Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Variant 32 (Summer 2008)

Variant used to turn up from somewhere in Scotland in nearby pigeon holes in large numbers and stay piled up for ages before the final straggly copies would be chucked away by some public spirited colleague. The hard copy version was always hard to read, such small print. Now it comes by email, althuogh you can still get the print version. Printing it off gave me 80 pages (but at least in a decent sized font), but I could have got PDF or text versions of individual articles. The content deserves attention.

There's an interview with Pierre Boudieu by R.P.Droi and T.Ferenczi, reprinted from Le Monde in 1992. Variant frames 'The Left Hand and the Right Hand of the State' as a metaphor that illuminates the impact of neoliberalism on social democratic politics in both Fance and Britain and the question of 'how the public interest and the common good can be manifested under the conditions of corporate and financial globalisation, even as proponents of competitive nationalism launch manifestos for cultural rejuvenation in the global marketplace'.

In 'Craven New World' Tom Jennings critically and very interestingly reviews a number of recent dystopian films, starting with the documentary Taking Liberties, which I thought was quite useful, but is here presented as hysterical and 'wallowing in middle-class moral superiority and outrage' and a 'reciope for apathy'. Oh dear, I'll have to see it again to see why I was so so wrong. But really Jennings is using Taking Liberties to get onto science fictional takes on our sleepwalk into what I undanely refer to a surveillance society and he calls Unpleasantville. This includes Manu Luksch's Faceless, made out of CCTV footage, with people's faces obscured. Less obscure is Alfonso Cuaron's Children of Men, which gets praised for its cinematography and damned for its story and politics - the P.D.James source Chrsitian-Tory novel must have something to do with that. But I would still praise the film for showing that the dystopia has its roots in the here and now, and was impressed by a revolutionaries comment that it showed the left divided. Then there's the BBC series, The Last Enemy, here described as hokum. Jennings has a theme, which is the occlusion of the 'indigenous excluded' in favour of middle-class agency. And this is the ground on which he praises the Channel 4 Moses/Promised Land film Exodus by Penny Woolcock before damning it as a 'botched conception'. All in all an excellent thought-provoking theoreticized review that'll make me check out other writings by the guy.

John Barker's 'Structural Greed: The ‘Credit Crunch’' is a competent, detailed and useful assessment of the origins and consequences of this financial 'crisis' - so small (relative to the size of the finacial economy), but so persistent. The conclusion is that capitalism isn't going to collapse, but can be challenged and needs to be challenged ideologically.

Liam O'Ruarc (a name I'm sure I'm familiar with from Weekly Worker) writes 'Reading is an argument: Althusser’s commandment, conjecture and contradiction', which seems like a sophisticated defence of his theoretical legacy.

'Hindutva, Modi, and The Tehelka Tapes: The Communal Threat to Indian Secularism' by Neil Gray provides a detailed critique of Hindutva and its organisational vectors - the BJP, VHP, RSS, etc. as "... a communalist Hindu Nationalist ideology seeking to equate the very idea of ‘Indian-ness’ with ‘Hindu-ness’..." in the context of "... neo-liberal advocates and boosters, fronted by the bought media worldwide ... busy extolling the ‘competitive’ and ‘dynamic’ virtues of India’s de-regulated economy...". This follows the publication in Tehelka magazine of damaging revelations after a journalist infiltrated a right-wing Hindu organisation and recorded all manners of extreme nastiness, including revelations about participation in the anti-Muslim pogrom in Gujarat in 2002.

Alex Law reviews Nick Davies' Flat Earth News and David Miller & William Dinan's Century of Spin in 'Propaganda Compliant Society'. It's a good piece of debunking liberal illusions about the media - and the nature of Scottish society - except for a gratuitous and ungrounded attack on those 'left wing and liberal nationalists' like Billy Bragg, Jeremy Paxman snd Paul Kingsnorth, which makes the immediate error of confusing England and Scotland.

In 'Fortress Britain' Muhammad Idrees Ahmad provides a detailed critique of the role of the media in assisting the escalating militarisation of the British state in the name of fighting terrorism. A fe times i wanted more specific referencing and the presentation of the supposed plot to explode many aircraft on August 10th 2006 veers a bit too near conspiracy theory with a reference to the scare succeeding in deflecting attention from Blair's role in preventing a ceasefire in Lebanon.

Neil Davidson writes about 'Nationalism and Neoliberalism'. He starts with the position of von Mises in which nationalism is seen as natural, but a potential threat to the operations of the free market. He moves on to neoliberalism, quoting David Harvey to the effect that "the neoliberal state needs nationalism of a certain sort to survive'. Davidson provides a good summary of neoliberalism and its contexts and accepts the reality of globalization. He's right about neoliberalism being a political choice, and a choice that is harder to avoid, but when he says 'Unlike factories, money can be moved..' he shows that he doesn't quite get either material production or financalization in the globalized context of contemporary capitalism. I'd also say the perspective that neoliberalism has failed because it hasn't re-created the conditions of the Long Boom is a long mistaken SWP trope: it's about managing conditions after the Boom, not the comparison with the boom years. Davidson goes on to consider the necessity of nationalism as an ideological corollary of capitalism as the 'constituent parts' of the capitalist class needs to retain its territorial base. But Davidson is mixing up, or at least not separating carefully enough, state policies and popular ideologies. He's got a case, but i'm not convinced by what turns into a mixture of quote-mongering and reductionism. I'm being critical here, but actually this a piece that is well-worth reading and thinking about.

And finally there is a very positive review of Arun Kundnani's The End of Tolerance by Daniel Jewesbury, both the praise and criticism seems very apt and reasons for reading the book.

All in all much of value and importance in this Variant.



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