“Life comes first.”*

 I was listening this morning to a recording of Andy Storey speak on the RTE show The Late Debate, on the matter of the new Not Our Debt campaign. It is well worth your time listening, since he lays out very clearly precisely why the debts of Anglo-Irish Bank and Irish Nationwide Building Society should not be paid by people living in Ireland, because they are not their responsibility. 

 

Now, this shouldn’t need to be explained to anybody, but the fact is that a lot of people believe that the debts have to be paid because the authorities say they have to be paid and because of the potential consequences of not paying, which will somehow be worse than decades of high unemployment, social implosion, economic depression and the dismantling of each and every element of what passes for a welfare state in the Republic of Ireland. 

 

The position of the government and Irish power elites -in moments of candour, as opposed to the 99.99% of the time when they are propagandising about how every single cut, every single withdrawal of a vital service, every unemployed person demonised, every cancer that goes untreated is a step in the onward march of Progress- could be paraphrased something like this: “Yes we know that the consequences of paying the debts entail, a Hobbesian war of all against all for growing numbers of the population, and a privileged elite holding a giant whip, but what’s the alternative?”

 

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

There are lots of scare tactics involved, figurative fingers drawn across the throat over what the ECB will do, what ‘our paymasters’ will do, if the people in Ireland decide they are not going to pay. I referred to this phenomenon in a recent post, Ministries of Fear, and you can note its presence on the recording. 

A lot of this has to do with politicians shoring up their own position of power and influence, and, in the case of media professionals, people who largely identify with power seeking to preserve privileged access to information. 

In wider society, people in a position of affluence, whose sense of themselves has been formed through identification with a patriarchal and paternalistic State which rewarded the obedient children in the class while locking up the bad ones in industrial schools, psychiatric institutions and slave labour laundries, tend to join the chorus of foreboding.

The atmosphere is rendered heavy with moralistic guilt-tripping, socialising the debt by socialising the guilt. To expect social rights and entitlements that ought to come with modern democracy, in this atmosphere, is sinful. I referred to this phenomenon in the previous post, Democracy as Guilt, and you can notice its presence on the recording.

 

Elsewhere, it was hard to suppress the urge to projectile vomit on learning of Fine Gael junior minister and asshole Brian Hayes’s pronouncements at the weekend, when he said that ‘80% of the crisis we face is all of our own making’. It is not that Hayes passionately believes in what he is saying, however much the impassioned/constipated expression on his face might lead you to think he does.

 

Rather, I propose that he –and other people from his milieu who have made similar pronouncements- make statements such as these, in present times, as a way of delaying an encounter with political conflict, of postponing what likely appears to them as inevitable. That is: that a particular set of ideas about the national interest, or, if you like, the common good, which have dominated political life and a decisive number of people’s conception of politics in the Republic of Ireland for decades, and provided the basis for consent to be governed, however grudging that consent might prove at times, are fast approaching their sell-by date. I wrote about this sort of thing in a post a few months back, titled The Social Subcontractors.

In such an atmosphere, laying out clearly to the public why they should not be paid is an important step in building a resistance to the payment of the debts. So too, of course, is taking to the streets. Surprisingly, this point was conceded by a couple of contributors on the programme. So what -if anything- is stopping people?

Here is an excerpt from the text in circulation calling for three days of continuous resistance, starting this Monday.

It is time to ask of ourselves: ‘If not now, when?’ If we fail to resist now, we risk accelerating a downward spiral of implosion and hopelessness already taking hold in our communities and families. Resistance, and a celebration of resistance, will raise people’s spirits. We are confident that if we step forward we will be supported by the many.

We are the people we have been waiting for.


Hard to disagree with that.

It’s important to remember, as Andy Storey points out on the recording, that this has been done elsewhere. One of the most notable locations, also mentioned by him, is Ecuador. There is a very good article on Ecuador in today’s Guardian by Jayati Ghosh, titled ‘Could Ecuador be the most radical and exciting place on Earth?

Here is a translation of a piece by Emir Sader, a Brazilian sociologist and executive secretary of the Latin American Council of Social Sciences. It was originally published on ALAI, a Latin American news site which has a substantial English language archive.

 

Fifth Anniversary of the Citizen Revolution

During the boom of neoliberal euphoria, some rulers dollarized their economies, in the midst of financial crises, believing that with the stamp of the greenbacks all the bounty that the Empire promises would come. El Salvador and Ecuador were victims of this trick. (The other country that uses the dollar is Panama, a fake country, created by the inducement of the United States so that the northern region of Colombia would break off and lend itself to the construction of the Panama Canal, with a currency also imposed by the United States.

El Salvador and Ecuador were immediately affected by an even greater breakdown in their economies and by enormous waves of immigration to the United States and Europe. The countries refused to carry out monetary policy –their Central Bank became the Federal Reserve of the United States, without any benefits, only negative effects.

Rafael Correa

Years later, the two countries are presided over by progressive governments – Rafael Correa in Ecuador, Mauricio Funes in El Salvador –also through the dramatic consequences of these neoliberal policies.

Ecuador this year commemorates 5 years of the government of Rafael Correa. After a series of presidents who, during a decade, were not even able to finish their mandates, on account of repudiation by the people, Correa has achieved an institutional stability and legitimacy through popular support, which no other president had achieved in the history of Ecuador.

Lucio Gutiérrez

Since 2000 –in a similar way to Bolivia- successive neoliberal governments were brought down through popular anger. The last of these, that of Lucio Gutiérrez, a soldier who had backed one of the previous popular uprisings, had even participated in the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre. He was backed by the left and the combined social movements, he won, but even before taking power he went to the United States and reneged on all that he had promised, by signing numerous accords with Bush.

The left immediately withdrew support for him and began to oppose him strongly. The indigenous movement split, officially it withdrew, but some of the indigenous ministers remained in government. The opposition this time was not led by the indigenous movements, but by popular urban citizen movements, which ended up toppling Lucio Gutierrez. In this movement stood out Rafael Correa, who was Minister of Finance for four months during the government of Alfredo Palacio, who followed Gutierrez.

Five years ago Correa was elected and he declared that Ecuador “was emerging from the darkness of neoliberalism” and that it was moving “from an era of change to a change of era”. And Ecuador joined the group of progressive governments of Latin America, which included the country joining the Bolivarian Alternative for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA).

A Constituent Assembly was called, in a similar way to Bolivia, and it moved towards the construction of a new State: republican, multi-ethnic, multicultural, of the citizens. The process of transformations led by Correa became known as Citizen Revolution and the organisation of a party began, Movimiento País (literally, the Country Movement).

This process of transformations, like that of all progressive governments in Latin America, privileges social policies and not those of fiscal adjustment, it privileges processes of regional integration and alliances among the South of the world, and a strong State, the promoter of economic growth and guarantor of social rights, and not the minimal State, which rejects these in favour of the market. In addition to this, the government began making basic investment again –in roads, energy, ports, infrastructure in general- which brought dynamism to the Ecuadorean economy. In 2011 the economy, despite negative external pressures –reduction in foreign credit, variations in oil prices, drastic reduction in the sending of immigrant remittances to families- the economy grew by 8%, one of the highest figures, if not the highest, in the whole of Latin America.

The government maintains a mechanism for popular consultation, which submits to popular verdict matters such as the calling of the Constituent Assembly, which refounded the State, the approval of a new Constitution, as well as central policy directions, such as judicial reform, matters of public safety, among other things.

It is certain that Rafael Correa will be re-elected president next year, the only outstanding matter being the level of parliamentary majority he will receive. The opposition comprises the traditional right and sectors of the ultra left, backed by groups in the indigenous movement.

Ecuador changed as never before in the 5 years marked now by the government of Rafael Correa and Movimiento País, through its project of Citizen Revolution.

 

 

* “Life comes first” – from a quote by Rafael Correa – “Lo primero es la vida, después la deuda.” Life comes first, and debt after.

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