Monthly Archives: August 2011


The relation between the power of the Church and class power are seldom considered. In mainstream discourse the standard practice in Ireland is to talk about the Church and the State as two monolithic entities and not bother mentioning class at all. So it is of no relevance, for instance, that many of the most exclusive schools in the country whose purpose is the cultivation of an elite, demanding huge fees for entry but still receiving funding from the state, are run by Church orders. So the Irish Times sees no issue in referring to the ‘prestigious Gonzaga College‘, a Jesuit school, as though this prestige were part of the natural order of things. In fairness,that is the way many of its alumni see it. How is it that a religion whose founder was crucified by the powers that be ended up with a Church hierarchy that in many places for long periods was -and still is- a key element of those powers? This translated article by Vicenç Navarro deals with one part of the answer: the saints.


I should point out from the start that I am not a believer, that is, I do not possess what believers call ‘the gift of faith’. I belong however to a family and a tradition that always drew a distinction between religions on the one hand and the institutions that reproduce it, such as the Church, on the other. My parents taught me to respect religions and believers, but not always the ecclesiastical authorities that run the churches, which, as human institutions, configure religions and their beliefs so as to optimise the interests that keep them going. An example of this is the composition of the collective of saints and blessed in the Catholic religion, picked out by the highest authorities in the Catholic Church. The study of who is named a saint, when, how and why, says a lot about this institution and its interests during the 20 centuries of its existence. It is highly interesting (especially for those who study how power is generated and reproduced) to analyse how this is perceived by the heads of the Catholic Church and what the objectives are in naming a particular person as a saint, and their relation to this power.


In theory, the naming of saints has the objective of establishing reference points, that is, models for orienting Catholic believers, since it is part of the teachings of the Catholic hierarchy to honour and celebrate them. They are therefore exemplary individuals that should inspire the Church faithful. But to be “exemplary” also implies that we should know what they are exemplary of, and the objective behind this. And this becomes very clear when one analyses the political context that largely configured the decision to bestow sainthood on some people as opposed to others.

These thoughts arise from reading an article titled ‘Roman Catholic Sainthood and Social Status: a Statistical and Analytical Study’, published by two historians at the University of Rochester, Katherine and Charles H. George, in the Journal of Religion. This article obtained most of its data from the detailed biography of the saints by Alban Butler, along with the work of Herbert Thurston and others, published in a total of twelve volumes.

What the article’s researchers sought to know was the social class or social status of the 2,494 saints about whom there is enough biography published. Needless to say there are considerable methodological problems when trying to compare social class or status throughout history since the establishment of the Catholic Church. But the authors of the article have carried out credible and rigorous work, showing in each epoch those sectors of the population that corresponded to the upper classes (nobility in the feudal epoch and bourgeoisie in the capitalist epoch, for example), middle classes and popular [in Spanish – ‘popular’ – R] classes with lower status. It turns out the authors found that the large majority (1,950 of the 2,494, that is, 78%) belonged to upper statuses, which they define as upper class; 422 (17%) were middle status, and only 122 (5%) came from the popular classes.


The authors of the study point out that the upper classes, of high status, made up only 5% of the population of the countries studied; the classes of middle status 10-15%; and the popular classes made up the great majority (from 80 to 85%). The exemplary beings for the Catholic Church were on the whole people from ruling elites, and this in spite of the famous saying in the Bible that “it would be easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of Heaven”. Naturally not all ruling elites throughout the history of the last 20 centuries were the richest people in that society, but it is a reasonable supposition to assume that if they were not, they were at least at their service.

What is even more interesting is the social composition of the saints according to the century in which they were named. And it is only in the first century of Christianity when the saints belonging to higher status are not the majority. In the first century, people of middle and popular status had more possibilities of being named a saint. Not so from the second century on. Since then, the domination of saints  among the upper classes is almost absolute, reaching its high point during the Middle Ages, a period in which the Church acquired greater power and wealth. In reality, sainthood was frequently related to the donation of riches to the Church, to the point that entire families were named saints. For example, the noble Dagobert was named a saint, as were his mother, his grandmother and his four children. The noble Dagobert and his relations donated all their properties, on dying, to the church. This domination by upper class saints diminished somewhat in the 18th,19th and 20th century, when other groups of middle ranking status emerged which the Church wished to capture. Saints among the popular classes, however, continued to be a minority.


In Spain, apart from status, what has been decisive when it comes to conceding sainthood, has been one’s position within the co-ordinates of power. Thus the naming to sainthood of Escrivá de Balaguer, the founder of Opus Dei and the defender of the military coup and dictatorship it established, as well as that of the priests killed by out of control groups (and opposed by the Government of the Republic), without ever sanctifying the Basque priests killed by the putchist State, is a clear indicator of how the Church identifies with the antidemocratic and reactionary forces in power in Spain, for which the Church was their central ideological support. And its leaders are proud of it.





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The Reinvention of Nearly Everything?

Andrew Brown in today’s Guardian writes, of the protests in Madrid against the pope’s visit:

the ability of mainstream Christianity to attract a crowd of 1.5 million young people seems to me a damn sight more newsworthy, since we expect people to protest against the pope, and we do not expect them to turn out in large numbers to support or see him.

Numbers don’t prove truth, of course. But they are measures of commitment, and of political importance. Three hundred times as many people have travelled to Madrid to see the pope as have travelled to protests against him. Which group is more important to know about?

There is something of truth to this. People should be interested in the social forces that lead 1.5 million people to Madrid, and of the wider social and political implications for such a movement. So what are they? 

Pope Benedict XVI is in Madrid  for the celebration of World Youth Day. In Spanish, this translates as Jornada Mundial de la Juventud, or JMJ as per the common abbreviation. Not being well up on World Youth Day in Spanish, the first time I saw JMJ used in association with the Pope in a newspaper headline I thought it stood for Jesús Maria y José.


The Pope’s visit has caused a lot of consternation. For lots of reasons, not least for the fact that the Spanish hierarchy of the Catholic Church are megalomaniacal demagogues closely associated with the most reactionary sections of the Spanish ruling class, or the fact that the Catholic Church in Spain for the most part was deeply intertwined with Franco’s fascist regime. It is therefore seen as an affront by many Spanish people who want a fully secular state that World Youth Day’s staging in Madrid should be solicitilously attended to by the Madrid government. Those who have taken to the streets to protest have been beaten off it by the police. Here in this video, at 1:30, you can see the police beat a young woman (to whom they refer as a ‘niña’ – a young girl) and a journalist.

Various journalists have complained of their violent treatment at the hands of the police. In this video below, you can see a police officer remove the credentials of a journalist, and refuse to answer her questions as to why he is doing so. He then claims that he is unable to identify her properly because her credentials do not contain the name of her parents, her address..he then threatens to thump her, and demands that she produce identification. He then calls for her to be placed in handcuffs.

My own feeling about this is that we are witnessing a recrudescence of right-wing authoritarian Christianity as a product of the political and economic crisis sweeping Europe.

This is not quite so palpable in Ireland, since the brute facts of the abuse perpetrated by Catholic Church authorities are fresh in the public mind. But even in Ireland, there are some aspects of the reaction to the abuse scandal that bear consideration.

First of all, in his much-praised speech in the Dáil, Enda Kenny spoke not only in his capacity as Taoiseach but as a faithful member of the Catholic Church. He used Catholic teaching to repudiate the actions of the Church hierarchy. He spoke of the ‘good priests’, the ‘Church’s light and goodness’. He talked about what the Church needed to do for its own good (‘to be a penitent Church’). He said that it needed to do this ‘in the name of God’, and ‘for the good of the institution’. He spoke of his agreement with Archbishop Diarmuid Martin. And yet the robustness of his statement that the Church should not be above the law of the State -hardly a radical stance- was greeted as though it were a heroic and epoch-changing declaration.


More recently, Wednesday night in fact, TV3 broadcast an edition of Tonight With Vincent Browne, presented by Libertas founder Declan Ganley.


Ganley is also the ‘chairman and chief executive‘ of St. Columbanus AGThis Swiss asset management company claims on its website that the firm was:

named after St. Columbanus who emerged from the austerity of Celtic Christianity to become one of the most outstanding sources of cultural, educational, and spiritual renewal in Europe, which was struggling to create a new unity from the many regional conflicts resulting from the collapse of the Roman Empire in the 5th and 6th centuries.

On the Browne programme, Ganley featured David Quinn, Irish Independent columnist and head of the Iona Institute, a right-wing Catholic think-tank. Also present was Breda O’Brien, a fellow member of the Iona Institute, and Kevin O’Connell, a former Metropolitan Police commissioner . The topic under discussion was the London riots. The emphasis of the discussion, resolutely enforced by the leaden insistence of Ganley, was that the riots could be explained in terms of absent fathers and abdication of parental responsibility, and that prevailing political and economic conditions had nothing to do with it.

Richard Boyd Barrett of the United Left Alliance was ceaselessly interrupted and the right-wing commentators were given free rein to make their case, unencumbered by any need to cite evidence or justify assessments. While this may be merely a stronger dose of the formula usually pursued by the normal presenter, it is striking that Ganley had been given the slot in the first instance. In one of his previous appearances on the show, in which he had been invited to respond to a new book on Marx by Kieran Allen, Ganley used the opportunity to bark anti-communist gobbledygook, demonstrating in the process that he had not even bothered to read the book. It might therefore seem odd that he should be considered a suitable candidate to present a current affairs programme. But the pedigree did not matter: in the end, it was welcomed. And this provided Ganley the opportunity to dedicate a full programme to the association of morality with police.


Of particular note here was David Quinn’s invocation of Edmund Burke, whom he claimed had spoken of an ‘inner policeman’ -derived from parental and clerical authority- that removed the need for more police on the street. It scarcely matters here if the ‘inner policeman’ is a religious deity in disguise or the incarnation of a forbidding patriarchal male superego: what it demonstrates is how austerity becomes fertile ground for an authoritarian imagination. It is worth noting in passing that Edmund Burke -who was pro-slavery and believed that the law of the market was the law of god- recognised that an authority based on fear would rob the mind of all its powers of acting and reasoning.


(A few little drops of fear always comes in handy when consolidating democracies)

We should therefore ask what real resistance there is in Ireland to a revamped version of Catholicism based on a veneration of capitalism-and-freedom and accompanied by a message of renewal and rebuilding.

Back to Spain. Below is a translated piece by Juan Carlos Monedero, more of whose work I translated here.

Benedict XVI in Spain, Ratzinger in the Puerta del Sol, 15-M in the street.

History tells us it is a religious custom to exterminate those who, having a same intellectual fixation -consistent with believing in imaginary or real beings with highly unlikely- attribute those extraordinary facts to a being with a different affilation to one’s own. Sin was not initially so much about not unbelief, but believing in the same thing with slight differences. It was only with the development of civilisation that the number of atheists grew. This increased the range of candidates for execution, since as well as the heretics, there were now the wicked and the godless. It should not be surprising that, from time to time, religious believers reach an agreement to get rid of a common enemy, leaving their history of fighting for later. At the end of the day, who cares if an atheist gets stabbed by a Catholic, a Jew, a Muslim or an Orthodox?

Though it might seem strange, to burn those who profess a different religion is part of the evolutionary process, even though, at the same time, it is still a clear sign that it is not enough for the process of hominization to be complete to assume that the process of humanisation is also complete. When homo sapiens developed langauge, he began to bury the dead (something that no other species does). A cold eye cast over the past can freeze the smile of those who do not dare to think of themselves as one of eternity’s random episodes. What happens when the gods are everything but kind? If instead of being an explanation for evil they are its directors?

The neanderthals, that extinct ancestor of ours -that gave way to the cro-magnons from which today’s humans come, including the pope- already worshipped the dead. This meant that they thought in some sort of life after death and in some keeper for the inn beyond the grave. And yet, they disappeared as a species. When a whole human species intelligent enough to believe in gods disappears, is it because it wasn’t sufficiently developed to believe in the true god? If this were the case, what guarantees are there that today’s homo sapiens, which has given so many indications of brutality and backwardness, is not condemned to the same fate, such that those gods in which it believes abandon it and make it disappear from the world? As Isidore of Seville said, live as if you were going to die tomorrow and study as if you were going to live forever.

The less believable something is, the more pomp and circumstance it needs. To crown a king needs more pageantry than hanging a sash on an elected president. Judges have so little credibility that they need to dress up. It is unthinkable to have an army without dungeons for those who question the stripes. And the Catholic Church prefers to spend 50 million euro on proselytising rather than send that money to the Horn of Africa. Jesus Christ, if he were alive today, would be in Somalia. Though he would have been excommunicated by Rome beforehand. The pope, on the other hand, prefers Spain. And to prepare his visit, Ratzinger sent the Jungen Katholiken to take the Puerta del Sol. It could have been nice to live and let live in Madrid (with those communities who have been locked in, making the streets their own). But that was not how it turned out. They lack the irreverence of the young. A young person who does not ask questions of herself has been born old. Some of these young Catholics, after leaving McDonalds in Arenal street, tried to stop the secular march from entering Sol. But theindignados had already learned the way. “This plaza/belongs to the pope”, said the Catholics. And the indignados, looking on them with clemency, thought: “what ignorance”. Although, with the things of the beyond, who could find the right argument?

Days earlier, within the 15-M movement the pope’s visit was discussed. As is often the case, the movement showed its wisdom. It has nothing against the individual beliefs of anyone, but against a religion that wants to tell everyone else how they have to behave. And, moreover, with public money. This is, mainly, the complaint against the former prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (the administrative successor of the Holy Inquisition). But it is obvious that there are more reasons.

In 1953, the US and the Vatican were the countries that broke the international isolation of the Francoist dictatorship, which was born out of the defeat of the constitutional government of the Republic. The gringos did it in exchange for military bases. The Church, in exchange for privileges.


It was the same Catholic Church that blessed Franco’s cannons, that allowed the dictator to enter cathedrals under a canopy, that placed its corps of priests in the service of the denunciation, punishment and repression of Republican men and women. 


The same Church that has not sought forgiveneess for the Francoist genocide supported by the Catholich hierarchy. It was Ratzinger who recommended that the pilgrims visit the Valley of the Fallen, the mausoleum in honour of fascism, built by Republican slave labour.


Difficult to say hello to him nicely on the streets of Madrid. One keeps imagining him making the Nazi salute.

After the short parenthesis of the Second Vatican Council and the Church of the poor promoted by John XVIII, John Paul II, and his armed wing, the current Pope Benedict XVI, set about breaking the spine of liberation theology. In this task of demolishing the greatest renewal of the Church in the past two centuries, they relied on the Legion of Christ and Opus Dei, the latter elevated to Personal Prelature. Do we need reminding that the founder of the Legion, Father Maciel, was responsible for polygamy, paedophilia and corruption?


Do we need reminding that Monsignor Escrivá de Balaguer was an important pillar of the Francoist dictatorship? Ratzinger was the main instigator of the cover up of the crimes of paedophilia within the Church. If in democratic Ireland there is evidence of more than 25,000 cases of abuse of minors, what happened under the dictatorship in Spain? Only in 2010, Benedict XVI denounced the “appalling crime” of paedophilia. But when the Irish authorities sought to apply the same laws to priests as to any other civilian, the Pope recalled his ambassador, in a clear threat of breaking off diplomatic relations. The crimes of the Church have tribunals that only concern their god.

In Spain we have spent too much time putting up with the privileges of the Catholic Church, despite Spain being a secular country. Privileges in education, where public money is used to finance religious schools; privileges in tax returns, where one is invited to dedicate the social contribution (even in 2011!) to the Catholic Church; privileges in the funding of priests and their presence in public spaces; privileges in the funding of activities of proselytism (such as the current visit); privileges in the dereliction of duties on the part of prosecuting authorities on a multitude of crimes -sexual, real estate, banking, media, homophobic, patriarchal, racist or of other types committed by members of the priesthood. Privileges that emanate from a Concordat negotiated before the Constitution and whose Francoist character makes it incompatible withour democracy. When a group of crazed individuals who confer extrasensory qualities on the state show contempt for the lives of others [not sure what he’s talking about here – R], the law ejects them from institutions and closes, even without any proof, their magazines and newspapers. And why should the press organ of the archbishop of Madrid be afforded the luxury of calling for rape to be removed from the penal code? Why does this ecclesiastical invitation to rapists, in a country that still murders women, not receive penal prosecution?

Ratzinger in Madrid has come to the city that has woken up. The city that is telling tired Europe how it has to reinvent itself. Since Machiavelli at least, one does not believe in coincidences. Cameron the conservative blames the disturbances in London on the “loss of values”. Not on the rupture of the egalitarian foundations of democracy. He repeats, albeit with less intelligence, Daniel Bell’s argument in The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism (1976), a work intended to do its little bit for the struggle between the crisis of legitimacy that the left explained and the request for governmentality and demand for Moral-Christian rearmament of the right. And one of the main intellectual battles is going to be fought in Madrid. On the side of the Vatican -and Spanish national-catholicism- there will be an attempt to raise the religious Reconquista from the capital of the kingdom. The 15-M movement, on the other side, is going to keep calling for a democracy that is worthy of the name, and that is incompatible with the dark kingdom as signified by the obscurantist, authoritarian and reactionary conception of the Vatican. The right wing is clear in its aim. The police charge in the Puerta del Sol makes one think that the government is still stumbling. If social democracy, which has lost its direction since adopting the third way, loses the banner of secularism, what does it have left?


All the more reason to continue to call for the reinvention of nearly everything.



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I was looking at the Knight Frank Wealth Report 2011 online (my fund manager forgot to post me a copy). It has some very interesting detail about the desires and concerns of certain people:

high-net-worth individual (HNWI)

These are defined as a ‘person whose investible assets, excluding their principal residence, total between $1m and $10m’.

ultra-high-net-worth individual (UHNWI)

These are people ‘whose investible assets, excluding their primary residence, are valued at over $10m’.


Eating into profits

For instance, the type of thing they invest in.


So instead of using land to produce crops for food for people, this will be used to make fuel for machines. Demand for food will rise as potential sources of supply are limited, and HNWIs want a piece of the action. But there are problems!

A spectre is haunting High-Net-Worth-Individuals

South America also offers farming on a massive scale and remains a preferred target for many investors because of its productive climate and soils, but values in more popular areas have started to climb. The spectre of farmland nationalisation, as seen in Venezuela, also worries some investors.


Critics of foreign land ownership in Africa, especially deals where most of the crops are shipped back to the investing nation, call it a new form of colonialism of little benefit to hungry populations. The political upheaval in Tunisia was partly driven by the rising cost of food. Indeed, Stephen Johnston of Canadian fund manager Agcapita prefers to keep his investors’ capital closer to home. “We could have gone anywhere,” he says. “But I don’t think you can make a long-term case for investing in developing countries. Poor people vote and politicians listen. At some point, somebody will get elected who will nationalise farmland.”

This whole poor people voting, politicians listening thing is just not on. Someone should have a word.

Displeasure at other people’s leisure

Feeling like you’re doomed to spend your life working, or looking for work, and the remainder of your time dealing with household tasks, paying off exorbitant household bills and generally doing a whole pile of stuff you don’t want to be doing? The High-Net-Worth-Individuals feel that way too! About you, that is. They don’t see much of a future in the whole business of relaxing.


The Havens And The Have-Nots

You would think, wouldn’t you, what with the attention devoted to tax havens these days, that the tendency would be towards a clampdown. Not so, according to this geezer


You may, if you are a High Net Worth Individual, be nonetheless concerned at the negative attention being devoted to tax havens. You will therefore be gratified to learn that the arc of indirect taxation bends in your favour, and away from the proles.


So to use a practical example, it is a good thing for the global rich that indirect taxes such as the upcoming household charge in Ireland are imposed, because this will mean that they won’t have to rely on tax havens so much! Neat, yes?

Barack Obama meanwhile, is proving his socialist tendencies by presiding over a 15% growth in the wealth of High Net Worth American Individuals to $13,000,000,000,000. And that’s only in the course of 2010.    


Ireland, of course, has had its wealth destroyed, as everyone knows. Not a weekend has passed without a Sunday Independent story about some poor rich soul deciding to end it all. But sure it isn’t all bad news:


On a per capita basis, The Little State That Could is still punching well above its weight in terms of having lots of rich people. And of course the trend toward indirect taxation in Ireland will soften the blow for Ireland’s HNWIs at there being only five Irish billionaires.

Something for us all to be cheery about, what?



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Holy Waters of Austerity

The thought occurred to me tonight as I was pushing a trolley around Tesco that perhaps John Waters was the future. It’s all too easy to think of Waters as a decomposing relic from a previous epoch, and yet he appears in the Irish Times every Friday, with no indication of stopping any time soon.


For those unfamiliar, John Waters writes about how society’s strivings for certain things and simultaneous disregard for other God-shaped things will leave it in a very bad place. And this Friday past he railed against the adoption of ‘materialism’ as the reason for the riots in London. Not without contradictions, however: the most whopping of these was his own endorsement of materialism as the motor for society’s reproduction:

the very mechanisms required for the generation of activity and wealth depend for their propulsion on the existence of inequality: this being what “motivates” and “rewards” those who participate in the communal effort to master the given resources

What he really means when he criticises ‘materialism’ is demands for equality. By Waters’s lights, the demand for equality hinges on a vulgar preoccupation with people having equal amounts of stuff allotted to them by the state. If only people would dispense with this shabby materialism* and focus on the spiritual dimension of things, society would find meaning and truth. It is hard to imagine him getting very far with this argument with someone who had just missed six straight meals, but if he did so he would not be John Waters.

Nonetheless I do get the feeling that he has captured something of the spirit of the times with this. The riots in London have produced a striking number of analysts and commentators singling out ‘consumerism’ as one of the causes of the riots. On the face of it, there is something to this. As a seemingly inexhaustible supply of reactionary pinheads seem hell-bent on pointing out, it was places like Foot Locker, not the Houses of Parliament, that got turned over. But I haven’t heard anyone say yet that maybe they were taking these things because the continual bombardment by advertising/propaganda had made them extremely miserable. I mean, rich people are treated like gods in Britain (and elsewhere too of course). Images of their happiness and leisurely lives are used to make people feel terrible about their own lives. And alongside the images of rich people’s happiness, there is always an advertisement for some product or service that promises to salve the misery induced by the images of the rich people. Maybe the looting was in many cases simply extreme retail therapy due to the devastating effectiveness of the advertising/propaganda industry. Or maybe some people just fancied a plasma TV or a new pair of trainers. How should I know? However, here are some young looters providing some very coherent reasons for their activities.

The young people out rioting are being continually presented as being completely in thrall to the prevalent consumerism and grasping acquisition across British society.

And when I hear this, I hear echoes of what happened whenever Ireland’s supposed economic miracle went down the toilet, taking the toilet with it. The widespread reaction was that ‘we’ had got carried away with ourselves, had gotten too greedy, spending vast sums of money on crocodile-skin jumpsuits and the like.

The next thing you know, the government is predicting living standards are going to be cut and implementing an internal devaluation programme (i.e. driving wages down and driving unemployment up) because ‘we’ have been paying ourselves too much (this is an all-too-common phrase, suggesting for instance that Michael O’Leary and Ryanair cabin crew sit down together to decide each other’s wages). Never mind that it was mostly men in the upper echelons of banks who acquired untold billions of debt to inflate a property bubble, and their collaborators in government and the construction industry, who drove Ireland’s economy into such a parlous state: the ‘we’ narrative -the people of the hundred thousand unrealistic expectations- served to abort any systematic considerations of just who is responsible, and who ought to pay. It’s still a very serviceable narrative.

So there is something to beware in this newfound inclination towards asceticism, not least the fact that it sits very snugly with the idea of austerity and the moral penance the latter connotes. If you can charge everyone with an obsession with baubles and toys, you can socialise responsibility for the economic crisis, in such a way that those who are not in the least bit responsible for provoking the crisis -for instance, the residents of places like Tottenham- are shouldered with a burden created by business and finanical elites ably represented by the Conservative party, all of whom are both eminently responsible for the crisis and extremely well positioned to benefit from the deepened precariousness of everyday living that the cuts will bring.

And something else: this asceticism, this rejection of consumerism/materialism, most likely will also entail manipulating people with the idea that they should not demand equality, since demanding equality means being obsessed with stuff. Never mind that seeking free public health care and education, decent paid jobs and public facilities for everyone has nothing at all to do with wanting a second Rolls-Royce parked in the garage: the demand for them will be presented as in the same vein, as a demand made by people ‘living beyond their means’ whose ‘materialism’ is evidence of common cause with pure criminals.

*As an afterthought, there is also a whiff, in the charge of ‘materialism’, of a fairly hoary anti-Marxist stance, by people who have not actually read Marx of course but who think that Marx was all about ‘materialism’ and that this meant a mechanistic concern with accumulation of stuff (which perhaps resulted in endless poring over tractor manufacture figures) and a wholesale rejection of the spiritual.

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line up


This chance juxtaposition was too good to be forgotten.

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the name for this site


I got asked the other night where the name for the site comes from. It comes from William Blake’s Annotations to the Works of Sir Joshua Reynolds, whom Blake identified as ‘Hired to Depress Art’. Blake wrote that

‘Having spent the Vigour of my Youth & Genius under the Opression of Sr Joshua & his Gang of Cunning Hired Knaves Without Employment & as much as could possibly be Without Bread, The Reader must Expect to Read in all my Remarks on these Books Nothing but Indignation & Resentment’.

EP Thompson writes of William Blake’s stance of ‘hostlilty to genteel hegemony’ and ‘a profound and critical suspicion of..the innermost defences and ornaments of the polite culture’..’What belongs to Caesar is power, riches and war, and an attendant ideology which masks, apologises for and rationalises power or ‘Satans Kingdom’..And ‘Satans Kingdom’ is seen as of one piece, as a systematic order: the power and the ideology must be taken together. Those intellectuals and artists who are corrupted by patronage or who act as apologists for the status quo are doubly damned, for it is art’s divine mission to be eternally at war at this Kingdom..Blake frequently falls back upon abuse of ‘hirelings’ or ‘Cunning Hired Knaves’:

The Enquiry in England is not whether a Man has Talents. & Genius But whether he is Passive & Polite & a Virtuous Ass: & obedient to Noblemens Opinions in Art & Science. If he is; he is a Good Man: if Not he must be Starved.”

Those are the sources of inspiration for the name, and hopefully, to some very modest measure, for the content.

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Riots, Fascism, Honey, and Vinegar

A few topical observations on the events in England, and then a translated article from Spain.

From what I’m hearing, the response on the part of the British state to the riots of recent nights will be an authoritarian crackdown. It knows nothing else. As Seumas Milne points out in today’s Guardian, it is illusory to expect some sort of response that recognises the responsibility of politicians or the wealthy interests they serve in creating the conditions for the riots to take place.

The only response this most revanchist of Tory governments knows to anything is to double down on the decades-long programme for dismantling the social institutions built in Britain after the Second World War. It doesn’t matter to them that this entails adopting a benevolent and sympathetic rhetoric towards poor people and migrants at some points and an authoritarian contempt at others. On the contrary, they probably enjoy the role-playing and the dressing-up. From their point of view it is a question of tailoring the message to suit the political moment so as to dispossess the vast majority and siphon wealth upwards.

The Conservative government, which is far more opportunist than any teenage boy making off with a pair of trainers from a ransacked high street store, will continue to court the support, consent and complicity of that substantial segment of British society that resigns itself to muddling through on a media-approved diet of fear and contempt for the weak and unstinting deference to those above.


In response, the Labour-led opposition will hem and haw about this and that policy choice, but not much more. The bombast of the last few weeks about parliamentarians having lost their fear and shaken off the malign influence of Rupert Murdoch will turn out to be so much hot air, since even if Murdoch’s own influence proves diminished, parliamentarians will simply find another alibi for their unwillingness to renounce neoliberal managerialism.


We’ve already heard the government, security forces and media blaming ‘social media’ as an efficient cause of the riots, even though the vast majority of riots in history have had no social media component and social media cannot hurl a brick through a window. It should be fairly clear that this is both a distraction from the dominant class’s own role in creating the conditions for the rioting, and a pretext for the introduction of greater powers of surveillance over the population.

The government has nothing against social media in se. In fact, the knee-jerk fascist responses that appeared in abundance on social media networks calling for the sterilisation of the ‘scum’, the assassination of children through use of live ammunition, and so on, won’t be seen as a cause for the slightest concern, but will instead be taken by the government (many of whose members already feel these impulses anyway) as a useful signal that it can push ahead with its plans for intensified surveillance and punishment.


The manufactured image of have-a-go hero who seeks to roll up his or her sleeves to rid the streets of scum, to rid the council flats of malcontents, trouble makers and ‘illegal immigrants’, to purge the benefit registers of bogus claimants, and to introduce some semblance of hygiene to ‘our sick society’, will become, more than ever, the ideal subject/citizen of the political and media powers that be.


If the riots have brought something new, it has been the momentary irruption of life under urban deprivation, with all its attendant harassment, racism and demonization, into general contemplation. But also new, I think, is how the images and reports of the riots quickly mobilised fascist and racist sentiment in a lot of people. A million people signed up to a Facebook page created by the person featured in this article.

Many people online whom I would have considered more or less liberal in outlook identified uncritically and automatically with the police, and were quite happy to use the words ‘chav’ and ‘scum’ unguardedly. There were many who automatically accepted the initial account of the police shooting of Mark Duggan as unquestionably true, and who called upon the police and the army, to use live ammunition on the ‘chavs’ and the ‘scum’. Others took a more systematic approach, calling for sterilisation measures. These tendencies develop over years, I would speculate that over the last few days a creeping feeling of accelerated insecurity –the knowledge that welfare safety nets are being eroded, the threat of redundancy or the prospect of continued unemployment- has been far more effective at producing obedient rather than critical thought.


Indeed much of the discussion played out in public has been characterised by an overriding concern with making sure that the questions asked and the answers given identify with the priorities of power. Any chance for critical dialogue and inquiry has to be given an effective abortifacient, viz:

Do you condemn the riots? Why hasn’t David Cameron come back yet [i.e. we need a strongman in power]? What’s the best tactic to quell the rioters? Will water cannons work? If it’s a political protest, why are they stealing plasma screen TVs? It’s pure criminality. Their activities are more criminal than political, you know. Should we take away their benefits if they riot? How come a millionaire’s daughter was caught rioting if this is supposed to be about deprivation? It’s not about race – look at how the rioters include Afro-Caribbeans, whites and Asians. I would invite the Prime Minister and the Mayor to look at how social media helped organise a clean up before they ban it.

The article that follows takes a wider view than what is permitted in the standard frame of responses to the riots. Originally published in Público yesterday, it is by Juan Carlos Monedero, a Spanish political scientist and former adviser to the Chávez government in Venezuela who has been active in the 15-M movement in Spain.

One of the features of press coverage in the UK has been an attempt to batten down the field of vision regarding the riots, in denial of any international dimension, either in political or narrowly economic terms, except in the form of a contrasting rebuke. So it is quite common to hear the complaint that people in Egypt and Syria are risking their lives for basic freedoms while ‘feral’ youths on the streets of Britain are looting stores for plasma televisions. And the 15-M movement is presented, as Mary Riddell did the other day in the Daily Telegraph in a piece that won oddly wide acclaim, as something of a ‘Tupperware’ movement by comparison with the supposed end-of-days scene playing out on the streets of England. But as David Harvey notes today,

‘there are various glimmers of hope and Light around the world. The indignados movements in Spain and Greece, the revolutionary impulses in Latin America, the peasant movements in Asia, are all beginning to see through the vast scam that a predatory and feral global capitalism has unleashed upon the world.’


Therefore voices like the one that follows can help shed vital light on what appears to be unfolding with terrifying menace in the UK.

(Translation –and incongruencies- mine).

From flames in Tottenham to eyes blinking with flies in Somalia

There are occasions when the thread traced by the system can be seen clearly even without the need for sophisticated conceptual tools. Moments when poets and novelists –and let’s add film directors- get things right as often as social scientists. Wanting to see is enough. Something that official social science has refused to do for at least the last thirty years. Why is there professional liability in medicine but not in economics or political science? Recently a few economists called for raising inflation in Spain in order to tackle the deficit. There were only upsides. Not a single comment about the millions of people who would be ruined. Social scientists kill more people than Sundays.

England assigns 16,000 police to arrest young people who have more anger than ideas. It would be enough to dedicate let’s say 10% of those police to go after white collar criminals so that those young people could have the spaces, the means and the opportunities so that ideas would fill in the nihilism of “I want to wreck everything”. Those 1600 police would draw a simple diagram making it clear that those who sack workers have shares in media firms that are part of consortia that sell arms to groups supplied loans by banks that fund parties that rescue financial institutions with the funds of a State brought to its knees by financial markets that also allow, along with bankrolled politicians, speculation on the price of foodstuffs that condemns countries like Somalia to hunger and war and deepens ever more the breach between those who have and those who want to have but know that by working they’re never going to have it. Nearly a straight line.


The demand of the epoch is equality although, as ever, the true goal is freedom (the freedom sought by the conscious being whose only certain knowledge is that she is going to die). Freedom, now that the weight of tradition has been broken –the tradition the authoritarian rectors of the Catholic Church wish to recover, after doing away with the Second Vatican Council- is assumed to have been won. The heyday of the market, the hundreds of television channels, the internet, mobile phones, advances in transport and communications, the ability to choose between Coca-Cola or Pepsi, travel, the lengthening of adolescence, the sensationalism of supposedly infinite news served up in real time, the sovereignty of consumers- these are all elements that make one think that never before in the history of humanity were so many people free. But this freedom is constrained by the lack of access to that promise of living like an absolute monarch. They forgot that there are no kings without subjects. And then the anger comes to the fore: to be happy is to have access to everything that gives me happiness, but I can’t get there. And I’m not going to get there tomorrow either. And so I want it all and I want it now. Whatever it takes.

During the Caracazo, that popular protest in Venezuela in 1989, they also laid siege to shops and made off with electrical appliances. It’s not that there weren’t people who weren’t going hungry –just as now in London- but the surprising thing is that then people made off with a colour television, and today a plasma television. You steal what you think you deserve but you don’t have. They are robberies in the image of the consumerist society. Well off people prefer poor people to steal food. It causes them fewer contradictions. But the category of ‘poor’ has become more complex: a child who doesn’t have the latest model of mobile phone is treated with contempt by his friends in school. He is a ‘poor rich kid’. If he could get away with it, he’d steal a Blackberry. That’s what television invites him to do every day. Television which, along with advertising, serves to lubricate the system.


One of the biggest problems with the violence in London is that it is not political. It is not even prepolitical. As happened in Los Angeles, where black people burned the shops belonging to the Koreans and the Latinos. Wonderful business altogether. When the mob headed toward Hollywood, the National Guard halted them with tanks: “this far and no further”. For the nocturnal London protest, it is more intuitive to burn a mosque or attack the shops in the neighbourhood than to set fire to a Conservative Party office or make a pyre out of a bank. One part of this has a terrifying germ of fascism. The victims who become executioners. With many reasons, but that does not make them take the correct decisions.

Seen in this way, the scenario repeats situations from the 1930s, but it also has new features, not all of which are positive. The greater possibility of access to information is a cause for optimism. The refusal by social democratic forces to submit the system to critical thought, along with the collapse of communism, radically sow pessimism. The third way inevitably ends up in a society marked by inequalities. Thatcher and Blair fuse together in memory. Both would agree that the solution to the disturbances would involve putting the army on the street (the low wages of the police and the existence of police unions renders it inefficient, especially since it could end up understanding the reasons of those who protest). And, as with el dia de los locos, there would be more than a few unemployed people who would applaud a bloodbath that would re-establish order.


Transformation comes when the system flows over, not when petrol is thrown over it. Violence, when it has no social support, is terrorism, not legitimate struggle. And it benefits the system. Precisely what those terrorists who control the world’s finances want.Or do we need reminding that the Gladio network in Italy –the CIA, the Vatican and the political right wing- set about organising attacks attributed to the left each time it looked as though the Italian Communist Party could enter power?

The 15-M movement is right to distribute flowers instead of petrol bombs. It does so in the name of class struggle. A class struggle that has no reason to be of the same form as in 1917. Of course the question is the same –it is, at the end of the day, about the capitalist system- but the answers change. To keep the same answers shows an intolerable laziness. Except for those who are intransigent by profession, impotent individuals who, starved of ideas, prefer to solve problems with firepower. The Catholic influence has unsuspected intricacies. And it has never brought down any capitalist regime.

A 15-M that knows the thread that goes from the fly-strewn blinking eyes of a hungry child in the horn of Africa to the flames that light up the night in Tottenham. Intolerable injustices caused by swines wearing ties. A 15-M that knows there are powerful countries like Germany that call on Spain to sell off its family silver solely to maintain the profitability of its banks. That knows who those powerful politicians are, like the North American Republicans, who have no hesitation in driving the world to ruin to get rid of an Obama who will never be obsequious enough. The same 15-M that seems a social State here and the end to tax havens there. The one that demands greater social spending and the end of the IMF and the World Bank. The one that denounces the hypocrisy of a Pope who spends on proselytising what would save millions of lives in Africa. The 15-M that blaims the politicians and the bankers for the crisis in Europe and for hunger in Somalia. The 15-M that started off claiming it was apolitical and in barely three months knows that Politics –with a capital P- is what here and now can change things. Politics – with a capital P- because it seeks to change the structures of a model that has been exhausted. A model that, like The Clash said, will bring us a new ice age. And whose contradictions, in today’s world, are brought forth in greater number using honey rather than vinegar.

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