Pop-Up Neoliberalism

Welcome to the Olympic Park

I went today to see the Orbital, the monument by Anish Kapoor erected at the London Olympic Park. Or rather I didn’t because, as you can see above, people are not allowed in at the moment, while the majority of the site is being demolished and removed. What they suggest is going to the department store John Lewis to have a look from their windows. The whole place looked shabby and sad, leaving the Orbital as a memorial to pop-up neoliberalism.

I’ve been following the ArcelorMittal steel company that paid for the Orbital throughout a long-running strike in France, which has recently led to a recent showdown with the new Socialist government. However, almost all the UK media insisted that the Olympics were a grand triumph of Britishness and any such discussions were considered all but treason.

Get out to Stratford now and it’s not very uplifting. You can only dimly see the park through screens as you leave the station. You then have to walk through a branded shopping mall of the Prada/Hugo Boss variety. I went into one shop to get a pencil and, as I was just about the only person there, I got into a talk with the shop assistants. It turned out that these upscale segments were “pop-ups” and would be kept open only until Christmas Eve, when they would be taken down and all the staff would lose their jobs. Lovely timing, that. A nasty young manager, who obviously had a degree in marketing, came over to silence this unprofitable conversation between human beings. I went out to the back of the fancy shops and, sure enough, they were just jacked up boxes.

Pop up shops

The structure itself will disappear, as the Olympic site across the road already is doing, having ceased to be able to make a profit.

Not a hurricane, the end of the Olympic Park

Denied access to the park, I walked in the cold to try and get to see the Orbital. The architects had clearly thought about how to monetize even a sight of the place because the sidewalks were parapeted with little Berlin walls to prevent you from catching an unauthorized glimpse at 500 metres.

Nothing for you to see here

As you can see, a bit further down, the top of the wall was now lowered so you could see Mr Kapoor’s masterpiece. It’s a odd duck and no mistake.

Orbital by Anish Kapoor

Formally, it’s a mess with the extension from bottom left off into space on the right distracting and breaking the flow of the piece. It looks better from the other side, as I saw later from the train, but I couldn’t photograph through the glass. Even so, what is this? There’s a viewing platform on top of what looks like one of those terrifying circular exits to European car parks. The spectacle is, simply, the spectacle. Or was.

Except now that the tents have literally been folded, the view is of Stratford, an as-yet ungentrified part of the East End. Were you to get up to the top, you would see views like this if you looked east:


Of course, you’re not supposed to look this way. You were to look at the Olympic Stadium next door, smaller than I expected, or best of all towards the skyline of the City of London, home of all the most egregious scams of neoliberalism from CDOs to LIBOR and who knows what else.

Kapoor claimed an affinity with Taitlin’s legendary Monument to the Third International. Hogwash. What it actually looks like is a folded-in combination of the characters for pounds, dollars and euros: £/ $/ €. So I suppose that in a way, it really was the most appropriate monument that there could have been.

The Anatomy of Capitalism

There are eight of them around the livid corpse. It is a display of imperial power to a paying and wealthy audience. All but one them ignores the body. They look instead at the open book at the right hand side. Or in two instances, out at us, the onlookers. Another man, closest to us, takes a sideways glance. Meanwhile the one man touching the body with his metal implement looks high and away into the ether, astonished by his own sublimity.

These are, they have no doubt, Great Men. They don’t know the phrase “great men make history” because it will be said two hundred years into their future, but if they did, they would agree with it. The G8. The Great. Who are resolutely trying not to notice the death in their presence. Let’s call that death Capitalism. It’s an odd death because the G8 are trying to learn about life from it from the dissection and the anatomy lesson.

But these are contemporaries of John Donne. They do not ask for whom the bell tolls because they know very well. It’s for them, just as much as it is for the living dead corpse of Capitalism in front of them. Like the vampire, capitalism dies in a regular cycle, returning to a passive state of money before it goes off on the rampage again. The Great have always been confident that they know how to raise the corpse. Only now, some two hundred and fifty odd years into their undead lives, they are not so certain.

The tricks they have tried in the past have not moved the corpse in the way they have come to expect. But they are undead too and they have no others. Free trade, they say. Less regulation. Yet more tax cuts. But the ones looking out, rather than fixing their gaze at the book of all truths–maybe it’s now Ayn Rand they look at–know that things are not going so well. The corpse is that of a man named Aris Kindt, a thief. One of their own. So they cannot look at him.

Out in front of this scene was Rembrandt once. He painted them in The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Tulp (1632). In its frozen tableau are both the certainty and fears of emerging capitalism. This weekend I found the painting reproduced in a book that I had first read many years ago by W. G. Sebald, called The Rings of Saturn. Having trouble sleeping, as I often do these days, I opened it and at once began coughing from its dust and the already decaying pages of the cheap British paperback.

Sebald lived in the U.K. although he was German by descent and wrote in that language. He is the supreme writer of melancholy, a German haunted by the twentieth century and living on the wind-swept marshes of East Anglia. Rings of Saturn begins by a meditation on The Anatomy Lesson and Sebald’s speculation that one of the eight was Thomas Browne, a poet of melacholy. Browne did one visit Tulp’s displays of erudition for the wealthy bourgeois of Amsterdam, so why not say that he is painted here?

As I tried to sleep, the image shifted in my mind, linked to the contemporary Anatomy of Melancholy by Richard Burton, and became the Anatomy of Capitalism. But that is to say the same thing. Melancholia, Freud reminds us, is mourning that has not been resolved. It is our refusal to let go of the lost object that keeps us in a state of melancholy, a condition in which we see ghosts. Which is not to say that the ghosts are not real. Must a ghost, I thought, always do the same thing? Hamlet’s father chooses when to speak and when not to speak. So does that other ghost that haunted Europe first but the United States later and more scarily, das Gespenst der Kommunismus, the ghost of communism. That ghost has had little to say for quite a while. Is it not once again in the wings, awaiting its entrance?

Why, I wondered, do those three Dutch merchants look out at us like that? Are they afraid we know something they don’t? Are they worried that we might come in and mic check the anatomy lesson? Or are they just keeping us in our place, the place allocated to us from which we may look at them and nothing else? In its lights and darks, with sharp perspectives, the scene is all about who can see what from where and what they make of it. What does Aris Krindt see as he lies there with his neck broken by strangulation–so civilized, Holland–looking up into the jowls of the burghers and their hipster goatees?

Austerity Intensifies

How’s it going for austerity? Mass unemployment, rising interest rates, higher taxes and strikes, since you ask. Today brought grim news for the 99% in Greece, Ireland and Portugal. And the Eurozone as a whole returned to recession in the third quarter. While US media seem to want to keep this crisis off the front pages till November 7, make no mistake. This crisis is our crisis–we, the 99%, not the US.

So let’s do the rounds. In Greece, the Troika are getting cute about when they will release the next tranche of aid to the strapped government. We’re talking €31.5 billion, which in terms of global finance is really chump change. If Goldman Sachs needed this amount, the Fed would have it to them by close of business but as it’s just people not getting paid or having access to services, who cares? A delay has the additional benefit of postponing any crisis till after the US elections. It seems that global austerity apparatchiks are rooting for Obama.

In Ireland the de facto state-owned Allied Irish Bank raised mortgage rates for its customers by 0.5% despite the global recession, in order to raise more money to balance its books. One in five Irish homeowners have their mortgages there and now have to continue to bail out the bank, even after its €21 billion bail out. This is the second increase in six months, even as European Central Bank rates remain very low. The Irish Central Bank reported today that the property market would not even begin to recover till 2018 and it might take till 2029 for a full recovery. Unemployment, as everywhere, remains high for the foreseeable future. Occupy Dame Street (the Irish Occupy) held a sit-in at AIB to protest (above).

In Portugal, official unemployment is about 14% and set to rise to over 16% over the next year. But in order to bail out the banks, the government raised taxes today. While there were some higher taxes for the wealthy, there were numerous redistributive measures, such as moving more people into higher tax brackets; a new income tax surcharge of 4% on individual income; and a rise in the “average income tax rate” will rise from 9.8% to 11.8%,

In response Portugal’s CGTP union, which extends across many trades and professions, has called a general strike for November 14:

This is an authentic programme of aggression against the workers and the people …The consequences for the workers and their families are brutal — general impoverishment, drastic worsening of living conditions and life expectancy.

The graffiti above calls for the fall of Prime Minister Passos but the Troika will come with their demands no matter who is in office.

Debt refusal, debt strike, debt abolition: call it what you will, it’s the only way forward that doesn’t further impoverish the 99% to bail out the banks.

On October 13, make some noise, end the racket!

The Global Debt Resistance


Another day, another enormous resistance to the neo-liberal austerity regime. Today it was Greece, yesterday Spain. before that Portugal. Now a media and governmental meme is emerging in which it is said that “only” the periphery of Europe are in trouble and that the “strong” countries are doing well. It is hinted that Greece can and should leave the Euro. This is all bravado.

In “strong” France, it was announced today that unemployment has passed the three million mark. Despite the socialist victory in the Presidential elections, French activists see a continuity of austerity. I’m translating below a call to action on October 13 issued by the Paris Assembly of Démocratie réelle maintenant, the French equivalent to Spain’s Democracia Real Ya! Anti-debt groups across Europe and in the Americas are now working to co-ordinate a call for O13. Can what we used to call the left finally get its global act together?

Here’s the French call, translated rather literally, to be true to the original, which centers on the “casseroles” used in Montréal, the banging of pots and pans (all emphasis original):

Citizens! Into the Streets and To the Casseroles to Cancel Illegitimate Debt!

Debt is a racket!

Closure of schools and hospitals, reduction or suppression in social services, increased sales tax, absence of affordable housing…Such politics of austerity, applied for years in Latin America and Africa, are now current in the European Union. No population has been or will be spared, with the most precarious being the first affected. The situation is serious: let’s wake up!

Austerity claims to be legitimate because it results from excessive expenditures on benefits…In reality, sovereign debt comes from both the savagery of private banks since the 2008 crisis and the numerous fiscal gifts to the richest and to corporations for decades.

The debt also results from the excessive interest rates that we pay to private banks from whom the State borrows to finance itself, since it can no longer borrow from the Central Bank. The total debt results from compound interest built up over the past forty years!

The public debt is odious when we are told to reimburse the same people who are responsible for the crisis and who have not ceased to enrich themselves since.

The public debt is not legitimate when it impoverishes us, the 99%, in order to sustain private and unwarranted lenders.

To pay the public debt is just to produce… private debt: that of students, those in precarious housing, the sick, workers, the unemployed, farmers, undocumented immigrants, as well as all those who have to pay the individual price of the dismanteling of public services and benefits.

To continue with growth at all costs imposed by the blackmail of debt is also to increase our ecological debt, which, far more than the public debt, is what’s really at stake in the 21st century.

Where is democracy if we cannot say NO to that which is in the interest only of the privileged and when collusion reigns between them and those who govern us? Where is democracy when all future debate and politics is barred by European treaties, the latest of which, known as the Budget Treaty, is even now in the course of ratification by our so-called “representatives”?

The abolition of illegitimate debt must also be extended to other countries: we demand that the French state cease to shake down other nations in the name of odious debt, which they have already largely repaid, while we continue to pillage their wealth. We won’t pay illegitimate debt, not here or elsewhere! The only legitimate debt that we have is to respond to the call of the African [President] Thomas Sankara to create a global front against debt.

October 13 is a global day of action! Paris, rise up, everyone in the streets with your casseroles for a great unity march from Goldman Sachs to the Assemblée Nationale [Parliament/Congress]: stop the European budget treaty, cancel illegitimate debt here and elsewhere.

After the march, we will meet in an assembly to discuss alternative futures and to build common outcomes from the mobilization.

So there are a couple of points to note here. Obviously this is a more substantive and less media-oriented press release than is now common in the Anglophone world. And the focus is at first more on sovereign (or public) debt. The analysis moves into full agreement with global debt campaigns as it highlights how public debt produces private debt at the expense of developing nations and the biosphere. What might just be happening here is the formation of global anti-capitalist movement with a common theme. I find that idea more than a little intriguing.


Que se vayan todos!

It’s time for them all to go. Who? The global neo-liberal Goldman Sachs-dominated financial elite. Around the world, it’s clear that people are coming to this conclusion and for good reason. In Portugal mass demonstrations forced the government to backtrack on cuts and raise taxes instead. In Egypt, workers are meeting in assemblies. What’s happening is a widespread withdrawal of consent to be governed in the name of austerity, cuts and finance. There are alternative programs emerging. The last year and a half was the warm up. Now it begins.

Egyptian car workers

I spent the morning reading about the civil rights movement as part of Strike Debt’s project to think about how to expand and build its campaign. Then I get online to see what’s going on in Spain, and there it is, happening. Today was a day of action 25S/S25 in which the Congress was encircled.

You wanted demands? They have demands:

– The dismissal of the entire government, as well as the dismissal of the Court and the Leadership of the State, because of betraying the country and the whole community of citizens. This was done in premeditation and is leading us to the disaster.

– The beginning of a constitutional process in a transparent and democratic way, with the goal of composing a new Constitution

They want the elimination of all remnants of Franco-ism and the beginning of a new democracy and sustainable employment. Central to that process is the citizens’ audit of debt:

– The audit and control of the public debt of Spain, with moratorium (delay) of debt’s payment until there is a clear demarcation of the parts which not have to be paid by the nation, because they have been served private interests using the country for their own goals, instead the well being of the whole Spanish community

This is the outline of a political alternative, one that could operate state power, albeit in a very different way.

It was in order to visualize that claim that the massive encircling of Congress took place today. It began earlier with a rally in the Avenida del Prado at the center of Madrid. Here’s a video (HT Marina Sitrin):

They’re chanting: “They don’t represent us.” Indeed they don’t with official unemployment at 24% and poverty at 22%.

They moved off to Congress:

To Congress

There were, shall we say, quite a few people there by the time they arrived and established the circle.

The police behaved with typical restraint.

But as often as the police waded into the crowd, they reformed, sat down and held the ground. Their chants reflected the manifesto: “It isn’t a crisis, it’s a fraud!” and “This is not a democracy, it is a Mafia.”

Ugly Naked Man with a sign: “Life Without Hope in Madrid”

The tunes were often ones used at soccer matches, together with classic left slogans like “El pueblo unido jamas sera vencido.” These are forms of social connection that Occupy in the US can’t really draw on. Attending professional sport is a luxury event here, as is class activism. The Indignados are activists because they activate such patterns of social life. NFL referees can go on strike–NY state workers cannot.

If Occupy is to follow, it will have to learn how to cross the color lines that still prevent social activism from cohering here. It’s not that social conditions are different. Poverty in New York City, center of global capitalism, stands at 21% and the top 20% make an incredible 38 times the income of the bottom 20%. Madrid’s unemployment rate is 18.6%, while it reaches 13% in parts of New York like the Bronx, with much more stringent conditions and shorter eligibility. Of course, that difference is both  marked by and defines racialized hierarchy in the US. That’s the task ahead on this side of the Atlantic.

For the Indignados, today was simply a step on the road to the Global Day of Action on October 13, preceded by  O12’s celebration of America Latina Indignada or Occupy Latin America! Which makes sense because this refusal to be governed by neo-liberalism follows in the wake of similar Latin American refusals from Argentina to Bolivia and Chile. As so often, resistance moves from the decolonial regions to the former colonial metropole.

Last March, Madrid led and New York followed in September. Can we close the gap this time?

Revenge of the Water Spirits: The Drowning of Capitalism

There’s an amazing moment in Spike Lee’s film about Hurricane Katrina, When the Levees Break. Labor organizer Fred Johnston recalls a conversation with a friend in which they agree that Katrina was caused by spirits angry about the loss of African lives during the Middle Passage. The simbi (water spirits) are getting their revenge all right: they’re going to drown capitalism.

Johnston was referring to the “many thousands gone” who died or self-killed during the hellish journey from Africa to slavery. There were infamous moments like the voyage of the Zong, during which the captain threw 138 enslaved people overboard to lighten his load during a storm. And then claimed insurance on them. Turner rendered the scene in his classic painting usually known as The Slave Ship, just after the abolition of slavery.

You can see the presence of the formerly enslaved suspended in the water in the foreground, caught between life and death, between freedom and slavery. The painting suspends realism (because a person weighted with iron thrown into the sea will sink immediately) in order to give proper weight to the moment. At the far right you can see a curious water monster approaching, Turner’s intuitive understanding of the simbi.

For African diaspora cultures have visualized the world as a cosmogram in which the living are separated from the spirits by the ocean. The ocean is a barrier we cross twice, once at birth and again at death, in a cycle that continues. Thus a child’s birth would be celebrated on the eighth day of life, once the spirit had made the decision to remain in the world of the living. For the enslaved, self-killing was a rational choice because it entailed the return of the spirit and its subsequent rebirth in Africa.

On the island of Martinique, the sculptor Laurent Valère has created a powerful monument to three hundred Africans drowned with their slave ship in a storm after they had led a successful revolt.

Laurent Valère, Monument at Anse Cafard, Martinique

The hunched figures are arranged in a triangle evoking the Atlantic triangle created by slavery, looking across the sea in the direction of Africa. They are white, the color of death and of mourning. They have not been sleeping. They have been biding their time.

Now the economic system that sent the slave ships is set to drown in its turn. It is no coincidence that the spirits sent Isaac seven years to the day after Katrina.

Flooding in New Orleans

The point with these Anthropocene hurricanes is not the wind but the water. Like Katrina, Isaac is bringing huge amounts of water with it. As global warming develops, the warm air holds more water vapor. As the ice-caps melt, there is more water in the ocean. As the oceans warm, there is more energy for a storm system to draw on. Put these three together and you have the new once-a-year “storm of the century.”

By 3pm, there had already been nearly ten inches of rain in New Orleans. The storm surge was twelve and a half feet in Plaquemines Parish and some people have had to be rescued off the rooftops. In New York, half-an-inch of rain leads untreated sewage to be flushed directly into the rivers and oceans. We learned last year that a storm surge of five feet would flood much of Manhattan. When–not if–that happens, it’s not going to matter who is in charge of Zuccotti Park–it will belong to the water spirits.

Despite the levee overtoppings, the floods and the massive loss of power, New Orleans is surviving Isaac. But only because $14.5 billion was spent defending it in the last seven years, on top of a century of levee building. What will it take to defend the entire Eastern seaboard? It doesn’t matter, no one will spend it.

Capitalism has been blithely indifferent to climate change. Why? Look at this diagram. On top, the world mapped by quantity of emissions. On the bottom, the world mapped by likely consequences of climate change.

The Lancet, 2009

So it’s easy to see the calculation: the US, Europe and Japan get off lightly, Africa and Asia pay the price, who cares? Only this was made on the basis of the now evidently conservative IPCC reports. This summer has shown a far more accelerated melting of the Arctic ice than anyone has previously predicted. The total disappearance of Arctic ice in summer is now expected by 2030, far sooner than ever imagined. No one really knows what the consequences will be but they will not be good. It’s going to mean flooding becomes the new normal, rain for months on end for some, and drought for others. Just like we’ve been seeing this summer, in fact, with 63% of the U.S. in drought, while other places have flooded.

And what are our lords and masters doing? Debating how to divide the drilling rights in the Arctic. George Monbiot reports:

The companies which caused this disaster are scrambling to profit from it. On Sunday, Shell requested an extension to its exploratory drilling period in the Chukchi Sea, off the north-west coast of Alaska. This would push its operations hard against the moment when the ice re-forms and any spills they cause are locked in. The Russian oil company Gazprom is using the great melt to try to drill in the Pechora Sea, north-east of Murmansk.

The revenge of the spirits is devastating but in a certain way beautiful. Just as the enslaved were driven to choose drowning over slavery, the death of life over social death, so now capitalism is choosing to drown itself rather than die.

Unless we choose to do something about it. S17. S stands for survival. Sorry about that.



Autoimmune Climate-Changing Capitalism Syndrome: AICCCS

How can we imagine the Anthropocene? Industrial capitalism is not simply harmful to human life, as we long knew, but has created its own geological era that affects everything from the lithosphere to the upper atmosphere and all the biota in between. Indeed, the dynamics of the Anthropocene are increasingly hostile to Holocene-era patterns of human life, a footnote to the sixth great extinction of carbon-based life.

Estimates suggest that between 17,000 and 100,000 species are becoming extinct every year. The Anthropocene is perhaps not so well named. While it is clear that humans have caused it, not all humans have done so and its consequences are far from even. What has brought about the change in planetary geology is industrial capitalism and its reliance on fossil fuels.

We now find ourselves confronting what we might call an autoimmune capitalism that seems determined to extract the last moment of circulation for itself, even at the expense of its host life-world. Like AIDS or other autoimmune disease, this capitalism has a long etiology, multiple symptoms and is resistant to cure: Autoimmune Climate-Changing Capitalism, AICs for short.

So if we concentrate on curing one symptom, like carbon emissions, the complaint goes up that we are attacking the “Western way of life.” Attack the over-consumption of Western life directly, as the global social movements have done since 2011, and you find the full force of the military-industrial police complex directed at you.

To put this more abstractly: coming to terms with AICs is a political problem that is also always and already an aesthetic one. Aesthetics here means the ability to feel or perceive and I am suggesting in the manner of Jacques Rancière that no politics that is not an aesthetics (and vice versa) can have purchase on the supplementary, non-linear and networked forms of AICs. In short it takes a supplement to interact with a deconstructed form. Luckily, we already have that supplement in the form of direct democracy, which is my update to Rancière’s notion of the an-arche of the demos.

This is usually the place for lamentations about the difficulty of doing anything against the modern Leviathans of multinational corporations, consumerism and the fossil fuel industry. I do not underestimate these forces. However, I do not participate in their visualization of the planet as a battlefield and presume that in order to return the world “upside down,” they must somehow be defeated. Rather I think that the reclaiming of the imagination entails an undoing of their authority, which they themselves literally cannot conceive. It may come from the Digger Gerrard Winstanley’s evocation of the “earth as a common treasury for all.”

A Digger Manifesto from 1649

I have long said that the most radical gesture would be if all living people were considered fully human. That could be taken further to include all non-human actors. It has been estimated that some 90% of the DNA in our bodies is not “ours” but microbial. “Our” DNA is the result of a long sharing between generations. We also now know that certain “switches” in the genome are turned on by experience—diet, toxicity, age, and so on.

Taking this for the metaphor that it clearly already is, we might say that there is a “switch” for the common. Much of the past five hundred years has been devoted to imagining ways to turn it off or even make it invisible. In the brief time since Mohammed Bou’azizi shocked Tunisia into taking action by his self-immolation, that switch has proved remarkably easy to find from Egypt to Montreal by way of Madrid, Athens, New York, London and so on. We have in effect always known how to do this. Authority has invested enormous amounts of energy, time and money to convince us otherwise.

Some proposals for an agenda:

1) Life

The right to existence was the fundamental claim of all anti-slavery movement. It is the first claim in the Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth made at Cochabamba, Bolivia, in 2008 by the World People’s Conference on Climate Change as part of their claim for the “decolonization of the atmosphere.”

2) The Land

Policy specialists have began recommending small-scale collaborative cultivation as a solution to developing countries economic needs. Local food movements suggest the same for developed nations. The Cochabamba accords recommend such cultivation as the key to both sustaining indigenous cultures worldwide and decolonizing the atmosphere. With the agribusiness GMO corn crop set to fail in the U. S., we can see that chemical cultivation is no guarantee of food supply in the climate-changed era. Land is a way to consider the abstractions of the global in local contexts, as it has been for centuries.

3) Democracy

The greatest myth of the climate denial movement is that we can’t do anything about this anyway, so why try? I earlier suggested in this project that if each of 400 global cities consensed on the measures taken by Beijing during its Olympics we could in fact meet the target for climate emissions reduction that would limit temperature rise to two degrees Celsius. There are other possible ways to do this of course. In other words, the choices are there in front of us and it is up to us in each of our localities to keep putting them to our local assemblies.

[a condensed version of my contribution to the Sense of the Planet symposium yesterday in Sydney]

Undermining Neoliberalism

It’s been one of the surprises of this project to see how often the subject of mining recurs. Miners have, of course, long been key figures in progressive and labor movements, but all that was supposed to be “old” capitalism. Today’s immaterial labor was not supposed to be affected by such issues. Only we’ve seen steel and coal strikes worldwide in the past year, from India to France, Spain and now South Africa. Given that the neoliberal solution to extracting primary resources has been to outsource them to developing nations, perhaps it is now caught in its own trap.

As you will know, striking miners at the Marikana mine owned by Lonmin in South Africa were fired on by police, leading to 44 deaths, 250 or more in hospital, and a further 259 under arrest. The issue here is that

rock drillers affiliated to the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) demanded their monthly salary of R4 000 be increased to R12 500.

The rock drillers currently get paid a little over $300 a month for 12 hour days in which you are soaked by water from the drill heads. Other miners estimate that you can do this work for no longer than five years before your body gives out. By way of comparison, a US miner gets about $14.99 minimum for such work per hour, equivalent to $2500 a month, ranging up to $23 per hour, or about $3800 a month.

However, the South African National Union of Mineworkers, the official trade union, has not sanctioned the strike by the drillers. A new more radical union has arisen–the AMCU. The official union was at first even willing to endorse the company’s threat to the strikers that they must return to work by Tuesday morning or face dismissal. Now, following government intervention, dismissal has been taken off the table for the moment.

Julius Malema (left) at Marikana. Credit: Mail and Guardian.

What happens next? Given the militancy displayed in recent days, it’s hard to see how people just go back to work. At a meeting yesterday Julius Malema, a former ANC activist now expelled from the party, called for the mine to be nationalized and for a change of national president. Mourners wearing “Fuck Capitalism” T-shirts clearly agreed. A man using a pseudonym for fear of retaliation told South Africa’s Mail and Guardian:

It’s better to die than to work for that shit. People are coming back here tomorrow [Monday]. I am not going to stop striking.

Further confrontation is surely inevitable.

Once again, London-based capital is behind all this. The anonymous sounding Lonmin company is in fact the notorious Lonhro company, standing for “London and Rhodesian Mining,” under a new name. Once run by the appalling Tiny Rowland, even a Conservative British prime minister designated the racist and exploitative company “the unpleasant and unacceptable face of capitalism.”

The new company has done very well out of the post-apartheid state, as its own website acknowledges:

Our operations, consisting of eleven shafts and inclines, are situated in the Bushveld Complex in South Africa, a country which hosts nearly 80% of global PGM resources. We have been granted a New Order Mining Licence by the South African government for our core operations, which runs to 2037 and is renewable to 2067. We have resources of 175 million troy ounces of PGMs and 43 million ounces of reserves.

Platinum sells for about $1400 an ounce, so it’s not surprising that Lonmin made $148 million profit in the second half of 2011. Six men died underground during this period, named

Thamage Kgwatlha, Modisaotsile Edward Setlhare, Alfiado Maziwe, Hermanus Potgieter, Rafael Macamo and Alpheus Mokgano Moerane.

Mining remains what it has always been: dirty, dangerous, exploitative, destructive to the environment and highly profitable. Ironically, one of the most significant uses of platinum is in catalytic converters for vehicles, designed to reduce pollution and carbon emissions.

When the video footage of the shootings came out, all the comparisons were to apartheid-era policing. Certainly, like police forces from New York to Athens, overreaction appears to be the policy of choice here. What is being defended, however, is not the local racialized privilege that ruled in Southern Africa for centuries but the neo-liberal formula of low local wages for high global profit. Of course, the workers still tend to be people of color and those profiting tend to call themselves “white.”

The question now is whether the miners’ action sets off a wider discontent with the post-apartheid settlement, as Julius Malema is arguing it should. Too little benefit has accrued to the majority population in the past decade. A new elite cadre class is doing very well at the behest of traditional interests.

There’s just the chance that neo-liberalism has undermined itself. The “Troubles” in Northern Ireland resulted from one day of violence, as did the militant stage of the anti-apartheid struggle. It’s too soon to tell if the Marikana mine massacre will be the new Bloody Sunday or Sharpeville. But if not here, soon. And not before time.

Foucault Tourism

Today to Cockatoo Island: penal colony within the convict colony, industrial reformatory, factory, shipyard, UNESCO World Heritage site and now a venue for the 18th Sydney Biennale. The extraordinary bricolage of colonial punishment, industrial production and knowledge economy cultural production makes for one of those slightly dizzying jet laggy experiences you have only while traveling.

My British forebears did know how and where to build prisons, you have to give them that. The island is isolated in the middle of Sydney harbor, with the prison itself located on top of a steep cliff. Recent excavations have uncovered minute solitary confinement cells, which have a distinctly contemporary look in this Abu Ghraib era. The officials built themselves sandstone residences with a Georgian feel but placed at the highest point to give them a panoptic viewpoint. Grain silos dug into the rock still have chain rings, to which the excavating prisoners were linked while working. The prison was created right at the end of the transportation era in 1849–convicts were not sent to New South Wales after 1850, although they went to Western Australia as late as 1868.

As has often been pointed out, these colonial punishments add a totally different complexion to the idea that European jurisprudence had moved from physical punishment to mental discipline by the early nineteenth century. My view has been that revolutionary action in Europe won workers there a certain (if limited) reprieve from punishment; but colonial punishment intensified in the later nineteenth century as imperialism abandoned all pretension of colonial self-government in favor of direct rule from the metropole. That did not preclude the disciplinary formation of colonized subjects, as the reformatories attest.

In 2000, a group of Aboriginal people occupied the island and claimed it as sovereign territory. You can still see their murals, using the Aboriginal flag as a motif. Using the colonial doctrine of terra nullius, Isabell Coe and others asserted that Britain had never formally claimed the island, a claim rejected by the courts as “inconceivable.” Really? A deserted island on the edge of the harbor? Regardless, Coe created a tent embassy on the island and asserted sovereignty. The occupation of occupied indigenous land and the counterclaim to sovereignty was a powerful performative act.

This, then, is no ordinary post-industrial site to hold an art exhibition. The artists whose work was shown here seemed to be aware of the challenges and many rose to the occasion. I liked Jonathan Jones’s simple approach:

Jones mixed typically British crockery with sea-shells that might be found in an Aboriginal midden in what is now New South Wales. The intermingling is simple but effective.

A more complex approach was taken by Lebanese artist Khaled Sabsabi in his installation “Nonabel.” You enter a darkened air-raid shelter and see the reflection of a young boy in water projected onto the circular walls. All of a sudden, the image changes dramatically and a montage of Arabic calligraphy and sound installation made me jump, although the phrase being used in the piece apparently means: “if you destroy the image of violence, it will disappear.”

Khaled Sabsabi “Nonabel”

Finally Alec Finlay brought the location of imperial domination up to date with his sound and sculpture installation. To quote his description:

Finlay takes the fluctuations of the stock market and represents them as the ‘buzz’ of Australian honey-bees (recorded by sound-artist Chris Watson), broadcast from 10 multi-storied wooden hives. Each hive stack bears the acronym of a major stock exchange – New York, Toronto, Sao Paulo, London, Frankfurt, Mumbai, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Tokyo, and Sydney – and produces a stream of audio, a buzzing that varies in density and volume in accordance with economic activity.

It was a remarkable sound, rising and falling with the market activity.

Alec Finlay “Swarm ASX”

What made it all the more powerful–although I suspect unintentionally–was that I came upon this piece in the Convict Precinct, just after reading a sign placed by the Sydney Harbor Trust. It described how, when the prison was first established, the prisoners were confined in wooden boxes at night. Is this what the favorite corporate slogan “thinking outside the box” actually means? That if you don’t produce useful ideas, we’ll put you in a box? Bees are said to form colonies. Others describe them as democracies or societies. Finlay also makes nests for “unproductive” wild bees out of books about bees. It’s layered symbolism like this that does important imaginative work, as we would do well to remember in our messaging and imaging in directly political contexts.

No pasaran!

Let’s take heart from some remarkable examples of resistance to mafia capitalism from around the world. Long radical traditions have given these movements a capacity to resist. The Occupy project, so young it is not even a year old, can learn and benefit from these experiences and measure the extent of the challenge, even as we are inspired.

In Moscow, where even the mainstream media refer to Putin’s regime as a “mafia state,” the anarchist feminist punk band Pussy Riot responded to the “charges” in their show trial with defiance.

Pussy Riot in court

Wearing the No Pasaran! (they shall not pass) T-shirt with a slogan from the Spanish Civil War in Putin’s KGB courts is a powerful gesture.

It was a slogan against Franco’s fascists, made famous by Dolores Ibárurri, La Pasionaria, during the 1936 defense of Madrid (above). It became the chorus to a song with music by Hans Eisler.

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, wearing the shirt, said to the “court”

This is a trial of the whole government system of Russia, which so likes to show its harshness toward the individual, its indifference to his honour and dignity…Even though we are behind bars, we are freer than those people.

By “those people,” Tolokonnikova was referring to the prosecutors and other functionaries who are, like latter-day Stalinists, totally dependent on the good will of the all-powerful leader. What’s particularly courageous about these statements is that Putin has been signaling a wish for leniency. If that now happens, Pussy Riot win a total victory. If it compels the regime to imprison the women for what they rightly describe as “opposition art,” then Putin loses again from the storm of negative publicity.

From the other side of the world come images of the on-going student resistance in Chile. Remember that Chile was the first test-case for neo-liberalism, imposed by the military after toppling the democratic left government of Salvador Allende in a US-backed coup in 1973. General Pinochet implemented Chicago-school neo-liberalism to the letter and it was the disaster we have come to expect. One of the areas least changed since those days is education, where fees are routinely charged across the system, even for the poorest.

After months of resistance, the students still have great energy. Today, according to the Santiago Times,

A group of high school students briefly occupied the central offices of the far-right Independent Democratic Union Party (UDI) in Santiago on Tuesday morning, accusing the party of being “complicit in the robbery of municipal money that should go to education.”

This action carries a possible three-year jail sentence under the Hinzpeter law, criminalizing occupying private or public property. There were widespread clashes with police during the demonstration continuing the call for free public higher education. Here are some photographs taken by Julia Antivilo, feminist performance artist, Mapuche Indian activist and artist. Remember these are high school students.

Water cannon in the streets, Santiago. Credit: Julia Antivilo

The water cannon were not just deployed for effect.

Credit: Julia Antivilo

In this picture, you can see how young these demonstrators are but the government has responded with stern law-and-order threats.

The combination of principle from young people met with violence by the state is bringing the population as a whole to support their cause. From the popular assemblies in Montréal comes this statement:

As Popular Autonomous Neighbourhood Assemblies (French: Assemblées populaires autonomes de quartiers) formed after the imposition of emergency legislation, we openly give our support to student associations who decide to continue to strike in opposition to the increase to tuition fees, and who continue to disobey this emergency law.  To force students back to class, as is supposed to happen starting August 13, is nothing more than an attack on students’ right to collectively organize.  For this reason, we offer our support to students on strike: we will organize demonstrations and we will be present on picket lines.

From all this we learn that repression works at first, but if people organize, the resistance becomes stronger and wider. Next, look at the historical perspective. In post-Soviet Russia, Pussy Riot cite the 1936-39 Spanish Civil War. Quebec has been militant in regards to separatism and public services since the 1970s. Chile’s democratic revolution ran from 1970-73 and that repression is still being undone.

We’ve barely even begun this. Look at the kids. No pasaran!