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Race, Nation, Class: Ambiguous Identities

The modernity of racism and its relationship to contemporary capitalism.
Forty years after the defeat of Nazism, and twenty years after the great wave of decolonization, how is it that racism remains a growing phenomenon? What are the special characteristics of contemporary racism? How can it be related to class divisions and to the contradictions of the nation-state? And how far, in turn, does racism today compel us to rethink the relationship between class struggles and nationalism?

This book attempts to answer these fundamental questions through a remarkable dialogue between the French philosopher Etienne Balibar and the American historian and sociologist Immanuel Wallerstein. Each brings to the debate the fruits of over two decades of analytical work, greatly inspired, respectively, by Louis Althusser and Fernand Braudel. Both authors challenge the commonly held notion of racism as a continuation of, or throwback to, the xenophobias of past societies and communities. They analyze it instead as a social relation indissolubly tied to present social structures—the nation-state, the division of labor, and the division between core and periphery—which are themselves constantly being reconstructed. Despite their productive disagreements, Balibar and Wallerstein both emphasize the modernity of racism and the need to understand its relation to contemporary capitalism and class struggle. Above all, their dialogue reveals the forms of present and future social conflict, in a world where the crisis of the nation-state is accompanied by an alarming rise of nationalism and chauvinism.

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  • Mutations of Fascism: an interview with Enzo Traverso

    In Les Nouveaux Visages du fascisme, Enzo Traverso and Régis Meyran discuss the continuities and discontinuities between the fascist movements of the twentieth century and the "post-fascist" far right of today. Olivier Doubre spoke with Traverso for the 16-22 February 2017 edition of Politis. Translated by David Broder. 



    You use the term "post-fascism" to characterise today’s far Right movements. What does this term mean?

    Enzo Traverso: The idea of post-fascism firstly serves to characterise a political movement that is shot through with contradictions, and which has an evident fascist matrix — for that is its history, where it comes from — and in the Front National’s case a dynastic line of descent. There is an undeniable fascist hard core in the FN apparatus, its activist base, composed of neo-fascist militants of all generations. They are very active in the FN and hold onto a good part of the organisation. So there is a rift between the organisational reality of this party — or even its anthropological fabric — and Marine Le Pen’s discourse in the media or the public sphere, which is of a xenophobic, nationalist, anti-neoliberal tenor but also comes out of a social Right. Yet if the FN were a neofascist sect, or even a neofascist party, I do not think that it would be considered likely to appear in the second round of the presidential election, or even capable of being France’s biggest party. This party is thus clearly transforming, and it is trying to operate a process by which it dialectically transcends its fascist character — but without entirely rejecting it. So in order to fight this party, we have to understand what it has become.

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  • Translation and Conflict: The Violence of the Universal — a conversation with Étienne Balibar

    Jean Birnbaum's interview with Étienne Balibar about his new book Des Universals was first published in Le Monde. Translated by David Broder. 



    You recently published a book on the question of the universal (Des Universals, Paris: Galilée, 2016). This notion, which seems so familiar, however often remains rather unclear. If you had to give a definition to a class of 17 year olds, what would you say?

    I would say that it is a value that designates the possibility of being equal without necessarily being the same, and thus of being citizens without having to be culturally identical.

    Indeed, in our era universalism is often associated with consensus, and first of all with a bien pensant Left, presumed to be weak and naïve… Yet in your view universalism is anything but an idealism.

    First of all, my objective is not to uphold a "left-wing position," but to debate universalism as a philosophical question. Of course, I am on the Left, but the Left itself is is traversed by all the conflicts inherent to the question of the universal. The universal does not bring people together, it divides them. Violence is a constant possibility. But I first of all seek to describe internal conflicts.

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  • Playing Oppression Against Class: the Neoliberal Legacy in the Age of Trump

    This post by Tithi Bhattacharya is adapted from a longer essay forthcoming in Cultural Dynamics.


    Trump and basketball coach Bobby Knight at an Indiana campaign appearance.

    The morning after Trump won, the Washington Post led with the story that the president elect had won 58 per cent of the White vote, outperforming “in majority-white areas." Similarly, the Guardian embellished on this bete noir of the “white working class”: Apparently it was the “angry” white working class that helped Trump to a “stunning win”.

    Undoubtedly sections of the white working class voted for Trump. The day after the election results, in an effort to document the moment, I spoke with a range of working class women in Indiana. Some of their comments on Trump capture the deep veins of contradiction that ran through sections of the US working class who voted for Trump.

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Other books by Etienne Balibar and Immanuel Wallerstein