around womanhood, queerness, disability and the rights of people of colour”. Class politics does not mean “politics done around worker’s struggles”. Rather within both class politics and identity politics there are approaches to every modality of struggle. Class, queerness, anti-racism, feminism, disability activism, indigenous rights and even the environment are all areas where both materialists and supporters of intersectional-identity approaches have developed approaches, each known as a “praxis”. Thus while there’s nothing necessarily incoherent about suggesting a balance between identity and materialist approaches, suggesting we do so that we can keep doing activism in every area is the wrong reason for it.

Nor does the difference of approaches necessarily result in an emphasis on directly class related activism by materialists, or non-class by intersectionalists. For example, at various points in time and locations some materialists have suggested that womanhood or ethnicity is the key points of possible rupture for class society. The differences in praxis are mostly about approach, not subject matter.

This is perhaps best illustrated with an example. During the Vietnam War, a struggle between American and USSR imperialism, a common slogan was “we are all Vietnamese”. Now why would anyone say this, given that almost all saying it weren’t –literally speaking- Vietnamese? In my view and the view of the protestors, the very same structures and people that created and led the imperialist war in Vietnam –the state apparatus and capitalism- oppressed them. What mattered directly was not their commonality or difference in experience, but the commonality of their enemy. Further, since that enemy wished to divide them, and had created over centuries a structure of races and nations to do so, it would be foolish to accept division. In their view, it was in their interests to seek the destruction of racism and nationalism.

Yes, in the short term they benefited from the higher wages and greater security of living in an imperialist nation. In the long run only the ruling class benefited. Of course they were better off than the Vietnamese in so many ways, in a sense this was the point of the slogan, it was a way of saying- “we see through your attempts to bribe us into inaction”.

The key question then, and one that spills over into debates about, for example, the relative importance of micro-aggressions* mostly within the class versus society wide structural disparities, is whether the working class ultimately has unified political interests (at least for the most part, or on the whole), or whether it doesn’t. With some reservations I accept the claim that the working class has the capacity to form a historic bloc, with the interest and power to destroy both the bourgeoisie and itself as a class, and to negate all identities. Moreover, I believe that politics founded on class struggle has the best shot at advancing the interests of the oppressed immediately as well.

*Obviously I don’t endorse the view that micro-aggressions don’t matter, or shouldn’t be challenged. I know of no one on the left who does.

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Our situation and its prospects, an appraisal

It’s widely thought that we live in a period of political apathy. I agree only as far as disgust and felt helplessness can mimic the symptoms of apathy.

More than ever, state and corporate power is perceived as unresponsive to democratic demands. Whether this perception exists because in an age of transnational capital, popular demands are by necessity or opportunity more likely to be ignored, or for some other reason I will leave to the side. Consequently we feel disgust (both at the actions of the state, and at its hypocrisy in claiming to be democratic) and helplessness (because the state never seems moved by our complaints).

In one sense disgust and helplessness are in perfect harmony, one doesn’t contradict oneself if one thinks that something is both disgusting and unchangeable. In another sense though, these two feelings stand in a performative contradiction. When we are disgusted by something we tend to either flee it, or attempt to abolish it unless something else prevents us, or gives us a reason not to. This is where felt helplessness plays its part; it restrains most of us, most of the time, from attacking the present state of things. As a result we resolve our disgust as best we can by “fleeing” the political, or watching it with morbid fascination. However complete escape from or denial of capital’s power is an absurdity as long as it pervades our lives, so our felt helplessness and disgust are at war- do we strike out or stand still?

This tension leads to two interesting phenomena:

                   *An increasing number of us reject bourgeoisie ideology (for our disgust), but seem to be uninterested in finding alternatives (because of our despair).

                   *One can see the beginnings of a phenomenon of sudden ‘flips’. Individuals who displayed little previous interest in politics, suddenly engaging in high intensity political activity. This represents the sudden swing as disgust finally comes to outweigh despair, whether through a sudden flash of hope, or the slow accumulation of disgust coming to predominate.

Now oddly enough I think this landscape I’ve painted of all pervasive disgust and despair gives us substantial grounds for hope. All that’s needed at any moment is for disgust to hit maximum, or despair to abate, and suddenly everything is fragile. There is space for cascades, as the sudden recognition of power leads to victories, leading to further recognition of power, and on and on. Any situation which depends on the uneasy victory of despair over disgust will not remain static.

Strategically and tactically, it suggests that we are fighting on unstable ground. We can’t depend on permanency or continuity, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t seek continuity; networks of counter institutions are necessary to receive and support with community and acquired skills those who decide they can’t stand it anymore. Increasingly we will have to remain mobile, prepared to orient in solidarity to struggles that come out of nowhere and do not follow our preferred agenda (certainly not our preferred schedule).

That all things should be held in common.

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