Interview

Nina Power

Nina Power lehrt Philosophie an der University of Roehampton und Critical Writing in Art & Design am Royal College of Art. Von ihr sind zuletzt bei Laika mit den Band »Das kollektive politische Subjekt« lesenswerte Aufsätze zur kritischen Philosophie erschienen.

The G20 aspires to solve the present-day problems of capitalism, which has been running anything but smoothly for years. The financial crisis of 2008 seems to have evolved into a crisis of legitimacy for the entire economic and political system. Where does global capitalism stand today?

Nina Power: Capitalism is crisis. This slogan has appeared on banners at various anti-capitalist protests in the UK for several years now (Occupy, Climate Camp). Capitalism is a corrupt racket that requires enormous amounts of force and violence to perpetuate itself. Capitalism was and is never ‘pure’, and requires the state and the law to back it up, and to bail it out. It seems unsustainable on every level, and damages individuals as much as it does whole societies and the environment as a whole. Ⅰ don’t know how it will collapse, but it surely must.

The 2008 crisis was contained by means of financial injections for »systemically relevant banks«, bailout packages, and austerity measures. Unlike other countries, in which the consequences of the crisis manifested themselves openly, the crisis in Germany was virtually invisible. How is the situation in your country? Has the crisis been overcome?

The UK pursued a policy of austerity in response to the crisis, which was a completely political decision and not at all necessary. It used ‘austerity’ to continue the decade-long policy of eliminating the social and public aspects of the state. In 2010 Higher Education was made unaffordable for millions, grants were cut. There have been cuts to all social and public services, libraries, domestic violence services, many remaining public services have been privatised, the National Health Service is being dismantled day by day. People unable to work through illness have been forced into working, often dying on the job. Disabled people have lost benefits across the board. Food bank use has increased massively. Austerity has been an excuse to disenfranchise millions, and it is clear the government does not care if people starve, are homeless, or die from preventable circumstances. The Grenfell fire encapsulates this kind of state-sponsored criminal murder completely, as many, many working class people, many Muslims and immigrants, lost their lives due to cost-cutting and deliberate neglect.

At the moment we have an extremely unstable government. Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party offered a clear alternative to austerity, and campaigned on, amongst other things, a policy of renationalisation. By closing the massive gap in the polls, we have entered into an extremely uncertain situation with a government so weak it cannot do the things it promised, such as Brexit, or even form a government (yet). The mainstream media has lost its ideological stranglehold and the massive, massive inequalities that exist in Britain have come ever more into focus.

Ⅰ think the crisis is nowhere near being ‘overcome’. It will be interesting to see how and when the current Tory government fall, and how Labour might be able to take power. But as Ⅰ say, Britain is extremely divided – many have nothing and those that have something (property in particular) are scared and liable to blame others (the EU, immigrants) for their fears which have been manipulated by the government and the media. It is hard to know what will happen next, but Ⅰ don’t think austerity can be pursued any longer.

Germany has pursued a ruthless austerity policy in Europe, while its huge export surpluses are the focus of global criticism. With that said, what is your perception of Germany‘s actions during the crisis?

Germany’s treatment of Greece was appalling. Ⅰ don’t have much more to say than that.

Brexit, Trump’s »America First« or Orban’s »illiberal democracy« in Hungary; how do you explain the global renaissance of right-wing and reactionary movements?

We have certainly seen a rise in nationalisms of all kinds in recent years, and we also have a kind of international nationalism, where all these authoritarian dictators line up to hang out and congratulate one another. Ⅰ think there will always be reactionary currents that prey upon people’s fears by scapegoating others and manufacturing a false sense of ‘belonging’. But Ⅰ think there is a sea-change in people’s commitment to nationalism coming, and Ⅰ think that Trump will not be president for long, and that this will trigger greater opposition to nationalism in other countries as well.

The term »populism« is often used in the discourse around the international reactionary rollback. To us it seems that this term is rather vague and non descript. Doesn’t all the talk of »populism« actually exceed the real political substance of these phenomena? Or does the term fit its fuzzy subject, because the old categories of left/right no longer apply?

It’s helpful and not helpful. For a few years now, the late Mark Fisher and others talked about the idea of ‘populism without popularity’, as a characterisation of the politics of New Labour in the UK, which tried to push a lowest-common denominator cultural and social politics on a population who were not, despite the hype, wildly enthusiastic.

Ⅰ think it makes political and philosophical sense to ask instead what image of the people is being presupposed by those who are described or who describe themselves as ‘populist’. And then to ask whether this ‘people’ is tied to a particular nationalism or ethnic group, and to endeavour to undermine it if so. If, however, people is being used as a synonym for ‘everyone in the world’ then we might want to reclaim it or preserve in the name of a left internationalism against the ruling class.

Given the left has been overly focussed on cultural and identitarian issues and all but abandoned the material problems of wage earners and the precarious, could the left be to blame for thecurrent swing to the right?

Any coherent left analysis would incorporate an analysis of exploitation as well as oppression, and understand, among other things, that ‘race is the modality in which class is lived’, as Stuart Hall put it. Whatever is happening online is not the same as what is happening off of it, and we should be wary of importing a narrow and very US-centric way of understanding the world to everywhere else.

In a recent interview with the German weekly Die Zeit, Didier Eribon remarked that the rhetoric of the Spanish left party Podemos is exactly the same as the right-wing Front National. Is it true that many people on the left regard the abandonment of universalism and the embracement of the nation as a recipe against the rise of the right? Where will this strategy lead?

It’s not so true in the UK, though everyone to the left of Labour should continue to campaign for open borders and anti-nationalism, as of course right-wing rhetoric and media have shifted everyone to the right on the question of immigration. It will take some work to undo, but Ⅰ think the emotional and intellectual resources exist.

There is a broad mobilization against the G20 summit 2017 in Hamburg. It seems as if the entire German left has lapsed into activism that is no different from other summit protests (Heiligendamm 2007, Prague 2002, Genoa and Gothenburg 2001). After the events of 2016 (Trump, Brexit, etc), doesn’t this form of protest seem outdated? Wouldn’t it be better to pause for a moment in order to self-critically reflect on the reality and possibilities of left practice?

Ⅰ don’t think protesting or thinking critically are mutually exclusive, and to think so is to accept a model of scarcity and energy that is in itself right-wing. Of course it’s not to say there shouldn’t be serious reflection on tactics, efficacy etc., but we should be supportive of protest and those who protest wherever there is injustice. Trump and Brexit themselves might well be ended at least in part by protests, and not just by parliamentary shifts or investigations into corruption.

The planned protests in Hamburg are often met with objections. Some critics argue that in these times of increased isolation it is a good thing that government leaders and heads of state still talk to each other. Others criticise that the summit protests unnecessarily focus on a mere symbolic gathering of power, and therefore without serious effect, regardless of possible disruption to the meeting. Do you share this criticism?

Ⅰ think we need to understand the ties between the state and capital as well as protest those who have power. This involves a complex analysis of the ruling class across nations and the way in which capitalism is intertwined with state violence. It would be conceivably worse if those with power met secretly, though of course they do this too.

What would the discourse be like if the G20 summit took place in the UK? What kind of protests would you expect?

At the moment Ⅰ think there would be riots, to be honest. Britain is unstable after the recent hung parliament, the social murder of those living in Grenfell Tower, years of austerity, plus a heat wave. Ⅰ think if the G20 was happening today, there would be mass civil unrest.

Where does the left stand 150 years after the publication of »Capital« and 100 years after the October Revolution?

This is too complicated a question to answer in this way! We would have to understand everything that has been written and all the experiments in revolutionary living that took place since 1917 in order to give an adequate answer. But we could say, briefly, wiser and sadder, but not without hope.