The citizens’ assembly on abortion in Ireland – a pre-emptive critique of anticipated hype

For readers living in any country that is not Ireland, you might have missed it but the campaign to legalise abortion has made huge mileage over the last few years and – not wanting to jinx it – will probably win a fairly unrestrictive regime later this year. A central element in this struggle has been the Citizens’ Assembly on the 8th amendment: a panel of 99 randomly selected people from across the country charged with making recommendations to the government in terms of what should be done regarding a constitutional article that currently guarantees the right to life of unborns and therefore effectively removes decision-making rights from women within the borders of the irish state about the functioning of their own bodies. This article has led to some barbaric treatment of women including the X case – a fourteen year old who was raped, planned to travel to the UK to have an abortion, and when the family asked the police if DNA from the aborted foetus would be admissible as evidence against the rapist, the state sought and won (later overturned on appeal) an injunction to prevent her from leaving the country in case she might go and exercise control over her own body. That was in 1992. Twenty years later, an Indian woman called Savita Halappanavar died in hospital when her pregnancy began to miscarry and caused an infection in her blood. Early on during the miscarriage, she requested the pregnancy be terminated, which would have saved her life, but was told “this is a Catholic country”.

The citizens’ assembly sat and deliberated for seven months in 2017 before finally recommending unrestricted access to abortion up to 12 weeks of pregnancy. And despite a cynical attack from the ageing political class and establishment media which framed these recommendations as extremist, a date for a constitutional referendum has been set for next month, May, and it looks likely that it will be easily won. On paper this sounds like a positive example of participatory democracy at work. And that’s exactly what I’m afraid of and why I’m writing this piece. On paper, and with the main details, I can already see liberal and progressive journalists and political science researchers praising it and urging other European countries to implement similar structures. What I am afraid of is that said journalists and researchers will attribute the ‘success’ of the experiment to its design features and hail it as a model to be replicated. So I’m going to give a pre-emptive correction to this view.

But first, the background. The Irish state inherited a law from the british colonial government, but after independence when the british government legalised things, Ireland remained stuck in the dark ages. Which gave rise to the practice of travelling across the water for those who could afford it, while backstreet abortions or being forced to carry an unwanted pregnancy was the lot for those who could not. This regime was not enough for some reactionaries, who in the 1980s formed a campaign to have foetuses’ right to life made constitutional. The governments of the day were slaves to the power of the catholic church and so organised a referendum which was passed in 1983 as the eighth amendment, which effectively prevented any legal liberalisation. Then there was the X-case as outlined above. Although the horrific injunction imprisoning a teenage rape victim was initially granted, this ruling was subsequently overturned in a higher court, which argued that the right to life of a foetus does not outweigh the right to life of a pregnant mother, including if she feels suicidal.

repealthe8th
Image from Shirani Bolle

In normal circumstances, a ruling like this would lead to legislation to establish this principle in law, but successive governments have been happy to shit on women rather than risk alienating the church or their conservative support base. Instead you had what is euphemistically known as an Irish solution to an Irish problem: abortion is unconstitutional, except in some cases; but the state isn’t obliged to tell you want those case are; certain abortions could be legal in Ireland, but the state doesn’t know and won’t inform the medical profession or women, so it is mostly up to the conservatism and fear of legal consequences of individual doctors; people may travel to access abortion, if they have the means, but the role of state-based medical boards is a grey area; giving out information on the possibility to travel is also a grey area.

And that was how things stayed until into 2010-2013. There was always a pro-choice movement but they were successfully demonised and liberal public discourse consistently gave ‘balance’ between ultra conservatives and moderate conservatives. But then there were two events which shook things up and injected this movement with anger and momentum. First, three women took a court case against the state claiming that the regime violated the European Convention of Human Rights. They weren’t entirely successful, but the court did rule that chaotic and uncertain environment where women cannot figure out what their rights are, this was a violation of the ECHR. This led to a government-appointed body to review the situation and announced their recommendations that the state was obliged to provide ‘clarity’. This announcement came in 2012. The very next day, news broke of the death of Savita Halappanavar, mentioned above. The widespread disgust that people felt on hearing about her treatment translated into growing support and visibility and acceptability for the pro-choice movement, which forced the government to do something. That something was the diplomatically and ambiguously titled ‘Protection of Life during Pregnancy Act’ in 2013. For all the time it took to produce, it didn’t do much more than implement both the eighth amendment from 30 years earlier and the X-case ruling from 21 years earlier into law (i.e. abortion is possible if the life of the woman is in danger including through suicide) so as to provide the needed ‘clarity’.

So far, so familiar. Anybody can look that up on wikipedia. Oh, did I fail to mention that under the 2013 law, whether a woman was considered suicidal would have to be approved by a 3-5 member panel of medical professionals (so, quite far from a woman having choice over her own body). Or that it established that women having unapproved abortions faced up to 14 years in prison. And that the regressiveness of it was illustrated the following year when an asylum seeker who had been raped in her home country discovered she was pregnant in Ireland, wanted to terminate but could not travel to the UK under the terms of the asylum application, became suicidal, went on hunger strike, the courts ordered that she be force-fed and then her pregnancy was delivered by c section. You can also look that up on wiki.

But from here there are a few points that are harder to come by. Officially, the CA was established as “an exercise in deliberative democracy, placing the citizen at the heart of important legal and policy issues facing Irish society today”, and has been marketed as the brainchild of grown up visionary politicians. However, anybody could have told you back in 2016 that the real reason for establishing the CA was to avoid being seen to make a political decision. There is an influential conservative minority to whom the political class has always either explicitly or by default given deference. But over the last eight years or so, the pro-choice silent majority has been growing in confidence with pro-choice individuals realising that their views are not as isolated as they are often told. So, along with the growing momentum of the movement, the scandal of high-profile abhorrent cases such as Savita Halappanavar and anonymous victims of the courts, politicians were caught between a rock and a hard place: do nothing or do something, either way you leave an angry constituency royally pissed off. Some limited concessions were granted with the 2013 PoLDP act but it was clear that the government were not powerful enough to keep the growing movement in check forever and that further, limited, concessions were on the cards. The CA was a way to disarm the movement with these kinds of limited concessions without losing credibility with their conservative support base through being the ones to grant those concessions.

What they didn’t realise was the extent of the gulf between themselves along with their conservative support base on the one hand and the values among the younger, less well-paid, more female, wider population. And so, 99 randomly selected people rocked the establishment through recommending something that wasn’t even on their radar: unrestricted access to abortion up to 12 weeks.

And straightaway came the spin: [The prime minister] says the country is not ready for abortion on demand”. “The consensus in the [parliament] is that the assembly’s recommendations were an overly-liberal interpretation of the current thinking of middle Ireland on the issue”. “Sometimes these debates are dominated by hard-line views on both sides and I think the government has a responsibility to go through a process that can allow a much more respectful and informed debate”. A pro-choice Independent minister, often portrayed as radical, even went so fat as to say “I expect that the people will not be in favour of a liberalisation of the abortion legislation to the extent that the Citizens’ Assembly put forward”.

The implicit message behind each of the statements was that the 99 members of the CA (and not the political class or establishment media) were out of touch with the public and that visionary deliberative democracy would be given the shaft and a referendum would have to contain something much more moderate if it was to have a chance of passing. And they were on track to get away with this as alternative watered-down proposals were being drafted. But then came a poll in late 2017 which found that 60% of people supported abortion upon request, and even higher numbers favouring abortion given certain circumstances. In other words the poll directly contradicted the spin emanating from the political and media establishment: the public was of a broadly similar opinion to the CA, and actually it was political class who are out of touch.

Faced with this evidence, the establishment class found themselves backed into a corner. A strategy to disarm a movement through granting limited concessions, but at the same time not be seen to be the ones granting those concessions turned out to be a bungle and has put on the table a far greater devolution of power with respect to women exercising choice over their bodies than was ever expected. A referendum was announced for May, and at the time of writing looks likely to be won.

So what were the keys to success of the CA? Two things: (1) a miscalculation on part of the government and (2) a movement of committed activists who knew every cynical trick of the government as they tried to regain ground lost through this miscalculation and who knew how to respond to it. So there you have it, for all these political scientists or functionaries who want to replicate the CA model, this is something you won’t find documented anywhere. But interview anybody involved in the movement and they will give you a perspective something like this. And make to include those two recommendations – government miscalculation and strong movement – in your report to the European Economic and Social Committee or your paper in the European Journal of Law and Public Administration.

Statement: call for solidarity actions from free the moria 35.

See below a cal

l for solidarity actions from free the moria 35 in connection with the upcoming trial (20 april). The moria 35 are a group of refugees falsely arrested and tried for criminal activity at a concentration camp (“refugee camp”) in moria in Greece last year. It is believed they were targeted by the authorities because they had been protesting against how the camp was run

, something that contradicted official narratives peddled by those managing the prisons. Shared from the freethemoria35 blog (& see the original post to follow the links to how you can help).

Take action and stand in solidarity with the Moria 35! Ανέλαβε δράση με Αλληλεγγύη για τους 35 της Μόριας !!
Posted on April 6, 2018 by freethemoria35

You can take several actions, as an individual or as a group, to help fight for justice for the Moria 35. To take action now, click here.

On 18 July 2017, 35 people were arbitrarily arrested during a violent police raid in Moria camp after a peaceful protest. The police broke up the protest with teargas and clashes between police and a handful of protesters followed. Many of the 35 accused were not even present during the events. They were arrested and brutal police violence was used.

The criminal jury trial starts on 20 April in Chios. The 35 risk up to 10 years in prison and possible deportation.

#freethemoria35

Portugal: Communiqué by the Portuguese Antifascist Movement

Communique issued by coalition of antifascist groups in Portugal on the current situation there. Sharing from enough is enough (Originally published by Portugal Indymedia. Translated by Contra Info).

Portugal: Communiqué by the Portuguese Antifascist Movement

In the last few weeks, several news has come to the fore in the media about the growing of the extreme-right in Portugal and about the violence perpetrated by these nazi-fascist groups.

This growing wave of violence comes as no surprise for us. In the last years, we have been denouncing it, and organizing to face the gratuitous, racist and xenophobic violence. At the moment, there are several antifascist groups in Portugal, from north to south, which have been calling people’s attention to this problem, but these groups have been discredited by persons and political parties who minimize the antifascist struggle, and who, in many cases, call themselves antifascists. Once again, reality demonstrates that what we have denounced about groups such as the “Hammerskins” or political parties such as the “Partido Nacional Renovador” (“National Renovator Party”) or the more recent “Nova Ordem Social” (“New Social Order”) is more than true and that we must not overlook other groups that walk undercover and hidden. Besides these groups, we won’t overlook the successive governments who feed and let people with such connections circulate through public institutions. We also want to mention that, once more, the media has used the word “skinhead” in a wrong manner.

In a very brief but explicit way, skinheads emerged in England, they were youngsters from the working class who identified with certain aspects of the Jamaican culture brought to England by Afro-Caribbean immigrants with whom they socialized, the music they listened to was mainly reggae and ska, and for these obvious reasons they were not racists or xenophobes.

We are antifascists of different age groups, from various parts of the country, with political views that are many times different, but with a common idea and struggle: antifascism. That said, and contrary to what the media might say, we cannot be compared to these groups or parties from the extreme-right, because we are no criminals, we call on tolerance, we want to fight racism, xenophobia, homophobia, chauvinism and all types of oppression.

It is urgent that people inform themselves, that they organize, that they join the antifascist struggle, that they support antifascist groups and movements in their cities.

April 2018,

Núcleo Antifascista de Braga, Núcleo Antifascista de Viana, Núcleo Antifascista do Porto, Núcleo Antifascista de Ovar, Núcleo Antifascista de Coimbra, Núcleo Antifascista de Lisboa – Margem Sul, Núcleo Antifascista da Madeira, Coordenadora Antifascista Portugal, Movimento “Um Ativismo por dia”, Left Pride Portugal, GRRAP, Redskins / RASH Portugal, Sharp Portugal

Communique #1 London Assembly – international women’s strike

Statement from the London assembly of the international women’s strike. Very red feminism, centering black women, trans women, sex workers. I especially like the Voice of Domestic Workers bloc (follow the link to the original post to see the images). Well worth a read, worth sharing, and why not join in as well?

Communique #1 London Assembly

The International Women’s Strike in the UK began with women coming together to explore our visions of the red feminist horizon – what it could look like and how we could get there. The Women’s Strike is not a one-day event set to coincide with International Women’s Day each year – it’s not an activist campaign or a women’s project. In the UK and across the world we are witnessing an emerging international women’s movement that is experimenting with and struggling for a feminist future. We are not the first generation, nor will we be the last, to know in our gut that women’s liberation must be central to all social movements. We are not asking for our fair share under capitalism, we are seeking to destroy altogether a system that is designed to divide and oppress us. We already know women’s liberation to be at the heart of the struggle. To be clear: there will be no revolution until women’s lives and our labour are central to every political question.

In moving towards a red feminist horizon we continue the work of our feminist mothers and grandmothers in destabilizing ideas of womanhood. We refuse to be divided into good and bad women. We are not interested in reproducing a version of feminism that only makes some women visible, namely those who are white, middle class, cisgender and heterosexual. Nor is there anything stable, inherent or natural about being a woman. As Chandra Mohanty so forcefully argued 35 years ago, the relationship between “Woman” – a cultural and ideological construction and “women” who are real material subjects of our collective histories is one of the central questions that feminism seeks to act upon. We have to confront the reactionary and patriarchal ideas of what it means to be a woman today. Like that we are ‘naturally’ caring, that we all want to be mothers, that most of the time we are asking for it and the rest of the time we are in need of protection. Simultaneously, this confrontation must revalue care work and emotional labour, to support people who have children and combat the structural and systemic forms of violence and exploitation that harm so many women.

Reducing what it means to be a woman to set of biological characteristics and reproductive capacities and claiming that women’s oppression and exploitation is the direct result of having a certain genital configuration recognised at birth is a specific form of reactionary and misogynist politics that we have no interest in. From decades of black feminist thought we have learnt that universalist claims of what it means to be a woman serve the interests of some women at the expense of others. Such claims actively work against the possibility of meaningful connections and solidarity being forged between women who experience womanhood in different ways.

The red feminist horizon demands that we have full and final say on the meaning of our bodies, what they do, how we labour and what is done to our bodies. At the heart of that fight for bodily autonomy is reproductive justice: the right to reproduce when and how we want. For women to be free, we require full and free access to pregnancy termination, contraception and social services for children, parents and carers. But we also need full and free access to sperm freezing before trans women undergo hormone replacement therapy which results in infertility. We call for autonomy over our biological reproductive processes, whether they constitute a tendency to reproduce or, a tendency not to.

We are no longer interested in the faux-debates of whether sex work is ‘real’ work, whether the millions of hours we spend caring and cleaning is ‘real’ work, if the Women’s Strike is a ‘real’ strike or if trans women are ‘real’ women. Attempts to undermine the strength of our movement and thump the table about ‘authenticity’ say far more about those that seek to reduce women to our biological functions and confine us into victimhood, than it does about the vibrant and militant movement we are building. By looking to the wealth of knowledge produced by black feminism, transfeminism and sex worker rights movements we know who our sisters are. We know that trans women and sex workers have a central role to the play in dismantling the capitalist patriarchal systems of power that oppress us all.

We began the Women’s Strike as we intend to proceed. On the morning of the 8th March 2018 we organised a defiant direct action at the Department of Health to demand urgent action on trans healthcare. In the afternoon, 1000 people assembled for over four hours in central London, arriving from university picket lines in their hundreds and walking out of their offices, homes and factories. A social reproduction collective of mainly men organised collective childcare and cooked food to feed the whole assembly. We stood in solidarity with our Kurdish sisters, making it clear that we will defend the revolution in Rojava because their liberation is bound up with ours. Later on, we picketed pro-life religious organisations, joined striking cleaners who occupied Topshop to highlight their disgusting treatment of workers.

In the evening we took over the streets of Soho and marched behind sex workers who were on strike for the decriminalisation of all forms of sex work. The strike4decrim rally began with a minute of noise to remember the late Laura Lee, a fierce fighter for sex workers rights in Ireland. We heard from migrant sex workers who were arrested and humiliated during ‘anti-trafficking’ raids that did nothing for women in the sex industry and everything for property developers. We listened to strippers who are organising in their workplaces against being made to pay to get work and are denied basic employment rights. Our evening ended with hundreds of comrades, including sex workers and trans activists, joining the Picturehouse workers who have been striking and protesting for over a year to demand the living wage and decent working conditions. In bringing together service workers, sex workers, Kurdish women, single mothers, students, university workers, domestic workers, cleaners, artists and refugees we demonstrated our collective power. we exceed the narrow categories of womanhood forced upon us and make good on our promise to make feminism a threat again.

Open letter: the resistance is not over, after World Africa Day.

Open letter from the Internationalist Commune of Rojava following World Afrin Day. Shared from the ICR’S website.

The resistance is not over – Open letter after the #WorldAfrinDay

We, who are working here in Rojava as internationals, are part of the worldwide fight of the opressed against the reign of state, capital and pathriarchy.

– șehid Hêlîn Qercox

The #WorldAfrinDay has been a historical example of resistance and international solidarity. Thousands took to the streets and stood up against this war, giving their support to the resistance and values of this revolution. Solidarity came from more than 50 cities from all around the world, and it proved how important what is happening here is for people. New groups and new people are organizing their solidarity, getting involved and defend the revolution. From Canada to Australia, from Mexico to Japan, the world has shown that Afrin is not alone.

For two months, the bombs of the Turkish army have been falling and killing people in Afrin. During these same two months, there have been worldwide actions against this occupation. And they will continue. Afrin, as the western canton of the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria, will be defended as the beacon of hope that it became, as the source of inspiration that it is. The bottom-up democracy, with women at the forefront building social ecology, is what the capitalist system tries to keep locked up, claiming that ‘there is no alternative’, that utopia is not possible. But here, we learned that another world is not only possible, but necessary, and it just depends on how much we believe in it, how determined we are to bring this utopia into existence.

Afrin is now under the occupation of the Turkish army. After these months of resistance, to see the occupation forces entering the city may seem like the utopia is going away once again; but no one said the revolution would come around easily. It was something we had only imagined before coming to Rojava, and witnessing with our own eyes what’s going on here. Today, here, we are taking on several centuries of the capitalist system and nation-state model. We are challenging thousands of years of patriarchal oppression and male rule power. We are challenging the essence of how society itself is perceived and organized.

But today we also need to examine ourselves and assess what we have done. As the internationalist commune, we did not manage to develop the full potential that international solidarity can mean for this revolution. We were not able to follow all the initiatives and actions that people shared with us, we were not able to give our perspectives and answers to all the ideas and proposals that were presented to us. We were not able to give the right answer to the attacks that struck us. We were not able to understand the real dimensions of the revolution that is going on here and the importance of defending what today is being developed.

But we will reflect on that, and we will learn from our mistakes. When the next attack of the ruling powers strikes once again, we will be wiser and more experienced, and more capable of defending ourselves and the people around us. We know that this can happen at any time, maybe tomorrow, and we know we can not do it alone. We need to be able to see the threats before they are too big to overcome. We need to have better and deeper analysis of the situation we are in. We need all the hope and the international solidarity that this revolution is raising in people’s hearts. And that’s why we call on you to come here.

Come and see with your own eyes what is happening here. Come with an open mind and heart, ready to challenge what you believe humanity is able to accomplish. Come to learn, to support and to organize this revolution. Come and help us to create the international movement that will be able to change the capitalist drift that humanity is suffering.

But if you can’t come, there are still a thousand ways you can contribute to this resistance. We need to think how we can make this revolution successful, and what can be done in every place to achieve this aim. As internationalists, we need to be able to act and interact with the society we are in. We need to learn from the past movements and analyze what are the best ways to face oppression. From mass mobilization, to civil disobedience. From solidarity demonstrations, to direct actions. Yesterday, we showed the world that together we are strong. But the situation in Afrin today showed us that this is not enough. So now, we need to open a global debate about what should be the next step.

– This open letter is a call to all the people and groups who took an active role in the #WorldAfrinDay, and also to other initiatives in solidarity with the Afrin resistance. We want to open a public debate. We will be expecting your answers, your ideas, your proposals. We also call for your support to spread and translate this letter, you can find our email in our website.

Internationalist Commune of Rojava
25/03/2018

Review: Notes toward a performative theory of assembly by Judith Butler

It’s been a while since anything was written here. I’ve been sunk with wage-labour. Or more precisely the labour that you have to do along side a paid job but which isn’t paid. I’m not sure what that’s called.

BUTLER_BASIC

But anyway, I didn’t have time to write but I did have time to read – Judith Butler’s Notes Toward a Performative Theory of Assembly. I remember being involved in a direct action campaign a few years back where we were blocking construction machinery on an infrastructure project. One thing that did my head in was when the construction workers would ask “but there is only a handful of you” as if that implied that what we were doing was not reflecting widespread public opinion. Even worse was when some of our own would say “It’s disgraceful that there aren’t more people here. If they really cared they would be here”. This whole dynamic brought forward a sense of righteousness: we are the only ones with the commitment to act on our beliefs and we were burdened with doing the heavy lifting on behalf of the majority who were on our side but too lazy to do something about it.

I never felt comfortable whenever this attitude started to assert itself in our group. Two interrelated topics that Butler deals with in this book are the socialised support required for a person to ‘appear’ and take political action, and the relation between the messages put forward through the actions of activists and the opinions of the broader population, the democratic will (And there are plenty others). What I’m taking away is that we should be humbled by the privilege to have the opportunity to act politically where others cannot (even if often getting beaten by the police, or ostracised trying to find a new job doesn’t make it feel like much of a privilege). It is also singularly important not to drift into the whole ‘doing this on behalf of those who could not be here’: certainly it’s good to acknowledge that there are those who can’t be there, and that out of solidarity we should do what they would like to have the chance to do, that is, to push the struggle in ways they would like. But we cannot assume the right to act or speak for others. This gives rise to the politics of representation. Ok not in the traditional sense where we think of it as a party claiming to represent a constituency of voters but then being given free reign with no accountability. But think about the elections last year in Kenya: anti-democratic electoral interference prevented Odinga from winning, but the flip side is that reclaiming democracy is now reduced to getting him into power. We can see a similar pattern with high-profile women hit by the glass ceiling (e.g. Robin Wright campaigning for equal(ly astronomical) salary as Kevin Spacy on House of Cards), persecuted whistleblowers dominating campaigns with their egos (e.g. Julian Assange), when asylum is granted to a limited number of refugees who took action, or arrested activists becoming the voice for the next directions of the campaign, namely to try to secure their release (e.g. Nelson Mandela). In each of these cases we have genuine subversions of democracy and genuine experiences of repression, leading to a situation in which the personal projects of a set of select people get projected as the only way the democratic will can be respected. Anarchists and activists involved in direct action like to think their forms of organisation and repertoires of action are based on directly democratic participation and are opposed to a politics of representation, but as Butler shows, and as seen in the examples above, saying your actions are against representation is one thing but there are ways for the logic of representation to creep back into things, which is not something that anarchists are used to being accused of.

Other themes dealt with in the book that are relevant to us today include ethics – important to guiding or situating intersectional struggle, including the right (even necessity) to subdivide multi-dimensional autonomous identities even in places where strategically only unity will advance struggle; breaking the separation between body and speech – think about the ability to write, or the talent to write well, and the exclusions that are created and voices lost when cultures or movements elevate the status of print over vocal and emotional knowledge; and, as the title suggests, a theory of assembly – what could be more important to understand seeing how the most explosive forms of revolt of the last 10 years were almost entirely defined by stripped down assembly, or simply being, together (compared to previous tactics like shutting down meetings in the days of the alterglobalist movement, or strikes and workplace occupations further back in the syndicalist wave of the early 20th century). Indeed evidence of its importance can be seen in how Hardt and Negri have made a comeback to deal with precisely that topic.

I’m probably over extrapolating in drawing out these lines, which is partly as a result of me reading too deeply into her thoughts, and partly as a result of her reading too deeply into hypothetical situations. The problem with hypothetical or abstract reasoning is that you can make very convincing arguments about a dilemma or contradiction that really is not such a big issue in practice. For example, she asks “Does the freedom of assembly depend on being protected by government, or does it depend on a protection from government? And does it make sense for the people to rely on government to protect itself from government” (p158). The problem is that this abstract logic creates a paradox which in reality people, rationally, are pragmatic about.

For example, I was reading something about a series of movements in India where it was observed how movements negotiate this false dilemma strategically rather than ideologically when deciding which avenues have the best prospects of getting their aims realised. As the author observes, movements recognise the necessity

“to steer a strategic course between anti-statism on the one hand and state-centrism on the other hand. The basic argument against anti-statism would be this: an awareness of the structural limits to the changes that can be achieved via the state-system and the state-idea does not translate into a principled rejection of any engagement with the state. […] this does not entail a position in which interaction and negotiation with the state is seen as the beginning and the end of the strategic scope of oppositional collective action. […] In other words, it is a position that advocates an instrumental rather than a committed engagement with the state-system, and the state-idea – that is, an approach to interaction with the state based on limited expectations of what can be gained and, simultaneously, a clear perception of what cannot be gained and what is risked in pursuing this avenue.”

So, if the police protect particular bodies on a particular night from attack, taking that protection doesn’t mean you are a statist. I remember being involved in a camp and on one occasion being called to intervene in a case of partner violence. When we joined together to ask the guy to leave he started punching out at all of us until eventually us weak bodies managed to somehow overpower his macho mass. And we sat on him to immobilise him and called the police, who by day had been trying to evict us. For us it was a no-brainer that we had to rely on the state to protect us, regardless of what the state tried to do to us other times.

And just to give another example (because it is annoying me how much of a non-issue this can be for people), unemployment benefit is often an important form of protection by government for activists. Without it many people I know would not have the time or energy to get involved in projects that they are in, while for others, it saves them from activism rendering them homeless or turning them into alcoholics. Activists often draw unemployment benefit without falling into the illusion that the state is somehow benevolent and that they don’t need protection from it. Indeed, in some countries unemployment benefit is necessary in order for unemployed people to be entitled to social and medical security – often precisely to pay for the medical costs for treatment for injuries received at the hands of the police at a protest.

This is just one fleshed out example of how Butler’s style of argument (and possibly the whole area of political philosophy in general, I can’t say I read enough of it to be able to tell) can create its own problems rather than dealing with problems that people encounter in struggle. As a consequence you need a fair bit of concentration to stay focused on the eventual point. I’ve heard other people speculate that Zizek doesn’t write his books – he just records himself on a rant and then has that dictated. I can well picture Butler doing this, only instead of recording herself while riled up and foaming, she records herself when stoned. And the result goes like this:

“It is true that I am trying to struggle toward an affirmation of interdependency in what I have offered here, but I am trying to underscore just how difficult it is to struggle for social and political forms that are committed to festering a sustainable interdependency on egalitarian terms. When any of us are affected by the sufferings of others, it is not only that we put ourselves in their place or that they usurp our own place; perhaps it is the moment in which a certain chiasmic link comes to the fore and I become somehow implicated in lives that are clearly not the same as my own. And this happens even when we do not know the names of those who make their appeal to us or when we struggle to pronounce the name or to speak in a language we have never learned. […] Indeed, certain bonds are actually wrought through this very reversibility, however incomplete it is. And we might find ways of understanding the interdependency that characterises cohabitation precisely as these bonds. For if I am here and there, I am also not ever fully there, and even if I am here, I am always more than fully here. Is there a way to understand this reversibility as limited by bodily time and space in such a way that the other is not radically other, and I am not radically over here as an I, but the link, the joint is chiasmic and only and always partly reversible and partly not?” (p 120)

As I said above, I don’t know if this kind of thing is a problem of this specific book or of political philosophy in general (Zizek certainly comes up with some things which sound fascinating and enigmatic but have zero relation to anything going on outside his head). One thing though in terms of the substance of her argument that I do disagree with is the second last chapter, ‘We the people’: thoughts on freedom of assembly. A big part of her conclusions here are built on, amongst other things, how she deconstructs the idea of ‘the people’. Don’t get me wrong, it is a valid problematisation of what is and has always been an exclusionary and elitist concept of constituency. But why not just skip all these problems and just go with the multitude? The reason I ask is that elements of the multitude don’t try to speak for or act in the name of other elements. Butler even makes an important point with this critique of the concept of ‘the people’: civic units are (in part) constituted through the means by which they are permitted to access the public and/or political area. As she says,

“All of these are reasons why those with the freedom to appear can never fully or adequately represent the people, since there are people who, we know, are missing from the public, missing from this public assembled here in Gezi Park; they are those who must find representation, even as those who seek to represent them risk imprisonment for doing so. And it is not just that there are some people who happen to be missing from the gathering because they had something else to do; rather, there are those who could not have gathered in Gezi Park, or can no longer gather, or who are indefinitely restrained from gathering. That very power of confinement is a way of defining, producing, and controlling what will be the public sphere and who will be admitted to public assembly” (p 173)

Incidentally, for a great example of how this works in practice, have a read of this article on ‘minority politics’ in Amsterdam and how the local government switched the framing from multi-ethnic integration (involving social justice-oriented leftist immigrant groups) to religious inclusion (centred on religious associations), with the result that where left activists once campaigned as leftists, they then campaigned as muslims. But regardless, why not just sidestep the entire theoretical dilemma by using the concept of the Multitude? – which incidentally also happens to free itself from the further dilemma of tacitly legitimising a state that represses it.

So, on the one hand Notes toward a performative theory of assembly deals with a lot of relevant themes and ideas. On the other hand, there are problems which I have outlined. I’m going to embrace the contradiction rather than trying to tease it out.

Diversity commentary:

Monograph written by a homosexual woman. University-educated, working at Professor rank at a university in an advanced capitalist country (USA). She was born in the US, is white, but comes from a Jewish family, of whom previous generations were persecuted and killed by the Nazi regime.

Statement announcing formation of The Queer Insurrection and Liberation Army

Founding statement by The Queer Insurrection and Liberation Army, a section of the anarchist guerilla forces active in Rojava. I don’t usually post stuff from or endorse armed forces. Something i’m particularly worried about at them moment is the currant fetishisation of armed struggle by Western leftists because of Rojava – but i do recognise that armed self defense is essential there to protect people and the revolution. So, with these reservations, i think its worth promoting these guys – how many times in history have queers condemned people to the gulags or sent people to die in wars that they started for their own narrow sectional interests? And, as they say, who better to fight fascists than the victims of fascism? Statement borrowed from insurrection news.

We, the International Revolutionary People’s Guerrilla Forces (IRPGF) formally announce the formation of The Queer Insurrection and Liberation Army (TQILA), a subgroup of the IRPGF comprised of LGBT*QI+ comrades as well as others who seek to smash the gender binary and advance the women’s revolution as well as the broader gender and sexual revolution.
TQILA’s members have watched in horror as fascist and extremist forces around the world have attacked the Queer community and murdered countless of our community members citing that they are ‘ill’, ‘sick’ and ‘unnatural’. The images of gay men being thrown off roofs and stoned to death by Daesh was not something we could idly watch. It is also not only Daesh whose hatred for Queer, Trans* and other non-binary peoples leads to religiously motivated hatred and attacks. Christian conservatives in the global northwest have also attacked LGBT*QI+ peoples in an attempt to silence and erase their existence. We want to emphasize that queerphobia, homophobia and trans*phobia are not inherent to Islam or any other religion. In fact we know many Muslims, Jews, Christians, Hindus, Buddhists etc who are welcoming of uniqueness and non-conforming people and some who are even Queer themselves. We stand in solidarity with them against fascism, tyranny and oppression. Additionally, we criticize and struggle against the conservative and feudal anti-Queer sentiments within the revolutionary left both here and abroad.
Our commitment to struggling against authority, patriarchy, oppressive heteronormativity, queer/homo-phobia and trans*phobia are strengthened by the revolutionary advances and gains of the Kurdish women’s struggle. The fact that Jineolojî classes debate gender constructs and sexuality further highlights the advance of the revolution in Rojava and all of Kurdistan with women pushing for revolutionary advances at a rapid pace. It is this necessity and desire to strengthen the gains of the women’s revolution while advancing the Queer struggle that has motivated Queer comrades of the IRPGF to form TQILA.
QUEER LIBERATION! DEATH TO RAINBOW CAPITALISM!

 ̶B̶A̶S̶H̶ SHOOT BACK! THESE FAGGOTS KILL FASCISTS!

MILITANT HORIZONTAL SELF-ORGANIZED COLLECTIVES & COMMUNITIES

FOR THE REVOLUTION AND QUEER ANARCHISM!
International Revolutionary People’s Guerrilla Forces IRPGF