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.