The Right to Rebel
Getting back into the saddle after a few weeks of irregular access to the means of blog-centred production. I hope to do a bit of writing on the household tax campaign, the Fiscal Treaty and other associated matters in the next couple of weeks. First, though, a couple of translations. The first of these is an editorial of a few days back from the Spanish centrist daily El País, which acknowledges, as no Irish media outlet has, the depth of the revolt underway on account of the household tax boycott. Following on from that is a piece -not entirely unrelated in terms of subject matter- from Jorge Moruno, from last month on the right and duty to rebel.
Tax Revolt in Ireland
On 31st March last the Irish government was on the end of what may well be considered a fiscal slap from its citizens. That day was the deadline for payment of the new tax introduced in January, which requires the payment of an additional 100 euro for ownership of a residential property. An estimated 1.6 million Irish are homeowners and thus had to pay, but by the required date, only half of them had complied with the Treasury’s demand. The other half had declared itself in de facto revolt.After a tough bailout and a recent history of five extreme austerity budgets, which will be followed by four more of equal restrictiveness, according to predictions, the mass boycott of the new tax has been interpreted as an alert signal, a warning that the citizens are starting to become very tired of so many cutbacks and so many tax rises without a glimpse of improvement in the economic situation on the horizon. The Dublin government has threatened to prosecute those who refuse to pay, and to hit them with heavy fines. But everyone knows that the Executive must tread carefully.First, because it will not be easy to make good on its threat of prosecuting so many millions of rebels. And secondly, because a referendum has been called for the 31st of May in which citizens must ratify the European Fiscal Pact, which limits the ability of States to acquire debt; and everyone fears that the Irish, who have already voted twice against important European Union treaties, feel tempted to reject an agreement that condemns them to perpetual austerity.Ireland had been growing for years at rates of over 8% of GDP thanks to a tax regime that was so benign for companies (and aggressive with regard to its EU partners) that the country was considered a tax haven for the big multinationals. Then the crisis exploded and with it the housing bubble. The severe corrective imposed by the EU after the financial bailout has broken the spirit of defiance of the Celtic Tiger, but not the capacity for resistance on the part of a growing number of citizens who stand opposed to austerity.
In 16th century Europe the process known as the enclosures began, which stretched on into the 19th century. This process got rid of the communal property that was held in land, pasture and livestock by the inhabitants and peasants of the area and the federated communes. The lands gradually became the property of one or a few owners. To the cry of All things are in common! -Omnia sunt communia-‘ Thomas Müntzer and his followers struggled against those who put fences on the land, in the German Peasants’ War. In 1649 Gerrard Winstanley the founder of the English grouping known as the True Levellers announced that:
"England is not a Free People, till the Poor that have no Land, have a free allowance to dig and labour the Commons"
In 1688 the "Glorious Revolution" took place in England, which established that all men were equal and that they shared the same nation, that is, the same equality at birth -we the people. The Right to rebellion was the philosophy relied upon for the overthrow of James II. Though it is true that, already in the 12th century, Thomas Aquinas accepted the possibility of rebelling against the King if he acted like a tyrant against his subjects. In 1776 the Declaration of Independence of the US made clear that:
‘natural law teaches that the people are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights and may alter or abolish a government that becomes destructive of those rights’
Some years later, the French Revolution institutionalised the Right to Rebellion, in its Declaration of Rights of Man and Citizen. In the well-known article 35, the ruler is warned that
‘When the government violates the rights of the people, insurrection is for the people and for each portion of the people the most sacred of rights and the most indispensable of duties.’
But what does what happened centuries ago have to do with our current situation? As we are used in recent decades to forgetting the past, they have made us believe that our time has no past and that it naturally entailed the only possible future. They might reply, that is false. Our institutions emanate precisely from the general will of the people as sole sovereign, which expresses itself and chooses its legitimate rulers in free elections.Based on a watered down and more liberal than democratic version of Rousseau’s social contract, the parliamentarianism of our time has wound up completely obsolete. Not obsolete because it has been surpassd by forms and processes of democratic decision making which expand the capability and inclusion of ever more people to debate in the res publica and to enjoyment of common riches. No, this is due above all to the fact that today, sovereignty does not even reside in parliament, but in transnational entities that no-one elected through methods of liberal election. What is more, not only has no-one elected the IMF, or the World Bank, or a director of Citigroup, in addition, as if it could be no other way, their conception of government is always that of a war footing. The market it loaded with belligerent energy and rhetoric; the firepower of Clausewitz now resides on stock trading floors that take aim at people’s lives.There lies the paradox: liberal parliamentarianism is an obstacle for the same people who identify with this system today. Imposing the financial war government can only be achieved by destroying liberal political logic, but always by appealing to its legitimacy as a democratic form. Passing off as consensus what is war de facto. They make a slaughterhouse and they call it peace, said Tacitus.It is a bit what Marx understood from an economic point of view, as with the joint stock company: the abolition of private property through the very framework of the private property of capitalist production.It is the same logic that officially still makes appeals to jobs as the mechanism that creates social inclusion, when materially this is no longer so. But it is used ideologically as a trick for enslaving people in a new way, in the same way as happens with the legitimacy of parliamentary institutions. Although the ritual and the forms are still established, the capacity for political decision is subordinate to the diktat, the "confidence" of the markets and not to the sovereignty of the general interest. The cutbacks and the plight of basic rights such as education, health, housing, mobility, or a decent income, are being tramped down so as to establish a regime of kleptocracy.We appeal therefore to that natural law, that duty, which is no other than the right to rebellion, to civil disobedience. A practice that has never before been previously legitimated by those who acted as sovereign in their time. Without disobedience there is no possibility of democratising a society, to deny conflict is as Simmel points out; to evade its historical and socialising function in multiple and distinct respects. To oppose what is legitimate to what is legal is the basis of every advance in the domain of rights, and of human progress; in this gap, history from below takes place.But it is not just a matter of questioning what exists, but also of transcending it as far as possible, that is, it is not a matter of a few rotten apples, but the entire barrel. The philosopher Spinoza interprets the work of Machiavelli in terms of his intention to show to what extent -as many would plan on doing- attempting the brutal suppression of a tyrant is madness, unless the causes that brought about the tyranny are done away with.In this sense, with regard to events on 29th February past in Barcelona, we should not allow ourselves to be blinded by the spectacularity and the media impact. This goes as much for those who are amazed by the images as those horrified by them. To get into the debate about violence in the terms imposed by the regime is always to take on the speech of the master. The discourse of the ‘anti-sistema’ (frequently used generic and pejorative term for anyone who adopts any sort of anti-capitalist position) of the professionals of violence, situated every possible response within the same ideologically predefined frame. Our debate about violence must be of long and deeper reach, elaborated out of our autonomy, out of our perspective as a movement. The one that understands that getting paid €600 is violence, and that the privatising of social goods means an attack on living conditions.As Machiavelli said, let’s not get distracted by the sound of the fuss and let’s look at the effectiveness. In other words, the capacity of our methods and actions to be decisive in the direction taken by reality. The strivings for freedom, which are those that have to do with ensuring the entire population has a common wealth, in a broad sense, that belongs to everyone. This stance means our approaches have a secular basis, free of dogmatisms, folkloric obsessions, unquestioned truths, moral prejudices grounded in inertia and the whole string of stumbling blocks in our path when it comes to thinking politics with clarity.Neither violence nor pacifism will serve as a compass: both stances claim to be truths in themselves, like faith, without the need to verify their effectiveness in practice. Better analysis, tactics, collective intelligence, the main tools for making use of our legitimate Right to rebellion, which adopts different forms, neither linear nor homogeneous, adapted to the moment and the context, like a body without organs. A multitude able to apply simple rules to complex behaviours. More than understanding who, it is interesting to know the what of the enemy of freedom, the relations that manage all things from the point of view of exchange value, of commodities.Today we are still in yesterday, but in the historic time that falls on us to live in. Yesterday, Saint Just declared that "there can be no freedom for the enemies of freedom". Today the squares shout: "if you do not let us dream, we shall not let you sleep".Everything changes, the spirit remains.