Though currently in Spain, I did catch Eamon Gilmore’s grim speech in his party’s parliamentary away-day. In it, Gilmore restated his party’s ‘social democratic’ character whilst underlining the fact that any sort of reference established social democratic practice was irrelevant.
If Ireland is to be the first country to emerge successfully from an IMF programme, then the present Irish Government will be the first Government in Europe to achieve that, and Labour will be the first social democratic party in Europe with responsibility for achieving that goal.In these circumstances, we cannot fall back automatically on prescriptions from the past. There is no old manual of social democratic Government that applies here. What matters now is what works. And that will bring us to decisions that, though necessary, are outside the comfort zone of old ideas.
There is no ‘off-the-shelf’ formula that we can apply. No previous Irish Government has faced similar circumstances. The Labour Party hasn’t done so, nor have our sister parties in Europe. We are pioneers in a new place.
Are ‘we’ indeed?
Here is a piece by Juan Carlos Monedero, published the other day in Público. It is about the PSOE, a social democratic party, now led by Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba, after Zapatero indicated he would not seek to lead the party into the forthcoming elections on 20th of November (aka 20-N; the anniversary of Franco’s death).
The PSOE is on the whole considerably more progressive than the Irish Labour Party, but it too has proven itself the faithful servant of the demands of ‘the markets’, the ECB and the IMF in recent years.
Most recently, it has connived with the Partido Popular (the direct heirs of Francoist rule in Spain, and present European Parliament stablemates of Fine Gael) to introduce debt ceiling legislation into the Spanish constitution, at the behest of the big European powers, via a parliamentary vote. This despite the fact that the Spanish constitution had been hitherto considered a quasi-sacred document.
Protests have already taken place throughout Spain against what is being called the reformazo, which effectively enshrines neo-liberal rule in the Spanish constitution.
Ireland will soon be required to implement debt ceiling legislation. Like his Spanish counterparts in the Partido Popular, Enda Kenny has already declared his support for such legislation.
In the event of such legislation coming to light, do you think the Labour Party -that quickly vaulted the ‘red line’ issue of the JLCs, that oversaw the introduction of JobBridge whereby the state would pay companies to use unpaid labour, that is fully behind the introduction of additional regressive taxation measures to the benefit of the wealthy- would oppose it?
As Monedero’s article illustrates, the posturing of the PSOE is eerily though not unsurprisingly similar to that of Gilmore’s Labour.
Run, Rubalcaba, Run
“Walk or sit, but don’t wobble’
Signs to confuse
At a crossroads, a wrong step will take you miles away from the original destination.
Who said that the times are simple? Gangs of professional tricksters have for some time been changing the direction of the arrows, the names of the towns, the distance left to travel for the place you’re headed. They have invented new, difficult to interpret signs which, like in pretentious bars, fail to make clear which bathroom is the ladies and which is the gents. Signals that cancel thought. Signs that are nothing more than the moribund system’s self-help manual. Signs that mark the way with symbolic ferocity whilst at the the same time doing all that is possible to make you think that it is your freedom doing the choosing. If you happened to look back for a moment, you would feel that you are getting further and further away. Run, Rubalcaba, run.
Lowering taxes on the rich, the signs say, is a left-wing move. So too would be to move from direct taxation -where the person who has most pays most- to indirect taxes, such as VAT, which treats everyone as though they were the same. They consign once more to the rubbish bin of history those thinkers who saw things clearly when everything was less confused.
Marx, they repeat, is dead, as they tramp down with their heel the earth where he lies buried two metres below. As for the rest, they don’t even remember their names. To fill in the void, they shout out with determination, keeping their nostalgia for their days as sticking-plastered soixante-huitards on the inside, that they are neither from here nor there, whilst they stroke a cat of uncertain colour that only catches coloured mice.
Convince with theory, strike down with practice
The masters of confusion have forgotten the difference between theory and practice, and they shout out convinced that the market is left-wing because it guarantees competitiveness. Without blushing they claim once again that the law is made to protect the weak from the strong (as if Pashukanis had not been murdered by Stalin for saying the opposite). They also dare to mumble that labour contracts are free agreements between free citizens, as if capitalism were that dream of small property owners as thought up by certain liberals of the 19th century. The same ones who were frightened by the strength of socialism. They get us arguing about theory and not practice, and they forget that this will merely leave us concerned with interpreting the world whilst others continue to take charge, with the rigour of soldier ants, of transforming it.
That strange Michelin guide to left wing thought says -whilst a Minister for Labour tries not to move a muscle on his face even if it means his face goes numb- that it is better to be employed than unemployed. Subsequent steps without getting into ontological landslides are served up: “isn’t it better to get paid something than to get paid nothing?” “Which do you want, a job or a contract?” “Isn’t it better to be a slave and eat than to be unemployed and die of hunger? “OK, so your boss has taken ownership of parts of your body that aren’t written down anywhere and he’s telling you to be affectionate, but maybe you’d prefer to be at home twiddling your thumbs?” Thought has to adapt to circumstances. Run Rubalcaba, run.
And forgive us our trespasses since you will not forgive us our debts
These bearers of ad hoc signs say that getting into debt is bad, which is at the level of the bully who after beating up his victim and breaking her bones gives her a sermon saying that she needs to look after herself because ill health can adversely effect life’s normal course of development. These new seekers of their own benefit have learned a word that they repeat as a mantra (adanismo [literally, ‘Adamism”, denoting the activity of wanting to return to first principles – R]) to reproach those who look on with an expression of surprise, telling them not to fool themselves by wanting to start from zero because we do not come from nothing. Heaven forbid that someone should say to them: if I can’t breathe with these rules of the game, I want to start a new scene from scratch. After a while, they make claims again and again as if we did come from nothing, by forgetting that the indebtedness of our systems -turning money into photocopies of money with a supposed guarantee of states which, it has always been said, never go bankrupt- was the way of steering clear of the socialist pretensions of the workers who had defeated the right wing in the Second World War. That public indebtedness was then completed with private indebtedness.
Both the lubricant of the system and the horizon of happiness was to consume, consume and consume, something that was impossible with the real decline in wages. That was not a problem: the same people who got rich paying less for labour loaned to workers the money they needed to buy their own commodities from them. The same people who, not knowing what to do with so much money, put it into bubbles that always end up bursting, dragging with them the dupes who believed that they could play in the same league as the powerful. Popular capitalism they called it. One of its greatest tricks was pulled off when they made the home -the cave where we live our lives- the latest business craze. Spellbound by the artificial increase in the price of houses -as if selling ones own did not necessarily entail looking for another- we fell into madness. Those who started off the spiral went about calmly: the State would always take over the debts. But, as always, they stretched the string until they said it was broken (let no-one believe that there is an objective rate of string breaking). There could be money for wars, bank bailouts, salaries of top executives, monumental works contracted to construction industry friends, tax cuts, acts of Church proselytism..money for people who had the capacity to hold dialogue with the powers that be. For the broad mass of people, on the other hand, it is time for some truth. Not all of us fit in the lifeboats. There is a new business model to be built and there are too many people. The political parties decided a while ago which side they were on. Run Rubalcaba, run.
Tarantino Socialism (Constitution and Europe, bululú and death)
The constitutionalising of the debt ceiling does not seem to have affected the risk rating. Or does anyone believe that when “the markets” know they can rob you of your wallet that they are going to give you something in return. In this race, the killer who has an inkling of doubt -to say nothing of honesty- will be unmercifully executed by the other members of the cartel. The logic works, as Karl Polanyi said, like a satanic mill. Did we have to forget about these things too? OK: don’t celebrate Marx, but read him. The circuit “I sell my commodity, I obtain money, I buy another commodity that I need” satisfies social utilities. On the other hand, the circuit inherent in capitalism: “I put my money in, I sell a commodity, I get money back, but more of it” -which is what the banks do with the commodity of “money” -is an end in itself. And if that end is broken, you break up precisely that mafioso game they devote themselves to. In this logic, there is no alternative. Like in the adolescent joke, after asking you whether you prefer bululú or death, when they have finished enjoying themselves with bululú they kill you. Our democracy has become a Tarantino film. What is social democracy doing headed in that direction?
Congress voted on the constitutional reform. Which a few months back was impossible because we were not mature. In the Spanish parliament dissidents did not even reach 10%. 10% of deputies who connect with these citizens that are on the verge of ripping up the signs that lead them to the brink. Who is right? Those who still see a big wall and a mild crack, or those who know that the crack marks a trend? Those in the PSOE and PP think they are the ones who understand the country well. The remnants of sociological francoism still maintained by our culture render difficult any discussion that concerns a Constitution or that contradicts something that comes from Europe. Europe and the Constitution were the dreams during the nightmare of Francoism. That is why the right was always against the Constitution and against Europe. Is it not suspicious that these are now their main weapons?
The grand coalition of the PSOE and the PP (what the baron says goes)
The study of the behaviour of the PSOE in the current crisis points towards the creation of a real or formal grand coalition after the 20-N elections. If the pressure of the markets has suspended democracy by justifying decisions for which popular sovereignty has not been consulted, the new attacks -which are inevitably around the corner- will give way to the suspension of ideological differences (and, one fears, of their very expression). As Maurice Duverger said over half a century ago, a deputy of the left is closer to a deputy of the right than to their own base. To defend the system, even by paying the price of five million unemployed, of the loss of basic labour rights, of hundreds of thousands of people evicted, of the greater difficulty to obtain a pension, of more than a million homes without an income, of greater problems to access health care or public education, of the elitist reconversion of the university, only shows that the main interest of the political caste is to defend its business model. That is, their job. The main objective of the deputies and senators of the Spanish parliament, apart from the honourable exceptions left by the electoral law- is to defend their place on the list of their respective parties. The loyalty is not to the Constitution -if they have to, they’ll change it-; it is not to the citizens -they see no need to consult them about anything-; it is not to the workers -they make their working conditions more and more difficult-. Their loyalty is to those who guarantee them their job.
In the PSOE there was a mild dissidence when Zapatero announced the plan for the constitutional reform. But the area delegates came -territorial barons they’re called- and the discussion ended. All fell into line like an army of soldiers who had banished the fatal urge to think. Pure internal democracy. “Political parties”-says the Constitution of 1978 in article 6- express political pluralism, agree on the formation and manifestation of the popular will and are a fundamental instrument for political participation. Their creation and the exercise of their activity are free in accordance with the Constitution and the Law. Their internal structure and functioning must be democratic”. But what the baron says goes.
From the 15-M to 20-N: new faces sought for the Parliament (shameless self-promoters need not apply)
Four deputies in the Icelandic Parliament were essential to put the Prime Minister in the dock, to give parliamentary support to the popular refusal to pay an illegitimate debt, to promote a constitutional reform from top to bottom. 35 deputies in the current Congress of Deputies, 26 senators, would have been enough to give back the responsiblity that corresponds to the citizens in a democracy via referendum.
The 15-M, that citizens’ drive that has confronted the tired Spanish democracy, needs to restore its own drive. Three battles, which have taken a lot out of it, force it to do so. The battle against Vatican hypocrisy (this country, in the course of its history, has never resisted a fight against the church). The recent battle against the constitutional reform (where the citizens cannot be won over by resorting to simplistic ideas such as saying that this Constitution is a legacy of Francoism or to try and say in a single slogan “Down with Capital, down with the Constituion!). And the battle against the tiredness of a permanent mobilisation that cannot be maintained and which threatens to present the movement to those who have the greatest possibility of perservering, especially if these are small numbers. Among the new challenges ahead for the 15-M, the elections call on it. It is true that it needs to learn to ‘organise its silence’, but also to speak like the new political interlocutor that it is. It has nothing to do with becoming an electoral option. The 15-M’s drive goes on far longer than that. But it needs to take terms of political office into account. If its example serves to translate its radical assembly- and consensus-based horizontal methodology into electoral spaces -without becoming part of them- it will demonstrate once again its capacity to move forward on a virtuous path. It is not so much a question of programmes -parties such as Izquierda Unida (United Left) largely coincide with their minimum consensus points- as ways of understanding political participation. And it is here that all the parties still have a lot to learn.
The worst legacy that the PSOE will leave.
We already know how where the PSOE is headed and where the PP is headed. Their challenge is nearing. The impetus that the “Rubalcaba effect” could have provided has been dissolved by the constitutional reform, where, once again, it remains clear that what unites them is greater than what separates them. This applies also to Zapatero, who has oscillated between a lack of courage to refuse to oversee reforms for which he was not elected, and forcing a constitutional reform guided by the sole interest of not closing his pathetic second legislature having dared to force the hand of the European Union. Let others tell the truth about the lie of the Europe that currently exists. They are more interested in their legacy than in service. Rajoy and Zapatero have already held negotiations. Rubalcaba has given his assent. And it doesn’t matter who wins. Whether formally or de facto, the grand coalition has been agreed. Social democracy will only live off the national-catholic excesses that the PP might commit. And the PP will live off recalling the excesses committed during the bad management of the PSOE. One out of ideology. The other, out of uselessness.
The attitude of the sole Izquierda Unida deputy, Gaspar Llamazares, has served to cast light on a corner of independence and honesty in Congress. The boos from the wooden fixtures that make up Parliament is a coherent sign for everyone: of those who dare and the cowards. We need Icelandic deputies in the Parliament. Dust is gathering in the corners.
The PSOE seems bent on always leaving a terrible inheritance after spending time in government: to leave a PP legitimised to do whatever it wants. There is practically no policy that has not been brought forward by the socialist government. The space remaining for social democracy is no longer ideological, but of mere administrative management. Will militants and socialist voters awake? Will the rest of the citizens say enough and make themselves heard as needed? An old phrase comes to mind, attributed to the Peronist and fishing friend of Felipe González, the IMF-eulogised Carlos Menem: “A year ago we were on the brink of the abyss. Today we have taken a step forward!”
Quick, quick, quick. Don’t stop. Run Rubalcaba, run.