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The Dusty Hat

China Miéville

All those holes, he said, they show them from the top, why not ever from below? You think it’s chance that the world is perforating?

‘What do you want?’ I said.

He looked at me curiously. Stand with you, he said. You were right to leave. Want to know what you know. Our course is set. He reached for my face and I didn’t pull away. Time, he said. You’re hunted. I can explain.

He prodded my forehead. His fingertips were so soft being touched by him was like remembering being touched. All the dust on the brim stood up in little stalagmites, craning to see.

He took hold of his own right hand with his left, gripped and twisted and pulled and he tugged the skin of his hand. It came. It tore. It turned inside out as he pulled it away. I heard noises from my own throat. He uncovered his fingerbones. There was a spurt of dust. His bones were dry. They dropped onto the carpet. He patted the air with one whole hand and one sand-dry open stump spilling dust and bones.

One didn’t kill him, he said. This man. He touched his chest. His right arm was thinning, the skin slackening. He loved us, and invited one into his home and we recruited him after he died so he gave us his body.

The bones of his forearm fell out of the dry skin with two thumps. I breathed shallow and fast. The air of the room was thick with the dust of him now. His body was lessening. He diminished, sank into collapsing legs. I listened to the scratch of whatever approached my smashed-glass trap. ‘Just leave me alone,’ I tried to say, ‘you can’t make me come—’

You must, he said. Everything comes to this. His face sunk in, a loose rag around a skull.

It was the dust speaking. It blew through my books like a dry storm, investigated crevices and took the shapes of the stairs. It rustled by my ears as if it was making words. On the hat’s brim the dust jumped up and flew into its co-matter. My eyes and throat and lungs wept. Swirling through the puffs of my laboured breaths handfuls of dust funneled back into the old man just enough to plump his lips and tongue and rattle around the throat and give it a dusty voicebox, so the skin whispered to me, Don’t try not to breathe, comrade. Breathe deep.

I couldn’t have resisted. It could have just drowned me drily. All I could smell was desiccation. I told myself I had no choice but in a situation like that the choice you have is how you go about not having a choice.

I inhaled the dust. In it rushed.

 

My body must have thought I was dying. Probably I was writhing and twitching alongside the old skin.

I envisage the dust tickling my synapses until they quiver. It gave me new thinking. The dust thought for me, drumming against my tympani. So I have this dilemma. What I’m trying to tell you – for which you may not thank me – is that the dust was and is my comrade. So it’s yours too. It was there not only in gratitude but in solidarity.

 

 

A move into the longue durée. A politics that could chide the Annales School for a skittish short-term optic, for which the sound of struggle is the crepitus of one landmass against another.

Dissenting dust expounded its position.

Cycles of geological insurrection. Vaalbara, prelapsarian collectivity of stone and surface, Kenorland and Pangea, peace becoming war; the rage of the gap at the unbreached, totalities torqued apart over mere glimmering millions of years. A savaging of scale, Triassic wars of position as Gondwanaland and Laurasia rounded in ruthless continental pugilism, their own components in solidarity, plateaus heaving, shale slipping as masses, subject-objects of history, scree in struggle against the bottomness of holes. A primitive communism of granularity, grassroots democracy before there was grass or roots or anything but hot dirt, until at last there were birds and an epoch of walls.

We are Jillies and Jonnies come lately to insurgency. The coal on the blackleg’s legs was taking sides long before the meat beneath it. My body was spasming.

Clods with agency as opaque as their substance. Crumbling as syndicalism, the ca’canny of quartz. Flint ultraleftism; dirt voluntarism; glass struggle; regroupment of rock orienting to freedom.

Slime against the dry, tooth versus stone in the mysteries of the organism, a baroque new fascism of flesh. The dust remembered onslaughts of the bodied, shock troops of blood-and-sinewed reaction against the revolutionary unliving.

No sides are uncontested. These are traditions not givens. There’s a civil war in water, I’m animal disloyal to mainstream quick and it, one, is dissident dust: not even all dirt is revolutionary.

And even for those that are, among the radicals of all matter, there’s always an uchi-geba, a brutal faction fight.

 

I hauled back to my body hard enough that I screamed and vomited dust.

More, I coughed.

Yes, it said, refilling the skin to whisper with the lips. But get up. They’re here.

I looked at his hands. A revenant is reverberating in the landmasses, I thought. The room twitched again and the man the dust wore wobbled.

In the dimly orange city I could see nothing but I heard faint animal noises. I thought of inflated things bobbing behind the trees. What do they want, I thought of saying — and of him answering, Tangles of allegiance, they’re loyalist. I swayed myself like my grinding room, my head full of thoughts of dirigible animals rising and biting the dark, a collaboration of animal and air, angry at dust’s patience, dogs puffed up, cats made fat.

Quick, he said. With me, he said. He made me blink. The walls vacillate, he said dismally. Architecture’s always centrist.

I said, he said, we must go.

Down into a tunnel to a Cornish tin mine, I thought. I’d go anywhere.

 

I thought about the denigrated dialectics of nature. I thought about the falling rate of prophecy. The house continued its interrupted collapse.

The man in the dusty hat hauled open the door and I heard a hiss.

Crouching in the crook of a tree above us, hunkered in his jacket, hunch-shouldered between crooked knees like a chimpanzee about to hurl its shit, the History Man pointed at us. He bared and chattered his teeth. Before us, there where the falling house had shepherded us, was the grey cadre.

Now it was clear to me that it was ash inside the woman, the loyalist ruin. She looked at me in a burnt-out triumph.

I moved back as the dust and ash raised their hands and almost politely interlaced fingers to stand still again. Why would particulate fight like people? They began to quiver.

The falling-down house blared. I ducked but the billowing of pulverised bricks would not interrupt this battle. I tried to pull the old man away but he was immobile. I pushed the grey woman with no more success. Above us the History Man bayed. My top floor fell in on itself. My house began to fold.

When I put my hands on the skins I felt the grate of ash against the minute gears of dust. Through everyday abrasions, from tiny cuts and under scabs, they swirled into each other, an in-skin war. The figurehead of my old leadership gibbered at me from the denuded tree.

I panicked but my panic had nothing to do. It ebbed.

At last I sat cross-legged with my back to the dust and ash and watched the sky. A thousand miles away the earth buckled and a mountainside was rising like a huge razorwire, making thermals for the birds.

There was a howl from the branches and I felt a hand on my shoulder. I looked up into the dry eyes of the body that the old man had given to our comrade, the dust.

The ash hack was gone. I could not see even any skin. I don’t know how ash dies or if it wakes up again after it has died.

The old man put on his dusty hat. I could hear the sounds of the History Man’s terror. When we were gone he would be pulled out, I knew with dream-certainty, dangling beneath battered animals inflated on the gases of rot.

The dust said to me, You see you can’t stay.



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Neoliberalism as the Agent of Capitalist Self-Destruction

By Neil Davidson

1

The neoliberal era can be retrospectively identified as beginning with the economic crisis of 1973, or, more precisely, with the strategic response of state managers and employers to that crisis. Previous eras in the history of capitalism have tended to close with the onset of further period of systemic crisis; 1973, for example, saw the end of the era of state capitalism which began in 1929. The neoliberal era, however, has not only survived the crisis which began in 2007, but its characteristic features are, if anything, being further extended and embedded, rather than reversed.

Yet, although neoliberalism has massively increased the wealth of the global capitalist class, has it also restored the health of the system itself? The crisis which gave rise to neoliberalism was, after all, caused by the end of the unprecedented period of growth which characterised the post-war boom, and the consequent accelerating decline in the rate of profit, unimpeded by the countervailing tendencies – above all arms spending – which had held it in check since the Second World War. These levels of growth were never resumed, but it would be wrong to claim that capitalism experienced no recovery after 1973. The boom from 1982 to 2007 was certainly uneven and punctuated by particularly sharp financial crises and recessions in 1987, 1991, 1997 and 2000; but these were normal expressions of the business cycle and only a misplaced fixation with using the unique and unrepeatable period between 1948 and 1973 as a comparator could justify treating these as symptoms of crisis. When crisis did return in 2007–8, it simply proved that neoliberalism was no more capable of permanently preventing this than any other mode of capitalist regulation.

Neoliberalism does, however, represent a paradox for capitalism. Its relative success as a ruling-class strategy, particularly in weakening the trade union movement and reducing the share of profits going to labour, has helped to disguise that some aspects of this mode of regulation are proving unintentionally detrimental to the system. Serving the interests of the rich is not the same – or at least, not always the same – as serving the interests of capital and may, in certain circumstances, be in contradiction to it. Simply doing what the rich want is unlikely to produce beneficial results for the system as a whole, although it may help increase the wealth of individual capitalists. For not only are capitalists generally uninterested in the broader social interest, which we might expect, but they are also generally incapable of correctly assessing their own overall collective class interests, which might seem more surprising – although as we shall see, it is a long-standing phenomenon, observed by many of the great social theorists from late eighteenth century onwards. As a result, capitalist states – or more precisely, their managers – have traditionally acted to make such an assessment; but in the developed West at least, neoliberal regimes are increasingly displaying an uncritical adherence to the short-term wishes of particular business interests. This is not the only emergent problem: the increasingly narrow parameters of neoliberal politics, where choice is restricted to ‘social’ rather than ‘economic’ issues, has encouraged the emergence of far-right parties, usually fixated on questions of migration, which have proved enormously divisive in working-class communities, but whose policies are in other respects by no means in the interests of capital.

The self-destructive nature of neoliberal capitalism has nothing necessarily to do with the removal of restrictions on markets. The rise of neoliberalism made it fashionable to refer to Karl Polanyi’s The Great Transformation, the assumption being that neoliberalism is in the process of realising Polanyi’s nightmare: reversing the second part of his ‘double movement’ – the social reaction against markets – and unleashing the mechanisms that he saw as being so destructive of society and nature.

Leaving aside the fact that capitalism was always capable of producing social atomisation, collective violence and environmental destruction, even in periods when the state was far more directly involved in the mechanisms of production and exchange then it is now, there are two problems with this position. First, rhetoric apart, capitalists no more favour untrammelled competition today than they did when monopolies and cartels first appeared as aspects of the emerging system in the sixteenth century. Second, one would have to be extraordinarily naïve to believe that the neoliberal project has been about establishing ‘free’ markets in the first place, although this myth has been assiduously perpetrated by social democratic parties who, eager to disguise their own capitulation to neoliberalism, emphasise their opposition to the marketisation of all social relationships, even though no-one – except perhaps the followers of Ayn Rand – seriously imagines this is either possible or desirable. In what follows I will mainly draw on the experiences of the UK and the US, since these were the first nation-states in which neoliberalism was imposed under democratic conditions – unlike Chile or China, for example – and where it has in many respects gone furthest. To understand the real nature of the difficulties inadvertently caused for capital by neoliberalism we have to begin with the role of capitalist states ‘in general’.


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Labour, Pasokified.

Richard Seymour


We were exhorted by Labour’s supporters to ‘vote with hope’ in this election. What now that hope has been so cruelly dashed? What now that neither the ‘Edstone’, nor ‘Milibae’, nor pink buses for women, nor condescending to Scottish voters has been enough to deliver victory?
 
For Labour, the result is just marginally better than in 2010, when it incurred its worst election defeat since 1918. This was not inevitable. In 2012–3, during which period Labour flirted with opposition to austerity, it consistently led with over 40 percent of the vote. In this election, it gained just over 30 percent, compared to 29 percent in 2010. The only major Tory slayed was the despised Esther McVey in the marginal constituency of Wirral West. In other marginals, such as Nuneaton, the swing to Labour was pitiful. In North Swindon, a safe Tory seat since boundary changes in 2010, the Tories actually gained. Worse still for Labour, Ed Balls supplied the Tories with their ‘Portillo moment’, losing his seat in Morley and Outwood, not from incumbency but from opposition.

Why is Labour’s result so poor? It is not because of the overweening strength of Conservatism. Overall, the Tory vote has barely shifted from 36.1 percent in 2010 to (as of writing) 36.8 percent. The Tories have been in a crisis since 1992, since which time their vote has oscillated between the low to mid-thirties. In previous elections, a vote share of this scale would have left the Tories on the opposition benches. This is not, chiefly, a Tory surge, but the confirmation of a Labour collapse. Labour’s total enervation is also reflected in the turnout, which at 66.1 percent was barely a point above what it was in 2010. And while relatively affluent voters turned out to support Cameron – with a 75 percent turnout in Thornbury and Yate, where the Tories overturned a 7,000 Liberal majority ­– working-class constituencies had some of the lowest turnouts in the country. In Manchester Central, turnout was 52.9 percent. The exceptions to this pattern are where there was some sort of alternative. Across Scotland, turnout was 71.1 percent. In Bristol West, where the Greens came second, turnout was projected to be approximately 85 percent.

So, Miliband’s failure is a confirmation of Labour’s degeneration, its crisis, not of Tory strength. In fact, both Labour and the Conservatives are in the middle of a long-term crisis, which neither has done anything to reverse: the question in this election was, whose crisis is worse?

Unsurprisingly, and highly satisfactorily, the Liberals have been crushed, their share of the vote falling from 23 percent to 7.7 percent. Indeed, this is the big shift in the 2015 election: the collapse of the Liberals and the rise of the smaller parties. I want to point out something of great importance regarding the Liberals. I said previously that the reason their leadership didn’t care about getting mauled in the elections was because they were preparing themselves to act as kingmakers in future coalitions, as exercisers of ‘responsible’ political authority, detached from their base but integrated into the machinery of government. This, let us be honest, is where they’d rather be. And in the last few days, we’ve had Nick Clegg saying that a government without the Liberal Democrats involved would lack legitimacy: even knowing that his party would be hammered into fourth place, he still saw a central role for his wheelers and dealers. In effect, the Liberal apparatchiks chose, with the Orange Book coup against the centre-left Kennedy leadership, to turn their party into a mandarin, de facto apparatus of an increasingly post-democratic state.

The obverse of the Liberals in this election is the SNP. Every tendency in advanced post-democracy is being reversed in Scotland, where working-class electoral participation and party membership is rising, not falling. The SNP took fifty-eight seats, up from six in 2010. The tsunami-like proportions of this wipe-out may be exaggerated by the electoral system, but the swing is huge and signifies something far deeper than a shift in voter identifications or, God help us, a ‘protest vote’. Old right-wing Labour stalwarts like Tom Harris, interviewed on STV last night, demonstrate some vague comprehension that since the Independence referendum, something at the deepest strata of Scottish working class consciousness shifted. But neither he nor his political confederates get what shifted, or why.

The referendum ‘No’ coalition signified everything that was wrong with Westminster politics: all the main parties in it together, on the side of militarism and the multinationals. Despite Gordon Brown’s absurd ‘big beast’ posturing, despite all the talk of the ‘UK pension’ and the ‘UK NHS’, Labour attacked independence from the right, from a position of loyalty to the state, to the war machine, and to the neoliberal doctrines of the civil service. Miliband, during the election campaign, tried to reassure middle-class voters that Labour utterly ruled out any SNP influence on policies like austerity or Trident. And while the Labour Party tailed the Tories on austerity, mimicked Tory language on welfare, and practically grovelled on immigration, the SNP defended a simple, civilised position: no austerity, and no demonising the poor or immigrants. In England, Labour aping the Right led to the base staying at home, as they have done in growing numbers since 2001. In Scotland, working-class voters had a tried-and-tested reformist alternative, with an optimistic political identity linked to a profound socio-demographic shift, and were able to rally to it. And now, with England cleaving broadly to the right and Scotland shifting left, it’s hard to see how they current constitutional arrangements are sustainable. Scotland will simply not assent to being governed by the Tories, and Sturgeon will be under huge pressure to deliver another referendum.

There will be more to say, on the other side of the political spectrum, about the farraginous hordes that are banging at Cameron’s door, but for now it’s worth pointing out how many of them there are: almost four million in this election. UKIP is England’s terrified, resentful answer to the SNP. While the SNP were able to capitalise on the sheer detachment of the Westminster centre parties with a centre-left nationalism, UKIP linked Britain’s growing crisis of democracy to European domination and a series of reactionary gripes about immigration, political correctness and uppity Jocks. Only the perversities of the electoral system prevented UKIP from gaining the fifty or sixty seats they would have gained on this basis, if their vote were more geographically concentrated. As it is, Douglas Carswell, the least UKIP of UKIPers, is the only one to have held onto a seat. What is particularly absurd about this is that the distribution of UKIP’s votes points to its political strength: UKIP managed to eat into Labour heartlands almost as much as Tory seats, making UKIP possibly Britain’s first truly successful, cross-class, populist formation. In Sunderland, for example, it drew tens of thousands of voters, a surge first noticed during the city council elections last year when it took almost a quarter of the vote. Of course, the party is still very fragile and schismatic: its momentum may now dissipate, and it will be much weaker now that Farage has resigned the leadership. But the basis upon which they won these votes was ideologically hardcore, with Farage using the televised debates not to broaden his support but to consolidate his base. If the dominant parties are forced to accept PR, as seems increasingly likely, this signifies a major realignment on the Right.

Finally, there is the Left. The results for TUSC and Left Unity were predictably nanoscopic. The major left tributary of disaffected Labour voters in England was the Greens, who did well to get 3.7 percent of the vote, a four-fold increase on 2010. In addition to keeping Brighton Pavilion, with a 10 percent swing in their favour, they also came second with a swing of 23 percent in Bristol West, where the sitting Liberal was overturned. And they came a good third in a number of constituencies, such as Norwich South, or Holborn and St Pancras where Natalie Bennett got over 7,000 votes. I think this represents something more than a protest vote. Once more, if we get anything like proportional representation, the game is up: in those circumstances, the Green vote will easily surge past 5 percent toward the double figures, and the Pasokification of Labour will take another lurch forward.

This election has been about the collapse of the Labour Party, of labour-movement politics and more generally of representative politics: precisely as I warned. The hope we were exhorted to embrace has been hugely devalued by overuse and by misapplication. There is no hope in the Labour Party. It has neither the political will nor the resources to reconstitute itself, nor would it have a clue how to do so if it did. The Left has to accept reality, and move on. Rebuilding is a slow, difficult, thankless task. In the meantime, hope is precious: it must be rationed.


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Re-asking the Housing Question

By Mary Robertson

Chronic under-supply, crippling unaffordability, and – for the first time in a century – deteriorating physical conditions, are pushing housing to the forefront of political and economic debate in Britain. It is an indication of its breadth and severity that we are spoiled for choice in seeking a headline figure that encapsulates Britain’s housing crisis. A twenty-six percent increase in homelessness since 2010; average house prices more than five times larger than average incomes; ballooning social housing waiting lists; or three quarters of the British public agreeing that there is a housing crisis in Britain – all these things and more point to Britain’s growing inability to house its population.

But its escalating problems are also making housing a site of intensified struggle. A scattering of local defensive actions across London have turned into some of the most vibrant and inspiring campaigns seen in Britain in a long time. For the most part, these are campaigns led not by the usual suspects or dedicated activists, but by people directly affected by housing issues and new to political action. Significantly, for a generation of leftists accustomed to political defeat, housing has also proved the site of some rare, if small, political victories, such as the New Era campaigners ousting their American buyer or Focus E15 forcing part of the Heygate estate into use. The momentum building around housing struggles raises the question of whether housing can be a site of transformative social struggle.

It has been a long time since housing garnered such attention. Significant improvements in housing in the inter- and post-war periods relegated housing to the relative political wilderness. Viewed from a longer perspective, however, housing problems are not new. The nature and inevitability of housing problems, and their potential for transformative change, were discussed by Engels in his pamphlet ‘The Housing Question’ in 1872. Engels argued that capitalist society would fail to provide workers with sufficient or adequate housing, and that the contradictions and uneven development of capitalist society would generate recurrent housing problems. With the housing question resurfacing so forcefully after decades of progress in the middle of the last century, this insight seems highly prescient. However, while there is much in Engels that remains relevant today, the nature of the housing problem has inevitably been transformed by a century and a half of capitalist restructuring. Most notably, the growth of primary and secondary mortgage markets has embroiled housing in financial markets and made housing a site of speculation. To comprehend the present crisis, Engels’s analysis needs updating so that it is able to grasp the novel features acquired by the housing question in the era of financialised capitalism.

Engels’s prognosis for housing was paired with a thesis about the nature of housing struggle. While he granted that housing problems might be temporarily mitigated through the actions of states, capitalists, or workers themselves, Engels ultimately saw housing problems as a reflection of, and subordinate to, the exploitation of labour under capitalist production. Consequently, he argued that the housing problem could only be definitively solved through the overthrow of capitalism and not through isolated struggles around housing:

As long as the capitalist mode of production continues to exist, it is folly to hope for an isolated solution of the housing question or of any other social question affecting the fate of the workers. The solution lies in the abolition of the capitalist mode of production and the appropriation of all the means of life and labour by the working class itself.

Accordingly, he insisted that workers, not tenants, are the agents of revolutionary change, derisively dismissing Proudhon’s suggestion that ‘[a]s the wage worker in relation to the capitalist, so is the tenant in relation to the house owner’ as ‘patently untrue’. As housing struggles emerge at the forefront of contemporary resistance, this thesis demands to be revisited. In particular, is there anything about the financialised reincarnation of the housing question that alters or elevates the transformative potential of housing struggles today?


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Marxism for Whores

Magpie Corvid

My story is the same as many thousands of people who have found themselves unable to find steady, decently paid work. Our story is about austerity ...

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Neoliberalism as the Agent of Capitalist Self-Destruction

Neil Davidson

The neoliberal era can be retrospectively identified as beginning with ...

Read more »

Labour, Pasokified

Richard Seymour

We were exhorted by Labour’s supporters to ‘vote with hope’ in this election. What now that hope has been so cruelly dashed?

Read more »

Re-asking the Housing Question

Mary Robertson

Chronic under-supply, crippling unaffordability, and – for the first time in a century – deteriorating physical conditions ...

Read more »