Monthly Archives: February 2012

Leeches of Destruction

Can he really not see what happened in Ireland and Latvia, and what is taking place in Greece? Did he somehow not notice that Greece falls short of its growth targets every time the screws are turned tighter? This is like watching a medieval doctor apply more leeches to a patient that has already passed out from blood loss. There is no prosperity happy ending in this story, save for a very few at the top. And the process is not “belt tightening” but open warfare on basic social structures.

Goldman Sachs stooges conduct a massive assault on the working classes of Europe, in broad daylight.


If Patrick Honohan declared recently that he had no inclination to seek the removal of Occupy Dame Street from outside the Central Bank, it strikes me that this is because at no point has there even been the faintest flutter of attention drawn to Honohan’s role at the ECB, or the function fulfilled by the Irish Central Bank presently, in terms of its relation to the ECB. Why on earth would he want to get rid of them when they’re helping draw attention away from all of this? I am not interested in heaping criticism on the people currently outside the Central Bank for this: there has been a generalised unwillingness, or perhaps indifference is the better word, to highlighting the destructive role played by this institution.

I don’t know why this is, maybe there just aren’t enough people engaged with this sort of thing, maybe the press is still geared towards representing them as benevolent uncles or stern and noble technocrats and therefore above or beyond criticism. This, of course, is precisely as the ECB is supposed to be seen by the public, according to its initial design – independent of public interference, and concerned obsessively but nobly with the inflation beast which, unless relentlessly fought back, would lead Europe to meltdown. In reality, the ECB exists to drive down the wages of the working class relative to those of the class of which Goldman Sachs bankers like Draghi form part.

But even Draghi justifies his claims for the operations conducted by the ECB in terms of it being a public institution: why don’t people start highlighting and challenging the immense destruction caused by these supposedly public -but entirely anti-democratic- institutions? To refuse to contest this terrain simply means conceding the idea that banking lobbies should have decisive control over institutions supposed to serve the public.



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Lessons learned from the #PrimaveraValenciana

From Evernote:

Lessons learned from the #PrimaveraValenciana

This is a rush translation of a piece published in Madrilonia in reponse to latest developments in Valencia.

Lessons learned from the #PrimaveraValenciana


I am not teaching you anything, I just help you to explore yourself.

By understanding the nature of the opposite it will not be difficult to synchronise with it and turn it to our advantage.

-Bruce Lee





1. “The street is mine” or Fraga Reload: The Partido Popular (PP) wants to regain control, to manage what happens in the streets. It is not that it is going to ban demonstrations, we are talking about something perhaps more important, we are talking about the street as a public place, where people can express their anger directly, without having to be called out by a large organisation. They know very well that an on-the-spot expression of whoever speaks for the whole of society, however small this might be, can end up connecting with many others. Since May something has changed, the street has become a meeting place for diverse people, where being together makes sense beyond protesting against a concrete measure. People’s recovery of public space it what really worries the Government and that is why it proclaims itself the defender of the rights of those who do not turn up to the protests: perhaps it does not rob these people?


2. Wax on, wax off.

The PP knows that violence can be an effective method for turning the streets into a hostile place, so that they are no longer perceived as a place for meeting, but for confrontation. For the ‘authorities’, control of the situation involves testing people’s stamina and thereby working out what type of action is most efficient: fines, police charges, arrests, or a mix in different doses, accompanied by a good media spectacle. It we look at the front pages and the opinion columns of ABC and La Razon in recent days, we can clearly see how much importance the Government and associated sectors give to winning the media battle. The tactic consists in using devices of repression and media devices at different levels with the intent of cutting off potential connections between any given protest and everybody else. As we are seeing these days, they try to deprive protesters of any legitimacy, whether by discrediting, levelling accusations, sowing confusion or, from friendlier positions, recognising that their reasons are understandable whilst calling for responsible behaviour due to the crisis in which the country finds itself. Rajoy called for calm, as if we did not know that he takes decisions at the expense of the 99%.


3. Stir up fear by pointing at Greece

The Government of Mariano Rajoy uses Greece to frighten: an image that evokes an apocalyptic place, a scenario to which the protests might lead us, where life is unbearable and survival almost impossible. Spain-The-Firm must give a good image, must be a country where people assume that there is no alternative. The economics of finance appear clearly as a device of social control. If you go out and protest, we will not receive credit from Europe. This mantra hides the fact that the Greek situation has been caused by measures that the Rajoy Government supports; with European bonds the Greek debt would not have multiplied. But what they will never say is that it is the people who go out onto the street in Greece who are guaranteeing people’s lives, that those hundreds of thousands of people are those who are struggling for dignity and collective survival. People who not only go out to protest, but who collaborate to maintain access to services, who share out food, exchange resources and, despite everything, keep on weaving a future.


4. Communication is our shield

Faced with police violence, a communications strategy is set in gear, with thousands of points from which we transmit and broadcast what is happening so as to protect those who are in danger. In these flows of communication there also surges the forms of organising ourselves so as to go out and place one’s body in the street. The videos that people upload instantaneously and the tweets that are sent out before the journalists arrive, are showing an enormous power: they cannot deny the berserk repression. We know that we are many, in many places, and this means we go out onto the street feeling we are protected.

We have to remember that there have been many protests snuffed out through repressive pressure and that the logics of action-repression-action can end up situating us on a game board with limited movements and increasingly minority positions. When going out onto the street is scary, children, grandparents, and adult women and men stop going out, and all that remains in the confrontations are young people, especially young men, who are easy to isolate and criminalise. This is what has been avoided, with a lot of intelligence, by the Valencian students who from the first sit-down in front of the Lluis Vives college have defended their right to be in the street by displaying evidence of police brutality. We must not forget that it is not enough to be right when confronting the police, it is more important to speak to people than to confront the State.

Like the young people in Valencia we say: “Careful, I’m coming out armed, I’m carrying a mobile”. In this context, the traditional forms of conflict turn out to be those that best fit in to the scenario that the Government wishes to construct. Thus, not being violent proves much more potent than being so. The Government insistingly seeks a violent response and this is why it sharpens its repressive dynamic, but it is like using cannon fire against a swarm or trying to hunt a ghost.



5. Returning the blow differently:

#YoTambiénSoyElEnemigo (translated: #I’mTheEnemyToo), the magnificent hashtag, used widely in Twitter to respond to that call to fracture by whoever talks about enemies, made it possible to recover a language of majorities that want to be together. It is nothing that is said to “power”, but something that we say to each other. Irony that prevents us from falling into isolation. A gesture of complicity that involves us all. It is communication to care for each other, not communication to attack others. I am the enemy too is pure communication from and for the 99%. The enemy, for that sad police chief, thus turns into anyone. This is how the very scene of confrontation of confrontation is blurred, that of the battle between sides and even the importance the Government gives to the police is dissolved. Let’s say that in the Valencian Spring, the police was an obstacle, because what gave meaning to the protests was being able to be in the street showing that they are up for it, that the young are not giving up.


6. Acting always changes things

The Valencian contagion has shown many things once again such as the importance of collective care or the viral capacity of communication. But we cannot forget the starting point: the deterioration of public education and young people’s expectations for the future. Students, who see how their basic rights are deteriorating, are increasingly mobilising so that politicians fulfil their obligations. But the movement that has unfolded in these days is not merely a demand. The young people are expressing their readiness to do something, because those who are in charge are an embarrassment and they cannot trust them. When the PP and the mass media blame left-wing politicians for being behind the protests or they accuse teachers of manipulating students, they are denying the capacity of the young men and women to take the initiative. We estimate this gesture very highly, secondary school students who take the initiative and are supported by mothers, fathers, and teachers. A college is not the same after this experience and all the students who have taken part in the demonstrations will surely live out a different relation to education.

Once again we have seen these days how many more we are, the more people think together, the greater the intelligence and the greater the potency that is set in circulation. Cooperation at this level of intensity lasts a few instants, but it is doubtless a model that can be replicated on a smaller scale to develop alternatives when faced with the impotence and the cutbacks they are imposing on us.

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“For me the only thing green about capitalism is dollar bills”

From Evernote:

"For me the only thing green about capitalism is dollar bills"

This is a translated excerpt from an interview with Boaventura de Sousa Santos for Observatorio Sociopolítico Latinoamericano. I may do the rest at some point, time permitting.

If it appears obvious that the capitalist system is in a grave crisis, nonetheless the fact of a return of right-wing governments in European countries and the economic orthodoxy applied in the United States and quite a few countries in Latin America show that there is a strengthening of neoliberalism that still favours finance capital and transnationals. Do you see it this way?

I think the crisis of capitalism is of a different type. Within the short term there is no sign of a crisis, on the contrary, we could say that what is surprising is that the neoliberalism that produced the crisis is trying to ‘resolve’ it. It is the same bankers guilty of causing the economic crisis who are now seeking to resolve it. Look at the case of the Portuguese Antonio Borges, Director of the European Department of the International Monetary Fund and vicepresident of Goldman Sachs, was who organised the trap that this investment bank set for Greece. This same gentleman is dictating the Fund’s prescriptions for Europe (Borges resigned ‘for personal reasons’ in November – R).


Imagine the promiscuity between finance capital and European democracy, which in my view is suspended because the Greek Prime Minister Lucas Papademos


Mario Monti in Italy


Mario Draghi, president of the European Central Bank


as well as Borges himself, come from Goldman Sachs. Not only do they represent finance capital but they are also from the same firm, which is rather tragic and I think that social democracy has contributed by its absence to a collapse of the European Union which I see fast approaching unless there is a real act of disobedience which has to be very strong in order to bring about its relaunch.

And this has given way to what you call “democradura” (roughly translated: ‘democraship’ or ‘democratorship’ – a hybrid of democracy and dictatorship – R) in Europe?

Yes, this is what we have. A set of very progressive constitutions but their practices are very reactionary and oligarchic. Constitutions such as the Portuguese or the Spanish ones guarantee all rights but every day these rights are eliminated, suspended, and the Constitutional Court does not intervene, that is, there is a suspension of democracy that we can call “democradura” or “dictablanda” (a hybrid neologism of ‘dictatorship’ and ‘soft’, meaning soft dictatorship). These processes hold no future for European democracy and political parties must watch what is happening very closely so as not to fall prey to the same mistakes.

This crisis of capitalism has given rise to what you referred to in your conference at the University of the Andes in Bogotá as a blurring of the categories of illegality, legality and lawlessness in large part due to the phenomenon of accumulation through dispossession. How does one explain this situation generated by capitalist voracity?

It is something very complex because democracy in the 20th century deceived the popular imagination. In the beginning liberal democracy was not very democratic as we know because at its origin only property owners could vote, and therefore the large majority of the population did not know what democracy was. Democracy gained credibility and captured the popular imagination, as we see now with the indignados who ask for true and real democracy, due in large part to the institutionalisation of social conflicts, it was accepted that there were divergences in society between capital and labour for example, and that these divergences had to be solved in a peaceful manner whose resolution translated into law and hence a legality was created, since prior to this the popular classes only knew repressive legality, they did not know of any right. Thus a facilitating right was created, which protected social and economic rights, aid for unemployment, and they began to see that legality was something broader and more beneficial for the popular classes, this has been the grand deceive of representative and liberal democracy because in the constitutions both of Europe and Latin America a series of social struggles are consecrated as rights, for example the indigenous rights that were previously unknown even by the left itself which considered them invisible, which changed in the last twenty years precisely due to neoliberalism, to the repression of social movements and the criminalisation of protest. What happened is that the transnationals learned the lesson that tells you it is possible to pressure governments, influence legislative assemblies to produce laws in your favour, and hence why they themselves produced legislation that is as legal as the other one, the one that protects the popular classes, but now it is a legality that allows them to do things that they could not do previously. And hence why one can say that they do it legally, but it is not totally legal because if you observe many of those laws that were created for mining and natural resources, and all that relates to extractive activities, they have a series of conditions that are forgotten about afterwards, for example environmental protection or the massive violations of consultations with ILO-convention 169. That is, legality goes hand in hand with illegality, this is a great deception and we will see this soon in Rio+20 in June of 2012 with the whole discussion around green capitalism, the green economy, of sustainable development which is the big concept of the last thirty years. Everything we are going to observe in this summit in Rio is nothing more than the result of the capture of the law by transnationals and that’s why they’re talking about green capitalism. For me the only thing green about capitalism is dollar bills, it is not green in any other sense. In this way, legality is hardly appropriate, but also because social inequality is rising, and threats to social struggle are being invented in which security in terms of military and police security have a force so great that forms of undeclared states of emergency are being created in many countries, it’s not the case in Colombia because this country has had a very marked history of states of siege or states of exception. When I was here carrying out my studies states of exception were normal hence why Colombia did not have dictatorships like other countries in Latin America, we analysed that at the time but now there are forms that go beyond legality, for example when the United States kills two American citizens in Yemen through the use of drones, is this legality, or illegality, this no longer has any norms. Because illegality demands a norm, let’s put it that way, and this is something that is completely new.

Like the case of the concentration camp at Guantánamo?

Guantánamo is the same thing, it is a total absence of criteria of legality, it is more than illegal, it is without law. To understand this one must go back to the 16th and 17th century when on this American continent the extermination of the indigenous people took place which was not illegal in itself, it was without law. Or rather, since the idea existed that the indigenous people were not humen, hence the conquistadors did not apply criteria of legality or illegality, they were things, slaves. Today there are features to the world where we cannot talk about social policy intervention because sometimes these are so cruel and aggressive against certain populations who because they are considered inferior do not have criteria of legality applied to them, and hence arbitrariness presents itself. One can see cases for example in Africa at the moment where there is a very emphatic manifestation of accumulation by dispossession, it also takes place in India and in Latin America with mining and extractive activities. In the African case it is strongly evident through the hoarding and purchase of land by countries like Brazil, China, South Korea that are seeking to hold a reserve of land outside their respective States. This is a new colonialism that we have not theorised. The sell-off is legal but what happens then with the peasants displaced from their land and who from one day to the next become occupiers or invaders. Is this legality? It is a violent primitive accumulation that operates in a way in which there is no form of rescue politically. This is not illegality, it is something more serious, it is lawlessness, which happens within the rule of law and democracies, and this is another great challenge for the lefts, especially those rooted in social democracy, who believe in institutions (institutionalidad).




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The criminalisation of social protest: the authoritarian escalation in Spain

From Evernote:

The criminalisation of social protest: the authoritarian escalation in Spain

Following on from the last post, here is a translation of a piece by Arturo Borra, from his blog Archipiélago en resistencia, published last Saturday, also published at Rebelión.

The criminalisation of social protest: the authoritarian escalation in Spain.

There is no adjustment policy that does not involve simultaneously, as its necessary counterpart, a policy of repression aimed at the domestication of social protest. With the inevitable rise in social conflict, in light of radically one-sided decisions in the distribution of privileges and risks, the national government attacks civil liberties, including the right to demonstration and assembly. Anti-popular measures such as the labour reform, the brutal cutbacks in social spending whilst budgetary privileges of the crown, the Catholic Church and the armed forces are maintained, the of a regressive fiscal system, the roll-back in terms of rights for women, the barring of a judge as emblematic as Garzón from practice (for investigation of crimes against humanity and of one of the so many rings of corruption in existence) or the public bailout of the private banking system, among other measures, have as their corollary the establishment of a police state that operates out of the laws of exception it institutionalises so as to act beyond any democratic control, generating the temporary suspension of rights in the name of a situation of emergency.


Effectively, in the name of this emergency, the Spanish governmental right-wing –pressured internally by its most ultraconservative factions and externally by a European union co-opted by global financial power- has no other response to the diverse social demands than the criminalisation of the participants in social demonstrations and the usurpation of public space by police in the name of social order. The ideological confrontation itself places the ruling party in the dilemma of whether to baton charge the demonstrators and stir up collective outrage or allow their mobilisation and go against the wishes of a significant part of its electorate.


The resolution of the dilemma has not taken long to arrive: the commitment to judicialising social conflict is clear. That this task should involve wide scale use of the police, charging demonstrators with offences of public disorder, resistance and disobedience of authority (despite the evidence to the contrary), should not allow us to lose sight of something much more serious: not only was the repressive apparatus built up during Francoism never dismantled but what is underway now is a pan-European policy, the product of the replacement of a more or less benevolent social democratic variant of capitalism with a far more virulent neoliberal variant.


The multi-million euro acquisition of riot gear foretold this intensification of repressive policies in Spain. That there are thousands of citizens protesting (from the unemployed to students, from leftist politicians and members of smaller unions to public sector workers and pensioners) does not move the new ruling block in the slightest. The authoritarian escalation has just begun. Under the supervision of European political institutions subordinate to financial oligarchies, the ruling party has via libre to pursue the direction that was already apparent in the previous national government: to destroy the remaining pieces of the welfare state, discipline the working classes and consolidate big business and financial capital.

Raised to an absolute majority by an anti-democratic electoral law that legally solders bipartidism as state policy and –despite being a first minority- (remember that the PP barely got 30% of the votes of the electoral register), the present government knows that the policies of adjustment and bailout of financial entities will not be carried out without considerable social resistence. Hence the determined commitment to criminalise contestatory groups and social movements that put collective unrest on display. Their political objective is not so much to remove social protests from the public realm (an objective that can only fail miserably) but to domesticate them, this is, to regulate their movements and channel their appearances, in sum, to try and control a future that might otherwise lead to the unpredictable, to the acting out of the spectre of revolt or what there is of uncontrollable spillover in the event. 

It is not merely a problem of arrogance nurtured by a parliamentary majority (otherwise manifest in police baton charges so disproportionate as to be clumsy in foreseeing the negative effects); what is in train is the construction of a para-statal sovereign power to consolidate a model of accumulation based in the concentration of wealth and social disciplining. That for this end a “total mobilisation” of the dominant bloc should not be surprising, starting with the unfolding of a cynical rhetoric that recalls the worst anticipations by Orwell in 1984: from this perspective, there is no hesitation in turning the labour reform upside down as a “guarantee of employment”, the shameful barring of Garzón as an “example of the rule of law”, the (selective) cutbacks as a “measure to preserve the welfare state” or the salvaging of private banking entities as a “defence of the general interest”. That the spokespersons of the ruling classes insist in limiting the right to strike without the slightest democratic sense of decency forms part of this authoritarian escalation required to alter the anatomy of a capitalist social formation used until relatively recently to a regime of small privileges (based on the promise of an unlimited access to consumption). That this regime has sustained itself historically through the transfer of unrest to peripheral countries, as the most lucid left forces have been predicting for decades, does not deny the illusory character of this promise. Chronic indebtedness, widespread poverty and the metamorphosis of the labour markets (casting millions of people into unemployment and super-exploiting so many others) make visible what in a previous phase operated in a latent manner; to wit, that the capitalist model of growth structurally presupposes class inequality, and, in the final instance, the pauperisation of ever wider social groups.

At any rate, the authoritarian cant of the ruling right-wing is a sign of the weakness of their hegemonic power when it comes to legitimating changes that have already been predetermined by international credit organisations and their EU spokespersons. The salvaging of the financial and business bourgeoisie has as its counterpart the precarification not only of the work but also of the living conditions of the Spanish middle and popular classes, preceded by the labour-related and institutional marginalisation of the immigrant and refugee population. The destruction of multiple economic, social and cultural rights, the heavy restrictions on access to public services and the trend towards their privatisation (including the management of pensions, of health and third level education) are some more necessary consequences of a political system ever more subordinate to systemic imperatives. That this savage metamorphosis of society should be carried out in the name of the “public interest” does not change things. As Laclau stresses, “society does not exist” in the sense of a presumed unified order. What persists, rather, is a split social fabric, in which the ruling classes have started an unprecedented global offensive. We should not dismiss the idea that we are reaching a point of no return, in which the destruction of the environment and the impoverishment of social majorities leads to the elimination of what is considered “human surplus”, not just through wars led by the transnational military-industrial complex, but also through local famines, which are perfectly avoidable with minimum controls over the global system of speculation.


That this point of no return should be systematically unknown through the mass broadcasting media, this is, that the hegemonic news reporting policies should be nothing but another form of chronic disinformation, serving a media-business complex that is ever more concentrated, is another sign of the authoritarian escalation we alluded to earlier. The systemic crisis of legitimacy is transformed into the planning of deception. Economic neoliberalism –we have known this since the Latin American dictatorships of the 1970s- has always been fond of the ‘iron fist’. Political authoritarianism and cultural neoconservatism are its best allies. That in Spain these traditions refer to the perverse Francoist heritage does not seem in doubt, but this should not stop us from recalling that the political-economic dynamic goes beyond this historical heritage and entails capitalism in its current phase, not only as a mode of production of surpluses, but also as a mode of planetary destruction.

If what is underway in an economic dimension is a vertiginous concentration of social wealth, what is manifest in the political system is, to use the expression of Rancière, an authentic ‘hatred of democracy’. Besides being a radical affront to the demands of justice, the new world (dis)order has activated a gigantic machine for grinding human lives, indifferent to any external regulation (or limitation). That this machine should have certain beneficiaries does not negate its out-of-control state. Its beneficiaries, in the final instance, are nothing more than gears and hooks trapped within its mechanical functioning.

In the final instance, in light of this dynamic, not even the most totalitarian right-wing proposes forbidding every manifestation of dissidence. It could not manage it however stubbornly it tried. The logic of terror is too burdensome and, in consequence, it is reserved for those collectives that sovereign economic-financial power deems cannot be ‘integrated’ by other means. When it cannot be ‘integrated’ by other means. When market coups do not go far enough, they are complemented with a controlled use of police violence. Impose fear on bodies, fix them into the grid of the politically predictable, in sum, put a lid on their revolutionary energy, are some of the various systemic modalities for holding back this dissidence, assimilating it as part of the (theatrical) representation of the “democratic game” (reduced to the logic of alternating parliamentary elites).


Under present conditions, the thesis, that we are living at a threshold where the borders between ‘democratic state’ and ‘totalitarian state’ are becoming ever more diffuse (which does not mean that they fully coincide), becomes all the more plausible. There are amply reasonable motives to suspect that we are entering that murky zone where ‘democracy’ and ‘totalitarianism’, ‘self-determination’ and ‘dictatorship’ no longer make up formal alternatives in a political dichotomy but elements of a systemic combination. One could even argue that it is not at all a combination but a gradual swallowing up of the first term by the second. What is at danger, in both cases, is the project of a society in which individual and collective autonomy are not a mere projection of an administered society.


Although this danger is not strictly new, its present intensification in the European context may be an index of an unprecedented offensive. Against the politics of fear that they wish to institutionalise, the reply of the radical left can be no other than the radical politicisation of the present institutional forms. Against the restructuring of capitalism our commitment should be the destructuring of its hegemony, rendering its everyday violence visible. To defy fear, at this point, becomes the active practice of dissidence.

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Collaboration, with our European partners

From Evernote:

Collaboration, with our European partners


On Sunday there were massive demonstrations throughout the Spanish state, with half a million people on the streets of Madrid and 450,000 in Barcelona, protesting against the labour ‘reform’ planned by the Partido Popular, the right-wing party that most closely represents the interests of the power elites that conserved their position when the transition from dictatorship to democracy was undertaken.


This weekend at the Partido Popular conference, there was a commemoration of Manuel Fraga, the Francoist minister who became leader of Alianza Popular, the precursor to Partido Popular. During a homage, the current Prime Minister (in Spanish, Presidente del Gobierno, or ‘president of the government’) Mariano Rajoy declared that Fraga was “was also the President of the Government”, and that “I am president because Fraga gave me an opportunity”. A gallery of images from Fraga’s life was placed on display at the conference. 


In a series of photos published in his blog, Público journalist Ignacio Escolar vividly illustrated the reality of the figure under commemoration.


As Juan Carlos Monedero noted in a recent radio intervention, an individual with Fraga’s record –he always maintained support for Franco’s coup in 1936- would have been banned from participation in political life in democratic Germany. Yet the present Prime Minister of Spain –elected with the vote of around 30%- saw fit to sanctify him as a political figure this weekend. This veneration of Fraga contrasts sharply with the way Spain’s Supreme Court dealt with Baltasar Garzón, who had undertaken to investigate crimes committed by the Franco regime, in which Fraga played his gruesome part.


Yesterday in Valencia, students protesting cutbacks in education –and the brutality meted out by the police on Friday when they protested the same cutbacks- were met with more brutality. Responding to questions about how many police had taken part in the repression, the local police chief declared that it is ‘not prudent to reveal to the enemy’ the extent of one’s forces – a vivid illustration of how police officials view citizens seeking to uphold their right to education.

The general impression of Spain’s political composition from the outside coincides quite conveniently with the impression that its power elites wish to convey: a modern democracy that made a decidedly swift and painless transition from the dictatorship of the Franco era, arising from the spirit of generosity and commitment to coexistence made by all those who took part in the transition, and rapidly integrated with the rest of Europe, becoming a member of the European Community.


The reality is far less sunny: what persists at many levels is what is often described as ‘sociological Francoism’: characteristics of the dictatorship: authoritarianism, contempt for the weak and veneration of the strong, corrupt cliques, high levels of inequality, a privileged position for the Catholic Church, demonisation of leftists, vindictive policing practices, among other things.

These things are often met with a degree of public defiance, the product of long-established practices of resistance and authentic democratic activity by left-wing and popular movements. But the decisive trend in Spain presently, as elsewhere, is towards a greater concentration of wealth and power in the hands of oligarchs.

How best to make sense of this return of the repressor? The brutal police assaults on students in Valencia, the veneration of despotic authority and the assaults on social rights -as well as the relentless appropriation of rhetoric usually associated with emancipatory traditions (the Partido Popular is the party of the workers, claimed the Partido Popular general secretary last week)- are all characteristics of a restoration of ‘sociological Francoism’. What is different now however, here as elsewhere in Europe, is the degree of transnational collaboration.

The implementation of the labour ‘reform’, the modifications to the hitherto sacred constitution to prioritise debt repayment over social services, the privatisation of health and education and the deliberate erosion of the social safety net are all carried forward with an impetus supplied from Brussels and Frankfurt. Save the odd baroque genuflection in front of a crucifix, there is little contradiction between the sociological Francoism manifest in a Partido Popular apparatchik and the technocratic mien of your average Troika official.

That said, trans-European collaboration in the destruction of democracy is nothing new in itself. Recall the barbarism of German and Italian planes bombing civilians in Málaga in 1937 as an illustration. People in Ireland would do well to remember that when this happened, the Irish Catholic Church, the Irish Independent and Fine Gael were all on the same side as, Franco, Hitler and Mussolini.

What is different now, is the fact that this destruction is being openly conducted by institutions whose purpose, it had long been widely assumed, was to preserve and strengthen a post-war democratic order. Said institutions operated under the auspices of what was named ‘the European project’. Thus to say you supported ‘the European project’ allowed you to express, in the roughest of terms, opposition to what had preceded it -continent-wide barbarism and destruction, chauvinistic nationalism- without having to say anything consequential about the economic system that underpinned it, or the legal framework that guaranteed this system: that is, as long as you were down with the cosmopolitanism of it, there was no need to worry about what Perry Anderson described as the ‘vast zone of increasingly unbound market exchange’. Rather, with your attention drawn towards the social democratic carrot Julienne and away from the neoliberal aluminium baseball bat, you were more likely to conclude that the ‘gap between the people and their rulers over the progress of the European Union’ ‘will not actually have grave consequences in the foreseeable future’.

Well, the grave consequences are already here, with state repression and systematic impoverishment of growing swathes of the population in order to satisfy the demands of financiers and speculators. As Monedero notes in response to the Valencia beatings, this is the State converted into an organ of repression in order to dismantle the welfare state. Far from operating as a bulwark against the erosion of democracy, European institutions are the tools for its dismantling. As Wolfgang Munchau of the Financial Times notes, from the point of view of European rulers, success is no longer compatible with democracy.

What spirits of the past will be anxiously conjured up by the counter-revolutionaries for this new scene in world history? What names will they borrow? Those of us with an eye on Ireland might wish to recall that Michael Noonan –the Minister for Finance whose party is the same party that supported the fascist forces in the Spanish Civil War- in his budget speech this year, to justify the troika-driven measures as a bid for independence, cited Richard Mulcahy approvingly. Mulcahy, as Noonan and the assembled deputies know full well -was a decisive member of a deeply authoritarian government had overseen the assassination of republican prisoners, including Liam Mellows. A minor example of how global capitalism conjures local authoritarian productions in order to sustain its increasingly primitive processes of accumulation. 


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Back To The Future

From Evernote:

Back To The Future

I don’t have much time for reading these days. But this book – Incongruencias, una reflexión autobiográfica, (Incongruences, an autobiographical reflection) by Francisco Pereña, looks like it’s worth checking out. A review of it appeared in yesterday’s Público, by sociologist José Luis De Zárraga, which is interesting enough in its own right, hence the translation below.

Memory to recover the future

“This book is not an autobiography”, warns the author in his first line. What is autobiographical for him amounts to “linking reflection to the symptomatic condition of a place and an era”. Incongruencies is an exercise of memory. It responds to the ‘imperative of memory’ whose necessity Adorno identified more than half a century ago and which remains so indispensable today. Memory is not mere recollection, but updating the past, not something passive, but the act of bringing the past into the present. Pereña brings to us in the present a past whose symptomatic value is being smeared and wiped out.


United, since he was a child, by a secret bond to the losers, despite being born in a rural conservative environment and growing up in a seminary, Pereña reflects on the experience of the Spanish person who managed to subtract his conscience from the brutalisation of the years of Francoism: the experience of poverty, of repression, of fear and forced obedience, of the indignity that saturated all social life; of the experience of the anti-Francoist struggle, a moral struggle fraught with desperation; also of prison and torture. Then, with the dictator dead in his bed, the experience of the Transition which, rather than substituting the arbitrariness and the brutalities of the dictatorship with democratic forms, ensured the necessary social demobilisation and depoliticisation so that the system of domination continued: the pragmatism of the governments of Felipe González; the return of Francoism and the right-wing Government free of hang-ups, with Aznar; the accession of Zapatero to power, which set in train the fear that all the compromises of the Transition might be placed at risk; his immediate delegitimisation and harassment…


An experience where the identity of the author is not essential (albeit indispensable, since there has to be a subject so that there is experience), “the personal is of no importance (here)”, says the author. But experience in which many Spanish people can recognise themselves, not only those of his generation, but of those that followed, because present-day Spain retains the imprints of material, ideological and moral misery on which it has been built. Spain has never recovered from the annihilation of social awareness perpetrated by Francoism, from the fear and submission to power that it implanted in people’s consciousness. At the foundations of its edifices, which seemed so luminous to many, there remain the debris, the rubbish, and worst of all, the graveyard. The corpses buried in the ditches are a metaphor for our country.


Without recounting anything extraordinary, merely the small things of a life like others, the potency of the evocations in his book is such that it knocks the reader back, and his reflection is so steely that it cuts short the ideological imposture that would make them bearable.


Determined to live, despite everything, the author speaks of a life of uprooting, of resistance, at the margins and, we could say, underground: but not of course of resignation but of obstinate resistance, since the least that a person who maintains dignity can do is to oppose, even when there is no hope and even if it is only with a gesture. To oppose oppressors, oppose sects, oppose Pharisees. Wherever there is political, ideological, institutional, academic power, there is always accommodation and abjection.


In this autobiographical reflection, Pereña also runs through, in synthesis, the theoretical work of his books, critical elucidation of concepts: guilt and drive, forgetting and ignorance, repression and denial, interpretation and clinic, violence and cruelty, solitude and belonging, repetition and difference….Concepts where what is at stake is an idea of the subject and of the psychic conflict in which the latter is irreducible and constitutive of the former, a moral dimension without which the subject would not exist.


The author is a psychoanalyst and throughout the book he returns frequently to psychoanalytic discourse, more than as an instrument or a methodology, as a source of inspiration. Compassion is a key concept in his work. Pereña recovers the Greek idea of compassion and defines the clinic of the subject as a “clinic of compassion”. The clinic attends to the real vulnerability of the subject and it is not possible without sensitivity to its suffering, whether ill, oppressed, poor or excluded. Reflecting from the margin, he criticises certain therapeutical practices, a degradation of the clinic, which move amid naked greed and theoretical abstraction, tricking the patients. There would be a need to recover the critical heritage of Freud, confiscated by the dogmatic machinery that has marketised psychoanalysis.


Analysing a capitalism that today is only barbarism and of which rejection is a basic moral statement, the critical heritage of Marx must be recovered. Marx as a critic, not as a legislator of the world, is indispensable, not only for analysing the system of exploitation, but also for understanding what it does to the subject and to the social bond.


It ends, in the book’s epilogue, back at the present moment, at the now of the revolts against the tyrants in the Arab countries and, in the West in crisis, of the outraged mobilisations of young people against the barbarism of the system, which express emancipatory desire and a will to refuse. This is reading for this time of defeat, when memory is indispensible for rejecting an order that presents itself as eternal, and to discover in the present, in the manner of Benjamin, the ‘unpredictable revolutionary opportunity’.

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What Greece Is For

The people of Greece, whose pay and welfare levels are much lower than ours, are facing further living standards cuts if they want to remain in the euro and potential chaos if they can’t meet the conditions.

As a result of the relatively much milder medicine we have taken here, Ireland has now put deep blue water between itself and Greece and is in a much better position than Portugal which is struggling to meet its obligations.

Stephen Collins, Inside Politics, The Irish Times – Saturday, February 11, 2012

This is a translation of a piece by Isaac Rosa, originally published on Público on Wednesday.

What Greece is for

The Greeks can calm down now, Europe will not abandon the country. It will keep it hanging over the abyss, seized by the hair and always a few minutes away from total bankruptcy, but it will not permit it to sink completely, since Greece today fulfils an essential function in Europe. The image of a broken country, suffocated, subjected to blackmail, stripped of its sovereignty, with its population suffering continuous turns of the screw and its streets on fire, has various uses.


(image via)

For the rulers, it is the opportunity to use the Greek ‘bogey’ to convince us that we have to behave well, do our homework and meet the deficit target, since if we don’t, well look how the Greeks have ended up because of their recklessness. “Look what is happening in Greece right now”, Sarkozy said to the French on Monday: “who wants France to be in the same situation as Greece?”


(image from “mmgeissler ” on Instagram, via @soundmigration)

The apostles of shock also make the most of the Greek situation: it is a laboratory under real conditions, with citizens as guinea pigs, to probe just how far one can liquidate, impoverish and humiliate a country without it bursting altogether. Yes, they burned buildings, they threw rocks, but life goes on, and underneath the noise and the smoke Greece still hasn’t experienced a social explosion, so we will keep applying the pressure to see just how much it can bear.


As for European citizens, what Greece teaches could not be clearer: “There you go, that’s what protesting is for, just for breaking everything, but achieving nothing”. “Why are we going to go on strike, the Greeks have already had plenty and got nothing.” And even: “Well, the labour reform is tough, but we aren’t so badly off, the Greeks are worse…”

The claim that they achieve nothing is not quite true. The cutbacks have not been stopped, but in the latest vote there were 43 deputies who deserted, and Papademos is sweating over proceeding with his plan. And among the police, agents are starting to appear who are not prepared to keep gassing their neighbours, such as that police union that called for the arrest of the Troika. And at any rate, the lesson for us should be a different one: “The Greeks cannot do it alone. They need our help.”


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Last week Joan Burton, the Labour Party minister for Social Protection, gave an address to the Leinster Society of Chartered Accountants. You can read the full speech at the Department of Social Protection site. I noticed as I was inserting the link to the site that the URL still contains that quaint 20th century word ‘Welfare’.

Invoking Barack Obama, Burton made announcements to the assembled chartered accountants about her department’s ‘activation’ measures, under the heading ‘The Case for Activation’, thereby presenting what is a key element of the Troika’s Economic Adjustment Programme for Ireland as though it were the product of democratic deliberation by a sovereign government. ‘Activation’ is the name given by ‘the economists’ (as Burton calls them) to a series of bureaucratic measures aimed at making life difficult for people who are unemployed. As Burton puts it:

research shows that the longer a person is unemployed, the less effort they make to find employment.  People become defeatist and lose motivation…


For example, I am trying to ensure that people don’t find the security of the social welfare system more attractive than the risky world of work.

Reading this, I was reminded of the following quote by Mont Pelerin’s finest and Margaret Thatcher’s intellectual hero, Friedrich von Hayek, in the Road to Serfdom:

We cannot blame our young men when they prefer the safe, salaried position to the risk of enterprise

Mutatis mutandis, the men and the women kept in unemployment through deliberate policy choices by the government in collaboration with the troika, where untold billions of public money are spent keeping banks and interests associated with the property market afloat instead of being used for investment programmes (here, ‘the economists’ might talk about opportunity costs), are safe and salaried, whereas those out in the world of work are the risk takers.

(The risks of poor physical and mental health, future loss of income and so on and so forth associated with unemployment, and generated by deliberate government policy, are the wrong type of risk.)

An example of the latter might be chartered accountants, who provide services to the financial services industry, and, indeed, the public. NAMA, for instance, has contracts with all four of The Big Four. The Chairman of the Chartered Accountants Leinster Society, which Burton addressed to detail her plans about what she was going to do with all the risk shirkers, works for KPMG.

It is hard to work out what the association is between the Chartered Accountants Leinster Society and the Labour Party. Perhaps there is none at all.


But it is diverting to note that on the morning of the ICTU march of 27th November 2010, which was the last mass mobilisation in Ireland, members of the Labour Party held their Pre-Budget Forum at Chartered Accountants House on Pearse Street, the headquarters of the Chartered Accountants Leinster Society.


They then made their way over to take part in the march, which would prove, in time, to have enervated far more than it energised, once the Labour Party, backed by unions, took its place in government to do the will of the Troika, as they had agreed with Dominique Strauss-Kahn.

And now Joan Burton returns to the Chartered Accountants Leinster Society, and encourages them to take up the offer, in their firms, of the free labour offered to them under the JobBridge scheme, which helps keep wages low but introduces unemployed people to the risky world of work, id est, working for nothing.

“I have also been reforming the social welfare system to ensure that work pays for welfare recipients”, said Burton. That’s a pretty apt way of describing the introduction of a scheme that supplies free labour to an industry sustained by massive public subsidy.

Well, here is a quick comparison of the gulf between the risk takers and the defeatists. It shows the gap between the salary packages of Chartered Accountant Managing Directors in Industry & Commerce and Financial Services (source: Chartered Accountants Leinster Society survey) , and what a ‘Jobseeker’ (an Orwellian term used to place responsibility on the person who is unemployed, not State institutions, for the fact of his or her unemployment) received annually, during the recession (source: Department of Finance Budget briefings).


Which group does the Irish Labour Party serve more faithfully?




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Illegality of power

From Evernote:

Illegality of power

This is a translation of a piece by Jaume Asens and Gerardo Pisarello, originally published in Público. They are authors of a recent book on the illegality of power in times of crisis.

Law and juridical discourse play a central role in the configuration of power relations. In order to impose a programme of social cutbacks, a police action and even a protest mobilisation, force is needed. But so too is the ability to appeal to the law as a source of justification. The legality or illegality of an act does not make it a just one, without further ado. However, it is a thermometer that assists in calibrating the legitimacy of power. And of the resistances that arise against its arbitrary manifestations.

This basic principle explains that law and its interpretation are a sphere of permanent dispute. There is no power that does not attempt to cover its actions with the cloak of legality. The legitimate ones without doubt. But this is also the case with those that are not. In the name of the law, rights can be assured but privileges can also be entrenched. The legitimate aspirations of thousands of people can be repressed and eliminated without contemplation. This arbitrariness disguised as legality, nonetheless, nearly always finds an Antigone prepared to unmask it. Once again in the name of law and reason.


To resist the law in the name of the law is far from being a contradiction. The legality of our era is a demanding legality. A large part of it consists of treaties, constitutions and charters unthikable without the defeat of fascisms and other dictatorships that laid waste to the 20th century. The Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 and the International Pacts of 1966 are inscribed in its genetic code. They make up the DNA of a legality that recognises universal rights and guaranteeing principles, which involves limits and controls on all types of powers, public and private, of state and market, and which is located at the apex of legal systems.


In times of crisis, this legality becomes a more uncomfortable mirror than usual, because it reflects the juridical, as well as ethico-political, senselessness of many actions of power. The ill-timed closure of an accident and emergency ward is not only repugnant to basic moral institutions; it also threatens elementary rights such as health, physical integrity or even life, when it does not fall into a directly criminal sphere. The same thing happens when a worker is exposed to the unjustified violence of sacking; or when a migrant ends up in an Internment Centre, or when a family without means is cast into the street for being unable to pay a rent or a mortgage. What is produced, indeed, is a social injustice. But also violated are elementary freedoms and procedural guarantees with which the State aspires to legitimate itself. And if the response to the protests that these actions generate is repression, instead of the protection of the victims, what takes place is an act of political impotence. But also a degradation of the juridical reach of pluralism and the Rule of Law.

Other examples can be offered. They all reveal a tendency that is consolidated with the worsening of the crisis: the tendency towards the illegality of power. The illegal power is that which is unable to comply with the rules that it has given itself, beginning with those that place it at the peak of the legal system. The neoliberal policies deployed under the excuse of the crisis have only been able to move forward in open tension with these rules. Razing the prohibition of regressiveness and right to due process. Undermining the guaranteeing role of collective agreements. And emptying of content social constitutions and declarations of rights that the West seeks to offer to the world as a civilising credential. Against the unstoppable charge of private powers, the very mechanisms of institutional control are revealed as useless. The illegal drift of power is sanctioned by the power itself: governments, parliaments and judges, with honourable and scarce exceptions.


At times, it is true, the contradiction with constitutions and treaties has saved itself with the production of a new legality. A legality geared towards fostering privileges of the few above the rights of all. This is why, when the big speculative capital powers, or ratings agencies claim that their action in the crisis counts with legal backing, they are right to an extent. A large part of their abuses would be unthinkable without the legal perks obtained by governments of different stripes. Without all these laws, regulations and judgements that have given green light to the greed of the rentiers above the needs of the majorities. This new lex mercatoria, made to measure for a small group of private powers, has become a sort of new global constitution. A rigid corset that pinches the guarantor elements of state legal systems to the point of rendering them unrecognisable. The European rule for the elimination of the deficit at whatever price must be read in this vein. In the same way as the recent Spanish constitutional reform, carried out to guarantee creditors “absolute priority” of payment to the detriment of social rights and the democratic principle.


(Image via)

Now then: when power tumbles into illegality or consents to the irruption of a privatising legality, often mafioso in character, citizen protest, disobedience, acquire a new light. They appear, no longer as disorders liable to criminalisation, but as the foremost of rights. As a necessary, indispensable marker for the weakest, in the contestation of the illegitimate acts of the strongest, in order to force them to fulfil their promises of guarantees, and to install, in this act of rebellion, an alternative juridical order, more egalitarian and free of violence.

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Communiqué in reply to the Report of the Government of the war-world regarding the World Civil War

I received the following text from a contact the other day, which I have translated. It is written by a collective in Granada, based in the Albaicín, an area of the city that most visitors will be familiar with, where many houses, known as carmens, have traditional Andalusian patios. The area is subject to a lot of property speculation of late. According to my contact, the residents of various carmens have joined together to maintain the houses and have set up various research groups. I like (very much) the poetic and antinomian character of this text, which I have not done that great a job of conveying.


Communiqué in reply to the Report of the Government of the war-world regarding the World Civil War

The Party of the Workers’ Hammer for the New World, Numancia Squadron, and the 4th of December Movement, from their General Headquarters in the Carmen of the Three Stars declare (warn) that:

RULE No. 1

Until a new order every right and all legality is suspended except the law that emanates from the Assembly. With regard to ourselves, we never trusted your laws, we did not seek your protection, we will not pray to a god that does not answer. From this moment right will be constituted by the force that sustains it. We are not going to say it will be a pulse, we are going to say it will be an impulse.


RULE No. 2

We will be considerate. We will respect our laws and whoever fulfils them. Whoever remains outside the Justice that emanates from the assembly of the Common, whoever steals, whoever kills, whoever rapes, will be submitted to the Justice imposed, you will not get off scot-free, if you strike us we will strike you, if you evict us we will evict you, we do not want to talk about phases due to arrive, but watch out copper, the seed of hate is growing.


RULE No. 3

Regarding what you say about Us, this is not true. We are NOT sick. We are NOT disorganised. WE ARE NOT ALONE. On the contrary, we are healthy, strong, we have threaded together the necessary solidarities to make our world habitable. We are a Mafia too. You will not protect anyone from the CHAOS. We protect ourselves from ORDER.


RULE No. 4

Our game does not consist of fleeing, we are positioning ourselves, we are touching down on the ground, given that on the ground you live, one cannot walk, nor eat as one should eat, nor chat, nor be at ease. In fact in the places you live, one cannot live, that is, THAT IS NOT LIFE. You are the ones who are isolated, you live in mousetraps designed to block any type of affection or affinity with your people, you are pale, you do not eat well, you play sport in an obsessive manner, in order to forget what a physical sensation is. YOU ARE REMOVED FROM YOUR BODIES.



We are not going to flee alone, we are not going to escape one by one. We are going to build our communes, we are going to seek refuge, we are going to be thread-of-what-happens. You should know that we will do all this, except in specific cases, as a group. Our groups are made up of  mates and family. All the groups, all the communes, we will get what each other is thinking, we will constitute ourselves by the NO to you and the YES to Us. This has been agreed by consensus in the Assembly, and we are drawing up the RESPONSE.


RULE No. 6

Criminals are our enemy too. Know too that our enemies are de facto criminals since this is why they are our enemies. Realise that you fear us for our potential, you fear our potency. You have done it wrongly, you have a deteriorated system, creaking, cracked, every day that we learn, each time we grow we become aware of your weaknesses, which are many, too many, know that a world without fear nests in our hearts, you who have no heart, fear nests in you, insecurity, doubt, barely can you defend your certainties, you want to flee from the certainties that we sense.






We are aware that you can no longer live in your universal desolation, your lack of affection, your lack of attention, you are distant from yourselves you are OUT. We have found ourselves, we are in fact ALREADY complicit. We are friends, we are together and we know that We is a material fact, we have repoliticised the materialism of history and the free market, we are seed and mortar, we dig each other out and we have energy. We are deploying our Defence, if you oblige us we will be ready to attack.



We know that we will come to know prison; you know no other thing.



There will be no more immune blows, all rules are permitted.


The Party of the Workers’ Hammer for the New World, Numancia Squadron, and the 4th of December Movement, from their General Headquarters in the Carmen of the Three Stars, awaiting the response of the rest of the communes of the Coalition of the New Country against the war-world and the Government of the World Civil War.

Granada, seeing the dawn after the long journey of the night of the century.

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