The last thing us younger generations need is the dilution of our mood. By all means speak for yourself and if you wish to defend the spectacle of democracy that is the representative model that Britain employs, be my guest. We, however, do not see representation in our system and never have. Hence, the lowest voting rate in the last General Election was in our demographic, where a meager 40 percent of those eligible cast their vote, 20 percent below the national average.
We are pissed off, for good reason. The high water mark has been reached. Unlike those writing their editorials who suckled on the teat of the state in the post-war years, my generation have our roots in the legacies of Thatcherism. Corporate Britain reigns supreme. Housing is unaffordable and university a debt to bear for the rest of our lives, reduced to luxury we question whether we can afford. The dreams of our youth are chipped away and dredge of a life serving the interest of others predominates. Our reward is smaller property for startlingly higher prices that prices out the vast majority.
Inequality in Britain is astounding compared to our neighbours. Cynical economics employed by successive chancellors from both Labour and the Conservatives have used house price inflation to fuel the economy. Those who owned houses pre-boom saw their social position improve exponentially. Those who did not have ownership face being moved out of the job-filled cities either by circumstance or force. In their short-sightedness, policy makers have left us with social conditions that the generation who like to laud above us never had to contend with. Their pontification falls on deaf ears.
We know what Labour did. We know the positives and the negatives. But the Victorian era understanding of the deserving and undeserving poor was given roots by New Labour. Not only that, the education reforms, privatisation and even the loathed ATOS checks on incapacity benefit were brain childs of Labour’s neo-liberal modernisers. Class politics have returned in a huge way and knowing this full well, we exist under a state that relentlessly constrains all of the social vessels that we could once employ to get our voices heard. Radicalism is gone. The left has been decimated.
The victory of the US and its allies in the Cold war, spearheaded by Thatcher and Reagan, tore into the social structures that were in place to stem radicality as soon as the threat of revolt was controlled. Full spectrum dominance eviscerated the possibility of a world without US dominance, even if it is now being brokered by a semblance of multi-polarity.
Throughout Europe a crass, simplified, highly propagandistic narrative has been the hallmark of our education. America and Britain are the global policemen of our world, helping the free world. What we have seen in the news flies in the face of what we read in our textbooks. We know that the global corporations are bound to US militarism. We see the propping up of client states. We see the hypocrisy and geo-political interests that channel warfare, so we are receptive to the call for dissent, revolt and the return of a revolutionary spectre haunting Europe.
Ask a Greek, Cypriot or Spaniard what power they have at this moment in history. The neo-liberal orthodoxy has brought the war home and a whole new type of engagement is necessary to confront the difficulties of our time. The advancements and defeats of recent history mean the historical analysis offered by Marx and Marxists is now highly limited. We need to develop new ontologies, committed to core principles; a modern form of Chartism with an established series of demands that fuels social action. Riots, upheaval and instability are coming. Who knows what next?
Faced with the problem of political participation of our time, voting is an irrelevancy. Clung on to by the privileged, the cloak to throw over the pan that sets alight. The riots were a contained explosion that indicated the radical disavowal sections of my generation had and continue have with current orthodoxy. The next time will not be quelled by the re-introduction of what should have been basic rights. We have targets in our crosshairs. Those in power must heed the warnings and start to shift, else they’ll be pushed to. And that is what democracy is about.
I’d like to add some reflections on the notion of “state racism” to our meeting’s agenda. These reflections run against a widespread interpretation of measures that our government has recently taken, from the law on the veil to the expulsions of the Roma. This interpretation detects an opportunism that is exploiting racism and xenophobia for electoral gain. This supposed critique reinforces the assumption that racism is a popular passion, the frightened and irrational reaction of retrograde layers of the population, who can’t adapt to the new mobile and cosmopolitan world. The state is accused of failing in its duty by showing indifference towards these populations. But this accusation only reinforces the state’s position representing itself as the face of rationality vis-à-vis popular irrationality.
This conceit, adopted by the “Leftist”critique, is exactly the one that the Right has used over the past two decades to implement a number of racist laws and decrees. All these measures have been taken under the same argument: there are problems of delinquency and various nuisances caused by immigrants and the undocumented that may provoke racism if we fail to enforce good order. So it must submit these delinquencies and nuisances to the universality of law so they do not create racist disturbances.
It’s a game that has been played, on the Left and the Right, since the Pasqua-Méhaignerie laws of 1993. It consists in opposing the universal logic of the rational state to popular passions, in order to give the state’s racist policies a certificate of anti-racism. It is time to turn this argument around and mark the bond between the state “rationality” that controls these measures and its convenient other — its adversary accessory — represented as a foil, the popular passion. In fact, it is not the government that acts under the pressure of popular racism and in reaction to the so-called “popular” passions of the extreme-right. The state’s aim [raison d’Etat] is to maintain this other to whom it entrusts the imaginary determination of what it actually legislates.
I proposed, 15 years ago, the term cold racism to designate this process. The racism that we have in today’s case is a cold racism, an intellectual construction. It is primarily a creation of the state. We have discussed the relationship between the state of law and the police state. But it is the very nature of the state that it is a police state, an institution that fixes and controls identities, spaces, and movements, an institution in permanent struggle against any surplus over its account of identities, that is to say it also struggles against that excess to the logic of identity that constitutes the action of political subjects. This work is rendered more insistent by the world economic order. Our states are less and less able to thwart the destructive effects of the free circulation of capital on the communities under their care — all the less so because they have no desire to do so. They then fall back on what is in their power, the circulation of people. They seize upon the control of this other circulation as their specific object and the national security that these immigrants threaten as their objective — to say more precisely, the production and management of insecurity. This work is increasingly becoming their purpose and their means of legitimation.
This use of the law satisfies two essential functions: an ideological function that provides a subjective figure who is a constant threat to security; and a practical function that continually rearranges the frontier between inside and outside, constantly creating floating identities, making those who are inside susceptible to falling outside. The legislation on immigration was initially intended to create a sub-category of French people, making floating immigrants who were born on French soil or to French parents fall into this category. The legislation on illegal immigration is intended to make legal “immigrants” fall into the undocumented category. It is the same logic that has allowed the recent use of the notion of “French of foreign origin.” And it is that same logic that is today aimed at the Roma, creating, against the principle of free circulation in the European space, a category of Europeans who are not truly Europeans, just as there are French who are not truly French. In creating these suspended identities the state isn’t embarrassed by the contradictions, like those we have seen in the measure concerning “immigrants.” On one hand, it creates discriminatory laws and forms of stigmatization based on the idea of universal citizenship and equality before the law. This then punishes and/or stigmatizes those whose practices run against the equality and universality of citizenship. But on the other hand, it creates within this citizenship discriminations for all, like that distinguishing the French “of foreign origin.” So, on one hand, all French are the same, and beware of those who are not; on the other, all are not the same, and beware of those who forget this!
Today’s racism is thus primarily a logic of the state and not a popular passion. And this state logic is primarily supported not by who knows what backward social groups but by a substantial part of the intellectual elite. The last racist campaign wasn’t at all organized by the so-called “populist” extreme-right. It was directed by an intelligentsia that claims to be Leftist, republican, and secular. Discrimination is no longer based on arguments about superior and inferior races. They argue in the name of the struggle against “communitarianism,” universality of the law and the equality of all citizens before the law, and the equality of the sexes. There again, they are not embarrassed by so many contradictions; these arguments are made by people who otherwise make very little of equality and feminism. In fact, the argument mostly creates an amalgam necessary to identify the undesirable: thus the amalgam of migrant, immigrant, backward, Islamist, male chauvinist, and terrorist. The invocation of universality in fact advances its opposite: the establishment of a discretionary state power that decides who belongs and who doesn’t belong to the class of those who have the right to be here; the power, in short, to confer and remove identities. That power has its correlate: the power to oblige individuals to be identifiable at all times, to keep themselves in a space of full visibility before the state. It is worth, from this point of view, revisiting the solution that the government found to the juridical problem posed by the banning of the burqa. It was, as we have seen, difficult to make a law specifically aimed at a few hundred people of a particular religion. The government found a solution: a law carrying a general ban on covering one’s face in public spaces, a law which at the same time was aimed at a woman wearing the full veil and a protestor wearing a mask or scarf. The scarf thus becomes a common symbol of the backward Muslim and the terrorist agitator. This solution — adopted, like many measures on immigration, with the benevolent abstention of the “Left” — is the formula given by “republican” thought. Let us remember those furious diatribes of November 2005 against those masked and hooded youths who took action night after night. Let us also remember the beginning of the Redeker affair, the philosophy professor menaced by an Islamic “fatwa.” The starting point of Robert Redeker’s furious anti-Muslim diatribe was . . . a ban on the thong at the Paris-Plage. In that ban, enacted by the mayor of Paris, he detected a measure of complaisance toward Islamism, towards a religion whose potential for hatred and violence was already manifest in the ban on public nudity. The beautiful discourse on republican secularism and universality is finally reduced to the principle that we should be entirely visible in public places, whether in the street or on the beach.
I conclude: a lot of energy has been spent against a certain figure of racism — embodied in the Front National — and a certain idea that this racism is the expression of “white trash” (“petits blancs“) and represents the backward layers of society. A substantial part of that energy has been recuperated to build the legitimacy of a new form of racism: state racism and “Leftist” intellectual racism. It is perhaps time to reorient our thinking and struggle against a theory and practice of stigmatization, precarization, and exclusion which today constitutes a racism from above: a logic of the state and a passion of the intelligentsia.
The Lisbon Earthquake on the 1st November 1755 changed the world; fatally wounding the Portuguese empire and scarring Eurocentric modernity. There was a complacency embedded within the thinking of the time, a naive belief that human perfection had been realised and the world was working in ‘pre-established harmony’. For many, the event destroyed any belief in a transcendent deity. Voltaire’s Candide brutally critiqued the optimism of the times, mocking the idea that “we live in the best of all possible worlds” and the naive teleology that holds “everything happens for a reason”.
Others, less iconoclastic than Voltaire, believed that divine reason could account for the events of 1755. Seeking to uphold their conception of God, they argued that God attacked Lisbon for its “affluence”. Such rationalisations angered many as what set Portugal apart from France and Britain?
Will ye reply: “You do but illustrate
The iron laws that chain the will of God”?
Say ye, o’er that yet quivering mass of flesh:
“God is avenged: the wage of sin is death”?
What crime, what sin, had those young hearts conceived
That lie, bleeding and torn, on mother’s breast?
Did fallen Lisbon deeper drink of vice
Than London, Paris, or sunlit Madrid?
A search for reason in the midst of such a disaster was deeply problematic. To explain mass death and destruction through the will of God proved more damaging to the theistic beliefs than supportive.
For the majority of people and for Western thought, Lisbon brought about a realisation: people needed to act to change the world, as it had not been created perfect, if created at all. Any sense of pride in the status quo was misplaced. Mastering the world through science and expanding knowledge arguably became the primary goals of Enlightenment thought. The Earth had to be accounted for naturally and understood; else man would continue to live at the whim of natural forces. Lisbon therefore revealed complacency and propelled change.
The 12th January 2010 and its aftermath has revealed the inadequacies of such change, most notably, the perpetuity of radical inequalities, racism and exploitation. Arrogance in Western “progress” is categorically misplaced; hence, all self-congratulation must halt. The victory of a black US president, if it were to be anything beyond symbolic, would at the very least have to manifest itself with an end to a racist foreign policy and discourse. Haiti reveals that our hopes remain far from realised. A black man in white America is afflicted with the same ideology of his predecessors; apparently there is a barbaric “nature” to Haitian society that requires “us” to help. The developed world’s burden is not as far away from Kipling as many want it to be. “The end of history” has not been reached, and the discourse of “civilisation” is, to my mind, undeniably colonially imbued.
The comfort blanket is off and we have to confront the cold long night that stands before us. Preventable deaths are rampant in Haiti. Thousands of people with broken limbs still await basic treatment. Thousands have yet to get aid, and the smell of death still overwhelms Port-au-Prince, reminding the people of Haiti that 230,000 is still a conservative estimate. How many will be found under the rubble, we simply cannot know.
Western compassion cannot be faulted though, can it? After all, there is competition for fundraiser singles, telethons, celebrities chartering their private jets, thousands of NGOs, doctors and services all tripping over one another on the ground. The American state has committed enough troops to massacre the remaining population, pure unadulterated altruism! What heart Obama has! It is well known that America brutally wiped out any resistance movement during their previous occupation, killing 30,000 Haitians between 1915 and 1936. I wonder what America will do now. One can bet Obama will pull the untainted euphemism of “security” out of his pocket, which will deem that it is necessary to reinstate the Haitian army, a brutal internal force used to dam the flood (to borrow a phrase from Peter Hallward).
In the late eighties a collective will formed in Haiti under the leadership of Jean-Bertrand Aristide, culminating a landslide victory in free and fair elections. This has come to be known as Lavalas (the flood). Lavalas’s victory stood for an end to dictatorial rules, totalitarian death squads and undignified existence.These goals have been systematically stifled by Western interests. Even in such dire straits as an earthquake, the self-interest of the few still overides the needs of the poor.
Bill Clinton is quoted at Davos as saying that “the opportunity to help the people of Haiti” is not simply altruistic, it is also “hugely profitable”. Naomi Klien’s Shock Doctrine is confirmed more and more with every passing disaster. The official line is: Haiti will not be forgotten and only progress can come now, after such decimation. Yet, “progress” means one thing: “making people small and governable”. Making sure the poor stay poor and that Haiti remains an investors’ paradise for multinational corporations looking for cheap labour; the audacity of the “hope” plan! The “decentralisation” of Haiti, the movement of masses of people to rural areas, should be watched with a hawk’s eye, especially when development is controlled by Clinton. If the actions we are seeing are congruent with the past, movements of Haitians to rural areas will not be a move back to the agricultural economy, it will be a disbursement of sweatshops, separated in a bid to block mobilisation and unionisation; keeping wages low and keeping Lavalas at bay.
It is natural to feel unease at reading a polemical article which holds a mirror back at the Western world. The question that needs to be asked of this piece is: is this the type of mirror you find at a funfair which throws disproportionate images back to your retina, or, is that job taken by the mainstream? Think back to the chaos of a month ago, when there was the time to act and save the thousands of lives that have now expended. Where to help and who to help became salient questions. Evidence shows that lives were measured by the prestige of the person, the colour of their skin and the depth of their pockets.
Within 24 hours of the quake striking sniffer dogs and rescue teams were tripping over one another to save the UN. Now, a month later, it is important to call a spade a spade. The UN’s role in Haiti is and has been nothing but repressive. Shooting at crowds to break up popular protests, terrorising the population, wasting resources and depriving the poor from attaining dignity. Despite this the vast majority of reporters felt the need to cover the UN as if they were more important than the Haitian people. Why is this?
The central prison of Port-au-Prince was destroyed, with thousands of prisoners breaking free. How would this effect security? “Dangerous criminals roam the streets” we were told again and again. No one thought to mention that the prison stood for repression. 85-90% of prisoners had never faced trial, many were simply politically active in support of change. For years the prison was synonymous acts of torture and despotism, yet our reporters couldn’t even bring themselves to do basic investigation. Instead it was used to incite fear of bloodthirsty anarchy ripping Haiti to pieces.
Report after report sought to justify a military mode of aid. Matt Frei’s racism did more than anything to justify to the British population the neo-colonial foreign policy that stripped Haitian’s of their autonomy. Rare scenes of looting were taken to be the status quo. Fears became facts. Discriminatory dispositions could not but view black people in desperation as anything but chaotic. Thus, the vast majority of media explicitly endorsed and supported the idea of an army to distribute aid and the implementation of martial law: resulting in the shooting of anyone with their hands full and the tragic case of Fabienne Cherisma .
In the 21st Century being Haitian, black and poor still delimits freedom. By your nature you will be considered avaricious, primitive or both. You will be excluded from the discourse of reconstruction, prohibited from helping distribute aid and be forced to wait for ‘assistance’. Deprived of dignity and autonomy all you can expect is guns and armoured vehicles in abundance.
Tranquil spectators of your brothers’ wreck,
Unmoved by this repellent dance of death
Who calmly seek the reason of such storms,
Let them but lash your own security;
Religious zealots sought to justify Lisbon through the eyes of God. 21st Century Liberalism means there is now a plurality of accounts for why the disaster strikes. Some still evoke God, who was angry at the “Black Magic” of Haiti, or their “pact with the devil” in order to throw off the French. Obama talked of the “feeling” of being “forsaken”. Others found reason in the “opportunities” that present themselves.
“But let it lash our security”, we cannot rationalise what we have seen. We cannot sweep it under the carpet or subsume it into our current modes of thought. Foreign policy, debt structuring, aid, conceptions of democracy, notions of “free press”…all have to be readdressed after Haiti.
Haiti demands nothing less than a rupture with our self-congratulatory dispositions. A country burdened with debt, punished for its insistence on self-determination and egalitarianism has now been ravaged by a natural disaster. Families have been destroyed, hundreds of thousands are dead, 2 million are homeless, thousands are starving to death or dying from preventable diseases and to top it all off, hurricane season is around the corner. We cannot explain this away, we cannot rationalise it and we definitely cannot miss what it has revealed. Reason cannot be found, truths can. The truth that can be affirmed above all else is: we do not live in the best of all possible worlds. The battle for justice is far from over and we have got a lot of work to do to ensure that the Haitian people will no longer suffer the effects of a racism that is clearly still endemic and radical inequalities that have yet to be addressed.