The State of Playpens

One very big political problem is people knowing what they are talking about when they talk about the State. Think about when Charlie Haughey claimed, citing an Elizabethan dramatist putting the words in the mouth of a general in the Venetian state, that he had done the state some service, and how ‘doing the state some service’ has become a popular phrase among political correspondents and anoraks. And then, as I was saying in the previous post, the phrase ‘since the foundation of the State’, the portentous use of which in contemporary Ireland bears resemblance to the storytold humble origins of the corporation in a CEO’s homespun webcast, the week before he announces a massive jobs cull to investors.

Posing the question ‘what is the State?’ seems particularly apt in a week when stewards of the Union of Students in Ireland operated as police alongside An Garda Siochána, linking arms to block people, who had staged a protest outside Fine Gael headquarters, from joining the USI march, as shown in this footage.

These people were calling for free education for everyone. It says a lot about the authoritarian currents running through the Union of Students in Ireland (which, one should add, has been the breeding ground for no small amount of establishment control freaks down the years) that free education -which is not exactly a martian concept, given that it operated for many years in the state north of Dundalk- is perceived as a radical threat. Indeed, it shows a certain symbiosis between faith in representative democracy and authoritarian contempt for democratic expression.

After all, what are these marches but a reverential ritual for a voting fetish? Let’s recall last year’s absurd “I am a vote” chants, which celebrated the reduction of political subjectivity to nothing but the periodic vote. Perhaps the only other thing they achieve -beyond bolstering the government’s legitimacy in conducting its privatisation agenda- is to circulate the idea among the participants that all politics is about is applying the rules of free market competition to the electoral game. It should not be that much of a surprise that this game requires iron discipline and the quelling of dissent to keep the spectacle on the road.

Juan Carlos Monedero, whose work I have translated quite a bit of now, has a series on his website titled Urgent Course in Theory of the State. Here is episode 8.

Power, let us recall, is a social relation. Authors such as Hobbes, Rousseau and, of course, pure liberals such as Locke or Montiesquieu, established the idea that power had a special quality that bestowed credibility on its demand for obedience. Power, in se, was legitimate and it had to be obeyed. Whether from its divine origin, whether representing money or knowledge, or arising from elections that transfer the people’s being onto the rulers.

Spinoza, Machiavelli and Marx, open the doors for understanding that power is a social relation, that is, there is no special quality but a context of relation of forces. Obedience is no longer a given. If those who have to obey no longer do so, the edifice collapses.

In football, understood as a commercial enterprise by and for soccer magnates, everything is set up so that the spectacle generates profit. This is why private security forms part of the commercial operation. Sooner or later, someone spontaneously jumps onto the pitch to send out a message. Whatever it might be. It might even greatly interest those who are looking at the match. It does not matter in the eyes of commercial logic. The security mercenaries intercept him and, as if this were not enough, start to give him a beating. For having interrupted the equation Money-Commodity (in this case football)-Money (that is, increased by profit).

But there are people who do not consent to the lynching and who jump in to defend the spontaneous interloper. Even some of the workers in the spectacle, such as the players. Then others join in. Then more and more. And soon, the emperor is naked. The truncheons, so powerful a few seconds previous, are useless. And the dark outfits, intended to frighten and dehumanise, become the uniform of grotesque clowns. What could have turned out, once again, to be the disciplining of someone who dared to break up the commercial football racket becomes a demonstration of popular solidarity. And the mercenaries are on the end of it, getting a taste of their own medicine. The people, up in arms, occupies the square. The sensation remains, beyond compassion for the mercenaries who have gone from executioners to victims, that justice has been done. If there had been no response, the interloper would have been lynched by the mercenaries and then, we can be quite sure, once again by the State apparatus. 

But the empowered people, when it says enough, puts a halt to all that machinery which, when it gets no response, appears invincible and unquestionable.




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4 responses to “The State of Playpens

  1. alessandro

    Hey I really love this post. good to see such contradictions emerging within the ‘students movement’. by the way, which game does the last video refer to? and also, is there a link where i can find those translations?thanks!!Alessandro

  2. Richard

    Thanks Alessandro. The match is between Benfica (when Trappatoni was manager) and Porto. You can find all the other Monedero pieces here:

  3. grechen035

    I like this post, It is great that at young age, students know their rights. They are like <a href="">football players</a> that are<a href="">inches</a&gt; away from the goal or people who use right strategies to <a href="">play chess</a>.

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