Monthly Archives: May 2012

Being Civil About Things

‘Civil society’, in Ireland, has a sort of sterile meaning, calling to mind perhaps a round of It’s A Euro Knockout featuring Pat Cox, Fergus Finlay and some GAA manager-turned-hotelier, campaigning in favour of the latest European Treaty.

Or maybe it means a load of nicely mannered middle class people of a leftish-liberal mien attending a billionaire-funded conference, where they listen to earnest discussions of how neo-liberal economic policies are failing Ireland. They clear their throats to voice their hearty agreement with eloquence, but participants are polite enough not to draw to the attention of the assembled that the changes in policy so vigorously advocated -even if they are quite modest- require open conflict and confrontation, in the streets and in the workplaces, and not the hope of sweet reasonableness, collaborative openness and dutiful deference in engaging with those who are imposing the policies. (The idea that it might be a problem with capitalism per se, as opposed to a nasty variant of capitalism that doesn’t seem to act on what we tell it, seldom goes down too well at these occasions)

Many people will not be familiar with Gramsci’s conception of civil society, which is what a lot of people notionally on the left hint at when they say things like ‘Congress is the largest civil society organisation on the island of Ireland’. (And the neat differentiation between ‘State’ and ‘civil society’ that such a claim entails means we can leave to one side the question of just how much unions form part of the State). For most people, I suspect, ‘civil society’ just means ordinary people, neither government officials nor politicians, ‘civil’ with a hint of the sense of being unthreatening and accommodating, with jovial handshakes and dinner dances. Which is not really what Gramsci had in mind.

The reason I mention this, more as a lengthy translation note than anything else, is that the writer below, Rosa Cobo, says that the hour of civil society has arrived, and I would not want this to be translated as the hour of Blair Horan, Feargal Quinn and Angela Kerins.

Originally published in Público.

The Hour of Civil Society

The big problem in our country is not just that the right wing has gained a grip on the majority of institutional power or that it has decided to monopolise public television news in an antidemocratic swoop. The problem deep down is that the world’s right wing is using the economic crisis as an excuse to pare down social rights and cut back or eliminate policies of social welfare. This is not merely another crisis of capitalism but a new strategy of the economic and political right wing to eliminate welfare states and prevent countries which do not have them from being able to create similar models. We are not faced with an economic crisis like previous ones, but a change in the economic and social model that puts an end to Keynesian policies of redistribution and advances a shrinking of the state as an instrument for regulating the market and as a guarantor of social rights. Economic globalisation, new information technologies and the economic crisis are being skilfully exploited by capitalism in order to do away with social and economic rights that it agreed upon after the Second World War with the labour movement and which gave rise in Europe to welfare states. The results of this operation by capitalism and the political right wing that represents it have been on display for years: poverty wages become more widespread, as does informal work, unregulated contracts, part time work, and, moreover, poverty and survival jobs are feminised. And all this accompanied by widespread drops in wages for more than a decade and a lengthening of the working day. As if this were not enough, this reconversion of Keynesian capitalism into neoliberal capitalism is expelling millions of people from the labour market and widening the abyss of inequality.

But this is not the only problem. There is another one that we need to reflect on. And that is that the right wing is conducting an ideological offensive that is so effective and solidly articulated that it has managed to demobilise a large part of public opinion. So much so that neoliberal economic policies have invaded our lives and our heads to the point that even progressives accept ideological approaches from neoliberal discourse and argue for them as if they were processes for rationalising our networks for social well-being. Ultraconservative and neoliberal discourse has contaminated our way of analysing reality to the point that social mobilisations and strikes are presented to public opinion as if they were actions bordering on terrorism. The delegitimisation of social conflict is the resounding proof of the successful ideological offensive of the right. As if this were not enough, these policies are being shown to public opinion as if they were irreversible. And, nonetheless, we know that there is nothing irreversible in history.

Meanwhile, social democracy has proven spineless in its criticisms of neoliberal capitalism and has been incapable of offering an alternative for society that is qualitatively different from that of the right. And elsewhere, the most radical left has not been able to convince public opinion that its political proposals protect the weakest sectors of society and the middle classes. Faced with a panorama so inimical to the interests of broad sectors of society a rapid and effective collective response is needed. And for this we must organise ourselves peacefully and actively in civil society. We must put forward reasons and arguments so as to unmask a discourse and a practice that are leading us to a rise in inequality and the abandoning of millions of people to their fate. In moments such as these, civil society configures itself as a motor for social change. A plural civil society, with many voices, marked by a diversity of interests and ideological emphases, but which left parties are obliged to listen to. Now, plurality must not be an obstacle for articulating a minimum set of demands that confronts the perverse policies that serve the market and impoverish wide sectors of society. We must go on the ideological offensive and engage in rational combat, always peacefully, with proposals and reasoning, against the discourses and the policies that are leading us into a rise in inequality. It is a question of articulating a collective response that lays manifest that neoliberalism is not the end of histoty and that another history is possible. This is the hour of civil society.

 

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The Cage

Translation of a piece by Sofía Balmont, found on constituyentes.org

Let’s get out of the cage

Learned defencelessness

We have seen what happens when we give a dog enclosed in a cage a reward every time he behaves as he is supposed to, or if we reward him at fixed intervals or variable ones, or if we never reward him or if we stop his punishment when he does what we want. In every case the dog will learn that his behaviour has a consequence or even a lack of consequence, which he will learn to foresee after a brief period of apprenticeship. And his mental and emotional health will remain within the limits of what is healthy.

But what happens if, regardless of what the dog does, we always punish him? A cage with an electrified floor grille. A dog locked inside. A series of shocks repeated at variable intervals, indefinitely, and nothing the dog does brings an end to the punishment. At first the dog will develop a frenetic activity, doing everything a dog can do within a cage in the hope that luck combined with his efforts will result in the behaviour that frees him from the torture: lifting his front left paw, his right paw, barking, jumping, wagging his tail…

Whatever the hell it is that meets the experimenter-torturer’s fancy so that the shocks end once and for all. But it is all useless. Whatever he does the shocks continue, rhythmically, mercilessly, endlessly. The dog ends up collapsing in a corner and doing nothing. He doesn’t eat. He doesn’t bark. He doesn’t complain. He doesn’t struggle. He puts up with shock after shock undisturbed. He is ill. He suffers from learned defencelessness.

I first listened to this basic lesson of psychology  20 years ago. I had nearly forgotten it.

Are you a good citizen? A good worker? A good parent? A good neighbour? Do you respect the rules? Do you pay your taxes? Are you honest with other people? And with yourself? Do you act according to your conscience? Do you believe in the system? Or perhaps you don’t believe in it? Have you done what they have told you to do since you were a child in order to live quietly and honestly? Have you studied? Have you done exams? Have you done a Master’s? Can  you speak languages? Have you worked hard since you were young? Do you get up every morning and work all day every day in order to contribute something to society? Do you pay your bills if you can still pay them? Did you vote for the right-wing? Did you vote for the left-wing? Do you not vote?…It makes no difference. Do you not have the feeling that, whatever your answers to these questions, it makes no difference?

That maybe they will bring down your salary again and again, or they’ll sack you, or you’ll be left without a home, or you’ll be suffocated with debts, or you will see no future for your children.

It doesn’t matter if you’re a civil servant, a construction worker, self employed, immigrant, from a village, from the city, old, young, man or woman. It doesn’t matter if you put effort into what you do, if you believe in it, if you expect a reward…there will be no reward. Or to put it better: the reward will not come from the person who keeps you locked in a cage with an electrified floor grille. He has decided that now it’s time for indiscriminate shocks and learned defencelessness.

But I’m going to tell you a secret. The cage has a door. All cages have one. Inside the cage the shocks will never end but outside there is clean air, solid ground, fresh food and other mistreated dogs with whom, after gagging and bounding the experimenter-torturer, you can build a world without cages. It is simply a matter of abandoning the corner we have curled up in, plunged in despair, and understanding that the only way out is beyond the bars and the lock.

I heard this basic psychology lesson twenty years ago for the first time. And I had nearly forgotten it..with all its importance.

 

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The Disappearance of the European Union

This is a translation of a piece by Vicenç Navarro on the specific interests in operation behind Germany’s present drive for austerity in peripheral countries. (I have to admit, the ‘Gipsy’ acronym is a new one on me, but it does exist: there is a Centre for European Policy Studies paper by Daniel Gros entitled Adjustment Difficulties in the GIPSY Club – ‘Greece, Ireland, Portugal, Spain and ItalY’) I am not sure I share his contention that the likely outcome of Germany's insistence on austerity for the periphery will be the disappearance of the European Union. Rather, I think that if things carry on in the way he describes, we will see a political union of authoritarian kleptocratic oligarchies that still goes under the name of the European Union, but stripped of any of the let's-all-be-friends pastel propaganda that sugar-coated the European Union in bygone days.

A brief note on the nationalisms –German and anti-German- cited by Navarro in his article. There is an article in the Irish Times today by commentator John Waters, which, with characteristic aloofnesss and preposterousness, makes reference to ‘the Germans, who have now managed to dispense with the thin veneer of democracy that previously graced the EU’.

This is a good example of how the logic of the European Union, in its current form, exerts a kind of centrifugal force that generates and bolsters facile reactionary nationalism. We might ask, if we were to take Waters seriously: which Germans have dispensed with democracy? The '8 million people in Germany (who) now work for an hourly wage of less than €9.15', or the '1.4 million' who receive 'less than €5 per hour'?

And even if we were to commit the habitual barbarism of taking ‘the Germans’ to mean ‘German elected representatives’, and ‘democracy’ to mean ‘representative democracy’, which is what it normally means in Ireland, how does the accusation of dispensing with democracy tally, for instance, with the failure of the German parliament to ratify the Fiscal Treaty? This is not to claim that Germany is some sort of exemplary democracy, but it is worth pointing out that the coarsening ignorance of such remarks, when widely broadcast, have an impoverishing effect on public political discourse.

The nature of the EU crisis makes it easier to speak casually of ‘the Irish’, ‘the Germans’, and ‘the Greeks’ and so on, glossing over conflicts within member states and obscuring common interests held by populations across member states. Among other things, speaking in this way is a handy way of denying that the capitalist system is in crisis, with its ready-made vocabulary for simplifying a crisis of sprawling complexity to a question of mere incompatibility between national caricatures.

From the point of view of ruling elites, this simplification is a handy tool for steamrollering awkward questions about democratic failure and for disciplining the population. Consider, for example, Labour Party minister Ruairi Quinn’s claim, in the early days of the first Greek bailout, that ‘we’ (i.e. ‘the Irish’) “instead of learning to behave like Germans we continued to act like Italians, or should I say Greeks”.  

It is also an important factor in socialising guilt for the financial crisis: ‘we’ –on account of some essential national characteristic (land hunger, residential property lust, congenital immaturity, ginger hair)- behaved badly; therefore ‘we’ deserve to be punished, both through the withdrawal of wages and public services, and through the imposed burden of private debt, which, if ‘we’ had been more careful, would not have befallen ‘us’.  

What they don't say about why Merkel still clings to austerity policies

The austerity policies that the German government led by Chancellor Angela Merkel is imposing on the peripheral Eurozone countries, called Gipsy in the Anglo-Saxon world, is driving them to a disaster (there is no other way of defining it). A large number of economists have been emphasising this fact (though this number has been very low in Spain), showing that the great recession that these countries are suffering is primarily due to these austerity policies. The reality is that the spreading of this disaster can even affect the German economy itself. One way would be by making it impossible for the peripheral countries to pay their debts, public and private, to German banks. It was the Finance Minister of the Merkel government himself who warned that the collapse of the Greek economy and its exit from the euro would have a very negative effect on the European financial system, centred on the German banking sector.

In actuality, a key objective of the austerity policies imposed by the Merkel administration on peripheral countries and their governments is to force them to pay what they owe to German banks. If these austerity policies are continued, the German banking system itself can be affected very negatively. This reality is ignored by those mainstream media columnists who, somewhat frivolously, claim that the Merkel government wants to ‘expel’ Greece from the euro.

Now, the persistence with austerity policies, despite the risk it poses to the German banking sector, also brings it great benefits. That is, the enormous crisis of peripheral countries is benefitting the German banking sector and the German State which, under the Merkel government is heavily influenced, not only by the banking sector, but also by the German industrial exporting sectors that are increasingly exporting to countries outside the Eurozone. Thus, German State bonds, in light of the deep crisis of confidence in the markets (assisted by the policies of the ECB which contribute to this lack of confidence, with the consequent rise in interest rates for public debt), become a safe investment, highly in demand. Thus there exists a flow of capital towards the German financial system, as a result of the crisis in the peripheral Eurozone countries.

Something similar is happening in the industrial sector. As German economist Frank Hoffer indicates, the decline in the automobile industry in peripheral countries, as with Fiat, positively affects the German automobile industry, as with Volkswagen. Hence austerity policies contribute to the immense dominance of German financial and industrial capital and the German State, which, in the long term, will have a high political cost, since this domination is being established at the cost of the other countries that are resisting these impositions. The case of Greece is an example of this. From this comes the rebirth of nationalisms, both German and anti-German, which can break up the European Union itself. It is not the viability of the euro but the viability of the European Union that is being called into question by these austerity policies, since the promotion of these policies is very quickly diluting the culture of European cohesion (which was always very limited), and replacing it with the culture of nationalisms that led to the First and Second World Wars, which the European Union sought to prevent.

Hence German figures who have shown their commitment to the European project, such as the former Chancellors Helmut Schmidt and Helmut Kohl, have criticised the German Chancellor for placing German business interests above the European project, to the point that they can destroy it. There will be no World War III, but what could happen is that the European Union and not only the euro might disappear. But it would not be the disappearance of the euro (contrary to what is said, its survival is not in danger) that would destroy the European Union, but the disappearance of the European Union that would bring about the disappearance of the euro.

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I For One Welcome Our New Fascist-Inspired Banking Overlords, Or, The Persistence of the Absence of Memory

This is a translation of a piece by Vicenç Navarro, originally published on the 11th of May. One wonders whether Navarro has still too benign an opinion of Draghi’s artistic tastes.

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Mario Draghi, Dalí, and the future of Europe

 

Dali

The President of the European Central Bank, Mr Mario Draghi, during his visit to Barcelona for the meeting of the Bank’s governing council, made certain declarations to ingratiate himself with Catalonia, referring to Dalí as an inspiration for the Europe that was being established in our continent. And Catalonia’s mass media (the majority of which is conservative in persuasion), apparently flattered by such a declaration, published these declarations with implicit applause.

I have to assume that Mr Draghi’s observation about Dalí was the result of ignorance, since were this not the case his declarations would be enormously alarming. Dalí was a fanatical defender of Spanish fascism. Although Dalí’s fascist sympathies are known in artistic circles where rigour ensures credibility (see the excellent biography of this painter written by Ian Gibson, The Shameful Life of Salvador Dalí, Faber and Faber 1997), they are practically unknown to the majority of the general public. The conservative forces that dominate the majority of mass media in Spain have kept this dimension to Dalí quiet. His known relationship with the dictatorship in power in Spain is trivialised by attributing his closeness to the dictator to his desire to avoid paying taxes and to hide his great wealth, a widespread practice, even today, among the Catalan bourgeoisie. According to this version, Dalí tried to be on good terms with power in order to avoid the exchequer of the Spanish state. And given that all rich people did it, there was nothing to reproach Dalí for.

Franco-palio

But his identification with the dictatorship was much more intense and profound than what is broadcast in the media. Dalí never helped the Republican government during or after the fascist military coup. As Ian Gibson points out, Dalí wrote positively about José Antonio Primo de Rivera, the founder of the Falange, the Spanish fascist party. And in his speeches he used the fascist narrative, attributing to Spain an imperialist mission as the inspirer of a new civilisation. He supported the alliance of Franco with Hitler and Mussolini against the allies, and shared an admiration towards these figures as a brake on international Bolshevism. Profoundly antisemitic, he praised the historic function of Christianity, claiming that all art ought to be based on this religion. Close to a Spanish Catholic Church that had clear fascist sympathies, and to the Vatican of Pio XII, Dalí defended the dictator from criticism and contempt expressed by the majority of the international artistic community towards this figure, becoming his highest defender, a defence that reached sickening levels when, months before his death, the dictator signed the death sentence for five political prisoners who were members of the antifascist resistance. Dalí defended and applauded the execution of the five antifascists, claiming that in reality, Franco (whom at that moment he had defined as one of the greatest Spanish people ever to have existed) ought to have shot many more. Professor Malefakis of Columbia University in New York, and an expert on Fascism in Europe, has documented the level of cruelty of that regime, emphasising that for every murder committed by Mussolini, Franco carried out ten thousand. That dictator was the Spaniard who killed more Spanish people (and more democrats) in the history of Spain. One should not be surprised, then, that Dalí, at the end of the dictatorship, should have fleed Spain. A bomb was even discovered under his seat in the restaurant he used to visit.

One imagines Draghi, the President of the European Central Bank, was not aware of these facts, and shared the idealisation of Dalí that also exists in our country. (Only a few months ago, the biggest theatre in Barcelona –the Liceo- dedicated an entire opera to him, and Cadaqués, where the Catalan bourgeoisie goes on summer holidays, has a statue of Dalí in its main square). To correct his ignorance, I have sent Mr Draghi Ian Gibson’s book on Dalí. It would be desirable for him to read it since the policies the European Central Bank is imposing (and I say imposing because none of the austerity policies that the governments, including the Spanish government, are implementing in response to the pressure of the ECB, appeared in any electoral programme) are stimulating the appearance of fascism in the European Union. The harshness of its austerity policies and its hostility towards the working class, with its insistence on lowering wages and eliminating social protection (in an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Mr Draghi said that the European social model was finished), is helping to create the type of Europe that Dalí desired and admired. The enormous desperation and pain that these policies are creating has generated a hostility towards European establishments, including the financial system headed by the European Central Bank, which, if it is not channelled through progressive and democratic forces, can end up in fascism for which the ECB, the European Commission and the International Monetary Fund (the biggest instigators of these policies) will be responsible. The case of France is but one example.

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Their Opportunity, Our Crisis


From Evernote:

Their Opportunity, Our Crisis

This is a translation of a piece by Pablo Bustinduy, originally published in Madrilonia. It occurred to me while translating it how little the notion of debt has been present in the Fiscal Treaty Referendum campaign, or at least what I have seen of it.

The reason the Irish State is under a bailout programme is because its lenders did not believe it had the capacity to repay the level of bank debt it had committed to pay under the banking guarantee. And thus the central contentious point of the debate thus far, narrowed down in these terms so as to depoliticise the debate as much as possible has been the question of where the money is going to come from for the next bailout. But somehow this appears disconnected from the overwhelming problem of debt! As well as this there are the conditions imposed by the treaty itself: the whole point of having a constitutionalised ‘debt brake’ is not to put a limit on the amount of debt as such, but to ensure that insuperable legal priority is given to the repayment of debts over anything else, for instance hospitals, schools, welfare spending…so that political pressure to raise spending in these areas is rendered ineffective. 


The ‘politics of the ongoing bailout’, as De Sousa Santos puts it, in the case of Ireland involves a gradual normalising of the immense debt burden, generated through the private speculative activity of Ireland’s banking and property elites, and now heaped on the shoulders of the population of Ireland. One prominent economist recently declared that he was tired of the ‘Not Our Debt’  ‘meme’, apparently because the debt had indeed been formalised as ‘our debt’. As the article a bit further down will show, this drift into accepting these debts as legitimate burdens will not make the task of servicing them any lighter: in fact, the logic of debt is boundless when it comes to enforcing dispossession and subjugation. It is not until every marrow has been sucked dry, every protection cast to the wind, that the logic of debt will come to an end, and not even then. The point then, should be to blow the logic of debt to bits.



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The situation is looking grimmer by the day in Spain as regards its banking sector and how the public will end up shouldering the burden of a NAMA-style arrangement for bad banking loans. The main concern at the moment is Bankia, now part nationalised by the Spanish government. Bankia, which has been turfing people out of their homes as if there were no tomorrow, until very recently was headed up by Rodrigo Rato. 


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Rato was Finance Minister in the right-wing government of José Maria Aznar, and subsequently went on to become Managing Director of the IMF, preceding Dominique Strauss-Kahn in the job. And now it looks like the debt taken on on account of Bankia and other banks may drive the Spanish State into the clutches of the IMF, who, along with the ECB and the EU, will see to it that Spain is looted on behalf of the same goons who have caused the crisis. Although, with the presence of former IMF boss Rato on the board of Bankia, one is reminded of the following from Animal Farm:

 "No question now, what had happened to the faces of the pigs. The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which."

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‘-Perspective can play tricks. What you see from down below as a disaster can be clearly perceived up here as an opportunity.’



Breaking Debt

At the end of each year a new deficit. After the lapse of four or five years a new loan. And every new loan offered new opportunities to the finance aristocracy for defrauding the state, which was kept artificially on the verge of bankruptcy – it had to negotiate with the bankers under the most unfavorable conditions.

Karl Marx, The Class Struggles in France, 1848 to 1850

Some weeks back, the IMF delivered an apocalyptic message about the unsustainability of our pension system. “Living longer is good, but it carries a considerable financial risk”: this was how their Monetary and Capital Markets Department’s Director explained that the rise in life expectancy in rich countries will mean an unsustainable burden on the current investment models. It scarcely matters that the very premise of the sentence is a lie, and that in the Ländern of the East of Germany, where exactly these solutions suggested by the IMF were applied (cutbacks in payment, delay in the retirement age, flexibilised labour rights), life expectancy of the citizens with the lowest incomes has fallen in the past decade from 77.9 to 74.1 years.

The ideological obscenity of the sentence is on its very surface, in how naturally it confuses two movements that appear antagonistic and in opposition to each other. On the one hand, the sentence places life against finance (that symptomatic and confrontational ‘but’: living is fine, just as long as it does not interfere with the logic of the markets), as two factors of an inverse relation. On the other, it is near unconsciously categorical in saying that life is in itself a financial object, and not any object, but the favourite form of speculative grammar: a risk. Together, these two movements describe a fundamental fact about our present: wherever life ceases to be productive it becomes a potential threat. When social force does not allow itself to be integrated or subsumed within financial logic, life itself becomes an interference that must be neutralised.

The government continues to camouflage this process beneath the logic of sacrifice, and it claims it is excluding immigrants without a residency permit from the right to health (just as it destroys labour rights, the university, research and welfare) in order to win the confidence of the markets. The markets, any time they get caught with an open microphone, explain with complete sincerity what they think of this sacrifice: whilst Goldman Sachs explained that we were living at ‘the best moment in a generation’, Carmel Asset Management claimed in black and white, in a report on the state of the Spanish economy, that ‘Should the Spanish crisis flare up in 2012 as we expect, we can generate a 300% return on the annual premium’. 

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The reality is that the bankruptcy of the State is a business opportunity for the financial casino of derivatives, where huge sums of money are bet against the very survival of a country which, since the property bust, has ceased to be profitable. The moral: the blood of the sacrifices is real, but the ideological fiction that sustains them, all that cheap rhetoric about austerity, national emergency and the confidence of the markets, is a grotesque construction that is incapable of sustaining its own weight.

This is why trying to mix the two stories, the financial one and the one about the political and social future of the country, is to refuse to understand the very essence of the problem. There is no longer an "exit" to the crisis; what there is is a fundamental incompatibility between the two logics fighting each other for their own survival. As long as the real terms of the conflict are not taken into account, as long as it goes unrecognised that this incompatibility is neither fleeting nor coincidental, but the very heart and the decisive fact of our present, we will do nothing apart from go down time and time again the same sick spiral of debt- until there is nothing left to sacrifice.

The key is really in understanding that debt is not an economic concept, but a paradigm of rule. Debt is the logic that directs the sacrifice: dismantle what remains of Fordist systems of social protection in exchange for absolutely nothing. Debt is the horizon of this conflict between financial capital and social life that cannot be sewed together, and hence does not propose any solution or project for society at all, apart from the unlimited reinforcement of mechanisms of coercion and repression of everything that stands in its way. It is the authoritarian drift that turns retirees and girls at secondary school into the "enemy", it produces death by rubber bullets, it incentivises snitching on one’s neighbour and not only does it enable the police to repress bodies, but it also generates its own discourse and imposes its own objectives on itself.

Faced with an infinite regression in cutbacks, faced with this dystopia of violence and misery, the idea of mass rebellion comes to the fore. In an interview published in Madrilonia, the anthropologist David Graeber explains that the first known word to mean "freedom" is amargi, which in Sumerian means "free of debts". Debt is a political grammar that must be attacked at its root, torn apart, broken into a thousand pieces. The battle is not over debt: it is over what will happen when we break its spell and reset society’s timer to zero.

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RELOAD

May12

This weekend will see mobilisations in the Spanish State and beyond (there will be a demonstration in Dublin, at the Spire on Saturday at 2pm) one year on from the 15th May demonstrations that gave birth to what is now referred to as 15-M. I will try and write a couple of pieces from my own viewpoint this week.

But first of all, a translation of a piece by John Brown on the current moment of electoral upheaval in France and Greece, and the relevance of 12-M in this regard.

France and Greece. 2 elections, no decision.

Yesterday, in two European countries, one big and powerful and the other smaller and more marginal in terms of continental power, electoral consultations took place. In the big country, once again the solemn drivel of the politics of representation was heard, with two candidates outdoing each other in ridiculousness, speaking in the name of “the French” and shamelessly emitting phrases like “the French want”, “the French think” etc. The big hexagonal country is an old centre of European power. It is being hit by the crisis but, for the moment, this has not turned into the social disaster that the countries of Southern Europe have encountered, especially the smallest and most marginal of them, Greece. Hence, it is still possible to play at representation, at a game of mirrors between right and left in which the different components of capitalist rule decide whether to give greater importance to the market or the State, to equality or freedom of enterprise. All within a splendid continuity between the two poles of a system which is never questioned according to these categories, because they are part of it. Whoever thinks that a capitalist regime is called into question by reinforcing the State or improving juridical equality between citizens ignores the fact that the generalised market that is characteristic of capitalism is the product of statist activity, and that equality of contract is the basic condition for the existence of the market. As Michel Foucault reminded Chomsky in their memorable Dutch television debate in 1971, a regime cannot be fought according to its own concepts and values.

Foucault

Hence, the representative left can only represent, at best, a working class that forms part of the framework of capitalism, of its specific mode of distribution of wealth. Its role in class struggle is pure mystification, of hiding the antagonisms behind the common values of the system presented as “democratic” values or “values of the Republic” with the pompous voice used to proclaim big lies.

In the powerful hexagon, the presidential elections have been won, via a small margin of difference over the outgoing president, by François Hollande, a leader of the Socialist Party who set forth a programme that was moderately critical of austerity policies and who proclaimed his desire to modify the European Stability Pact. What he proposes, instead of austerity, is “growth”. Hollande will probably not take long in going back on his promises and returning to the ‘realism’ that consists of accepting austerity and cutbacks, perhaps in the name of growth. In France there is still a margin for lying with some success and also for cutting public spending and salaries. As long as this margin exists it will still be possible to have the puppet show of the two candidates, on the right and left, with their “populist” acolytes on the right and left who, between State and market, bring a third character into the farce: the people (pueblo). This people that irrupts as the Other of the market in the left discourse of Mélenchon or the Other of the State in the semifascist populism of Le Pen’s daughter. As if the people were not the unification by the State and in the State of the disperse agents of the market. Populisms are not a way out of the labyrinth of mirrors of representative politics in which an outside space simply does not exist, nowhere beyond representation that is not mere “terrorist” criminality, and even this is a mystified exterior, a false exterior entirely designated by power and from it. The class struggle cannot be represented, only those mirrors in which the false antagonism between State and market, between the people of the left and the guardian people of nattional essences, is reflected. As in the final scene of the film The Lady from Shanghai by Orson Welles, the protagonists shoot against their images in a labyrinth of mirrors and by shooting at their own image they kill the other.

Capitalism with a liberal flavour kills capitalism with a socialist flavour or vice versa. Meanwhile, they trot out the fascist bogeyman, previously fed via a studied State xenophobia so that the majority options, which are respectable and not ‘populist’, can present the most brutal policies as a ‘lesser evil’..by comparison with what would happen if the fascists were to win. The existence of a fascist bloc allows the parties of the regime to be fascists themselves through accusing the ‘populists’ on the extreme right of being so. Good cop bad cop.

Greece had elections yesterday too, but their course and their results are very different to those of France. The officialist (oficialista) European press has presented the results of the Greek elections as a strong advance for the ‘radical’ left and a reversal for the two big protagonists of Greek bipartidism, the socialists of Pasok and the right-wing Nea Dimokratia. However, something even more serious has occured: it has been shown that, once it gets to a certain point, democratic representation of neoliberal capitalism becomes impossible. The two big parties who defend austerity and the payment of the debt, Pasok and ND only enjoy under 33% of the votes: the rest of the forces represented in the Greek parliament are, by contrast, radically hostile to these policies which are driving the country into ruin and impoverishing the popular classes and the middle layers. This has not prevented the regime from doing everything possible in order to stop the Greek citizens from expressing their discontent: not only was it not possible to consult the population about the austerity measures in a referendum (the mere attempt at doing so cost Papandreou his job), but, in order to prevent the expression of minority positions, the minimum percentage for obtaining deputies was raised from 3% to 5% of the vote, which meant in the latest elections excluding 19% of the electorate, a percentage of votes greater than that obtained by Nea Dimokratia, the party that received the most votes. Not only this: the bonus for the party that won the most votes was raised just before the elections to 50 seats, so that Nea Dimokratia with 18.9% (just 2% more votes than Syriza, the left coalition that got 16.8%) receives, thanks to this generous ‘gift’, 108 deputies compared to Syriza’s 52. This blatant legal rigging, which was intended to guarantee ‘governability’ and allow a government of ‘national salvation’ made up of Nea Dimokratia and Pasok, the minority parties that represent the politics of austerity against which the voters expressed themselves clearly and resoundingly, was almost successful. The final results have not allowed for this solution, since not even with this legal electoral fraud could the parties of the “mnimonio” (the memorandum on austerity policies imposed by the European Commission, the ECB and the IMF) reach an absolute majority. Austerity becomes unenforceable by democratic means. This is the big difference between Greece and France. In Greece, with yesterday’s results it will be near impossible to form a government since, although Syriza has obtained an excellent result, it will be impossible for it to get sufficient support. The Communist Party, which already opposed unified lists with the ‘social democrats’ of Syriza because they were too ‘Europeanist’ will not accept any kind of post-electoral coalition. Elsewhere, a cartoonish but terrible Far Right, Chrysi Avgi (Golden Dawn) has entered parliament with policies that oppose immigration policies but also those of the “Junta” (the hispanic name used in Greece for the dictatorship of the colonels) of the “mnimonio” (memorandum). The function of this formation is for the moment similar to that of Marine Le Pen in France and that of other far rights: to enable the neoliberal and xenophobic radicalisation of the majority parties that can present fascism as a “greater evil”, even though their militias are already on the streets acting against immigrants…

The elections that ought to have served to give legitimacy to the rule of financial capital through austerity and the payment of the debt have not achieved this objective in Greece. Austerity and debt are today unrepresentable, and so too is the resistance of the multitude against these policies. The mirrors have broken conclusively, although it is possible that there may be some playing with that large splinter that the far right constitutes. In the coming days anything can happen: if there is no majority to support the rescue plan and the imposed austerity measures that come with it, there could quickly arise a suspension of funding from Europe and the IMF and a suspension of payments by Greece. It is very likely too that the country will have to leave the euro, with the attendant repercussions on the other weakened countries (Portugal, Spain, Italy, Ireland etc.) and on the zone as a whole. Greece today finds itself in a situation that recalls Germany in the 1940s. The causes are similar: Weimar Germany was destroyed by the payment of a brutal war debt imposed by the victors of the first world war. Keynes had already warned the war reparations commission of the disastrous consequences of this policy. Against the impossibility of a revolution due among other things to the deep division of the lefts and the sectarianism of the German Communist Party, an ugly and resentful little boor, as ridiculous as the leaders of Chrisí Avgi, ended up taking power. We know the rest of the story.

At this moment, only a powerful reaction at a European level against the policies of austerity can prevent the return of barbarism from our continent. We need a Europe that is a true space of productive co-operation for the multitude, a space of democracy and freedom and not a mere odious debt recovery agency managed by an oligarchy and a racist immigration policy. Not every country can allow itself the spectacle of the great “republican” puppet show that France enjoys; they can’t even do it within France. Greece shows us that social domination through debt cannot be represented democratically. To preserve democracy, it is urgent to put an end to economic policies that hide less and less their character of true political domination. This, however, cannot be done within the frame of the nation-States: the sovereignist nostalgia represented by fascism and to a certain extent by the ‘populisms’ is today a trap. It is only at a European level that there can be solutions to problems that moved away from the national level some time ago. By shutting ourselves into “our” States we will find ourselves with a capitalist rule that is ever more brutal and we will be ever more incapable of confronting it. Another European construction is necessary and urgent. The 12M will be much more decisive to this end than the elections of the 6th of May.

Juventudsinfuturo

Translation (‘The 1% sacrifices our rights to save their privileges. THEY ARE LIVING BEYOND OUR MEANS’). Poster from social movement Juventud Sin Futuro (Youth without Future).

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Touched by the Hand


From Evernote:

Touched by the Hand

"I was part of an unhelpful culture of deference and silence in society and the church, which thankfully is now a thing of the past" – Sean Brady 

 

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A thought experiment. Suppose Sean Brady had called the police and brought a halt to the abuse. Suppose that soon after, he left the priesthood, he emigrated, and his intelligence and thoughtful demeanour enabled him to become a politician of great power and influence, drawing on religious traditions of social justice and prophetic ministry. 

Suppose then he was on the verge of becoming president of the United States and he stood in front of a Catholic Lobby in the United States declaring his unstinting support for a Catholic State in the Middle East that was operating a brutal and vicious colonial regime, stripping the indigenous population of their land, their material wealth, their well-being, and in many cases their lives, through arbitrary detention, house demolition, aerial bombing and torture. 

Suppose he exalted the faith, family and culture of such a regime, and said the establishment of the Catholic State –which had been achieved through the ethnic cleansing of the indigenous population- was just and necessary, and rooted in centuries of struggle and decades of patient work. Suppose once he had been elected president to widespread acclaim, that when that State massacred hundreds of non-Catholics with its warplanes and pounded their hospitals and homes with bombs, Sean Brady refused to say anything to stop it. 


Suppose he commanded the destruction of villages with predator drones. Suppose he then joked about using predator drones on young men who might go near his daughters. Suppose he authorised assassinations of the citizens he was elected to represent. Suppose he maintained a site that held people under indefinite imprisonment without trial. Suppose he imprisoned someone who made information public that exposed the monumental crimes in which he was implicated, and held that person in indefinite solitary confinement for months on end. 


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Suppose, after all this, and after all this information being easily accessible in the public domain, Sean Brady was invited back to Ireland as President of the United States, and the Irish State locked the capital city down, the entirety of the country’s media celebrated his arrival without a glimmer of a reference to any of the activities mentioned above, and he was greeted by tens of thousands of adoring supporters, lauded as a hero, and welcomed as a returning exile. (Suppose that such was the concern on the part of the State broadcaster to present him as well as possible that it resulted in a priest getting wrongfully accused of rape)


 If all this happened, what would we say about the dominant morality in Ireland, and about the culture of silence and deference that the real Sean Brady says has gone? 


Of course all this did happen –give or take a few biographical details and changing a few nouns and adjectives- but it happened with Barack Obama. But there is a huge difference in public reaction to the what Brady did and failed to do decades ago and the arrival of Barack Obama to Ireland last year.. Brady’s actions are subjected to intense scrutiny and widespread coverage (as they should be), and there are wide-ranging discussions of the implications of what Brady did. There are calls, on the part of prominent politicians, for Brady to resign because he is unsuitable for the role of Catholic primate. These calls are made in a personal capacity, less it be thought that there is some sort of overlap between servants of the State and Church loyalties (heaven forbid), but everyone knows that these are official calls, made covertly.


On the other hand, with Obama, the same public representatives who now call for Brady’s resignation because of his complicity in harrowing abuse are the ones who greeted Obama so enthusiastically last year, when the State had a jubilant parade in the presence of the commander in chief of the US armed forces. They had the chance to make public calls for an end to the imperial violence perpetrated by the State of which Obama is the head while he was visiting, but –like Sean Brady when faced with the chance to say something about the abuse he knew that was happening- they said nothing. Nothing to Obama, nothing to the public. 


Nor for that matter did they get asked about it by any of the news agencies currently pursuing the Brady story. So we don’t have much of an idea about what justifications they would offer for their complicity and silence, or whether they might seek to contextualise Obama’s role as a sanguinary imperialist in sympathetic terms. 


Why is this so? How come the Catholic Church is subjected to scrutiny for its criminal and allegedly criminal behaviour, and its operatives rightly subjected to intense probing for their failure to act on their knowledge of heinous crimes, whereas others come under no such scrutiny, not only for their refusal to say anything about the grossest of abuses but for their activities in glorifying the perpetrators, and the perpetrators themselves are often celebrated? 


Let me try and suggest a few reasons why. Although the Catholic Church still has a major influence on Irish society, not only in terms of its current control of many aspects of the education system, including the maintenance of private schools for the cultivation of local elites, high level civil servants and business people who belong to Opus Dei and other Catholic associations, and the interconnectedness across the highest echelons of the Irish Church and PR and media organisations, to name three, it obviously no longer has the same position of dominance. 


The loss of influence applies, among other places. to the legislative sphere, and that of moral instruction. Where moral instruction for the purposes of social control previously emanated from pulpits and the widespread presence of priests and religious orders, it now comes via the mass media. There are very few, if any, explicit rules and exhortations; rather, there is a continuous reproduction of examples of proper moral conduct -in terms of physical appearance, obedience, enthusiasm for hard work, and so on. 


The cardinal rule is obedience to the dictates of the market system; to be specific, an unquestioning acceptance that the way society is run and ordered is the way it ought to be, and –aside from the removal of a corrupt politician here, a barrier to business there, or the privatisation or outsourcing of some public service – nothing should be done to mess with the formula, lest the markets unleash their wrath. 


This means that the really influential figures of authority and moral instruction are those mediated figures whose success has been validated by the market system. To name some groups- local tycoons like Michael O’Leary (recall, for instance, Eamonn Dunphy’s Late Late Show suggestion that Michael O’Leary ought to negotiate with the Troika on behalf of Ireland); economists who claim to know how the market system works and uphold the validity of its sustaining ideas; and people who circulate in the world of Foreign Direct Investment, long considered the lifeblood of Irish society. The last category includes the bosses of multinational firms and industrial development officials, and it also includes, to give a specific example, former Fine Gael Taoiseach John Bruton. Bruton, now chairman of a lobby group for the Irish Financial Services Centre, was interviewed on RTE yesterday in exchanges that were strikingly deferential, and accepting of Bruton’s viewpoint that the interests of the IFSC were the interests of society as a whole. 


In a society where people have largely accepted the legitimacy of the kinds of hierarchical structures that normally exist in the capitalist workplace –think about how the game show ‘The Apprentice’ naturalises the notion that what is good and proper is to work your way to the top, and that the person at the top is the one to listen to- there is no urgent need for an official or semi-official Church to undertake moral policing on behalf of the boss class, or to operate as an exemplary hierarchical force. 


Indeed, a growing feature of the post-Fordist workplace is the continual subjection to employer propaganda –whether in e-mail circulars of ‘one big family’ stories, internal advertising focusing on the uniqueness of the employee’s workplace and how highly each employee is valued, corporate social responsibility success stories- that takes the place of the kind of instruction that Churches ought to give: family, gratitude, charity, and so on. 


In this scenario the traditional church appears as a relic from less worldly times, and when some unpleasant detail emerges about the rotten deeds of someone in the church hierarchy, there are few obstacles for the mass media to pursue this detail to its ultimate denouement. Much of the media coverage is anti-authoritarian in tone, with widespread criticism for the Church hierarchy.. This, by the way, by no means entails the ‘aggressive secularist’ apocalypse foretold by the likes of the Iona Institute. In fact, the laity and even sections of the priesthood are treated sympathetically. Moreover there is no deep-set ideological opposition to the existence of a Catholic Church. If anything, the preference on the part of the boss class would be for a Church that reinforced the dominant market ideology, which of course includes the celebration of charitable donation instead of codified rights. 


There is no particular contradiction between religious worship and subordination to the dictates of the market, as shown by the recent history of the United States. Mainstream media opinion appears to be seeking a chastened Catholic Church, not a decimated one. The fact that the dramatis personae of this morality play are so clearly defined (innocent victims; unworldly priest with outmoded views on sexual relations and reproduction; secular bourgeois subjects who want full rigours of law applied to the protection of children from predators; politicians who want separation of Church and State) means that there is little risk of other parts of Irish society getting contaminated or called into question in the process.


The Church and the State are treated as entirely separate entities, with the State –which ensures the proper operation of the capitalist economy and enforces the regime of private property- operating as the enforcer of moral excellence, and the Church as the agent of vice. However, when a scandal involving the Church also entails some sort of association with local political, financial and media elites, as is the case with the Magdalene Laundries, where the Church-approved slave labour was used to serve Government departments and Dublin businesses, hotels and golf clubs, such scrutiny is patchy at best. (A thorough public investigation of this scandal would entail looking at questions of who benefited, and who continues to benefit, from the power accumulated on account of the creation of a workforce of female slaves that operated for many years as a powerful instrument of social control. As it is, there has been no statutory inquiry or compensation scheme instituted, nor has there been any apology or reparations. There is no public outcry about this.) 


So the Church will not be allowed to melt into air in the manner of a deceased cardinal’s hat. Consider the support for Brian D’Arcy. Here was a man who was censured by his employer for public utterances about his employer that his employer did not like. But in fact there are many thousands of people in Ireland who would not be in a position to express negative opinions about their employer in public, since to do so would mean that they would lose their livelihood. Why should priests expect special treatment then? Basically, because the role of the priest as a public voice is still considered important by ruling elites, but the notion that people in general should be able to freely criticise their employers in public without fear of retribution would be considered outlandish by the same people. 


In short, then, since the crimes and misdemeanours of operatives of the Catholic Church have no obvious relation to the circulation of commodities, and since there is nothing in them that tarnishes the standing or undermines the authority of the actual ruling class, they can be explored in depth and their implications endlessly discussed. Beyond that, just as Edmund Burke believed the laws of commerce were the laws of nature and consequently the laws of God, complete deference to the rule of ‘the markets’ and its gendarmes is the norm, whatever the destruction wrought from diligent obedience to the Invisible Hand.

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