All entries for Thursday 30 April 2009
April 30, 2009
Greetings! Welcome to Issue 6 of Dissident Warwick. Below you will find all of the articles from the print edition.
Interview with Alex Callinicos (Dhaliwal)
Students in the frontline: A brief overview of the student struggle in Barcelona (Vidal-Folch)
Why Not Ditch the Dealers in Death? (Pace)
Hungry eyes! …that is, wicked conceptions on how can I win a country for me (Lipinska)
Queer Eye for the Capitalist State (Taylor)
Researching Warwick (Carrigan)
La Literatura es Fuego (Tarr)
Forgetting the Future (Giollamoir)
It’s our history (Hailwood)
The Pleasure Resort (Kostem)
We welcome comments and discussions, so post away! Please keep discussion respectful and relevant.
1. Reclaim your Education: Global Week of Action.
Uniting various groups and movements around the world struggling against the commercialization of education and for free and emancipating public education accessible to all.
Dates: April 20th-29th
1. Strangers to Citizens Rally
Proposing an earned Amnesty for illegal immigrants with a walk from Tothill St., London to Trafalgar Square
Date: May 4th
2. BAE Systems AGM at the QE2 Centre, London
Date: May 6th
3. Spirit Unbroken, Warwick campus.
Exploring statelessness and celebrating those affected through music, dance, drama and poetry.
Date: May 11th
1. Leamington Peace Festival
Dates: June 13th and 14th
2. Summer Gathering
People and Planet’s annual networking, training and planning event
Dates: June 28th – July 2nd
1. Marxism Festival
A 5-day political festival with over 200 meetings and events, debates, music, cinema, drama and art. Capitalism isn’t working! Come and discuss the alternative.
Dates: July 2nd-6th
1. Climate Camp
Dates: August 26th – September 2nd
by Mark Carrigan
At last term’s EGM debating whether the Union should support the Gaza Sit-In, a group of students tried to close the meeting using procedural motions; when their calls were rejected, they walked out in protest, complaining loudly that the meeting had no democratic mandate given the vast swathes of the student population who weren’t present. There were 350 people in the meeting. While this was in itself a victory for Union democracy, the fact is unavoidable that this group constituted a small percentage of the student population. Acknowledging this is not necessarily an attack on the legitimacy of the outcome but it does highlight a whole series of questions about the views and understandings of the thousands of students who weren’t there. Who are they? What do they think? What do they agree on? What do they disagree on? Why do they think what they think?
Some would argue that they represent a silent majority, uninterested in the moral and political concerns that motivate student campaigners and that they deserve to have their interests represented over-and-above those of a minority of activists. While we would dispute this picture of widespread disinterest and apathy, the fact remains that neither case can be made with any degree of certainty. What does the ‘average’ Warwick student think about the political campaigns that go on at the university? Do they think that the Students’ Union represents a legitimate vehicle for social engagement or do they see the proper role of the Students’ Union as safeguarding the interests of students as consumers who pay fees to the university, guarding their pathway through education and into the world or work? Or, perhaps more likely, are their views more nuanced and complex than is commonly suggested? The only way to answer these question is to go out and talk to Warwick students – lots of them – and that’s why we’re proposing a research project, due to start this summer and run throughout the 09/10 academic year. We hope that what we find will contribute to a serious and factually informed debate about student politics and the role of the university in an era of ever-increasing economic and social uncertainty.
If you think this sounds interesting and would like to find out more or get involved in carrying it out then e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Carrying this out on a large enough scale to produce substantive and representative results depends on there being enough people involved in the project. Everyone can take part, regardless of what subject you study. It’s a chance to learn new skills (e.g. interviewing, analysis, research design) that will look good on postgraduate applications and to be part of something that will help create a better understanding of Warwick students, as well as pointing to wider trends in the relationship between students and political engagement.
by Mark Hailwood
In recent weeks a debate has been stirring on campus about the role business plays in higher education. Professor Alex Callinicos, visiting the Warwick PPE Society, gave a talk about the neoliberalisation of higher education, and warned of the dangers inherent in ‘the systematic subordination of higher education to competition’. This was followed up by an exchange in the Boar (10/03/2009) over whether big business and private sector money has any legitimate place in higher education. Whilst this debate has become more prominent in the current economic climate, it has been at the very centre of the University of Warwick’s history and identity from its foundation in 1965.
Only five years into its life, the university was the subject of a damning critique in a book entitled Warwick University Ltd, edited by one of the most prominent academics ever to work here – the historian Edward Thompson. The book demonstrated how the interests of business and industry had driven the direction and development of the university from its inception, with several unsavoury side effects. The provision of an appropriate social space within which an academic community could flourish was constantly rejected by the controlling powers; manipulation of the committee system served to limit the role staff and students could play in the decision-making processes of a supposedly democratic institution; and, most disconcertingly of all, the political activities and affiliations of staff and students were monitored and, in at least one case, used as grounds to reject admission to the university. Many contemporary students and staff were well aware that these issues were part of much broader problem: ‘What was wrong was the whole concept and structure of the University. The ideals of academic excellence and the pursuit of knowledge had to be reasserted over the aims of the “Business University”’.
And yet, despite this desire of many to shift the balance in this clash of interests between academic excellence and big business, the latter has continued to dominate the development of the university. By the late 90s Warwick’s reputation as the ‘Business University’ was as strong as ever, and it claimed to rival Oxford and Cambridge in its ability to secure private sector funding. The students of the time were less impressed: ‘On an educational level, it’s not living up to what I expected. It’s more “This is a business”, and we’re part of that business. There are lots of facilities but they seem to spend more time on research and impressing conference guests.’ The warnings offered by Callinicos suggest that the detrimental effects of business models on academic output and quality of teaching may be about to get even worse.
There is, however, another history to be told. Running alongside the university’s reputation as the ‘Business University’ is a history of radicalism and protest. In 1970 students responded to the university’s neglect of their interests with direct action, staging a famous sit-in at the Registry. Edward Thompson was a member of the academic staff at the time, and a supporter of the actions of the students as well as a radical in his own right, combining academic research with committed activism, especially within the CND. His research also left a radical legacy, and his work on the history of popular protest launched a generation of historians prepared to challenge established – and often elitist – academic orthodoxies. And this alternative history and identity of Warwick, like its ‘Business University’ counterpart, continues to be reflected on campus today. It is memorialised in the painting of Kevin Gately, who died at a protest opposing the National Front in 1974, and persists in events such as the Gaza sit-in, the campaign against the arms trade, and even, perhaps, in the award of the Warwick Prize for Writing to Naomi Klein. All these count as examples of the continuing vibrancy of this alternative identity of Warwick as a centre of protest and radicalism.
These two contrasting trends in Warwick’s history are summed up in a question posed by Thompson in 1970: ‘Is it inevitable that the university will be reduced to the function of providing, with increasingly authoritarian efficiency, pre-packed intellectual commodities which meet the requirements of management? Or can we by our efforts transform it into a centre of free discussion and action, tolerating and even encouraging “subversive” thought and activity, for a dynamic renewal of the whole society within which it operates?’ This question is perhaps even more relevant now than it was then, as the role of business and markets in higher education, and the detrimental impact they have on our society at large, comes under increasing scrutiny in the face of economic meltdown. The answer to Thompson’s question, and the answer to which trend in Warwick’s history and identity will represent it’s future, will be determined by how actively the present students and staff respond to this crucial historical moment.
 E.P. Thompson (ed), Warwick University Ltd: Industry, Management and the Universities (Harmondsworth, 1970).
 The Independent (07/06/1998).
 E.P. Thompson (ed), Warwick University Ltd: Industry, Management and the Universities (Harmondsworth, 1970), p.166.
Forgetting the Future
by Oisin Mac Giollamoir
Remembering things can be hard.
We forget what it was like to be a child in the nineties. We forget what it was like for our parents to be students in the seventies and eighties. We forget what it felt like being alive in the forties, in the fifties, or in the sixties. We forget what it was like for our parents and grand parents to have ‘a job for life’. We forget what it was like for our great great grandparents to have little to no rights at work, or for women, almost no rights at all. And we forget what it was like for our ancestors two hundred years ago, who, accustomed to living off the land, struggled with the idea of living off wage labour.
_- Go work for someone else, everyday, for the rest of your life. They will pay for your time, and with the money they give you, you can buy things; food, drink, shelter, clothes etc.
- But then when will I have anytime to work the land?
- You won’t, you will have no land.
- No land! But then how will I feed myself?
- With the money they’ll give you you can buy food.
- And why will they give me money?
- For your time.
- My time, and what will they do with my time?
- They will make you work.
- So when they buy my time, they control it?
- But if they control my time, my work, and I have no land, what do I control?
- You can choose to work or not to work. You can sell your time or go poor.
- But that is not a choice it’s a threat. It is awful. I am no better than a slave. A slave who gets paid. If they own my work, my time and decide if I eat well or poorly, then I am a slave to them, though they might pay me a wage!_
This was a strange world once. Wage labour – How odd? And how awful, thought these new workers. Hating their lack of liberty their enslavement to the wage these early workers attacked the machines dreaming of returning to the land.
But gradually the dream changed. They stopped dreaming of getting rid of the machines and returning to the land. Instead they dreamed of taking the machinery, the workplaces and making them their own. They dreamed that everyone could control this new machinery. It would be like the old common lands; land that could be worked by everyone and owned by no-one. These new cities would be owned by no one, worked by everyone, producing for everyone. From each according to ability, to each according to need! Production for need not profit! Abolish wage labour!
They drew these slogans on their banners and then … in Paris 1871 they had a revolution, then again in Russia 1905, in Mexico 1910, Spain 1912, Russia 1917, Germany, 1918, Seattle 1919, Limerick 1919, Italy 1920, and again and again…
In the years that followed, they won the eight hour day, universal suffrage, free education, universal pension coverage, unemployment benefits, and healthcare for all. They won higher and higher wages enabling the development of the consumer society with our cars, dishwashers, PCs, iPods. And our lives are better now. But remembering things is hard.
We forget the struggles that improved our lives. We forget the dreams that inspired them. The drudgery of work is normal. Spending your life doing something you hate, it’s just how life is. Living life forever feeling isolated, alone and powerless is the human condition. Working for a wage is the natural way of life. Isn’t it?
While our ancestors dreamed of the future we fear ours. What if there is no future? Sea levels rise as these cities we live in spew carbon in the sky. But major ecological collapse is still decades away. What of next year? What job are you choosing after you leave college? What choice do you have with the recession? But we hope things will improve and go back to normal, back to what’s natural. We will still work for a wage and hate it. But at least we will still have what our past struggles have won: universal suffrage (for citizens); the NHS (or what’s left of it); unemployment benefit (I mean Job Seekers Allowance); universal pension coverage (for public sector workers); free education (with top up fees)… Well maybe things aren’t that secure. Maybe the future isn’t what we thought it was. But there once was another future, wasn’t there? A future without poverty, classes, inequality; a future where we control the cities we live in; a future where we are not slaves to the wage, a future where we are valued by our worth as humans, not our price as workers. Remember?
But, yes, remembering, especially the future, can be hard.
by Weronika Lipinska
I am personally bored with being subordinated to any type of state which is governed by someone other than me. Each state wants me to pay taxes and obey some rules I disagree with. Personally unacceptable. Hypothetically I could move country, but why? This is my land. And I want my country on it. Let’s do it.
The easiest way would be to gather a group of followers who are willing to blindly conform to my rules and publicly declare that they are socially oppressed by the current regime, regardless of whether it is a monarchy, democracy or republic. The Putsch. The Appraisal. We would be fighting for a better future, a common aim! The current system corrupts our values and beliefs and therefore the society needs ME. MY order will be better. I need only to awake my charisma and Goebbelsian style of convincing, to seduce like Mata Hari those capable of grabbing for pitchforks! Slogans like ‘equality’ are warmly welcome.
But what if I do not get on well with muddy pitchfork-fighters or am afraid/not contented/unprepared to experience quick, outrage-based death which will be crowned with my head being kicked like a football when the crowd which loved me so much will find out that their happiness is not a primary concern of mine when it comes to ruling the country? I may choose to overtake the heart of a fairly emotionally handicapped (how else would he or she not be able to discern my real intentions?!) monarch. From here there is a short way to being a queen or king and don’t tell me that nowadays it has no genuine importance in actual governing of a country. Who is the head of armed forces? Say who! (And what can I do with the armed forces? Hypothetically, of course.)
If I fancy neither Prince Harry, nor William, nor Philip Koburg, nor Wilhelm Alexander or Swedish Victoria (I am very picky), then perhaps I am in a privileged position of deriving from an ethnic minority which wants a partition from an already existing country or my home region demands separation for any more or less rational reason. The answer is yes? Brilliant! Just ignite a spark of preferably international conflict and seize the power at the right time. I, obviously, am the devoted and patriotic citizen who simply cannot accept those bastards tormenting my land and will show them that we are able to govern it on our own without external exploitation. This option is like ‘The Putsch’ but better if I want to have my country on the land which is administratively governed by democracy. Why? Have *you ever heard of an instance of overthrowing democratic rule? Me neither.
But the problem: people don’t like Star Wars in real life. The bloody introduction of a brand new regime will be treated (hard done!) by peace-keepers in sky blue berets like I deal with the tin which refuses to open itself. High time to establish a new religion and institute myself a head/oracle of that business. If I have an extraordinary gift like healing ringworm by clapping hands near the infection, it is the right moment to uncover it. A quick look into the history of Vatican and I see it takes only about four centuries to be given land to build the capital headquarters of my religion. Most probably it wouldn’t cover more than 50km2 and attract the right-minded people. However, what a spiritual atmosphere!
If all of the above fails because of my lack of ability to lead, seduce, spread rebellion, or invent, there is one thing which never fails. Money. No more than 750 million euro will make me the ‘king’ of the Principality of Sealand. Hmm… I will take my chance… not to buy.
“La Literatura es Fuego” (“Literature is Fire”) – Mario Vargas Llosa
Writing and reading activism
by Isobel Tarr
We’ve all been told that there are certain books we have to read before we can hope to be fully politically and socially aware. Ten pages in and you are dying to know what the big secret is, and why this writer is shrouding it in metaphors, imagined places and esoteric language. When you manage to piece together the writer’s political message from behind the book’s literary facade, it’s hard not to reflect that you could easily have written an article on the subject in the time it took you to figure out that novel. So if writers of politically and socially concerned fiction are so eager to incite their readers into action, why don‘t they stop stroking their artistic egos and come to the point? There is a tendency to divide people into either ‘intellectuals’ or ‘activists’ within a movement, but forms of culture are important for reconciling these roles, and for breeding both political thought and decisive action.
Creative writing is a highly effective medium for inspiring activism, because most modern writers of fiction rely on the very things that writers of non-fiction claim to avoid; contradiction, ambiguity, and lies. The argument that literature is “all just about interpretation anyway” is only half the point; a reader of fiction will inevitably try to apply some meaning to an ambiguous or difficult work of fiction, or try to imagine possible endings if the end is left open. In doing so, the reader is becoming the writer. By giving the text a direction and a purpose, a reader is becoming an active participant in a social discourse instead of being encouraged to accept an opinion which claims authority. They are contributing to, changing, and challenging the writers’ work rather than merely accepting it.
It may be argued that the same can be said for other forms of writing, but a non-fictional or academic article inevitably forces an issue in a certain direction, and claims to have a certain authority over the reader, thus limiting the scope for dissent and discussion. Fiction, on the other hand, can be more honest, because it demonstrates to the reader that it is fantasy, about imagined places and people created by the writer, and therefore it is highly conscious of its own subjectivity. This invites readers to interpret what they are presented with in terms of their own experience of the social world, allowing for a greater diversity of social experiences to engage in political discourse.
Latin American fiction has engaged in a discourse with the political world perhaps more than any other genre, and in truly bizarre ways. Gabriel García Marquez’s groundbreaking One Hundred Years of Solitude relates fantastical and magical events in a real historical context, encouraging the reader to question what they are being told instead of accepting the written word as incontestable fact. The novel ends as Aureliano reads the last page of the manuscript prophesising the end of the town of Macondo, and as he does so, the world he knows collapses around him “as if he were speaking into a mirror”. Marquez wants us to consider that the world can be read, as well as written, into existence.
One Hundred Years demonstrated the potential of writing to influence change; it began the 1960’s “Boom” in Latin American writing. Writers forged new techniques such as magic realism, whereby the fantastical was related in a realist context, which invites the reader to question what they are being told, and emulates the myths and contradictions of the Latin American political and social world. The “Boom” engaged a whole generation in reading, writing and action. Mario Vargas Llosa, first published in 1962, became embroilled in Peruvian politics as a consequence of becoming a writer, and is a controversial political figure to this day. He declared “Literature is fire”, and it literally was, as thousands of copies of his book, The Time of The Hero, were publicly burned by the Peruvian military for the threat that it posed to hierarchical structures. In 1978, Sandinista sympathiser Gioconda Belli published a collection of poems called “In the Line of Fire”; a year later she was an active participnat in the revolution, with a price on her head.
Creative reading and writing can help inform and fuel social and political movements; James Conolly, Irish playwright and songwriter was one of Ireland’s greatest revolutionaries. He notably said; “No revolutionary movement is complete without its poetical expression”. Direct action can be at its most effective when it incorporates forms of public theatre, poetry readings, live music and art which are not merely educational and didactic, but actively engage people. Activism and political movements must take a more creative approach towards the communication of political ideas, by exploring issues through creative mediums which invite people to question, participate and act.
Suggested reading (Latin American Literature and social movements):
The Autumn of the Patriarch – Gabriel García Márquez
I, the Supreme – Roa Bastos
The Death of Artemio Cruz – Carlos Fuentes
Hopscotch – Julio Cortázar
Tinísima – Elena Poniatowska
The Kiss of the Spider Woman – Manuel Puig
The Country Under my Skin – Gioconda Belli
Why Not Ditch the Dealers in Death?
by Barnaby Pace
When a company breaks an environmental regulation, it shows that there is some negligence. When a company breaks a few regulations, then the company is probably knowingly not bothering. When a company breaks arms export rules selling to dictators, bribes public officials and spies on those opposing it then what should we make of it? This latter situation is one that we find ourselves in when looking at the largest arms company in the UK; BAE Systems. Sadly it is not a unique case. When investigating the dark pasts of arms companies it is easy to find dirt, but hard to stop finding more and more.
Arms companies in the UK and around the world are not like every other company, and yet they are treated at least as well. We can see a vivid example of this at University of Warwick Careers fairs where arms companies stand side by side with financial houses, telecommunications companies and railway engineers pretending to be normal engineering companies. Our University is happy to promote arms companies and not consider their background. The University believes that keeping good industrial relations brings in research funding and helps maintain their reputation.
A similar situation can been seen at the national level. In 2006, when BAE systems were being pursued by the Serious Fraud Office, the US Department Of Justice (DOJ) and the Scorpions (South African organised crime and corruption investigative unit)[i] and many other groups for six different bribery and corruption cases[ii] and had been recently caught spying on the eminently peaceful Campaign Against the Arms Trade group[iii], then you might think that as the UK government you might cut your losses and disown the company giving them up as a bad lot. However, the Blair government at the time instead chose to shut down the Serious Fraud Office investigation, cease co-operating with the US DOJ investigation[iv] and proceed to hum loudly with its fingers in its ears, deaf to accusations of foul play. In his autobiography, former Foreign Secretary Robin Cook observed “I never once knew number 10 come up with any decision that would be incommoding to British Aerospace”[v].
This single example, one of many, in which governments support arms companies, is extraordinary and stupefying. Not only are there individual instances of favouring a single company but a systemic issue of unconditional support for the industry. The UK arms export industry employs 65,000[vi] people, yet receives an estimated government subsidy of £851 million per year[vii], this works out to £13,106.30[viii] per employee per year. £13,106.30 might not seem too much if it were being spent on an needy area of society, for example employing teachers or nurses, but instead it goes to an industry run for profit whose interests are not aligned with societal good.
It is important to remember that the arms trade is not run for the benefit of society, the UK or the world. The arms industry is privately owned and run, like any other capitalist organisation, with the aim of accruing profit and accumulating wealth. This is potentially disastrous when the method of making money is by causing and exacerbating conflict and proliferating weapons, to whomever can pay. The immorality or illegality of any deal can be trumped by the opportunity for profit, profit which can easily offset any potential legal issues in the future. Therefore if it is expedient to bribe a government official to persuade them to spend their money, not on development or the fight against AIDS but on purchasing military equipment then an arms company will do so[ix].
Why, despite all the many moral, social, economic and pragmatic issues with the arms industry does our government support companies such as BAE Systems? Do they believe that they receive better equipment for the UK military, when the UK Treasury says that by biasing our military’s arms procurement towards UK arms companies a single arms deal can cost the UK taxpayer £1 billion pounds more than it has to[x]? Indeed you only have to speak to any UK military serviceperson to be told how awful the BAE Systems-made SA80 standard rifle is. If we were to cut the UK’s arms exports by half, we would lose 49,000 jobs. However, with the now available capital and skills from halving arms exports, 67,400 jobs would be created in the civil sector in five years, according to a report by the MOD and York Universityvi. This is due the relative inefficiency of the arms industry. There are few possible reasons left for why the UK government gives the treatment it does. The arms industry is seen by some as a symbol of international killing power. Think of it as top trumps for defence ministers. Both the Conservative and Labour governments have been deep enough into the murky and corrupt world of the arms trade to be unwilling to confess to their crimes now. The UK would be better off without the black mark of its arms industry; we could use those skilled workers working in the industry for purposes that help society, for example creating ways to combat climate change instead of creating the means for death, destruction and misery for people around the world.
[i] “The Arms Deal in your Pocket”, Paul Holden, Jonathan Ball Publishers, 2008
[ii] “BAE: A company out of control”, CAAT, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2007/sep/21/bae.foreignpolicy
[iii] “Martin and Me”, Mark Thomas, The Guardian, 4/12/2007,
[iv] Labour tries to block new BAE inquiry, David Leigh & Rob Evans, The Guardian, 21/9/2007, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2007/sep/21/bae.foreignpolicy
[v] The Point of Departure: Diaries from the Front Bench, Robin Cook, 2004
[vi] “The economic cost and benefits of UK defence exports”, Chalmers, Davies, Hartley & Wilkinson, Centre for Defence Economics University of York, November 2001, http://www.york.ac.uk/depts/econ/documents/research/defence_exports_nov01.pdf
[vii] Escaping the Subsidy Trap Why arms exports are bad for Britain”, BASIC, Saferworld & Oxford Research Group, 2004, http://www.basicint.org/pubs/subsidy.pdf
[viii] “As used on the famous Nelson Mandela”, Mark Thomas, Ebury Press, 2006
[ix] BAE corruption investigation switches to Tanzania, David Leigh & Rob Evans, The Guardian, 12/4/2008, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2008/apr/12/bae.baesystemsbusiness
[x] “Wrangling ends with order for Hawks”, David Gow & Michael White, The Guardian, 31/7/2003
THE ENJOYMENT OF MUSIC UNDER LATE-CAPITALISM
“The music-and if possible it should be the same music for everybody-is the most important ingredient. Its function is to prevent thought and conversation.”
“The Pleasure Resort” George Orwell
When one thinks about music today and inquires about its character one is ultimately left with dogmas of both subjectivity and universality that grease the wheels of a neoliberal/capitalist spirit of consumption. A little inverstigation about why these beliefs are indeed dogmas and why these dagmas exist can provide a powerful account of wether aestehtic pleasure can exist under a late-capitalist society. Under such a society, music, behind masks of choice or transendance, serves only the most primary instincts of men and is almost devoid of any other type of communicative capability.
The dogma that music is universal seems to be a post-romantic taboo inherited from Schoppenhaur (but ofcourse its roots can be traced all the way to Plato) about music having the ability to reach the essense of things, or the thing-in-itself. However unlike the popular belief I am deeply convinced that music does have a sort of language one can listen, ignore, not understand, or even learn. That music extends traditional boundries or influences and somehow transcendes the listeners bringing up or background is the biggest illusion a capitalist society plays on us. When the Turkish Presidential Orchestra went to a village near the Eastern part of Turkey to preform the first piano concerto by Brahms, the villagers reacted by saying it was the worst thing that had ever happened to their town. It is foolish to assume that even if they liked it that they will like it the way a trained ear does. It is even more foolish to assume that they can fully deconstruct meaning from the music the same way they could had they known more about the cultural background of the music. Indeed what can make music subjective at all, what creates the oppurtunity for aesthetic choice is that it is not completely subjective. The fact that the song is part of some discourse gives the song some sort of social character which then can be interperted subjectively. This is why for music to be communicative at all it has to be not completely universal and neither be completely subjective. These dogmas arise because every where we are presented with variations of Western harmony, of what is correct and incorrect of what is harmonious or inharmonious. Like every other word the verb to “like” is a tool that makes sense only within the social cases within which it is used. Where the verb “to like” has been described by the products of commercial production “an approach in terms of value judgements has become fiction”. Where “the person finds himself hemmed in by standardized musical goods, he can niether escape impotence nor decide between the offerings where everything is so identical that preference infact depends merely on the biographical details or on the situation in which things are heard”.
The spirit of most modern popular music is reflective of the spirit that consumption is carried out in. The music tries to reach some false sense of pleasure and transcendence which has supposedly cut all its relations from earthly topics and as the music looses its language and its character, more and more, the concepts of aesthetic pleasure and choice rot away until the only choice one is left with is indifference. This is true for techno as it is for dodecaphonic music. The conception of the whole in a piece is denied to achieve some sort of essence in an attempt to divorce the music from earthly influences. Yet in this false effort we find music and especially popular music such as techno, dominated by some of the most basic instincts and the most earthly motivations there are. In capitalist times, what made music autonomous, the momentary dissonance, the deviation from the whole or from what is conventionally harmonious now have turned against autonomy. “The delight in the moment and the gay façade becomes and excuse for absolving the listener in to the acquiescent purchaser. No longer do the partial moments serve as a critique of the whole, instead they suspend the critique which the successful esthetic totality exerts against the flawed one of the society.” Since aesthetic pleasure becomes commodified in such a system, music often becomes accessible to anyone rich enough to pay for the cd, thus starting the false perception that music is without language. And to be fair, most popular music really has no language for all it focuses on is the absence of its own meaning cutting the tongue out of what is known as music, leaving it with nothing to say. Whilst there are small variations in rhythm, not much occurs harmonically there is little to be seen of melody no avant-garde techniques are tolerated if they are too creative and the general atmosphere is one of the early tribal communities with loud drums and a heavy bass sound accompanied by dance and alcohol to provide a false sense of transcendence.
It is true that a historical account of music is a necessary component for a complete account of music, but it is not enough by its own. Therefore a neoclassical yearning for the old style of music being championed over new ones is also incomplete, for the social conditions that have created the previous musical style no longer exists. Of course one could still sing along to Bach’s “A Mighty Fortress is Our God”, but few actually mean or feel the same way as the original performers, and more importantly the function music plays in society which partially defines our enjoyment from it, is different. To completely understand art one must both recognize the internal dynamics of the work and the socio-historical dynamics that gave these a meaning. Music is a product of the society as much as the society is a product of music and to try and reach closer to the meaning of the work one must evaluate music out of the tension between these two forces. “Truth content is the way in which an artwork simultaneously challenges the way things are and suggests how things could be better, but leaves things practically unchanged: Art has truth as the semblance of the illusionless”
As culture takes a commercial character, commercialism too becomes the very thing we call culture. The value of art, which is inherently subjective is measured against it’s market value and efficiency as society itself becomes more and more obsessed with the accumulation of more capital. This article does not aim at championing the Kami Lounge Big Band gigs over Top Banana but rather to acknowledge that under the current system we continuously make aesthetic choices to find our selves a place to live, an oasis for our intellect, but only to be burnt right back down by it again until it becomes questionable to talk about aesthetics.
Warwick solidarity sit-in
Following on from a post-vigil discussion, a group of Warwick students decided to occupy a university room in solidarity with the victims on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Starting on 21st January in S0.21 and lasting nine days, the sit-in was one of a nationwide wave of occupations reacting to the recent conflict in Gaza. Fitting in with the style of other occupations, the Warwick sit-in demanded that books and computer equipment be sent to bombed universities in Palestine, along with a series of talks on the conflict and a cessation of dealings with arms companies supplying the conflict (such as BAE Systems). The uniting belief amongst the group was that the murder of innocent civilians in any war is wrong, and that everything should try to be done to alleviate the suffering.
Against the plans of the occupiers – who wanted lectures to continue with a few occupiers symbolically remaining – the university moved most lectures from S0.21. During the evenings, we hosted a variety of talks (from local councillor Rob Windsor, Anarchists Against the Wall and the Director of Greenpeace), films such as “Tracers”, and visits from renowned activists such as Peter Tatchell and Vandana Shiva. With over 300 people signing the door of S0.21 in solidarity, the highest EGM turn out in 10 years to debate whether or not the Students’ Union should support the students’ actions (during which 84% of students voted in favour), and the real possibility of united nationwide student activism, the importance of the sit-in cannot be underestimated. Could this indicate a revival of student action on political affairs?
Go Vegan Month
In the month prior to Go Green Week a ‘go vegan’ challenge was organised by the Animal Rights and Vegetarian Society and People and Planet. The challenge was organised to encourage people to think about the environmental impact of their diet – the animal industry being particularly damaging to the environment. Around 20 people took up the challenge, supported by an introductory pack of recipes, nutritional information and useful websites and by the regular bring-and-share parties held. The aim of the month was to show that a vegan diet, as well as being good for the environment, is easy, nutritious and interesting. For more information or a copy of the support pack email email@example.com – or join in next year!
Police photo ban
February 16th saw the introduction of Section 76 of the Counter-Terrorism Act 2008 which criminalises anyone eliciting, publishing or communicating information on members of the armed forces, intelligence services and police officers which is “likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism.” In a nutshell, you could be arrested for taking and publishing a picture of a police officer unless you can prove that you had a “reasonable excuse” to take the picture in the first place. Photographers and protestors have interpreted this law as a ban on photographing the police in an attempt to suppress evidence the police do not want used against them.
E.ON offside: Student activists target FA-Cup sponsors
The campaign against E.ON – the energy giants funding the new coal power station at Kingsnorth, whilst using large amounts of greenwash to give itself a “clean” image – is ongoing. Warwick students have used E.ON’s sponsorship of the FA Cup to highlight their dirty tactics to a relatively unbadgered section of society. On Saturday 7th March, eleven students (two dressed as referees) set out to the Coventry vs Chelsea quarter-final armed with “E.ON F.OFF” cards to distribute to the pre-match masses. This action followed on from a similar stunt at the Coventry vs Blackburn Rovers match on Tuesday 24th February, and was part of a network of national actions, which also targeted football matches in London. The well-coordinated action was an effective way of reaching out to thousands of people who may not have thought about the implications of climate change before, or associated E.ON with dirty energy.
Fruit of the Loom demo
Over twenty protestors took part in a demonstration at the Fruit of the Loom headquarters in Telford, Shropshire on Tuesday 3rd March. The protest was organised by People and Planet and comprised Warwick, Birmingham, Aston and Stratford university students. The group were opposed to actions of Russell Corporation, a subsidiary of Fruit of the Loom, which announced the closure of a University apparel assembly line in Honduras earlier this year when its workers attempted to form a trade union. The aim of capturing media attention was achieved through a die-in, elaborate grape costumes, colourful banners and rowdy chanting. Students make up a significant proportion of Fruit of the Loon’s customers and we are well placed to put pressure on them. Eighteen universities in the United States have already cut ties with Russell Corporation causing over $5 million of supply contracts to be lost.
Alex Callinicos visits Warwick
Alex Callinicos, Marxist academic and political theorist, visited Warwick University on Thursday 5th March to talk about the ongoing and well-developed process of neoliberalisation of higher education. Discussing many of the themes raised in his pamphlet ‘Universities in a Neoliberal World’, he sharply criticised the extensive application of the logic of the market to education and the harnessing of university research for business interests. He was also critical of Richard Lambert, Director-General of the CBI and Chancellor of Warwick University, who has done much to advocate closer university-business relations. An interview with Alex Callinicos is featured in this issue of Dissident.
Early Day Motion 1085
Students from Warwick were in Parliament on Wednesday 18th March lobbying MPs to sign Early Day Motion 1085. The EDM is aimed at ensuring that the forthcoming Fees Review of university and student finance represents students, supports their needs and recognises that unmanageable levels of debt are bad for both borrower and lender. Mohammed Surve, Education Officer of our Students’ Union, is leading a campaign to encourage students to write to their MPs informing them of the EDM and urging them to sign it. There will be a stall ouside SUHQ as well as visits to campus kitchens during weeks 2-4 of Term 3 to facilitate this letter-writing. We must show our Union, the university and the government that we still care about fees ahead of the review, which is due to launch in November.
For more information contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Climate change day of action
On Thursday 19th March, 1,000 protestors, including a group of Warwick students, attended a day of action organised by Christian Aid and Stop Climate Chaos to target E.ON. The energy company’s headquarters, located within walking distance from Warwick campus, have been targeted by climate change protestors on numerous occasions this year. These include a demo led by Warwick students in Term 1, and a theatrical direct action in December during which 30 Santas delivered coal to the naughty E.ON executives. A dozen Warwick students took part on the latest day of action which began with a service in Coventry Cathedral and was followed by a New Orleans-style funeral march through the city centre finishing outside E.ON’s head offices at Westwood Business Park.
Thousands of people took to the streets of London ahead of, and during, the G20 summit on April 2nd. The wave of protests began on Saturday 28th March when around 40,000 people from numerous organisations and groups took part in the ‘Put People First’ march for ‘jobs, justice and climate.’ April 1st saw thousands of protesters spreading out to reclaim space in the financial centre of the capital and take part in diverse actions to draw links between the economic crisis, climate change and the ‘war on terror’. The protests ranged from a climate camp on Bishopsgate targeting the European Carbon Exchange, a group of demonstrators converging at the Bank of England following a march behind the ‘Four Horsefolk of the Apocalypse,’ and a Stop The War Coalition-led gathering at Trafalgar Square. Police tactics were heavily condemned after numerous incidents of violence such as that outside the Bank of England where lines of riot police engaged in direct confrontation with demonstrators and thousands of protesters were held in ‘containment pens.’ A 47-year-old man, Ian Tomlinson, died after collapsing inside the police cordons. The climate camp demonstration was also ‘kettled in’ as night fell before protestors were dispersed by baton-wielding officers and police dogs pushing through lines of tents and bicycles at around midnight. Around thirty Warwick students attended the various demonstrations; look out for the publication detailing their experiences and analysing the media coverage of the protests.
Students in the frontline: A brief overview of the student struggle in Barcelona
by Lorenzo Vidal-Folch
Under the auspices of the “Bologna Process”, a plan to homogenise European higher education, the Spanish state is enforcing a university reform that is threatening the public nature of education. The most detrimental aspects of this reform include the raising of tuition fees, making it increasingly difficult for working-class students to access higher education and increasing student debt, as well as facilitating the entry of private capital to the university, which threatens to change the priorities of the university’s education and research programmes. The ultimate goal of the reform is to strengthen links between universities and the capitalist market, moulding students for a precarious and unequal job market and rolling back public control over the key institutions of our society.
The “anti-Bologna” student movement is based around open, horizontal assemblies, organised in each of the universities’ different academic departments. The assemblies coordinate with each other in Barcelona through the CAE (coordinator of student assemblies). This has allowed the movement to function autonomously, separate both from political parties and inactive student unions. This structure has allowed for the direct and individual participation of students and gives each assembly space to develop its own autonomy and spontaneity. Coordination between different assemblies is often laborious and slow due to this fierce commitment to bottom-up decision-making. It has nevertheless been successful in organising joint actions and demonstrations. Critically, the movement has found support among university teachers, researchers and admin workers who continue to feel frustrated by precarious temporary and flexible contracts and in addition, student activism has been welcomed by many of Barcelona’s more progressive professors.
At its core, the movement seeks to reclaim education as a fundamental right that should be accessible to everyone wishing to develop their social and intellectual capabilities, independent from capitalist market pressures to privatise and commodify knowledge. It reclaims the university as a space for critical thought, creativity and free scientific, cultural and political debate. Students demand referendums in every university, proposing to paralyse the reform and begin a process of open public debate about what type of university we really want. It is important to note that the movement does not simply defend the old social-democratic model of a public university but seeks to further democratise and transform it from the “bottom-up”.
Thus far, protests have taken a variety of forms and have continued to intensify during this academic year. Examples include student strikes, unitary demonstrations and the coordinated blocking of the main roads of the city. Faculty buildings have been occupied, in some cases classes have been stopped as a way of increasing pressure on the universities, and in other instances the occupations have remained largely symbolic. A number of the faculty occupations have lasted days or weeks, whilst the occupation of the central historic building of the University of Barcelona (UB) lasted for over 4 months. The UB occupation has been one of the central coordinating spaces for the movement and has held numerous open assemblies, talks and workshops. It has also served as a dynamic space within which to link up with other social movements and has been used, on occasion, as an assembly space for public bus driver and car-plant worker strikers, amongst others. Recently, students have also attempted “Japanese-style” strikes, in which all night study sessions in the library have prevented university buildings from being able to close at their normal hours. In addition, one student has carried out a month-long hunger strike.
The institutional response
The response from university and public authorities has consisted of both of a refusal to acknowledge student demands, as well as the launching of a media campaign praising the Bologna reform and delegitimising student activism as “marginal” and “radical”. In addition there have been several empty offers of dialogue and participation. Referendums were carried out in many universities and the “anti-Bologna” proposal won landslide victories, the results however were merely symbolic and had no real decision-making power. University and local government authorities also invited the movement to the negotiating table, in a bid to discuss cosmetic adaptations to the reform, in reality however these discussions offered no opportunity for in-depth debate.
Faced, then, with the persistence of the student protests, the penultimate step has been the escalation of police repression. The police have been directed to enter university premises, which had not occurred since the times of Franco’s fascist regime, and have forcefully evicted numerous student occupations. Student demonstrations in protest following the eviction of the historic building of the UB have been dispersed with the use of police brutality, indiscriminate charges causing injuries to non-violent participants and even to members of the press. These events have brought renewed media coverage and encouragingly have not deterred the student body from persisting in strikes, occupations and demonstrations. 15,000 demonstrators took to the streets in the most recent student march. Further repression seems a likely mode of retaliation.
The bigger picture
Resistance to the progressive privatisation and mercantilisation of education has appeared to ignite action not only throughout Catalonia and Spain, but also all over Europe, particularly in Italy, Greece and France. Even the Palestine solidarity occupations in the UK, when demanding transparency and challenging the university’s investment in arms companies, were fighting implicitly for greater democratisation and further public control of the university system. Education reforms consolidated in the hey-day of neoliberal ideas and practices continue to make even less sense today, given that the neoliberal project for society is falling apart under its own weight. Without doubt, the control over education in a knowledge-based economy is strategically important and will thus continue to remain a highly contested space. It is up to students in particular to stand in the front line of this battleground and, together with other social movements, start to construct the society we want.