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I plead guilty to the indictment of avowed optimism. We have entered an age of resistance for which we must build an analytics. New forms, strategies and subjects of resistance and insurrection appear regularly without knowledge of or guidance from Badiou, Zizek or Negri.
On 17 June 2011, I was invited to address the Syntagma Square occupation in Athens. After the talks, following the usual procedure, members of the occupation who had their number drawn came to the front to speak to the 10,000 people present. One man in particular was shaking and trembling with evident symptoms of stagefright before his address. He then proceeded to give a beautiful talk in perfectly formed sentences and paragraphs, presenting a complete and persuasive plan for the future of the movement. ‘How did you do it?’ I asked him later, ‘I thought you were going to collapse.’ ‘When I started speaking’, he replied nonchalantly, ‘I was mouthing the words but someone else was speaking. A stranger inside me was dictating what to say.’ Many participants in the recent insurrections and revolts make similar statements. My recent work addresses this stranger in me (a usual description of the unconscious), this miraculous transubstantiation shared by people in different parts of the world.
The ‘new world order’ announced in 1989 was the shortest in history, coming to an abrupt end in 2008. Protests, riots and uprisings have erupted all over the world. Neither the mainstream nor the radicals had predicted the wave and this led to a frantic search for historical precedents. A former director of Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service thought it, ‘a revolutionary wave, like 1848’. Paul Mason agrees: ‘There are strong parallels – above all with 1848, and with the wave of discontent that preceded 1914.’  Alain Badiou suspects a possible ‘rebirth of history’ in a new age of ‘riots and uprisings’ after a long revolutionary ‘interval’. Eventually however history is miscarried or stillborn and Badiou strongly disagrees with my statement that we have entered an age or resistance.
At a conference in Paris in January 2013, I was on the same panel with Badiou. After my presentation, Alain started: ‘I certainly admire the eloquence of my friend and comrade Costas Douzinas, who has buttressed his avowed optimist with precise references to what he takes to be the political novelties of the peoples’ resistance in Greece, where he has even discerned the emergence of a new political subject.’ When I heard the next point I thought I had misunderstood: While the courage and inventiveness of the resistance is a cause of enthusiasm, it is neither novel nor effective. The same things happened in May 68, in Tahrir Square and even ‘in the times of Spartacus or Thomas Munzer.’ 
I plead guilty to the indictment of avowed optimism. We have entered an age of resistance. New forms, strategies and subjects of resistance and insurrection appear regularly without knowledge of or guidance from Badiou, Zizek or Negri. Their timing is unpredictable but their occurrence certain. As resistances spread around the world from the austerity-hit countries to Turkey and Brazil, the former poster boys of neo-liberalism, to Bosnia-Herzegovina and Ukraine, philosophy has the responsibility to explore the contemporary return of resistance and to develop an analytics of resistance.
In a more strategic sense, it is importance to follow Kant’s advice in his late political essays, something of a vote of confidence for philosophical public relations avant la lettre. In Kant’s philosophy of history, nature guarantees the eventual civil union of humanity in a cosmopolitan future. But given the chance of a public hearing, the philosopher must keep preaching the inevitability of cosmopolitanism, offering a helping hand to providence. In a similar fashion and after the repeated claims about the ‘end of history’, the ‘end of ideology’ and the new world order, it is important for the left to proclaim that radical change has become possible again.
In the twentieth century, the left collected a long list of prophets and groupuscules promising the re-foundation of the one and only or the correct communist organisation. In earlier interventions, Badiou explained that the ‘resistance’ (in ironic quotation marks) of the anti-globalisation movement was a creation of power. The movement is ‘a wild operator’ of globalisation and ‘seeks to sketch out, for the imminent future, the forms of comfort to be enjoyed by our planet’s idle petite bourgeoisie.’  Warming to the theme, Badiou proceeded to attack Negri (‘a backward romantic’) who is fascinated by capital’s ‘flexibility and violence’. He called the multitude a ‘dreamy hallucination’, which claims the right for our ‘planet’s idle... to enjoy without doing anything, while taking special care to avoid any form of discipline, whereas we know that discipline, in all fields, is the key to truths.’ Finally, he dismissed the category of the ‘movement’ because it is ‘coupled to the logic of the state’; politics must construct ‘new forms of discipline to replace the discipline of political parties.’
According to this version, the communist resistance should stay away from the state, adopt the idea of communism and create a highly disciplined organisation which acts towards the people in a directive and authoritarian manner. It ‘wants to celebrate its own dictatorial authority, dictatorial because democratic ad infinitum’.
This is the type of organisation that recent resistances rejected and with good cause: both because of the history of the left and, more importantly, because the socio-economic changes of late capitalism have made the concept of a Leninist organisation not just redundant but undesirable and counterproductive.
From a totally different if not opposed perspective and with greater interest in the pleasure principle than the death drive (and in parties than in the party), Howard Caygill’s recent book seems to share the pessimism. Its last lines refer to contemporary resistances and conclude: ‘Resistance is engaged in defiant delegitimization of existing and potential domination but without any prospect of a final outcome in the guise of a revolutionary or reformist result or solution… The politics of resistance is disillusioned and without end.’
But despite the reservations of the pessimists, resistance and revolution are in the air. It looks however as if Hegel’s ‘owl of Minerva’ has not left its nest. Is this because we are not at ‘dusk’ yet? In other words, the philosophers cannot respond to the political and social upheaval because the epoch of resistance is not close to ending, as Hegel thought? Or, is it the result of a certain theoretical and political sclerosis on the part of theoretical radicals?
Failure, defeat, persecution and the attendant paranoia are marks of the left. The left has learned to be under attack, to fail, to lose and wallow in the defeat. An enduring masochism lurks in the best leftist books: many are stories of failure and variable rationalisation. It is true that the left has lost a lot: a united analysis and movement, the working class as political subject, the inexorable forward movement of history, planned economy as an alternative to capitalism. It is also true that the falling masonry of the Berlin wall hit western socialists more than the old Stalinists. Using Freud’s terms, the necessary and liberating mourning for the love object of revolution has turned into permanent melancholy. In mourning, the libido finally withdraws from the lost object and is displaced onto another. In melancholy, it ‘withdraws into the ego'. This withdrawal serves to 'establish an identification of the ego with the abandoned object'.
Walter Benjamin has called this ‘left melancholy’: the attitude of the militant who is attached more to a particular political analysis or ideal—and to the failure of that ideal—than to seizing possibilities for radical change in the present. For his part, Benjamin calls upon the left to grasp the ‘time of the now’, while for the melancholic, history is an ‘empty time’ of repetition. Part of the left is narcissistically fixed to its lost object with no obvious desire to abandon it. Left melancholy leads inexorably to the fetishism of small differences: politically, it appears in the interminable conflicts, splits and vituperation amongst erstwhile comrades. Attacks on the closest, the threatening double, are more vicious than those on the enemy. Theoretically, according to Benjamin, left melancholy betrays the world for the sake of knowledge. In our contemporary setting, we have a return to a particular type of grand theory, which combines an obsession with the explanation of life, the universe and everything with the anxiety of influence. The shadows and ghosts of the previous generation of greats weigh down on the latest missionaries of the encyclopaedia.
The most important reason why radical theory has been unable to fully comprehend recent resistances is perhaps the ‘anxiety of the grand narrative’. A previous generation of radical intellectuals like Jean-Paul Sartre, Bertrand Russell, Edward Thomposn and Louis Althusser had close links with the movements of their time. Contemporary radical philosophers are found more often in lecture rooms than street corners.
The wider ‘academisation’ of radical theory and its close proximity with ‘interdisciplinary’ and cultural studies departments has changed its character. These academic fields have been developed as a result of university funding priorities. They happily welcome the appeal of radical philosophers contributing to their celebrity value. But this weakening of the link between practice and theory has an adverse effect on theory construction. The desire for a ‘radical theory of everything’ caused by the ‘anxiety of influence’ created by the previous generation of philosophical greats does not help overcome the limitations of disembodied abstraction.
It is no surprise that many European leftists are happy to celebrate the late Chavez, Morales or Correa and to carry out radical politics by proxy, while ready to dismiss what happens in our part of the world as irrelevant or misguided. It may feel better to lose gloriously than to win even with a few compromises.
Repeated defeats do not help the millions whose lives have been devastated by neoliberal capitalism and post-democratic governance. What the left needs is not a new model party or an all-encompassing brilliant theory. It needs to learn from the popular resistances that broke out without leaders, parties or common ideology and to build on the energy, imagination and novel institutions created. The left needs a few successes after a long interval of failures. Greece is perhaps the best chance for the European left. The persistent and militant resistances sank two austerity governments and currently the Radical Left party Syriza is likely to be the first elected radical government in Europe. The historical chance has been created not by party or theory but by ordinary people who are well ahead of both and adopted this small protest party as the vehicle that would complement in Parliament the fights in the streets. The political and intellectual responsibility of radical intellectuals everywhere is to stand in solidarity of the Greek left.
For an older generation of militants, theory is a weapon in politics. From this perspective, I have argued in my recent book that forms, subjects and strategies of resistance emerge within and against the circuits of power, reacting and rearranging its operations. To explain their multiplication and intensification, we must start with an exploration of the state of affairs they stand up to, the disastrous combination of neoliberal capitalism and the almost terminal decay of parliamentary democracy. All recent resistances from Tahrir, to Syntagma, Taksim and Sarajevo seem to respond to one or the other and usually both. It is therefore important to start the analysis of the age of resistance with an examination of certain common trends. Let me summarise them.
First, the economic and social landscape of immaterial neoliberal capitalism. Its logic is privatizing and anti-state, deterritorialising. But at the same time, however, as profit becomes rent and interest, capitalism calls for increased regulation and policing.
Secondly, we must explore the global bio-political organization with its two sides: in a period of fake growth, personal libertarianism, hedonism and consumerism, the injunction to mandatory pleasure. Every ‘I desire x’ has become ‘I have a right to x’. When austerity inescapably arrives, the emphasis flips onto its reverse side, the controlling of populations. Individual happiness and choice, all the rage in the previous period, disappears. The individual is abandoned, mandatory pleasure becomes the prohibition of pleasure in order to save the DNA of the nation.
These developments have serious effects for the politics of law. Legality is used by the elites in order to prevent and criminalise disobedience and resistance. The previous emphasis on controlled freedom turns into a limited state of exception, police repression and widespread exclusion.
Global analysis must always be adjusted to the local context. Resistances are always locally situated. Each case therefore must be examined in the context of local histories, conditions, the spatially and temporally located balance of power. The explosion, multiplication and condensation of different struggles and campaigns depends crucially on the kairos, the timely moment and often a random catalyst such as the death of Alexis Grigoropoulos in Athens 2008, Mohamed Boazizi in Tunisia in 2010, or Mark Duggan in London, 2011.
A spontaneous insurrection is the point where the complementarity or coupling of promised freedom of consumer choice with behavioural control and police repression unravels. The first site of conflict is therefore de- and re-subjectification, the disarticulation of people from the position of desiring and consuming machines and their emergence as resisting subjectivities (the ‘stranger in me’). The stake in most struggles is the re-politicisation of politics by introducing an active element of direct democracy into our ailing and ageing constitutional arrangements. Three new forms of politics have emerged responding to the tendencies and subjectivities of late capitalism.
First, the expendable, redundant humans, the homines sacri of our world. Such are the undocumented or sans papiers immigrants, those for whom the Mediterranean has become a floating graveyard. Here resisting subjectivity often takes the form of martyrdom - witnessing and sacrifice - and of exodus.
Second, the bio-politically excluded: the unemployed and unemployable, young and old, people who exist socially but are invisible to the political system. Resistance takes the form of insurrection, occasionally rioting. Subjectivity takes the form of violent acting out. What they demand is not this or that right, so much as the ‘right to have rights’, to be considered part of the social contract.
Finally, democratic disenfranchisement. Here the dominant form is the occupation of squares and other public spaces by multitudes of men and women of all ideologies, ages, occupations and the many unemployed. Immaterial production promotes networking but not political cooperation, communication but not ideological identities, collaboration based on atomisation and self-interest. The occupied squares are the place where the dissidents put into political practice the skills of networking and collaboration we have learnt for work. Young people were told for thirty years that they would get a good life, if they study, get degrees, keep learning new skills. Over 60% of European youth have post-secondary education and exactly the same skills as their rulers. They are now the precariat. One thousand unemployed lawyers, engineers and doctors are more revolutionary than one thousand unemployed workers. These are the indignados of Tahrir Squre, Puerta del Sol, Syntagma and Taksim.
Elaborate working groups provide essential services in the occupied squares. In Athens for example, food, health, cultural and educational activities and media presence were provided by professionals, many with higher degrees but permanently unemployed. The daily and thematic assemblies as well as the working groups organise themselves under a strict axiom of equality. Whoever is in the square, everyone and anyone, is entitled to an equal share of time to put across his views. The views of the unemployed and the university professor are given equal time, discussed with equal vigour and put to the vote for adoption. Here the right to resistance joins equality, the second great revolutionary right, and changes it from a conditioned norm into an unconditional axiom: People are free and equal; each counts as one in all relevant groups.
The occupied squares create a constituent counter-power, which splits the social space between ‘us’ and ‘them’. Their direct democracy both parodies representative institutions by providing efficiently the services currently privatized and also pre-figures a new constitutional and institutional architecture. Let me conclude by offering seven theses towards an analytics of resistance:
1. Resistance is a law of being. It is internal to its object. From the moment being takes form, or a power asymmetry is established, it encounters resistances which irreversibly twist and fissure it.
2. Resistance is always situated. Resistances are local and multiple, they emerge concretely in specific conditions, responding to a situation, state of affairs or event.
3. Resistance is a mixture of reaction and action, negation and affirmation. Reactive resistance conserves and restores the state of things. The active borrows, mimics and subverts the adversary’s arms in order to invent new rules, institutions, situations.
4. Resistance is a process or experience of subjectivisation. We become new subjects, the ‘stranger in me emerges’ when we experience a split in identity. Because my particular existence has failed, because identity is split and cannot be completed, I pass from daily routine identity to the universality of resistance. It involves risk and perseverance: resistance is the courage of freedom.
5. Resistance is first a fact, not an obligation. It is not the idea or the theory of justice or communism that leads to resistance, but the sense of injustice, the bodily reaction to hurt, hunger, despair. The idea of justice and equality are maintained or lost as a result of the existence and extent of resistance and not the other way around.
6. Resistance becomes political and may succeed in radically changing the balance of forces, if it becomes collective and condenses, temporarily or permanently, a number of causes, a multiplicity of struggles and local and regional grievances bringing them all together in a common central place and time.
Persistence, encampment, staying on in a public place and turning it into the agora or the forum may help to create the demos in its opposition to the elites. At that (unpredictable) point, resistance may become the hegemonic force. This has happened in a few places in the last few years. The possible betrayal of the revolution later does not change the fact that people in the streets have learned that they may overthrow the strongest of rulers.
7. While resistance is a fact not an obligation, the subject of resistance emerges through the exercise of the right to resist, the oldest, indeed the only natural right. Right has two metaphysical sources. As recognized will, right accepts the order of things and dresses the dominant particular with the mantle of the universal. But as a will that wills what does not exist, right finds its force in itself and its effect in an open cosmos that cannot be fully determined by (financial, political or military) might. The resisting will forms an agonistic universality created by a diagonal division of the social world, which separates rulers from the ruled and the excluded.
 Costas Douzinas, Philosophy and Resistance in the Crisis (Polity, 2013).
 Paul Mason, Why it’s Kicking off Everywhere: The New Global Revolutions (London, Verso, 2012), 65.
 Alain Badiou, The Rebirth of History: Times of Riots and Uprisings (London, Verso, 2012), 38.
 Alain Badiou, ‘Our Contemporary Impotence’, 181 Radical Philosophy, September-October 2013, 43.
 Alain Badiou, ‘Beyond Formalisation’, An Interview conducted by Pater Hallward and Bruno Bosteels (Paris, July, 2 2002) in Bruno Bosteels, Badiou and Politics (Durham, Duke University Press, 2011), 318-350.
 id., 336, 337.
 The rebirth of history, 97.
 Howard Caygill, On Resistance: A Philosophy of Defiance’ (Bloomsbury, 2013), 208.
 Sigmund Freud, ‘Mourning and Melancholia’, in Vol. 14, The Standard Edition of the Complete Works of Sigmund Freud, (Hogarth, 1957), 249.
 Walter Benjamin, “Left-Wing Melancholy,” in The Weimar Republic Sourcebook, ed. Anton Kaes, Martin Jay and Edward Dimendberg (University of California Press, 1994), 305.
 Costas Douzinas, ‘Philosophy and the Right to Resistance’ in Douzinas and Gearty, The Meanings of Rights (Cambridge University Press, 2014).
See more articles and videos from the Oecumene: Citizenship after Orientalism partnership with the Open University.Related stories: Introducing Teatro Valle – searching for a European commons Country or region: Greece EU Topics: Civil society Conflict Culture Democracy and government Economics Equality Ideas International politics
The tumult in Ukraine marks a wider crisis of the corrupt post-Soviet model. The impact will be felt most acutely in Russia itself, says Krzysztof Bobinski.
Viktor Yanukovych’s fall in Ukraine marks the beginning of the end for the post-Soviet mafia-style kleptocracies which emerged from the collapsing communist system after 1989. The rulers of these kleptocracies have shown that they are ready to murder and lie to defend a system which allowed them to build fabulous fortunes by stealing from their people.
The irony is that these kleptocracies mark the final stage of the Soviet path to communism. A very different outcome to the classless nirvana which Soviet ideologists long said would arrive once the new system was put into place. Indeed, their divagations gave rise to the Czech joke about the man who, when he heard at a party meeting that the final stage of communism was approaching, muttered: “I’m not worried, I have cancer”.
In light of unfolding events in Ukraine, the question now arises whether anyone in the Kremlin is thinking of how Russia’s own kleptocratic regime will fare once the population begins to question the right of their rulers to loot their country in the way that Viktor Yanukovych and his cronies have been doing.
It may be that there is such a person. The Financial Times on 27 February quotes a contact with Kremlin officials as thinking: "Ukraine needs to find a new economic model which can help distribute wealth more evenly and put an end to endemic corruption". The comment might just as well have referred to Russia itself, which instead of criticising the new authorities in Kiev should be contemplating how to implement such a model at home.
None of the dreary pre-1989 Soviet ideologists could have imagined, even in their wildest dreams, that the finalite of the struggle to build socialism in their country and its constituent parts would be a kleptocracy - a political and social formation where the entire system is designed to uphold a mafia capture of the state.
That outcome was also unimaginable to people from the west who greeted the fall of the Soviet system after 1989 with enthusiasm and looked forward to happy times as the Soviet successor-states embraced the free market, the rule of law and a democratic regime.
As the stream of advisors from the west sought to acquaint the (by then) post-Soviet populations with the rules of the western system, the brightest among the Soviet natives - abetted it might be said by western financiers - moved swiftly to gain control over large chunks of the economy. They established a new system under which soon-to-be-fabulously-rich oligarchs ran their businesses under the watchful eye of their politicians, with whom they shared their ill-gotten gains.
An end and a beginning
Then, in 2009, came the European Union’s Eastern Partnership programme. It was a quixotic project which sought once again to try and reform six of the post-Soviet states - Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine - with the aim of re-establishing the free market, the rule of law and a democratic regime, and thus bringing these countries closer to the EU. But the EU officials failed to realise that a programme which emphasised the rule of law and the empowerment of the people would also threaten the current rulers, by ending their ability to steal with impunity from the people.
Under the programme, four countries negotiated association agreements with the EU - Ukraine, Armenia, Georgia and Moldova (Belarus is beyond the pale thanks to its bad civil-rights record, and energy-rich Azerbaijan doesn’t need this kind of relationship with the EU). Of the four, only Georgia and Moldova are moving ahead with implementation of the agreements. Armenia was scared off by Russia and Vladimir Putin bribed and cajoled Viktor Yanukovych to drop plans to sign the association agreement, which it is now clear that the Ukrainian president had no intention of implementing. However, Yanukovych went along with the programme, convinced he could get the EU to accept his failure to pursue reforms even as the EU continued to provide financial support for his country’s ailing economy.
This was happening as Yanukovych and his allies such as Viktor Pshonka, Ukraine’s (now ex-) prosecutor-general were amassing fortunes and building private mansions in excruciating bad taste to show off their new-found wealth. It was Pshonka, according to documents published by the internet publication Business New Europe, who in the final days of the Yanukovych regime urged the ousted president to impose a thirty-day state of emergency and crush the Maidan revolt in Kiev. And it came as no surprise that the Ukrainian authorities turned to criminal thugs to terrorise the protesters, and that Yanukovych himself used mafia-style threats to keep his party’s deputies in the parliament in line when they threatened to desert.
The Russian people have been watching and reading this on the internet. The reason they have not already come out onto the streets in protest against their rulers is probably because they agree with President Putin who argues that Ukraine must stay closer to Russia than the EU. But at the same time the dominant feeling throughout the Eastern Partnership region and Russia is anger at corruption, which is at the base of the system in these countries and the massive inequalities it engenders.
It is impossible to tell when Russians and the other countries in the region will rise up against their rulers but there is a more than even chance that they will rebel sooner or later. Such revolts are all the more likely if the new Ukrainian regime manages to bring in reforms which will indeed put the country on the path of the western-style normality which the people - and especially the younger generation - crave.
This is the challenge which Vladimir Putin faces. A Ukraine building a western-style market economy based on the rule of law poses a major threat to a system he is defending, where corruption is endemic and the path to inconceivable riches can be followed only by those who enjoy the rulers' favour. The last twenty-five years have seen the rule of the post-Soviet kleptocrats in a kind of "Indian summer" of the Soviet regime. That regime is now, at last, coming to an end.Sideboxes 'Read On' Sidebox:
Andrew Wilson, "Why a new Ukraine is the Kremlin's worst nightmare" (Independent, 23 February 2014)
Andrew Wilson, The Ukrainians: Unexpected Nation (Yale University Press, 3rd edition, 2009)
Teresa Cierco, The European Union Neighbourhood: Challenges and Opportunities (Ashgate, 2013)
Krzysztof Bobinski is the president of Unia & Polska, a pro-European think-tank in Warsaw. He was the Warsaw correspondent of the Financial Times (1976-2000) and later published Unia & Polska magazine. He served as co-chair of the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum in 2013Related stories: Ukraine, and a Europe-Russia crack Why does Putin fear Maidan? Ukraine’s 2014: a belated 1989 or another failed 2004? Why Ukraine is still not (yet) Russia Ukraine: the view from the west Armenia's election message Europe's eastern question The partnership principle: Europe, democracy, and the east Country or region: Ukraine Russia Topics: Civil society Democracy and government International politics
A row over a viewer opinion poll has effectively silenced TV Rain, Russia’s most independent TV channel. A pity they asked the wrong question.
At first glance the significance of the regime’s attack on Dozhd (also known by its English name, TV Rain) seems clear: the silencing of the only relatively independent Russian TV station (no TV in Russia can be completely independent of the Kremlin) is just yet another step on the Putin regime’s path towards total media censorship. But the TV Rain story is about more than that: it illustrates the lack of clear thinking in the opposition’s mentality that makes it possible for the Kremlin to sideline it in any debate.
The channel lost its main cable and satellite carriers after running a live poll of its viewers on 27 January, the 70th anniversary of the lifting of the 872-day Siege of Leningrad during the second world war. The question asked was: should the Soviet Union have surrendered Leningrad in order to save some of the hundreds of thousands of people who died during the blockade?
Journalists have of course the right to ask any questions they like, however provocative.
Journalists have of course the right to ask any questions they like, however provocative, but the thing about this poll wasn’t so much its provocative character as the fact that it reflected the same old military-patriotic myth created back in the USSR. According to this myth, throughout the Siege period (during the first winter of which more than a million Leningraders died of cold and hunger), German forces ‘were desperate to seize’ the city, while its inhabitants ‘defended it, died for it, but didn’t give in.’
The TV Rain poll accepted the truth of this sacred myth, and merely attempted to tinker round the edges by suggesting that it might have been better for Leningrad to ‘surrender and survive’. So it’s not surprising that this rather flip exercise created such outrage among so many people, giving the Kremlin an excuse to effectively silence the channel.The myth…
It is equally clear that if the Dozhd journalists had looked beyond the accepted myth they could have come up with a different question, and one that wouldn’t have provided the Kremlin with an excuse for hounding the channel. Because a look at the facts shows that both parts of the myth are historically incorrect.
Firstly, the Germans were not ‘desperate to seize Leningrad.’ From the beginning, Wehrmacht generals took the decision not to storm the city; having completed its encirclement in September 1941, they switched to siege mode in order to avoid unnecessary losses among their own troops and to be able to spare some as reinforcements for the march on Moscow.
Secondly, the Soviet High Command initially failed to understand this manoeuvre: up to the end of 1941 they expected an assault on Leningrad and were making plans for a possible surrender. Their main priority at the time was to pull as many troops and weapons as possible, along with machine plant and operators of use to the defence industry, out of the doomed (as Stalin believed) city. Which meant that the organisation of supplies and/or evacuation of its inhabitants were very low on the agenda.
The Germans, after completing the encirclement of Leningrad, switched to siege mode to avoid unnecessary losses.
Stalin was effectively prepared to hand Leningrad and its population over to the Germans. All he was interested in saving was the more than half a million troops defending the city, and the sailors of the Baltic Fleet. At the time, the Red Army was melting away in front of his eyes: by the end of 1941 almost four million Soviet soldiers had been taken prisoner by the invading forces. Naturally, he had no desire to hand them another half million combat-fit troops. So his orders to units fighting on the Leningrad front were to break a corridor though the German lines, not just for their own supplies but for their potential departure. In other words, the Soviet leadership’s only priority was to save its troops, not to hold Leningrad at any cost.
It’s difficult to say how matters might have developed further if the commanders of the Leningrad front had been able to break through the blockade towards Volkhovo, to the east of the city, where the 54th army was at the time. The German command would probably have attempted to close the gap as quickly as possible and, to avert this (the Wehrmacht had an overwhelming numerical superiority over the Red Army), Stalin and his marshals would have gone for an immediate withdrawal of troops through the temporary corridor. This would have meant the surrender of the city to the enemy.
In the autumn of 1941 Stalin was effectively prepared to hand Leningrad and its population over to the Germans.
There was nothing surprising here; in the first few months of fighting [Russia entered WWII only in June 1941] there had already been quite a few such sieges (among them those of Minsk, Kiev, Tallinn, Vyazemsk, Odessa and Smolensk), all of them ending with the capture of Soviet troops trapped in the encirclement. So Stalin and Vasilyevsky’s panic reaction to what, initially at any rate, looked like a similar situation is quite understandable.
History has deprived us of the chance to test the hypothesis that Stalin, given the chance, would have withdrawn the troops and handed Leningrad to the Germans. Or rather, we were deprived of it by the Wehrmacht, which prevented any breakout by the Red Army until 18 January 1943, more than a year later, when the Soviet leaders’ priorities had of course changed. By this point it was clear that the Germans would not be storming Leningrad, and supplies to the defending troops and the surviving inhabitants were up and running fairly efficiently. In January 1943 there was no reason to surrender the city and withdraw its troops. But in the autumn of 1941 it all looked very different.…and the facts
The question Dozhd asked its viewers was therefore a pretty senseless one, with its basis in mythology rather than historical fact, and it gave the channel’s patriotically minded opponents the opportunity to condemn it for its apparent attack on a sacred cow. If the question had been worded along the lines of: ‘Could the Soviet leadership have managed the evacuation and supply of not only its troops, but also its civilian population, hence averting the death of a million Leningraders?’ it would have been difficult to organise a hate campaign against it.
The historical facts are clear. With enough political will, even in the first winter of the siege in 1941-2, the government could have evacuated a large part of the population of Leningrad and ensured an adequate food supply for the rest. It could also have supplied the troops with all their needs (not to mention maintaining the luxury lifestyle of the many thousands of officials who lived in the city during the blockade). All the claims - that the Soviet leadership was running out of time and was almost out of all essential supplies, and that it was a question of halting the enemy at whatever cost so the safety of civilians didn’t have high priority – are a load of propaganda bullshit.
The fact is that other countries were encountering similar problems. During the Dunkirk crisis, for example, in the course of ten days, 26 May – 4 June 1940, the British government managed to evacuate around 340,000 allied soldiers from occupied France.
In the first months of 1945, Germany was in an even worse situation than the USSR in the winter of 1941-2. But that didn’t stop its leadership evacuating 2.5 million people from East Prussia to Germany proper, many of them by sea under submarine and air attack, as the Red Army advanced westwards. Compared to this operation, the transport of two million Leningraders across the frozen Lake Ladoga would have seemed much more technically feasible.
In the first autumn and winter of the siege, however, none of the USSR’s rulers apparently gave a thought to saving the city’s inhabitants. Or indeed to evacuating people from Tallinn, Odessa or Simferopol, although this would have been possible while their defences held. And even when the scale of their blockade problem finally got through to them, the cogs of Stalin’s military-bureaucratic machine, paralysed as it was by fear and lack of initiative, moved very slowly and with a very loud creak.The Ladoga road of life…
For most of the autumn the Ladoga flotilla (Lake Ladoga, to the east of Leningrad, was the only break in the encirclement) made little attempt either to evacuate civilians (between September and the beginning of November only 15,000 were brought out, all of them skilled labourers) or to transport supplies to the city. Nor was it a question of the flotilla being too small; in November, despite the beginning of the freeze up, the flotilla was able to evacuate 20,000 troops in a few days when they received the order to do so.
The thickening Ladoga ice allowed horse-drawn sleighs to cross the lake from 20 November and trucks from 22 November.
The order for the evacuation of civilians and the large scale provision of foodstuffs to the city was, however, a longer time in coming. Dmitry Pavlov, the man charged with organising both, wrote in his memoirs that the thickening ice allowed a column of horse-drawn sleighs to cross the lake from 20 November, and trucks from 22 November. But the evacuation of civilians only began at the end of January 1942, when they were dying in their thousands. That month only 11,296 people were evacuated, with mass evacuation starting only in February, when 117,434 evacuees left the city, followed by another 221,947 in March and 163,392 in April.…and the alternative
In less than four months the winter ‘road of life’ evacuated just over half a million people. But it was too little too late, both for those that were already dead, and for those who, weakened by malnutrition and exhaustion, would succumb to illness in evacuation. One of these, twelve year old Tanya Savicheva, left a brief diary, now on show in St Petersburg’s history museum, in which she catalogued the death of family members one by one. But if evacuation across Ladoga on barges had been begun in September-October, and mass food transports started at the same time, most of the population would have survived…
Stalin and his marshals were however occupied with other things: how to bring out arms and industrial machinery, how to break a corridor through to evacuate the troops trapped in the city. So planes flew out of Leningrad into the big world laden with guns and mortars, not elderly people and children. And right up to the end of January sleighs and trucks transported soldiers and workers across the Ladoga ice, not the weak and sick.
Twelve year old Tanya Savicheva left a brief diary, in which she catalogued the death of family members one by one.
To avert the effective genocide that was the siege of Leningrad, all that was needed was a different regime with a different, European, political culture and mentality and a different set of priorities. Soviet Communist leaders felt perfectly at home sitting in their warm studies and luxury cars and watching exhausted, dying people staggering past their windows, dragging sledges on which lay the bodies of those who were already dead.
The late intellectual and literary historian Academician Dmitry Likhachov used to remember how once during the siege he was for some reason summoned to Communist Party headquarters at the Smolny Palace, and how he walked through the corridors of this Bolshevik fortress, exhausted by hunger and tormented by the enticing smells emanating from the dining room, but no one offered him anything to eat. Other people have reported the same thing, some of them even ordered to wait on the party elite at banquets, but left hungry themselves. The recently published diary of a not particularly important bureaucrat who worked in Leningrad during the siege records how well he ate in his government guest house at the height of the blockade.
This is why Dozhd’s question, ‘Should Leningrad have been surrendered to save the lives of the inhabitants?’ was badly worded. To let the enemy into a city full of well armed and fed troops and lose half a million combat-ready soldiers at the height of the conflict would be patently absurd.
The real question is: could a million Leningraders have been saved from a cold and hungry death in siege conditions? The answer is clear: yes, they could have. And there is an equally obvious answer to another question: who is to blame for the fact that the ‘useless’, from the Kremlin’s point of view, inhabitants of the city were left to their fate and condemned to certain death during the first blockade winter? This is what we need to remember about the blockade, and not just the blockade, but the entire history of the Soviet Union and indeed of Russia.Liberals need to reject the myths of Russia’s past
St Petersburg in particular, and Russians in general, need a new, revised version of their historical memory that does away with the stereotypes of the old ‘great power’ mythology, both Soviet and pre-Soviet. This is the only way for liberals to win the ideological battle with our authoritarian regime. Old imperial myths are impervious to ‘liberal reform.’ They need to be left behind and replaced by rational and authentic historical memory. In Russia’s case this would mean focusing on the tragedy underpinning it: the age-long oppression of its enslaved people by the slave-owner state.
Old imperial myths are impervious to ‘liberal reform.’
But as far as I can see, liberals still haven’t even tried to develop a view of their own, differing from the official, on Russia’s past and, by definition, its future. All their sporadic and random attempts at a ‘humanist revision’ of the old historical myths are in the end less than convincing, rooted as they are in those very same myths, rather than in a fundamentally different and anti-imperial liberal approach to Russian history (which has yet to emerge).
The business of the silly ‘blockade poll’ is just one obvious example of the serious condition affecting today’s Russian opposition, including its inability to understand its country’s past, which can be defined as ‘acute ideological inadequacy.’
In my view this inability or unwillingness to put real intellectual effort into escaping the imperial mythology, and not simply changing its emphasis, is at the heart of the opposition’s ideological problems. It means that, in any debate with the regime, liberals can only adopt a reactive position. They will be doomed to lose that debate until they come up with a properly thought-out and coherent perception of the past and future of the Russian state.
Standfirst image via facebook.Rights: Creative Commons
The author of The Life and Death of Democracy reviews The Confidence Trap: A history of democracy in crisis from World War 1 to the present by David Runciman (Princeton, 2013).
With talk of democracy in crisis plentiful, especially in Europe, a smart assessment of how well democracies have fared during past crises is badly needed. This is what David Runciman's The Confidence Trap offers – with decidedly mixed results. Runciman is a good writer and a brave pioneer. Little has been published on the subject and (as I realised when attempting something similar in The Life and Death of Democracy it’s no easy task to compare large numbers of cases from different time periods and come up with a convincing picture of why democracies succeed or fail.
The picture he sketches is agreeably bold: during the past century, from Woodrow Wilson’s failure to promote democracy after the First World War to the near-collapse of the banking system in 2008, democracies have been littered with confusion, foolish brinkmanship and delayed bounce-back.
They’re poor at anticipating crises; they take forever to read writings on the wall; they’re easily distracted by frivolous media events and fake crises; and they are sedated by their track record of success (that’s ‘the confidence trap’). Burdened by ‘elections and fickle public opinion and constitutional proprieties’, democracies typically lack a sense of urgency or proportion. They muddle their way into crises triggered by such anti-democratic forces as war and market failure. Then they twiddle their thumbs, usually for so long that finally they’re forced to spring into action. The picture of democracies during crisis periods ‘is not pretty, and it creates a pervasive feeling of disappointment’.
Muddling through is indeed what democracies do best, but what’s striking is the way Runciman puts two bob each way on democracy. The resilience of democracies in handling crises leads him to question the ‘perennial democratic appetite to hear the worst of itself’. In sticky situations, democracies typically outperform ‘autocracies’ (their handling of emergencies is left largely undiscussed, which is a fat flaw in the whole argument). Yet democracies, he says, are crippled by their habit of procrastination, and for that they earn his rebuke. ‘Democracies survive their mistakes,’ he writes. ‘So the mistakes keep coming.’
Runciman is therefore a reluctant democrat whose Law of Dithering Democracy (let’s call it) has roots deeper than the handful of carefully chosen historical examples he uses to support his case. It’s telling that flesh-and-blood citizens, social movements, power-monitoring bodies and other forces of civil society are missing in this book. Their democratic ‘appetite for exposure and confrontation’ is dismissed as ‘adolescent churlishness’.
Harsh words, but they help to explain why Runciman thinks crises are best handled by prudent political elites gripped by no-nonsense gravitas and a willingness to act swiftly and decisively. It’s Max Weber’s old-fashioned elitist view of politics, and it’s why Runciman, an Old Etonian, admires leaders who command respect by their actions: political animals strong on ‘restraint, discipline, and coordinated action’; canny characters with razor-sharp wits; commanders who are cucumber-cool under pressure, who know how to spot a crisis and aren’t shy of banging heads and stepping on people to survive the moment of reckoning.
None of this (look at the cases of Xi Jinping or Abdel Fattah el-Sisi) has much to do with democracy, but Runciman’s secret attachment to elite politics feeds his general reticence about democracy, understood as the public scrutiny and chastening of arrogant power. It’s why he also ignores the coming of monitory forms of democracy. Since 1945, many people have come to think, for good reasons, that democracies should not indulge strong-armed leaders, even when they’ve been elected by a majority of voters. New early-warning devices for detecting and democratically handling crisis situations (from Greenpeace and WikiLeaks to the Saskatchewan Emergency Planning Act are now firmly on the political agenda. In this book, unfortunately, they don’t rate a mention. Runciman ignores the major paradigm change that’s going on in the real world of democracy. As the range and number of potential global catastrophes grow, we see the arrival of many new democratic mechanisms that are our best hope of equitably handling future crises.
Hope isn’t among Runciman’s favourite words. Buried in his lines is an odd metaphysics: the belief, traceable to the ancient Greek historian Polybius, that decline and decay are intrinsic to political life. It’s no accident that Runciman never defines what exactly he means by the word ‘progress’, even though it’s used constantly to measure the performance of democracies under pressure. ‘The ongoing success of democracy creates the conditions for repeated failures, just as repeated failures are a precondition for its ongoing success.’ It’s Samuel Beckett – ‘Try again. Fail again. Fail better’ – minus the gallows humour.
The curse of the human condition, or so Runciman thinks, is that nothing ever remains the same or gets better. The enfranchisement of women and the defeat of apartheid (say) are gains that seem to him uninteresting. They’re trumped by the imperious way the unexpected pokes its nose into settled ways of doing things. This sometimes triggers crises whose resolution prepares the way for the next surprise, and the next crisis.
The metaphysics here gets in the way of a much richer, more convincing treatment of democracy and crisis. If democracy is never properly defined, it's the same for the originally Greek term crisis (κρίσις), today much overused and still burdened with connotations of salvation or damnation.
Crises are presumed to have a self-evident quality. They never do; their definition and unfolding are always a political matter. The fact that democracies are sometimes slow off the mark when faced with political difficulties is attributed to the ‘spirit’ of democracy itself; forces such as organised lobbying, threats of capital disinvestment and big-money advertising play no systematic role in Runciman’s explanation.
The publisher meanwhile promotes this book as a ‘global’ history, but it’s no such thing. It’s principally about the United States, the third democratic empire in the history of democracy (Athens and revolutionary France came before).
The special constraints posed by its imperial status, even its performance when intervening in far-distant humanitarian crises, are passed over in silence. Striking, too, is the book’s neglect of a large crop of democracies (Weimar Germany and Poland, for instance) that committed democide during the fateful 1920s and 1930s. How come these democracies didn’t muddle through successfully?
Runciman doesn’t say. The book is equally neglectful of cases – Indonesia springs to mind – where democracy was born, and succeeded, because it was the only way of resolving a deep-seated crisis. The list of missing items is long, which goes to show in these darkening times how badly we still need a good book on democracy and crisis.Country or region: United States Topics: Conflict Democracy and government Ideas International politics
The care.data debacle - the cracks are showing at the top....
It had to happen - the caredata debacle and the reaction of NHS IT boss Tim Kelsey, has been immortalised in a classic "Downfall" parody by Paul Bernal.
The video found an unexpected fan - Kelsey's boss, NHS Chief David Nicholson, who tweeted the Hitler parody video of his employee to the world.
Tim Kelsey responded through gritted teeth:
The downfall thing funny @paulbernal but (and am not the PC police) think care.data is a big issue: should not be too silly— Tim Kelsey (@tkelsey1) February 27, 2014
As a public figure Kelsey is of course fair game for satire and media critique - but he might have hoped for something more supportive in public from his boss than this apparant glee in his discomfiture.
Nicholson's pre-retirement venture onto Twitter has been notably "relaxed" but this latest tweet raised eyebrows about the management culture at the top of the NHS:February 27, 2014 February 27, 2014 February 28, 2014
NHS whistleblower Gary Walker was amongst those commenting:
@garywalkeruk yeah, I didn't think it was an appropriate thing for a boss to do, either. Difference between "kicking up" and "kicking down"— Claire OT (@claireOT) February 28, 2014
Nicholson has now deleted the tweet, apologised, and replaced it with something more supportive of his embattled colleague.
@tkelsey1 sorry this is what happens when you give an old bloke with an over developed sense of humour new tech you're doing a great job X— David Nicholson (@DavidNichols0n) February 28, 2014
Nicholson - shortly to retire - is perhaps a little demob happy. But Kelsey's old colleague Professor Sir Brian Jarman thought perhaps there was a little more to it, and helpfully reminded OurNHS:February 28, 2014
"NHS CE" refers to David Nicholson, formerly head of the Strategic Health Authority (SHA) whose failings over Mid-Staffs (leading to calls for Nicholson's resignation) were publicised partly as a result of the controversial "HSMR" death rate figures Tim Kelsey's Dr Foster outfit produced - with Jarman's help.
Nice to see them all sticking together!Sideboxes Related stories: Is selling our medical data to insurers a crime - or not? NHS IT boss Kelsey wrongly claims care.data leaflet sent to 100% of homes NHS England delays share of personal data Care.data questions mount - just who'll get our medical data? Opting out of care.data is not the answer Sleepwalking into an information grab by private health? Your medical data in their hands - concerns mount over new NHS IT project Your medical data - on sale for a pound
Many civilians were killed in the war between the newly independent states of Armenia and Azerbaijan in the early 1990s. But the disputed period raises larger questions of common suffering, says Gerard Libaridian, adviser to Armenia's president at the time, who reflects on one incident that casts a long shadow.
It is very difficult for an Armenian to write about Khojali.
Khojali represents a case when Armenians have been accused of atrocities against others, in this case against Azeris. Armenians are not used to being victimisers; being the victim is more of a pattern for us.
I do not know for sure and exactly what happened in Khojali on 25-26 February 1992, although I was, at the time part of the Armenian government as an adviser to the president of the republic. I know that Armenian authorities had neither authorised nor supported questionable activities. Still, Armenians do not speak about it and Azerbaijani sources are more interested in using Khojali for propaganda purposes than as a subject for serious study, thus they are unreliable.
When in 1999 and 2000 I was interviewing Armenian and Azerbaijani officials in Baku and Yerevan for my next book, Azerbaijani officials dismissed Sumgait and other cases of Azerbaijani atrocities, while Armenians ignored Khojali. I do hope that someday scholars will find out what happened exactly with the cooperation of all parties concerned.
Regardless, something unacceptable did happen, something that involved killings and mutilation of Azeri civilians by Armenian forces in Karabakh. Armenians deny or explain it away just as Azerbaijanis do with what was done to Armenian civilians earlier in Sumgait, Baku and other Azerbaijani cities. It would have been very proper and useful if Azerbaijan had recognised the pogroms against Armenians in Sumgait and other Azerbaijani cities. But recognition by Armenians of the wrong done by Armenians should not depend on a corresponding recognition of Azerbaijani wrongs against Armenians. We know that the conflict is still unresolved and ostensibly under negotiation. But human suffering should not be a matter of haggling as if we were in a bazaar. This is a matter of what values we adopt for ourselves and what values we would want others to adopt regarding our own history.
If Khojali can be explained as collateral damage, then anything done to civilians can be explained as collateral damage. Why should we expect others to recognise a big crime committed against Armenians if we will not recognise what is a smaller crime - but still a crime - we have committed against others?
We need to separate the tragedy that we and others produced for civilians during that war - and for that matter in any past, present, or future war - from the larger responsibility for the militarisation of that conflict in 1991 which clearly rests with Azerbaijani and Soviet governments.
Karabakh Armenian forces undertook military operations in Khojali and elsewhere to ensure a secure neighbourhood for their own people against Azerbaijani air-force bombardments and shelling of civilian targets. Still, as I have asked publicly before, is the Azeri grandmother who had to leave her home holding the hand of her granddaughter any less of a grandmother and her granddaughter any less of a granddaughter because they were Azeris? How are these two civilians different from their Armenian counterparts who had to leave their villages and towns in Karabakh because of the Azerbaijani attempt earlier at ethnic cleansing around and in Karabakh? In fact, how were they different from my own grandmother’s story, who had to leave her town in the Ottoman empire holding her grandmother’s hand in 1915? On the human level, they are all grandmothers and granddaughters first.
At the human, individual and family level it should not be the grand politics that matter. And the grand politics will remain immune to solutions until we recognise each other’s humanity. After all, what is or should be the purpose of politics and strategising and even of wars if not to establish a secure environment for one’s people; and no security is permanent and real unless it is also so for one’s neighbours. We need to decide whether we want to live in a state of permanent war or threat of war, or find a way out. We cannot continue doing politics based on our worst fears while reinforcing the other’s worst fears about ourselves, and thus not giving peace a chance.
We may feel good claiming our own humanity in our victimhood, but that cannot be morally valid until we recognise the humanity of our own victims, regardless of how and why we or they became victims. At the end, we have to decide whether it is sufficient to feel good claiming the higher moral ground while denying the humanity of others, or rather to come to terms with our own fallibility, even if on a smaller scale, and do good.
Doing good means finding ways to make all grandmothers and granddaughters safe. Otherwise all our slogans, all the principles - legal, international, moral, historical, political and other - are meaningless at best and recipes for future disasters at worst.
Thomas de Waal, Black Garden: Armenia and Azerbaijan through Peace and War (NYU Press, 2003; revised and updated edition, 2013)
Armine Ishkanian, Democracy Building and Civil Society in Post-Soviet Armenia (Routledge, 2008)
Razmik Panossian, The Armenians: From Kings and Priests and to Merchants and Commissars (C Hurst, 2006)
Ayse Gul Altinay & Fethiye Cetin, The Grandchildren: The Hidden Legacy of 'Lost' Armenians in Turkey (Transaction, 2014)Sidebox:
Gerard Libaridian is an Armenian scholar and writer. He was, for eleven years, Alex Manoogian Professor of Modern Armenian History at the University of Michigan, until his retirement in 2012. In the first years of the Republic of Armenia's independence following the break-up of the Soviet Union, during the war with Azerbaijan over the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, he was leading adviser to Armenia's president. Among his books is Modern Armenia: People, Nation, State (Transaction, 2004). He has written a foreword to Ayse Gul Altinay & Fethiye Cetin, The Grandchildren: The Hidden Legacy of 'Lost' Armenians in Turkey (Transaction, 2014)The Caucasus: a region in pieces Nagorno-Karabakh: between vote and reality Armenia’s mixed messages Nagorno-Karabakh: between vote and reality Armenia's election: dark deeds, slim hopes Liberation technology: dreams, politics, history Karabakh: peace, war and democracy Armenia’s election: the waiting game Democracy contested: Armenia’s fifth presidential elections Dynasty and democracy in Azerbaijan The water finds its crack: an Armenian in Turkey Armenia's election message Azerbaijan: speed without system Azerbaijani demolitions: an update The Caucasus effect: Europe unblocked Country or region: Armenia Azerbaijan Topics: Conflict Democracy and government International politics
As the Green Party Spring Conference kicks off in Liverpool today, Caroline Lucas MP writes exclusively for OurNHS about the threats to NHS democracy in England.
The Coalition told us it wanted to hand control of the NHS to patients - but instead is attacking NHS democracy on every side.
Before Christmas, I spent
an evening as an observer with an ambulance team in Brighton. The shift continued well past its official
finish time of 1am. I left with an even stronger sense of the commitment and
dedication of our hard-working, professional NHS staff.
The health service remains the country’s most cherished institution, polls tell us. It is uniquely bound up in our sense of who we are. The memory of Danny Boyle’s wonderful and creative depiction of the NHS at the Olympics is still so vivid because it embodies that sense. Forged in post-war Britain as part of our collective will to build a better, fairer society, we feel that it belongs to us more passionately than we do any other public service.
The outcry at the Health and Social Care Act wasn’t just about the commercialisation of the NHS. It was about an affront to our democratic values. The Conservatives had promised there would be “no more top-down reorganisation of the NHS”. But on gaining office they quickly announced the biggest restructuring of the NHS in its history, a reorganisation so large its head said it was "visible from space".
The new structures are Kafkaesque (I have complicated organisational flow charts on the walls of my office to try and help me understand who is accountable for what).
Another dent in democracy is that private companies providing NHS care can be far more secretive about their activities. They can circumvent Freedom of Information requests on the basis of commercial confidentiality.
The commercialisation of health services that the Act has accelerated adds to the democratic deficit.
Has the Coalition learned its lesson from the wave of public and professional protest against the Health and Social Care Act?
Far from it.
They’re now trying to push through another piece of legislation taking away much of the power of local communities to have a say in what happens to their local hospitals and NHS services.
The Care Bill - reaching
its final votes in a couple of weeks - is by no means all bad. In fact it’s an
important Bill that aims to bring up to date the legal framework underpinning
the care system. But it also contains the frankly outrageous Clause 118. This
clause would give government agents powers to recommend and impose changes not
just to “financially failing” trusts they are brought in to sort out, but also
to neighbouring trusts, potentially denying the public and patients in those
areas any real say.
The move follows last year’s embarrassing defeat in the Appeal Court, which ruled that the Health Secretary did not have powers to implement cuts to Lewisham Hospital’s Accident and Emergency and maternity services.
The Government is trying to sneak through a fundamental shift in the way future decisions about local services are made.
If they thought we wouldn’t notice that backhand attempt to change the rules they were wrong. There is both strong cross party opposition and grass roots opposition to the clause. Democracy hasn’t been smothered yet.
this weren't enough, the attack on the democracy of our most loved national
institution could be ramped up by the Transatlantic Trade and Investment
Partnership (TTIP). If it goes ahead, it could see the multinational health
giants that are circling around and snapping up billions of pounds worth of NHS
contracts file complaints directly to international tribunals, completely
bypassing national courts should they perceive threats to their interests from our
Two other pieces of government legislation complete a five pronged attack on the democracy of the NHS. The Chair of the British Medical Association raised concerns that the Gagging Bill – now sadly law despite public outcry - could prevent people from speaking out against the threat of privatisation, remarking that the Coalition "doesn’t like to hear anyone but themselves talking”. The requirement to divide spending on constituency lines will mean large administrative burdens for many health campaigns, for example against hospital closures that affect more than one area.
Like the Gagging Bill, the Deregulation Bill currently before parliament is wide-ranging in scope. It’s when we look at what it might mean for the NHS that we see why so much in it is absurd. The Bill imposes a new duty on non-economic regulators to promote economic growth. What exactly would that mean for the Care Quality Commission? How exactly would the Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Agency, which regulates the pharmaceutical industry, promote growth?
Successive governments have talked about the need to empower patients, to make the NHS more accountable and to improve choice. Yet in reality, their policies have often disenfranchised communities, perhaps because their understanding of what choice and freedom mean is inextricably bound up with ideas of markets, and profits, rather than genuine people power.
Nye Bevan famously said that the NHS will last as long as there are folk left with the faith to fight for it. We have a service we want to protect passionately. The democratic tools we need to do so are threatened.
Like this piece? Please donate to OurNHS here to help keep us producing the NHS stories that matter. Thank you.Sideboxes Related stories: Why we need a political campaign to reinstate the NHS in England The Fire and the Games: how London’s Olympic opening confronted corporate values
Now that the EU is ready to embrace the new Ukrainian government, investing at least one billion euros in the ‘revolutionized’ country, it is time to reinvestigate the question of far right influence in Ukraine.
The Euromaidan ‘revolution’ will undoubtedly remain one of the key political events of 2014. Most domestic and foreign observers were completely taken by surprise by the events that followed President Viktor Yanukovych’ decision not to sign an integration treaty with the European Union (EU) in November 2013. While the initial demonstrations in downtown Kiev were somewhat expected, few had ever thought that they could spiral so out of control that, just 3 months later, a democratically elected government with one of the most popular politicians in the country was forced out of power.
Euromaidan has also been interesting in terms of the propaganda battle that has been fought in the traditional and social media. As is now standard for ‘revolutions’ in the twenty first century, activists were quick to set up several Facebook pages, Twitter accounts, and other websites to provide their own positive view of the ‘revolution,’ countering the negative reports from the official Ukrainian media and, particularly, the largely Kremlin-controlled Russian media. They were very successful in disseminating their message, in part through networks of sympathizers in the west (including Ukrainian émigré communities in North America and post-Soviet scholars across the globe).
One of the main struggles has been over the importance of ‘fascists’ in the Euromaidan. Almost from the beginning the pro-Kremlin media emphasized the importance of ‘Ukrainian fascists’ among the anti-government demonstrators, and within days the whole uprising was to be portrayed as ‘fascist.’ This was to be expected, as both Soviet and post-Soviet Russian elites have tended to equate Ukrainian nationalism with fascism, linking any and every anti-Soviet or anti-Russian movement to the infamous Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) of Stepan Bandera, which (temporarily) collaborated with Nazi Germany in a misguided attempt to gain Ukrainian independence from Stalin’s brutal Soviet regime.
At the same time, most domestic and foreign sympathizers of ‘Euromaidan’ have minimalized the importance of the far right, arguing that Euromaidan was a genuine democratic and pro-European uprising in which far right elements were insignificant.
Euromaidan became the latest cause of western celebrities, from Archbishop of New York Cardinal Dolan to actor George Clooney, and academics, from Andrew Arato to the inevitable Slavoj Žižek. Much more surprising, however, was that some of the same scholars who had been warning us against the rise of the far right in pre-Euromaidan Ukraine, were now scolding us for exaggerating the importance of the far right in Euromaidan.
Even worse, any specific emphasis on far right elements within Euromaidan would lead to “Russian imperialism-serving effects.” Arguing by and large that they should be the only ones to judge the situation in Ukraine, given that they were the (only) “experts on Ukrainian nationalism,” these scholars declared Euromaidan “a liberationist and not extremist mass action of civil disobedience.”
Now that the ‘revolution’ is supposedly won, and the EU is ready to embrace the new Ukrainian government, and invest at least one billion euros in the ‘revolutionized’ country, it is time to reinvestigate the question of far right influence in Ukraine. After all, the EU has always been an outspoken critic of far right parties and politicians. In fact, only last month EU Commissioner Cecilia Malmström declared publically: “The biggest threat [for the EU] right now comes from violent right-wing extremism.”Ukraine’s far right: a comparative European perspective
While not a scholar of Ukrainian nationalism, I have heeded the true experts’ call to “do some serious reading on the issues” before writing this article. What follows is a short analysis of the electoral and political relevance of the far right in contemporary Ukraine, based in part on the works of many of these experts. Moreover, I put the Ukrainian far right in a comparative European perspective, both in terms of ideology and relevance, as this is the political context that both the new Ukrainian government and the EU elite (or EUlite) deem most appropriate.
Let us start with assessing the electoral strength of far right political parties in Ukraine. Several far right parties contested the last parliamentary elections in October 2012, but only one was really important: the All-Ukrainian Union “Svoboda” (Freedom). The party was officially founded as the Social-National Party of Ukraine (SNPU), in an ominous reference to Adolf Hitler’s National Socialism Workers’ Party of Germany (NSDAP), in 1995.
The SNPU restricted membership to ‘ethnic Ukrainians’ and sported the Wolfsangel as the party symbol; an ancient runic symbol that was adopted by several Waffen SS divisions during the Second World War and that remains popular among neo-fascist groups around the world.
Despite the overt neo-fascist references, co-founder Oleh Tyahnybok was elected to the Verkhovna Rada (Ukrainian Parliament) in 1998. Four years later he was re-elected as part of the democratic Our Ukraine Bloc of Victor Yushchenko.
In 2004 Tyahnybok became the party leader of the SNPU and started a campaign of ‘moderation’ and ‘mainstreaming.’ He changed the name to Svoboda, minimized the use of the Wolf’s hook, and started to expel some of the neo-Nazi members. At the same time, he was thrown out of the Our Ukraine Bloc in July 2004, after making anti-Semitic ("Muscovite-Jewish mafia") and revisionist statements. This notwithstanding, Tyahnybok and Svoboda supported the Orange Revolution later that year and were temporarily welcomed back into the All Ukraine Bloc camp.
After the Orange Revolution Svoboda was able to gain support on the basis of its radical opposition to the Yushchenko government, which became increasingly unpopular in the ‘ethnically Ukrainian’ western part of the country. In the 2010 local election Svoboda gained between 20% and 30% in Eastern Galicia, entering many local and regional parliaments as well as some local governments.
In the 2012 parliamentary elections it won 10% of the national vote, bringing 37 deputies in the Verkhovna Rada. While the party gained a mere 1% in the three eastern regions of the country, support was between 30% and 40% in the three western regions. In the biggest western city, Lviv, the symbol of pro-western and pro-EU Ukraine, Svoboda constitutes the largest faction in the local council.
In ideological terms Svoboda is quite similar to the other parties that it collaborates with in the Alliance of European National Movements (AENM), such as the British National Party (BNP), the German National Democratic Party (NPD), and the Italian Tricolor Flame.
Most of these parties are openly anti-Semitic and racist, while their support for democracy is nominal and mostly professed strategically and temporarily. These mostly marginal parties are excluded from the new Alliance for European Freedom (AEF), the new European collaborative project of more ‘moderate’ and relevant radical right parties like the Austrian Freedom Party (FPÖ), the Dutch Party for Freedom (PVV) and the French National Front (FN).
The only other electorally relevant AENM member party is the Movement for a Better Hungary, Jobbik, which gained almost 17% of the vote in the 2010 Hungarian parliamentary election. Despite its electoral relevance, it is one of the most popular far right parties in Europe, Jobbik is shunned by the EAF parties for its anti-Semitism and extremism (in part through its now banned paramilitary Hungarian Guard). But while gaining more votes than Svoboda, Jobbik is politically marginalized by the national conservative Fidesz party of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, which holds a constitutional majority in the Hungarian parliament.
In sharp contrast, Svoboda has several ministers in the new Ukrainian government, including a deputy prime minister, and one of its members, Oleh Makhnitsky, was appointed the country’s prosecutor general. This is a stronger governmental presence than Latvia’s National Alliance (NA), currently the only far right party that is part of a national government in an EU member state. Moreover, NA is considerately more moderate than Svoboda, as it is an alliance of the far right “All For Latvia!” and the national conservative For Fatherland and Freedom/LNNK.
But Svoboda is not even the most extreme far right group represented in the new Ukrainian government. Pravyi Sektor (Right Sector) is a coalition of mostly smaller far right groups, including various neo-fascists and neo-Nazis, which came together during the protests. It has presented itself as the defender of Euromaidan, but has also been linked to much of its most violent actions, including against other (radical left) demonstrators.
According to Emmanuel Dreyfus, in an insightful and largely sympathetic account of the new Ukrainian situation, “Pravy Sektor defines itself as ‘neither xenophobic nor anti-Semitic, as Kremlin propaganda claims’ and above all as ‘nationalist, defending the values of white, Christian Europe against the loss of the nation and deregionalisation’.” Recent incidents showed that leading members of the group are willing to use violence and weapons to defend these values.
The leader of Pravyi Sektor, Dmytro Yarosh, a 25-year veteran of Ukrainian far right politics, was appointed Deputy Secretary of the National Security and Defense Council, which advises the president on the national security strategy of Ukraine. Yarosh serves under the new Secretary, Andriy Parubiy, who formed and led Euromaidan’s Self-Defence (Samoobrona) units during the protests. While Purubiy was most recently a member of Yulia Tymoshenko’s Batkivshchyna or the All-Ukrainian Union “Fatherland,” he has a long history in Ukrainian far right politics. Most notably, he is the co-founder of the SNPU (with Oleh Tyahnybok).
Parubyi does not seem to have changed his ideas fundamentally. In 2010 he wrote a letter to the European Parliament, protesting its resolution that “deeply deplores the decision by the outgoing President of Ukraine, Viktor Yuschenko, to posthumously award Stepan Bandera, a leader of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN), which collaborated with Nazi Germany, the title of ‘National Hero of Ukraine.’”
In line with a nationalist view of Ukrainian history, Purubiy wrote that: “All people interested in history know that Stepan Bandera was in a German concentration camp during the Second World War, while his brothers were shot dead by the Nazis. In addition, Ukrainians were the first to offer armed resistance to the German occupation in Transcarpathian Ukraine.”Where does that leave us?
So where does that leave us with regard to the role of the far right in the ‘new’ Ukraine? Clearly Russian media and politicians exaggerate the importance of the far right in Ukraine. Euromaidan was not a “fascist coup” by “Banderovtsi.”
At the same time, even when Euromaidan truly was a ‘liberationist mass action of civil disobedience,’ it clearly included significant extremist elements that have since been partly integrated into the new government and state bureaucracy. Hence, the following statement by Anton Shekhovtsov, one of the most vocal and most radically transformed experts on Ukrainian nationalism, is also way off mark: “Make no mistake: today, democratic Ukraine is on the frontline of the struggle against fascism and authoritarianism.”
If that were truly the case, “democratic Ukraine” is fighting an increasingly powerful enemy and it is doing this with only part of its leadership. Not only do far right parties in Ukraine have a popular support that is well above the EU average, although only half of that in some west European countries (like Austria and France), the main far right party is more extreme than most of its ‘brethren’ within the EU, and occupies significant positions of power within the new Ukrainian government and state.
On top of that, whereas EU countries actively persecute violent and anti-democratic neo-fascists, like Golden Dawn in Greece, they have entered key positions within the Ukrainian state bureaucracy. This should be cause of considerable concern for EU politicians and scholars of Ukrainian nationalism alike.Sideboxes Related stories: Crimea – from playground to battleground Firefighting for democracy in Ukraine Why Ukraine is still not (yet) Russia Ukraine: the view from the west Nothing left? In search of (a new) social democracy Is the revolution eating its children? The US Tea Party, between Astroturf and grassroots The myth of Weimar Europe The European elite's politics of fear Country or region: Ukraine EU Hungary Austria France Latvia Netherlands UK Germany Italy
The US school shooters weren't just pathological murderers, they were responding to suffocating beliefs about masculinity. The 'sea of pink', Nelson Mandela and the AIDS memorial quilt show that to thrive, everyone needs more social room.
During the 1990s, the United States experienced a startling rash of school shootings. What did they have in common? Each was perpetrated by a young, white male.
While many rushed to point to the shooters as lone, pathological killers, others began to dig into the larger cultural context and similarities of these events. In 2000, Harvard University sociologist Kathleen Newman and her colleagues posed the idea of “social room”, following an in-depth study of two of the major shootings, in which they interviewed over 200 people within the affected communities of Jonesboro, Arkansas, and Paducah, Kentucky.
Rather than being aberrant one-offs, Newman argued that the shooters' rage was a response to the society-wide problem of hypermasculine cultures: where masculinity is associated with aggression and the physique of the US football player.
In reality, she said, the problem is the narrow, almost suffocating way in which masculinity is defined and performed. The shootings had each been foregrounded by aggression and bullying towards the shooters, who did not exhibit accepted forms of masculine expression. In effect, the bullying towards the shooters was not only accepted but expected: it provided a tool for policing expressions of masculinity, and to keep a certain kind of alpha masculinity at the top of the social system.
Against this background, social room means opening up cultural spaces for a broader range of acceptable gender expressions – in this case, what it means to be a man. With more social room in all our institutions, a young man who doesn’t conform to narrow ideals of masculinity would not be bullied into submission or violent retaliation.
I believe that creating greater social room for the expression of gender, as well as other elements of our identities, can be a transformational social technique. Let me provide an example.
In a small, rural high school in Nova Scotia in 2007, a 14 year old boy was bullied on the first day of school for wearing a pink polo shirt. Seeing this, two 18 year olds, David Shepherd and Travis Price, recognized the need to create more social room in their school.
Shepherd and Price bought 50 pink shirts at a local discount store, and then used social media and email to encourage students to wear pink to school the next day. Over 100 students agreed, and others put on more pink shirts once they saw the ‘sea of pink’ that was growing. The gesture points in the direction of freedom of expression across the school, helping to challenge a social power structure and widening the space for different identities to be expressed safely.
In creating their sea of pink, a group of high school teens had made more social room. Their simple act caught fire and a 'Day of Pink' has since been declared as an anti-bullying day in many schools across Canada.
What would it mean to make more social room as a way to deal with systemic bullies?
To answer this question, I'm interested in exporting the idea of social room to the scale of a city or a nation. When you scale out, the bullies are no longer just high-school jocks. They are the police force, government officials and corporate actors. The victims are entire communities, and in some cases all of us (the NSA anyone?)
Like offering pink shirts to all school students, solidarity in these wider situations has to be made real. So, for example, the social room technique could offer the police, government and corporations the opportunity to step into another relationship to the problem. In that sense social room can be transformative. But for that to happen, the application of these tactics will have to be more intense and sustained than in the sea of pink.
Creating social room on a larger scale means creating avenues for onlookers to express their solidarity with marginal communities, who are on the front lines of systemic attacks from institutional bullies. The making of social room doesn't guarantee that onlookers would side with victims, but I believe it would facilitate it. And it could enable dissenters within institutions to speak up, potentially changing the institutional culture.
In New York City, for example, social room could mean wealthy, white, upper west side residents expressing visible solidarity with young men of color who are victimized by the widespread police practice of 'stop and frisk'. It would also give room for police to step up who are against this practice themselves.
The concept of social room assumes that some internal conflict exists inside the bully – and more broadly within institutions like the police. But by making it easier to identify the different elements of our identity and the more vulnerable parts of ourselves, these actions would also help us to recognize the same differences and vulnerabilities in others, and to work from that foundation in finding common ground.
For example, shortly after being elected President of South Africa, Nelson Mandela loudly pronounced, and wore, his support for the South African national rugby team, the Springboks. The Springboks had long been the symbol of white apartheid, and Mandela had rooted against his jailers' favourite team throughout his 27 years in prison. But he realized that the opportunity for South Africa to hold the 1995 men's rugby world cup could 'flip' the symbolic meaning of the Springboks and create the space for South Africa to rally around their home team. In doing so, he created social room for a divided country to come together, perhaps just long enough to nudge people on a trajectory that led towards building a new nation.
Another powerful example is the AIDS Memorial Quilt, which was started by Cleve Jones in 1987 to memorialize the many victims of AIDS in the USA. Without directly addressing the homophobic approaches that some individuals and the US government had taken to address HIV and AIDS, the AIDS Quilt offered all friends, lovers and family members of AIDS victims the social room to mourn and celebrate those who had lost their lives to the disease. Now with over 48,000 panels, the AIDS Memorial quilt is not just a testament to the many lives that have been lost; it also celebrates the many panel-creators who have helped to shift how people with AIDS are seen, and to change government responses to the epidemic in the process.
Both these examples drew on meaningful national symbols to create solidarity across deep divides: a country’s passion for sports or its history with family quilting. These actions didn’t solve the underlying problems of racism or homophobia in either case, but they did create more spaces – more social room - in which people engaged with each other, and, to an extent, were transformed as a consequence.
Social room is an optimistic methodology, and while it’s not all that we need, it's certainly worth testing as a way of opening up new dialogues and creating the space for new solutions.
Before a spontaneous run on a discount store’s pink t-shirts, the bullied and the bullies could never imagine a ‘sea of pink'. Now it’s up to us to imagine a much bigger sea of change.Sideboxes Related stories: East end boys and west end boys: does gentrification lead to homophobia? Enough talk about intersectionality. Let's get on with it Why we need radical love to create change We need to talk about the UK media war on women Silence = death: Sarah Schulman on ACT UP, the forgotten resistance to the AIDS crisis Country or region: United States South Africa City: Nova Scotia New York City Topics: Civil society Democracy and government Equality Ideas International politics Rights: Creative Commons
This bottom-up lawmaking project is an opportunity for us to reflect on the role the law can play as a strategy of struggle and resistance against the neoliberal policies of commodification and privatization.
Italy can be assumed to be a semi-peripheral territory with reference to the processes of legal globalization. By ‘semi-periphery’ I mean a legal system where legal concepts, techniques or arguments from the centre are elaborated, reframed and diffused toward the peripheries, so working as a turning point between centre and edge. As such, the Italian system undergoes legal developments that may indirectly affect or be of interest to a broader region in the world. At this stage of capitalism, one of the legal fields that is most under inquiry, as a result of the diffuse dynamics of privatization and commodification affecting societies, is without doubt the law of property.
To my knowledge, there are three hotspots in the current Italian debate on property law that may well influence analogous developments in other countries. The first concerns the attempt to construct a law of the commons (beni comuni, common goods, biens communes) as a counter-narrative to the current naturalisation of private property. This is a new – even fashionable – topic, which Italian legal scholarship is increasingly investigating.
The second concerns the sunset of the constitutional principle of the social function of property as a legal strategy for subordinating private property to social interests.
The third is an experiment of bottom up law-making as a political practice run by a mixed group of legal scholars with a strong political commitment and social movements engaged in mobilisation for the commons. Although this experience is strictly linked to the renewed interest in the commons in Italian scholarship, not all theorists working on the commons are involved in this bottom-up lawmaking project. The goal is, roughly speaking, to reform the law of property and the legal regulation of access to resources (in civil law a specific branch of legal regulation, the droit des biens) through an experiment in collective drafting.
These three legal topics are tightly linked one with another. In this short article, however, I will focus on the third issue only; that is, I will discuss the experience of the Costituente dei beni comuni (Constituent Assembly of the Commons, henceforth CAC). Although I am one of its members, I was initially skeptical as far as some of its premises were concerned. This initial scepticism – I suspect – might be felt by many critics. It is for this reason that I would like here to share the pros and cons of such an experiment with respect to its theoretical and political foundations. This will offer an occasion for us to reflect on the role the law can play as a strategy of struggle and resistance against the neoliberal policies of commodification and privatization.Lawmaking as a political weapon held by social movements
In the amazingly huge literature on the crisis, the vast majority of the projects that articulate possible radical-leftist exit strategies give little or no significant role to law. In current descriptions of the innumerable forms of resistance and/or civil disobedience against the law in force, law is inescapably depicted as the guardian of the status quo, a neoliberal weapon thrown against the social ethos. The relationship between law and resistance has instead become extremely significant in Italy, where activists, including myself and other CAC members, are trying to use the law in many sites of political struggle. The basic idea is not to resist the law but to resist through the law, by means of the law.
What has made the encounter of (certain strands of) social movements with (some) jurists possible is a common goal: to preserve from dispossession the cities where we live, the urban places we share, our lives and, in sum, the wealth we produce in common. This strategy can be articulated in many different ways: finding a legal solution in order to save the so-called virtuous occupations from eviction is one of the main issues at stake; but also using legal actions to resist projects of infrastructure development, which would otherwise devastate natural and urban environments, or elaborating a statutory draft aimed to guarantee a basic income for all - these are other crucial objectives in the CAC’s agenda.
The issue of the ‘new’ occupations deserves some attention. I am referring here not to the usual squats, but to places of ‘commoning’ where occupants reinvent social welfare by opening up buildings of public or private ownership – especially theatres, movie houses, but also factories and farms released by their owners – to a larger community (the neighbourhood, the town, etc.). In doing so, they transform them into facilities and services to be shared and managed in common.
These occupations activate a virtuous circle of utilities production by ‘freeing’ real estates and areas from owners’ misuse whilst, at the same time, using them ‘properly’; for instance, organising Italian language courses for migrants, free sport activities, cultural happenings, after-school activities, free access libraries, etc.
By guaranteeing free access to urban sites, occupants not only put in place a bottom up production of welfare, but also try to reinvent labour out of the labour/capital relation. This requires finding alternative ways of income through ‘commoning’. Now, the attempt to save these occupations from eviction allows for a legal construction of common goods and communing. This permits disarticulating property rights while re-connecting what is legal to what is (illegal but perceived as) legitimate and fair.CAC’s structure and function
More generally the CAC aims at producing a legal regulation of the access and use of common goods. This has resulted in the introduction of new limits and constraints to property rights of both private owners and public bodies.
Such an enterprise finds its political and scientific legitimacy in the so-called Rodotà Commission (RC) – its chair was an internationally renowned law professor, Stefano Rodotà – who was appointed in 2007 by the national Minister of Justice to reform the third chapter of the civil code devoted to goods that are owned by the State. RC produced a draft, which, although it remained steadfastly ignored by the Parliament, introduced to us the innovative category of beni comuni (common goods) as a third category of goods progressing beyond beyond the public/private divide. The CAC restarted its initiative precisely from there.
The Costituente dei beni comuni has a two-level structure: it consists of: a) a travelling assembly which includes activists & jurists and gathers in different places in Italy; and b) a drafting commission (only jurists). The stopovers of the ‘itinerant’ Costituente are chosen among sites of severe environmental and political breakdown, such as L'Aquila, the gorgeous renaissance city destroyed by an earthquake and never reconstructed.
It is here that the first assembly was held with the aim of meeting the citizens mobilized against the dispossession of both their private homes and their public space. Following the earthquake they had been confined and forced to live far from downtown, sprawling throughout a vast territory with no urban structure or social relations. CAC’s objective was then to find a legal strategy able to oppose the government’s restoration plans. Since then, communication, encounters and the exchange of opinion with local communities and social movements have been crucial to identify the legal practices that can best enable people to resist dispossession at the local level as collective actors.Bottom-up lawmaking: is it feasible or desirable?
At this point a critical attitude toward the CAC enterprise is welcome and even necessary. In effect such a project of resistance through the law inevitably raises a question: is bottom up lawmaking feasible and/or desirable at all?
The first burning question we have to face is namely: is it possible to produce law from below? To my knowledge, there is no evidence of such a course in legal history.
a) In the middle ages jurists were private citizens who created law: they were not representatives of the State. They derived their legitimation not from state authority but from the prestige of the legal source they interpreted (Corpus Iuris Civilis) and from their own personal prestige. However they represented an elite and created new law to serve the interests of dominant social groups (not poor people).
b) Customary law might be an example of law from below, but in complex legal systems its enforceability is in the gift of the sovereign and is in a way absorbed within it.
c) Is the lex mercatoria an example of bottom-up lawmaking? The lex mercatoria is certainly not produced under a state authority but it is definitely not law from below.
So we must conclude that so far the law has never been a weapon handled by the subaltern. We come now to another big question: how to deal with this (updated) faith in law? The attitude recently taken by some radical movements in Italy clashes with the most traditional findings of Critical Legal Studies (hereinafter CLS). And, of course, with the Marxist tradition, which I leave apart here. I will instead confront two CLS’ topoi.
First: we know that law is inherently incoherent, that legal rules are indeterminate, and that rights can be deployed to fulfil divergent political projects. However our disenchantment towards legal change as social engineering cannot disguise the lack of something. Is the internal critique strategy enough at this point? Can we defeat neoliberal policies, unbundle property, grant access to resources through internal critique, that is by denouncing the indeterminacy of legal rules and proposing socially oriented interpretations that might perhaps achieve more desirable adjudication outcomes?
I am not proposing to set aside the tools of critical analysis – which I am very fond of – and to embrace instead an illuminist project of legal change; yet, I am convinced that disarticulating property is a necessary step toward a fairer model of wealth distribution, toward, ultimately, a new idea of citizenship, and I doubt that such goals can be fulfilled today by means of ‘microsurgery’.
Second: the project of a bottom-up lawmaking has to deal with the Foucauldian critique of law’s performativity. Legal rules as governamentality devices produce not only behaviours but even subjects. If, in theory, ‘lawmaking from below’ should be able to flip the order of discourse, it would not lose its performativity, its ability to construe individuals’ identities, to orient people’s conduct. Distributive analysis, however, can help us to set aside the darkness of a deterministic image of the law as an apparatus that unavoidably maintains a given distribution of power within the social body and to focus on the ‘good’ performativity of possible legal rules capable of moulding different settings of power.
To begin with, a legal regime of open access for some resources, together with the defeat of the hegemonic role of property, would empower the 99% of all human beings, although this would not prevent distributive conflicts from reproducing themselves within the now-reinvigorated majority.Conclusion: on law and politics
Anyway the discussion on the symbolic and social impact of the law is actually very intense within the CAC. Participants uphold different critical approaches to the law and different ideas about what the politics/law relation is like: for instance Stefano Rodotà’s faith in ‘the right to have rights’, which endorses a notion of human rights as far-reaching entitlements no longer rooted in national citizenship, but in a new, global legal consciousness; or CLS and legal realist approaches, according to which legal rules are indeterminate and serve different political projects, so that we can use them to produce a fairer distribution of power; or more Marxian attitudes, where the law is deployed in a purely tactical perspective.
All of us basically share (or are aware of) the traditional caveats about the law. Most importantly: the idea of a bottom up process of lawmaking is supported by an ironic sense of our common role as lawmakers and by the enjoyment of the collective dimension of the enterprise.
In conclusion, I believe that this enterprise is significant beyond the legal text it will produce. Its importance is mostly political. To participate in the drafting is a way to diffuse political consciousness and pro-activism, to boost ongoing social conflicts, to lift the veil on latent ones and at the same time to make them connect. Moreover it brings with it an emancipatory promise playing with the same techniques deployed by the power it confronts, and might be a way to supersede the emptiness of representative democracy without remaining at the margins. Last but not least, it might represent a challenge to mere cynical critiques of law, but without replacing the crucial role of politics.
Nonetheless, I do not intend to celebrate CAC beyond its actual potentiality. This is not the opportunity to downplay the lack of a stage of general mobilization in Italy as Syntagma does in Greece or Puerta del Sol and 15-M in Spain. Resistance and struggle against neoliberal policies would ultimately require a moment when identities no longer matter according to the Agambenian notion of ‘whatever singularity’, when the sum of individuals engaged in the uprising dismiss the various identities normally ascribed to militants and protesters: students, precarious workers, jobless intellectuals, debtors, and even jurists (!), and become just a multiplicity of singularities acting in common, a crowd, a class, a multitude. Perhaps a demos, as Costas Douzinas advocates.
G. Agamben. The Coming Community, (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993).
A. Cavalletti, Classe, (Torino, Bollati Boringhieri, 2009).
Commissione Rodotà sui beni pubblici, http://www.astrid-online.it/Riforma-de2/Documenti/Commissione-Rodot-.pdf
E. Conte. ‘Roman Law vs Custom in a Changing Society: Italy in the Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries’, in P. Andersen and Mia Münster-Swendsen (eds.), Custom - The Development and Use of a Legal Concept in the Middle Ages (Copenhagen: Djoef Publishing, 2009), p. 33.
C. Douzinas. Philosophy and Resistance in the Crisis: Greece and the Future of Europe, (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2013).
M.Hardt & A.Negri, Declaration, (Allen: Argo-Navis, 2012).
D. Kennedy. ‘The Stakes of Law. Or Hale and Foucault!’, Legal Studies Forum, Vol. XV, No. 4 (1991), p. 327.
M.R. Marella. ‘Pratiche del comune. Per una nuova idea di cittadinanza’, in Lettera internazionale, 116 (2013), p. 24.
S. Rodotà. Il diritto di avere diritti, (Roma-Bari: Laterza, 2013).
M. Spanò. ‘Law as Subjects' Production: A Foucauldian Argument for Class Action’, in Global Jurist, Vol. 10, No. 2 (Aug 2010), pp. 1-30.
Images courtesy of Tiziana Tomasulo
See more articles and videos from the Oecumene: Citizenship after Orientalism partnership with the Open University.Related stories: Introducing Teatro Valle – searching for a European commons Country or region: Italy EU Topics: Civil society Conflict Culture Democracy and government Ideas International politics
Most observers thought that any threat to the Sochi Olympics would come from disarray to the east and the south, in the fractious Caucasus. But, as it happened, strife came calling from the West.
The difference could not be more stark.
As Russia wrapped up its show of stability and splendour in Sochi, Ukraine displayed what is the more common state of affairs in the post-Soviet space: an embittered and bitterly divided populace, a dysfunctional political elite, a nation with an unusable past and a seemingly unattainable future.
The violence and chaos on the streets of Kyiv and other Ukrainian cities stood, first and foremost, as evidence of leaders' inability - in some cases, even unwillingness - to live up to the aspirations of their people. The difficulties of post-socialist transition seem to have endowed ruled and rulers alike with a dangerous mix of entitlement and impunity. But citizens have learned more quickly than politicians the value of governance. Whether in the language of ethnic chauvinism or democratic liberalism, citizens demand the same thing: leaders that can be held accountable, heads that can be made to roll.
Citizens have learned more quickly than politicians the value of governance….leaders that can be held accountable, heads that can be made to roll
Ukraine is only the latest example, and the biggest, but most former Soviet states have seen some degree of the same. Others (Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan) certainly will. Only Russia seems unfazed. Moscow's liberal twitterati fret at the fizzling of their own protest movement, which spooked the Kremlin but generated nothing of the heat we've seen in Kyiv.
Not that Russia's rulers are any better than their Ukrainian counterparts. Russians are aware of the corruption that permeates their state, of the lengths to which their leaders have gone to shield themselves from the influence of the democratic institutions that brought them to power. The show at Sochi went on not because Russians were unaware of their plight, but because they had, it would seem, accepted it. And Victor Yanukovych probably watched the closing ceremony in Sochi on Russian television because Ukrainians, evidently, have not accepted theirs.
Similarities and differences
The political watershed in Ukraine is complex, dividing east and west, Catholic and Orthodox, Russian and Ukrainian speakers, liberal and conservative and chauvinist, those who see strength in integration and those who see weakness. The political watershed in Russia, by contrast, is simple: it runs between those who believe that a better future for the country is possible, and those who do not. Three rouble devaluations in the ‘90s, countless stolen elections and skyrocketing inequality have turned Russians into rugged individualists. When the state appropriated millions of Russians’ pension savings last year, there was hardly a whimper of dismay.
Citizens who believe in the future of their state are willing to contest it, in the voting booths or at the barricades. They are driven by political passions precisely because those passions matter to them in a very real sense. There are, to be sure, those in Russia who are similarly politically passionate, and some of them support Putin. In the early years of Russian democracy, the dedication to politics ran high. But that passion was never requited by Russia’s political establishment, and it has dissipated. In the more than two decades since the fall of the communism, Russians have learned to prosper not with their state, but despite it. Russians of all social strata—those who retire to town homes in Mayfair and those who can retreat only to their dachas and kitchen tables—live in a kind of Soviet-style divorce from their state, forced for lack of an alternative to continue to share the same space but living independent, mutually spiteful lives.
Russians have learned to prosper not with their state, but despite it…continuing to share the same space but living independent, mutually spiteful lives
Ukrainians, of course, have also learned to defend themselves from the difficulties of the prolonged post-Soviet transition, which in many ways has been worse in Ukraine than in Russia. But the same politics of identity and existential crisis that have made policymaking in Kyiv impossible have, ironically, made politics more relevant to Ukrainians than to Russians. Any Russian politician who decides to base his legitimacy on public support rather than the price of oil will first have to convince his would-be electorate that the state is meaningful. Some, including Aleksey Navalny, have turned to identity politics and nationalism to attempt this but there is little traction there: Russia is diverse on paper but homogeneous in practice.
There is a lesson here for Ukraine, too, particularly for those leaders who feel that the ‘Euromaidan’ has put the wind at their back. Speaking at the Munich Security Conference in late January, opposition leader Arseny Yatseniuk implored Western leaders to provide his people with a new Marshall Plan. Aside from the fact that the West has neither the vision nor the treasure for such a plan, the real danger is in the message sent home to Ukrainians, that salvation comes from Brussels and Washington, not from Kyiv.
Ukrainian leaders have the chance to prove that the state can be worthy of the passions of its citizens. If they fail, Ukraine may end up looking a lot more like Russia.
Country or region: Ukraine