Monthly Archives: June 2012

‘Property Owners, Not Proletarians’


“Forget about the fire – what’s important is that no-one sees the smoke!”

So do you think ‘Spain’ got a ‘better deal’ than ‘Ireland’? (Sometimes it is hard to resist the liberal use of scare quotes) Do you expect the Appointed Guardians of National Sovereignty to now don their Negotiating Armour and go into battle against the combined forces of Rehn, Draghi and Merkel?

If so, hopefully the article translated below, from the Quilombo blog will prove a bucket of cold water to the face.

There will be no deal. Or, if there is a deal, it will not be a deal on your behalf. Why would it be? Do you own a bank or something?

Any deal struck will be about ensuring how financialised accumulation by dispossession can prosper in the future. Like George Carlin said about somewhere else at another time, it’s a big club, and you ain’t in it.

I don’t know how many articles from Spain I have read in the last year or so where I’ve gone, shit, the similarities here with Ireland are so striking! Well, I’m tired of pointing them out. I don’t know what good it serves any more anyway. Maybe they’re not even interesting or relevant. So I’ll let you spot them for yourself, it if takes your fancy.



(This is not a bailout)

The bailout of the regime

‘Circus dogs jump when the trainer cracks his whip, but the really well-trained dog is the one that turns his somersault when there is no whip.’

-George Orwell

‘We want a country of property owners [proprietarios], not proletarians [proletarios]

José Luís Arrese, Housing Minister (1957-1960)

Let there be no doubt about it. The credit line opened to the Spanish State via the European Financial Stability Fund (EFSF) and the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) that comes into operation next month, and which rises to €100 billion (10% of Spanish GDP), at an interest rate of 3%, means a massive socialisation of the losses of the financial sector via an increase in public debt in the coming years. The citizens, through the State and its Orderly Bank Restructuring Fund tool (FROB) therefore guarantee the repayment of this debt in the event that a bank is unable to return the entirety of the loans it has received or if it receives an injection of capital, and let us not forget that the priority given to its payment is given legal force on account of the constitutional reform agreed by the PSOE and the Partido Popular last year and by the close monitoring by the Eurogroup, the European Central Bank, the European Commission, the European Banking Authority and the International Monetary Fund. And even though there might be greater external supervision, nothing guarantees that the FROB will meet the same fate as another late lamented fund, the Mexican FOBAPROA (link in Spanish), which ended up increasing Mexican public debt substantially and with which “not even half of what the Zedillo government promised was recovered from the total assets of the purchased portfolio” of the banks in crisis.

The greatest preoccupation of Mariano Rajoy’s government, as was previously the case with that of Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, has been the survival of the financial sector through the maintenance of the forms of a phantasmagorical national sovereignty. With its silences, its repeated denials, and its word games, the government wants to sell us the idea that this is not a bailout like that of Greece, Ireland or Portugal, simply because there is no contribution from the International Monetary Fund nor is there a direct intervention in the form of monitoring and regular visits from Troika functionaries (European Commission, European Central Bank and the IMF). The “men in black” to whom the Minister of Finance and Public Administration Cristóbal Montoro referred. The other “bailed out” countries seem to have reacted to this agreement with the Eurogroup as an injustice, to judge by the reactions of journalists, politicians and economists. Take as an example that of the Greek critical economist Yanis Varoufakis: ‘Why should Spain, & not Ireland, avoid a crushing austerity program when borrowing for its banks? Is it not time for the Irish to rebel?’

This perception is misleading, and critics of the adjustment programmes in other countries ought not arrive at the wrong conclusions. In reality, the “men in black” are already in the government and are applying a shock therapy, under pressure, it is true, but also taking advantage of the situation. This is what Mariano Rajoy has highlighted in today’s appearance: in the past five months the Spanish government has adopted motu proprio adjustment measures that would have otherwise been imposed by the troika in a more visible fashion.
And it will probably continue to do so. The fiscal conditionality is also imposed by another procedure, that of excessive deficit, which has been reinforced with the Stability Treaty. And the guidelines of the EFSF on capitalisation of financial institutions add that ‘where appropriate, additional conditionality could draw from the future EU bank crisis resolution framework.’

The big difference is that Spain, by contrast with Greece, Portugal and Ireland, is the only country whose government is based on an absolute majority in parliament, and with an opposition, that of parties such as the PSOE or CIU, that is very well disposed to consensus. The other countries had by contrast relative parliamentary majorities or unstable coalition governments. That and the weight of the banking sector in the Spanish economy and its influence on the current political system is far greater. To the point that the fate of both is intimately related.

The financialisation of the Spanish economy has been mainly driven by the development of the tourism and construction sectors since the 1960s. Thus in both Francoism and the transition regime we can see a legal and institutional continuity, and there exists a not-so-thin blue continuous line between late Francoist developmentalism and the recent property bubble. As Isidro López and Emmanuel Rodríguez explain in Fin de ciclo (2010) (pdf in Spanish)

                                                          * * *

“their most far-reaching effects [those of the tourism-construction dyad] took place in the financial sector. From very early on, the Spanish banking groups understood that construction and tourism represented a great business opportunity. Alongside their well-known centrality to the funding of industrial equipment, they added credit to those agents responsable for the massive urban growth of the era. To add more energy to this brew, the enormous dependency of the public sector on the financial resources of the banking oligopoly brought an extraordinarily generous recompense, with one of the highest financial margins in Europe.”

The political regime that was consolidated after the Moncloa Pacts, which allowed for the control of inflation at the cost of wage increases and to the benefit of business revenues, accentuated the trend towards outsourcing, once the restructuring had taken place of an industrial sector that was uncompetitive within the framework of the international division of labour. This services economy showed a growing dependence on the financial sector, which appropriated the lion’s share of the revenues that were generated. The financial crisis of the 1970s was resolved through a concentration of capital and the consolidation of the financial oligopoly. The cycles of economic expansion from 1985-1992 and from 1995-2007 reinforced the strategy of accumulation based on revenues from finance and property, with a strong entrance of foreign capital that had been opened up through the free circulation of capital and the liberalisation of the economy within the framework of the European Union, and later on, with the adoption of the euro, thanks to the low interest rates fixed by the European Central Bank.

The financial accumulation would have been much more limited had it not been for the gradual strengthening of the (now failed) project for a society of property owners, something that Francoism had got off the ground (access to property in the form of a house and an automobile), but which the neo-liberal counter-revolution raised to the category of dogma. As happened in other countries, wage containment was compensated for through rises in the value of property assets. The peculiarity of the Spain of stagnated wages, precarious labour and heavy social polarisation is that the property of a home also became the main means of social ascent and the constitution of a life project (what higher education had previously represented). To maintain their growth and high profit rates, the finance sector had to rely on access to credit by ever growing groups of the population, especially poor and immigrant workers. In parallel we witnessed a process of financialisation of public economies, above all at a local level, with the promotion of urban megaprojects and infrastructures financed with European funds. All this gave rise to special reconfigurations of economic and political power, uniquely in Valencia and Madrid. Finally, Aznarism promoted an aggressive internationalisation of banks and privatised Spanish enterprises, which took advantage of the fraudulent privatisations carried out in Latin America at the end of the 90s to take up positions of dominance in the región, which explains in part why they have fared better in the financial crisis than the cajas de ahorro which were far more exposed to bricks and mortar.

The transition regime is not prepared to change economic logic. Its intention is that the country’s elite should hang on to the profits obtained during the latest cycle of accumulation and lay the foundations for another one, relying upon the same formula of appropriating land and the capture of financial rents with a regime of deepened labour exploitation. The banking bailout is therefore a political bailout. Of the Spanish political system, but also that of the European Union as we know it. Our government has bought time, but only that. Today, certainty has no price.

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News From The Dung Heap

A few things concerning Mick Wallace’s €2.1 million tax settlement with the Revenue Commissioners.

First, the Irish Times had a report a couple of weeks back in which a mother of six who had ‘claimed nearly €230,000 in social welfare payments’ over a period of 14 years was jailed for three years. The judge had ‘noted that all the money had been repaid, but he said a custodial sentence must be imposed’. Her solicitor, according to the report, said she ‘had been admitted to women’s refuges 40 times, sometimes with injuries, because of her husband’s drink problem’. The report said that the woman ‘wailed and screamed as she was led away to begin her sentence‘.

So it is hard to have any sympathy for Mick Wallace, to say the least, on account of his under-declaration of VAT payments, though the calls for a custodial sentence to be imposed on him emanating from some quarters strike me as meaningless in the context of a State that imprisons a mother of six in the way outlined above.

The most strident voices urging that the highest standards of ethical probity be observed by public representatives have no problem with those same representatives passing laws that privilege banking and property interests, that erode the capacity of the State to fund public services, and that condemn growing numbers of the population to unemployment, poverty, and forced emigration.

The same voices who condemn Wallace for evading tax are often the same ones who are the most stentorian defenders of Ireland’s corporation tax rates. In principle at least, there is no moral difference between what the Irish State does in allowing corporations to use Ireland as a tax haven so as not to pay taxes on profits in the countries in which they operate, and Wallace’s evasion of his personal tax obligations. In practice, the scale of the Irish State’s facilitation of tax evasion makes €2.1 million look like a thruppeny bit down the back of the sofa.

Not only does the Irish State ensure privilege for banking and property elites in Ireland above the welfare of its citizens, placing the living standards and working conditions of the population of Ireland under permanent attack, but it systematically attacks the capacity of people in other countries to ensure proper funding for public services: schools, hospitals, public transport, and so on.

The State continues to do so thanks in part to a broad consensus across politicians in all the main political parties, who, with the enthusiastic and often fanatical backing from Ireland’s mass media outlets, frequently defend this scandalous arrangement as a brand to be proud of, and an international badge of honour.

Now, it ought to be pointed out that all this is entirely legal. But it is precisely because of this that the pigeon-chested outrage at Wallace’s tax evasion should be treated with contempt. Why should anyone give a damn about standards in public office, when what all this concern with the preservation of standards in public offfice is really about is the preservation of the ability to make mass robbery look respectable?

Regarding the press attention this case is receiving, it’s likely that any politician from any political party would be subjected to a similar level of scrutiny, since a high standard of ethical behaviour is demanded of anyone who aspires to suffocate the country’s finances and privatise its assets. But there is an undeniable frisson of interest in the case of Wallace, on account of his membership of the technical group, which, whilst not a political party, is treated as one de facto by the press and by politicians who are members of major political parties in the Dáil.

Since the technical group also includes the United Left Alliance TDs, who have proven the most prominent critics of government policy within the Dáil, but who, along with Wallace, have also given their support to the Campaign Against Household and Water Taxes, there is also a clear interest, on the part of the political and media establishments, in tethering the case of someone who has evaded taxes to the act of mass civil disobedience and political protest on the part of hundreds of thousands of people, since it serves to undermine the credibility and weaken participation in the latter. Hence Martyn Turner’s cartoon from the Irish Times on Saturday:



Now that the Fiscal Treaty referendum campaign is over, the campaign of delegitimation against the CAWHT has resumed: in this context the Irish Independent referred to ‘tax cheats’ in a front page headline the other day. Similarly, in an RTE broadcast on Friday, Pat Kenny sought to draw an equivalence between businesspeople who avoid the payment of taxes and people who refuse to pay a tax as an act of civil disobedience and political protest, and pressed Joe Higgins on this matter, with characteristic dishonesty.

But whatever the intentions of the political and media establishments, this does highlight a problem for the CAWHT. The problem is not Mick Wallace so much as the danger that the campaign becomes indelibly associated with parliamentary politics and the struggle for electoral power.

The tendency more than ever in mass media is now to portray the Dáil as still the alpha and omega of politics, precisely when the Government of Ireland is operating as little more than a subcontractor for the Troika, but also as an irredeemable dung heap full of self-serving individuals operating in a cut-throat market competition for votes. The point of this is to maintain resignation and political apathy, but to still allow ‘respectable’ elements of political class to shout “stop thief!” (at unions, public sector workers, protesters, benefit claimants, asylum seekers), with some degree of credibility at the very moment they are plotting to ransack your future. I hope the CAWHT does not allow itself to be represented as part of this spectacle, and that will mean doing more than simply parting ways with Mick Wallace.

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The ‘bailout’ or the ‘loan’: a veritable looting – at gunpoint

An analysis of the Spanish ‘bailout’ by John Brown.


The ‘bailout’ or the ‘loan’: a veritable looting – at gunpoint.

A cursory analysis of the general budgets of the State confirms for us the Leninist definition of the latter: ‘a body of armed men’. The figures speak for themselves (*):

-Education: €2.230bn

-Health: €3.974bn

-Citizen security and penitenciary institutions: €8.000bn

-Defence: €7.250bn

(*) Note that these figures correspond to the expenditure of the central State administration and do not include the expenditure of the autonomous communities in Education and Health (which is far greater than that of the central administration), which corresponds to competencies that are largely devolved, nor do they include the corresponding expenses for “citizen security” in Catalonia, Euskadi and Navarra. Let us keep these figures as a reference because it is the central administration that is taking on the loan/bailout.

The Spanish State (central administration) spends some €15bn in repression and population control, more than the double of education and health combined.

It is important to know what purpose these armed men serve, and what kind of distribution of wealth they guarantee in the final instance. This can also be clearly gauged from the structure of the State budgets. If we take into account that the Spanish State has requested a loan of €100bn to save the banking sector, we can make the following calculations:

€100bn is the equivalent of a little less than 10% of Spanish GDP (€1,063bn) and corresponds to nearly a third of Spanish public expenditure (€311bn). €100bn is nearly 50 years of the Education budget, or 25 years for Health.

In conclusion, in order to repay this loan, Spanish governments that accept the logic of indebtedness would have to eliminate public education and health for decades or privatise them altogether. There remains, naturally, another item from which public wealth can be transferred into private hands: pensions. These make up more than half of public expenditure: €172.38bn. In Russia, during the shock therapy, the brutal reduction in pensions or their mere non-payment caused a vertiginous fall in life expectancy due to the excess mortality among older people. The payment of the debt will therefore require a heavy reduction in pensions expenditure alongside those items that do not involve as much expenditure, but which are essential for a civilised life for citizens: health and education. Let’s not forget, of course, the mass privatisation of public assets.

As we can see, the “loan under favourable conditions” constitutes an authentic blood transfusion…made by Count Dracula to his victims.

It is urgent that we act: protecting ourselves with garlic and plunging stakes into the heart of the regime, by centring all the demands of social movements into a single one: the immediate non-payment of odious debt.

(Source data (in Spanish) here.)

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Spain: Between bailout and contestation

This is the first of a few pieces I’ll be translating over the next few days on Spain’s ‘bailout’. Written by Isidro López of the activist research group Observatorio Metropolitano, it was published on Periódico Diagonal on Saturday, in advance of this weekend’s ‘denouement’. It recognises something that the dominant political discourse in both Ireland and Spain (and probably the other countries) seeks to obscure: under the emerging European dispensation, the governments are mere intermediaries. Thus the notion that Enda Kenny (or Mariano Rajoy) is a coward or a useless representative of Irish (or Spanish) sovereign interests, for instance, is based on the idea that the National Sovereign Humpty can be put back together again in the context of better bailouts, less strenuous conditions of neoliberal governance and political parties who will fight your corner for a greater piece of the ever-dwindling pie (or pastel).

The main point of a ‘bailout’, in which the population of a country is lumbered with the burden of debts accumulated by private banks, is to place economic policy beyond politics. But we should also bear in mind an important secondary effect, which is that it enables members of the political class, who would otherwise be clearly on the side of dismantling public services, stripping away welfare state provisions and privatising everything in sight, to present themselves as tribunes for the people and protectors of the common good, as heard in the mating call of “where are we going to get the money from to fund our public services”?

In reality, the National Sovereign Humpty can’t be put back together again; and it falls to the populations of the affected countries to focus on making sure the Hayekian Humpty has a great fall instead.


The intervention has already happened

The financial debacle of the past week has been accompanied by permanent rumours of something along the lines of a bailout or intervention on the part of the European Union. On the whole, these rumours have in mind a bailout like those of Ireland, Greece or Portugal, a single political and economic move that guarantees the control of national economies by private agents. However, this model is unviable for Spain, given the very high costs it would entail, and, instead of this what we will see is a ‘staged’ or ‘drip-by-drip’ bailout in which partial bailout measures -right now priority will be given to those related to the threefold multiplication of the deficit that the bailout of Bankia would generate- will take place in correspondence to privatisation and social cutback measures of increasing intensity.

In this sense, the outlines of these policies have been designed and applied for numerous months now, and as such, an ‘intervention’ understood as a swift historical scission is little more than a ghostly presence. However, this way of conceptualising the bailout as a ‘red line’ is not politically innocent. It is a defence of the national sovereignty that the government supposedly enjoys, and indirectly, a way of trying to recompose the bipartite model that everyone must strive to save in order to avoid the ‘tragic’ fact of the bailout.

To assume that the bailout mechanisms are already in operation, however, de-activates this fear of the ‘terrifying intervention’ with interesting political consequences for the future. For example, the European Union has been formed via a double political articulation in which a European political sphere, removed from any democratic control, guarantees the application of the grand economic principles that structure the interests of the financial elites. Beneath this scale of government we find the national governments, subject to electoral processes on which the political costs of the crisis are dumped whilst the European arena continues with its political programme of bolstering the interests of finance.

An intensification of the political mechanisms linked to the staged bailout could bring about a fall of government and would render visible the European control over the apparatuses of State. This would, in turn, cause the partial fall of the double articulation of Europe-National states through a direct confrontation between Europe and the populations of those countries at the centre of the financial mechanism of accumulation through sovereign debt.

This is precisely what the European project has sought to avoid since it became a neoliberal project inspired by the idea held by Hayek about the European economic space: the continental and transnational elites should not have to bow to any form of democratic will. Syriza, in Greece, for example, has understood that this is the level at which the struggle for the well-being of the European politicians must take place, and it has transformed the demand for an exit from the Euro into a demand for the right to democratic non-payment of debt within the Euro, setting the scene for battle at the heart of the European neoliberal project.

In Spain, the 15M movement has the opportunity, without leaving behind any of its proposals, to move the political stage in this direction, by contributing to the elimination of a Government that is but a mere intermediary, by questioning borders that only serve as containers for the costs of the crisis, and by setting out the battle for non-payment of the debt on a continental scale.


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The Swill of The People

A post-referendum note: I haven’t been paying a huge amount of attention to the post-referendum media coverage though I suspect I’ve paid enough to discern one tendency in particular: the analysis of the result in terms of its implications for each political party. So the high percentage of No votes in a working class area indicates that the Labour Party are losing even more of their supporters to Sinn Fein, such-and-such a party member performed badly, others did well, what has each party done to enhance or diminish its prospects for electoral power, and so on.

The other day I heard a little bit of a post-referendum discussion on RTE. In it Dan O’Brien, the Irish Times economics correspondent, deplored the rule that guarantees equal airtime for Yes and No arguments during a referendum campaign. This rule, he said (I’m paraphrasing), meant that allocation of airtime was disproportionately in favour of the No side because it was a distortion of the overall picture of party political electoral preferences. This complaint echoed an article written by his Irish Times colleague Noel Whelan during the campaign, and many similar arguments which are made whenever there is a referendum campaign. Why, they ask, should the No side get as much airtime as the Yes side when the people on the Yes side have been voted for by far more people?

What this preoccupation with the allocation of airtime in line with party political electoral power illustrates is the widespread conviction that politics is mainly a matter of getting represented. You vote for representatives, and it’s expected that they will act on your behalf, not only in advocating and voting on legislation in parliament (which is what you supposedly elect them for, after all), but what is more, in terms of persuading you what is in your best interest. It is not that your own opinion is of no importance; it is simply assumed ex ante that you don’t have any worth speaking of. So, this logic goes, when it comes to helping you make your mind up in a referendum question, it ought to be the people who have proven most successful at the most recent electoral contest who should get the most airtime. In other words, the government parties should always get the most airtime in putting their viewpoint across, which is how it is the rest of the time, and, so the logic goes, there’s nothing in the slightest wrong with that (provided it’s not one of those horrid Latin American left-wing governments, of course).

But -leaving aside the question of whether you ought to trust the government on anything- the whole point of a referendum like the one just held is that it has to be ‘the people’, as defined by the constitution, not the Government, who have to decide on the question of national policy. The Government’s capacity to make the decision is recognised by the constitution as insufficient. So the argument that political parties ought to be privileged in terms of allocation of coverage is contrary to the whole purpose of having a referendum in the first instance. To be fair to those who do make this ‘proportional airtime representation’ argument, they do not usually believe that at referendum is a useful democratic instrument at all, and tend to bemoan the fact that Ireland’s political elites cannot simply sign up to European treaties the way parliaments do across the European Union, which is to say, having a bourgeois democracy worthy of the name: one where you don’t even have to bother consulting the people at all. In fact, if push came to shove, many of them would assent to the idea that parliament was too unwieldy an instrument for proper decision-making anyway, that its powers should be pared down as far as possible, as with Troika programmes and the new Fiscal Treaty, and, where appropriate, done away with altogether. Anyway, that is beside the point, which is that the spectacle of representative parliamentary politics -the intrigues, the careerism, the dispassionate weighing up of electoral permutations- is relentlessly presented by media outlets and, of course, by professional politicians, as the alpha and the omega of politics. So, as soon as voters in predominantly working class areas had registered their overwhelming preference for a No vote, attention turned to the matter of winners and losers from the referendum campaign. Although a class division was apparent from voting patterns, the ‘winners’ and ‘losers’ were, in the coverage I encountered, not categories of people who stood to benefit or lose out on account of the measures in the treaty getting applied -whose pay and state benefits would get cut? whose nearest A&E ward would get withdrawn? whose risk of financial suffocation, or deprivation, or long-term illness, would now rise?- but those political parties who could count on picking up more or less votes from the fallout. There is something rather neat about this. At the moment of holding the referendum, representative parliaments across Europe, as a means of ensuring democratic rule with all its attendant rights and protections, were spluttering into obsolescence, swept aside by the interests of major financial corporations. And yet the concern here -and not just in the right-wing media- is with how political parties are going to get on at the next election. At the very moment when an Irish referendum was determined, on the whole, by fear of destruction in the event of disobeying the will of anti-democratic institutions such as the IMF, the European Central Bank, the European Commission and various ratings agencies, hope in representative democracy seems to have sprung to the surface with sprightly vigour once again, like a young King Charles who has heard the sound of his leash getting rattled. Will the chains of illusion ever be broken in Ireland? Or will the soundtrack to wholesale social implosion be breathless reports on the latest party leader satisfaction ratings?

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Fear Prevails

This is a translation of an article I wrote on Friday for the Madrilonia blog on the subject of the Fiscal Treaty referendum. It was published under the title ‘Fear prevails in the Irish referendum’.

The result of the referendum on the Fiscal Treaty that took place yesterday in Ireland was a Yes in favour of the constitutional change that allows the neoliberal measures contained in the Treaty to implemented. There was a very low level of participation: around 50% of the electorate, and it can therefore be said that the change to the constitution has been approved with the support of only a quarter of the population.

Although many had hoped for the Irish citizens to vote against the Treaty, which would have meant a rejection of the austerity policies imposed in recent years, a campaign based on fear, threats and blackmail carried out by the Yes side was enough to prevent such a rejection from taking place.

It is important to emphasise that this referendum was not achieved via a recent popular mobilisation in the manner of Iceland, but that it took place due to a Supreme Court verdict from the 1980s. By contrast with other countries and based upon a conception of popular sovereignty, Irish law stipulates that European Treaties that affect Ireland’s foreign policy must be submitted to a popular referendum. As previous referendums have shown (on the Nice Treaty and the Lisbon Treaty), this democratic anomaly can give undesired results for Irish and European political elites. This time it was not the case.

The Yes campaign, with the government, the bosses’ confederation, other important business groups such as the American Chamber of Commerce, some unions and the entirety of the country’s media establishment, resorted to an iron discourse of fear to ensure a Yes. As with previous referendums on the European Union in Ireland, a vote against was presented as a vote that would destroy the country. Blackmail can be easily recognised, but that in itself does not make it any less effective.

What has been achieved with this result is a change to the Irish constitution to ensure the implementation of the neoliberal measures agreed in the Treaty. That is, the constitution will be changed so that no one can appeal to other rights specified within it whenever legislation is introduced and cuts are carried out in order to meet the conditions of the Treaty.

What at other moments would have been resoundingly rejected as anti-democratic and crazy from an economic point of view can now be put forth as a reasonable, sensible option. The Yes benefitted from the support of numerous prominent economists, who, far more than in other countries, appear in the media as if they were sages, unpolluted by any political ideology- a symptom of the widespread domination of politics by the logic of the market. Despite the obvious failure of the Celtic Tiger, the hegemonic discourse in Ireland has continued to be that of free markets, low taxes and scarce social and labour protections.

In the same way that financial, economic and political elites from the European Union have used Greece as an example of what happens when a people decide to oppose neoliberal prescriptions, Ireland has been presented as the exemplary pupil. The obedience of the Irish government to the demands of the International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank and the European Commission, and the apparent lack of resistance on the part of the citizens, are held up as the ideal way of confronting the crisis.

The same fairy tale of the exemplary Irish pupil is also broadcast with tiresome frequency in Ireland by the political and media establishments, as a way of disciplining and isolating the population: there has never been so much interest in the Greek people from the Irish political class as in the past weeks of the referendum campaign. The recent success of SYRIZA in the Greek elections was presented as a bout of madness on the part of the Greek citizens: the head of a semi-state gas company proclaimed, in a discussion on the main public radio station, that SYRIZA’s leader had a gun pointed at the head of the rest of Europe. In the same way, a No vote was characterised as a Greek-style act of madness.

A No vote was an attack against the stability of jobs, wages, the country and the euro. A key word in the campaign was confidence (that is, submission): one had to vote Yes because if you didn’t, we would lose the confidence of the markets and investors. In the few occasions that the media addressed the possible effect of the treaty on the so-called ‘democratic deficit’ (strangely, one never hears talk of an ‘oligarchic surplus’), it was claimed that a vote in favour of the Fiscal Treaty was nothing more than a small step towards a more stable Europe and that all these important questions about democracy would be resolved in the future.

It was not specified how or when, and the question was never raised about how this might be possible when decisive power over economic policy is being concentrated in the hands of technocratic elites who have not presented themselves for election nor do they have any intention of doing so. All this had to be left for another day, they said, since what was urgent was to confront the immediate problem: public debt and the wasteful spending of irresponsible governments (the fact that it is not a crisis caused by public debt but by private banking debt was also ignored).

In sum, according to the forces in favour of a Yes, the only solution to the neoliberal policies devastating an alarming proportion of the Irish population, is the intensification of neoliberal governance. This position is not just the one held by the main government party Fine Gael (from the same European parliamentary formation as the Partido Popular) but also that of the Labour Party, its coalition partner. The latter, among all the social democratic parties in Europe, is perhaps the one most devoted to neoliberalism, and during the campaign that has just ended, completely abandoned any pretence of representing the interests of the labour movement. This party resorted to a rancid nationalist discourse in its campaigning: its posters showed a resplendent national flag. The places with the highest percentages of No votes -from 75% to 90%- occurred in those working class areas that are suffering the effects of the crisis most heavily. One must point out that neither the majority of immigrants nor the thousands of people recently emigrated as a consequence of the high unemployment levels had the right to vote.

Faced with such powerful forces arrayed in favour of a Yes, the No side, which had received far less funding, found it difficult to manage to convince the population not to be led by fear. The media debate focused continually on the question of how Ireland could achieve funding for a second bailout if it didn’t sign up to the European Stability Mechanism, which, according the Yes side, could only be achieved after approving the Treaty. In large measure then, what has been experienced in recent weeks in Ireland has been an intense campaign based on what Boaventura de Sousa Santos has called the politics of the ongoing bailout. Any consideration as regards democratic rights, equality, or the type of society one wishes to build, is postponed indefinitely, and priority is given to solving the immediate and urgent problem of the funding of public services. “Where are you going to get the money from?” was the most repeated refrain from the Yes campaign in recent weeks.

But even so, the campaign against, headed by smaller left parties, the republican party Sinn Fein, the important movement against the Household Tax, some unions but not all of them, was conducted with optimism, humour and irreverence in the face of the culture of fear and intimidation cultivated by the Yes forces.

And one can exaggerate the lack of resistance that there has been of late in Ireland. The movement against the Household Tax stands out, as it has achieved a very high level of civil disobedience by managing to get more than half the population to refuse to pay a regressive tax on homes, as a form of protest against the policies of bailing out banks and brutal cuts to salaries, public services and social spending that have been applied in recent years.

This has been achieved despite an extensive campaign of threats and delegitimisation carried out by the government and the press. Other social movements, against fracking, against the activities of Shell in the west of Ireland, against illegitimate debt and against Ireland’s ‘bad bank’, and even movements born out of the ‘occupy effect’ have served to prevent this culture of fear and resignation that is promoted continually from the political and media establishments, from becoming completely normalised. Against a political class that will be emboldened from having gotten its way in the referendum, their resistance is more needed than ever to overcome the culture of fear and suffering that the government will now try to intensify.



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