Monthly Archives: June 2009

“Stalin’s Tomb Won’t Let Me Be”: The Death and Life of Michael Jackson

The leftist bloggentsia contemplates the life and death of Michael Jackson:


3The death of this King – “my brother, the Legendary King Of Pop”, as Jermaine Jackson described him in his press conference, as if giving Michael his formal title – recalls not the Diana carcrash, but the sad slump of Elvis from catatonic narcosis into the long good night. Perhaps it was only Elvis who managed to insinuate himself into practically every living human being’s body and dreams to the same degree that Jackson did, at the microphysical level of enjoyment as well as at the macro-level of spectacular memeplex. Michael Jackson: a figure so subsumed and consumed by the videodrome that it’s scarely possible to think of him as an individual human being at all… because he wasn’t of course… becoming videoflesh was the price of immortality, and that meant being dead while still alive, and no-one knew that more than Michael…

The Pinocchio Theory

The moment of Thriller was an emotionally charged and extremely condensed one. Ronald Reagan was President; it was the dawn of the neoliberal (counter)revolution. We knew that something had ended, or had been lost; but we still had very little sense of what was going to replace it. I could not have imagined — nobody could have imagined — the hypercommodification and hyperfinancialization of the years since then; the reign of universal cynicism and marketing plans. The deep recession of the early 1980s followed the mixed expansions and losses of the 1970s; I forget who it was who (accurately) pointed out that the 1970s represented the democratization, or generalization (in wealthy countries like the United States at least) of what had been “counter-cultural” about the 1960s; what used to be “us vs them” had become common to everyone. Later decades’ sarcastic dismissals of the excesses and bad fashions of the 70s really testify only to our current utter lack of imagination. In 1982, in any case, we were only at the beginning of understanding how incomplete the projects of the previous decades were fated to remain. Punk had come and gone, an inspiring flash in the pan; and the disco wars had revealed how deeply racially troubled things continued to be — even if the Reagan Presidency was the beginning of one of those periodic efforts to deny the existence of these troubles altogether. The period was, as we now realize, one of great innovation on the fringes of popular music; but it was also one of a consolidation in which white-centric rock ‘n’ roll (including the music of all those interestingly innovative post-punks) lost its cultural relevance; it is no accident that the triumvirate of 1980s superstars, Micheal Jackson, Prince, and Madonna, all focused on dance-oriented musical forms that remained closer to its African American sources than rock had ever done.

Sit Down Man, You’re a Bloody Tragedy

56_bigLong, long after he knew he would never have to enter the steel mills and production lines, the mutation of that world into Stalinism formed a sort of posthumous point of identification for his most haunting post-Thriller song, perhaps the only one that is actually affecting rather than a simulation of affect, ‘Stranger in Moscow’. The lyrics here are the usual elliptical mess of tics, paranoia and self-pity you would expect, meaning that the premise is tricky to untangle. Nonetheless, what seems to be happening here is a dream of an outside to the Konsumterror Jackson epitomised – the world of ‘actually existing socialism’, a cold and severe world without Pop which is also the only imaginable society where nobody would know who he is, where he could actually be a stranger rather than the creature that was, for us born in the ’80s, as real a person as Jesus, ET or Santa Claus. Jackson dreams of the world that no longer existed by 1995, the world that he himself had helped to close off – we are the world, there is only one possible world. Yet he can’t sustain the fantasy here, either, and it collapses back into the late capitalist media circus, and we know who he is clumsily referring to when he sings ‘the KGB are doggin’ me’. Yet, in a line which you should remember is sung by someone having statues cast of himself, he trills ‘Stalin’s tomb won’t let me be’. Fittingly at the end, just like Stalin, there seems to have been a Doctor’s Plot. In terms of lifelong fame, limitless but profoundly unsatisfying power and presumably endless guilt, the only man who probably knows how Michael Jackson felt near the end is Kim Jong-Il.


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The Surveilled City: More Harassment of Journalists and Activists in Petersburg

Journalists Protest Following Arrests on Nevsky for Use of Foul Language
By Sergey Chernov
St. Petersburg Times
June 23, 2009

On Thursday, two journalists who were detained by the police in the city center last week and charged with using obscene language in public wrote to the City Prosecutor asking for action to be taken against both arresting officers and their colleagues who wrote up the reports at the police station. They suspect the arrests were made to obstruct their professional activities.

Dmitry Zhvaniya, a journalist and the director at the Media SPb news agency, responsible for web sites including and, and the agency’s reporter Alisa Kustikova were on their way to a coffee house near Kazan Cathedral on Nevsky Prospekt, St. Petersburg’s main street. They were due to have coffee with a colleague and two other men including architecture preservation activist Alexei Yarema when they were stopped by plainclothes policemen at 9.15 a.m. on Wednesday.

According to the journalists, all six present — two reporters, a photographer, two architectural preservationists and a woman who happened to be passing the scene on her bicycle — were bundled into a police van without any explanation and taken to the Precinct 27 police station, where the reports were written.

According to the police report, Zhvaniya and the other detainees were using “obscene language in public,” thus “expressing sheer disrespect for society.” Copies of the Zhvaniya report and the journalists’ letters to the Prosecutor’s Office are available on, a web site specializing in local media issues.

Two hours later, the detainees were taken to a court, but were released when the judge ordered the cases to be sent to their respective local courts for a later hearing.

Speaking on Monday, Zhvaniya claimed that the detentions were related to his and Kustikova’s professional activities, as they were meeting Yarema, an activist with the architectural preservation group ERA, to photograph materials set to be used for a campaign to protect historic St. Petersburg at Media SPb’s nearby offices at 11 Malaya Morskaya Ulitsa.

In their letters to the prosecutor, Zhvaniya and Kustikova wrote that the policemen who made the detentions violated their freedom of movement and the Law on the Police, and that the officers at the Precinct 27 station had written reports containing “deliberately false accusations.” They described the charges as “outrageous and cynical lies,” “libel” and “criminal insult.”

“First of all, if we were detained because they knew Yarema was going to be there, that means there is a political surveillance problem, and secondly, we were detained for no reason, as if we were wanted criminals. Third, we were slandered; these are the three things that I am not happy about,” Zhvaniya said by phone on Monday.

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Filed under political repression, Russian society, urban movements (right to the city)

The Struggle for Democracy in Brazilian Universities

[This is a guest post by Comrade Rapha. He originally published the following comment yesterday on his own blog, Politika etc.]

Almost 25 years after the end of the military dictatorship (1964 – 1985), Brazil still faces the ghosts of authoritarianism. Surprisingly, these spirits came back in the context of an institution which played a remarkable role in the resistance to the military regime. In the past few days, professors, students and workers of the University of Sao Paulo witnessed a police action which made the community aware of the lack of democracy in its own academic environment.

On May 27th, workers blocked the entrance of four buildings in the State Capital campus. They asked for better wages and other labor demands. According to the rector, they were posting pickets during the strike to discourage other employees to work, an illegal act as stated by Brazilian laws. On June 1st, the administration called the police to intervene and stop the pickets. The police remained on campus and on June 9th, they attacked a group of students, professors and workers who were demonstrating against them.

The police used tear gas, pepper spray and rubber bullets to disperse the protesters. This action generated lots of reactions. Several newspapers articles were published by those concerned, including faculty members, students and union members, showing anything but an opinion agreement on the police action. Part of the faculty supports the rector’s initiative to call the police and considered the intervention legitimate. On June 18th, more than 1,500 people demonstrated on the streets against the police reaction and its disproportion.

In 2007, students occupied the building where the rector’s office is located. They were against some decrees passed by Governor Jose Serra with the support of the rector Suely Vilela. The decrees considerably reduced the autonomy of the university in favor of the State Secretary of Education, concentrating more power in the hands of the Governor. After the occupation, Jose Serra stepped back and voided the decrees.

The University of Sao Paulo is responsible for 23% of all scientific production in Brazil. It has more than 86,000 students, 5,400 professors and 15,200 employees. The 2009 budget is about US$ 1.4 billion due to a disposition of the Sao Paulo State Constitution, which allocates 5% of all value added tax revenue of the State, which is the richest State in Brazil, to the university. It is clear that a major crisis in a university with these proportions reflects on local and national politics.

As the Philosophy professor of University of Campinas Marcos Nobre pointed out in a newspaper article, the police action is “the symptom, not the cause.” For him, this shows that despite having democratic institutions, “Brazilian society still has a low level of democratization.” The process to choose the university’s rector gives a good example of the way different groups are represented within the institution. Approximately 300 people vote to appoint 3 names to the State Governor, who is supposed to pick one. In this election, the group of “titular professors” (named chair professors) is majoritarian, and one must be a titular professor to become rector. Students and workers are not able to nominee someone to this position, even if both groups vote together.

By the moment, the rector and the union of workers started to negotiate again. The police are expected to leave the campus soon. The lesson which seems to have been learned till now is that the university needs to rethink its own structures. It has still to find the difficult tune for attending social demands of inclusion and participation.

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People Reloaded: Why Mass Protest in Iran Is True Politics Worth Supporting

[Thanks (again) to Infinite Thought, who published the following essay on her blog this morning. This piece is copyright-free. Please distribute widely. The authors, Morad Farhadpour and Omid Mehrgan, are translators and philosophers based in Tehran.]

In the past two weeks, the majority of people in Tehran and other cities in Iran (including Shiraz, Ahwaz, Tabriz, Isfihan) have been on the streets, protesting against the theft of the presidential election by a handful of state’s agents at the top level. It was not a rigging in the usual western sense, no added votes or replaced ballot boxes, the election went on properly, the votes were taken and probably even counted, the figures transmitted to the ministry of interior, and it was there that they were totally disregarded and replaced by totally fictitious figures. That is why all the opposition forces (Sazman-e-Mojahedin-e-Enghelab, Mosharekat party…) together with people called it a coup d’état.

Global public opinion and, especially, the body of (leftist) intellectuals, Inspired by recent events in the middle Asia and east Europe, mostly regard this Iranian mass protest as another version of the well-known, newly invented, neo-liberal, U.S.-sponsored, colour-coded revolutions, as in Georgia and Ukraine. But is it the case in Iran? This article intends to clarify the issue, to reveal the properly political essence of current mass movement, and to demonstrate that this movement has the potentiality of a self-transcendence, of surpassing its actual demands, of traversing its current phantasy. To do this, we shall first examine the contemporary tradition of radical politics in Iran. Without these references, the current movement, which truly deserves this title, can not be understood correctly.

People, whether consciously or not, are frequently recollecting the 1979 Revolution and the 1997 Reform Movement. Many of their slogans are transformed slogans of the ’79 Revolution. The paths of demonstrations are symbolically significantly, the same as those against Shah. But this does not mean that people are imitating the ’79 Revolution: there are many new possibilities and creativities, many formal and thematic inventions. As for the 1997 Reform Movement, and its aftermath (the crushing of student protest in 1999), the affinities are even more obvious. Khatami, along with Mir Hossein Mousavi, is one of the most significant leaders and supporters of the protest. It is as if people are trying to redeem the 2nd of Khordad (May 23, 1997), to revive the unfinished hopes and dreams of those days. But this time, the protest is by no means limited to students and intellectuals. Although Khatami in 1997 was elected with 20 million votes from the most varied sections of the nation, the movement was characterized by the political and cultural demands of the middle-class, of students and educated people. But, apart from this, what is the true significance of the 2nd of Khordad Front for politics in Iran?

On the 2nd of Khordad, for the first time since Iranian Revolution, we were encountering a dichotomy between the state and the total system of Islamic Republic of Iran, known as Nezam (System, which is based on the principle of Velayat-e-Faghih, the supreme authority of high-ranked Mullahs). This duality was partly due to the fact that the leader of the opposition, Khatami, was at the same time the chief of the state. It was the only occasion where this duality, which is, in a sense, one between the development of productive forces and cultural, political backwardness, between secular democracy and religious fanaticism, could be revealed. Before and after that period, the state and Nezam have been basically in accordance, as it had been in the Shah’s Regime. One of the reasons, if not the main reason, why elections in Iran are of such importance for democratic movements, despite trends to boycott them, lies precisely in the significance of this very duality. Seen from a classical-Marxist perspective, in order to pave the way for the development of productive forces, in order to accomplish the ‘civilizing mission’ of capitalism, there must emerge a bourgeois state capable of carrying out the process of democratization and modernization. Whenever the state has been in full accordance with Nezam, this process fails to go on. Besides this, we deal with yet another duality, one between the capital and the state, the former as the means of development (with all its discontents, aptly and righteously exposed by the Marxist tradition), and the latter as the organ of regression and anti-modernism. So, the progressive and socialist opposition in Iran are faced with the unprecedented, hard task of fighting in two fronts: against religious fanaticism and the authoritarian factions in a semi-democratic government, and simultaneously against global capitalism and its hegemony by means of the production of wars. In a sense, intelligentsia in Iran are very similar to that of Russia and Germany of 19th century. We are a handful of schizophrenics who are, at one and the same time, against and for progress, development, capitalism, state management and so on. In other words, for us, the Faustian problematic, his tragedy, is formulated in a typically Hamletian way. This ambivalent attitude (to western civilization) can be characterized by the dialectic of state and politics. We are neither dealing with a pure politics a la Alain Badiou, nor with a classical Marxist politics, exhausted in class struggles, nor with the liberal-democratic politics of human rights, which was, by the way, the dominant discourse of opposition in Iran before Mousavi. Our supposedly radical politics consists of every one of these elements, but is not reducible to any of them. To deploy Agamben’s terminology, it is a politics of people against People, i.e. voiceless, suppressed people, against People officially constructed by the state. The current movement materializes, in many respects, this very politics.

But the question, which has confused the western (left) intelligentsia and has caused the most varied misunderstandings regarding Iran, is whether Ahmadinejad is a leftist, anti-imperialist, anti-privatization, anti-globalization figure. The common answer is a positive one. That is why certain misguided western leftists tend to regard the current mass movement in support of Mir Hossein Mousavi and against Ahmadinejad as the struggle of liberalism against anti-imperialism, of privatization, liberal-democracy against the enemies of global hegemony of America. The main aim of this article is to expose, to expel this widespread illusion. As regards the other confused camp, the Western, more or less, Islamophobic liberals, who are inclined to identify Ahmadinjad with Al-Qaeda, who refer to Mousavi, because of his Islamic-Republican career in 80’s, as another version of Islamic, anti-democratic Ideology, one could say that they too are caught up in an illusion based on easy Euro-centrist generalizations and lack of familiarity with the Iranian historical context. We should thus answer the simple question: what is actually at the stake? Apart from the triad of French Revolution, the triad of modern emancipatory politics, liberty, equality, fraternity, one could maintain that the main bone of contention in this struggle is precisely politics itself, its life and survival. Our government is called the Islamic Republic of Iran. Now the republican moment, which has always been downgraded by the conservatives, is presently being annihilated. It is precisely through this very outlet that any popular politics, from social movement of dissent and class politics to the defence of human rights, might survive. 

Another common approach, no matter how radical, supportive, or conservative, to mass protest in Iran is the following: it is a youth movement, at its best, similar to 68’s student protests. New young generation in Iran, armed with Internet, socialized by social networking sites, tired of Islamic ideology, has awakened, claiming its own way of life, and so on. According to this attitude, which is evoked by a number of journalists, it is only the middle-class intellectuals, students, feminists, and other educated people in large cities who are rallying on the streets, communicating with each other thanks to the internet. What is striking is that the state discourse in Iran widely promotes this very attitude. The ruling elite, based on a populist rhetoric, tends to single out a certain section of the nation and call it the People. The state television, Seda-va-Sima, is the main place where this People is represented, indeed constructed, mostly through the usual populist tactic of one nation versus the evil external enemy who is the cause of all trouble. It presents a unified, pure, integrated image of People, all devoting themselves to Nezam, all law-abiding, religious, etc. This image of People is daily imposed on the masses and inscribed onto the body politic. Against this formally constructed People, with the state as its formal face, there has come out another people, a subaltern, muted people, claiming its own place, its own part in the political scene. June 2009 Election was a decisive opportunity for this people to declare itself, in the figure of Mousavi, who from the beginning insisted on people’s dignity as a true political right. But why him? Why not, say, Karroubi, the other reformist candidate? Has Mousvai, now the leader of the mass movement, appeared on the scene in a purely contingent way? Has he by mere chance, by force of circumstances, as it were, become the leading figure, the reform-freedom-democracy incarnate? The answer is positively negative. To elucidate this, we have to draw attention to the tradition from which he has emerged and to which he has repeatedly referred during his electoral campaign. As we said before, this tradition is rooted in 1979 Revolution and has been revived in the 2th of Khordad Movement — whereas, Karroubi’s ‘politics’ was based on a subjectless process in which different identity groups would present their demands to the almighty state and act as its passive, divided, depoliticized supporters. In fact, Karroubi’s campaign, with its appeal to Western media, using the word ‘change’ in English, and profiting from celebrity figures, was the one that could be called a Western liberal human-rights-loving, even pro-capitalist movement. The fact that millions transcending their identity and immediate interests joined a typically universal militant politics by risking their lives in defence of Mousavi and their dignity, should be enough to cast out all doubts or misguided pseudo-leftist dogmas.

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Why Are the Iranians Dreaming Again?

[Thanks to Infinite Thought, who published this essay on her blog yesterday morning. This piece is copyright-free. Please distribute widely. You should also listen to the June 16 interview with Ali on Radio Telefís Éireann. The interview kicks in at 37:00.]

Why are Iranians dreaming again?*
Ali Alizadeh, Researcher at the Centre for Research in Modern European Philosophy, Middlesex University

Iran is currently in the grip of a new and strong political movement. While this movement proves that Ahmadinejad’s populist techniques of deception no longer work inside Iran, it seems they are still effective outside the country. This is mainly due to thirty years of isolation and mutual mistrust between Iran and the West which has turned my country into a mysterious phenomenon for outsiders. In this piece I will try to confront some of the mystifications and misunderstandings produced by the international media in the last week. 


In the first scenario the international media, claiming impartiality, insisted that the reformists provide hard objective evidence in support of their claim that the June 12 election has been rigged. But despite their empiricist attitude, the media missed obvious facts due to their lack of familiarity with the socio-historical context. Although the reformists could not possibly offer any figures or documents, because the whole show was single-handedly run by Ahmadinejad’s ministry of interior, anyone familiar with Iran’s recent history could easily see what was wrong with this picture. 

It was the government who reversed the conventional and logical procedure by announcing a fictitious total figure first – in four stages – and then fabricating figures for each polling station, something that is still going on. This led to many absurdities: Musavi got less votes in his hometown (Tabriz) than Ahmadinejad; Karroubi’s total vote was less than the number of people active in his campaign; Rezaee’s votes were reduced by a hundred thousand between the third and fourth stages of announcement; blank votes were totally forgotten and only hastily added to the count when reformists pointed this out; and finally the ratio between all candidates’ votes remained almost constant in all these four stages of announcement (63, 33, 2 and 1 percent respectively). 

Moreover, as in any other country, the increase in turnout in Iran’s elections has always benefitted the opposition and not the incumbent, because it is rational to assume that those who usually don’t vote, i.e. the silent majority, only come out when they want to change the status quo. Yet in this election Ahmadinejad, the representative of the status quo, allegedly received 10 million votes more than what he got in the previous election. 

Finally, Ahmadinejad’s nervous reaction after his so-called victory is the best proof for rigging: closing down SMS network and the whole of country’s mobile phone network, arresting more than 100 leading political activists, blocking access to Musavi’s and many other reformists’ websites and unleashing violence in the streets…But if all this is not enough, the bodies of more than 17 people who were shot dead and immediately buried in unknown graves should persuade all those “objective-minded” observers. 

In the second scenario, gradually unfolding in the last few days, the international media implicitly shifted its attention to the role of internet and its social networking (twitter, facebook, youtube, etc). This implied that millions of illiterate conservative villagers have voted for Ahmadinejad and the political movement is mostly limited to educated middle classes in North Tehran. While this simplified image is more compatible with media’s comfortable position towards Iran in the last 30 years, it is far from reality. The recent political history of Iran does not confirm this image. For example, Khatami’s victory in 1997, despite his absolute lack of any economic promises and his focus instead on liberal civic demands, was made possible by the polarization of society into people and state. Khatami could win only by embracing people from all different classes and groups, villagers and urban people alike.

There is no doubt that new media and technologies have been playing an important role in the movement, but it seems that the cause and the effect are being reversed in the picture painted by the media. First of all, it is the existence of a strong political determination, combined with people becoming deprived of basic means of communication, which has led the movement to creatively test every other channel and method. Musavi’s paper was shut down on the night of election, his frequent request to talk to people on the state TV has been rejected, his official website is often blocked and his physical contact with his supporters has been kept minimum by keeping him in house arrest (with the exception of his appearance on the over a million march on June 15). 


Second, due to the heavy pressure on foreign journalists inside Iran, these technological tools have come to play a significant role in sending the messages and images of the movement to the outside world. However, the creative self-organization of the movement is using a manifold of methods and channels, many of them simple and traditional, depending on their availability: shouting ‘death to dictator’ from rooftops, calling landlines, at the end of one rally chanting the time and place of the next one, and by jeopardizing oneself by physically standing on streets and distributing news to every passing car. The appearance of the movement which is being sold by the media to the western gaze – the cyber-fantasy of the western societies which has already labelled our movement a twitter revolution, seems to have completely missed the reality of those bodies which are shot dead, injured or ready to be endangered by non-virtual bullets. 

What is more surprising in the midst of this media frenzy is the blindness of the western left to the political dynamism and energy of our movement. The causes of this blindness oscillate between the misgivings about Islam (or the Islamophobia of hyper-secular left) and the confusion made by Ahmadinjead’s fake anti-imperialist rhetoric (his alliance with Chavez perhaps, who after all was the first to congratulate him). It needs to be emphasized that Ahmadinejad’s economic policies are to the right of the IMF: cutting subsidies in a radical way, more privatization than any other post-79 government (by selling the country to the Revolutionary Guards) and an inflation and unemployment rate which have brought the low-income sections of the society to their knees. It is in this regard that Musavi’s politics needs to be understood in contradistinction from both Ahmadinejad and also the other reformist candidate, i.e. Karroubi. 

While Karroubi went for the liberal option of differentiating people into identity groups with different demands (women, students, intellectuals, ethnicities, religious minorities, etc), Musavi emphasized the universal demands of ‘people’ who wanted to be heard and counted as political subjects. This subjectivity, emphasized by Musavi during his campaign and fully incarnated in the rallies of the past few days, is constituted by political intuition, creativity and recollection of the ‘79 revolution (no wonder that people so quickly reached an unexpected maturity, best manifested in the abstention from violence in their silent demonstrations). Musavi’s ‘people’ is also easily, but strongly, distinguished from Ahmadinejad’s anonymous masses dependent on state charity. Musavi’s people, as the collective appearing in the rallies, is made of religious women covered in chador walking hand in hand with westernized young women who are usually prosecuted for their appearance; veterans of war in wheelchairs next to young boys for whom the Iran-Iraq war is only an anecdote; and working class who have sacrificed their daily salary to participate in the rally next to the middle classes. This story is not limited to Tehran. Shiraz (two confirmed dead), Isfahan (one confirmed dead), Tabriz, Oroomiye are also part of this movement and other cities are joining with a predictable delay (as it was the case in 79 revolution). 

History will prove who the real participants of this movement are but once again we are faced with a new, non-classical and unfamiliar radical politics. Will the Western left get it right this time? 

* The title is a reference to Michel Foucault’s 1978 writing on Iran’s revolution: “What are the Iranians dreaming about?”

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What Solidarity Looks Like: Justice for Cleaners at SOAS (London)

Justice for SOAS Cleaners — Stop Deportations! 

This is the blog of the student occupation/solidarity campaign at SOAS (School of Oriental and African Studies) in London. Go there for complete information about the UK Border Agency raid on the college’s immigrant cleaning staff, the student occupation, videos and photographs of the protests, press reports, letters of support, and updates on the situation.

Scenes from an Occupation

Lenin’s Tomb

This is one struggle among many, but for me it also resonates far beyond its own example. In what way? I think this instance makes a strong case that ‘Fortress Europe’ and the immigration controls associated with it in fact constitute a form of class war. As in the US, while employers are all to happy to exploit immigrant labour, they also rely on the state to discipline and attack that labour when it becomes too assertive and organised. I think it also makes the case that any political slogan that divides the working class, such as ‘British Jobs for British Workers’, is a valuable tool of employers for defeating it. Finally, I think it is resonant in another sense. Neal Ascherson once suggested that if you want to see how the government would like to treat us, look at how it deals with immigrants. In this case, the almost Gestapo-like tactics deployed by immigration police (which is absolutely routine) provide the model for crackdowns on all kinds of labour organisation.

Alberto Toscano

Needless to say, universities are not special places, reservations for freedoms absent from the ‘real world’ beyond. But they are institutions whose critical vocation and cosmopolitanism should hold them to certain standards. The students at SOAS have clearly been more faithful to this calling than those who facilitated these arrests or turned the other way. They have demanded of their institution a minimal coherence with its reputation for research on human rights and migration. They have rejected the pervasive cynicism that allows us to be critical in theory but indifferent to, or complicit with, practical abuses of power. They have testified to the idea of universities as places where the questioning of how we’re governed, how we work and how we live together is not a purely speculative pursuit.

If tolerated or ignored, current moves to integrate education, business and the state will effectively make a mockery of any vision of the university as an institution that seeks to foster independent thought and broaden our solidarities. This is true both of the often invisible and precarious labour that makes university life possible and of academic life in general. If the government has its way, universities will become extensions of the border, with lecturers and administrators effectively required by law to monitor their students on behalf of the Home Office. This is not a question of some unique moral mission bestowed on academia. What Friday’s arrests and deportations bring home is that universities are workplaces much like any others, microcosms where all the stresses and contradictions of our society – inequality, the exploitation of migrant labour, the expansion of state power – are manifest. But they are also places where we supposedly foster critical thinking – an activity that is irreconcilable with the callous and hypocritical treatment of the SOAS cleaners.


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Police Teargas Workers and Students in São Paulo

Thanks to Comrade Rapha  for informing us about this story.

Scientific Community Teargassed in Brazil

Written by Pablo Ortellado
Sunday, 14 June 2009 13:25
[Originally published on EduFactory]

120 professors and about 1,200 students and university workers were beaten and teargassed in the main campus of the University of São Paulo in Brazil last Tuesday (June 9).

448648Conflicts started after a one month strike of university workers whose employment status is being disputed due to a legal controversy over university autonomy to hire its workers without approval of state representatives. Over one thousand workers might loose their jobs. Workers started a strike on May 5 demanding the preservation of their jobs and other labor demands. On May 27, workers started to block the entrance of four university buildings because, according to them, university management was threatening workers who were using their legal right to strike. On June 1, administration called the military police to intervene. On June 4 professors joined the strike protesting police occupation of campus. on June 5, professors had a two hours meeting with management asking for a non-military solution to the labor conflict. However, common sense did not prevail and military police attacked a peaceful demonstration of students and workers yesterday (June 9). 120 professors were discussing the crisis when the meeting was interrupted by news of a police attack. A few minutes later teargas and concussion bombs exploded inside the building. Several of our colleagues and students were hurt. The academic community is shocked.

We ask the support of the international scientific and academic community by demanding university management the immediate withdraw of military police from campus and the non-violent resolution of labor conflicts in the university.

Professor Pablo Ortellado (Public Policy)
Professor Rogério Monteiro de Siqueira (Geometry)
Professor Jefferson Mello (Brazilian literature)
Professor Thomás Haddad (Science History)
Professor Carlos Gonçalves (Science History)
Escola de Artes, Ciências e Humanidades
Universidade de São Paulo

Further information (in Portuguese):
Associação dos Docentes da USP:
Sindicato dos Funcionários da USP:

Please send protest and concern letters to the University of São Paulo

Professor Suely Vilela
Rector of the University of São Paulo

Professor Franco Lajolo
Vice-Rector of the University of São Paulo

Professor Alberto Carlos Amadio
Chief Staff of the Rector

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Center “E”: A New Face in (Their) Hell

Anti-Extremist Police Raid Activist’s Apartment

By Sergey Chernov
St. Petersburg Times
June 16, 2009

The apartment of a political and human rights activist was searched by the police on farfetched grounds last week, the activist said at a press conference held on Thursday at the office of Soldiers’ Mothers, a group that defends the rights of Russian soldiers and their families.

Ivantsov, an activist with the Oborona Youth Democratic Movement and the Youth Human Rights Group, said that on June 8 he was visited by three police officers, two of whom were from the “E” (anti-extremism) Center, who searched his apartment and confiscated his computer, a large number of discs and several old notebooks.

“They even took blank discs — everything en masse,” Ivantsov said by phone on Monday.

“They found a disc of Pavel Bardin’s ‘Russia 88’ [a feature film about a Nazi skinhead group] and said it should be examined to determine whether it is extremist.

“They were happy when they found an unlicensed copy of Windows on a CDR, and told me I would be persecuted for having this, even though only the distribution of unlicensed products is punishable under the law they referred to; there is no responsibility involved in the possession of such products. None of the discs had anything to do with the grounds on which the search was made.”

According to the search warrant, Ivantsov was suspected of “keeping objects prohibited for civil circulation” (a term usually referring to weapons or drugs), he said. The warrant also alleged there were grounds to believe that he knew the “whereabouts of a person wanted for an insult to the state flag.”

Ivantsov, who has taken part in many events protesting against police lawlessness and authored multiple complaints about rights violated by the police, said the police had used the cases as a pretext to harass an opposition activist and search his home.

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Song of Solidarity: A Video Letter to Artem Loskutov

On June 9, members of the Verkhotura Dance Theater, the Street University, and their friends recorded this “Song of Solidarity” for Artem Loskutov, who was released on his own recognizance from a Novosibirsk jail on June 10.


Spring has come to the streets, the trees are already in bloom.
And only the lads don’t come to see us,
And only the lads don’t come to see us.
For nowadays they nab the young fellows here, there and everywhere.
For nowadays young fellows,
Artists, the bolder ones,
Are nabbed here, there and everywhere.

It’s moot to ask who is to blame.
Neither the City of  N. nor Center “E” has anything to do with it, it seems.
Neither the City of  N. nor Center “E” has anything to do with it, it seems.
They nab the boys and charge them, and it’s all the same to them.
They nab the boys and charge them,
They force them to confess,
And it’s all the same to them.

Don’t slumber, artist, don’t succumb to sleep.
You are the system’s hostage, a prisoner of the times.
You are the system’s hostage, a prisoner of the times.
Struggle, artist, struggle, don’t confess your guilt.
Struggle, artist, struggle.
You are the system’s hostage.
Don’t confess your guilt.

Lawlessness abounds, and it is impossible to remain silent.
We clench our fists when we hear of fabricated criminal cases.
We clench our fists when we hear of fabricated criminal cases.
Your extremist department is art’s arch enemy.
Your extremist department, on the sidelines, as it were,
Is art’s arch enemy.

We throw aside our paints and brushes, we head into the streets.
When it is forbidden for us to speak, we won’t grow glum.
When it is forbidden for us to speak, we won’t grow glum.
When art is under lock and key, we head into the streets.
When art is under lock and key,
And everyone has forgotten about the law,
We head into the streets.

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Filed under contemporary art, film and video, open letters, manifestos, appeals, political repression, protests

The Militant Modernist: Owen Hatherley

owen-hatherleyBelieve it or not, Chtodelat News is interested in more than just the endless war between Center “E” and “extremist” artists. Please check out this interview with our comrade Owen Hatherley on the perils of blogging in a text-saturated age, his new book Militant Modernism, and the answer to our favorite question, What is to be done?

As to what should be done, well – a wave of full nationalisations, without compensation, combined with an attendant expansion of workers’ control – something made much more viable by the internet and other advanced technologies – would be a good start. We also need, and could undergo, a fourth industrial revolution to convert a dead-end economy based on fossil fuels and rapacious growth to less destructive energies and technologies. This would be a huge Modernist project, easily the equal of the earlier technological revolutions but without making the same mistakes, with a vast potential for the creation of new forms or new and better ways of living. I think most of this would be popular, far more now than at any time for decades.

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Filed under critical thought, interviews