Monthly Archives: June 2012

The Killing Jokes

This is a translation of a blog post written by John Brown during the recent electoral campaign in Greece, though it retains all of its currency and relevance.

A ‘joke’ capitalist regime: Gramscian reflections on good sense and common sense.

It is characteristic of regimes nearing their end for the powers that be to act in an increasingly absurd and irrational way, as if consensus among the population were no longer of any importance to them. It is something history has shown, with great regularity, from the Dominate of the Roman Empire until our times, from Caligula to Berlusconi. It is rare for a system, characterised by its high rationality, to fall without having gradually corrupted itself beforehand, and before entering a phase in which the dominant discourse has turned senseless, incapable of coming up with a minimal amount of good sense, and even less of informing common sense.

Good sense and common sense are closely related, but they are not identical terms. Good sense is a faculty for judging reality that does not need complex conceptual mediation. Good sense does not uncover truths, but it is able to recognise them. Good sense prevents the commission of absurd errors. Good sense cannot be shared because it is already shared out. Descartes said with a certain irony that good sense (‘le bon sens’) is the best shared out thing in the world since no-one ever complains of having less good sense than someone else. Common sense is something else. Common sense is what makes us think like others, it maintains an identity or at least a closeness of criteria within a society, so that the basic mechanisms of co-operation and communication, though also institutions of domination and exploitation when these exist, can function adequately. Common sense can be grim, dark and fanatical when the reigning social order is characterised by the domination of one person or a few; it can also be generous and open to difference, if determined on the whole by co-operation among equals.

Antonio Gramsci thematised the distinction between good sense and common sense in his Prison Notebooks. This is introduced via a literary example that comes from the chapter on the plague from The Betrothed (I promessi sposi) by Manzoni. One of the characters confesses in private that he refuses to accept a superstitious belief in evil individuals who willingly spread the plague (the ‘untori’, or ‘anointers’), but refuses to make the same declaration in public. Gramsci cites Manzoni: ‘good sense existed, but it remained hidden, for fear of common sense’. Common sense is ‘the philosophy of those who are not philosophers’; it is the result of a historical stratification of diverse discourses that have no guarantee of coherence. Philosophies, political discourses that tend towards hegemony, serve to lend coherence to common sense without ever achieving it altogether. Even an ideological apparatus such as the Catholic Church has had to accept in its midst a multitude of catholicisms that differ according to social and cultural environments. Gramscian common sense is, thus, a conservative and inert space into which it is difficult to introduce new ideas:

‘common sense is an equivocal, contradictory, and multiform concept and to refer to common sense as proof that something is true makes no sense. We can say with precision that something true has become common sense to show that it has spread beyond the circle of intellectual groups, but in that case we are doing no more than noting a historical fact and asserting historical rationality; in this sense, provided that it is used soberly, the argument has some value, precisely because common sense is crudely opposed to new things and conservative; thus to succeed in bringing about the introduction of a new truth demonstrates that the truth in question has considerable strength of evidence and powers of spreading.’ (Q,8, §173)

Thus a hegemonic idea can be established in common sense and draw upon its inertia and its conservatism. Such has been the case with the main ideological themes of capitalism: the market, free enterprise, freedom of contract, freedom of choice; or those of the capitalist State: representation, rule of law, human rights etc. All these had acquired up until now the condition of veritable popular prejudices anchored in common sense, thereby efficiently replicating the principal mechanisms of capitalist exploitation and domination. Each person’s good sense has had to adapt to this frame of ideas and representations, such that, even when the good sense of the individual rejects them, s/he however has to conform to them in public in order not to appear ‘unrealistic’ or ‘radical’.

‘My work as an economist consists of making the intolerable seem necessary’

This was possible in so far as and as long as capitalism maintained a certain rationality. As Marx and Engels remind us in the Manifesto, capitalism has been an enormous expansive force of productive capacity and socialisation of work and has produced a rise in human potential of such magnitude that no other civilisation can compare. What is more, in terms of civilisation, it managed to produce, under pressure from the labour movement and the threat of socialism during the 20th century, social systems with a high level of prosperity in countries of the imperial centre (basically, Western Europe, the US, Japan). Neoliberalism came along to place a limit on the social conquests won until the 1960s under capitalism and to reverse the trend, by liquidating or emptying out both the different institutions for democratic representation of labour (unions, parties, parliaments) that had been developing, and the rights obtained through them. The process accelerated in the second phase that coincided with the collapse of real socialism, ending up at the end of the 90s with a pure model of neoliberal regime driven by financial accumulation. By contrast with a capitalism that organised and rationalised production, and within that process engaged in transactions and pacts with society, we find ourselves today with a capitalism based on financial hegemony whose principal mechanism for the extraction of surplus value is now the system of debt, both public and private.

Within the frame of the system of debt, capitalism has lost all social rationality, since it is incapable of imposing its own ‘truth’ in the commons of society, in the space where common sense is formed. Not only do individual ‘good senses’ rebel against it, but gradually, the compact mass of a common sense, still dominated by the representations that reproduce the capitalist order, is penetrated by demands that are contradictory to it. These are political demands for democracy, moral demands for dignity and equality, and even the biological demand for the right to live and take one’s part in the common wealth, of a right also to enjoy the fruits of a common intellect in which we all participate, that we all contribute to, and of which property relations would deprive us. Debt-driven capitalism can no longer offer anything, apart from more debt and with it more sadness, more impotence. Instead of the shining future of the progressive capitalism of the 19th and 20th century, we see in front of our eyes a future of misery and destruction of the social fabric. In a way, this has always been so, and capitalism has only been ‘civilised’, and able to make its rationality prevail, thanks to the permanent resistance of workers.

(Image via)

Today this resistance takes on a new form. It retains, as the glorious miners of Asturias are showing us, the form of a traditional union struggle, but it now takes on, in a hegemonic manner, socially diffuse forms of expression that translate into occupations of urban spaces or obstructions of the material and symbolic flows of the capitalist regime. This new resistance is one of labour that is gradually more social, more immaterial and more intellectual. The Gramscian dissociation between ‘common sense’ of the people and truths of the ‘intellectuals’ and the hegemonic apparatuses has lost relevance today. Now the truth of the collective intellectual circulates on networks of collaboration and breaks the inertia of the common sense. The common sense loses its passivity and becomes the mass collective intellectual, what Marx named the ‘general intellect’. Simultaneously, capitalism is abandoning the field of rationality and of truth anchored in the common sense of production. Disassociated from a production that is more and more socialised and based on widespread access to the productive commons (language(s), knowledge(s), experience(s), natural and produced resources, etc), capitalism, under its hegemonically financial form, only exists now as a parasite, as a vampire, gradually expelled from common sense by a good sense of the masses that lays claim to the right to live in freedom.

This is what explains the ridiculous forms that characterise the present representation of capitalist rule. Venizelos, the former defence minister of PASOK turned economy minister to undertake an economic war against the population, proclaims during the current electoral campaign that the citizens should vote for him because he was the architect of the agreements that led to the ‘memorandum’ of austerity measures. Without the slightest embarrassment and lacking any kind of argument, he asks people to vote for him because he is the architect of the current disaster.

‘I’m not lying! He repeated over and over, but his hair dye was running..’

But closer to home, Mariano Rajoy issued a reminder, on the very day that the Spanish risk premium reached 500 points, that “we are not on the verge of any abyss”. For those of us who belong to a particular generation, this absurd declaration made us smile. How could we not recall the famous joke about Franco in which the bloodthirsty predecessor of our present Head of State the Elephant Slayer proclaimed: “Spaniards, in 36 we were on the verge of the abyss, with the 18th of July Regime we have made a great step forward…”

The powers that be are a joke. Powers that are a joke, that are ridiculous, can no longer influence common sense so long as their own –capitalist- rationality is counter to the new productive common sense. Today, capitalism as a form of society receives Spinoza’s tough verdict on those regimes that have lost their rationality and their political dignity by being cause for laughter and contempt among their subjects:

there are certain conditions that, if operative, entail that the subjects will respect and fear their State, while the absence of these conditions entails the annulment of that fear and respect and together with this, the destruction of the State’ (Political Treatise, IV, 4)


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An Evening with Greg Palast – Vulture’ Picnic: In Pursuit of Petroleum Pigs, Power Pirates and High-Finance Predators

These will be well worth attending

No Fracking Ireland are organising two events with Greg Palast on the 3rd of July. Lunchtime @ 1pm in Connolly Books, Temple Bar, and an evening event @7.30pm in The Ireland Institute, Pearse Street, Dublin. Both events are free.

An Evening with Greg Palast – Vulture’ Picnic: In Pursuit of Petroleum Pigs, Power Pirates and High-Finance Predators
Tuesday 3rd of July,
7.30pm – Free Event
The Ireland Institute
27 Pearse Street,
Dublin 1

Evening Event

Lunchtime Event

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Slouching towards cliché: A reply to Stephen Collins

This is a reply I posted on the Irish Times website in response to political correspondent Stephen Collins’s opinion piece Things fall apart but Coalition has the centre to hold. A comment on my Facebook thread on the article reads as follows: ‘One difficulty .. lies with the intuitive appeal of moderation among voters. Right wing extremists ( FG, the Labour Party, the Tories, New Democracy etc.) have cleverly dressed up policies that are, by any conception of democratic philosophy, perversions of democracy, as ‘moderate’, ‘sensible’ and by getting that connection embedded in political discourse they’ve overturned many established ways of interpreting political developments… the ‘moderates’ that Collins lauds pose a far greater danger to people than many of the ‘extremists’ running about in his imagination.’ I agree completely with this, and I think it’s worth referring back to the translation I posted a little earlier here, which emphasises the configuration of the ‘systemic Difference in the political imaginary as a monstrous Otherness, grey and brutal, or as an apocalyptic scene of biblical chaos’.  

The ‘moderate/centrist’ vs. ‘extremist’ dyad put to use by Collins in his article is an effect of this configuration. The measured reasonableness, knowingness and consistency of the economic expert or the political insider, regardless of what it is he is saying, and regardless of the obviously destructive outcomes of the policies he advocates, are often experienced, particularly in times of acute crisis, as preferable to anything or anyone that might interrupt the superstitious strivings that come out of the experience of feeling your life dependent on the mood of the capricious gods of the market.

This is a truly remarkable article, for all the wrong reasons. One could go on at length about its shortcomings, but I’ll try to be relatively brief.

The title of the piece and the ‘passionate intensity’ cited in the body of the text are allusions to the Second Coming by WB Yeats. In the repertoire of opinion piece cliché, this is down there with Zhou Enlai saying it would be a bit early to give his opinion on the French Revolution.

In spite of this, it is worth dwelling on Collins’s apocalyptic mise-en-scene. The rough beast slouching towards Leinster House is a ‘range of forces challenging democratic politics’. Collins cites the example of Greece in this regard, and treats the preparedness of the main Greek political parties to obey the dictates of the troika as an example of democratic politics.

Thus he implies that democratic politics is a process characterised by, among other things:

a) the imposition of technocratic rule by external entities, thus placing key economic policy decisions beyond the realm of popular sovereignty, as witnessed with the proposed Greek referendum last year;

b) a mass media campaign of threats and apocalyptic predictions of what would unfold should the Greek people choose the wrong option at the ballot box and defy the will of unaccountable, unelected financial entities;

c) the financial suffocation of the Greek state for anything other than repression, and the wholesale erosion of what ought to be basic rights in a democratic society: to food, to shelter, to health care, in order to ensure that the balance sheets of German banks are kept healthy and the borrowing costs of the German State are kept low.

Things fall apart indeed; among them, in Collins’s hands, is the basic meaning of the word ‘democratic’.

To compound things, Collins opts not to distinguish in any way between those forces that oppose the politics of the Greek bailout because they consider it anti-democratic and the debt imposed on the Greek people illegitimate, and those forces that oppose democracy altogether. Instead, he prefers to be troubled by a vast image of ‘extremists of all hues’.

The binary opposition between ‘extremists’ and ‘moderates’ serves to obscure an inconvenient truth: it is the ‘moderates’ of the main political parties, who, along with the EU, the ECB and the IMF, are stripping away what remains of European welfare states and the post-war democratic settlement in order to appease ‘the markets’. They look upon the destruction of Greek society –and the poorer parts of other European societies, with more to come- with a gaze as blank and pitile8ss as the sun.

In this context it becomes a key task of political and media establishments to ‘defend the paradigm’, as Ray Kinsella put it in an article in today’s paper. This is why Stephen Collins, in encouraging the government to act with conviction against challenges to the politics of the Irish bailout, is prepared to consign democratic forces such as Syriza, and fascist abominations such as Golden Dawn, under the same category of ‘extremist’.

Most egregiously, however, Collins is so concerned with tarring all opposing forces to the politics of the Troika bailout with the same brush that he chooses to describe two female victims of assault, perpetrated by a fascist thug as ‘protagonists’ in a ‘punch-up’. And it is not as if he can claim ignorance: the original Financial Times article he cites mentions how the member of Golden Dawn ‘repeatedly hit a female candidate of the communist party while appearing live on a television talk show and threw water over a female candidate’, and given that he describes the incident as ‘dreadful’, one assumes he watched it. Had it been a female Fine Gael TD who had been punched repeatedly in the face, would he have described her as a ‘protagonist’ in a ‘punch-up’?

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Europe, Enraged Coriolanus

Continuing with the fallout from the Greek elections, a translation of a piece by Miguel Ángel Sanz Loroño, Researcher at the University of Zaragoza, published 19th June in Público.

Europe, Enraged Coriolanus


Coriolanus was a Roman general who wanted to give an exemplary punishment to the people of Rome. First he proposed doing it with hunger, then with weapons. In Shakespeare’s work of the same name, Coriolanus proclaims in one scene: to deserve greatness, one must deserve the hate of the people. This is what the leaders of Europe must have in mind, since the bullying of the will of the Greek people has not just come from the German version of the Financial Times, but also from the European institutions themselves. These days Coriolanus does not wear a sword, but a tie.


In a recent interview (11/6/2012) on the Spanish State broadcaster’s 24 hour TV channel, the Secretary of State for the EU, Iñigo Méndez de Vigo, indicated with regard to the Greek elections of Sunday past that he was hoping “that the good guys win”. And he added that a socialist friend had told him that “I never wished so much for the right wing to win”. A while back this would have been a scandalous claim. Now, however, it no longer surprises anyone.  

The spectacle put on by Europe in the past weeks with regard to these elections is not the product of a transitory madness, but the expression of the neoliberal European system at a moment of possible collapse. The threats cast by Europe at the Greek people have wounded the delirious vision that the EU has of itself. Either they voted for the conservatives of New Democracy or banishment. This has a price. It is called democracy or European project.

Neoliberalism, understood as the political culture of markets, finds democracy surplus to requirements, but not the nation-State. The rulers of Europe have been making this clear. The manipulation of the Greek vote via a campaign of media terror sets out clearly the contradiction in the European project that had come to light already with the technocratic governments in Italy and Greece. Europe prides itself on legitimacy obtained through a legislative or governmental vote every x years. However, based on the past week we can conclude that the vote gets in the way at certain points, and that it is legitimate to threaten and punish the vote with hellfire if the electorate goes beyond what is acceptable, which is to say, the bipartisan rule that sustains the system morally and accepts the realism demanded by it.


From this we can deduce something that we already know: that liberal democracy is more liberal than democratic. Europe has no intention of bringing the vote into other spheres that might advance the forces of the commons and drive back the empire of the markets (financial capital). And this is because the member states and the European Union have accepted the order of things and the definition of reality that late capitalism has imposed. Among other motives, this is because the governments have been the executors of this vision of the real that conforms to the functioning of the markets. Nation States guarantee this reality via the legitimacy attributed to them to establish this order. But at the same time, these States have accumulated social commitments that are incompatible with the demands of the markets. And here is where the conflict is.



Brezhnev coined a term for the status of Eastern Europe: doctrine of limited sovereignty. The European peoples today find themselves within this type of sovereignty, though the empire is not the Soviet Union, but that of the markets. Greece is the most obvious example, but Spain is no less so. Not a single ruler demands sacrifices from these markets. No-one has voted for them, but governments act to give them confidence to the detriment of their peoples. The peoples vote, but they are not feared, unless their vote goes against these markets that limit the sovereignty of States. The threats of expulsion against one of its members if it were to go beyond the bounds of the acceptable is a hatchet blow against the EU project. The true face of Europe has been uncovered.

It is difficult to think of a way back. The EU was not born as a project of full-blown democracy, but it at least tried to fake it with its rhetoric. However, the Greek elections have marked a new milestone in this process of making institutions subordinate to the markets. The means that Europe has used against other parts of the world are now directed against one of its members. And not against just any member, but against the one considered the “cradle” of Europe. It becomes complicated to think about an EU without the country whose democratic myth functioned as an alibi for the European project.


In recent days we have seen elections under a state of siege imposed upon a member state. The democratic forces of the commons in Greece are suffering this attack from the empire of the markets. But this has not ended. There can be no guarantee that Greece can bear another turn of the screw. The legitimacy of the sytem has been revealed as a farce that now appears before us as a tragedy. Government is not for the multitude but for the markets. When forced to choose between ordinary people and the markets, the governments choose the latter. Greece has demonstrated this, and Spain too. What more can we do, said Cristóbal Montoro [Economy minister in Spanish government], we have already done our homework. There is no homework to do, apart from subordination to the markets in a spectacle that puts a question mark over even the minimum that can be demanded of a liberal democracy with some degree –however small this might be- of social commitment. Government is for the market, and the latter wants to do away with the remains of the social commitment that liberalism accepted in 1945 in exchange for stability and social democracy’s entry to the system. The markets have got what they wished from the EU and the press: a campaign of harassment to avert a SYRIZA victory.

However, European nervousness and irritation show that The Different is present. It is the vote, upon which Europe bases its praise of the current system, that they have tried to punish with a scandalous siege. Europe stands naked. Perhaps the next time a government of bipartisan rule is sworn in, it will pronounce the words that, according to Aristotle, were used by the magistrates in the Greek oligarchic republics: ‘I will be an enemy to the people, and will devise all the harm against them which I can’. Suffering continues for the Greek people.


Lastly, the so-called fear vote must be analysed with care. The campaign of fear would not have been effective if it did not connect with a deeper sentiment. One must not underestimate the disdain for alternatives to the system. After 1968, the systemic Difference was configured in the political imaginary as a monstrous Otherness, grey and brutal, or as an apocalyptic scene of biblical chaos. In this respect, the influence, of what Frederic Jameson has called the collapse of the utopian imagination, has been symptomatic: we can imagine the end of the world before the end of capitalism or its alternative. However, SYRIZA is still there. Its strength has grown and its voice has not disappeared. The possibility of the Difference that this coalition indirectly refers to remains present and real; as real as the European spectre that haunts the night of the enraged Coriolanus.

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The Greek elections and the change of political cycle in Europe

Below is a translation of a recent (unattributed) piece from Madrilonia.

The Greek elections and the change of political cycle in Europe


The change of cycle in Greece, and in Europe, has already begun. Despite Syriza’s narrow defeat last Sunday, the fact that a supposedly minor party could, in less than a year, manage to obtain nearly 30% of the votes, double that of the social democratic party in power, PASOK, tells us something about the strength of the social mobilisation that has carried this coalition forward. Despite the vertiginous speed with which novel and important positions such as those of Syriza have spread, they still need a certain amount of time before they become those of the majority in Greece. In fact, as is the case with 15M, some of the matters, the more strategic ones, placed on the table by Syriza call for ways of practising politics and interpretative schemas that will be unavoidable for any kind of contestation that might be articulated in Europe in the coming years. This is the key revealed in the Greek elections: the proposals from Syriza for exiting the crisis, especially those that refer to the need for a confrontation with the financial sector and its European political delegates, in consonance with the slogan “we do not owe, we will not pay” from the indignados of Syntagma Square, will be the basis for a new common sense, in opposition to the complete submission to the diktats of financial actors on the part of the different European versions of bipartisanism.

The victory of New Democracy and this party’s acceptance, alongside PASOK, of the brutal bailout conditions, is the realisation of its defeat in the short/médium term. The conditions for toughening privatisations, cutbacks and tax rises –not for the richest- imposed by the Troika (ECB, EU, IMF) simply cannot be managed from the national level and will continue to generate lines of conflict that place the institutions of the EU largely controlled by Merkel, on the one side, in confrontation with the Greek population on the other. For a long time we have been used to hearing that the monumental mobilisations in Greece had served no purpose. This was true to an extent precisely because they were enclosed within the narrow space of Greek national sovereignty and they had not reached the point where they addressed the interests of the powers that operate above this narrow sovereignty. Now we can say that confrontation at a European level has been opened up in Greece, and once opened there, it is also potentially opened in the whole content. It is easy to observe the symptoms of this new political phase. First, the European Union has had to intervene directly in the electoral campaign of a member state, causing its appearance of technical neutrality to disappear. Second, the electoral debate centred on the conditions imposed on Greece by the EU: even New Democracy promised that it would try to renegotiate the austerity Memorandum that they themselves signed. And lastly, in a large part of Europe, Syriza’s gamble has been perceived as the opening up of the type of conflict that can truly change the situation of the 99% of the population: the first step towards questioning borders as lines of containment for social costs and political conflicts in the EU.

Within the EU, national borders have served to turn the hole in the balance sheets of European banks into a debt crisis of member states. The mechanism has been as follows: the banks have needed public funding, which has driven up the debt levels of member states, which in turn have found it progressively difficult to fund themselves through the markets and as as an end result have had to apply for an EU bailout to obtain funding. This entire mechanism has been, and remains, the way capital gets injected into European banks: directly via assistance from countries to banks; through money received from the ECB at 1% which is then loaned by the banks to countries at a higher interest rate (between 4% and 7%); via bailouts such as the €100bn to Spain, which will be destined for the cajas whilst State is burdened with the repayment guarantee and the debt. Risk premiums, debt and bailouts are all part of the same mechanism of the looting of the 99% to the benefit of the 1%.  

The problem of the EU is nothing other than the lack of democracy. The sovereignty of each country in separation is near inexistent, and those who run the EU have managed to ensure that the crisis has been maintained as national problems of Greece, Portugal, Ireland, Italy or Spain that the EU can ‘help’ to resolve, always provided that the conditions linked to adjustment and austerity are abided by. Let us remember that thanks to the containment of the crisis within the peripheral countries, Germany is managing to fund itself very cheaply and its firms are taking advantage of privatisations in order to acquire important assets such as the Greek telecoms company or Athens airport. It is also worth pointing out that none of the countries bailed out has improved its situation, despite having carried out the sacrifices required: the risk premiums have not come down and the national debts continue to grow.

One only has to look at the relieved reactions of all the European chiefs to the pyrrhic victory of their colleagues and the brutal campaign of fear launched by the EU to know that Syriza has touched a central nerve by presenting the crisis as a political problem that is resolvable via a democratic restructuring of the continent’s politics and not as just one more economic inevitability to which one can only consent and be resigned. It falls to all of us Europeans to draw conclusions from this, but especially Spanish and Italians, who now find ourselves in the centre of the same model for generating profits for a few at the cost of the majority which, a year ago, ended up forcing bankruptcy on the Greek State and the imposition of that brutal mechanism of political domination and looting known as the bailout. In Spain we are not going to have a single big bailout; rather it will be carried out in stages, with successive offsetting, cutbacks and privatisations, each time on a greater scale. But this, even though there is still no party even remotely similar to Syriza, should not hide the similarities with the political situation in Greece.

It is no coincidence that all the Spanish media, with few exceptions, either hid or lied about Syriza’s central proposal: non-payment within the Euro. It is important to point out that once an audit were conducted, one could detect which debt is illegitimate –acquired fraudulently, in the benefit of private interests or to the harm of the majority –so that it did not have to be paid. This is such a powerful position because it demonstrates that European neoliberal policies are not something inevitable. In fact, with the Greek elections, the alarms went off in the EU: the conflict might cross borders and become a European problem, which is exactly what it is. The Rajoy government is an intermediary as was that of Zapatero. Bailouts and the accompanying rise in debt are already here. It is time to make the leap onto the European scale of the crisis, and also, therefore, of the conflict. We can take note of what has happened: the strategic points are already formulated and it is our turn, here too, to take advantage of the breach that has been opened in Greece and join forces, through a democratic audit, to bring about a declaration of the non-payment of illegitimate debt that puts an end to the imposition of the interests of the 1% onto the rest of us. How can that be done? This is what we have to think about among the many brains connected through networks and the squares.

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Indulgence, frivolity and ignorance: A reply to Stephen Collins

Below is the text of a reply I made on the website of the Irish Times to its political correspondent’s piece titled ‘Wallace affair exposes shallow nature of Opposition‘. I might have added something else: Collins’s ‘no true Scotsman‘ treatment of socialist opposition to payment of the property tax, which relies, fallaciously, on the idea that support for a property tax is a defining characteristic of a true socialist, whereas paying attention to the particular context in which a given tax is imposed is not.

‘Inside Politics’ – it’s worth considering the name given to these weekly pieces by Stephen Collins.

The idea that one can be ‘inside’ politics implies that one can also be *outside* politics. For this to make any sense, the underlying concept of politics in use has to be one that excludes some people (citizens; other people who don’t hold the formal status of citizen) and includes others (parliamentarians, party operatives, political correspondents),

This is interesting, because the author goes on about ‘testing Irish democracy to its limit’, and by doing so he implies that there is indeed such a thing as Irish democracy.

But how can one talk with meaningful concern about a democracy, if one relies upon the idea that the citizens should remain outside politics and that it is only those who are on the inside who count?

The real name for such a system is not democracy at all but oligarchy and the people we habitually refer to as citizens should really be called subjects.

Now to be fair to Stephen Collins he doesn’t mention citizens at all; he talks about ‘voters’ instead. That is helpful, because it shows to us that the only time the subjects are supposed to have any part in politics is when they cast their vote, once every couple of years. And these subjects are not supposed to deliberate amongst themselves, as citizens in a democracy do. No: they are supposed to be ‘persuaded’ and ‘educated’ by means of a ‘determined effort’ (in the case of the Fiscal Treaty referendum campaign that he cites, this amounted to scaring the bejaysus out of people). They are ‘outside politics’, after all.

This inside/outside way of thinking about politics, i.e. the treatment of politics as a professional activity undertaken by a political caste, and the people who fall outside that caste as malleable subjects, is by no means the sole preserve of Stephen Collins or the Irish Times; it is common to the Irish political and media establishment on the whole. And it has some interesting consequences.

One consequence is that it creates resignation in the population since they are invited to believe that politics has nothing really to do with them, beyond voting every now and again.

But for those on the inside, it can lead to some pretty heady illusions. Among these is a belief that the population is stupid and frivolous and needs educated and must be led by an enlightened political caste (this has nothing to do with democracy at all, of course).

We can see it on display here. In a reprise of the finger-wagging tone that appeared in a recent Irish Times editorial which conflated attitudes of people who voted for Dustin the Turkey in the Eurovision Song Contest with public attitudes to European institutions, Collins, in the manner of a high imperial official, considers the unrealistic expectations of football supporters and discerns something inherent ‘in the Irish character’, that prevents the population from steering clear of indulgence, frivolity, and ignorance.

A moment’s reflection will reveal Collins’s discovery as a ludicrous cod-sociological contortion, but for all that, does it not convey something truthful about the Irish Times? Prior to the publication of this column, the Irish Times devoted an entire section of its news reporting to l’Affaire Wallace, as though the tax evasion of a single TD* were some kind of political bombshell in a State where weakening the ability of other jurisdictions to collect taxes to fund public services is a cross-party badge of national pride. But I can’t recall any entire section getting devoted to the diversion of billions of euro in public funds that could have gone on schools, hospitals and other institutions that ensure basic democratic rights are honoured, instead of going to unguaranteed bondholders, which is undoubtedly a far greater scandal for anyone who professes an interest in Irish democracy. Do Stephen Collins or the Irish Times ever plan on considering how this, and the fact that it has received scant media attention- might affect the standards in public life that worry them so?

Indulgence, frivolity and ignorance indeed.

*I have corrected the original, which read ‘tax’ instead of ‘TD’ here.

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When the chorus defies Odysseus and the gods

Translation of an article by Juan Carlos Monedero published 16th June in Cuarto Poder.

When the chorus defies Odysseus and the gods

But when he came across any common man who was making a noise, Ulysses struck him with his staff and rebuked him, saying, “Sirrah, hold your peace, and listen to better men than yourself. You are a coward and no soldier; you are nobody either in fight or council; we cannot all be kings; it is not well that there should be many masters; one man must be supreme- one king to whom the son of scheming Saturn has given the sceptre of sovereignty over you all.”

Homer, The Iliad

In The Supplicants by Aeschlyus, the Danaids flee from Egypt to Argos, the city of their forebears, escaping from the men who wish to force them into marriage. In Argos, King Pelasgus, in front of the altar of Zeus where the supplicants have sought refuge, deliberates over what to do after listening to the chorus of threatened women: to deny the demands for asylum supported by the dictate of Zeus (to give protection to those descendents of the city who seek it), or face war with the Egyptians, who will fight to recover the booty that these escaped women represent.

King Pelasgus decides to consult the people, presenting to them with equanimity the moral obligations and also the grave dangers that would come with being honourable. The Egyptians are not nice people and they have at hand the possibility of inflicting great pain on the city of Argos. The sovereign people, after weighing things up, decide to comply with the higher dictate (the legitimacy of the social order, as expressed in the rules of the altar of Zeus), even though this puts the lesser dictate (the governability of the city, threatened by war) at risk.

When the herald of the Egyptians arrives before King Pelasgus, arguing fiercely that the risk premium on the city will rise should they give protection to the escapees, the royal spokesman of the city answers: if with your word you are able to convince the Danaids to leave with you, so be it. But it depends on your ability to convince them, not your proven ability to threaten them.

Finally, the union of the king (the representative), the people (the sovereign power) and the Danaids (the chorus that reminds of the importance of the deep convictions on which the city stands) overcomes the bravado of the attackers in black. The herald is expelled from Argus and the city rerinvents itself thanks to the new situation created by the women who decided not to subject themselves to those who wanted to be their owners.

The legacy that classical Greece offered up to the world -something that did not happen at any other part of the planet at that moment- is the possibility of listening and obeying the free people -albeit poor- beyond the pretensions of rich people and kings. Rich people, kings, heroes, who usually start off and often end up thinking about their own interests and not those of the whole of the citizenry (see the crafty, arrogant and authoritarian Ulysses reprimanding, before democracy arrived in Greece, one of the aporoi, that is, one of those poor people who some centuries later, after the reforms of Solon and Cleisthenes, would lay claim to the power of the people, which is ultimately what the word demokratia means.


In the twentieth century, each time the crisis of capitalism generated an alternative that overcame the system’s bottlenecks, the response of the establishment has entailed denying democracy and installing an authoritarian government. It happened after the crash of 1929, in the Spain of the 2nd Republic, when Europe backed Franco in the Civil War (the preliminary to the war footing of the continental right-wing after its conversion to fascism, Nazism and Francoism). It happened in 1973 in Allende’s Chile, alongside the unfolding of a crisis of Keynesianism (that same year was that of the break from the Bretton Woods agreement) that identified the democratic socialism of the Popular Front. It happened once again in Venezuela in 2002, when the energy crisis began to foreshadow the wholesale crisis that would come six years later after the fall of Lehman Brothers. And now it is Greece’s turn -with an excessively symbolic closing of the cycle in the land of equality before the law and equality in the agora– when the status quo knows it has nothing left but to instil fear.

Greece has no right to elect Syriza because this is what is commanded by those who are stealing democracy in Europe (when they can no longer continue stealing it in other parts of the world). Did they not install a technocrat in Italy and another in Greece itself, which had sought a referendum like that of Iceland. The same as with republican Spain, Chile of the Popular Front, Bolivarian Venezuela or in the Syriza of the consequential left, the supporters of the big lie cannot allow anyone to look at what’s under the rug. How is it possible that Greece, a country of scarcely 11 million inhabitants, can hold in check an organisation such as the European Union with 500 million people? Something is not getting explained.


Greece could be the Stalingrad of European neoliberalism. The threatening spectre of Syriza is only possible because the entire financial structure of the Union is a tremendous lie. The problem cannot be ther money that Greece owes to the German banks -albeit a considerable sum- but the winds it unleashes: the trauma of setting forth, as their electoral programme says -which, by contrast with Rajoy, they are going to carry out- that they are not going to pay any debt that is illegitimate; that they are going to set in train an audit on the debt that affects the whole continent. Finally, they are not going to be the scapegoats for the delirium of others or for the threats from the new barbarians.


Those in Syriza crossed the line. And of course, this is intolerable. The threat from the consequential left is an excellent one: Do we find out that money loaned to banks at 1% has to be paid back by Greek people times a hundred? Do we find out that, just as happened with the dissolution of the German Democratic Republic or the dissolution of Yugoslavia, German capital is making off with the lion’s share of the country? Do we find out that the Germans work 1,390 hours a year on average whereas in Greece it is 2,119 hours? Do we see how the bipartite structure of the false European democracy is breaking down and, at the same time, see how the 15M or Occupy London can receive, in payback, the oxygen tank they loaned to Syriza this past year? Do we realise that the enemies of Europe are not those who criticise the current state of affairs but precisely the European authorities, the European Central Bank, the corrupt party systmen that has no problems in continuing to restrict the sphere of popular decision, or the financial system that is sending everyone’s money to tax havens? Do we realise that after Greece, the sharks will go for Spain and then for Italy and then for France and end up with Germany, showing that, in reality, capital has no country and that those peoples who believe the national siren songs are heading in the direction of the slaughterhouse by getting their enemies confused?

This is when the stage gets occupied by the dark messengers of the bullies, those who want to carry off the Danaids to force them and subjugate them. It is the moment of threatening with the seven plagues if the country -now it is Greece- does not bow to their desires. But a substantial part of the chorus is raising its voice -matters of conscience-. Moreover, and as it befits, it is organised by a chorus leader, the leftist Alexis Tsipras who, to thicken the plot, has a novel way of speaking, doing and observing. New wine in new skins. The main characters in the drama, frightened, rend their garments. Decrepit characters appear at the back door. The theatre shivers. Gods come to our aid! As in the Spain of1986, as in the Nicaragua of 1990, as in the Ireland of 2008, they shout at the citizens “either it’s us or chaos”. Will the Greeks answer “Chaos, chaos!”?

If there is something that the neoliberal model and the false democracy that we have cannot stand, it is that someone decides to brush the rug in the opposite direction. Too many things hidden in the weave would jump out. Is it not that our hideous judiciary did not hesitate in plunging into the excrement to disbar the magistrate who wanted to look under the rugs of Francoism and the Gürtel network, including tax havens? The small country of Greece is not a problem because of its debt or its size. It is a problem, like the Cuba of 1959, of bad example. And that is what the false heroes of the European tragedy cannot stand, what cannot be borne by the gods of clay that we have adored, despite their mortality, since the Treaty of Maastricht in 1992. (Where are all the academics, panellists and columnists who have been exalting every step of this chain of absurdities that has been the neoliberalisation of the European Union?)

Josep Fontana says that “the real objectives of the cold war are still in force’. Since the right-wing lost the Second World War it has been determined to recover its space. The shock of the crisis is offering them a red carpet to do whatever they want. The revolving door between politics and big business (energy, property, finance or media) has built a single body of politician-entrepreneurs who exchange jobs and maintain objectives. The social dismantling that Hitler could not set in train even by murdering communist and socialist leaders, executing the SA in the night of the long knives or subjecting his country to the dictates of the Reich, is being achieved today by the Troika, that financial triumvirate that believes the popular Germanic myth that outside Mitteleuropa there is only indolence and inferior peoples to be subordinated. It would be sad indeed if German builders or plumbers, who are happy to come to Spain or Greece to get their bottoms wiped, to get their food prepared or their bed warmed, began to think once again that they were important.

It will not be easy for Syriza to win the elections of the 17th of June. And if it manages to, it will not be easy for it to form a government. But the steps that have been made are, at any rate, enormous. An example of democracy. In the moment that the official programme is to dismantle it. On the one side, the people, the Danaids, legitimacy, what we owe to ourselves as a constituent power, the 300 Spartans at Thermopylae. On the other side…who really wants to be on the other side?

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