The Golden Barley School

an anarchist, a communist & a feminist walk into a bar…

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Discomfort, non-violence and race

Context for this post.

At a recent fundraiser in Sydney, an Aboriginal man heavily involved in indigenous struggle and performing at the fundraiser, was attacked by another man from the crowd. The attacker was ejected from the venue, however there were numerous issues with how this occurred. A couple of particular things that were said on the night have given reason to think a bit more critically about the meaning of anti-racist solidarity and the organisation of spaces/events such as fundraisers. What we want to think about here are about two aspects of the racial politics that emerged during the response to the attack, but that give an insight into broader problems in anti-racist solidarity: that there is a racialised politics to space and comfort, and that this is connected to a fetishized conception of non-violent direct action (NVDA).

Comfort and safety.

In our efforts to make spaces in which people feel safer and more comfortable we need to constantly ask ourselves to what degree do we succeed in challenging and transforming hierarchical social relations, and to what degree do we fail at this? More specifically, we need to constantly question why it is that certain bodies and people get to feel most comfortable, and how do they get to be comfortable. It makes sense that we would desire spaces of safety and comfort and indeed, a significant amount of political organising and language has been framed in such terms. For example, safer spaces are often framed as aiming at the eradication of dangerous forms of behaviour from the spaces and worlds we create. Or at least, given that this is in itself actually impossible, safer spaces are characterised as a measure to better prepare us for dealing with the shit that animates our lives. In this sense safer spaces are not about the eradication of conflict, but the better organisation of it.

However, while we can see why comfort appears to be a desirable response to a conflicted world, it is also necessary to question how comfort works. We think that there is a politics to comfort that can be framed in terms of who gets to be comfortable, when and how. When we think about comfort and safety, we ought to think about on whose terms is comfort established? What are the racialised norms that underpin our understandings of comfort? And what happens when these norms become unsettled and challenged? We also think, and this comes back to the incident at the fundraiser, that when norms become unsettled and when those who have felt most entitled to comfort feel themselves out of place, that the desire for comfort can be a reactionary impulse. It is reactionary because it emerges as a result of having to experience a discomfort that could previously be taken for granted specifically because the individual is, in this case, white. In this way, the spaces we create and the modes of comfort that characterise them are not removed from the social conditions from which they are produced. As a result, if our impulse in the moment of discomfort is to do anything to re-establish the existing mode of comfort, then we risk complicity with reproducing the subtle but no less felt politics of racialised comfort. Continue reading

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Casting Spells: Women, Austerity and Revolt

The following is a guest post from Annette Blanka. ‘Women, Austerity and Revolt’ was the opening paper from the ‘Casting Spells’ panel presented by the Feminist Discussion Circle at the 2014 Sydney Anarchist Bookfair. See also the previous post by Princess Mob here for another of these papers.

This piece argues passionately for a ‘reversal of perspective’ among radicals on the question of work. It argues that those of us who desire social change need to come to terms with the vast expanse of invisible and unwaged labour that women perform non-stop within capitalism, including in social movements. It outlines the context of austerity which makes this re-think all the more urgent, in light of the current demolition of welfare, and affirms possibilities for struggle.

Women, Austerity and Revolt
The other day when I was talking with a friend about doing this presentation, he noted how the assumption is often that you’re there to present “the Answer.” Well I hate to disappoint anyone but I’m not going to do that. What I want is to prompt us all to ask better questions.

My aim in this talk is to show how austerity makes it all the more urgent for those of us who desire social change to engage in what I’d call a “reversal of perspective” on the question of work. That is, to come to terms with the vast expanse of invisible and unwaged labour that women perform non-stop. I’ll outline the context for the current demolition of welfare, and affirm the prospects for struggle and emancipation.
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This post contains letters that 2 comrades wrote reflecting on the Journal LIES.

Princess Mob reviewed LIES here


Nancy was reading LIES #1 and thought of her friend Nick’s thinking about love and the family, so she asked him what he thought of the journal. Here’s their letters to each other in turn.

Hi Nancy,

I have been reading the Lies journal intermittently since you said you’d be interested in my thoughts about it. While you will see that I’ve concentrated on my criticisms of the Journal articles, I hope you appreciate my intention is to be constructive, to respond to your request in an attempt to develop our understanding and commonality – to help produce love. As you say, the Journal is “a provocative and important engagement within Marxist thought.” While I appreciated much of it, my main concerns are the use value of some of the provocations and the potential reinforcement of problematic areas of Marxist/militant thought.

As a provocation it clearly works and at times I wondered how much of the contents was in fact satire. For a number of the articles my general criticism would be that, as with much Marxist work, there is too much concentration on subsumption, the power of patriarchy/capital, and the resulting despair. Much of my own writing aims to counter/challenge this tendency. So here are a few thoughts about some of the articles.

Undoing Sex: Against Sexual Optimism Continue reading


Fail again. Fail better. Notes in the interests of continuing conversations and some unfinished thoughts on withdrawing from the Historical Materialism Australasia Conference 2013

The original intention for writing this was to clarify my reasons for withdrawing from the HM conference in Sydney this year. However, what has actually been written has grown broader than the original intention, and the following may not clarify things as much as I would have liked. My sense is that this is the case due to the nature of the question at hand. Nonetheless, given that I have been struggling to find the time to get any of these thoughts down, and that writing about this could feasibly go on for a long time, these incomplete ideas are put here as they are, to be put aside for now, and so that conversations may continue more openly.

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Common Threads: conversations at the picket line

These videos contain images and interviews from the picket lines at a recent strike at the University of Sydney.

Our approach here is to generate more conversation between workers across areas of the university, to trace where our common experiences lie and contribute to a collective understanding of the effects that our working conditions have on our lives.

Part I is about conditions at work, part II is an extension of this, with focus on casualisation and the future of the sector.

Part 1:

Part 2:

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a great piece by Nick Southall, originally at

revolts now

japan 7 In December of last year (2012), I travelled to Tokyo for a conference on Crisis and Commons: Prefigurative Politics after Fukushima. The Conference call-out explained; “The year 2011 was marked by a series of inter-related crises and massive protests against them. These movements have brought anti-capitalist politics back onto the agenda. However, they differ from previous anti-capitalist movements in their emphasis on prefigurative politics. Capitalism has developed by enclosing the commons and colonising the sphere of reproduction. If prefigurative politics is a movement for realising an outside to capitalism in the here and now, in the present crisis, it enables us to catch a glimpse of a new commons and of a means of social reproduction that is not exploited by capitalism.” At the Conference, Alexander Brown and I presented a collaborative paper, Interregnum: Living In-between Times, about the increasing desperation and violence of capitalist power and global…

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(under)commons of affect and the critique of labour: disaffection & affective composition

‘When we can only confide in each other enough to speak of struggle (communal, abstract, heroic), but not of sadness (aloneness, in this minute…) then we have not done enough, we are not doing enough for each other’s liberation’ – Anwyn Crawford, ‘The politics of sadness’

 ‘What I would like to see emerge is a new approach to politics that doesn’t see “personal” or “interpersonal” problems (mental illness, harassment, violence) as issues best kept to the private sphere, but which regrettably overflow those boundaries and unfortunately interrupt the real business of revolutionaries…This perspective offers me nothing.’ – J, reproduced from personal correspondence


The following is an attempt to move beyond the impasse of post-workerist theories of affective labour and the common, and to develop instead a process of affective composition that takes place within an undercommon.[1] Specifically, the underlying problem throughout is that of how we make infrastructures,[2] rather than institutions or networks, of political movement in such a way that we are not required to excise the messiness of our lives from the terrain of politics: our mental health, grief, sadness, illnesses and so on. If there is to be a politics and/of the common, these are as much of it as anything else. And to be sure, there is much in the world to ruin our bodies’ capacities to make relationships that don’t reproduce capital and the gendered, racial, sexual and familial attachments that mark this reproduction. And yet despite this we do make different relationships, and we do so in a way that isn’t just reactive. However, our collective negotiation of these tensions needs more thorough theorisation and work in practice.

In what follows two elements within an affective circuit are developed[3] as one contribution to carrying out such theorisation, and to reflect on some practices: one of disaffection, another as affective composition.

Disaffection can be thought of as a process of refusal arising from our experience of being variable capital and re/productive labour, as well as the forms that our traumas and tensions take, within our bodies and between them. As Alondra Nelson has stated, ‘health is politics by other means’,[4] so within this term is included those questions of our emotional, mental, bodily health. Affective composition, as the second element in a circuit, is the making of ‘other’ relations to those of reproduction, which are created in processes of struggle. This is not to imply a clear separation, rather that our participation in struggle, draws into play our disaffections, as well as allowing us to make new ways of relation. The question then becomes, what infrastructures would allow this to occur, and how might they be made?

The infrastructures through which political movement forms, which draw into play our disaffections as well as compose new relations, what I refer to as a circuit of disaffection and affective composition, is something different to reproduction. If we understand reproduction to be the fundament or axiom of capitalist futurity, then when we succeed in these struggles, we are not involved in reproduction but the formation of different ways of living: against reproduction of the same and for variation, generation and recombination. From this perspective ‘reproduction [is] a specifically capitalist form of foundationalism’.[5]

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