Monthly Archives: July 2012

There is no turning back

From Evernote:

There is no turning back

Translation of an article by Samuel at the Quilombo blog, originally published 29th July. With particular focus on the Spanish state, a compelling political diagnosis of the shape of things already upon us in those countries subjected to EU adjustment plans, and an outline of where we might go from here. I have left in the links to the Spanish language articles cited in the original.




“It’s not a crisis, it’s a con”.

Actually, we are faced with both a crisis and also a con. It’s a crisis because we are at a historic crossroads, a moment of systemic chaos in which, after the failure of the neoliberal governance model, “competition and conflicts escalate beyond the regulatory capacity of existing structures” (G. Arrighi). This occurs on a global scale, but with special intensity in the complex and segmented European subsystem. It’s a con because the efforts to curb the disorder, to take advantage of it, and to institutionalise new relations of production and government, are carried out by extorting those from below.

In Spain, Portugal, Italy and Greece this translates into a deepening of the economic depression. This is nothing that could not have been predicted when said depression is brought about through shock therapies that seek to undertake looting that could not have been approved otherwise. What is happening in Spain is neither new nor unusual, even if the situation is more serious because of the power held by conservative forces. Staying within recent history, since Mexico suspended payments in 1982 debt crises have multiplied, with greater intensity and frequency than in preceding decades: 2.6 banking crises a year (compared with 0.1 per year in the period 1948-1972); 3.7 monetary crises per year (compared with 1.7 in the same period); 1.3 governments per year suspending payments (compared to 0.7). The consequences of the adjustment policies that accompanied these crises are widely known, so there should be no cause for surprise. What is new –remaining in the frame of recent history- is that these dynamics of debt-adjustment-looting are no longer occurring in Latin America, in Eastern Europe or in Africa, but in a zone that benefitted from the former: Western Europe. The relations of subordination are reproduced in this case within the same political framework, that of the European Union, thereby destabilising it.

What got off to a gradual and wavering start under the previous PSOE government, and what has been intensified, with even fewer scruples by the (State and autonomous community) governments of the PP (and CiU), are thus deliberate policies, in the knowledge that they will cause suffering and transfers of wealth to European business elites. It is true that there is strong pressure on the part of British, French and German financial groups to prevent a devaluation of their assets and take an even bigger cut, and that the European Central Bank and the German government use a very big stick and a very small carrot on the peripheral countries so that they accelerate the cuts, privatise public assets and reform their labour markets. But it never occurs to any of the political parties “of government” to break with this logic. All they do is argue clumsily about timeframes, the odds for debt rollover, the possible offsetting through “growth policies” (which they identify with large infrastructure projects) and only because they see their own political shelf-life in danger.


* * *

By this point, then, it ought to be clear to everyone what future is offered to us by the current political regime, Spanish and European: cuts to public spending budgets that affect the welfare of the population; dismantling of public services and their reconfiguration along the lines of debt relations (health re-payment [the reference here is to what is known in Spain as copago, or co-payment, a concept familiar to users of the Irish health system – R] student loans, etc.), widespread impoverishment through a deliberate wage reduction policy (internal devaluation); onerous tax burdens for impoverished wage labourers, the precarious and unemployed; diversion of public funds to keep private or privatised financial institutions afloat; repression of protest through the criminalisation of activities previously allowed for (relatively speaking) in rights of demonstration and association; the stigmatisation of certain social groups, etc. More looting and more con-jobs.


(Austerity! Austerity! they haughtily demanded from the palaces)

All of these are polítical decisions, not necessities imposed by a fictitious scarcity. Nor is there an obedience due to Brussels or Berlin that might exempt our rulers from responsibility. But the existing institutional mechanisms do not allow the articulation of any democratic alternative from within the national State. Less still with the “bound and tied” [In the original, ‘atado y bien atado’: the reference here is to the famous words of Franco, referring to the future longevity of his regime after his death – R] constitutional lockdown agreed by the PSOE and the PP in 2011, and the numerous reforms that limit political representation (electoral law, city councils, the forthcoming ‘vote for exiles’ in Euskadi). The PP’s absolute majority, derived from a considerable (declining) support in society but above all from the socialist meltdown, forces minority groups that oppose the adjustment to practise politics more outside the Congress than inside, if they do not wish to fall into irrelevance. Though the new parliamentary division ought to be between those parties who support the adjustment policies called for by the bailout referendum and those who reject them, what happens in the street is key. Votes received in elections during the blackmail of the crisis in no way legitimise government actions that violate the rights of the people and are based on lies and fraud.


The coming to power of a particular party will not in itself allow a process of change to begin. History shows the opposite is true, and I include here the electoral rise of a force such as Syriza in Greece. First of all it is the multitudes who change the correlation of forces in the street, since it is they who produce wealth, knowledge, and new ways of thinking and acting. This is what can then allow for an electoral defeat of the ruling parties even when the game is rigged. Those who attack the 15-M from the outside with a ferocity they reserve for the system itself, without making the effort to bring forward their own ideas on the inside, are unable to see this. Movements include explicit social mobilisations, organised to a greater or lesser degree, assemblies that might prove tedious, but also –and this is not reflected in the media- implicit changes in attitude, less visible repertoires of political experimentation, the gestation of new narratives, diverse practices of exodus. Not even an election victory will be enough, especially if it only serves in turn to politically disarm the citizens. The electoral game should at any rate be contemplated as a tactic subordinate to broader strategies.


And what we are witnessing in the Spanish state is a destituent process. An accelerated process of political delegitimisation not just of the government, but of the very power constituted during the transition. Especially for the generation that was born afterwards. The PP’s absolute majority, and the control it exercises over the majority of autonomous region governments, far from entailing a guarantee of stability, exacerbates, through its authoritarian intransigence, the rebellion against authorities that a growing number of people view as parasitical. This is the main fear of investors and international bodies and the main reason for the ‘technical’ interventions that accompany the so-called ‘bailouts’. The political conclusion is obvious. If we want to short-circuit this drift we have to stop seeing the aforementioned delegitimisation as a danger, and work seriously on the democratic opportunities opening up. Work towards the unpredictable.

* * *

It is not a simple task. Feelings such as indifference, resignation, fear, guilt and cynicism continue to dominate a large part of society in the sphere of the political. Property-owning individualism promoted by neoliberal utopianism has left its imprint in our subjectivities. This makes it difficult for a democratic alternative to be formed from and for the common, and explains in part the ease with which the new right-wing forces sell anti-democratic alternatives. The discourse of “against all politicians“, and the lack of interest in politics, feed off the crisis of representation, but if it is not grounded in the pro-common it ends up contributing to the attack against what is public (lo público) and ultimately against democracy.

Thus, I meet public healthcare workers who believe the cuts are on account of “abuses of the health system”. Council public servants who justify the cuts because of past wastefulness. Self-employed who maintain that if the economic situation is bad it is because those who have a job do little work (it is always other people, of course) and the rest do what they can in order not to work. People with mortgages who blame those who got into debt in order to gain access to a home without having enough economic means. Unemployed people who give off stink about other unemployed people. There is no shortage of people who add that immigrants get too much assistance. Amid blatant lies and many half-truths, they take on board a particular story about the “crisis”, the one that confuses symptoms with causes and reasons, or simply doles out blame. And in the game of recriminations, deep down they feel they are entitled to something. How can the wheat be separated from the chaff, when they always conceived of housing, political parties, and social relations, as investments?

They cannot stop seeing themselves as middle class, that virtuous term midway between offensive wealth and ignominious poverty, but which gradually moves away from the former and draws closer to the latter. They have spent their adult lives in the Transition’s framework of social consensus, they hang on to their jobs, they fill the terraces and continue paying their mortgages and their taxes, once the corresponding deductions have been made. It is surprising how naturally they take on board the ‘need’ for the cuts, the loss of purchasing power, the deterioration of public services, the rise in university fees. As if it were a matter of a storm that they hope will pass at some stage for normality to be resumed.


But there is no normality to go back to when the state of exception becomes permanent. There is no turning back. Unless we consider as normal and acceptable the trajectory that has left us with the economic, social and ecological consequences we see today. If we do not, we cannot confine ourselves to reacting against each new outrage; to imploring a lesser suffering, like the left in Andalusia does; to meeting with our own (those of our class, union or professional organisation) and only when we see some degradation of our social status as imminent. It makes no sense to go on requesting the restoration of what has been altered from someone who makes clear, time and again, that they will act by decree without listening to us, without consulting us, without obeying us. In this way we are destined to lose, and we may end up becoming reactionaries ourselves.

There is no turning back. Not to a partitocracy whose democratic deficit was already obvious prior to the economic crisis, nor to a welfare state in which the coverage for risks that one confronts throughout one’s life depends on waged employment that is ever more scarce and precarious. And which Capital does not hesitate to dismantle as soon as the profit rate falls. These risks ought to be covered collectively, but in a way that is universal and unconditional. And labour must no longer be identified with employment. There is no turning back, but looking ahead the game is wide open.


It will be better for us to demand and build together a new political framework, a different economy that is not based on the fiction of unlimited growth. This is the debate that I believe must be promoted. Hence the healthiest, most creative and most innovative thing we can see in Spanish politics is the program set forth by the movements and the inclusive communication they deploy. It is good for us to meet up with others, with our peers though they might not resemble us, in the way that miners, public servants, the unemployed and the precarious did in Madrid, to understand that what government propaganda calls ‘privileges’ are in reality the material conditions necessary for a real democracy: in particular, the need to avail of an adequate and stable income that covers vital necessities. The fairest way of preventing these material conditions from being the privilege of a few consists of extending them to everyone. 

The family is often cited as the institution in Spain that, along with the informal economy, shores up the decomposition of what is public and the rise in unemployment. Beyond the hierarchical and patriarchal relations that still pervade it, I wish to point out that the family is a sphere where the majority of people find it natural to act with criteria not of the market but of co-operation, of giving, of care and of affection. Something similar happens with the closest of friendships. When cooperation transcends these narrow circles it becomes the main source of innovation, before it has a value placed on it and is captured by Capital. Let us draw the logical conclusions from this, both economic and political, before it is too late. It is not money that makes society.

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Trust, Cynicism and Begrudgery: A Reply

This is a reply I posted on the Irish Times website to an article titled Despite our cynicism of power, we must trust public representatives by Canon Stephen Neill.

There is something piquant about the fact that the author of this piece, calling on us to put our trust in public officials once again, should be the person who established Barack Obama’s connection to Moneygall, and that it is Obama he quotes to diagnose the problem with Irish politics. In fact, no contemporary figure illustrates better why cynicism with politics is so widespread.

If we look beyond the popular appeal of Obama’s polished and resonant rhetoric about hope, block out the empty accolades from his admirers, and observe his record in office, we see a man who presides over an imperial machine that subjugates and kills indiscriminately abroad, and who serves the interests of a financial oligarchy at home, refusing to prosecute the crimes of Wall Street.

People shouldn’t be too surprised at this, mind: the carefully cultivated image was a professional PR exercise, and the financial backing he received from Wall Street institutions explains his appointment of Wall Street insiders –people who serve the financial oligarchy- to key positions in his administration.

What the case of Barack Obama illustrates, then, is that the reason people cannot trust politicians is not because they are untrustworthy people –in a personal capacity, they are probably as trustworthy as any group- but because the political system is subordinate to the interests of wealth and power, not the interests of ordinary people, and within this system, the politicians who flourish represent the former, not the latter. Therefore the latter is indeed entitled to some degree of cynicism.

Moreover, it ought to be borne in mind that our political life is heavily mediated, and dominant media institutions, such as this one, present the interests of the owning class as if they were the interests of the population as a whole. As a consequence, the practice of holding politicians responsible for everything, and focusing on the minutiae of their activities, is a handy and often publicly subsidised alternative to casting light on who really holds power in society, and what the effect is of that power on the lives of ordinary working people: the sort of thing you would expect journalism in the service of democracy to deal with.

Another effect of such a heavily mediated political life is the notion, widely held, and indeed expressed in this article, that representation is the alpha and omega of politics. According to such a notion, citizens are not active political subjects whose participation in political life is continuous and decisive, but occasional voters who, having read the newspapers and listened to the radio programmes of the rich, transfer their powers of agency to an elected representative for the duration of an election term.

As a result, politics is professionalised, the citizens are disempowered, and a fetish develops –as illustrated once again by Barack Obama- for a political nobility -‘people of integrity’- as the author calls them, to come to the aid of the citizens.

But it is precisely this fetish for ‘a few good people’ –often combined with impotent warblings about reform- that serves to foment the cynicism that the author laments. And it stands to reason that such cynicism serves the interests of wealth and power, because it means a disengagement of the citizens from politics, which means more loot for the rich–as is the case at the moment, illustrated by the scandalous funnelling of tens of billions of public money, which could pay for hospitals, schools and vital social services, to private bondholders. The latter, and the politicians who serve them, are no doubt delighted with outbreaks of cynicism and impotent gnashing of teeth.

The problem, however, is that unless people start talking not only in terms of the specific political system, but also –crucially- the specific economic system that allows such robbery to take place, all we will have to talk about, apart from an economic and social death spiral, is more hand-wringing generalities about trust, cynicism, begrudgery, and so on.

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The Waves of Disobedience

Translation of an article by Jorge Moruno, originally published 18 July 2012 on his blog La Revuelta de Las Neuronas.

The waves of disobedience

Speaking the other day with Political Science lecturer Raimundo Viejo, I mentioned to him that the evolution of mobilisations was as if layers of an onion kept forming on top of one another. He developed this further, by saying that rather than layers of an onion, it seemed more to him like waves of the sea, where each one from its starting point gives shape to the beach due to the sand it leaves behind. The latest to join the range of students and precarious workers protesting are public servants, who observe the way they are turned into the scapegoat for the frustrations and impotence of others who call them privileged, when they would never say such a thing about the powerful.  

Climates of mobilisation form, in a distinct and discontinuous way, but with a shared direction. There is no central “single moment”, but rather a flow, a variability. Just when some thought that with the miners march a kind of final struggle would reach its peak, suddenly the stage was completely redesigned and public servants appeared, cutting off streets using a movement repertoire. Many might say that these are merely corporatist protests, for their pay and nothing more. The same might be said of those who laughed about the property bubble until the day came that they were being evicted. Like the worker protagonist of the film ‘The Working Class Goes to Heaven’ who mocks protesters and calls them lazy, until one day he cuts his finger off and his employer gives him no support, and then he radicalises, mutates in his being.

When someone who works in public functions cannot find a minimum of dignity at work, this brings negative repercussions for the service provided to the public, that is, the majority of the population. But I think many of these people are very clear that their predicament has a collective dimension, just as its solution does.

At any rate this is a matter of a long process, a long distance race, where immersion in struggles undermines entrenched assumptions, conservative perspectives and thoughts, and individualist visions. Only in this sense of being in it with everyone else can our lives take that turn, reaching that higher level that Gramsci spoke about, referring to the relation between spontaneity and conscious direction. This consciousness does not pass through the filter of the party, in any case the reverse is true, the party must submit itself to the filter of the movement. The conscious direction depends more on the orientation taken by the collective brain in movement; connected via network, decentralised, something that can be co-ordinated but difficult to dominate.

Capitalism, just like a snake, is accelerating its change of skin. To go on maintaining the extraction of wealth, to maintain profit rates, to plunder, in the final instance, it needs to destroy everything that at any given moment was useful to it for that same objective. It is for this reason that it attacks all that is known, all that has been assimilated even by people who are conservative, and it seeks to replace it with a Mad Max-style desert. The much vaunted switch to a new era and the undebated adaptation, called for constantly by the government, does not seek this objective of change towards something more advanced. Here it has been decided that our shedding of skin shall be the radical deepening of what has been known until now; and that’s if we are lucky. Music festivals, sun, casinos, construction and the full range of productive activities aimed at practising servitude to those with money.

We are a colony of capitalism 2.0, the darkest side of the digital economy. Any adaptation of exploitation in keeping with the preparedness of the labour force is cast aside, in its place we are condemned to accept being anchored down en masse by a market beneath our abilities. We are not headed for a precarity model of the German mini-job type, that is precarity for the countries on top; in our case we are headed more for a return to feudalism without the protection of the lord, you are free to rot in the street: Neoslavery.  

We have to insist on opening up cracks, to act upon them, to support disobedience, even by those who cause us scepticism and antipathy. They will have to impose fear in the streets and it is always better that there are not many prepared to get involved, which means not having to hold on to one another. Open up hopes, guide public opinion, so that at the sensitive juncture when remaining condemned to debt becomes worse than declaring it odious debt, the rupture successfully overcomes reactionary and totalitarian danger. The more waves that break on the beach, the more people who defended their servitude because they thought of the salvation of their master as their own will stop doing so. And then we really will be at the point of the change of mentality that the lumpen-oligarchy is always asking for; but in the opposite direction: wealth, knowledge, innovation, technology, in the service of people and not of private profit.

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Kleptocracy: This Was The Second Transition

Image celebrating the contributions of numerous businesspeople, including billionaire Digicel owner and Irish media magnate Denis O’Brien, disgraced Anglo Irish boss Sean Fitzpatrick, disgraced Nationwide Irish boss Michael Fingleton, and major property developers (McKillen, Mulryan, Quinlan, Ronan) taken from Vatican Museums Report Winter 2009.

Translation of an article by Raimundo Viejo Viñas, originally published on Diagonal, nº 179, pág. 33 (19.07-29.08.2012)

Kleptocracy: This Was The Second Transition

‘The cutbacks announced by Rajoy will deepen the recession until 2013’: thus read the El País headline on the package of measures that starts off the imperial economic protectorate of the EU and the markets. The headline, however, could have been another one no less consistent or resounding: “It’s not a crisis! It’s a scam!”. After all, we are witnessing the worst extortion operation we have ever known.

Extortion, let us recall, is an ‘offence that consists of forcing –through violence or intimidation- the commission or omission of an act or commercially motivated legal transaction with a view to making money and with the intention of causing material loss to the victim or a third party’. In this case, the intimidation is that exercised by the markets, and the act or commercially motivated legal transaction is the measures approved in Las Cortes with the goal of ruining the lives of the 99% to the benefit of the 1%.

But is there really a crisis?

The explicit awareness that the measures not only do not remedy, but prolong and deepen the crisis reveals something far more worrying, if this were possible, than the obvious irresponsibility of misrule. Namely, that 1) the national State is no longer the centre of modern sovereign power, 2) liberal democracy and representative government have failed institutionally to reconcile capital and labour; 3) the command that rules us today operates somewhere midway between supranational institutions like the EU and financial institutions like ratings agencies (to cite two obvious examples of a far more complex network.

With things this way, what kind of (mis)government is it that is based on continuing to deliberately aggravate the suffering of the citizens? An illegitimate government no doubt.    It is also, as we have pointed out, a government that is nothing of the sort, but instead the transmission belt of decision-making bodies no less illegitimate, given that they evade all democratic control. But above all, it is a (mis)government that responds to a logic that must be diagnosed in its functioning, denounced in its effects and fought with an effective strategy.


The logic of (mis)government can be identified with a type of regime that is established with each measure that gets approved: kleptocracy. From the Greek kleptēs or theft and kratos or rule, it can be defined as “government of those who steal”. Given that we are speaking of an illegitimate robbery, one can say, straight out, the “government of thieves”. It is a matter of a kind of regime that consists not of governing from, by and for the demos (as in democracy), but in the service of the logic of the priva(tisa)tion of resources that were once public.

A simple example: if university fees go up and only a minority can pay them, but we all fund public universities with our taxes equally, where is the redistribution of wealth? Where is the equality of opportunities? Where are the principles of the welfare State? Where is the Constitution? This, however, is how kleptocracy works: it subtracts from the 99% to give to the 1%.

Debt is the mechanism that makes legalised robbery possible: the private debt which through illegitimate means is converted into public debt; the debt which, like a deus ex machina condemns us to poverty. Debt today consumes the future and, equally, reduces people’s existence to its merely vegetative dimension. This is why stopping the payments is an imperative in the defence of a decent life. Faced with a rule that appears before us as a financial automatism, it is today urgent to move forward along the route of disobedience, in autonomous empowerment, towards the political regime of the commons.


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Stabilising an appalling situation: A reply to Stephen Collins

A reply to Stephen Collins’s article published Saturday 21 July, headed ‘Impossible to protect public pay and welfare budgets

I can only agree with Stephen Collins’ assertion that the Coalition parties can ‘take credit for stabilising an appalling situation’. Indeed, appalling is the new stable, with 15% unemployment and ever greater swathes of the population sinking into poverty and misery, whilst disposable income for the richest in society grows. What is more, it is hard to disagree with him pointing to ‘wasteful public spending programmes’.

However, he neglects to name the most wasteful public spending programme of them all: the constant flow of billions of euro in public money –which could be used for spending on education, health, social welfare, investment programmes and so on- into the coffers of private bondholders. Indeed, the Bondwatch site helpfully points out that for July alone, such payments will total €1.2 billion, which is roughly the same amount as what was paid out in June, allowing for a definition of ‘rough’ to encompass a hundred million euro of public money here or there.

How could a political correspondent concerned with wastefulness overlook such grave misuse of public funds –and the consequences for democratic politics in the State?

To compound things, Collins claims that the purpose of the IMF is to check up –in the manner of an avuncular medic, perhaps- on Ireland’s ‘progress towards economic health’. He seems to be unaware that the whole reason the IMF is exercising such a tight rein on Irish economic policy is on account of the tens of billions in public funds that the State channelled towards the wealthy owners of private banks.

In reality, the sole criterion that the IMF has for ‘economic health’ at the moment is whether or not Ireland will continue to pay back the money it got loaned. If this can be achieved by slashing social spending, so be it. Indeed, we can say that the IMF –and not just the IMF but any institution that prioritises the needs of finance capital over the needs of a population- sees a healthy population as a threat to the health of bank balance sheets.

But what about the health of journalism? Shouldn’t we be expecting a political correspondent to be telling us about what the political function of the IMF really is, instead of painting it as some kind of purveyor of impartial expertise?

Moreover, when Collins writes of ‘vested interest groups’ ‘wading in to defend the status quo’, how come he doesn’t appear to include banks and their bondholders –whose only trouble with the status quo is that they haven’t raided the public purse enough yet- or those employer groups who have a vested interest in seeing to it that growing numbers of the population are driven into greater precarity and misery?

And when you think about it, isn’t there something a bit odd about a political correspondent referring to the framing of next year’s budget as though political correspondents such as he did not play a significant role in how that framing takes place?

After all, politics in these articles is presented as an activity you have to be ‘inside’, as the name of these columns suggests. This implies the exclusion of the wider public from the political decision making process, confining the much ballyhooed ‘economic sovereignty’ mentioned here to the decisions taken by a professionalised political caste. And when such a presentation of politics also omits any consideration of how the interests of finance capital continue to take precedence over the interests over the population, well, when it comes to talking about the budget in these terms, isn’t that framing too?

In summary, whilst modesty might forbid him from doing so, I think Stephen Collins should take some of the credit for stabilising an appalling situation too.

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The name of the thing

From Evernote:

The name of the thing


(Image via)

Translation of an article by Guillem Martínez, published in El País, 13th of July. Readers in Ireland may wish to bear in mind, while reading this article, the wording of what was voted for in the Fiscal Treaty referendum: 

‘No provision of this Constitution invalidates laws enacted, acts done or measures adopted by the State that are necessitated by the obligations of the State under that Treaty or prevents laws enacted, acts done or measures adopted by bodies competent under that Treaty from having the force of law in the State.’

That is, no rights in the Constitution can be appealed to when the government undertakes to enact laws or adopt measures in order to meet the Procrustean requirements of the European powers that entail, as Mario Draghi admitted, the end of the European social model. 

The name of the thing.

Guillem Martínez

The metaphor for what is happening is the one about the old women. The one about the old women: as of June, women over the age of 65, widows registered on the health medical of their husbands, go to the doctor and, bang, they find out that they don’t exist. They have been deleted from Social Security by the State and its pal, the Comunidad Autónoma (CA, autonomous region) of Catalonia. This fact requires various considerations. The first, in any case, is to give it a name. The act of making an old woman disappear is called a cutback by the State/CA. But the State and the CA, for a couple of years now, have been short on inspiration for stage names.

We have left behind that golden era in which the State could slip past, through a culture specialised in creating cohesion and ruling in its favour, using any alias. Let’s recall the Transition culture (CT) catchphrases “unity of all democrats”, “non-nationalism”, “seamless constitutionalism” with which the State could settle any argument and, simultaneously, close down newspapers, prohibit political parties, implement extreme policies and avoid having to give explanations. As of this morning, first thing, the governments of the mainland can’t make any of their neologisms slip past. Phrases like “express constitutional reform”, “credit under favourable conditions”, “fiscal pact”, “hazte bankero*” or “cutbacks” have not been able to prevent being replaced in a flash by, respectively, “bailout”, “yep, a bailout”, “nothing”, “crime of fraud”, and “end of the welfare State”. Given this, what is the one about the old women really called?

It is important to put a name on things. The one about the old women, and and other exclusions from universal health care, represent a breach of articles 9.3, 10, 13, 18.4, 43.1, 43.2, 86.1 of the Constitution, and an attack on the autonomy statutes of Andalucía, Aragón, Catalonia and the Basque Country (source: United Nations Association of Spain. The one about the old women, the one about health care, the one about the unemployed, the one about schools, the one about the labour law is, moreover, a contravention of article one of the Constitution. The one that goes and says that the State is ‘social and democratic State, subject to the rule of law’. ‘And’ -not ‘or’—; such that if the State ceases to be social, it also ceases to be democratic and subject to the rule of law. It entails the omission of article 9.2, one of the few gems in this rather unsexy Constitution, an article copied directly from the German Basic Law and the Italian Constitution of 1945, and which signifies the imbrication of welfare to the State. Welfare, thus, is not an economic surplus. It is a citizen right and a duty of the State. It is a conquest that has entailed more than 100 years of struggle in Europe, through which an agreement was reached that life is a biological fact, that you only live once and that there are fragile stages of life -childhood, old age and whenever a rainy day comes- that must be protected, that chance cannot be the only law, that we are not animals, nor is this the law of the jungle.

Since 2008 we have been bailing out the banking sector. Through money that is extracted from welfare, and via bailouts that will be paid for in welfare. The measures of the government do not seem to be orientated towards the resolution of any crisis, but rather to bring about, via the crisis, a major structural change. The one about the old women, the one about health, about education, about the unemployed, about workers…all the State counter-reforms conducted against the Constitution that we have been beaten over the head with for the past four decades, all these things have a name. Society ought to start to consider if the end of welfare we are experiencing is- and this is a potential name of the thing- a coup d’État. A violent change to the existing legal order. A crime. And, as such, something that renders   the people and the governments carrying it out liable to be put on trial.

*’hazte bankero’: reference to advertising campaign for Bankia, the bank whose operations are at the centre of the current bailout proceedings. ‘Banquero’ in Spanish means banker. Thus ‘hazte bankero’ was an invitation to become a Bankia customer, but also a play on words: ‘become a banker’. Like below:


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‘They have no plan for the country beyond their own survival’: Letter to Partido Popular voters

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A translation of a letter written by the Madrilonia collective, addressed to Partido Popular voters, published 13th July.

Six months on: Letter to PP voters

When Rajoy won the elections, we wrote you a letter that began by saying: ‘We realise you have placed your trust in the PP because you think that they will get us out of the crisis and, above all, because you suppose it will create jobs. Last Tuesday, Mariano Rajoy, the president of the government, declared in the Congress that we will continue in recession and that he could not create jobs.

The president has recognised that we are not free to choose our future. Democracy is at stake.

Six months have passed since the Rajoy government took office and not only have the lives of the majority failed to improve, but they get worse every day. Reforms that were not in the electoral programme and that will worsen what Zapatero’s bad government had already done. Bankia has been nationalised to protect a swindle now under investigation and the government continues to protect those responsible. Evictions take place whilst thousands of homes lie empty. There are no policies for job creation, nor is tax fraud being tackled. Sacrifice falls upon ordinary people who see their wellbeing vanish in exchange for nothing.

The government has lied to the citizens, and, especially, it has lied to you, by approving measures that it promised it would not implement, such as the increase in VAT, co-payment for pharmaceuticals and signing up to a bailout. None of what was promised has been delivered. The Partido Popular’s political project does not exist. Controlled remotely by the Troika and the European Central Bank, it merely carries out the orders that they send it to guarantee a bailout that, once again, will not go to the citizens, but to the banks.

All of these measures affect you the same as anyone else. We know that the vast majority of you are part time workers, unemployed or trying to keep small businesses afloat; or your children are in this situation (if they haven’t emigrated). Whatever confidence you might have in the government has to be at a minimum.

Perhaps there are those among you who feel that those responsable for all this are the ones who protest against cutbacks or who occupy the squares in order to demand more democracy. If this is so, we can only say that none of these beliefs is going to give you back your job, your income, your home, your school or your health centre. No doubt there are many others among you who know that the media campaign that seeks to create divisions between people is mere propaganda so that we refrain from thinking about all that they are taking away from us, and the way this might be resolved among us all.

Fear is normal in light of all that is happening; but fear, anguish and rage ought not prevent people from realising something as simple as the fact that there is no difference between the policies of the PP and the PSOE. Both parties have benefitted the 1% against the rest. They have no plan for the country beyond their own survival. None of them has tackled the problem of corruption. The politicking that sets the two big parties against one another is of no use, it merely serves to let the political caste justify its existence.

We said it six months ago and we say it again now. You have the responsibility as citizens to express your opinion about what is happening. If you are prepared to chant ‘they don’t represent us’ you will be recovering your sovereignty against those austerity policies that will not take us out of the crisis, but only impoverish us. If Rajoy does not govern since he merely follows orders from the undemocratic European institutions, he should resign immediately? Will whoever comes after be different? Who trusts politicians? Perhaps we need a new constitution, with new norms that return power to the citizens.

We have not lived beyond our means; they loaned us poisoned money on credit whilst wages lost purchasing power. When the crisis came they sacked us or we had to close our small business because no-one came to rescue us as they did with the banks. We are not responsible for this crisis; it was others who got rich speculating on the stock exchange or through the property bubble. We all want the guilty (politicians and bankers) to be prosecuted and condemned. We all want the greatest well-being for ourselves and the people around us. We all want democracy to be returned to its legitimate owners.

No-one is going to ask anyone what party they voted for, we are all needed to recover what belongs to everyone.

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Let’s not blow out of proportion the suggestion, made by the IMF, that child benefit ought to be means-tested, and that unemployment benefits ought to be cut. For one, the suggestion about child benefit ought to be means-tested has already found favour with public representatives in the Labour party. And no doubt the former is an option favoured by the great majority of representatives in the Dáil, as well as the IBECariat, of course, though calculations about the likely fallout in the next elections might weigh on the brains of plenty of TDs of a right wing inclination.

It was also advocated by Will Hutton back in 2010 at a talk convened by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions. Asked by current Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton about the need for the preservation of universal provisions in the social welfare system, Hutton basically said, no, get rid of them.

However, the fact that it is the IMF making the suggestion is given particular importance, and there are some who see it as a special affront, given that it is unelected. And it is true that the IMF has no right to lecture anyone on economic policy: on account of the disasters it has wrought on so many countries, its status as finance capital’s bailiff, the fat pensions its economists are entitled to, and so on.  

Nonetheless, we should be wise to the interplay between the different agencies who are imposing economic policies on the population of Ireland. As I noted above, what the IMF advocate is no different from what other political figures, the IBECariat, and the media, have been demanding for some time. But when the IMF makes such a call, and when it is reported and discussed throughout the media, it is treated as some sort of irresistible decree delivered by the gods.

That this should happen –without there being any questioning either of the right or authority of the IMF to make such a declaration, or of the consequenes for democracy that it should be in a position to do so, or an examination of the common ground between the IMF and the main political parties and the business class on this matter- is an illustration of how the political and media establishments are the willing servants of finance capital.

Another illustration is when the IMF makes statements in one of its analyses –which are largely performed for cosmetic purposes so as to obscure that organisation’s role as the facilitator of all-out robbery- that mortgage relief appears to have worked in some country or other, or that there must be an equal sharing of some burden of bank debt or other, and these statements are treated as headline news by the public broadcaster. Again, without any questioning of its right or authority to do so.

More important, however, is the drip-drip form in which these announcements, suggestions and declarations are made, largely uncontested, without there being any attempt to join up the dots about the broader vision for Irish society.

In the particular case of means-testing child benefit, there is a move away from mutual, collective responsibility to atomised individualised responsibility for the welfare of children. This move is given legitimacy through a kind of phoney communism: where well-off voices on TV and radio flagellate themselves with silk scarves and emote that their cup runneth over whilst that of the deserving poor is held aloft, empty.

What this charade serves to obscure is that the bank bailout –for all the straining and groaning fakery by the government- has been paid for, and will continue to be paid for, through robbery of the working class –through cuts in salaries, benefits, public services, jobs, job security, labour rights, among many other things.

And as long as this goes on, as long, the intention, on the part of those advocating stripping away whatever kind of universality there is, is that Ireland moves ever further toward the type of society in the image of its would-be owners: a society characterised by Hobbesian competition of all against all, stark and misanthropic, riddled with resentment, suspicion and naked exploitation.

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OK, we support the miners, but… public servants?

From Evernote:

OK, we support the miners, but… public servants?

Translation of an article by Isaac Rosa, published in Zona Crítica, 18th July.

OK, we support the miners, but… public servants?


(‘Burnt workers’ – ‘quemado’ also means to be at the end of one’s tether (via.))

Last week there were many of us chanting "I am a miner" to be part of the struggle of those who were marching to Madrid from the mining regions. This week many of us are supporting the protest of the public servants. Perhaps we are not so great in number as those of us who applauded the participants in the ‘black march’, and this would not come as a surprise, since whereas for the miners it is admiration and affection accumulated over centuries, it is, in equal measure in the case of the public servants, vilification and caricature, also over centuries. If in the popular imagination miners are the heroes of the working class, in that same imagination public servants tend to appear as a lazy, parasitic and privileged grouping, providing joke material in abundance and an easy dartboard for the resentment of the most exploited workers.

( Workers cut off C/Serrano, one of the main thoroughfares in Madrid, for the fifth day running. via.)

As you will understand, I am not going to waste a minute in debunking this negative image.

I will not do it for various reasons: because we have the whole year to point out shortcomings and propose changes in the public service, and to do it in the moment when they are under attack is to pander to those doing the attacking. And because regardless of what I.say, there will always be someone prepared to reject most of it and recount a long list of fouls that he has witnessed committed by public servants. That among public servants there are indolent, disloyal and self-seeking attitudes, no doubt: as there are in any corner of a country like this, where the ex-president of the employers’ organisation goes around hiding money in Switzerland after driving numerous businesses to ruin. And I might add: it would be natural for indolent, disloyal and self-seeking behaviours to become widespread, since you can hardly expect much dedication, commitment and effort from those who get abused time and again


The important thing, despite the fact that these anti-public servant stereotypes are so deeply rooted in the popular imagination, is that currently there is great solidarity with public workers. No doubt greater than might have been expected by the Government, who perhaps were counting on the cuts imposed on the "privileged" public servants being accepted and even applauded by those who are having the hardest time of it, but that is not how it is turning out.

Once again, as happened with the miners, the street becomes a reclaimed space where intense encounters and re-encounters take place, marked by gestures of collective emotion: once again we see embraced, spontaneous shows of support, beeping of horns accompanying the blocking of traffic, and even police who let slip signs of sympathy, public servants themselves at the end of the day. On social networks too the extraordinary messages and campaigns multiply, such as the "thank you public servants" that is so widespread, and which at a different time would have sounded like a joke to plenty of those who now display it.

That we should greet the miners with embraces makes sense, it surprises no-one, because of that heroic status they have maintained for centuries. But that we should show affection for public servants is something else, the Government must think. They were trusting that in times of scarcity we would not be moved by the the axe being taken to those who enjoy so many privileges: job security, discretionary days, longevity pay, social assistance, decent working hours and on the whole less abusive conditions than in the private sector..That is, legitimate labour rights to which all of us ought to aspire, and which in the new language of these times are turned into privileges that must be eliminated in order to drive us all equally downward. I can imagine the discomfort of the president and his ministers: "If the unemployed, the precarious, the adjusted and the dispossessed are supporting the privileged, we are done for".

Yesterday we were all miners, today we are all public servants, in the same way that we are unemployed people (whom the Government cruelly uses to enrage), we are all carers for dependants (whose hopeful "right of dependancy" has vanished as soon as the good times began to end), and tomorrow if needed we will all be pensioners (since pensions are not safe from the next round of cuts). Join up the dots and you will find the common denominator of all those groups affected by the crisis and the policies of anti-crisis: it is not that of being citzens, since neither the crisis nor the policies of cutbacks affect all citizens equally (there are banker citizens, executive citizens, and citizens with great wealth). What unites all those groups being sacrificed is that they are workers. We can understand it better this way: mine workers, public workers, unemployed workers, workers who care for dependants, retired workers.

It may seem obvious at this stage, but miners and public servants take the streets and remind us of it once again: that the so-called crisis is a looting of workers on a historic scale : a pillaging of our labour, our salaries, our rights, our public services, a transfer of wealth from the emptying pockets of the working class to the armour-plated accounts of the champions of the crisis, those who pay no price for their mistakes and suffer no cutbacks.

That is what the so-called crisis consists of, and only when we are fully aware that it is not only a matter of outraged citizens but of workers in struggle, will we be able to put a stop to this looting.

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I Am A Miner

From Evernote:

I Am A Miner

Translation of an article by Isaac Rosa, published on Zona Crítica, 11th July.

I am a miner


That it should be the miners, in these hypertechnologised times, who should be the ones to show the rest of the workers the way, gives pause for thought. That in the era of flexible enterprises, information society, global economy, virtual wealth and displaced and de-ideologised workers, it should have to be the old miners, with their tough tools, their calloused hands and their strong collective consciousness, to be the ones to come out into the light and start walking so that we follow them, ought to make us think about what has happened to workers in recent years, what it is we have done and what we have allowed to be done to us.


Some will say that the miners’ leadership these days is entirely fitting: if the crisis and the anti-crisis policies mean a leap back in time for workers, a rough return to the 19th century, who better than the miners at the head of the demonstration, who so resoundingly incarnate those early days of the labour movement. But we are not faced with a matter of historical fittingness, but much more.

The moving scenes lived out in every village through which the miners have passed on their march toward Madrid, the welcome, the words of encouragement, the assistance received, the solidarity extended throughout the entire country, in the streets and on social networks, and finally the reception in the capital and the accompaniment in their protest by so many workers, ought to be a turning point, a point of inflection in the construction of collective resistances. The miners have broken something, they have awakened something that was asleep inside us, they have pushed us.

I know that there is no small component of sympathy that stays clear of the reasons for their protest. There is something of historic justice, of memory, of working class sentimentality if you will, in the affection that the miners receive these days, and I say affection deliberately, because at times it has more to do with affection than with an understanding of their demands. The figure of the miner with his helmet, his lamp and his blackened face has been strongly rooted in the working class imaginary for centuries, and hence the usual discourse, about those who are ‘privileged’, which some people in right-wing media try to use to cancel them out, does not work (for that reason, and because mining has always represented what is most tough and dangerous about the world of work, their fatigue, injuries, illnesses and accidents do not fit well with any privilege). For of all this, for their popular status as heroes of the working class (demonstrated, elsewhere, in so many episodes of heroic struggle indeed over centuries), it seems natural that the miners should meet with so much warmth while on their way through the villages. I do not think a march on foot, of let’s say, waiters, builders, journalists or civil servants, would get so much support, so much affection, so many welcomes, homages and approvals, however just their demands might be.


But beyond this emotional component, the moment in which this exit from the mines has come about is important. In a moment of economic terror such as this one, when we workers feel cornered, hopeless, and our resistance is limited to guessing where the next blow will come from, the appearance of the miners on the scene can be the little light at the end of the tunnel (the tunnel in which we workers wander lost, not the stereotypical tunnel of exit from the crisis where the only light in sight is that of the oncoming train up ahead), the signal we were waiting for. The miners are giving us a lesson that we ought not let pass us by, and which goes beyond their demands, just as these may be.

And they are. The miners in their struggle have right on their side, and I am not going to go on at length on why they are right, They are right for all the reasons you will have already heard and read about these days, but even if they did not have those motives, they would still have right on their side, because of an elementary question of historic justice. We owe them, them and the generations of miners who go before them, and that is enough to oblige us to respect their way of life and their territories, to offer them decent ways out and not begrudge them a sum of money that is small change compared to the financial bailouts. But I insist: what interests me today is not so much their particular struggle (which I support), but that lesson of dignity, solidarity and resistance that they give to all other workers. We have all felt called forth these days by the miners’ struggle, in two directions: because in their demand for a decent future there is a place for all of us who equally lack that future; and because the forcefulness of their struggle makes the poverty of our reaction to the attacks we have suffered all the more obvious. 


Regarding the former, the miners’ demand extends to all of us. In the miners we see our past, our class consciousness that at some moment we lost or had taken away from us, the possibilities for collective struggle that today we cannot find. But above all, we see in them our future: in their cry not to be abandoned, not to disappear, not to see their villages and their lands devastated by unemployment and inactivity, a glimpse opens up of the future that awaits us all, converted into workers abandoned to our fate, headed for a long time of scarcity, of misery: at the mercy of a wind that leaves nothing standing; with millions of jobs under extinction, and the whole of Spain turned into a huge mining region threatened by desolation and a lack of a way out.

With regard to the latter, the classic toughness with which the miners resist, the violence with which they respond to violence, enjoins us to look for another word to name what the rest of us do, that which we often exaggerate in calling it resistance. Whilst we ‘set ablaze’ social networks, miners set real fire to barricades on the motorways. Whilst we call a strike every two years, with no great conviction and above all without continuity, the miners opt, inflexible, for an indefinite strike lasting weeks. Whilst we write posts and tweets denouncing the cutbacks (and I am the first to do so), they lock themselves into the pits, paralyse the traffic, put entire regions onto a war footing, and finally start walking along the highway. Whilst we paint ingenious posters and compose nice couplets to shout out at the demonstration, they go up against the Guardia Civil.  Whilst we retweet and hit thousands of ‘Likes’ to support the demands of those collectives that are being punished the most, they go from village to village giving and receiving hugs, sharing food and shelter. Whilst we await the next anniversary to go back and take the squares, they set down in the Puerta del Sol after having made the squares of all those towns they passed through their own.


The lesson is clear: faced with the all-out attack against workers, these are not times for hashtags, but for barricades. Faced with the ephemeral solidarity of the social network and inoffensive outrage, these are times for walking along together, for sharing lock-ins and marches, for meeting one another in the streets, for embracing each other as we had no longer embraced, as in these days the miners would embrace those who awaited them at the entrance to each village.

Because of all this, the government cannot allow the miners to win this contest: because if they triumph, they will be giving a bad example to the rest of the workers, because we might take note, to learn the lesson, to follow their example so as to be listened to, not trampled on, so as not to keep on losing: to struggle, to resist, to build networks of solidarity, to hold firm, to hang on until the last, to take to the street, and to take it back. Hence the immense police repression against the miners and their criminalisation in the media.


For the same reasons, we workers need the miners to win this contest: because their victory will clear the way for us, and on the other hand their defeat will make it more difficult for us to raise resistance. That is why today we are all miners, and we have to be there with them. For justice, for history, for memory, because they deserve it. But also for us, because if they fear for their future, ours is blacker than black, black coal.

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