We need Zizek’s ‘Thatcher of the left’ like a fish needs a bicycle

April 21, 2013

The philosopher Slavoj Zizek hopes fervently for a “Thatcher of the left”, and pays homage to strong leaders, in the New Statesman this week. I think the opposite: we need a movement to turn the world upside down without such leaders and their potential for authoritarianism and hierarchy.

Zizek, regarded as a leading “left” intellectual, explains his point with reference to Winston Churchill’s approach to military decisions: to boil down the experts’ rot-in-hellanalysis into “a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’”. Such a “gesture, which can never be fully grounded in reasons, is that of a Master”, Zizek writes. “The Master is needed especially in situations of deep crisis.” Thatcher “was such a Master, sticking to her decision which was at first perceived as crazy, gradually elevating her singular madness into an accepted norm.”

In passing, I’d argue that this is an idealised, one-sided portrayal of Thatcher. Yes, she was more ideological and dogmatic than other Tory leaders, but she didn’t fight all her battles at once – even if she talked about them. Yes, she laid waste to British industry and sought revenge on enemies “without” (Argentina) and “within” (the miners) – but for all her ranting about curbing the state, budget expenditure grew year after year and she postponed most privatisations.

Working class communities last week celebrated not only her passing, but also that they have outlasted her, whatever their scars.

But Zizek’s main point is not about Thatcher. It is that we need someone on the “left” who can “repeat Thatcher’s gesture in the opposite direction”. He Read the rest of this entry »

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The price of Iraqi oil: union leader in court for organising strike

April 4, 2013

An oil workers’ union leader will appear before a court in Basra on Sunday charged with organising strikes, reports from activists in Iraq say.

UPDATE (August): In July, this prosecution was dropped all together. Activists in Iraq sent a message to their supporters internationally saying “hopefully this will deter future malicious and repressive prosecutions”.

UPDATE (Friday 3 May): This hearing has been adjourned repeatedly, in part due to campaigning pressure. It was put back to 2 May, 9 May and the latest we have heard is that it is on Sunday 19 May. Activists in London are planning to picket the embassy if there is a guilty verdict: please follow the story on their facebook page

Hassan Juma’a Awad, leader of the Iraqi Federation of Oil Unions, faces up to five years in prison, under a law banning strikes that was passed under Saddam Hussein and has not been repealed.

The charge arises from strikes and demonstrations in February by workers at the state-owned South Oil Company, the country’s largest “native” oil Read the rest of this entry »


Climate science deniers, sceptics and changing the world

April 2, 2013

Climate scientists are under attack by science deniers, who try to downplay the dangers of global warming. Often these deniers pose as “sceptics”, i.e. pretend they are questioning new findings in a constructive way.

How are the rest of us, non-scientists, to pick our way through these controversies? And for socialists who hope that the majority (“the 99%”) will change the world by taking matters into its own hands – as opposed to trusting “policymakers” and surrendering power to elites – what difference do the climate science controversies make to our efforts to overcome exploitation, poverty and hardship?

Heavy stuff, I know, but in my view it’s the best way to think about global warming. In a previous article I asserted that climate science deniers are “fundamentalist and dogmatic”. In the comments section, Robin Guenier questioned this and advanced a supposedly “sceptical” argument. This is my response Read the rest of this entry »