Monthly Archives: March 2012

General Considerations

From Evernote:

General Considerations

Bit of a long translation here, but hopefully you find it worthwhile. It is by John Brown (a pseudonym) again, from a couple of weeks ago, and it covers a lot of ground: the scene being set for the general strike in Spain on the 29th of March; the apparent timidity of the main unions calling the general strike; the grounds for divergence between the unions and the new social movements, and the potential for the reinvention of the general strike -as the metropolitan strike- in order to address the needs and desires of the burgeoning population of workers consigned to post-Fordist precarity. Whilst Brown is scathing about the union leadership and the desire to domesticate the 15M movement, he astutely discerns their betrayals as effects of the current predicament of the traditional labour movement, and not its cause. 

29M: Against the labour reform or against the 15M?

1.

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Almost a year after the beginning of a new social movement against neoliberalism on the now emblematic date of 15M, the two main unionis of the Spanish State, Comisiones Obreras and UGT, have decided to call a general strike. It is worth recalling that this strike has been pushed for across different social sectors for more than a year. Already with the previous government the neoliberal management of the crisis had been felt by workers, in terms of deterioration in salaries and working conditions, but also in the adaptation of the text of the constitution to the hegemony of finance capital. The formal constitution of the Spanish state, thanks to the reform promoted by the PSOE, and supported at the time by the PP, gave official priority to financial debt over social debt, making the payment of public debt constitutionally imperative and thus over and above any consideration of the general interest or of attending to the rights and necessities of the citizens. The PP’s labour reform now rejected -in part- by the main unions is one step more towards the realisation of the neoliberal programme. After a century of social conquests by the worker movement, which introduced that anomaly called ‘collective bargaining’ into the juridical sphere, the current reform seeks to limit the sphere of application of the aforementioned as far as possible to the point of bringing the contract of work (framed by collective bargaining) in line with the ordinary mercantile contract in which the wills of any two physical or juridical persons are joined, without taking into account their social differences. Elsewhere, the flexibilisation of dismissal introduced by the new law operates in the same manner, liquidating the social specificity of labour relations and dissolving these into ordinary market relations. The main unions, at last, have reacted to this new assault by calling a general strike with the aim of "negotiating" with the government on "changes" to the law of labour reform, but without demanding its withdrawal or derogation from the text.

2.

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The position of the unions is defensive: for them it is not a question of conquering or preserving a space of freedoms and rights for workers, but of merely achieving that a lesser evil is imposed, so that the reform is somewhat less harmful for the interests of wage labourers with a contract of indefinite duration who form the base of the main unions. The union bureaucrats form part of the apparatus of the capitalist State that finances them and gives them the rank of approved interlocutors. Their function as apparatuses of the State is to exercise an arbitration between the interests of their bases – more and more meagre in number- and those of capital. Their only positive programme consists of a series of utopian and nostalgic demands: full employment, permanent contracts, welfare state based on work etc. Their political and mental space is that of the old Fordist-Keynesian compromise that guaranteed until the 1970s in the countries of democratic Europe -though not in ours, where Francoism only produced a caricature- decent levels of social well-being, distribution of wealth and political presence of workers represented through the big organisations of the left. Today. There is little left quantitatively and qualitatively of that old compromise that the bourgeoisie pushed to liquidate when the rise of the new worker movement at the end of the 60s and the beginning of the 70s had placed it in checkmate. Arising from a certain level of social hegemony of workers, Fordism and Keynesianism had generated, as explained well by the Trilateral Commission report on ‘The crisis of democracy’ (1975), societies that were ‘ungovernable’ for capital. ‘Ungovernable’ meant here that work in these societies was producing gradually less profit for capital. Thus what was needed was a general programme of deregulatin of labour such as the one we see culminating now in Europe in the heat of the financial crisis and the terrorist exploitation of debt by States and the different instances of capitalist rule.

3.

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Neoliberalism -as was the case with fascism in its time- constituted what in Antonio Gramsci’s terms is called a "passive revolution", that is, taking advantage of the energy of a revolutionary movement that is not strong enough- as with the end of the 60s in Europe- to provoke a break with the system, to reorganise the mechanisms of rule in a more efficient manner and by achieving certain levels of consensus on new bases. The more than 30 years of neoliberalism managed to capture both the capacity for social integration of wage labourers that had belonged to the political and union bureaucracies – which represented the old working class in the Fordist compromise- and the insurrection against discipline and rigidity of this very representation as conducted by the youth sectors of the proletariat and the student movement. The result is the type of society and economic organisation that we know today in the industrial nations and which has extended itself gradually across the entire planet: a combination of precarious labour, cognitive and immaterial economy, network cooperation, multiplication of forms of "individual entrepreneurship" and a blurring of the instances of capitalist command, replaced in large part by mechanisms of finance and debt. Market and society are fused together as a huge productive organism that turns every moment of life into an act of production for capital. For nearly thirty years, the new class configuration of the proletariat has been held captive under the dynamic crusades of market discipline, as an order that overdetermines direct cooperation in networks and the "zombie" political and union representation of an old working class that no longer had the slightest capacity for hegemony. The crisis of the left has a direct relation to this scenario: in a context where it was now impossible for the representation of the old working class to be an instrument of hegemony and where the new proletariat had become unrepresentable, the left could only manage the difficulty-laden survival of a model of social relations headed for disappearance. Thus, the left in government always applied the new neoliberal framework by trying to use it to maintain -through a diffent logic- a set of "fordist" rights that were becoming ever more empty and applicable to ever fewer citizens. The ultimate example of this impossible politics of social democracy within neoliberalism is that of the successive governments of Tony Blair.

4.

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The result of the process sketched out previously is the existence of two clearly differentiated sectors within a working population whose class limits are gradually less differentiated: on the one hand, the decayed ex-Fordist ex-socialist fortress of the political and union left, and on the other the highly diverse multitude of postfordist workers. The strike of the 29th will not only be a push from the main unions to the government intended to try and preserve something of the old labour states -without in so doing questioning the fundamental logic of neoliberalism-but also a competition between the leadership of the main unions and the new forms of political organisation of the postfordist multitude (15M, the components of the different "tides" that have not been co-opted, etc.). This is how the main unions understand it. It has been claimed loud and clear by the leadership of Comisiones Obreras in an internal document that has circulated amid the grassroots. In this document bearing the date of the 24th of February 2012 and titled Informative Note on the meeting of general secretaries, it is openly claimed that there exists a "persistent and puerile campaign of delegitimisation from those who arrogate from (sic) the 15M brand." and that "From all of this one big conclusion can be drawn: it is necessary for confederal trade unionism to "govern" the strategy of rejecting the reform."

This open willingness to deal with the question of hegemony on the part of the union leadership corresponds to the extremely serious crisis of representation opened up by the 15M and the other concomitant social movements. Since the 15M, the unions have found it increasingly difficult to use the logic of the lesser evil. The social movement of the new subjects of post-Fordist labour has brought about a reactivation of the idea of rupture with the system expressed as a rupture with neoliberalism, or even, in certain sectors, with capitalism as such. The fact that the social sector to which the people of the 15M belong should make uo the large majority of Spanish and European workers places the legitimacy of the unions in grave danger. The unions have called the strike of the 29M because of the pressure from their grassroots, who want to actively defend their rights, also through pressure in the streets and squares. It would turn out to be simply intolerable for union leaderships wee the movement in the squares to take on the initiative for a general strike or an equivalent mobilisation, especially on a matter such as the labour reform and the modifications to collective bargaining which directly affect the most vital interests of the union grassroots. Of course the new legislation affects the already precarious worker less -though it degrades their working conditions- than the traditional worker with an indefinite contract and rights recognised by accord, but the result of the labour reform in the medium term would be the unification, under the norm of precarity, of all workers, which would amount to the disappearance of the space in which the main unions have a leading role. Hence the deep and justified concern of the latter, since the foreseeable swamping would not be momentary but irreversible and strategic.

5.

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It is necessary to bring in some observations on the "strike" as a method of struggle for workers. The general strike was the founding myth of revolutionary syndicalism. It is based on the hypothesis formulated by Emile Pouget and the classic figures of anarchosyndicalism that the same movement through which the workers completely cease production for a society led by the bosses, is the one that at the same moment can take on the functions of directing and managing the entirety of production. This original model shared by socialist revolutionaries and anarchosyndicalism had its theoretical and political limitations as a method of overthrowing domination in a complex society, and it was gradually abandoned by the majority left in favour of class political representation through the party and the State. The general strike continued to exist as a class weapon, but always separated from its initial aim of destroying bourgeois power through the direct action of workers. The general strike represented the last resort in the repertoire of defence of the value of labour power in the market, in what Gramsci called the ‘economic-corporate’ dimension of unions in the social democratic or Leninist context. This is the case with the general strike called by the main Spanish unions for the 29th of March. Their objective is, as always, to arbitrate between the interests of capital and those of their bases, not to challenge the very principles of the neoliberal regime. In effect, one will search in vain, in the platform of demands of the main unions for the 29M, for even the slightest allusion to anything beyond the perpetuation of the wage relation or, in general about the market order or, even about the neoliberal order or the domination of finance capital. When the different forms of indirect wage (healthcare, education, other public services) are being progressively dismantled in the name of of reducing public spending and the payment of debt as the sacred duty of the nation, the legitimacy of the debt that justifies these cutbacks is assumed by the unions to be something natural. At no moment is the need for an audit of public debt at the different levels of administration put forward, nor of the ‘odious’ private debt generated irresponsibly by the banks, especially in the property sector via subprime mortgage loans. Nor is there any account taken of the imperative need, for life "in civilised conditions" among numerous sectors of society, that there should exist an income independent of any labour performed in a society that, for some time now, has abandoned any plan for full employment and where the majority of new hiring has been precarious in the last ten years. These and other vital questions for all those citizens who now live under conditions of precarity and intermittent work that the new law intends to generalise are ignored in the mobilisations called by the main unions.

6.

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The demands of the social, immaterial, cognitive, precarious, affective worker, the networked worker, of all the new forms of post-Fordist work have a huge potential for transformation and allow the defence of all those labour rights so badly defended by unions, by adding to them a new generation of rights proper to the new forms of work. Among these rights there ought to be the right to a basic income independent of any present or past labour performed, the right to housing and the prohibition of eviction of people who are insolvent, the cancelation of odious debts such as those generated by "junk mortgages", and a whole series of demands that bear no relation to the individual waged job but to the social labour of production and reproduction of productive ways of living. At the same time, due to the ways of living and production specific to post-Fordism, the new plural figures of the proletariat can only articulate modes of struggle that occupy the entirety of the social space. It is no longer possible to have a strike in certain sectors that are considered the only productive sectors. Today the strike is the interruption of the flows of people and commodities organised by capital, in favour of new flows with other directions, of occupations of all kind of spaces: what Italian comrades correctly name as the "metropolitan strike". A strike that encompasses the entire urban fabric, all spaces of life in the great urban centre and their ‘rural’ territorial ramifications. Today every space and any space is productive. For this very reason, the general strike once again possesses -as in the period of revolutionary syndicalism- a political dimension that goes beyond the ‘economic-corporate’ frame.

The articulation of a classical strike like the one organised by the main unions and their affiliates with a new edition expanded by the 15M can have unpredictable effects. To ensure that these effects are positive and modify the present correlation of forces it is essential to avoid any identitarian and excluding position that tries to counterpose itself to the identitarian position that the main unions intend to cultivate with the end of "governing" the 15M. The official unions must find themselves overwhelmed and hegemonised by the new democratic logic of the multitude unfurled for more than a year in the streets and squares. One would be better off comprehending the causes that determine actions of the union leaderships and apparatuses rather than getting involved in denouncing the most prominent leaders as "traitors". Not because they are not, but because the fact that they are is not the cause of the current situation of impotence and decay in which the traditional worker movement finds itself, but is one of its effects.

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Higher Stakes

From Evernote:

Higher Stakes

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There is a general strike planned for the 29th of March in Spain, in response to the planned labour ‘reform’ introduced by the Partido Popular government, which basically gives employers a free hand to sack workers -and use that threat- at little more than a whim. Not even the Partido Popular believes that this will create employment. 

What is interesting to note, for the edificiation for those who had discerned an apparently apolitical character to the 15M popular mobilisations in Spain last year, by contrast with what later happened with the Occupy movement in the US where labour unions mobilised in defence of Occupy Wall Street, is that the general strike is being supported by the 15M movement, but from a critical standpoint, which seeks to call into question the role of the trade union leadership and the way in which the main unions have operated as a part of the State, geared toward downward convergence and entropy.

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(As an aside the contrast mentioned always struck me as off the mark but some people found it persuasive, especially since it can be a lot easier to pick out the apolitical ravings of particular individuals, and deem them representative of the entire phenomenon, than to embark on the task of understanding the phenomenon in depth. Guffawing at the strivings of people who have wound up deluded amid an atomised and depoliticised society can be a handy way of cementing our own certainties, of discerning our own knowledge in another person’s ignorance, and of postponing the thought that such is the turbulence that we really don’t know that much about what’s going on at all.)

Hopefully I’ll post another couple of articles the next few days about this. There is an insistence, informed by the popular mobilisations of last year, that the general strike cannot be allowed to go through tried and tested motions and rhythms from a different era, and that the 15M movement -which will stage its own international mobilisation on the 12th May- must play its part in broadening and deepening its impact. 

First of all, a translated piece by John Brown, an eloquent, insightful and challenging writer.

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They say there is a "general strike" called for the 29th of March. Allow me to cast some doubt. A general strike is something more than a simple movement of resistance against a government measure such as the labour reform. The General Strike was, for the worker movement of the 19th Century and the beginning of the 20th, a mythic moment of liberation. In the General Strike not only was there a response to exploitation and improvement in the distribution of wealth within capitalism by obtaining a better price for labour power on the market or by improving the living conditions of the worker to a degree. These improvements are necessary, but they are not, nor can they be, the aim of a general strike. A general strike is always political: it aims to show that the workers can and must live and produce without a boss. To conduct out a general strike is to start to take control of society: "to conquer democracy" as Marx and Engels said in the Manifesto.

The "general strike" of the 29th of March is, moreover, a particular strike: in terms of how the main unions view it, it can only affect a limited proportion of the population composed of workers with a stable contract. The majority of workers and the near entirety of young workers do not belong to this category. They are very far from the workerist myth of the worker in the factory in the blue overall. The image of the "señorito" who performs intellectual work by contrast with the industrial worker only serves these days to legitimate the division of workers and the domination of sold out and expired union bureaucracies whose leaders would deserve a decent role in a zombie film. Today the worker wears a blue overall, but also dresses in thousands of other ways: they might wear a (mandatory) suit and tie, firm uniforms like those who work in hamburger joints or delivering pizzas, casual clothes as with many IT workers, "sexy" dresses to seek out men or women as with sex workers, white or other plain coloured uniforms as with nurses and other workers who work in both health and caring. This sartorial variety arises from the fact that nowadays work and life coincide. There no longer exists one place for work (the factory, the office) and another for life: at every moment, we are all producing the greatest of all wealths, our social life, our intelligence and our love. Capital vampirizes us not only when we are working within the traditional frame of the wage relation but at every moment of our lives. The unemployed person, the retired person, the child, the senior citizen, the housewife, even the person agonising on his medicalised death bed, work and produce and are exploited one by one and collectively. Intellectual, immaterial labour is no longer a function of those in power; it is an element of all work, even the work in the factory that is increasingly flexible and organised by the workers themselves, who have to respond to market demand directly, showing constant availability, as if work was their most intimate preoccupation. The function of command is not exercised through intellectual labour but more and more brutally by financial capital which, through public and private debt, operates as a parasite on our lives.  Also now in command is a "productive" capitalism that transforms our lives into "lifestyles"’ in brands that make us "men or women" of "Pepsi", "Zara" or "Citroen".

The general strike, in order to be such a thing, must aspire to liberate our lives of this regime of vampirisation. It must demand and bring about the autonomisation of life with regard to capital. The strike begins by refusing to consume, by refusing the vile, sad, solitary and insolidary behaviours that are expected of us: a good start to a general strike is to say hello and smile at one’s neighbour, to speak to people we don’t know, to buy nothing and stop money from circulating, to meet up in the public square and occupy it to talk about those things that are a matter for everyone. It is necessary that the strike includes all workers and that it takes us out, at least for a while, from our existence as commodities. It is also vital that this time and space won from capital be used to determine objectives, way beyond the extremely justified opposition to the labour reform. Faced with the bloodsuckers and vampires of neoliberal capitalism, our garlic, crucifixes and stakes must be the demand for a basic income independent of any wage labour, the rejection of illegitimate public debt, the payment of which is imposed on is by the State in the name of the banks and the financial powers, the demand for a right to housing, for respecting public goods and services that are now being taken hostage by the State to better privatise what does not belong to it but to everyone.

If we take it seriously, the general strike cannot end on 29M. This day can be a milestone in a long process of political and social liberation whose starting point we situate symbolically on the 15th of May 2011 and which has no end, since the conquest of democracy is a permanent task. Let us not forget during all this time to always keep garlic and stakes close at hand.

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The Big Switch

From Evernote:

The Big Switch

This is a translation of a recent post by Raimundo Viejo Viñas, from his blog On The Wobbly’s Road.

Antagonist pills, 3: fear changing sides

Among the many slogans that became famous due to 15M, the one that says "we have lost our fear" stands out in the current pre-strike context. Other phrases chanted by the multitude, in the manner of "they don’t represent us", perhaps identify more readily the rupture with the liberal regime under which we live. "We have lost our fear"’ however, stands out because of its strategic implications.

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And the rule over society that makes the neoliberal project possible is based precisely on fear. More on fear than on violence, even. Fear carries with it something primal that violence lacks. Violence is a political reality of the second order when compared to fear: its only end is that of inspiring fear.

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Fear is something that has always been with us, it is something present already in the animal we are. It is just that ruling institutions have managed with the passage of centuries to remove it from the privileged by inspiring it among the oppressed. It is an equation that remains operational today and brings results of great success.

We should not be surprised, therefore, that the declaration "we have lost our fear" secretly causes more worry than "they don’t represent us" (do we think they want to represent us?). With fear it is not the same as with representation. The representative can get along without representing the whole of society, and even without representing a majority of society. Ask long as they manage to represent (and or receive the electoral support of) a sufficient minority they can call themselves "representatives".

But representative of what? At the end of the day, few among the governments of liberal democracies have a social majority. They only have electoral majorities. And often not even that. And this is thanks to the paradox of being representatives of a social body (the so-called "people") whose representation entails expelling part of the whole that is supposed to be represented. 

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The device of political representation does not end here. In fact, it is perfected via mechanisms of varying subtleness which filter preferences so as to produce a composition best suited to the smooth functioning of rule. Such has been and still is the task of the electoral law and its workings (and especially the d’Hondt law)

But if even the most cursory analysis renders the problem of representation obvious, the decisive importance of the matter of fear becomes even more obvious as soon as one dares to consider it. And it is precisely here that we encounter the problem: in daring to consider it. To overcome the fear to speak becomes the first theoretical problem confronting us and revealed to us by the importance of the place of enunciation from which the question is formulated:

Who can speak about fear?

The answer is simple: whoever inflicts fear. The ruling powers never stop doing so. The ruling powers speak of terror, terrorism, terrorists. They identify the "enemy" and make it responsible for the fear that they themselves inject. They manage to do so with the paradoxical advantage that, in their illocutionary position -from the place they occupy- they manage, by merely naming the fear ("terror"), to bring it forth in whomever they wish to make obey. This is how power has always worked, power in its functionalist sense, power as domination, power as the upper hand derived from intimidation. 

It doesn’t require a great deal of imagination to visualise what we are talking about. One need only call to mind the power of the mafioso godfather, the power of the improper suggestion made by the head of human resources to the temp worker, the power of the potential informer on the undocumented immigrant, the power of the friend who brings you into an office and warns you of the position in which "others" are putting you on account of your own boldness, your recklessness, your simple failure to remember the fear that you should remember. Fear, always fear.

Today the phenomenology of fear is as complex, extensive and effective as the fragmentation of the social body subjected to labour. If we want to live in a society without fear it is urgent for fear to switch sides. That is the first step: the antagonistic confrontation that displaces risk and the perception of imminent harm onto ruling institutions should they threaten social rights.

But that will not be all. At the same time as we seek to make fear switch sides, what must also be changed is the conception of politics as domination in favour of a politics as cooperation. The most revolutionary of movements is worth nothing if it ends in dictatorship (in fear as the paradigm for government).

As well as getting fear to switch sides, we also have to destroy the possibility of fear. We need the liberation from fear to allow for the production of institutions based on symbiosis, federalism and cooperation. It is only this way that the political regime of the commons can be established in a way built to last.

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What’s another referendum?

The prime cause can be traced back to extravagant pre-election promises. Among other things, Fine Gael and the Labour Party undertook to burn the bondholders; renegotiate the terms of the EU-IMF bailout package; create 100,000 jobs in five years and revive the economy. In Brussels, they discovered the weakness of their position: Ireland is a small fish in the European pool and borrowers do not dictate terms. There would be no choice between Labour’s way and Frankfurt’s way. What the troika said, went.

Recognising and accepting that harsh reality is still a work in progress within the electorate. The arrogant attitude that sent a turkey to represent us at the Eurovision song contest at the height of the boom may have dissipated. But a sense of entitlement, a belief that others will rescue us – even from ourselves – persists. Euroscepticism and nationalism grow as living standards fall. Fianna Fáil’s decision to back the fiscal treaty does, however, offer hope for rational politics.

I was born and raised in Ireland and have lived here most of my life, but have only spent a third of it -the latest third- living in the Republic of Ireland. There was RTE in our house, but the signal was not that great. On a clear evening you might have been able to pick up a decent picture for Murphy’s Micro Quiz. The territory of the Republic of Ireland was not at all foreign: travelling to Dublin or Monaghan or Donegal never felt like entering some different State where different rules of behaviour applied.

I never took any interest in the internal history, or the party politics, or the social composition of the Republic of Ireland. In this sense I was as ignorant about the Republic as a Fine Gael minister might be about the North. It was only when I began living here that I started to take a proper look around, and even then it took a few years. And whilst I think I’ve become a bit more informed, I must admit to being regularly incapable of getting my head round what appear to me as peculiarities of this State but what must appear to certain others as an elementary fact of life.

A case in point: an excerpt from today’s Irish Times above. Is there something -help me out here, reader- missing from my understanding of the Eurovision Song Contest? I know that Ireland has won it a few times, and that when it has, this has provoked a stir of excitement, and I can understand that this may have been a source of pride to many people of a small country for whom this was the only real sense of interaction with other peoples of Europe (and the Middle East, if you include Israel, for some reason).

What I cannot understand, however is how a national newspaper that thinks of itself as the paper of record believes that a phone-in show to select a song to be sung at the Eurovision Song Contest is a reliable indicator of the attitude of the Irish electorate towards the institutions of the European Union. That is, I am unable to place myself inside the collective cultural discourse in which a broadsheet newspaper that pretends to be a paper of record thinks saying something like that is a respectable assessment of socio-political realities. Or, perhaps I am just thick, and missing something.

Or, perhaps this is down to the experience of growing up to a certain extent ‘on the inside’ of British political and cultural life, as mediated by the BBC, ITV and the British media, and ‘on the outside’ of what went on in the Republic. But when I tried to think through an analogous event in Britain, specifically the idea of a passage in a leader column in a national newspaper, discerning a thread between cultural attitudes and foreign policy, I imagined a leader in the Times in the 1980s, written perhaps by William Rees-Mogg, where he talks about how the decisiveness and optimism expressed in Bucks Fizz’s Eurovision-winning entry Making Your Mind Up was a telling indicator of the cultural mood that later informed Margaret Thatcher’s decision to go to war with Argentina over the Falklands.

Strange place. Strange times.

 

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Bondholder Diplomacy

 

Henry John Temple, Viscount Palmerston, is widely believed to be the originator of the formulation that “nations have no permanent friends, only permanent interests”. The same formulation was used yesterday by the Irish Labour Party minister for social protection, writing in a newspaper owned by one of the richest men in Ireland.

In a piece intended to reconcile, on the one hand, the imposition of constitutional prohibitions on any economic policy that fell short of the wildest dreams of the US Republican Party and the European banking lobby, and on the other, the interests of the people of Ireland, Joan Burton wrote:

Countries don’t have friends, they have interests. That is particularly true of a small country that has successfully chosen to base its development and prosperity on being a trading nation. It is in our interest to be inside every European Council, committed to national budget discipline as one significant — but far from exclusive — part of a strategy to promote growth and job security in every corner of Europe.

In his Story of the Life of Lord Palmerston, Karl Marx wrote of how the

 

great philanthropist, who afterwards cleared his Irish estates of their Irish natives, could not allow Irish misery to darken, even for a moment, with its inauspicious clouds, the bright sky of the landlords and moneylords

and a man who knew

how to conciliate a democratic phraseology with oligarchic views

and

how to appear as the aggressor where he connives, and as the defender where he betrays—how to manage an apparent enemy, and how to exasperate a pretended ally—how to find himself, at the opportune moment of the dispute, on the side of the stronger against the weak, and how to utter brave words in the act of running away

Moreover,

if the oppressors were always sure of his active support, the oppressed never wanted a great ostentation of rhetorical generosity

and

if his art of diplomacy does not shine in the actual results of his foreign negotiations, it shines the more brilliantly in the construction he has induced the English people to put upon them, by accepting phrases for facts, phantasies for realities, and high-sounding pretexts for shabby motives.

Marx quotes one of Palmerston’s interventions in the House of Commons, in which he opposed the idea that Catholics in Ireland had the right to religious liberty:

“Because the legislature of a country has the right to impose such political disabilities upon any class of the community, as it may deem necessary for the safety and the welfare of the whole…This belongs to the fundamental principles on which civilised government is founded.”—(House of Commons, March 1, 1813.)

Marx characterised this thus:

There you have the most cynical confession ever made, that the mass of the people have no rights at all, but that they may be allowed that amount of immunities the legislature—or, in other words, the ruling class—may deem fit to grant them

Thankfully, we now live in a democracy where the likes of Palmerston are nowhere to be seen, and far from the world of gunboat diplomacy, in which powerful states imposed the will of their ruling classes on the populations of other countries through the threat of war, we now have bondholder diplomacy, which is altogether more civilised, a pursuit conducted between friends, based on national governments agreeing a course of action in order to appease and sooth the preoccupations of financial institutions that make a profit speculating against sovereign debt.

Thus Joan Burton can call forth the spirit of Palmerston without any fear that comparison might be drawn between his constitutionalism in the service of the ‘landlords and the moneylords’ and that the constitutionalism of the European Union, or between her rhetorical contortions in favour of the Fiscal Treaty and those of an 19th century imperialist thug who inflicted immense misery on the population of Ireland.

 

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Of Frogs and Dolphins

From Evernote:

Of Frogs and Dolphins

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The basic choice in the upcoming referendum is not between different policy options, or membership of the Eurozone/EU versus something else but between surrendering altogether to voracious capitalist pigs on the one hand and maintaining the possibility of a brighter collective destiny on the other. The referendum provides an opportunity for the public to confront the most basic of problems: the fact that the ruling European and Irish elites now figure that capitalism is no longer compatible with any sort of democracy at all.

And so in the media that serves their interests, you have much drooling over what one right-wing goon -Eamon O Cuiv- or another -Declan Ganley- thinks about the forthcoming referendum, since these media outlets need to find a respectable No opponent from their point of view. There is a need to pass off the referendum debate as one that must operate in such a way as to not call into question the capitalist system itself, the class antagonisms that sustain it, or, the programme of destroying democracy. 

The illusion must be maintained -via a sham fight between two right wings of capital- that a Yes vote would mean Ireland could somehow operate as an exception to the rule being established in Greece and Italy, when the reality, obscured by its increasingly authoritarian and paternalist media, is that if Ireland doesn’t have an unelected technocratic government in charge it’s because its elected right-wing government is even more effective in making sure that economic and financial elites are preserved at the expense of the people. Is this going to change? There is not much time left.

Here is a translation of a piece by Spanish journalist Pascual Serrano.

On Frogs and Dolphins

Two stories about animal behaviour may prove very suggestive when applied to human behaviour in the current political situation. One of them is the parable of the frog and the boiling water, a story I am not sure how true it is, which is used in seminars and courses for self-esteem. It recounts how if a frog is thrown into a pot of boiling water, the frog perceives the deadly temperature and immediately jumps back out and manages to escape from the pot without getting burnt. However, if we start off with water in the pot at room temperature and we throw in the frog, it stays in the container unperturbed, and, if we start heating the water little by little, the frog does not react sharply but rather gets used to the new temperature of the water until losing consciousness and winding up dead from the heat. This story should evoke for us the way in which power manages to make us wind up accepting situations that ought to result in us uprising by the method of putting them into practice little by little and I’m this way we end up suffering them gradually without us realising what they are doing to us. Undoubtedly, the economic measures approved in Europe against the citizens are a clear example. One need only recall that a few years ago we used e term ‘mileurista’ [from ‘mil euros’ – 1000 euro] to refer to a young person with a badly paid contract of work, and today there are so many who would be glad of such an offer.

The other story is by the Polish priest Benedykt Chimielowski, who loved in the 18th century. It is collected in his encyclopaedia on Poland, entitled The New Athens, in the following way: "The dolphin, desiring to sleep, floats atop the water; having fallen asleep, he sinks slowly to the floor of the sea; being awakened by striking the bottom, he rises again to the surface. Having thus risen, he falls asleep again, descends once more to the bottom, and revives himself anew in the same fashion. He thus enjoys his rest in motion." It seems to me that the attitude of the dolphin has been adopted by many political and union organisations of the left which, literally, have fallen asleep only to sink to the lowest depths of the social panorama. Of course this has also happened with a large proportion of the citizens who, like the frog who didn’t realise he was getting burnt or the sinking dolphin, have worked their way up, as Groucho Marx might say, to the heights of poverty.

It only remains for us to hope that our situation resembles more that of the dolphin than that of the frog and that we still have time to react to stay afloat.

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The F-word

From Evernote:

The F-word

This is a rush translation of an article from the current edition of Revista Pueblos. It is by Jesús González Pazos of Mugarik Gabe Euskadi.

Social and financial fascism in Europe

Whilst we go on thinking we still live in a democratic Europe, in reality we are witnessing the first steps in a coup d’état, and the possible establishment of a long era of social and financial fascism. We understand that this is a severe claim and might be immediately considered both an exaggeration and gratuitously alarmist. However, let us analyse just two obvious elements, which are public and widely known, which have occurred in recent months, affecting what we had always been told were cornerstones of democratic systems: constitutions and electoral processes.

The former, obviously so in the Spanish state, were always stressed to us as near untouchable so as to safeguard the social and political stability of the Nation State. We do not believe this to be the case, but this is what the majority of the political class has always maintained. And they would say to us that, as a last resort, any constitutional reform would demand a long process of political discussion and debate and, with clear proposals that were widely understood by the citizens, would be countersigned by the latter. However, in recent months we have witnessed fast-track processes of constitutional reform, practically carried out without the citizens, in whom sovereign power resides in a democracy, finding out what it is that has been reformed and why. At best, we know that it has something to do with the deficit, the now compulsory budgetary stability and the crisis that has dominated the European political and economic stage for more than four years (a crisis, by the way, which they continually said was temporary and would lift soon, and which has proven right those of us who have claimed from the beginning that it is a structural crisis of the capitalist system). We can therefore claim that this sovereign power that resided in the citizens has suffered an obvious and forced displacement to the economic powers. That is who now decides on the constitutional changes and reforms, so that what is known as the delegated power of the people, which is supposed to reside in the so-called political class, simply approves what is prescribed by this new usurping sovereign power.

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The second obvious element of the coup d’état that is underway can be found in the electoral process and the selection of rulers. Here, this usurping sovereign power mentioned previously now decides if the electoral process is necessary or if it can be done away with, in the first steps towards the dispossession, here also, of the right of a society to elect its governing class. In this vein we have witnessed in recent months the unilateral changes of government in Greece and Italy when they were no longer of use to the economic powers. Thus, when George Papandreou and his government no longer had the strength, or the worth perhaps, to inflict more cuts on the punished Greek people, their downfall is brought about and their substitution is imposed, with another government composed of the so-called technocrats brought in. In Italy, where a litany of scandals had reduced Silvio Berlusconi to a joke, but none of them had brought about his exit from the government, it was also the economic powers who in a matter of hours decided and carried out his replacement by another technocrat. And these activities become obvious and clearly displayed, as messages to those who might be so capricious as to conduct measures out of line with the dictates of ‘the markets’.

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But careful with the technocrats, as it conjures up an image of people with high technical qualifications, beyond the vices and failure of politics, and neutral as regards ideologies: above ‘good and evil’ and, as such, the only potential saviours of the critical situation. However, both Lucas Papademos in Greece and Mario Monti in Italy come directly from the economic powers and they have built their careers amid financial networks to the point of being central to measures taken in eras that preceded the current crisis and which largely caused it. Lucas Papademos , for example, was first chief economist and vice-governor of the Bank of Greece from 1985 to 2002, and went on to occupy the vicepresidency of the European Central Bank. Mario Monti had, among other responsibilities, the role of European director of the Trilateral Commission (a lobbying group of obvious neoliberal tendency) and advisor to Goldman Sachs, during the period that this company helped Greece hide its enormous deficit, the origin in large part of the current Greek situation and of the brutal economic measures now being imposed on it. So, who has decided that these characters, on account of their apparent, though arguable, technical qualifications, have the ability and right to be at the helm of governments of systems that are democratic in theory? Since they come from banks and financial institutions, how can we assume that their measures will not be in the service of these entitites and their interests in making a profit, responding to their demands and actions instead of the improvement of social and economic conditions for the populations of their respective countries?

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These are some of the elements that provide us with evidence that we are witnessing veritable coups d’etat which, beyond doubt, prostitute the so-called European democratic system and impose a social and financial fascism in the service of the economic elites and their interests. In the service of the so-called ‘markets’ – we are constantly fed the idea that these entities are anonymous and diffuse, almost unidentifiable. This makes it harder to recognise them as the parties responsible for this crisis situation and for the grave attacks that, under the excuse of the crisis, they are carrying out against an entire nucleus of rights acquired through social, political and labour struggles throughout the 20th century. In this way, by blurring out the guilty parties, by ensuring that society cannot focus exactly its demands and protests on the people directly responsible for the situation, the guilty parties protect themselves. However, it must be said that these ‘markets’ have names and surnames; they gather at Davos and Bilderberg, they can be found at the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank and the Trilateral Commission, in the famed ratings agencies and the boards of directors of the big banks. There you will find the people taking the decisions, the people who define how and when constitutions are modified and who should occupy the governments in systems that are now merely presumed to be democratic.

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It is precisely these economic groups who have reacted with the measures that they now impose on us. Only two years ago, during the first months and effects of the so-called crisis, certain political sectors timidly dared to identify guilty parties among the financial powers. There began to be talk of the need to reform capitalism by recognising its profound crisis, there was talk of the need to control the financial system, being the cause of the crisis and because of its unlimited ambition, there was talk of serious action to be taken against tax havens and fraud and all manner of measures were deemed necessary in society. Although this political class never had any intention of replacing the system but merely to modify it just enough so as to maintain it, the reaction of the economic elites, of ‘the markets’, with their absolute control and manipulation of most mass media outlets, has caused all that to be forgotten and these timid measures are not even considered nor is any accountability sought from those who have been the direct instigators of the crisis in the capitalist system. There was forceful questioning of the failure of the neoliberalism imposed over the last decades and today, just two years later, the measures applied against us carry all the trappings of neoliberalism in its most orthodox form and they are being imposed by those who boast about it. Debate and deliberation has been diverted away from these points onto the imposition of social and labour cutbacks and the destruction of the rights of majorities and, as thus, towards social and economic fascistisation, with the consequent control of a powerful minority over the social and political life of society, towards the uncontrollable rise in their profits.

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Therefore, if we accept that what has been pointed out here is an important part of potential new scenarios in Europe, there will be many doubts, confusions and hesitations, but there are dominant questions, such as: how long are we going to wait to react, when the road of cutbacks and loss of rights that they have been leading us along in recent years is by no means finished, and in fact they will keep going deeper? In this old Europe constituted by old peoples, we still have within our hands, but perhaps for not much longer, such is the grave risk we run, the ability to halt the coup d’état, to prevent social and financial fascism from being imposed on us.

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