Monthly Archives: December 2011


Where next for Occupy Dame Street? The momentum of the early days has long faded. Go to the website and you see that there have been no meeting minutes published since the General Assembly of the 7th of December. The Twitter hashtag #occupydamestreet never really went anywhere in terms of participants at the site or beyond involving a wider audience in the event. This video below, which has been shared on the Occupy Dame Street Facebook page, shows signs of a camp disintegrating into complete political incoherence:

Let me focus on one small aspect of this footage (which goes on for an agonising 15 minutes): the ‘coffin’ draped in the Irish tricolour. There’s nothing wrong with using imagery associated with death in a political demonstration, as the Spectacle of Defiance and Hope back in December showed, but unless it articulates something coherent- then all you have is death.

The overall picture emerging for an interested but remote onlooker is not great. I listened to a recording of a Philip Boucher-Hayes slot on RTE Drivetime just before Christmas, which featured several voices from the Occupy Dame Street camp (who were all male, along with the presenter and the two parliamentarians brought along to speak their piece). Even if we recognise that the item was shot through with both the patronising smarm and the antagonism disguised as sympathy that are hallmarks of whenever RTE deigns to speak to social movements, the participants did not convey any message that might compel people to believe Occupy Dame Street was or even could be an agent or a catalyst for significant social change. In fact, I get the feeling that if mainstream media outlets are now paying attention, it’s because they get the impression that the site has been adequately decontaminated of any ingredients that might produce any kind of social revolt, and seek to highlight Occupy Dame Street as the exception that proves the (fabricated) rule that Irish people have an in-built aversion to any sort of politics that requires confrontation.

Perhaps the perspective of those down at the camp day in day out, and night in night out, is radically different. Maybe experiences on Dame Street lead the people involved in them to conclude that the occupation there is really going places, and maybe, as a very infrequent visitor, I am completely disconnected from them.

Nonetheless, leaving aside the fact that of late the site seems to have become a music venue of some note (an excellent achievement, to be sure) I don’t see signs of any major public interest in what is going on these days, or of any material or activities that might stimulate such an interest. I know Occupy University is planned to return with renewed focus come the new year, and that will restore additional sense of purpose and continuity to the wider occupied space, but Occupy University in and of itself can’t be expected to generate the political momentum that might make Occupy Dame Street a people’s movement -which is what it claims to be- worth talking about.

It is revealing, I think, that there hasn’t been any statement from Occupy Dame Street further to the one released in early October.

So, whilst ODS rejects the ‘complete control’ of the ECB in dictating economic policy (which leads one to wonder: would it be happy with partial control in dictating economic policy?), it has had nothing to say to the wider public about what the ECB has done since the beginning of October. For instance, a $600bn present to the European banking sector at the expense of the European population.

Nor has it anything to say about the IMF’s call, in its latest report, for ‘efforts to strengthen active labor market policies’ (i.e. harrassment of welfare recipients) or ‘a carefully designed program of public asset disposals’ (i.e. fire sale privatisation).

And it has nothing to say about how there are certain constituencies in Ireland who find common cause with both institutions. It has had nothing to say about the planned introduction of the Household Tax, which is one instance of how, as per the ODS statement, the population of the country are burdened with socialised private bank debt, nor of the campaign against it.

It has had nothing to say about what it might take to nationalise the Corrib gas field, or just what ‘sovereign control’ might mean and entail in the context of oil and gas reserves.

It has had nothing to say about the transfer of effective control over national budgets to unelected European authorities and what the consequences of this might be for ‘real participatory democracy’. But it is not simply a matter of releasing statements: the whole point of occupying public spaces, or at least one of the most important elements, is so that you create a space for conversations about matters such as the ones I mention here to take place, because no other such spaces exist. And then, following on from that, you establish common alliances identify specific actions that might be taken.

I mention all this not to whack occupiers at Dame Street upside the head with a laundry list of things it has failed to do, as though it could be reasonably expected, of the people maintaining the occupation at this moment, that they should have done all these things or are entirely responsible for them not being done. But it does show, I think, that the talk of “revolution”, which I heard on the Drivetime show, is not only utterly detached from reality, but thoroughly disempowering: one of the major propaganda successes of post-war capitalism is to trivialise the idea of revolution, so that it doesn’t mean the overthrow of the existing political and economic system and the introduction of a new one but the release of a new domestic appliance or a cheaper private healthcare plan, or maybe just people out on the streets carrying placards and shouting things.

The course taken by Occupy Dame Street -observed from a distance- has been fairly tortuous so far. If the occupation has not been able to articulate its political convictions effectively, neither has it been able, unfortunately, to demonstrate just how hostile an environment the space around Dame Street is for the people occupying it. The initial general assemblies were consumed with the question of alliance with the Enough campaign and then participation in the Dublin Council of Trade Union march.

What this meant, apart from fostering a fair amount of enmity, was that the degree of public conversation and deliberation that one might have hoped for from such an occupied space did not materialise. That, to my mind, is a major shortcoming of the process thus far. How, in Marxist terms, can you expropriate the expropriators if, in daily life you are expropriated of any capacity (in terms of space, time, language, access to information) to talk about how you are being expropriated and what you can do about it? It strikes me that the answer to this question is not, nor should it ever be: “well let’s hold another protest march, and find out then”.

The outcome of these assemblies seems to have been a loss of support and sympathy from people in the labour movement and on the left, whom a detached onlooker might have expected, at the outset, to play an active role. Also, for many, there seems to have been a discrediting of the consensus decision making process. For my part, I don’t think the fact participation in the DCTU march was blocked can be said to discredit the consensus decision making process, any more than the particular actions of a trade union at a given juncture can be discredit trade unions. But no matter: it strikes me that if Occupy Dame Street is to live up to what it sets forth in its initial statement, if -a massive if- it is to operate as, or spur on, a people’s movement, there are probably bridges to be rebuilt on account of all this.

They are hosting a Dark Side of the Moon meditation in the Occupy Dame Street yurt on New Year’s Day. Though I’ll be out of town that day, I would sooner attend a waterboarding session (well, not really, but I am not a Pink Floyd person). My own meditation amounts to this: Occupy Dame Street should start focusing on the Dark Side of the Camp, which is to say, the massive building towering over the yellow kitchen. ‘Occupy Dame Street’ is fine as a nod to ‘Occupy Wall Street’, but Dame Street isn’t Wall Street, nor is it Ireland’s financial district.

But the camp is parked right outside the Central Bank. The Central Bank ‘is responsible for maintaining price stability in Ireland through the implementation of ECB decisions on monetary policy’, which is to say, it is responsible for keeping wages depressed through the implementation of decisions made by unelected stooges of the European banking lobby. Thus it is a key instrument in the inflicting of austerity on the Irish population.

Therefore, it is presently an instrument of class war. Shouldn’t the occupiers start thinking about that, and telling people about it? One of the virtues of the occupation outside the Central Bank at Dame Street is that it impinges visually and conceptually on the terrain of the state. And if the demand is for ‘real participatory democracy’- shouldn’t that entail democratic control over the banking system? What, we might ask, is the point of demanding sovereign control over oil and gas and not demanding sovereign control over banking? Shouldn’t real participatory democracy entail collective decisions over what to invest and how to invest it? Wouldn’t it be a good idea to get the public involved in discussions about these things right down at the site of the Central Bank?

What there is with the occupation at Dame Street is a weird variation of that old Irish joke about the man who goes into a pub and asks for directions and the publican says “well sur, if I was going there, I wouldn’t be starting from here”: Occupy Dame Street started off at the right destination, but seems to keep looking for somewhere else to go instead. How does ‘Occupy Central Bank’ or ‘Occupy Central Banks’ sound? Provided people don’t think that ‘Occupy’ is now passé, I think it’s worth a shot.




Filed under Uncategorized

What is at stake

One of the major achievements of the political and media establishments in Ireland has been to maintain a dominant frame in which people in Ireland conceive of relations with the rest of Europe. The political class elevates its own importance through sounds and images from important meetings and summits that it attends, supposedly on behalf of the population. Then, on return from these get-togethers, it pours forth accounts, through the media, of what ‘our European partners’ are thinking, and in particular, what they are thinking about Ireland. This in turn has a large bearing on how political correspondents, radio phone-in show presenters, and assorted experts, present and answer questions about what to do about Europe.

A useful, if simplified analogy would be the worker in a hierarchical firm who is dependent on his immediate superior to communicate what the boss higher up wants. This situation confers the immediate superior with power over the worker in that whenever the worker makes a request, he can turn down the request on the grounds that the boss higher up will not countenance it. He may even dominate the worker by ingratiating himself, placing himself on the side of the worker, not the big boss – “If it were up to me, we’d give it to you at the drop of a hat, but unfortunately my hands are tied by what the boss is saying” – and sharing in the worker’s frustrations, whilst simultaneously carrying out the boss’s orders, thereby perpetuating the domination.


image via.

This kind of analogy helps us understand the matter-of-fact arrogance with which Michael Noonan announced that any referendum vote on account of the recent negotiations between EU member states would be a vote on whether Ireland should remain in the euro. The population has no way of seeing what is going on behind closed doors in Brussels (or any of the other chambers where the decisions of the powerful are made). The statements issued by EU institutions when you read them, are addressed not to the citizens but to ‘the markets’.

In this vacuum, the appearance of additional power gravitates towards national politicians, who are only too happy to think of themselves as the emissaries of the people, temporarily free of the mild suspicion that circulates from time to time in Ireland they are actually representing Ireland’s owning class. Hence stentorian declarations about protecting ‘our’ corporation tax, which mainly benefits the IFSC, and politicians talking about themselves as canny poker players.

How does this situation shape the way people in Ireland think about Europe? First, I think the feeling of living in an island nation at a risk of drifting away from the rest of Europe -or being punished by Europe- is maintained.

Second, people are led into conflating ‘Europe’ -the people living within its borders- with the institutions of the European Union. Thus the interests of hundreds of millions of workers are decoupled from the interests of Irish workers, despite the interests of both coming under attack from a common set of political and financial institutions.

Third, the perception solidifies that when Michael Noonan opens his mouth in an ECOFIN meeting, or when any other politician goes off on international business, he is serving something that goes by the name of the ‘national interest’, which need not be called into question, Said ‘national interest’ is habitually presented as the interest of the Irish people (often, we are led to understand, in competition with the interests of other peoples) but is in fact the specific interest of the Irish owning classes. In this way the political and economic crisis is depoliticised -in that conflicts of interest within the Irish State are effaced- and nationalised in that people are led to conceive of merely national solutions to the crisis, as discussed by expert economists on TV and radio but, in the final analysis, only in terms of how the interests of the Irish owning classes might be served.


This was nicely illustrated the other night on Pat Kenny’s egregious Front Line show on RTE in an edition designed to truss up emigration as some sort of bittersweet eternal curse cast on the Irish people, where an elderly man -who was outraged at the injustice brought about by the crisis- spoke about how ‘Ireland’ – ‘we’ – were engaged in a ‘game of cards’ with ‘Germany’ (as though Angela Merkel and the banking sector were acting on behalf of unemployed workers in Duisburg and Dortmund).

Out of this depoliticised conception of the crisis comes a brutal simplification of the idea of democracy: that all it is about is ‘national sovereignty’: in reality, the sovereign activity of the owning class of the State; and of restoring power to elected representatives. According to this logic, people must endure unemployment, the threat of unemployment, wage cuts and the withdrawal of vital public services, and the continued profitability of the IFSC and pharmaceutical firms in the place of an industrial policy that served the needs of the people, as a means of restoring to Brendan Howlin and Alan Shatter the full complement of powers to act on the people’s behalf.


There was an interesting detail in a Fintan O’Toole article in the Irish Times on Saturday:  the RTÉ Authority, in preparation for the 50th anniversary of the Easter Rising in 1966, decided that ‘the rebellion should be portrayed as “a nationalist and not a socialist rising”. The committee decided, moreover, that the overall approach to the commemoration should be “idealistic and emotional” rather than “interpretive and analytical”’

This is as good an illustration as any of how the nationalism of Irish ruling elites has operated as a bulwark against the socialist revolutionary nationalism in the tradition of James Connolly and others, according to which ‘the struggle of Ireland for freedom is part of the worldwide upward movement of the toilers of the earth’ and ‘‘the emancipation of the working class carries within it the end of all tyranny – national, political and social’. A danger for the Irish population, in the era of post-sovereign States, is that the former -which nowadays hinges on ideas about the Best Little Country In The World In Which To Do Business And Out Of Which To Keep Asylum Seekers, as though all independence from Empire means is running a successful carve-out- be allowed to efface conclusively the history of the latter.

In his essay In Defence Of The Word, Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano writes (and I apologise for my rough translation):


Our true collective identity is born out of the past and is nourished by it – prints in which our feet walk a path, steps that predict our walking in the here and now – but it is not crystallised in nostalgia. We will not, by the way, find our hidden face in the artificial perpetuation of dress, customs and souvenirs that tourists demand from defeated peoples. We are what we do, and especially what we do to change what we are: our identity lives in action and in struggle. Hence the revelation of what we are involves denouncing what stops us from being what we can be. We define ourselves out of the confrontation and in opposition to the obstacle.


However if Galeano’s observation is to serve any purpose, I don’t think this sort of endeavour should merely entail anxiously conjuring up the spirits of the past to its service, that is, it should not only be a question of recovering merely Irish historical memory of struggle -however important that might be- but the ‘we’ needs to recognise how the histories of so many different peoples have become intertwined over the last decades.

For the present moment, this means, at the very least, recognising and acting upon the fact that the fate of people living in Ireland is intimately intertwined with that of hundreds of millions of workers across Europe, because they are confronted with common obstacles. These obstacles include: voracious financial institutions that speculate against the debt of sovereign states while demanding ever greater sacrifices from their peoples, through privatisations and the dismantling of welfare states; anti-democratic European institutions stuffed with former, present and future financial sector stooges; a pan-European security apparatus designed to monitor, police and discipline the wrong kinds of migrant; and political castes who run with the local hare but hunt with the European hounds. It will not do, in light of this, to resort merely to the politics of the last throw of the dice, which functions as a convenient cop-out from committed internationalism.

What follows is a piece by Boaventura de Sousa Santos, which appeared in Spanish in Rebelión. It is mainly about the current situation in Portugal, but could just as well apply to Ireland. In it, de Sousa Santos considers what has visibly changed in light of the present European crisis, stresses the need for a recognition of common struggles on the part of everyone in Europe who is interested in a democratic solution to the impending disaster, and sets forth two scenarios that may provide a basis for light at the end of the tunnel.

An open question, which will need to be answered fairly soon: how might the peoples of the countries of Europe that are ‘in difficulties’ exert pressure so as to change the institutional framework of the European Union in short order? And from a local perspective: can Irish people play their part in this to any significant degree?  I am inclined to pessimism, but -in light of a potential referendum vote- couldn’t say for sure. It would depend a lot on whether the case for a ‘No’ vote could be made in such a way that cast aside both the bogus ‘national interest’ -and the scaremongering of isolation- articulated by Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil, the Labour Party, the most compliant sections of the trade union movement, IBEC, astroturf civil society groups, RTE and the Irish Times on the one hand, and the reactionary right-wing sludge that gets given pride of place as a means of crowding out leftist and internationalist perspectives on the other. 

What is at stake


Composure has been lost. The deepening of the crisis in Europe has made possible a new radicalism and a new transparency. Until a short while back, positions considered as radical were those opposed to the intervention and prescriptions of the troika, for reasons of sovereignty, democracy, and based the suspicion that the crisis was the pretext for the right to implement in Portugal the “shock policies” of privatisations, including those of health and education. In light of the Greek disaster, they proposed the rejection of the memorandum of understanding or demanded a public debt audit in order to eliminate part of the illegitimate or even illegal debt. They were considered radical because they questioned the survival of the Euro, they discredited Portugal in the European and international context and because, if put into practice, they would lead to social disaster, which is precisely what was intended to be avoided with the referendum.

The deepening of the crisis has brought about a new radicalism which, paradoxically, and in contrast to the previous radicalism, originates in strict conformity with the logic that governs the troika and the memorandum. Commentators from the Financial Times and politicians from countries in the north of Europe call for the end of the Euro because, in the end, the “Euro is the problem”; they propose one Euro for the more developed countries and another for those less developed; they hold that a controlled exit from the Euro on the part of Greece (or other countries, it is implied) may not be such a bad idea; and they call, lastly, for the continuation of the Euro, on the condition that indebted countries are completely subordinated to the financial control of Germany (federalization without democracy). In other words, radicalism currently has two sides, and this perhaps provides us with a new transparency with regard to what is at stake and what is in our interest.

The transparency of what is left out is as important as that of what is being said. This is due to the fact that, in both cases, underlying interests have been uncovered.

The transparency of what is omitted. First, it is not possible to return to “normality” within the current European institutional framework. Within this framework, the European Union is on an inevitable path to its decomposition. Italy will be followed by Spain and France. Secondly, the austerity policies, besides being socially unjust, are not only ineffective, but are also counterproductive. No-one can pay their debts by producing less, and so, after these measures will come other measures even more severe, until the people (and let us not be afraid of this word), beaten and desperate, say enough. Thirdly, the financial markets, dominated as they are by speculation, will never compensate the Portuguese, the Greeks or the Irish for the sacrifices they have made, since the inadequacy of these sacrifices is what feeds the profits of speculative investment. Without controlling the dynamics of speculation, by waiting for the world to do what can and must begin to be done in Europe alone, the social disaster will come about either way, whether the way of obedience or the way of disobedience to the markets.

The transparency of what is in our interest. I am talking about the Portuguese, though the “we” includes the 99% of the citizens and all the immigrants in the south of Europe, as well as all those Europeans for whom a Europe of nationalisms is a Europe at war and for whom democracy is a good so precious that it only has meaning if it is democratically distributed. Any solution that tries to minimise the approaching disaster must be a European solution, that is, a solution articulated, at the very least, with several countries in the euro.

There are two possible solutions. The first, called Scenario A, consists of exerting pressure along with the rest of the countries ‘in difficulties’ in order to change, in the short term, the institutional framework of the European Union in order to arrive at a mutual accord with regard to the debt and to federalise democracy. Among other things, this implies conferring more power to the European Parliament, making the Commission accountable to it and directly electing the presidency. It also implies a European industrial policy and seeking out trade imbalances within Europe. For example, shouldn’t Germany, which exports so much to the rest of Europe, import more from the rest of Europe, abandoning the mercantilism of its unending search for trade surpluses? To make this possible, an intra-European customs and trade preferences policy is required, as well as a refounding of the World Trade Organisation (today a walking cadaver), in the sense of beginning to build the international model of co-operation of the future: global and regional accords that, progressively and to the measure of what is possible, ensure that the places of consumption coincide with the places of production.

Also required is a prudent financial regulation at a European level that envisages a post-neoliberal mandate for the European Central Bank (more powers of intervention based in a greater democratic control over its structure and functioning). This solution frontally opposes the authoritarian solution proposed by Germany, which consists in placing all countries under German tutelage in exchange for Eurobonds or some other mechanism of Europeanising the debt. This surrender to German imperialism would mean that in Europe only those who have money have a right to democracy.

Scenario A is very demanding. It would entail that, immediately, and despite the limitations of the current mandate, the European Central Bank should take on a far more active role in guaranteeing the period of transition. However, prudence recommends foreseeing and seriously considering the failure of this hypothetical scenario. For this reason, we must begin to prepare scenario B as soon as possible, an exit from the euro, either alone or with other countries, making the argument that, as shown by the facts, with it, inequalities between countries have not ceased to widen. The debt audit would be a signal of the seriousness of our proposal. The social costs of solution B are not higher than the costs of failure of solution A and, at a minimum, they allow us to see a light at the end of the tunnel.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized


The appointment of former secretary general of the Department of Justice Seán Aylward to the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture was described by the Justice for Magdalenes group as ‘a slap in the face to women who have suffered in Ireland’s Magdalene Laundries‘. This was on account of his appearance in a United Nations Committee Against Torture examination in June, when he stated that ‘the vast majority of women who went to these institutions went there voluntarily, or if they were minors, with the consent of their parents or guardians’.

There are a few mentions of Seán Aylward in the Wikileaks cables from Ireland. They are of some relevance to Aylward’s appointment.

Welcomes judicial verdict of US client state with atrocious human rights record

From an account of a meeting held between Mitchell Reiss, the then special envoy to Northern Ireland, and Irish government officials, on December 16, 2004.

During the meeting, news of the conviction of the “Colombia Three” came in; unlike later statements from the Foreign Minister, McDowell and Aylward shed no tears at the news that the three IRA members were convicted and given a 17-year sentence by Colombian courts.

Here are a couple of quotes from the Amnesty International report on Colombia from 2004, published seven months before Aylward’s meeting with Reiss:

Human rights defenders, peace activists and trade unionists who exposed abuses committed by the parties to the armed conflict were themselves killed, attacked, threatened and arbitrarily detained. Scores endured ongoing surveillance as well as raids on their offices or homes. In several instances, military intelligence information gathered by the security forces resulted in spurious criminal investigations of activities in connection with their legitimate human rights activities.


Women were victims of extrajudicial executions, arbitrary and deliberate killings, and “disappearances”. They were often targeted because of their role as activists and leaders campaigning for human rights, peace or socio-economic alternatives or because they were members of communities in conflict zones.

Tells US that Irish NGOs have interest in exaggerating human trafficking.

From a meeting held 19th June 2008 with Ambassador Thomas C. Foley

Aylward noted that Irish NGOs — from which much of the data in the TIP report was obtained — maintained a high profile, which created a institutional interest in highlighting — and sometimes even exaggerating — the TIP problem. Aylward went on to note, however, that relations between the Irish Government and the NGOs dealing with TIP isles were generally good. (Note: The Irish Government provides funds to the NGO Ruhama to provide services to victims of trafficking. End note.)

In opposing resettlement of detainees to Ireland, expresses fears that “virulently left-wing” elements would “parade” resettled Guantánamo detainees round Ireland.

From a meeting held July 15, 2008 with EUR/WE Office Director Pamela Spratlen

Taking a tough tone and more strident approach, Aylward, the chief advisor to the Minister of Justice, was much more explicit, stating that he would advise against accepting any detainees. He claimed that Dermot Gallagher, Secretary General of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Montgomery’s boss, agreed with him. Aylward‘s primary reason for opposing the request was that he feared that “virulently left-wing” elements of the media would “capture” resettled detainees and “parade” them around the country and in the media as “political theater” to showcase their fringe views of American wrongdoing. He said that such action would whip up anti-American sentiment and would be harmful for U.S.-Irish relations.

Explains change of Ireland stance on detainees in light of Obama announcement to close Guantánamo, cites fears of “hysterical anti-American reaction”

From communications with the Embassy on January 22, 2009

The President’s announced intention to close Guantanamo provided the incentive Ireland needed to re-consider whether it would accept detainees and created the cover Ireland required to defuse any “hysterical anti-American reaction” caused by the appearance of detainees in Ireland.

Opposes resettlement of Palestinian Guantánamo detainees

From meeting held February 9, 2009 with Ambassador Clint Williamson

Palestinian detainees might link up with other radical Palestinians in Ireland to plot terrorist attacks in third countries. (Note: He flatly refused to consider taking Palestinians. End note.)

Fears families of resettled detainees might become radicalised.

From a meeting held February 9, 2009 with Ambassador Clint Williamson

[Aylward argued that] the cost of social services and resettlement programs for detainees would be high. In addition, the detainees would likely be followed by family members, who would create additional welfare and resettlement costs — and could themselves become radicalized.

Fears ‘leftist’ and ‘anti-American’ reaction in Ireland to resettlement

From meeting held February 9, 2009 with Ambassador Clint Williamson

it was possible that leftist and anti-American elements in Ireland would publicly display the detainees as examples of American aggression in order to drum up anti-American sentiment, though Aylward acknowledged that much of the Ireland’s “anti-American” sentiment had been “anti-Bush administration” sentiment, which has now dissipated.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Darker Days, Brighter Days

It isn’t looking great for Europe at the minute. The latest steps agreed by European heads of government are intended to dismantle European welfare states in order to satisfy the banking sector. The European Central Bank is not a central bank at all but an instrument, commanded by a Goldman Sachs stooge, for enrichment of the banking sector and impoverishment of the working classes of Europe. Sometime soon the pretence of democracy will be dispensed with altogether [postscript: it was suggested to me this morning that ”any pretence at democracy” was fully dispensed with in the week a far right party fascist was appointed Minister for Infrastructure by the unelected Greek Prime Minister and the entire Italian cabinet was appointed, unelected, by an unelected Financial Consultant’, and I find it hard to disagree]. Communiqués that emanate from these summits are never addressed to the peoples of Europe, but to the ‘markets’, which is to say, the banks.

It was always Fine Gael’s intention that when it took power it would sign up to the institutionalised austerity demanded by the European authorities. As Paul Mason noted the other day, this entails the outlawing of expansionary fiscal policy: the authorities had ‘done what the US Republicans would like to do – and if you think about it, it has made what Gordon Brown did, and what Barack Obama (and indeed Wen Jia-bao) is doing illegal‘. If there is a referendum, the pressure brought to bear on the Irish population, so that it does not lapse once again into delinquency, will be immense. This is why national and international authorities will desperately seek to circumvent a referendum, and why anyone with the remotest interest in democracy will demand it, and then vote No, of course.

In previous referenda, political and media establisments have sought to portray opponents of the constitutional amendments among the general population as recalcitrant xenophobes and swivel-eyed bumpkins. This has always been carried without the slightest concern at the anti-democratic nature of the edifice under construction in Europe.

In fact, quite a number welcomed the anti-democratic bit: the Irish population’s congenital deficiencies were such that representative democracy was wasted on them, so it was better for Europe to exercise a firm hand. If there is a referendum, and given the experience of the recent aborted Greek referendum in terms of how that country got leaned on to pack in the silly ideas and get with the technocratic programme, it is a pretty big if, it will be interesting to see if this taste for the strong hand to rule over us blooms into a full-blown fascist reverence to those above and contempt for those below.

Well, the chickens will come home to roost sometime soon, and it won’t be pretty. Dark days await the broad mass of people living and working in Europe on the back of what has been agreed this weekend by professional politicians with one eye on the revolving door that leads to the consultancy position with the investment bank or the lobbying firm. Meanwhile, there are other places where the future looks distinctly brighter, and we in Europe should seek to learn from them and their struggles. The translated piece below, about the newly formed Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) is by Juan Carlos Monedero, and was published in Público early last week.

CELAC is born, Europe agonises

Sarkozy, Merkel, Rajoy are talking about the continent. They speak of banks, cutbacks, social sacrifices. They have forgotten about Europe. Or they never understood it. They started off in the politics of politicians. And when you are socialised in those rules, you can never find the way out. You have to be shown by the people in the street.

José Mujica, President of Uruguay, is speaking with Chavez and Morales in the CELAC meetings. He says with old conviction and urgent anger: “Either pregnant women in our countries eat well or their children will be saddled with the problem all their lives!”


People’s pain. Pain of old that landed Mujica in prison. And Dilma Roussef, and García Linera, and Raúl Castro, and Hugo Chávez.


And hundreds of thousands more like them. Prison, death, opprobium. But in the end they won. They went into politcs from the street. Guerillas turned into government.

Europe has kings, nuclear weapons, international banks, risk premiums and promises of interminable working days. In South America they talk about breaking with a north that has invaded them, robbed their gas and petrol, minerals, fruit and plants. A north that has ransacked their airlines, trains, communications, soil and water. With the help of a criollo oligarchy, white and eternal, that holidayed in Miami, Paris and Madrid. The birth of CELAC was full of black people who are shadows no longer.

33 countries, 600 million people, the world’s reserve of petrol, gas and water, of biodiversity, of ancestral cultures. Neither China nor Europe understand Mother Earth. In Latin America they do. In CELAC they talk about the Pachamama. Another task for the American South that will not get resolved elsewhere.

The Organisation of American States, said Che, was the Ministry of US Colonies. They expelled Cuba after the revolution, and the continent remained silent. It remained silent when they launched the coup against Allende. It remained silent in the coup against Chávez. It showed its impotence in the coup against Honduras. Now, it has recovered its voice and it no longer needs gendarmes. Making decisions in the south about the problems of the south.


Europe was created on the ashes of fascism. The CELAC, on the ashes of neoliberalism. Without Hitler, there would be no European Union. Without the US, there would be no CELAC. Chávez understood this and he climbed up onto Bolívar’s horse to point the finger at the north for its responsibility and its threat. Hence Mr Danger. Hence Pitiyankis. This is why it had to smell like sulphur in the United Nations. So that the continent would waken up. To see the one who does not let you be who you are.

Europe had a lot and it is losing it. Latin America had nearly nothing and it is making up ground. Europe is plunged in fear. America, in hope. Its birth has just started. It has everything ahead of it. It is breathing in to take the leap. Europe is out of puff. Europe sighs, America fills its lungs with oxygen. With the same wood, you can make coffins or violins.

The CELAC is born with the will to be. It has a grip on its problems. To aim at broadening rather than deepening is generous. To seat at the same table as who could be the US’s Israel in the region – Colombia-, the country condemned to share thousands of kilometres of border -Mexico- or the government that cannot speak ill of Pinochet -Chile- is a challenge even if only for the invitation to these rulers to turn their gaze back to the South. In Europe, the core is made up of the most selfish -Germany and France- in the CELAC, the most disinterested: those of the ALBA.

The poet wrote: in Europe, the dove of peace was eaten by the hen that laid the golden eggs. [No idea what poet he’s on about] In South America, colorful birds take flight and oblige you to lift your gaze high.



Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Get Back

There are so many things taking place simultaneously at different levels in relation to the economic and political crisis that it is difficult not to get overwhelmed and sucked into a sort of paralysis.

Here are a few notes on one level: that of the recent budget. I will look at a different level tomorrow. The consequences of this budget will be immense for huge swathes of the population. The cumulative destruction of these budgets makes it difficult for many people to talk about resistance to the policies behind them, because they are forced to see things in terms of the urgent matter of simply being able to cope with the additional burden that they have to shoulder as a result of incomes slashed, services withdrawn, and additional charges.

Alongside this, tens of thousands of jobs eliminated on account of cuts to capital expenditure and public sector employment.  But a huge amount of public attention was drawn towards the disability allowance cut, which was then rescinded by the government after public reaction on the State broadcaster showed that the measure would prove highly unpopular. Liveline broadcast a call yesterday with the parent of a person who receives disability allowance, talking about how Enda Kenny had phoned him personally, on his way into the Dáil chamber for the budget speech, after he had complained about the cut on Liveline the previous day. The presenter, Joe Duffy, asked the usual questions intended to humanise the politician and quell any sort of tendency to question things in systemic terms. The effect was to give the impression of government politicians who were under such pressure to make cuts that they made an honest mistake, which they duly corrected when popular pressure was exerted. Which is exactly what the government would have wanted.

Ever higher unemployment, spurred on by cuts in public sector jobs, will keep wages depressed and force people into accepting worsened job conditions. Often passed over in the discourse of public sector ‘reform’, especially among those who signed up to the Croke Park agreement, is that the agreed elimination of public sector jobs will weaken the labour movement even further since it will mean fewer union members and fewer subscriptions and therefore less funds for mounting campaigns to protect working conditions. It therefore becomes easier to launch attacks against the labour movement. Howlin’s announcement that the numbers employed in the public service in 2015 will be 88% of 2008 levels, which amounts to a massive weakening of organised labour, has only strengthened the baying for more blood. Is there any public discussion of this at all?

It was striking to see how the government was able to manage public perception of the budget over the past couple of days. First of all, by spreading the budget across two days, the long established format for reporting on the budget and the routine for consuming news about it were dispensed with. The budget was presented as a bid for independence, and liberation from the millstone placed around the country’s neck by the previous Fianna Fáil-led governments. Remarkably, Michael Noonan invoked Richard Mulcahy and the Treaty in rationalising the austerity budget. For Ireland to ‘get back her purse’, in Mulcahy’s phrase, it would have to undergo the programme prescribed by the IMF and the European authorities.


There was a not-so-subtle subtext to this: if the (presumably imperfect, onerous) Treaty was the means by which Ireland had its sovereignty restored (whatever the hell that means ), then it was the path of austerity budgets that would restore its sovereignty in the future. In terms of dissenters, well, when push came to shove, Richard Mulcahy authorised the summary execution of anti-Treaty activists, including Liam Mellows.


Mellows had written from jail that ‘the commercial interest, so called, money and the gombeen men are on the side of the Treaty’. The government, with the help of a compliant broadcast and print meda, has managed to hide the fact that a similar story pertains in 2011. That is, that the owning class in Ireland favours the conditions imposed by the IMF and the European authorities, because they make the Irish workforce more ‘competitive’ (i.e. poor); because a tax regime with an emphasis on taxes on consumption and indirect taxation favours the rich; because labour market ‘activation’ measures (i.e. victimising and harassing the unemployed) make individuals, not institutions, responsible for their unemployment; because the strangulation of the State through debt repayment means the destruction of policies that ensure social solidarity; because public services should be sold off for private profit; and so on and so forth.

Enda Kenny is in Marseille today, meeting with many heads of the European People’s Party, the European parliamentary grouping RTE this morning described –as per the grouping’s own description- ‘centre-right’ parties. The ‘centre’ is an interesting dab of antiseptic, given that the parties involved are pursuing revanchist policies that would have stoked the wet dreams of only the most right wing members of Margaret Thatcher’s cabinets. Many members of these parties advocate racist policies. Many others have fascist heritage and sympathies. In a Europe where what little susceptibility to democratic politics there was in European institutions is being eliminated, they are highly dangerous.


1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized


Juan Carlos Monedero writes about the poor prospects for the political left in light of the recent Partido Popular victory and suggests that although Izquierda Unida may operate as a disruptive force within the parliamentary system, the focus, given the collapse of representative democracy and unions caught up in the logic of the neoliberal state, ought to be on broad civil society mobilisation against the prolonged onslaught that shows no end in sight.

Road Map for a Shipwrecked Left

The attitude of the left following the elections is reminiscent of the story of the madman who, on release from the asylum, went out to the country to shoot at ducks without a rifle. After his surprise on seeing one drop from the air, the madman stammered as he held it in his hands: “but I don’t have a rifle..”. The duck, opening an eye, whispered: “you swine, that was some fright you gave me”.

The elections are the fictional rifle in the hands of a representative democracy unable to provide answers. Left wing politics has taken on, unnecessarily, the role of the duck.  The asylum is opened and closed by Goldman Sachs, and the field where this encounter takes place is none other than the incompatibility between democracy and an economic model that continues to shout “you have no say in this” and “we must do what we must do”. The important question then: why is the left playing dead?


The PP has had a very modest result – just 560,000 new votes and less than Zapatero in 2008. That the PP has no programme worth talking about is the opinion not only of 7 out of 10 Spanish citizens who did not vote for it, but also of “the markets”. Never has an absolute majority left a country so cold. The markets, who know that more austerity means more recession, play things safe. The economic right-wing never gave up Marxism.

The PSOE has crashed, but there is little deep reflection in the wake of its debacle. For how many years how have militant socialists been swapping ideological debate for the justification of policies that lost any whiff of socialism? The monarchy, industrial reconversion, NATO, Maastricht, the Parties Law, labour reforms… losing 4 million votes is not bad going, though if one thinks about the 5 million unemployed, the evictions, the ups and downs, youth unemployment, internal disunity, the submissiveness to the scolding from the German Panzerdivision, the constitutional reform, the labour counter-reform, the loans to banks or the ceding of Rota [naval base at Cádiz ceded to NATO for the naval component of its anti-missile shield], one might repeat what Girondo said, that knowing Van Gogh, the strange thing is not that he cut off one of his ears but that he didn’t cut off the other one too. A floor of 7 million is surprising.

The enormous relative increase in seats for Izquierda Unida can only produce a burst of happiness if it comes with a blindfold applied to one’s consciousness. Barely 12% of the votes lost by the PSOE. The 1.7 million votes is still some way off the 2 million of yesteryear, despite the rise in population, the economic crisis, the 15-M and the thoroughgoing refusal of the socialist PSOE to be socialist.

The 15-M heralded a growing generational gap. Can the left be reinvented by those who cast it to one side? There is a viciousness in the González [Felipe, former socialist PM] old guard against Zapatero that almost casts him as a sympathetic figure. Izquierda Unida also has problems in connecting with new generations. The ones who, there is no longer any doubt, will live worse than their parents. What does the left have to offer them? Resignation? We do not have any answer yet as to why Islamism is able to represent discontent in the Arab world whilst in Europe the left is incapable of winning political power with a radical programme. A vacuum that calls forth responses from beyond party-based formations. A moment for extra-parliamentary governance?

The shipwreck of the left also affects the unions. The mere possibility that an ex-secretary of CCOO [Comisiones Obreras] should be Minister for Labour with the PP shows the drift in organisations necessary for workers but which have been chained to the logic of the system. Just as with the parties, they have wound up cartelised within rigid norms, outside of which, they think, all is winter.

The fight between Chacón and Rubalcaba might keep the PSOE entertained, though do they really represent something different? Two ministers of the same government that promised one thing and did another. Our democracy is ripe for facing a question: what is the PSOE left waiting for in order to move ahead with the creation of a new empancipatory formation?

The response, however, is not simple. IU is not attractive enough. Not enough to invite the 15-M to reinvent politics. Will it now have the generosity that it did not before to open up to real changes? Will it take advantage of its growth to have the benevolence it lacked and build a practice out of the refoundation? Will it be the gap of the system within the system?

The problem, at any rate, is not that there will be social and wage cutbacks, savage mortgages, the end of collective agreements, privatisations, tax hikes for the popular classes (all that fascism attempted to do but failed) but that the left is still thinking in applying sticking plasters to the cracks in a dam.

If we are witnessing a change of social contract in Spain and in Europe, we must go back to the places where social contracts are re-elaborated. These spaces are in civil society, in the critical press, in social centres, universities, high schools, offices, factories and squares. It is a moment for setting in gear popular constituent platforms (mesas populares constituyentes) that debate the main elements of the new model. Platforms where anyone who shares the need to lay new foundations for coexistence, at a moment of exhaustion for representative democracy and for neoliberal capitalism, aggravated by the arrival at the model of other countries –China, Brazil or Russia- and at a moment of ecological crisis.

Once the daydreaming with Brussels comes to an end, it is time to think what is our international point of entry after the dismantling of industry. Also in our energy and ecological deficits, in our growing inequalities and the need to find ways out that do not entail sinking other peoples. For this, we need a citizenry with courage. If the political left is happy to remain on the raft of the castaways, should the compass not be set for a social left with greater ambitions?

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Meaning of Merkozy

Translation of a piece by Manuel Castells, from a short while ago, on the secretive anti-democratic arrogance of EU elites, and how self-serving politicians use the terrain afforded them by EU institutions to boost their stature, and also on how leaving the euro is no big deal, really (sort of). Strip the politicians of their power, ditch the euro, get on with building a life lived in common.

Whom does the euro serve?

There is no longer any doubt about the anti-democratic mood in the European Union. Papandreou’s proposal to ask his fellow citizens if they would accept living in Spartan austerity in order to pay with Euros unleashed a financial and political storm which amid threats and insults from Merkozy and Cameron caused the Greek government crisis and turned the country upside down?


What is wrong with people deciding about their health, their education and their employment? Are these subjects too complex for the rabble? Let’s not get carried away, some of us are more qualified than the mandarins. I, along with a few colleagues, shall commit to explaining very clearly to citizens what the euro is about, who benefits from it and who is harmed by it, and what the different possible options are, including sending the euro back to Brussels. On the condition, naturally, that we have the same information that financiers and rulers have access to. The problem is not one of complexity, but of democracy. What politicians fear most in these days is that they get occupied, that they get stripped of that delegated power which they hold onto via a controlled mechanism of choices between options locked within systemic limits and legitimated by the media. A referendum, while not a perfect form of popular decision, opens up a range of possibilities, as long as it is conducted cleanly. What a sight to see European political advisors advising that if there was going to be a referendum it should be done with an intelligent question, that is, biased towards what suits. There is deep elitist arrogance and repulsion towards the will of the people, however much they might try to hide it. Because even if the people make a mistake, they have the right to make it. The time of those who saved us because we did not know what we were doing has passed.


It is not really a matter of saving the people, but of saving the euro, as though this were the same thing. Why is there so much interest? And from whom? Because ten of the 27 EU member states live without the euro and some of their economies (UK, Sweden, Poland) are a lot more solid than the Union average. To defend the Euro until the last Greek is the first line of defence for a currency that is doomed because it covers divergent economies and it has no state to support it.

With Portugal and Ireland in the intensive care unit, Spain hanging by a thread and Italy in a permanent political crisis and in debt up to the ears of its histrionic former leader, the Franco-German defence of the Euro has other explanations than the horror story they tell us about the financial catastrophe that would entail devastating effects in our daily lives as if life depended on the stock market. The first reason is obvious: saving banks, especially German and French ones, which made loans without guarantees to Greece and other PIGS via the manipulation of accounts which, at least in the case of Greece, was carried out by Goldman Sachs’s consultants (by the way, it must be a mere coincidence that Draghi, the brand new ECB president was also an employee of Goldman Sachs). For starters they have to forget about 50% of Greece’s debt, although it is not clear who will end up paying for it. If Greece were to renounce the debt, as Iceland which is doing so well did, a drachma devalued by 60% would make the rest of the debt unpayable. Furthermore, the contagion effect in financial markets would lead to the non-payment of a large part of sovereign debt, sending into bankruptcy those banks that took advantage of the euro to lend without solvency.

So, it is about saving certain banks, and in broader terms, avoiding a new crisis in the financial system. Countries are driven to bankruptcy so banks don’t have to? But why are they doing this? At the end of the day, the Merkozys are not banking sector employees. They have their political interests, country-wise and personally. Germany is the one that really needs the euro to be the European currency and for its partners to be unable to devalue. Because the German model of growth is really the Chinese one: to grow via exports helped by an undervalued currency and cut wages (down by 2% in real terms in the last five years). If there were a strong euro-mark, Germany would lose markets in Europe and competitiveness vis-à-vis Spanish or Italian exports. But there is another political-personal dimension: both Merkel and Sarkozy need to establish their European leadership as much for reasons of internal politics as for plans for national greatness that have to be disguised as European so as not to rouse old phantoms. And the other European political elites? Something similar is happening, their personal importance and that of their country is raised by being the tail of the European lion, since the mouse-like insignificance of their backyard is too small for them. To feel European, in a world in transit from North America to Asia, gives them the impression of being something more than the smalltown products of the party apparatus for which they have so much contempt.

What about us in all this? It is true that the financial debacle that arrival of the euro-peseta will cause (there is no typo in the tense of the verb) will cause transition problems in the economy and in our pockets, in conditions that depend on how the transition comes about. But sovereignty over economic policy will be regained, monetary and financial reality will be adjusted to the real economy, competitiveness will rise, gaining external and internal markets, there will be an explosion of tourism at knockdown prices. The economy could be reactivated by printing currency. Because the essential thing is to grow, not to flagellate oneself. True: there will be inflation. But it is the best prescription for lowering debt, including that of your mortgage.

And the European dream? Well, let’s do that with its people, with love for each other, instead of seeing who’s going to pick up the tab. When you think ‘euro’, think swindle. When you think Europe, think friends.

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized