Monthly Archives: February 2012

Risk

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…

(continues)

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.

Chartered

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.

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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).

Risktakers

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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(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.

Granada

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.

 

RULE No.5

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.

 

RULE No7

THE REVOLUTION WILL NOT BE INHERITED

 

RULE No8

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.

 

RULE No9

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

 

RULE No10

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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Squeeze My Middle, Till The Juice Runs Down My Leg


From Evernote:

Squeeze My Middle, Till The Juice Runs Down My Leg

It’s a disorienting and frequently disconcerting sensation to live between two countries on the European periphery and witness the striking similarities but also the glaring differences. It is not that things are much better in Spain than in Ireland; for many they are worse. But what there is, to a far greater degree than in Ireland, is the availability of media productions that are a significant countervailing force to the dominant media machinery, which treats the destruction of labour rights, the dismantling of the welfare state, the privatisation of public services and the immiseration of the population as mere administrative facts at worst and necessary measures for national recovery worthy of enthusiastic backing for the best part.

No such luck in Ireland, where all the newspapers and radio stations are right-wing. 

I read some of the pieces in the Irish Times’s ‘Squeezed Middle’ series this week. In one of the inaugural pieces, Dan O’Brien wrote the following of the bourgeoisie, which he praised effusively:

There was no mention of the modern working class that the bourgeoisie had called into existence. 

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In O’Brien’s view of history, it was the bourgeoisie who worked in the canals, the mines, the shipyards, the car factories, textile factories, it was the bourgeoisie who harvested all the crops, cooked all the meals, raised all the children, and built all the homes and aircraft hangars and office blocks.

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And -if his characterisation is anything to go by- they were all a happy cross between Marcel Proust and Margaret Thatcher. 

The ‘ethical advances, from the abolition of slavery and capital punishment to the curbing of cruelty to animals and the smacking of children’, trumpeted by O’Brien, sit ill at ease with the vicious cruelty inflicted, to use one example in a world saturated by them, on the people of Greece, in order that German bankers can fret over whether or not their diamonds have been ethically sourced.

In the ‘Squeezed Middle’ series (the question of who is doing the ‘squeezing’ never comes into it, nor does whatever lies below the middle) series, we can discern a newspaper trying to fashion a depoliticised readership (a headline from one of today’s features: ‘The best attitude is just to get on with it‘) with a newfound sense of common identity, forged amid recession, which can be easily and productively targeted by potential advertisers. 

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Moreover we can see the continuous erasure of labour -basic matters such as pay, working conditions, conflicts of interests, the threat of unemployment- from the domain of politics and public discourse.

To say nothing, of course, of class as a social relation, not an affectation.

In a piece not of the Squeezed Middle series, but worth reading alongside it, Conor Brady, former Irish Times editor, wrote about how ‘good journalism, for all its faults, interacts with public institutions to ensure a fuller and healthier democracy‘. 

Yet the Squeezed Middle series suggests that this is neither the time nor the place for political activity on the part of its targeted readership. This isn’t all that surprising: for the Irish Times, politics rarely appears as the task of the citizen; rather, all that is required from the citizen is a vote every few years. Politics is something that one has to be Inside, like the title of its weekly political correspondent column implies.

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 ‘We live in a representative democracy…It is as simple as that’, wrote its political correspondent last Saturday in an attempt to ward off the prospect of a referendum. But it is not as simple as that. Even if we were to accept the definition of the Republic of Ireland as a representative democracy, which is arguable given the fact that in any major political decision the representation that counts is the one made on behalf of banks and speculators, it is a heavily mediated representation, in which our information and our very ideas about politics are developed, and our reflexes manipulated, by mass media institutions.

Thus, instead of creating political engagement on the part of citizens, concerns are fostered and appetites are stimulated: for privileges in health care and education in a country that never had a proper post-war national health service, not least because its privately-educated elite was dead against it; for consumer bargains, and for psychological re-adjustment (read: submission) to the inevitable war of all against all, which is intended to unfold as Ireland falls to the bottom of EU states for government general expenditure by 2015. 
So private health care is described as a middle class ‘staple‘: as one interviewee was quoted as saying, ‘you’re going into a public system that isn’t geared for it . . . And then I want to scream and roar at the Government, ‘Where’s your overhaul from the five-point plan, the one where everyone was going to have private health insurance?’’ 

Questions such as why the public system is not geared to look after the public are as welcome as a fart in a lift.

When it comes to education, the Irish Times correspondent reports that ‘private education may have become unaffordable for some, but schools such as Belvedere and Blackrock are continuing to show a surge in numbers’. 

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O for the days when everyone could afford private education at Belvedere! Of course, what is meant by ‘some’ is ‘some of our ideal readership’. And no link is drawn, of course, between the ‘roll back in much of the progress made in Irish education recently’, and the political choices made by people such as Brian Lenihan (Belvedere) and Ruairi Quinn (Blackrock), and the untold billions of public money spent on bank bailouts, NAMA and associated services, and how the beneficiaries of such transfers of wealth are precisely those people most likely to send their children to exclusive private schools.

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The depoliticising thrust of the Squeezed Middle series is none more apparent than in the article on ‘positivity‘ by Maureen Gaffney, which exists in a universe where no-one has read Smile or Die by Barbara Ehrenreich:

If one descended from outer space, one might expect a newspaper interested in a fuller and healthier democracy to address some of the threats to democracy of the day: such as the concentration of immense decisive power in the hands of financial elites, the confiscation of prosperity and imposition of misery by institutions such as the European Central Bank, the European Commission and the International Monetary Fund, which are not accountable to any popular power. 

These are questions of immense importance, which demand collective discussion and the development of collective solutions. In their stead, we get the cheery voluntarism of the unitary and isolated bourgeois subject, in which exploitation is of no importance and solidarity is unheard of, as hawked by Gaffney.

The function of the Irish Times, along with that of other Irish newspapers, is to present a political programme, the imposition of mass unemployment and the destruction of the welfare state, which is being conducted in the interests of the wealthiest groups in Irish society, as a moral imperative, divinely ordained.

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For its succesful execution, every traditional petty bourgeois prejudice must be mobilised, and questions of class conflict have to be extinguished -whether by denying they exist (‘we’re all middle class now’ – O’Brien); by displacing them -through mobilising resentment against grotesques like Sean Fitzpatrick or faceless mandarins in the civil service and presenting the public sector as a whole as a ruling class; and by fostering a common identity by creating common enemies: welfare recipients, migrants…

Common to all this is ensuring that the figure of the worker counts for nothing. For these institutions it is a matter of realising the dream of every bourgeoisie -as Pierre Bourdieu identified- which is to have a bourgeoisie without a proletariat.

Faced with this, it is self-evident that there is an urgent need to develop media alternatives that undermine the normalised discourse of submission to ‘the markets’ and accepting one’s fate. In this regard I think this post by Tom Stokes, on the Irish Labour Press at the beginning of the 20th Century, is highly relevant.

I read an article, translated below, in Sunday’s edition of Público, which I bought at the corner shop. It is by Luis García Montero, a poet whose articles I have translated previously. I’ve read quite a few criticisms of Público in recent days, and it’s true that the paper itself is broadly sympathetic to the PSOE, and gives it a lot of coverage, as was especially the case during the recent leadership contest. But the very existence of such a paper -its future seems somewhat more secure now than it did a couple of weeks back- prevents public discourse from being entirely normalised to a TINA rhythm.

It is interesting, I think, how García Montero observes that fear calls for ‘survival, not the defence of rights’. The Irish Times, as part of its Squeezed Middle series, has a four part Recession Survival Guide.

The best response to that sort of thing, I think, is this:

Anyway, the article:

Unemployment entails a human tragedy, but it is very profitable from a certain way of understanding the economy. If it were not good business, it would be impossible to understand why, in a country so punished by unemployment as Spain, measures are approved to fan the flames of the fire. The obsession with the deficit, the cuts to public investment and the labour reform which mark out the political steps taken of late only serve to generate more unemployment and weaken existing jobs. The State has become an enterprise with an alarming taste for sackings.

Unemployment creates unrest among people and paralyses consumption, a paralysis that in turn generates more unemployment. But this vicious circle does not represent an urgent danger for the current economy. That is, the powerful can take it all in their stride and tighten the rope of human suffering. In the world economy today, the production of wealth counts for very little. The revenue generated by abstract speculative movements is 75 times superior to the dividends produced by all the workers of the world when they get up each morning to sow tomatoes, fix piping, fish, make an aeroplane or write a book. Adam was expelled from paradise so that he would earn his bread by the sweat of his brow. Thus he entered the world of work and the economy. In years of late we have witnessed a new expulsion of Adam. Human beings are now surplus to requirements in the abstract movements of money. This is why the offer can be calmly made of a choice between unemployment or the obedience of the slave.

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The economy enslaves, but the ability to contest this on the part of workers seems very limited. If every human being went on general strike, the machinery of money could hold out for a while without its interests trembling. The new serpent does not need the sweat of bodies, it can be blind to the drama. It only demands that the laws let it speculate ruthlessly. At the end of the day, compassion was always more a thing of mortals than of angry gods. The serpent has managed to establish its new commandments in the service of a speculative economy in which work has a very minor role. Thus the left has not only lost some elections, but a social culture.

The geography into which we have been cast in this second expulsion looks a lot like rough weather. Banks earn money speculating with public debt and with the stock market. They don’t need to work with families or businesses. Those firms that want to keep afloat are offered an immediate way out: to abuse the labour rights of their workers. And the workers accept anything however precarious it might be. Fear calls for survival, not the defence of rights. The announced labour reform will only serve to mistreat even further those surplus citizens to the speculative economy. Thus the banks, ever more unhinged from territory and labour, will dedicate their resources to speculation.

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The insidious confession of Mariano Rajoy foretelling a general strike holds as much venom as the accusations against politics formulated by the banker Emilio Botín. Citizens must be careful with the counsel of wolves when it comes to loading responsibility for the jobs situation onto the shoulders of the unions. Nor should they seek comfort in the disparagement of politics. For the present speculative avarice does not demand union-based solutions, but political ones. New commandments must be sought out. It is a matter of the political defence of work and the citizens against speculation.

The Spanish right wing is trying to use the noise of moralist activism (no to abortion, yes to education by archbishops and imprisonment for life) to hide the great silence over its policies against unemployment. It travels to Germany, it receives orders and it carries them out through whiplashes against the skin of Spanish people condemned to the galleys. In the celebrated German model, seven million workers get paid only 400 euro a month. The slave society had full employment. The rulers who act in the service of the speculative economy are slave traffickers and they travel aboard slave ships.

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What It Says In The Papers


From Evernote:

What It Says In The Papers

The new free monthly newspaper for the Madrid 15-M assemblies has been released. 

The paper will be financed and distributed by the neighbourhood assemblies that have sprung up across the city since the initial demonstrations and occupations of May 15th last year. It has had an initial 20,000 print run, with a medium target to double this. The end product is pretty impressive and comprehensive. Diagonal quotes the editor as saying that the fact of bringing out a print publication serves to give an image of coherence and solidity as a movement. 

The paper has sections on various struggles taking place across the different areas where the neighbourhood assemblies operate: justice for a young person who died in strange circumstances; reports of cases of police brutality; news on evictions, public co-operatives for food growing in urban areas with fertile soil, proposals for a cross-neighbourhood mobilisation over housing and human rights, demonstrations in defence of public health, human chains surrounding banks, a manifesto that calls for a public banking system and denounces the plunder of public savings banks. 

Then there is a section on 15-M in the Spanish state, with reports on the dismantling of the public health service in Catalonia, a state-wide meeting of rural collectives, anti-eviction actions, among other things. Then there is another section titled 15M Without Borders, with an analysis of Occupy Wall Street, reports from Davos, Romania, and Brazil. There is a Culture section, an Economics section with proposed alternatives to the programme of cutbacks planned by the government, an analysis of how to maintain a popular movement to oppose the planned labour ‘reform’, and plenty more.

All in all, it’s a very impressive piece of work that draws together what might be otherwise disparate struggles and initiatives and gives them a sense of coherence and common direction. Moreover, in light of the vicious agenda of privatisation and cutbacks planned by the Madrid regional government, it creates a sense of city-wide counterpower and resistance. 

Some 150,000 people took to the streets in Madrid yesterday to demonstrate against the assault on public services. The main unions were there, as were plenty of smaller unions, many workers collectives, and of course the neighbourhood assemblies that had sprung up after 15M. 

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The demonstration took the slogan ‘Por lo público’. ‘Lo’ in Spanish is the neuter definite article. ‘Lo público’ then means, roughly, ‘what is public’. That is, it is not merely about the discrete range of services and amenities provided by State authorities, but about how those things are part of the fabric of a life lived in common. During the demonstration, a group of firemen covered a vast space in the Puerta del Sol with fire extinguisher foam. The newspaper Público reported that one banner read: "We don’t get depressed. We don’t get frightened. We don’t believe them. We don’t pay them any heed. We struggle. We will win." 

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Here is a video, produced by the media team of acampadasol, of yesterday’s demonstration.

This is a translation of a piece published in the Madrid15M newspaper, by Ángel Luis Lara, who is a sociologist at the New School in New York and who has taken part in Occupy Wall Street from the beginning:

The new movements and the love deficit

One of the peculiarities of the new movements that have come about in the last year, from the Arab spring to the Spanish 15M or in Occupy Wall Street, is the emergence of a massive will to politicise existence, marked by the anonymous protagonism of everyday people. The collective seizing of squares and public spaces has constituted, for thousands of people, their first forays into political action, at the same time as it has rendered explicit their determined nonconformity with regard to the usual bosses from political representation and the media, as well as their desire for a truly democratic organisation of social life. At the end of the 19th century, Gabriel Tarde anticipated the idea of the public as the fundamental vector of future revolts. The new movements have updated the virtualisation of his intuition: publics rebel against the imposition of their condition as spectators. What is common to all the present movements is founded above all on this quality of insubordination: to stop being a mere object in the phrase and become its subject. We are the 99%.

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If the global movement that preceded the current drift of movements was led fundamentally by activists and organisations, hence the name it acquired of ‘movement of movements’, the new insurgency has found one of its fundamental engines in everyday people and informal networks. Experiences in Occupy Wall Street or in the 15M have underlined to us that the "people without attributes" have given the movements their most potent attributes: creativity and imagination. These people have shown us that the sociability produced in Liberty Plaza or the Puerta del Sol was not only directly political in itself, but that the politics it gave rise to did not demand any specialisation of us, nor did it demand different capabilities to those we put to use day to day in our life. Occupy Wall Street and the 15M have grown around a social composition whose daily productive activities basically consisted of communication, the  production of subjectivity and relations or caring: exactly the same fabric of activities that activity in the squares has comprised.

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From this viewpoint, not only have the new movements deactivated once and for all the Habermasian distinction between instrumental action and communicative action, but also, by contrast with the traditional models of the left, they have not made us pass through ideological filters or subjection to identitarian parameters: it is enough to be a person to be part of them. Occupy Wall Street and the 15M have revealed to us about politics what we had already discovered in relation to work: that it is becoming ever more indistinguishable from life. If one does not delegate one’s life, one has no reason to delegate politics. The constituent character and democratic radicalism of the squares has not been injected through speeches nor has it been extracted from some ideological corpus: it has emanated directly from sociability itself, from people, by being together. A true multitudinous exercise in reappropriation of our productive forces.

It was precisely that being together that placed the category of friendship at the centre of the new movements. Jacques Rancière said it a little while ago: "the true rupture is to stop living in the field of the enemy". However, the current movements are also serving to demonstrate just how much we classic activists have considerable difficulty unlearning the centrality of enmity: we feel more at ease in dialectical confrontation than in creative overflow, as Tomás R. Villasante would say. Far from allowing ourselves to go along with the strength of anonymity to the point of disappearing into the commons of persons, we tend to reaffirm ourselves as a difference, imposing our rhythms, our ideological abstractions and our identitarian corsets: when being together turns into activism it usually disconnects from everyday life and moves away from the concrete problems that brought us to the squares. It is a sort of privatisation of the movements: everyday people end up feeling alienated and they head off home.

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Some friends who participated together in Occupy Wall Street have begun to think these questions starting from the category of love, using the conceptual approach of the biologist Humberto Maturana: "love is the emotion that constitutes the field of actions in which our recurring interactions with another make that other a legitimate other in coexistence with oneself". Far from accepting the other as a difference, we activists tend to impose on them our practices and our semantics: we are the incarnation of a love deficit. Our preoccupation with making politics of the commons is of no use if we are unable to turn politics into the most common of goods: in which everyone may take part. This is the ethical obligation that the proposition We Are the 99% imposes on us. As Maturana points out: love is constitutive of human beings: in order to learn it one only has to be everyday people. Let us dare to submit our points of departure to critical questioning, and our identities and affiliations, so as to promote a real and decided process of decolonisation in the movements. 

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As bell hooks says, this is perhaps the most difficult step in the process of learning to love. At the same time, it is where true liberation leads us: from resistance to transformation. Why should we be satisfied with the revolt of just a few when in the squares we have been thousands and we have named ourselves as revolution?

 

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The capitalist crisis and the desire for democracy


From Evernote:

The capitalist crisis and the desire for democracy

This is a translation of an article by Santiago Alba Rico. It appeared in the most recent edition of Papeles de Relaciones Ecosociales y Cambio Global, and was posted on news aggregator site Rebelión.

The capitalist crisis and the desire for democracy


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On November 1st 2011 the newspapers published two news items that were intimately related. In one, the Greek Prime Minister Georgios Papandreou was calling his citizens to a referendum over the public debt and the bailout measures decided by the European Union. In another, there was the announcement of the vertiginous rise in risk premiums in Spain and Italy and a general plunge on the European stock markets. The relation between these two news items did not require a penetrating analysis nor did they require a particularly perceptive acuity; all the newspapers with frightening naturalness broadcast the adverse reaction of the markets to this exercise of sovereignty and democracy in Greece (“Greek referendum unleashes panic on the stock exchange”, “the European economy trembles at the Greek referendum”, said the paper’s headlines. The politicians also showed their discomfort at a decision they considered harmful to economic recovery. 

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Thus Rainer Bruederle, adviser to Angela Merkel, showed no hesitation in condemning it as a lack of responsibility and seriousness on the part of the Greek government: “it irritated me”, Bruederle confessed to a German radio station, “it is a strange way to act. The Prime Minister Georgios Papandreu agreed that the bailout package was beneficial for his country.” The presidents of the European Commission and the European Council immediately urged Papandreu to “honour his commitments”; Finland threatened to cut off its assistance and the Spanish minister José Blanco indicated that “it was not a good decision for Europe”. In fact, the European Union immediately froze the supply of funds to Greece as punishment for its indiscipline and it warned of the consequences of its audacity, mentioning the possibility of an expulsion from the organisation. Just 24 hours later, the Greek Prime Minister, abandoned by his own ministers, gave way and withdrew the referendum proposal.

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What could have happened in Europe so that a popular consultation, a privileged instrument of democratic sovereignty, should become a danger, a threat, an act of irresponsibility, an aggression, the foreshadowing of a catastrophe?

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A month before, at the end of September [actually, the 6th September – R], UBS, the biggest Swiss bank, published a 21 page report by economists Stephane Deo, Paul Donovan and Larry Hatheway. In it they warned that the recession was going to give way to a depression, and in a tone that was half descriptive half threatening, insinuated the need for ‘muscular’ governments, less democratic and more ‘authoritarian’ to set the situation straight, or risk driving the EU into a ‘balkanisation’ or a ‘civil war’. The foreseeable social disorders that the economic crisis was going to generate, following the model in August, may require changes of Government, even dictatorial or ‘military’ Governments capable of containing and repressing the unrest. The Swiss bank’s report could be interpreted without doubt as a blackmail intended to strengthen bank bailouts, without which –we are told- one could only await a future of instability, agitations and autocracy that would put an end to the “European dream”, but which reflected also, in a naked fashion, this growing intolerance by the so-called markets –a supranational and uncontrollable constituent power- of democratic institutions. This need for “repression” of the human obstacles that might put themselves in the way of the true “sovereign power”, has already crystallised, in fact, in the creation of an “anti-mutiny” Europea police force, Eurogendfor, made up of 3,000 men and with headquarters in Italy, one of whose patrols would have been sent over to Greece to coincide precisely with the calling of the referendum.

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After the second world war and until 1990, faced with a Soviet Union that simultaneously functioned as a threat and a counterpoint, Western propaganda successfully managed –albeit at the expense of other peoples and other regions- to fuse into a single piece, as if nature itself had decreed it, a material development unprecedented in the history of humanity with a juridical and institutional framework compatible with the popular democratic conquests of the last 200 years. Democracy, Rule of Law and Market seemed to have fused together into the same mould. This was not true. 

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Already in 1944, in a classic book that makes for recommended reading now more than ever, The Great Transformation, the Hungarian Karl Polanyi had related fascism with the autonomy of a market abandoned to its autistic dynamics beyond societies and political intervention. Polanyi could see very well this contradiction, clear once more today, between democracy and law on the one hand and “freedom”, conceived precisely as the unlimited expression of economic impulses: ‘‘the freedom to exploit ones fellows, or the freedom to make inordinate gains without commensurable service to the community, the freedom to keep technological inventions from being used for public benefit or the freedom to profit from public calamities secretly engineered for private advantage’. This kind of freedom, radically opposed to social reproduction in the context of an inter-war crisis, had led inevitably to dictatorship and war.

Two decades after the defeat of the USSR in the cold war, the illusion is quickly collapsing and Polanyi’s analysis acquires a sudden relevance in the conscience and the experience of citizens: it is Goldman Sachs, not the polling booths, that decides the degree of freedom, the quality of life, longevity and dignity of human beings. 

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Politics, as the Hungarian author warned, has been completely taken hostage by economics, before which parliaments, institutions, culture, knowledge, and even love, now bow. Capitalism, apart from a set of impersonal economic relations, also requires an apparatus of management, which deems it equally necessary to have, depending on the time and the place, the most bloodthirsty gunmen and the most refined philosophers (as shown by Frances Stonor Saunders in her exhaustive study of the “cultural cold war”). What characterises this management apparatus is precisely its lack of scruples: during the last sixty years it has alternately or simultaneously used (depending on geo-strategic criteria in an unequal economic space) colonialism, fascism, dictatorships, weak dictatorships, weak dictatorships, the welfare State, democratic institutions, financial institutions, and trade agreements and even religious fundamentalism (such as in Afghanistan or in the Balkans). This management apparatus is very versatile and it does not prefer fascism. But it has at any rate two limits imposed by the very economic structure it tries to manage. The first teaches that not even in its periods of growth can capitalism generalise democracy as a process of management (limited in the best case scenario to an insignificant region of the planet). The second reveals that in the worst of cases, in periods of crisis or recession, democracy is the only process of management truly incompatible with capitalism. All appears to indicate that politicians and economic actors (the funnel of the 1% that swallows up the wealth) have assumed already that the worst case scenario has arrived and that the reproduction of mechanisms for capitalist accumulation is incompatible everywhere, and in Europe two, with the Welfare State and the Rule of Law. As Marx said 150 years ago, it is often ‘the bayonets that must put the natural law of supply and demand onto the right track’.

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And the citizens? Apart from in Latin America, where the democratisation of the last decade, under the impulse of popular projects and social movements had led to a rise in democratic consciousness and, against it, an increase in imperialist pressures, the rest of the world seemed either petrified in its defeat, or in downright regression. The passing and application after 11th September of antiterrorist laws that violated or suspended civiland political rights that were apparently well established, along with the aggressive economic offensive against social and labour guarantees, opened the way in Europe to resigned conviction that, in effect, the capitalist counterrevolution entailed taking on neopopulist or neofascist solutions, accepted or even applauded by a population bribed with merchandise, frightened by immigration and formatted by mass media.

In this context of unprecedented democratic regressions, mistimed, 200 years behind, the Arab world went out into the street to demand democracy.

Extemporaneous and eccentric democracy

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At the end of 2010 something happened, in effect, that was unexpected and where least it was expected. A tragic but minor incident, already mythological, in the Tunisian interior. Sidi Bouzid, unleashed the ‘thaw’ of the only region of the world that had been deliberately kept fossilised since the second world war (perhaps, further back, since the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire). Mohamed Bouazizi, a street vendor humiliated by the police, set fire to himself in front of the city’s governor’s office and his death provoked a popular uprising that toppled the dictator Ben Ali and immediately shaking the region. Oil-producing theocracies, pseudo-parliamentary monarchies or false republics, from Mauritania to Bahrain, all arabs without exception lived, and live still, under severe dictatorships controlled by omnipotent police apparatuses in the service of mafia-style oligarchies that are subordinate and function in the interests of international capitalism.

The general situation had been outlined already in April 2005 in the report commissioned by the United Nations Development Program by a group of Arab intellectuals: “in line with standards of the 21st century, the arab countries have not resolved the aspirations for development of the Arab people, safety and liberation, despite the diversities between one country and another in this regard. In fact, there is a near complete consensus with regard to the existence of grave shortcomings in the Arab world, and the conviction that these are situated specifically in the political sphere”. Corruption, mafia-style clientelism, partiality in the justice system, exceptional tribunals, violence against ‘civil society’, economic inequality, the report also included a denunciation of the occupation of Palestine and Iraq as decisive obstacles for the democratisation of the zone.

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 “Having dismantled the old State, the US authorities at the helm have given made little progress when building a new one”. It was a courteous form of alluding to the great effort –in the opposite direction- that the US and the EU have made in this part of the world to prevent democracy. After the attacks of September 11th and the invasion of Iraq, the Bush administration had understood the need to make certain concessions that would give their friendly regimes a makeover without questioning their power or –like the bombers like to say- their “stability”. 

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Constitutional reforms in Tunisia and Egypt, family elections in Saudi Arabia and the pompous and perverse polls in Iraq, together with the mass demonstrations in Beirut, led some propagandists to speak in 2005 of an “Arab spring”. Nothing could have been further from the truth. The report of the UNDP corrected this dreamy vision to speak harshly of ‘a black hole’ and ‘an imminent catastrophe’ related to a ‘social explosion’ that could, according to its predictions, produce ‘a civil war’.

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When the ‘social explosion’ finally happened, which is still effervescent today, it did so, however, under a disconcerting format. The enclosure of political space, traditionally and historically separate from the social universe, seemed to determine that the scarcely likely step of the former into the latter could only be violent; and yet, however, apart from in the case of Libya, the protests and demonstrations that swept and sweep the Arab world, from Tunisia to Yemen, from Egypt to Bahrain, from Morocco to Syria, were and continue to be stubbornly peaceful. The instrumentalisation of religion in its Wahhabite strain after the US-Saudi pact of 1945 – a reactionary battering ram against the threat of a progressivist decolonisation that had been on the verge of becoming a reality, gave rise to fears, elsewhere, that the “explosion” might take on salafist demands, that it might be done in the name of God and in the imposition of sharia, and yet the Arab revolutions, whist largely carried out by Muslims, have only demanded “democracy” and “dignity”. Nothing of this was in the plans –nor, in most cases was it in the desire- of the forces operating in the region: the EU, the US, Israel, the Islamists and the Arab left, all of which have been dragged in the wake of the popular mobilisation.

There has been, if one can say it in this way, a sort of political, and not religious, “alienation”, under which the term “democracy” has condensed and served as a conduit for very broad range of long-standing dissatisfactions and grievances. Unemployment, corruption, repression, humiliation, and wretched living have been measured in a certain way by the broken promises of the West, whose word has been taken with a seriousness that is in itself subversive. At the moment when its practice is in greatest retreat in Europe and the United States, when it can be least permitted in the developed capitalist centres, a furious desire for democracy, an uncontainable democratising impulse has toppled three tyrants and threatens at least two more in a zone of the world – the north of Africa and the Near East – where for the last 70 years a large part of the geopolitical, energy and self-interested attention of the great powers has been concentrated, which, precisely for that, had until now prevented through all means that the most elementary citizen freedoms and freedoms be exercise. It does not matter if these revolutions are not left wing or if they will be more or less held captive or managed from outside, as one might fear: what is true is that in no other place in the world does the very notion of democracy result more intolerable and dangerous for all the actors on the terrain. The vote of the Tunisians the past 23rd October is the expression of a remarkable national and regional victory and it obliges moreover a change in the rules of the game of Western intervention in the entire region.

The potency of the politically correct

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The revolutionary potential of democratic naivety is also showing all its delegitimizing power in Europe. The 15 M movement, a seismic replica of the Arab spring that must be inscribed in the same tectonic fault of the capitalist crisis, reveals the globalisation of responses to the global nature of the aggression. There is something very interesting and very pretty –and potentially transformative- in this mobilisation of all the commonplaces and clichés, launched now against those who for years have named them without believing in them. The 15 M is, yes, a politically correct movement. And this, which can be a limit in the struggles to come, is for starters, a vigorous vaccination against the neopopulist authoritarianisms that were being presented as the only alternative to the crisis of credibility in Europe. The response is as surprising as that of the Arab world: when the Spanish population seemed definitively formatted by the “hedonism of masses” and doomed to neofascist faith-based adherences (as a “natural” response to the crisis) the “indignados” launch themselves into the street not to ask for a strong leadership or “nationalist” measures against immigration, but in name of all the “conventions” repeated in propaganda and betrayed by politicians: active solidarity that leads to preventing evictions, belligerent anti-racism that prevents the arrest of immigrants, inclusive tolerance exercised in all the squares, participative democracy in assemblies at times exhausting and useless, but whose very self-referential character has, by contrast, a powerful revelatory effect: it radically de-authorises and discredits the system in power. “They call it democracy and it is not” and “they do not represent us” are the two slogans which summarise awareness of a nitham, as in the Arab world, that is contrary to individual and collective self-determination, and which invoke the demand for a “true democracy” that still has to be filled with content.

In the Arab world repression and religion were fuelled; in Europe the nihilism of consumption and of the mass media. No society in history has exalted youth so much as a mercantile value and none has shown so much contempt for it as a real force of change: whilst advertisements offered time and time again the immutable image of a desire always in bloom, eternally young, the young Spanish, like the Tunisians, suffered unemployment, precarious work, professional disqualification, material exclusion from adult life, and, as soon as the socially accepted norms of petty-bourgeois consumption were taken away, police persecution. In the Arab world, so that they refrained from demanding a decent existence, young people were beaten and put in prison; in Europe, so that they refrain from demanding a decent existence, they are offered junk food, junk television, the junk time of supermarkets and theme park. In Tunisia, young people excluded from their own territory were held down by truncheon bblows; in Spain, the young people who cannot buy their own home or sell their labour skills, can acquire cheap technology, cheap clothes, cheap pizzas. Kept well away from centres of decision making, held in contempt or overexploited in the labour market, molded by homogeneous consumption habits, the youth has ended up becoming (in Europe and in the Arab world) a transmediterranean “social class” which, by its own material characteristics, recognises no age limits. As the Arab revolutions have shown, as the indignados of Europe and the US sho, there are millions of fortysomethings and even old people who are denied access to the age of majority via mechanisms that are at once political and economic.

But we had been wrong: if one cannot repress a human being indefinitely, she cannot be bribed eternally either; if real blows do not work, neither do false caresses. Blows or bubblegum, these young people of all ages do not accept being treated as children; they neither allow themselves to be threatened (“no fear” they shout here and there) or bought (“we are not commodities”). The Puerta del Sol in Madrid also showed the great “cultural” failure of capitalism, which has sought to keep European populations in a permanent age of minority simply by fuelling hunger: for sweets, for images, for pure intensities. Frightened or corrupted, children cannot be allowed to vote without there being a danger that their vote bore some real relation to democracy. And thus, in Tunisia and Madrid, in Egypt and New York, in Yemen and in Athens, young people call precisely for democracy; and thus, in Tunisia and in Madrid, in Egypt and in New York, in Yemen and in Athens, they have understood accurately that democracy is organically linked to that mysterious thing that Kant situated sharply away from the markets: dignity.

Dignity, indeed, has to do with access to majority of age. Only children do not take decisions and it is for the young to rebel, not against adults but against childhood. When one is a child, one is enclosed in one’s own body, fed from outside, maintained –let’s say- alive but bereft of any instrument for appropriation of one’s own territory. This is why, in order to sketch clearly this new class community transversal of countries, two shared characteristics have defined, here and there, the struggle for dignity and democracy. One is that new technologies, vectors of the capitalist desiring imaginary, integrators into an unequally accessible market, had structured a new global order parallel to that of media prestiges; an anonymous order through which the impersonal flow of the worst impulses circulated speedily and sweetly, but which also held a potential change in the perception of the other. This order that did not demand democracy but exaltation; it did not demand a better society but pure exchange, but displaced to the outside, inscribed in the plaza, it has paradoxically re-established a very old world, anthropologically and politically almost Greek, of respect and trust only in those who were unknown.

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But this concept of dignity, understood as access to the age of majority, as a reappropriation of one’s own territory, demanded precisely the physical occupation of space, the return to space. This is the second characteristic shared by the transversal youth of all ages in its demand for democracy. For years, well-founded analyses drew attention to the decentralisation and evaporation of power, whether capillary or tentacular, bereft of any visible materialisation. There could be neither a Bastille nor a Winter Palace. They are right. And yet, the model inaugurated in the Casbah in Tunis and Tahrir Square in Cairo, then extended in Pearl Square and in Taghir Square, extended throught the world: Sol, Plaza de Catalunya, Syntagma, Bastille, Wall Street, etc. 

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Undoubtedly these are all symbolically saturated places, but the acampadas have less to do with the fact of pointing the finger at a building or a ministry (which also happens) than with the need to affirm the very power of remaining in a public space. Capitalist power has no centre, but it occupies all spaces and this is why the physical presence of bodies alongside one another in a common enclosure is already a living exercise in democracy. To remain in the space is highly vigorous and subversive response, to this decentralisation of power: now the centre is us, the place we all occupy together, the square in which we leave our traces and our speeches. The impulse of writing and drawing –all that graffiti on the walls- is a contestation to advertising, which invades walls with its aggressive private interests; the assembly, for its part, is an inverted replica of a television studio, with its planned venting and false laughter. As in the case of new technologies, the paradox of this evaporated power is in the fact that, when confronted with it, the indignados reintroduce a classical effect, which is also Greek: the transformation of space into human space, an agora for the exchange of arguments, an academy for learning the laws of this world.

This order of perception and of contestation, with its classical effects, arises in any instance from the inside capitalism –as if subjectivity itself, and not that which confronts productive forces and the mode of production, were its intimate contradiction- and does not fit into any of the organisational moulds that had been traditionally built against it. Both the concrete history of real politics and the gnoseological format of the new technological youth catch traditional parties offside, without, in return, the outrage being capable of forging new instruments and new frames of transitive intervention, beyond self-affirmation and negation through contrast. Democracy, in a manner of speaking, is parallel to power. That is not enough. Democracy must be in power.

By way of conclusion.

Twenty years after the defeat of the USSR in the Cold War, the capitalist counterrevolution we call ‘crisis’ has stripped naked the incompatibility not only between Market and Welfare State but also, more radically, between Market and Democracy. In this sense, the economic , legislative and police offensive after 9/11, aimed at ensuring the expanded reproduction of profits at the cost of the majority of the population and the very survival of the planet, has turned the naïve call for democracy, in the Arab world and in the rest of the world, into a structural obstacle, and as such, on the other side, into a motor of transformations. The enemy of the managers of the world economy is no longer socialism but democracy itself; and this is why it is the demand for democracy, by jarring with the material base of capitalism in crisis, that must lead necessarily to the conception of another model (that is, to “socialism”). But we will not be able to reach it without the articulation of new organisational models which, raised to the formats that cause mercantile desire to circulate, situate that imaginary against its reasonable limits: those of the earth itself and its resources.

 

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