First we take Amsterdam, then we take The Hague

by Nicholas Vrousalis, Robin Celikates, Johan Hartle, Enzo Rossi

Open Democracy, 3/4/2015

Ah you loved me as a loser, but now you’re worried that I just might win
You know the way to stop me, but you don’t have the discipline
How many nights I prayed for this, to let my work begin
First we take Manhattan, then we take Berlin

Leonard Cohen, ‘First we take Manhattan’

The university movement in the Netherlands has just won its first victory; a victory for democracy and academic freedom against the commercialization of higher education.

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Greece’s Brest-Litovsk

Open Democracy, 24/03/2015

An encircled army has few viable options: it can sue for peace and suffer humiliating terms. It can fight with all its strength and suffer heavy casualties. Or it can fight the odd skirmish, force ceasefires, and bide its time, all the while trying to split the opponent and prepare the ground for reinforcements. In November 1917, the newly installed Russian government found itself in just such a predicament. Upon entering into negotiations with the Central Powers at Brest-Litovsk, it was immediately faced with a dilemma: suing for peace meant betrayal of the anti-war revolutionaries in Western Europe who were fighting the chauvinism of their own ruling classes. Opting for war meant an intolerable amount of casualties and possibly a humiliating defeat. The Russian government initially opted for a third strategy: no war – no peace. One explicit condition for the ceasefire negotiated under this strategy was that the Central Powers not shift their troops from the Russian to the Western front. In the meantime, the government continued its pro-communist agitation within the ranks of its opponents, in the hope that it could split their forces.

Europe’s periphery—the so-called PIIGS—is presently under siege by financial markets. Greece is at the forefront of this fight. Indeed, the election of SYRIZA on the 25th of January seems to have pushed the country out of the furnace and into the fire. Short of leaving the euro, the Greek government has only one fire-fighting strategy left, which consists in breaking the unity of the pro-austerity bloc. This is a Herculean task, for it requires sowing disunity within the Eurozone’s pro-austerity governments. But it remains an ever-receding alternative to the mutually exclusive menaces of capitulation or Grexit. Let me explain.

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What is the New University?

ROARmag, 18/03/2015

The heart of the student movement today beats in Amsterdam. The occupation of the Senate House by staff and students at the University of Amsterdam has rekindled the flame for a free and democratic university. The ensuing fire has spread fast and wide throughout the Netherlands, which now counts at least five geographically distinct campaigns under the banner of the so-called ‘New University’ (apart from Amsterdam: Groningen, Leiden, Maastricht, Nijmegen and Utrecht). The movement has also garnered support from the FNV, the largest Dutch trade union and numerous statements of solidarity from the rest of the world.

Perhaps the best way to understand this movement is as a challenge to rethink the very idea of the university. What follows is one attempt to meet this challenge in light of the movement’s own self-conceptions.

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Amsterdam discussion: ‘Greece & the prospects for a European Spring’

Why we occupy

by Nicholas Vrousalis, Robin Celikates, Johan Hartle, Enzo Rossi

Open Democracy, 2/03/2015

It has been two weeks since the first occupation of the Bungehuis, one of the main buildings of the University of Amsterdam (UvA). The more recent occupation of UvA’s Senate House – the Maagdenhuis which was famously occupied back in 1969 – and the breadth of the grassroots movement for a New University exposes the problems of Dutch higher education. Increasing student/staff ratios, chronic underfunding, creeping micromanagement of research and teaching, and growing authoritarianism from university management are all conspiring to turn universities into a bureaucratic version of Walmart. The twin pressures of authoritarianism from above and neoliberalism from below make it necessary to develop the democratic alternative put forward by the movement for a new university.

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Πικεττύ: Κριτική της Απολιτικής Οικονομίας

The Books’ Journal, 1/1/2015

Μπορεί να σωθεί ο καπιταλισμός από τον εαυτό του; Τον τελευταίο αιώνα έχουν γίνει τρεις εκτενείς προσπάθειες να δοθεί καταφατική απάντηση σε αυτό το ερώτημα. Η πρώτη συνοψίζεται στις προγραμματικές δεσμεύσεις του Φράνκλιν Ρούσβελτ όταν ανέλαβε το χρίσμα των Δημοκρατικών για τη προεδρεία των ΗΠΑ (1932), στις ιδέες δηλαδή που συγκρότησαν το New Deal. Η δεύτερη προσπάθεια ήταν η Γενική Θεωρία της Εργασίας, του Τόκου και του Χρήματος του Τζον Μέιναρντ Κέυνς (1936). Η τρίτη είναι Το Κεφάλαιο τον 21ο Αιώνα του Τομά Πικετύ (2014). Η κριτική της ανισότητας που αναπτύσσει ο Πικεττύ δεν είναι πρωτότυπη. Παρόμοιες θέσεις έχουν αναπτύξει μαρξιστές οικονομολόγοι, όπως ο Έρνεστ Μαντέλ και ο Ρόμπερτ Ρόουθορν, και φιλελεύθεροι όπως ο Τζον Κένεθ Γκάλμπρειθ και ο Ρόμπερτ Σόλοου. Ωστόσο ο Πικεττύ επιστρατεύει μια εντυπωσιακή δύναμη στατιστικού πυρός για να υπερασπιστεί τη θέση του, ενώ ταυτόχρονα ρίχνει μια βόμβα βαθιά μέσα στα τείχη της σύγχρονης οικονομικής ορθοδοξίας. Αυτά είναι προτερήματα του βιβλίου. Όμως πίσω από το θεωρητικό οπλοστάσιο του Πικετύ κρύβεται ένα σημαντικό δίλημμα, ένα δίλημμα ανάμεσα στον καπιταλισμό και τη δημοκρατία. Και παρόλο που ο Πικετύ κάνει ό,τι μπορεί για να υποστηρίξει ότι αυτό το δίλημμα δεν είναι εξαντλητικό όλων των πολιτικών δυνατοτήτων, οι προσπάθειές του είναι ανεπιτυχείς.

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On Piketty: Gravediggers wanted

New Left Project, 12/08/2014

This post summarizes my longer review of Piketty’s Capital in the 21st Century, forthcoming in Capital & Class.

Social democratic lamentation about rising inequality is often clouded in nostalgia for the mid-twentieth century ‘golden age’ of capitalism, which combined low unemployment and increasing wages with falling inequality. Thomas Piketty, author of the explosive Capital in the 21st Century (2014), does not share the optimism of garden-variety social democrats. The ‘golden age’, he argues, was an anomaly made possible by very specific historical conditions—conditions that no one would wish to see return (notably, the two world wars, which destroyed vast amounts of capital and set the stage for accelerated ‘catch-up’ growth between 1945 and 1970). But if we cannot simply return to twentieth century social democracy, how are we to halt the seemingly inexorable rise of inequality?

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LSE exploitation debate

Details and podcast here.

What is Domination? Workshop

3 May 2013
Leslie Stephen Room
Trinity Hall, Cambridge

Morning session: Domination and Unfreedom

Chair: Hallvard Lillehammer

10.20 – 11.40 David Blunt (Cambridge)
Conceptualizing Domination

Respondent: Amanda Cawston

11.40 – 1.00 Laura Valentini (UCL)
Freedom as Independence

Respondent: Neal Carrier

Afternoon session: Domination and Inequality

Chair: Chris Thompson

2 – 3.20 Stuart White (Oxford)
The Relevance of Republicanisms

Respondent: Claire Benn

3.20 – 4.40 Nicholas Vrousalis (Cambridge)
What domination is (and what it is not)

Respondent: Sebastian Nye

Cambridge Anti-Fascism Teach-in

Fascism: what it is and how to fight it

Sunday 17th February
Keynes Hall
King’s College, Cambridge

Session 1: Fascism in History
Chair: Dr Lorna Finlayson

10.00 – 10.50am Dr John Pollard on Italy
10.50 – 11.40am Dr Martin Ruehl on Germany
11.40 – 12.30pm Dr David Renton on the UK

Session 2: The Politics of Fascism and Anti-Fascism
Chair: Amy Gilligan

1.30 – 2.15pm Joseph Choonara on the United Front
2.15 – 3pm Dr Nicholas Vrousalis on Fascism and the State (and a note on no-platform)

Session 3: Fighting Fascism Today
Chair: Laura Kilbride

3.10 – 3.50pm Mitch Mitchell on the UK
3.50 – 4.30pm Elisabeth Mantzari on Greece
4.30 – 5.10pm Dr Clement Mouhot on France