L’affaire Ciccariello-Maher: “White genocide” and beyond

George Cic­car­i­ello-Ma­h­er’s “off-col­or” joke about gen­o­cide over the hol­i­days has eli­cited a range of re­ac­tions on so­cial me­dia. In the week or so that’s elapsed since he sent out those con­tro­ver­sial tweets, sev­er­al cycles of pub­lic opin­ion have already run their course. Fol­low­ing the ini­tial op­pro­bri­um, Cic­car­i­ello-Ma­h­er was even re­buked by his em­ploy­ers at Drexel Uni­versity. This in turn led his sup­port­ers to gath­er sig­na­tures, ur­ging the ad­min­is­tra­tion not to rep­rim­and him fur­ther. Some be­grudgingly offered their solid­ar­ity, more as a mat­ter of prin­ciple than out of ap­prov­al for what he said. While they did not en­dorse his mes­sage, they be­lieved that ex­tra­mur­al polit­ic­al speech should be pro­tec­ted. Oth­ers en­thu­si­ast­ic­ally leapt to de­fend the ori­gin­al “white gen­o­cide” re­mark, al­though Cic­car­i­ello-Ma­h­er in­sists he it made in jest, “not only on grounds of aca­dem­ic free­dom and free speech, but even more strongly on the basis of its polit­ic­al con­tent.” A few re­fused to provide him with any back­ing what­so­ever, cit­ing his fail­ure to do like­wise after the Charlie Hebdo murders in Par­is two years earli­er. Luck­ily, Cic­car­i­ello-Ma­h­er later re­vealed that he’d re­cently re­ceived ten­ure, so the whole af­fair proved rather a tem­pest in a tea­cup. His job was nev­er in ser­i­ous danger to be­gin with.

Nev­er­the­less, now that it’s over, it might be worth tak­ing a look at the vari­ous re­sponses to this im­broglio. Be­fore sur­vey­ing all these, however, I might as well lay my cards out on the ta­ble: I’m not a “free speech ab­so­lut­ist.” Un­der ex­traordin­ary con­di­tions — say, of re­volu­tion­ary civil war — some demo­crat­ic rights will likely have to be sus­pen­ded. Even un­der nor­mal cir­cum­stances, there are lim­its re­lated to li­bel, slander, and in­cit­ing a pan­ic. Gen­er­ally speak­ing, though, people should be able to say or write whatever the fuck they want. Trot­sky had it more or less right in his tract on “Free­dom of Press and the Work­ing Class” (1938). “Once at the helm [of the state],” wrote Dav­idovich, “the pro­let­ari­at may find it­self forced, for a cer­tain time, to take spe­cial meas­ures against the bour­geois­ie, if the bour­geois­ie as­sumes an at­ti­tude of open re­bel­lion against the work­ers’ state. In that case, re­strict­ing free­dom of the press goes hand in hand with all the oth­er meas­ures em­ployed in wa­ging a civil war: if you are forced to use ar­til­lery and planes against the en­emy, you can­not per­mit this same en­emy to main­tain his own cen­ters of news and pro­pa­ganda with­in the armed camp of the pro­let­ari­at… Yet in this in­stance, too, if the spe­cial meas­ures are ex­ten­ded un­til they be­come an en­dur­ing pat­tern, they in them­selves carry the danger of get­ting out of hand and of the work­ers’ bur­eau­cracy gain­ing a polit­ic­al mono­poly that would be one of the sources of its de­gen­er­a­tion.”

Colin Beckett, Corey Robin, and Richard Seymour

Verso Books published a con­cise sum­mary of the or­deal by Colin Beck­ett, which went over the timeline of events. Beck­ett con­cluded that “Drexel’s ini­tial re­sponse to com­plaints about Cic­car­i­ello-Ma­h­er il­lus­trates that un­prin­cipled, PR-con­scious ad­min­is­trat­ors are eas­ily ma­nip­u­lated by the slight­est hint of con­tro­versy,” and im­plored his read­ers to “re­main vi­gil­ant and make it more dif­fi­cult for uni­versit­ies… to cater to right-wing out­rage, real or fake, than po­lice the speech of its em­ploy­ees.” Jac­obin re­pos­ted Corey Robin’s call to “De­fend George Cic­car­i­ello-Ma­h­er” from his per­son­al blog, a reas­on­able enough piece, des­pite its praise for the as­so­ciate pro­fess­or’s “ex­cel­lent work on Venezuela and polit­ic­al the­ory.” With all due re­spect to Robin, Cic­car­i­ello-Ma­h­er’s stuff on Venezuela is lazy tripe. It amounts to little more than re­hash­ing the crudest talk­ing points pre­pared by the Bolivari­an re­gime. He once gran­ted an in­ter­view to Amy Good­man of Demo­cracy Now! in which jus­ti­fy Ma­duro’s jail­ing of Leo­poldo López, the mod­er­ate op­pos­i­tion lead­er, back in 2015. López was sen­tenced to four­teen years for fo­ment­ing un­rest and al­legedly plot­ting to over­throw the gov­ern­ment. Guess what evid­ence was presen­ted as proof of his crime? Yup, that’s right: prob­lem­at­ic tweets.

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Free speech on and off campus: In defense of George Ciccariello-Maher

Yes­ter­day I learned that George Cic­car­i­ello-Ma­h­er, an as­so­ciate pro­fess­or at Drexel Uni­versity in Phil­adelphia, has re­cently come un­der fire for a stu­pid joke he sent out on Twit­ter a couple of days ago. On Christ­mas Eve, he tweeted: “All I want for Christ­mas is white gen­o­cide.” Im­me­di­ately Cic­car­i­ello-Ma­h­er began re­ceiv­ing angry replies and death threats. Soon the right-wing news di­gest Breit­bart picked up the story, which then led to fur­ther out­cry around the web. Drexel re­spon­ded the next day by is­su­ing a state­ment that con­demned the “in­flam­mat­ory tweet,” call­ing it “ut­terly rep­re­hens­ible” while as­sur­ing read­ers that the school “takes this mat­ter very ser­i­ously.”

Need­less to say, this is an out­rageous ef­fort by a ma­jor con­ser­vat­ive out­let to muzzle a minor left-wing aca­dem­ic. By whip­ping up pub­lic in­dig­na­tion, this gang of on­line re­ac­tion­ar­ies hopes to ex­ert enough in­sti­tu­tion­al pres­sure to threaten Cic­car­i­ello-Ma­h­er’s live­li­hood. This comes only a few weeks after the un­veil­ing of Turn­ing Point USA’s Pro­fess­or Watch­list, a neo-Mc­Carthy­ite ini­ti­at­ive that pur­ports to mon­it­or “pro­fess­ors who ad­vance a rad­ic­al agenda in lec­ture halls” by com­pil­ing a dossier of their “sub­vers­ive” activ­it­ies. Were Drexel to pun­ish or oth­er­wise dis­cip­line Cic­car­i­ello-Ma­h­er, it would set an alarm­ing pre­ced­ent. Ex­tra­mur­al polit­ic­al speech ought to be pro­tec­ted.

Cyn­thia Walk­er has drawn up a pe­ti­tion in sup­port of the em­battled pro­fess­or, which I en­cour­age every­one to sign. I’ve ad­ded my own sig­na­ture to it, along with sev­en thou­sand or so who have done like­wise, des­pite some linger­ing doubts about the ef­fic­acy of such meas­ures. (Maybe oth­er people had more ex­cit­ing civics classes than I did, but I nev­er much saw the point of writ­ing con­cerned let­ters or fer­vent en­treat­ies. Just takes a second, though, so it’s not really a hassle). Re­gard­less of what one may think of him, it’s not as if he de­serves to lose his job over this petty shit.

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Fanon and Mariátegui contra Grosfoguel and Coulthard

Although Ramón Grosfoguel et al. certainly take pride in the fact they draw from native resources, and hence do not rely on master thinkers from the Occident, it is unlikely that anyone not steeped in that tradition could even begin to understand their “decolonial” theory. On this point, Walter D. Mignolo brings up the necessity of acts he refers to as “epistemic disobedience”: “Decolonial thinking presupposes de-linking (epistemically and politically) from the web of imperial knowledge.” The concept of de-linking is adapted from Samir Amin’s 1988 book on Eurocentrism. Loren Goldner explains that “de-linking is a fancy name for an idea first developed by Iosif Stalin called ‘socialism in one country’.” Grosfoguel indicates in an article about “The Epistemic Decolonial Turn” that his main points are

  1. that a decolonial epistemic perspective requires a much broader canon of thought than simply the Western canon (including the Left Western canon);
  2. that a truly universal decolonial perspective thus cannot be based on an abstract universal (one particular that raises itself as universal global design), but would have to be the result of the critical dialogue between diverse critical epistemic/ethical/political projects towards a pluriversal as oppose to a universal world;
  3. that decolonization of knowledge would require to take seriously the epistemic perspective/cosmologies/insights of critical thinkers from the Global South thinking from and with subalternized racial/ethnic/sexual spaces and bodies.

Postmodernism and postructuralism as epistemological projects are caught in the Western canon, reproducing within its domains of thought and practice a coloniality of power/knowledge.

He even goes so far as to call for a “decolonization of postcolonial studies,” which is still far too reliant on the authority of Western thinkers. In an article of the same title, Grosfoguel recalls that “as a Latino in the United States, I was dissatisfied with the epistemic consequences of the knowledge produced by [the Latin American Subaltern Studies Group]. They underestimated in their own work ethnic or racial perspectives coming from the region, while at the same time privileging predominantly to Western thinkers, which is related to my second point: they gave epistemic privilege to what they called the ‘four horses of the apocalypse,’ that is, Foucault, Derrida, Gramsci, and Guha… Among the four main thinkers they privilege, three are ‘Eurocentric’ thinkers… Two (i.e., Derrida and Foucault) form part of the poststructuralist/postmodern Western canon. Only one (i.e., Rinajit Guha) is a thinker thinking from the South. By privileging Western thinkers as their central theoretical apparatus, they betrayed their goal to produce subaltern studies.” Mignolo writes in a similar vein that

Coloniality and decoloniality introduces a fracture with both the Eurocentered project of postmodernity and a project of postcoloniality heavily dependent on poststructuralism (i.e., insofar as Michel Foucault, Jacques Lacan, and Jacques Derrida have been acknowledged as the grounding of the postcolonial canon): Edward Said, Gayatri Spivak, and Homi Bhabha… Decoloniality sets out from other sources. From the decolonial shift already implicit in Nueva corónica and buen gobierno by Waman Puma de Ayala; in the decolonial critique and the activism of Mahatma Gandhi; in the fracture of Marxism in its encounter with colonial legacies in the Andes, articulated by José Carlos Mariátegui; and in the radical political and epistemological shifts enacted by Amilcar Cabral, Aimé Césaire, Frantz Fanon, Rigoberta Menchú, Gloria Anzaldúa, among others. The decolonial shift, in other words, is a project of de-linking whereas postcolonial theory is a project of scholarly transformation within the academy.

Yet the palpable irony here is — even if Grosfoguel gets rid of the names Derrida, Gramsci, and Foucault while retaining only Guha, or if Mignolo jettisons Foucault, Lacan, and Derrida but holds on to Bhabha — they will still be working within this philosophical idiom, which they just disavowed. Nevertheless, this has nothing to do with the intrinsic “greatness” of European civilization or its unique “genius.” Rather, it has to do with an historic form of universality which happened to develop in Europe and expanded outward from there. Decolonial theorists tend to be dissatisfied with this version of events, though. Marx himself is not spared from the rebuke of “Eurocentrism,” as Mignolo observes: “Class consciousness means a ‘critical consciousness,’ which like the one generated by colonial difference and the colonial wound (e.g., critical border thinking), generates, in the first case, projects of emancipation and, in the second, projects of liberation. However, in Marx and in the Marxist tradition, the idea of ‘class consciousness’ hides the fact that the paradigmatic model of the proletarian is white, male, European…” (“On Subalterns and Other Agencies”).

Grosfoguel takes this a step further. Unlike many of his decolonial peers, he never had much affection for Marx. Quijano, by contrast, considers himself a Marxist to this day, and Dussel’s readings of Marx are both subtle and wide-ranging. None of this is present in Grosfoguel. “In social science we have concrete manifestations of epistemic Islamophobia in the work of Western-centric patriarchal theorists such as Karl Marx and Max Weber,” he maintains. “Marx believed that secularism was fundamental for revolution to have a chance in Muslim lands. This secularist view of Marx was a typical colonial strategy promoted by Western empires in order to destroy the ways of thinking and living of the colonial subjects and, thus, impede any trace of resistance.” Elsewhere Grosfoguel continues: “Just like the Western thinkers preceding him, Marx participates in an epistemic racism in which there is only one epistemology with access to universality: the Western tradition… Despite being from the left, Marxist thought ended up trapped in the same problems of Eurocentrism and colonialism that had imprisoned Eurocentered thinkers of the right.” Continue reading

Lajos Vajda. Golgota, Photomontage on Cinnabar, Panther and Lillies, Tolstoj and Ghandi, Chinese Execution, Chinese Execution, Young Laborer 1

Decolonial communization?

Race, religion, and class:
Problems and pitfalls of
a theoretical synthesis

Overview of the problem

For whatever reason, at least from the outside, there seems some sort of slow convergence unfolding between communization theory and decolonial critique. Whether this attests to any inner necessity in the logic of either field, or from accidental affinities common to enthusiasts of both, is difficult to tell. My bet is that it’s the latter. Geographical proximity often compresses unlike milieux, with only vaguely related groups suddenly shoved into a single space, made to live side by side. People are able to pass through any number of circles, carrying with them a cumulus of curiosities and concerns. Sometimes this leads to interesting intellectual cross-pollination or collaboration. Berlin in the decades following Hegel’s death. Vienna around the fin de siècle. Oakland has given us Endnotes, which by itself is enough to forgive it many minor sins. Usually these scenes just result in ill-conceived eclecticism, though, fruitless exchanges and shambling conceptual absurdities. Academic conferences offer a suitably fetid ecosystem in which such bogstandard theories can thrive. Russell Jacoby observed this phenomenon some forty years ago in Dialectic of Defeat:

Literature about Marxism threatens to drown both the theory and its students. To the cynical it confirms the obsolescence of Marxism: It has fled the streets and factories for the halls and offices of the university. The struggle to publish replaces the class struggle. Academics jet to conferences to hawk competing brands of Marxism; a consumer’s guide is practically required to stay abreast of all the offerings and recalls: structural Marxism, semiotic Marxism, feminist Marxism, hermeneutic Marxism, phenomenological Marxism, critical Marxism, and so on.

Not a lot has been done as yet to bring these two discourses into conversation in the Anglophone world. George Ciccariello-Maher is, in all probability, the person who would be best situated to broker a meeting. He’s already intervened in a roundtable on “Dual Power and the Dialectic of Communization,” as well as presented a paper on “Communization, Venezuela Style,” though it’s not clear he has all that much in common with the communisateurs beyond shared verbiage and a few mutual friends on Facebook. Ciccariello-Maher broadly understands his own critical outlook as “decolonial.” LIES: A Journal of Materialist Feminism dabbles in communization, and it has mentioned “contemporary decolonial subjecthood” in the past. But there’s been no sustained effort to synthesize communization theories and decolonial critiques, which might ultimately be for the best. Of the two, I find communization to be a far more promising theoretical field. Even if I disagree with its prognostications about the sun having set on programmatism, it poses serious questions to the present and seeks to take stock of emerging struggles and shifting realities. Decolonial criticism is, by contrast, in my opinion a complete waste of time. Reading Ramón Grosfoguel has actually made me dumber. (I know that’s hard to believe). Walter Mignolo, Enrique Dussel, etc. don’t say anything all that earth-shattering or insightful. Achille Mbembe is occasionally great, but I do not think he is even remotely similar to the other figures just named.

Since there haven’t really been any works in English to combine or negotiate these perspectives, this post deals with a French author who has devoted quite a bit of time to precisely this: Patlotch. My reading comprehension of French isn’t great, but he is a lively and entertaining writer with extensive knowledge of communization as well as decoloniality. Also, he has the virtue of having “conducted his philosophical education in public,” as Hegel wrote of Schelling, so we can actually see his thought process as he tries to work out some of these issues. His comments about Jews are pretty fucked up, to say nothing of his race-baiting of Yves Coleman. To be sure, other syntheses of communization theory with decolonial critique may be possible — his work doesn’t exhaust all possibility — but this at provides a place to start.

Introducing Patlotch

is an enigmatic character. Claude Guillon explains that his handle is an (unimpressive) anagram derived from the Situationist journal Potlatch, with just two letters switched. An erstwhile fellow traveler [compagnon de route], from roughly 2005 to 2010, of the communization current in France, Patlotch had initially approached Guillon after reading a short piece from in 2013 critiquing Léon de Mattis and the international communist review Sic. Communization was an “unthinkable project” [l’impensable projet], as Guillon put it at the time, an appraisal that resonated with the young Patlotch. Eventually, the impetuous lad turned on kindly old Guillon, cursing him as a “cadaver” with a wink at André Breton before slinging his body into a ditch alongside Yves Coleman and his ilk. The offense? Well, to have written “And ‘God’ Created Islamophobia,” of course. Frankly, I don’t hold this apprehension against him, when it comes to this term’s possible censorious use. Guillon knows what it’s like to be censored firsthand. Suicide: A How-to Guide [Suicide, mode d’emploi], a survey of the various methods and techniques people have used to kill themselves, was written with Yves le Bonniec in 1982 and released that same year. Just five years later, however, it was banned by the French government and promptly withdrawn from circulation. But Patlotch, enfant terrible of the online ultraleft circuit, grants no such leniency to poor Guillon.

Young Patlotch has many scores to settle and axes to grind, as will be shown in the course of this post. Anselm Jappe, Clément Homs, Bernard Lyon, and Jacques Wajnsztejn are all summoned to stand trial next to Coleman and Guillon, charged as crypto-Zionists, race traitors, and Eurocentric chauvinists… or worse. Continue reading


On “conference communism”

Some thoughts in closing

Fol­low­ing the ap­pear­ance of my be­lated re­port on “con­fer­ence com­mun­ism” a couple days ago, I re­ceived a num­ber of ap­pre­ci­at­ive com­ments, e-mails, and replies. It would seem I wasn’t alone in my rather low opin­ion of these con­fer­ences. A few of the people who sent me notes to this ef­fect caught me genu­inely off guard; it al­ways feels vin­dic­at­ing to know that oth­ers agree with you.

Pre­dict­ably, however, the re­sponses that came in from the speak­ers who ac­tu­ally par­ti­cip­ated in the event, es­pe­cially those who had been singled out for cri­ti­cism, were less than ap­pre­ci­at­ive. Some seemed to take it all quite per­son­ally — and one of them, George Cic­car­i­ello-Ma­h­er, went so far as to de­friend me on Face­book. Was a bit sur­prised by it, to be hon­est; I’d al­ways thought he had pretty thick skin, oth­er­wise. For the most part, I think, I’d re­frained from the ad hom­inem at­tacks and man­aged to keep my re­marks strictly ad rem. Maybe he felt that by at­tack­ing his cre­den­tials to speak on a giv­en sub­ject, I was thereby in­dir­ectly at­tack­ing his char­ac­ter. This was not my in­ten­tion.

Congress of Soviet deputies, 1918

Either way, it’s not like it mat­ters. I’d an­ti­cip­ated it any­way. Just goes to show you can’t please every­one. Continue reading


The ghost of communism past

Against “conference communism”

Image: El Lissitzky, PROUN


A few months ago I attended the “Communist Currents” mini-conference at Cornell University in Ithaca. Douglas La Rocca and I departed from New York near the crack of dawn, around 5:00 AM, driving upstate to Ithaca. There we met up with his buddy Roger Palomeque, an engineer with an interest in Marxian economics and one of Doug’s fellow Linux-nerds. The drive to and from was cool, as was hanging out with Roger, but I was less than impressed with the actual proceedings of the symposium. I suppose the posh digs of the conference setting at Cornell’s White House were pretty fun/funny. The building’s main claim to fame is that former President (and staunch anti-communist) Ike Eisenhower once ate there. Only fitting that a series of talks on “the communist idea” today should be held there, really — though the very fact such a thing is permitted should give some indication of how benign the “idea” has become.

Over the last five years, books and conferences on “the communist idea” have been greeted by some as heralding the rebirth of the radical Left (“the long night of the Left is coming to a close”). Verso has released a string of titles and essay collections in its “pocket communism” series, featuring marquee names like Alain Badiou, Boris Groys, and Slavoj Žižek, as well as a host of “rising stars” — second-tier up-and-comers like Jodi Dean, Bruno Bosteels, and Alberto Toscano. After a few sellout conferences in London, New York, and Berlin, the organizers brought it to Seoul in South Korea, a longstanding stronghold of anti-communist reaction. Surely all this bodes well for the revolution, right?

Nearly a century ago, there were those who hailed the workers’ councils as the units of proletarian organization par excellence, a vehicle for the self-emancipation of the working class. Led by figures like Anton Pannekoek and Paul Mattick, they were called the “council communists.” Today, it is instead the academics’ conferences that hold the promise of communism (or so it would seem). It is only fitting that they be dubbed, in like fashion, the “conference communists.” Continue reading