The Far-Right: Pathology of Capital

A guest post from Rick Saull, who is Senior Lecturer in International Politics at Queen Mary, University of London. He has written on a range of topics from the international relations of revolutions to the Cold War and the geopolitical consequences of the 2008 global economic crisis. More recently he has focused on the international political dimensions of the far-right, co-editing The Longue Durée of the Far-Right (Routledge, 2014) which has just been published, and on which this post draws. He can be contacted here.


The politics of the far-right are unlikely to disappear any time soon. Unlike its historical foe on the left – social democratic or otherwise – which has continued to be characterised by a combination of disintegration and disorientation as it continues to implement neoliberalism, the far-right persists through exercising a toxic but powerful influence on political debate across mature capitalist democracies (and beyond). How are we to make sense of the persistence of the far-right and explain its recent reinvigoration? What analytical framework offers the best, way of explaining the distinct trajectories of far-right currents of politics across different historical periods? This blog post will try to address these questions through outlining an understanding of the contemporary far-right as a pathology of capital best explained through a framework based on an international historical sociology (IHS). Before I do that it makes sense to mention what the main alternative frameworks on the far-right tells us.

The academic discussion of the far-right is dominated by approaches grounded within the mainstream assumptions of bourgeois social science. Thus, it is the methodological nationalism of comparative politics combined with the literature on the history of ideas that are intellectually hegemonic. In the former, the far-right is assessed and compared across different states according to a quantitative grid of electoral performance, voter shares, opinion poll data and definitional attributes centred on ‘Europhobia’, anti-immigration hysteria and ‘welfare nativism’. In the latter, the fetish of definitional taxonomies prevails through the gradations of ‘neo-fascism’, the ‘extreme’, ‘far’, ‘radical’, populist’ and/or ‘reactionary’ right that are dissected via an examination of speeches and pronouncements to gauge the ideological coherence of said party or movement usually related to the core criteria of fascism.

This has resulted in an endless search for an ‘objective’ or ‘minimal’ definition of the far-right – an academic cottage industry in itself – which serves to freeze and simplify the far-right instead of viewing it as an evolving socio-political movement. Further, in spite of the need to treat ideas seriously it has resulted in analytical contortions to the effect that the far-right – in its fascist incarnation at least – can be seen as ‘revolutionary’ phenomena comparable to communism. This can be seen in the way in which the doyens of political science in organizations such as the ‘Extremism and Democracy’ Standing Group of the European Consortium on Political Research appear to mimic the assumptions of Cold War liberalism’s use of the concept of ‘totalitarianism’ by treating the ‘extremist threats to democracy’ from the far-left and far-right as part of the same analytical exercise thus blurring their distinct and antagonist dynamics.

Continue reading

Resistance to Global LGBT Norms

International Relations is not normally thought of as the go-to place for lessons on the protection of gays, lesbians, trans, bi and queer people. But in recent times, it has been possible to get the impression that something about the practice of international politics has changed; that norms regarding sexual orientation and gender identity were gaining prominence and exerting discernible influence. In politics and policy making, one could point to the Yogyakarta principles. In mainstream IR theory, one could assess the steady stream of work that has arisen from theories of norm change and entrepreneurship and consider how they might apply to the LGBT case.

yogyakarta-principles

The Secretary General of the United Nations has launched a campaign for the protection of the human rights of LGBT people (with its own Bollywood movie clip!) He has said that the protection of human rights is “one of the great, neglected human rights challenges of our time.” In 2011, the UN released its first ever report (pdf) into the human rights of LGBT people. It states that:

a pattern of human rights violations emerges that demands a response. Governments and inter-governmental bodies have often overlooked violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The mandate of the Human Rights Council requires it to address this gap: the Council should promote “universal respect for the protection of all human rights and fundamental freedoms for all, without distinction of any kind and in a fair and equal manner. (see here, paragraph 2)

The question of how “Governments and inter-governmental bodies” might go about looking at and responding to violence and rights abuse against LGBT people is a complex one. Knee-jerk responses that impose aid conditionality measures, such as that suggested by UK PM David Cameron in the case of Uganda, are probably the least helpful route. Nonetheless, some form of conditionality, or assessment of the rights afforded to LGBT peoples, has become a standard within the repertoire of pro-LGBT rights states and their foreign policy advocates. Continue reading

Among the Atavists

If there is one especially lazy characterization among the many about Scotland’s independence referendum, it is the description of the Yes movement as motivated by ‘atavistic ethnic tribalism’ or the like. Toss a pebble at the UK commentariat and you will come across it soon enough: from the Guardian to the Financial Times, the argument is the same. Britain is the outward-looking future, an independent Scotland a reversion to the barbaric past.

Taken literally, the idea of reverting to a period before Scot and Englishman jointly exported the apparatus of colonial power and racial supremacy they forged in Ireland to the rest of the world does not seem at all regressive. One can scarcely imagine an Indian or Ghanaian, for example, objecting to the move on these grounds. In the same breath as condemning the Yes campaign’s alleged ethnic tribalism, Unionist commentators give as their prime reason for retaining the UK its 300 years of success. Of what, in large part, does that success consist? Why, expanding into other territories and enforcing a hierarchy by which the indigenous inhabitants were plundered of their resources and denied self-government on the grounds of their alleged genetic or cultural inferiority. A textbook case of ethnic nationalism, you might say. One might think that someone celebrating centuries of such behaviour would baulk at condemning the ‘tribalism’ of others.

There is no insincerity in such condemnations. We can have no doubt that when Sir Jeremy Greenstock says of the referendum:

in this ­complex, unpredictable and sometimes threatening environment, the instinct to return to the tribe is understandable. Yet it is creating momentum for global chaos.

he believes it. So profound a substratum is British nationalism that men such as these, its prime beneficiaries, cannot see that their tribe – easily identified by its common modes of dress, speech and rituals of adolescent sequestration – dominate all the institutions of the British state and therefore articulate their interests as universal. Were a Kenyan of Gikuyu heritage, or a Syrian of the Alawite faith to do the same, we can imagine what would be made of her.

Continue reading

Logistics, Capitalist Circulation, Chokepoints

We must learn to practice a systematic form of disloyalty to our own local civilization if we seek either to understand it or to interact equitably with others formed elsewhere.

- Paul Gilroy, After Empire

Three weeks ago, protestors and activists mounted the longest and most successful port blockade of an Israeli ship in history: on August 16 and in solidarity with Palestine, organizers of Block the Boat for Gaza led between two to three thousand protestors in a raucous march toward the port of Oakland. Then on August 17, 18, and 19th, as the Israeli ship Zim Piraeus attempted to unload its goods on U.S. shores, activists continued to form picket lines at the port’s gateways. The port’s longshoremen, continuing International Longshore and Warehouse Union’s long legacy of radical politics, honored the picket and refused to unload the boat not once, but twice. The Zim Piraeus sat impotently on the dock for four days straight. Then, without having unloaded a single container, the ship turned around, and went back to where it came from.

Block the Boat for Gaza has since swept the West Coast, spawning similar blockades of Israeli Zim ships in Los Angeles and Long Beach, Seattle, and Tacoma.

Block the Boat Free Gaza

These actions were not the first of their kind by any means. Port blockades have long played a role in the protest of various regimes of power: they were part of boycott strategies against South African Apartheid in 1983, the WTO ministerial in Seattle in 1999, and Mugabe’s government in Zimbabwe in 2007. Not just the domain of longshore workers alone, as many as 25,000 protestors from the hinterland turned up to shut down the port of Oakland on 2 November 2011, during the thick of the Occupy movement. In Hongkong, Chile, Marseille, Durban, Karachi, and Sokhna, similar large-scale port blockades and strikes have occurred in the past two years – often in solidarity with far-flung struggles not immediately related to workers’ self-interest. Coordinated across a range of labor pools, these solidarity struggles have been not only international in their distribution, but also in their demands for global justice.

What are we to make of such episodes of popular protest, its force derived from ordinary people, yet capable of grounding economic flows to a halt? What do the global dimensions of such struggles suggest about the relations between capital production and circulation, and more importantly, the possibilities for its disruption? Are they representative of global plans for solidarity, or only autonomous and scattered instances of protest?

Continue reading

New World Disorders

UPDATE (9 October): And now welcoming Jairus Grove!


Old But Not Wise

We are almost four years old. Four! And like any unnatural creature, we require the lifeblood of others to survive. And the odd bit of cosmetics for our decaying visage. Thus there is a new look, and a joyous bundle of new residents to introduce. Those that have visited with us before are already featured on that there sidebar, and will be joined by the rest as posts tumble forth.

Please be upstanding in your welcome for the following chumrades:

  • Michael John Bloomfield teaches international political economy and environmental politics at the University of Oxford, with a focus on commodity chains, activist networks and business power. His current research project examines the political economy of tea in Sri Lanka. Do not confuse him with the American astronaut of the same name.
  • Charmaine Chua is a Ph.D. Candidate at the University of Minnesota, where she toils over critical political economy, postcolonial theory, logistics, and the international division of labor. In the next year, she will be conducting field research with activists and maritime workers in Long Beach, Singapore, and on a 90,000 ton container ship traveling from Los Angeles to Taiwan. She plans to climb containers for sport in between interviews.
  • Jairus Victor Grove teaches the future at the University of Hawai’i at Manoa. Receiving his PhD from John Hopkins, his work has since encompassed cybernetics, drone war, materialism (the new kind), improvised explosive devices, and ecology, all by way of political theory. There are ways to leverage contemporary technologies in order to hear his voice and see his face.
  • Laleh Khalili teaches and researches Middle East politics at the School of Oriental and African Studies. Her latest book is Time In The Shadows: Confinement in Counterinsurgencies, which last year also happened to win both the Susan Strange best book prize from BISA and the International Political Sociology best book prize at ISA. You can also follow her intellectual adventures in the politics of transport infrastructure at The Gamming.

Want to Deprovincialize Your Political Theory Syllabus a Little? What I Learned at APSA

ibn_khaldoun_timbr

American Political Science Association (APSA) annual conventions typically offer a rich selection of pre-conference short courses. This time I went to “Deparochializing Political Theory.” Sponsored by Steven Johnston and Michaele Ferguson and organized by Emily Beausoleil, this course offered two excellent sessions on how to enrich your political theory syllabus with ‘non-western’ content. Loubna El-Amin spoke about Chinese political thought, and Michaelle Browers on Arab and Islamic political thought. These are my course notes from last week, in a Q&A form. My gratitude goes to Michaelle and Loubna for letting me copy/paste from their course materials.

Continue reading

Rendition and Exception in the Carceral Archipelago

Given half the chance
They danced around the truth
For most of my youth
Like you’re really going to jump off that roof
You lived your life
In a perfect paradise
The sun always shone
On your beaches with lies

- Leatherface, ‘Diego Garcia’ (2010)

Diego Garcia US Navy SeaBees

In October 2005, then Foreign Office Minister Kim Howells stood before Parliament and reported that the UK government had granted no requests for extraordinary rendition in any part of British territory or airspace, and was aware of no such use. Critics – who suspected that the UK was indeed complicit in rendition for torture – pressed the point. So in December Jack Straw, who was Foreign Secretary, explained that “careful research” within government had turned up no evidence of renditions since 9/11 in UK spaces (land, air, or sea) and, again, no requests. The very next day Straw was giving evidence to the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, and was asked about the possibility of an investigation along similar lines as other EU states. Came the forceful reply:

I do not think that there is any case whatsoever for such an investigation here…I did what it is my duty to do, which is to provide a thorough comprehensive answer. That has been done. It has produced a nil return. Unless we all start to believe in conspiracy theories and that the officials are lying, that I am lying, that behind this there is some kind of secret state which is in league with some dark forces in the United States, and also let me say, we believe that Secretary Rice is lying, there simply is no truth in the claims that the United Kingdom has been involved in rendition full stop, because we have not been, and so what on earth a judicial inquiry would start to do I have no idea.

Conspiracies! Dark forces. Lies and secret states, no less. By January 2006, Howells was again reporting to MPs that all relevant Foreign Office records and recollections had been checked, implying that no proof of rendition had been discovered. Two years later David Miliband, who replaced Straw, was forced to admit that two renditions in fact did pass through the island of Diego Garcia in 2002 (Blair, pathetically: “We have just been informed by the United States of America about what has actually happened”). Suspicions were somewhat confirmed, but it was all a long time ago, and there was a change of Prime Minister, and then of government. While rendition-torture didn’t exactly go away, it faded from view. But it has resurfaced. Last month we discovered that some crucial records are incomplete due to ‘water damage’. Because if you have files pertinent to a major foreign policy controversy, why not store them that badly? Never mind that Ministers had previously argued that they wouldn’t be keeping notes anyway, and had to rely on assurances from the Americans (an “error” in US records was the culprit). Kettle logic, again.

Continue reading