Submit your work to Cambridge University’s only magazine for radical and left-wing politics! The deadline for submissions to the next issue of ‘Spectre: a space for radical and critical comment’ is WEDNESDAY 15TH JANUARY 2014. Please make your submissions to spectre.cambridge@yahoo.co.uk.

The magazine welcomes submissions on a wide range of topics. These include, but are not confined to, social and political movements (both internationally and locally), contemporary culture and critical, left-wing and feminist thought. We also welcome responses to articles that we have previously published (which can be found at https://spectrecambridge.wordpress.com) and book reviews.

Submissions in essay form should be no more than 2500 words. Submissions in other forms (photography, poetry, cartoons, and so forth) should be no more than around 4 sides of A5.

If you are unsure whether we will be interested in your work, please email us rough outline of your proposed piece and we will advise you whether it is likely to be published in finished form. Also, if you’ve got an article piece lying around in a draw/on your computer (and you’re not sure what to do with it), please send it in and we may well publish it!

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Ours is an age of mounting crisis and increasing political contention. Over the past few years, we have witnessed a global crisis of capitalism, uprisings in the Arab world, and riots and protests across Europe. With the fragmentation of established orders of thinking and being, new possibilities emerge. In this context, critical reflection on the present state of affairs, and the means by which it can be overturned, is essential.

‘Spectre: a space for radical and critical comment’ aims to provide a forum in Cambridge for interrogating and challenging our own contemporaneity. To this end, the project is designed to bring together a variety of left, critical, and radical voices in a single space. While understanding that there may be points of tension between these viewpoints, it is hoped that a productive dialogue can be sustained and commonalities highlighted. In this way, ‘Spectre’ may make a contribution, however modest, to furthering prospects for radical change in Cambridge and beyond.

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Review of Jodi Dean’s The Communist  Horizon (2012), Verso

By Owen Holland

It is never wise to make assumptions about the ideological prejudices of one’s readers, or audience, but I will begin by doing so. You will either have spent the last five or so years watching the crisis of capitalism unfold without this having caused you seriously to question the long-term viability of capitalism as a mode of production, in the which case: you should read this book. On the other hand, you may already be sufficiently convinced of the need to abolish the said mode of production, but your desire to do so might be perfectly continuous with all manner of naïve illusions, liberal chimeras, idealistic distortions and muddle-headed phantasms, in the which case: you may also want to read this book.

Jodi Dean has cogently and clearly analysed the ideological terrain of the non-parliamentary, revolutionary left, attempting to make sense of, theorise and draw organisational lessons from the political ferment of the last few years. This is a timely, pertinent and theoretically sophisticated polemic, directed as much against liberal apologists for capitalist barbarism as it is against some currents within the anti-capitalist movement, which argues the case for the organisational form of the communist party, extracting this logic – this necessity – out the creative chaos of the Occupy project. To claim that the form of the communist party is outmoded, or has been shown to fail, is to desire politics without politics. To where, precisely, do the partisans of the anti-political return to once the occupation has drawn to its conclusion? The space and time of an occupation can entail rapid de-habituation and de-familiarisation, but the subsequent return to the old grooves can be just as quick, leaving behind little more than a debilitating kind of nostalgia. “The challenge”, as Deans construes it, and “insofar as we constitute the practices that constitute us, is in the development of enduring forms of egalitarian association through which we can make ourselves into the people we want to be” (115). “Collective power isn’t just coming together. It’s sticking together” (238).
In the barracks, one is sure but unsafe; in the burrow, you are safe, but unsure. The retreat from the barracks to the burrow of the monadic self is mirrored in the cycles of excitation and exhaustion which characterise the virtual world, which condemns the critical conscience to an overflux of “information” and comment. Dean’s chapter on ‘Common and Commons’ analyses the way in which the changing technological determinations of communicative capitalism bring our critical attentions and capacities to the point of saturation: “[t]he cost of the exponentially expanding circuit of information and communication is particularly high for progressive and left movements” insofar as it can lead and has led to a “shift toward thinking in terms of getting attention in the 24/7 media cycle and away from larger questions of building a political apparatus with duration” ( 145).

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Review of Alain Badiou’s The Century (2007), Polity Press

by Ammar Ali Jan

For a significant part of the 20th century the word ‘Marxism’ denoted a global movement for a radically different world from the prevalent order, one that brought together diverse struggles of workers, peasants, women, anti-colonial fighters and civil rights activists, to engage in the collective project of emancipation. Today, however, the dominant memory of these struggles is one of a pedagogical project that ended in a ‘totalitarian’ disaster signified by the ‘gulags.’ Against the authoritarianism of Communist politics, the contemporary liberal ethic emphasizes the futility (and danger) of any project that aims to radically alter the ‘essence’ of man, and instead privileges the ‘protection’ of citizens from the excesses of totalitarian projects through a discourse of human rights enforced by powerful states (‘western’ states in the global arena). Revolutionary thought, a crucial pillar of politics in the 20th century, became unthinkable at the end of the century, since it was deemed to be neither possible nor desirable by the dominant consensus.

Do the failures of the communist project in the 20th century signal an end to any revolutionary possibilities for our age? Should we synchronize ourselves with the wisdom of the times by engaging in a politics of the ‘lesser evils’; in other words, should we accept the parameters of a ‘realist’ paradigm in politics, even when reality looks more and more depressing with each passing day? If we are to argue that revolutionary politics is still a viable project for our times, what will its conditions of existence in the contemporary era be, particularly after a series of catastrophic defeats?

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by Joe Davidson

George Osborne, in introducing his ‘Help to Work’ policy for the long-term unemployed, stated that “we are saying there is no option of doing nothing for your benefits. No something for nothing any more. People are going to have to do things to get their dole and that is going to help them into work.”i This statement, which would not have sounded out-of-place if it had been uttered by a Labour politician, nicely elucidates the philosophy which underlies the trend toward workfare policies over the past few decades: the unemployment benefits system is ‘broken’ and the solution to this problem lies in disciplining and controlling the unemployed. This narrative has been strongly contested, most recently in the campaign against the workfare component of the Coalition’s Work Programme. However, despite this, Osborne’s statement chimes with the prevalent political common-sense in Britain.

Although the political origins of workfare policies are complex, one way in which to study the rise of disciplinary policies towards the unemployed is by positioning them alongside an account of the development of the consolidated surplus population. As it will be demonstrated here, workfare policies have been adopted by states, most particularly in North America and Western Europe, at the same time as ever-more people are expelled from waged labour and rendered superfluous to the productive process. These two developments are not unrelated. Workfare, though in part aimed against the wages and conditions of the employed proletarian population, is a means by which the threat to prevailing relations of power posed by mass unemployment and underemployment can be mediated and managed. Such policies, through various strategies and interventions, aim to create a new subject, the ‘job-seeker’, whose behaviour is predictable, regularised and oriented around work.

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by Decca Muldowney

Over the past decade I’ve watched (and re-watched) all seven seasons of Joss Whedon’s very important television show Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Over the same period I’ve moved from teenager to adult, from undergraduate to PhD student, and from confused but well-meaning liberal into a fully-fledged ultra left radical. It’s been a long journey, with almost as many costume-changes as Buffy in Season One.

Throughout this time, when things got tough, I frequently turned to the immensely comforting world of Buffy, complete with kick-ass female heroine who overcomes demons and destroys evil. More recently, I’ve been thinking about the lessons I’ve learned over the last few years as an activist, and realised that many of tensions and questions are ones that are explored and teased out in the Buffyverse. At this risk of stretching this analogy out beyond the realms of reason, and with my tongue placed firmly in my cheek, I thought I’d share a few of these insights.

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by Amy Gilligan

In the last few years I’ve become increasingly enthusiastic about knitting. From a simple garter stitch scarf, I’ve now progressed to jumpers in lace patterns. My collection of pattern books has steadily grown, and my yarn stash has now spilled over into two boxes. Most people seem happy for me to pursue this activity, although some seem quite bemused as to why a revolutionary socialist would want to spend so much time doing something that seems to be linked to the domestic role that women have played, and continue to play in society.

Knitting is a highly gendered activity. Recently at a knitting themed pub quiz, my housemate, who came along because we felt guilty about leaving him home alone, was the only man. He doesn’t knit. This is an anecdotal example demonstrating something that can be shown statistically. According  to Google’s AdSense 83% of users of the knitting and crocheting social networking site Ravelry are women. This is a modern example, but knitting as an activity primarily practised by women had a long history.

Crafts such as knitting have been dominantly been practised in a domestic setting by women, and have a strong association with the privatised reproduction of labour power within the family. Looking back to the 1950s, and earlier, the image of a woman knitting is likely to be one making clothes for her husband and children. How skilfully she could make baby bonnets and bootees was seen as a sign of how good a housewife and mother she was. Women’s magazines from around this time included patterns to knit and sew. In schools, up until 1975, needlecrafts were an activity almost exclusively undertaken by girls, reflecting the way that what was taught in schools was often determined by what roles it was thought women should play in society.

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