Brexit means… what? Hapless ideology and practical consequences

Auf­heben № 24
November 2016
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The EU mi­grants’ or­deal and the lim­its of dir­ect ac­tion

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We be­gin this art­icle with a case dealt with by Brighton Solfed (SF) and CASE Cent­ral so­cial center — the story of an EU mi­grant in Brighton.

At the end of 2015, L., a Span­ish hos­pit­al­ity work­er, sought help from SF. She had worked in a res­taur­ant for more than a year but, as soon as she fell ill, her em­ploy­er sacked her with a flimsy ex­cuse, in or­der to avoid pay­ing Stat­utory Sick Pay (SSP). Re­ceiv­ing SSP would have been this work­er’s right un­der both do­mest­ic and European Uni­on (EU) le­gis­la­tion. However, the em­ploy­er in­sisted that she left her job vol­un­tar­ily, and re­fused to re-em­ploy here.

One then claimed a sick­ness be­ne­fit, Em­ploy­ment and Sup­port Al­low­ance (ESA). As an EU work­er, she should have been en­titled to equal rights un­der EU le­gis­la­tion, and to ESA. However, the state re­fused the be­ne­fit: they said that, due [to] a “gap” between the end of her job and her claim, she was no longer a “work­er” when she claimed ESA. A be­ne­fits ad­vice group helped with an ap­peal, but the state re­fused to re­con­sider. L. was in a des­per­ate situ­ation, with no money and far from her fam­ily, and was temp­ted to move back to Spain. This would amount to eco­nom­ic de­port­a­tion — not im­posed through phys­ic­al force, but through ex­treme hard­ship.

Back in [the] 1970s the UK’s mem­ber­ship of the European Com­mon Mar­ket was op­posed by left-wing mil­it­ants, as the Com­mon Mar­ket was seen as a neo­lib­er­al club de­signed to pre­vent the ad­vance of so­cial­ism, or just the im­ple­ment­a­tion of Keyne­sian policies. Continue reading

Solidarity with migrants

No more war, no more terror,
either in France or elsewhere

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No more war,
no more terror,
either in France or elsewhere.
Solidarity with migrants.

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Without relativizing the violence in Paris or making ridiculous excuses for jihadist reactionaries, Marxists must be prepared to stand against xenophobic and racist backlash — whether reprisals arise out of European civil society or are part of state/police crackdowns. Marxists everywhere must consistently oppose right-wing demagogues in Europe and North America, who seek to limit migration and stir up hatred toward marginalized immigrants. The vast majority of refugees from that region (Iraq, Syria, Turkey, Lebanon) are themselves fleeing Islamic State cut-throats. It doesn’t matter whether a Syrian passport was found near the site of one of the attacks. Regardless of if whether it was genuine or if it was deliberately planted by the terrorists (if not the French police), the fact remains that most migrants are victims of the same group that terrorized the capital of the nineteenth century on Friday.

As usual the range of responses to this tragedy voiced by the political Left has widely varied, at times incoherently, everywhere from encouraging to discouraging: from sober and insightful reflections to smug-to-outrageous exercises in moral equivalency and comparative atrocity. Nothing is worse than when sociopaths, given the alibi of anti-imperialism, tell you they either don’t care about victims of a massacre or that “it’s nothing compared to what the imperialists do,” as Michael Rectenwald pointed out. It’s not nothing, and such comparisons are specious. For a person who is killed, the percentage is 100%.

Besides, it is not as if those who were murdered in Paris were uniformly French, white, or supporters of their nation’s militarist policies. The terrorists targeted an exceptionally diverse, progressive section of the city with a thriving LGBTQ subculture and left-liberal youths, even “hipster socialists.” Cinzia Aruzza put this eloquently in a public post circulated on social media:

A victim of the Paris attacks was Patricia San Martín, 55 years old, from Chile, the child of two Communist parents who moved to Paris after being tortured under Pinochet’s regime. Another victim was Luis Felipe Zschoche Valle, from Chile. Another victim was Mohamed Amine Benmbarek, 28 years old, from Morocco. Two other victims were Houda and Halima Ben Khalifa Saadi, 34 and 35 years old, from Tunisia. Another victim was Djamila Houd, probably of Algerian origins. Another victim was Nohemi Gonzales, a student from California State University. Another victim was Asta Diakite, French and black. Another victim was Kheireddine Sahbi, a young violinist, from Algeria. There is no “they” and “us,” the people killed in Paris are everybody’s people. The only “they” are the warmongers in power.

Equally depressing is the #‎notalljihadists‬ prattle currently making the rounds, people sharing links to the condemnations of the Paris attacks by other organizations founded on principles of Political Islam. As if Hamas, Hezbollah, Al-Qaeda, and Islamic Jihad are not themselves reactionary. To be clear, Islamism ≠ Islam. And the overwhelming majority of Muslims throughout the world are rightly disgusted by the wave of violence in Paris, Beirut, and elsewhere. However, Marxists’ justifiable concern with incipient Islamophobia and rising nationalism in Europe should not blind them to the patently obvious reactionary character of seemingly more “moderate” Islamist groups. Jihadism is a modern ultraconservative ideology that takes advantage of popular discontents in regions ravaged by civil war and foreign military intervention as well as disaffected youths from ethnic or religious minorities in the West. Recognition of this fact cannot be made into some sort of unspeakable truth or contingent on the so-called “rhetorical conditions of the War on Terror.” Neither should it abet further militarism in Syria or Iraq.

Marxists, following Marx, are the implacable foes of religious superstition and ideology: “If one desired…to remind liberalism of its old catchwords, it surely could have been done only in the following form: Everyone should be able to attend his religious as well as his bodily needs without the police sticking their noses in. But the workers’ party ought…to express its awareness of the fact that bourgeois ‘freedom of conscience’ is nothing but the toleration of all possible kinds of religious freedom of conscience, and that for its part it endeavors rather to liberate the conscience from the witchery of religion” (Critique of the Gotha Program, 1875).

This goes for its more banal, quotidian forms in the lives of ordinary people to the more exalted “union sacrée” held up by France and Britain when either nation feels itself under attack.

The case for smashing borders

Untitled.
IMAGE: Triumphus pacis Osnabruggensis et
Noribergensis
; Tubingen, Brunnius (1649)

J.A. Myerson has an article up over at Jacobin making “The Case for Open Borders.”  As an historical overview, it’s not terrible, even if the way it retains the language of “consecration” for the modern period is a bit tendentious.  Borders and rights are not “consecrated” as divine rights but “legitimated” as civil rights.  There’s some acknowledgement of this fact, at least initially, but the author goes on to undermine this distinction in advocating “universal human rights, consecrated in struggle, enforced by solidarity.”

On a related note — why does “solidarity” always seem to enter in as this kind of quasi-mystical force by which we can simply express our sympathy with various remote causes and thereby consider our political obligations fulfilled? This, far more than any kind of legal procedure defining and establishing borders, strikes me as almost religious.  It’s akin to the sentiment expressed by those of various religious persuasions who’ll reassure you that they’re praying for you, etc. Continue reading