Dismembrance Days

On Remembrance Day, the day of his inauguration as President, Michael D. Higgins received congratulations from the European Commission President José Manuel Barroso. Barroso said:

‘You are taking office at an important time, as Ireland takes resolute action to address difficult economic circumstances and in doing so, is setting an example for other countries facing similar challenges.

Whoops of admiration filled the squares and thoroughfares of Europe: Ireland’s example -for pursuing an internal devaluation programme geared towards driving down wages and living standards, and driving up unemployment as a means of keeping labour costs down, and for taking tens of billions of debts accumulated by private speculators and making the public pay for them- had won some prominent admirers!


But Barroso was merely articulating what he does best: the heartfelt wishes of the countless millions who struggled relentlessly so that he might preside over that august body continuously commissioned by the people of Europe to carry out its will!

Seriously though. At Al Jazeera, Pepe Escobar wrote, of Barroso and others, with regard to Europe’s new post-democratic, technocratic dispensation:

If there is something capable of terminally terrorising the European Union (EU) oligarchy
it is the concept of a popular referendum.

How dare you consult the “rabble” about our Austerity Forever policy, the only one capable of satisfying the financial markets!


This is enough to make unelected zombies such as European Central Bank (ECB) President Mario Draghi (formerly vice-president of Goldman Sachs International), European Council President Herman van Rompuy (member of the Trilateral Commission and the Bilderberg club) and European Commission (EC) head Joao Manuel Barroso to dream of a drone-heavy, Special Forces-filled, NATO no-fly zone to enforce their will. 

Escobar rightly points to South America as the space to which social movements in Europe and in the West in general must look in order to get the vampire squid off their peoples’ faces:

South America, which has outlived torrents of IMF’s dreadful “structural adjustments” and is now slowly forging its integration and independence, always denied by the neocolonial one per cent and their local satraps, can be quite helpful.

In a very enlightening discussion with leaders of the Brazilian MST – the Landless Peasant Movement, one of the most important social movements in the world – they explained to me how they have adjusted from fighting for an agrarian reform to fighting a much more nuanced battle against the current, powerful transnational agro-business interests who have forged an intricate alliance with the Lula government.

This shows how even a broad social movement with an enormous popular base has to be constantly calibrating its strategic struggle. 

On a parallel front, there must be an urgent English translation of La Potencia Plebeya (“The Plebeian Power”), a collection of essays by Bolivian vice-president Alvaro Garcia Linera, one of the most crucial intellectuals at work in Latin America.


Linera essentially charges how the one per cent and its minions have “sold” the concept of public interest as a separate sphere of civil society. And how civil society can only exist as political if subordinated to mediators or political priests.

I’ll get back to García Linera in a minute, but first I’d like to take a look a piece from Friday’s Irish Times, by John Bruton, former Fine Gael Taoiseach, EU Ambassador to the United States, and present Chairman of the IFSC, Ireland’s Onshore Tax Haven.


Titled All sacrifices of people 100 years ago must be honoured, the IFSC chairman says that the centenaries of both the 1913 Lockout and the passage of Home Rule should also be commemorated, as well as the Easter Rising, and he asserts the following:

Nothing must be done or said now, in any of our retrospections in 2016, that would put that very recent reconciliation of unionism and nationalism at risk.

and also:

The Irish trade union movement and its achievements must not be eclipsed by other commemorations, as they were for many years.

But unionism and nationalism have not been reconciled. They are mutually antagonistic political tendencies. Either you think there should be British rule in Ireland, or you don’t. The methods people are willing to adopt in pursuit of their convictions is what has changed.

What Bruton is seeking here is a maintenance of the same state pageantry that accompanied the Queen’s visit: a bogus equivalence between historical antagonisms so as to produce a sterilising consensus that consigns democratic political conflict to the trashcan of history.

Here’s the thing: why do you think the Thatcherite Chairman of the IFSC should be writing about the need to honour trade unions’ struggle for a more egalitarian society? Presumably part of it boils down to getting across the idea that the ultimate and optimum horizon of an egalitarian society was reached in Ireland a long time ago.

But to look at it more systematically, well, let’s take a bit from García Linera’s La potencia plebeya (translation mine).

In Bruton’s article we see the need to insist on the particular form of State –one that places the interests of financial institutions above the needs of its citizens and promotes the needs of financial citizens as though these were identical to the national interest- as a given. The reconciliation of unionism and nationalism is nothing more than the solidification of the 26 county republic with all the dominant characteristics of that state.

We can see the need, in the insistence of the commemoration of union struggles, to maintain continuity with a particular crystallisation of social forces that emerged at the foundation of the State. (As an aside, I have always found the phrase ‘since the foundation of the State’-put to portentous use by many an Irish politician or businessman- somewhat alien, since no corresponding phrase ever got used in the North of Ireland, it being assumed as a matter of course that Northern Ireland was merely a continuation of what always had been). Hence the importance of establishing an official narrative that somehow threads the struggles of the participants in the Dublin Lockout with the struggle to maintain the IFSC as a tax haven.

What García Linera calls a crisis of state, which might arise out of loss of control over the official narrative as a means of mobilising beliefs, is something Bruton, a key servant of finance capital, evidently fears. Perhaps we should start thinking about how these fears might be best exploited.

Crisis of state

Now, as Norbert Elias has shown, these monopolies that give rise to the State are historical processes that need to be continuously reproduced. This means that the state-based society is not a given, a fixed fact, but a movement. This monopoly of ‘physical force capital’ and of ‘recognition capital’ that gives rise to the State, generates in turn another capital, ‘state capital’, which is a power over the different species of capital (economic, cultural, social, symbolic), over their reproduction and their rates of conversion, meaning that the scenario of social disputes and competition in the State is constituted, deep down, by social confrontations on account of the characteristics, control and directionality of this bureaucratically administered state capital.

Therefore in analytical terms one can discern in the organisation of the State at least three structural components that regulate its functioning, stability and representative capacity. The first is the array of social forces, both ruling and ruled, which define the administrative characteristics and general direction of public policies. Every State is a political synthesis of society, but in hierarchies of coalitions of forces that possess a greater decisive capacity (state-bureaucratic capital), and other forces, composed of groups that have lesser or scant capacity to influence the decision making of major common affairs. In this way, the different state types or forms correspond analytically to the correlation of forces, which are always the result and temporary crystallisation of a short period of intense conflagration, more or less violent, of social forces that contest the reconfiguration of positions and the establishing of positions in control over state capital.

Secondly, there is the system of institutions, of public norms and rules, through which all social forces achieve co-existence, hierarchically, during a lasting period in the political life of a country. Deep down, this normative system of incentives, signals, prohibitions and social guarantees, which is established through institutions, is a form of materialisation of the foundational correlation of forces, which gave rise to a type of state regime, and which, through this institutional frame, is reproduced via legal means.

As a third component of a State regime there is the system of mobilising beliefs. In strict terms, every State, under any of its historical forms, is a structure of categories of perception and common thoughts, capable of bringing about, among social sectors both governing and governed, ruling and ruled, a social and moral conformism over the sense of the world materialised through the cultural repertoires and rituals of the State. When these three components of the political life of a country show vitality and function dependably, we speak of an optimal correspondence between state regime and society. When one or all of these factors stagnate, dilute or break irredeemably, we face a State crisis, manifest in the divorce and antagonism between the political world, its institutions, and the flow of actions by civil organisations.


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