Monthly Archives: July 2012

IMF: MUST WE FLING THIS FILTH AT OUR POP KIDS?

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?

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(‘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

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(via)
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

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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.

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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.

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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. 

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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.

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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.

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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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From liberal democracy to liberal kleptocracy

This is a translation of a post by Raimundo Viejo Viñas, originally published on his blog On the Wobbly’s Road on the 29th June, which prompted me with some of the ideas contained in this post here.  

The grizzled figure below, the present Minister for Health in the Irish government, is a millionaire who lives in a stately home and consorts with wealthy lawyers and businessmen to build nursing homes so that he himself can make a profit from privatised health services: an area for plump profits to be made by the same financial vultures who speculate against sovereign debt, and suffocate the state of its ability to fund public services. Then, when the Minister and his cronies decide that having to pay back an associated debt didn’t suit their financial priorities, they figure it would be best not to pay it at all.

Thus the current will-he-won’t-he rumours circulating about his resignation, and the media treatment of this affair, provide an excellent starting point for considering the author’s contention that kleptocracy entails a ‘fight for institutional power resources in the service of networks that pressurise for privatisation’.

 

 

From liberal democracy to liberal kleptocracy

I am pleased to read in today’s papers about a pair of kleptocrats who have found themselves obliged to resign. They have done so exactly the way they normally do: purely on account of the imminent uncovering of criminal liability. It is a positive piece of news, no doubt; but not in the liberal reading if it, which never goes far enough.

In keeping with liberal argumentation, the regime we live in operates in a satisfactory manner. Perhaps it throws up certain problems (corruption cases, slowness in the justice system etc.), but these always take place, at any rate, within the guarantees conferred upon the regime in force (so called liberal democracy) by virtue of being the least bad of all actually existing regimes and even of those known throughout history.

However, as is usually the case with the authoritarianism of any hegemony headed for its own implosion, the tendency to confuse what it is with all that it can be ends up imposing itself liberal ideology. This defect, by the way, is reinforced by liberal epistemology itself (from Popper onward) and the well-known and fallacious argument by subterfuge about the impossibility of verification deduced from falsificationism. And thus liberal democracy, as is known, ends up more liberal than democratic; more marketising than democratising; a notion that presents itself through an inexhaustible source of paradoxes.

Ultimately, the extended liberal axiom that assumes democracy and market to be compatible is nothing more than a ‘vital lie’ (Lebenslüge). Or if one prefers, a cock and bull story that is told under democracy in order to survive and not be obliged to recognised the concessions liberalism has had to make to democratisation.

Isolated cases?

Though the mass media might present it as such, it is not true that behind each kleptocrat is merely an individual case of corruption. And if political science has any purpose for democratic society, its obligation ought precisely to be to go beyond accepting indicators such as corruption as merely anecdotes about greater or lesser delinquents who ‘conveniently’ take advantage of what is public (lo público). It should come as no surprise, at this point, that liberalism ends up finding the perfect excuse for continuing with its liquidation of what is public at the hands of market forces. This is known as a self-fulfilling prophecy and is nothing more than another form of superstition that political science would do well to eradicate.

If the resignation of the kleptocrat is presented in the society of the spectacle as an isolated case of corruption, this is precisely so that no-one may reflect on what is really happening behind the oxymoron of ‘liberal democracy’ in which it takes place. The ultimate media endgame is that the public at large (and also the smaller and more informed university publics) lacks the possibility of understanding the functioning of the entire regime of power that the (neo)liberals are gradually establishing.

Functional Corruption

The matter of corruption and the function it serves to liberal democracy is not, however, difficult to understand. It is something very similar to what happens with fascism, which is part and parcel of the regime (of liberal kleptocracy) that is being established.

Indeed, presented in the media in an isolated manner, the victims of far right organisations are merely isolated cases (today a migrant, tomorrow a gay man, the following day a young activist…always matters for the pages reporting events that never make their way across the prophylactic border with ‘high politics’). However, considered as a whole, we can observe a broad countermovement that is scarcely spoken of in the media, but which for all that does not diminish its spine-chilling weight. If each right-wing crime is presented to us in such a way, this is not by coincidence, or out of ignorance, but because there exists an inherently autocratic biopolitical conception of governance at the heart of liberalism, which reveals itself time and again to be incompatible with democracy.

The same thing happens with corruption. The way in which it is treated in the media (and this includes liberal political science which takes part in the spectacle with its auctoritas) does not seek to put an end to it, but to place it in the service of the power regime that rules us. Media treatment of corruption is, in itself, corrupt. Not legally, of course, but in political terms of a logic alien to democracy (though consistent with liberalism).

Deconstituent process versus constituent process

Kleptocracy is a regime of power that has been under gradual establishment for some time now; sometimes with greater impunity, other times less so; on some occasions transgressing legal limits, on others simply by raising bills for electricity, education, medicine, etc. Kleptocracy is a regime and its agency is made up, in an exclusive and excluding manner, by luminaries and parties. The former by fighting for institutional power resources in the service of networks that pressurise for privatisation, that is, to deprive some (the 99%) of what is given to others (the 1%). After all, its own signifier indicates it: priva(tiza)r [‘Privatizar’ is the Spanish for the verb to privatize. Privar means to deprive. Thus the writer is highlighting the fact that both words have the same action in common]

Against the gradual establishing of kleptocracy, the multitude has rebelled, demanding real democracy. It could not do otherwise, bearing in mind that its regime is absolute democracy and engulfing the frame of liberal democracy, in the manner of the 15-M, is inevitable for it. Hence whoever thinks that this tendency can be reversed by promoting promoting certain luminaries via a left wing party with a view to conquering power within the frame of liberal democracy ought to study the question more seriously and ask if the problem is rather in his or her own fidelity to the party idea and to the kleptocratic regime of which this type of organisation is today, among us, its main agency.

The tawdry example of Izquierda Unida in Andalucía (with the obscene placement of family members in key institutional positions on the part of the luminaries in power) illustrates how not to do things these days. It is a crass error to believe that voting on access of an elite to power is a mode of democratic participation. As always, this will only be possible on the horizon of the politics of movement, in its radical exclusion of every form of corruption, in its destruction of the kleptocracy that they are now seeking to impose.

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Democracy in Europe vs. the Fourth Reich

Translation of an article by the Madrilonia collective, published on their website 6th July.

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Democracy in Europe vs. the Fourth Reich

Do you get up in the mornings  and look in the mirror and a Guten Morgen comes out? Do you look at your fellow citizens and feel like calling them wasters? Do your neighbours seem to be getting pig-faced? Worry not, you are being possessed by the spirit of the German government.

In Germany and other countries in the north of Europe, there is an account of the crisis, repeated tiresomely, which puts the blame on ‘wasteful’ countries and confers Germany with a superiority that legitimates its veto power over the future of the European Union. A key figure in Angela Merkel’s party, the CDU, laid it out clearly: “Suddenly Europe is speaking German” (especially in Majorca and the institutions of the EU). The new debtor status held by the ‘bailed out’ countries is placed before democracy in Europe: there are no equal European citizens deciding on the construction of Europe, but rather hierarchical relations between different nationalities. Europe’s ghosts are coming back. Debtocracy is a political relation that imposes legislative and budgetary changes on us against our will and prevents us from making proposals about the design of the Union.

Is this debt legitimate? Are the German elites right and we are nothing more than PIIGS? Is strangling the economies of the south a good solution? How then will there be an exit from the crisis? Eurobonds or the purchase of bonds on the part of the European Central Bank from 2008 would have diminished or rendered unnecessary (by eliminating uncertainty and speculation and as such, the consequent rise in national risk premiums) the bailing out of Greece, Portugal, Ireland and Spain. We would have saved hundreds of billions of euros for the EU and for the ‘bailed out’ countries that would have been able to invest in saving the citizens and not the banks. Bailouts are a hijacking, because they impose adjustment conditions that lead nowhere. They are also a swindle: if the bailouts had been provided at 1%, which is the rate at which the ECB lends to European Banks (including Deutsche Bank and Commerzbank) it would reduce the debt of the bailed out countries enormously. The German government supposedly ought to know that there is a point of no return with debt, which keeps growing until the countries are not able to pay it back, and that the German banks are up to their necks in Greek, Irish and Spanish debt. The question that any European ought to ask is as follows: “What the fuck is Germany winning?” [Translator’s note: this question appeared in English in the original]

1. A national-populist account of the crisis. 

When Germany says it’s ‘the Southern countries’ fault’, on the one hand it is hiding the economic interrelation of the European Union and the despotic rule of finance capital; and, on the other, it is legitimating the elimination of social and labour rights that has been in process in Germany since 2003, first by chancellor Schröder with Agenda 2010, and later with Merkel.

To present oneself as an example of austerity and rigour (in contradiction to the facts) legitimates the policies of the German elites, who are always prepared to exercise an iron control over the labour force, both national and immigrant. By defending austerity in Europe, they defend the removal of rights in Germany. Let us remember that the minimum wage does not exist there, jobs are subsidised with public money (mini-jobs), real wages have been in decline for many years, and inequality is on the rise along with the number of poor workers. Imposing these neoliberal measures in Europe seems to act as a consolation for rights lost in Germany itself: “we did it before and it was the correct thing to do”.

But, furthermore, one has to understand that if the German State can continue funding social policies and strategies for corporations and unions that austerity policies prohibit in half of Europe, it is because it is directly driving the peripheral countries to ruin. Many funds take refuge in the German bond, which means that Germany funds itself at rates close to 0% and drives up the risk premiums of the PIIGS, which are calculated in relation to the German bond. Let us recall that risk premiums are a relational matter, the more they go up for Greece and Spain, the more they go down for Germany. It is that simple, arbitrary and unjust. Naturally, any plan for debt mutualisation, such as Eurobonds or the purchase of PIIG debt on the part of the ECB in order to ease the risk premium, is rejected by Germany. At the end of the day, the German government avoids its internal crisis at the cost of the peripheral countries.

2. PIIGS?

Elsewhere, if the fault is that of the Southern countries, where did they got the money, in the case of the Spanish miracle, for a gigantic property bubble? Did capital not arrive from the rest of Europe? Did they not invest this capital, as they have been doing since Francoism, in bricks and mortar on the coast? The German banks fed inflated prices and financed suicidal banking operations. These loans moreover raised the purchasing power of Spanish, Greek and Irish people and in turn, German exports to the rest of the continent (nearly 72% of German exports stay on European soil). The (scarcely democratic) construction of the European Union has entailed the establishment of regional specialisations which have brought with them a transformation in the productive structures of each country. The elimination of farming and ranching areas was a condition for Spain’s entry to the EU. The obligation to remove the vast majority of the industrial apparatus so as not to affect the core countries led to a dismantling of industry in the majority of regions in Spain, not a conversion of production. It is thoroughly unjust for the EU to criticise productive specialisation in tourism and construction when it has been promoted by successive treaties and cohesion funds.

Lastly, to say that the fault is that of the PIIGS and to reactivate all the racist stereotypes (lazy, wasters, irresponsible) is to give a makeover to the European policies that have deregulated the financial system, and all those who have got rich on the back of it and who continue to do so with the sovereign debt crisis. The indebtedness of countries is a business and, right now, many European banks, including German banks, continue to obtain profits by expensive lending to states with cheap money they get from the ECB. Since 2008 the ECB has injected month on month figures that oscillate between €600bn (the GDP of Holland) and €350bn (the GDP of Greece) into the major European financial agencies in a continuous attempt to save their liquidity shortfall (in reality their insolvency). Hence we say that this is bailout in disguise for the European banking sector, at the cost of the populations. The European Union, led by Germany on behalf of the financial powers, is playing at the old tactic of using national borders as containers of the crisis and lines for offloading the costs.

 

3.  Deustchland über alles

“Europe is speaking German” and a little bit of French. Undoubtedly, Germany and France have always been the decision-making centre of the European Union. Since 2008, and more still with the sovereign debt crisis, this leading role has grown exponentially. Now, from the least democratic institutions of the European Union (the ECB, the Commission, the Eurogroup and other technocrats in unknown posts), referendums are prohibited, policies are dictated and presidents are installed. Nonetheless, it remains surprising that the German parliament should decide upon what the timelines and arrangements for payment of this illegitimate debt brought about by the bailouts. Meanwhile, citizens of the bailed out countries have absolutely nothing to say about the issue. Are we Germany’s backyard? Are we slaves of the banking disaster? Are our politicians mere middlemen who take advantage of being so?

What is evident is that the sovereignty of European nation states no longer exists. The decisions are taken in the Eurogroup and certain opinions are worth more than others. There is no democracy in Europe. And without democracy in Europe, the elites will keep on blaming the populations for their own financial excesses and extracting resources from everyone through the mechanism of debt. How does one confront the power of the financial elites with a majority in the Reichstag? The governments of Spain, Greece, Portugal, Italy and Ireland are the weakest links in the European chain of command. If there are shifts in the balance in these countries, there is no doubt that the Banking Reich will be forced to adopt a different tack. How might the chain be broken in the weakest links? On the one hand, pressure from the markets and the European Union brings about cuts and deepens governments’ loss of legitimacy. On the other, mobilisations must play a central role in the democratisation of Europe. In Greece they nearly managed to see off bipartisan rule and force a change in European policies without an exit from the euro. In Spain, it still has not been possible to stop the cuts, or to achieve a real democracy, despite the rise of the 15M movement and the huge mobilisations in education and health. Let us not despair, a good attack is the best form of defence.

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The Last Mohicans

This is a translation of a piece published by Jorge Moruno, published 9th July in Público, on the miners' march – #marchanegra – descending on Madrid today.

The Last Mohicans

(image via)

I can recall stories that my father told me during my childhood, about the times my grandfather would come back crying from the mine, because there had been an explosion and some comrade had been injured or at times even killed. It was not in Asturias or León, but in Peñarroya, Andalucía, where today not a trace remains of those coalmines. Between 1931 and 1930, with exceptions, real consumption of coal in Spain never rose above 5 million tonnes. England already produced and consumed that amount in 1750 and France, a century behind, consumed it in 1840 and produced it by 1850.

Spain, by comparison with those countries, has never reached such a high volume of mining production, but that did not mean it was not a central sector. Iron and coal, key materials for driving a process of industrialisation, were by no means lacking in the Spanish economy, but thanks to the Mining Law of 1869, which liberalised the exploitation of deposits, and subsequent modifications, their development was limited.

International companies, founded on mixed capital –domestic and foreign- concerned themselves with exploiting and exporting minerals to industrialised countries at very low cost. Of the minerals most in demand –from all the ranges in existence – zinc, copper, iron etc…- 90% to 100% of total production was exported. This was the case until the nascent steel and metallurgical industries, installed in Euskadi in particular, began to incorporate it towards the end of the 19th century.

We can draw a parallel with something similar happening to us today. Only we no longer export cheap coal and iron; today, by contrast, we do it with the talent and knowledge of young people trained with public money, who prove extremely cheap to the countries that receive them. As the urbanist Jordi Borja points out, the emigrant is manna for whoever receives her and an affliction for whoever loses her. Different elements, but functioning according to the same predatory logic: yesterday minerals, today knowledge of every kind.

In 1893, 300,000 English miners went on indefinite strike for 4 months against the reduction of their wages by 25%, imposed by the owners of the mines. With their stoppage they managed to endanger the supply of combustibles, holding out thanks to their excellent organisation and resistance funds that held several million roubles, the fruit of solidarity. Women, far from being a passive subject in the struggle, maintained the backbone of the community; that shared cultural feeling of autonomy that drives struggle on. Rosa Luxemburg, the Marxist leader said of them that, with their steadfastness, “they shouted out proclaiming that they would sooner kill their children than allow their husbands and children to go back to work and accept the pittance they were offered.”

Sheffield miners on strike in 1893 via.

The spirit of the Leonese and Asturian miners has not changed since then; their ardour and clamour in the struggle for the community remains the same. But their conjuncture and situation in the economy and labour of the 21st Century have been completely displaced, and this is why they are coming out from the coalfields. The miners stand before our eyes today as the last Mohicans of an era that even precedes the one we are leaving behind today. They go back to times where assembly line production, mass transport and consumption still had not been developed, nor had that now decaying system of social regulation through wages, known as the Welfare State.

We are entering a world where products are not so much sold for their utility, as for the idea and the imaginary with which they are associated. A real time economy, which needs a fragmented and precarious labour market to attend to the changing demands in the new sites of consumption. A market that needs labour power immersed in a schizophrenic situation: under permanent training, versatile whilst submissive, fearful, and enthusiastic in equal parts.

But also flexible, proactive, entrepreneurial, cooperating and individualist, within a tangle of informal relations and dependencies. Now that working class cultures, which had served as a dyke against the tempests of capitalism, have been broken down, the elites seek to replace them with a desert. We are all our own entrepreneurial property, but on account of our precariousness; free agents, they call it. With no working class tradition, those in precarity who now recognise themselves as such can see in the miners an older sibling who must be listened to so that they can come to understand their own present.

The miners have an allure because they have the strength of being able to play the trump card that many others would wish for. The miners are also held in contempt because they have the strength of being able to play that same trump card, which many others do not even wish for and even oppose. The philosopher Spinoza observed these different forms of human sensibility by declaring that ‘the former, I say, aims at living for its own ends, the latter is forced to belong to the conqueror; and so we say that the former is free, but but the latter is a slave’.

Those of us among the former are learning with the miners that their reality and ours is not the same, nor does it have to be, but the reasons that bring them to Madrid are the same as those that subjugate us to debt and absolute precarity. We operate like a stereogram, that is, like an optical illusion that captures images from different points of view. It is only in this way that struggles can be woven and co-ordinated strategies can be built and co-ordinated collectively at different levels. Basic income can be one of these demands.    

    

The Chair in State Theory Antonio Negri claimed years ago that the history of continuity in revolutionary movements is their rupture and discontinuity. “The revolutionary working class movement is continually being reborn from a virgin mother”. Different but with a same spirit, precarians and miners must search together for Marx’s third thesis on Feuerbach: it is only through revolutionary practice that human activity can coincide with the changing of circumstances. The government delegate in Madrid, Cristina Cifuentes, is well aware of this and insists on preventing any symbolic connection between the 15-M and the miners from being established. She warns that she will not allow any acampada in the Puerta del Sol, and comes forward to announce that the miners will be finally offered a place to spend the night.

This coming 10th of July the #marchanegra will arrive in Madrid. They will be received as they deserve, as what they are, children of the same mother. On their journey they leave behind a trail of dignity in every town they set foot in, and hence they receive the warmth and the applause of its inhabitants. Offering a town or a city so that it is theirs too. Those below declare to the travellers that wherever their feet touch the ground, that is their country, –Ubi pedes, ibi patria-; the feet of the Republic of the 99% against the dictatorship of the financial rentiers of the 1%.

 

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The Great Theft Movement: Ireland as Kleptocracy

Distraction Burglary

Some burglars will try to trick their way into your home. A distraction burglary is where a bogus caller to your home gains entry on a pretext / lie or creates a diversion so that an accomplice can sneak in separately.

Personal Safety Security for the Older Person, An Garda Síochána Crime Prevention Information Sheet

What does it feel like to live in a kleptocracy? How would you know if you lived in one? Here are a few pointers.

  • A kleptocrat, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, is ‘a ruler who uses their power to steal their country’s resources’. It is true that no dictionary definition of anything is ever truly definitive. Nonetheless it is worth dwelling on the fact that the definition of a kleptocrat says nothing about what kind of ruler a kleptocrat is. There’s nothing specified about the institutional role afforded to the ruler, or whether the ruler is legitimated by popular authority, or the number of rulers that make up a kleptocracy.
  • Therefore the ruler need not mean an individual who holds a position in government, or any other official position of State power. The ruler may simply be a rich person who can make the power of the State bend to his will. And a ruler who, for example, makes the power of the State bend to his will in order to steal from other people is known as a kleptocrat. However, it is of course true that a public official or representative can also be a kleptocrat.
  • There is nothing in the definition about the number of rulers that make up a kleptocracy, or how power among their number differs in degree. Therefore a ruling class may also be a kleptocratic class: it may use its power -over political institutions, over wage labourers, over slaves, over public perceptions and reflexes- to expropriate the resources of a country -its wealth, its land, its natural resources, its labour power- for its own ends and edification.  and it may do so through violence, the threat of violence, manipulation, swindle: whatever is needed to carry off the heist.
  • As befits a class that sustains itself through stealing, its members will cut each other’s throats when expedient, but collaborate when it is in their mutual interest.
  • There is nothing in the definition about the kind of legal order in which kleptocracy operates. Therefore the stealing -of what is public- may be considered illegal, but conversely it may also be perfectly legal. It depends.
  • In modern societies characterised by a legal order in which public ownership is to the fore, kleptocrats will resort to legal means to steal a country’s resources, often having used their power beforehand to define what is legal in this regard. Sometimes, this takes the form of what is known as privatisation.
  • The word private and the word deprive have the same etymology: from the Latin privare: to deprive. That is, when a public good or service is privatised -for example, telecommunications, water, oil, gas, education, health- this means that the public is deprived of access to it, pending the decision of the new designated owners, who will name their price as they see fit. Therefore privatisation can be doubly kleptocratic: first, through the stealing of the public resource itself. Second, through the imposition of high prices designed to maximise profitability, thereby transferring the wealth held by the public into private hands.
  • Kleptocracy need not simply entail stealing the resource directly. It may just mean that the loss of access to public goods is the price that the public have to pay for the accumulation of profits. So if the construction of fracked gas pipelines, for instance, built through the power of the extraction lobby over state institutions, and through the control of dominant media institutions over public opinion, results in the loss of access to potable water, or farmable land, that too is characteristic of kleptocratic rule.
  • Ireland is a kleptocracy. It would take a long time to dig deep to trace its roots that spread thick and wide, and its numerous manifestations, such as the transfer of gas and oil resources to private corporations, or the presence of a major onshore tax haven. But here is one salient example: the power of the financial sector over State institutions, used to force the public to shoulder massive debt burdens. Debt is not often thought of as a form of stealing. And yet when it is a debt burden imposed without consent on the public, it clearly is. After all, if I go into your house and see €500 on your mantlepiece, and I say “give me that €500 or I will hit you with this iron bar”, few people would argue that this is a form of stealing. And most people will recognise that it would also be stealing if I go round to your house and the conversation goes something like this. “You owe me €500.” “No I don’t.” “Yes you do, and if you don’t give me €500, I’ll hit you over the head with this iron bar.”

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Some will keep you talking at the front door while their accomplice sneaks in the back door.

Personal Safety Security for the Older Person, An Garda Síochána Crime Prevention Information Sheet

The imposition of the debt burden on the public, then, and the consequent slashing of welfare payments, cutbacks in public services, purposely high unemployment rates, wage depression, regressive tax measures and the handing over of public assets to private firms at knockdown prices is a form of stealing. But why don’t we see manage to it that way? Why don’t we recognise it as stealing -imposed on the threat of starvation, deprivation (that word again), unemployment and misery- just as we might  recognise it if someone arrived at the door with an iron bar and says “you owe me €500”?

One reason is that the police might come to your aid in the aftermath of an attack on your home. Another, related, is the sanctification of the home as a form of private property to be religiously protected. Another still, perhaps more important, is the imposition of the debt burden is thought to be legal, arising out of a sequence of perfectly legal actions. Legality and legitimacy are regularly presented successfully as the same thing in a liberal democratic regime. Partly because of the conviction that the market is the optimal means of allocating resources and distributing wealth and therefore identifiable with justice, and partly because the imposition was approved and consented to by public representatives.

In a liberal democratic regime, what is decided by public representatives is considered as carrying out the will of the people ipso facto. This happens even though the vast majority of people take no part in any discussions, negotiations or formulation of legislation during the decision-making process (see, for example this: ‘Mr Kenny insisted that the Cabinet had not settled down to discuss the Budget and that it would not be drafted in public’). It happens even though the information the people have available to them is filtered, censored and sanitised by media institutions owned by kleptocrats, and by other media institutions that rely on the patronage of kleptocratic interests in order to sustain themselves.

Moreover, to call into question the legitimacy of this ‘will of the people’ -which, in Ireland, is currently indistinguishable from the will of the IMF, the will of the ECB and the will of the European Commission, all of whom execute the will of that supreme unelected sovereign, ‘the markets’- is to be treated, by these same institutions, as a threat to democracy.

Conventional wisdom. relentlessly reproduced via dominant media institutions, holds that ‘democracy’ -which is to say, bourgeois representative democracy- is the only form of government worth having; hence the decisions taken by its representatives, regardless of how destructive they are of public welfare, regardless of how much wealth they transfer into private hands, regardless of how the reality of their decisions is obscured from public view, are legitimate and unimpeachable.

Recall the mating call of the liberal authoritarian – Churchill’s famous quote that democracy (i.e. bourgeois representative democracy) is the ‘worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time’. In short, if the public is burdened with massive debts on account of a crisis caused by private banks, it is the public’s own fault for failing to vote for representatives who might have forestalled such an occurrence. And if the government decides to impose taxes to ensure that these debts are paid off, then the people must obey, or face the consequences.

An excellent example of such liberal authoritarianism is displayed in today’s Irish Times editorial. Writing on the campaign against the household tax, it calls for ‘discipline’ to deal with ‘political resistance’ and ‘disregard for democratic institutions’. It claims the use of Dáil expenses, by TDs Joe Higgins, Clare Daly and Joan Collins, to offset travelling expenses outside Dublin whilst participating in the household tax campaign, is an ‘abuse of Dáil funds’.

Whilst the Irish Times does not deign to offer any justification for this claim, the likely reasoning behind it is that the TDs are elected to Dublin constituencies, and therefore travel related to constituency affairs must only take place within some kind of Dublin-specific boundary (The Red Cow roundabout? The Julianstown exit on the M1?). Never mind the fact that if people elected any of the aforementioned TDs it was out of an expectation that they would use their seat, in line with their duties as a representative, to help organise mass popular protest.

Indeed, it’s hard to imagine a single voter for any of these politicians who might have thought that by receiving their vote, they were binding themselves to speak only to people within the bounds of Dublin West, or Dublin North, or Dublin South Central, and the road to the Dáil. Furthermore, if a TD were to have claimed expenses for traveling back and forth to the offices of banks, property developers, employer organisations, real estate agents and so on, we can be sure there would be no issue, but a TD engaging in democratic activity -resisting kleptocratic rule- is cause for scandal and outrage on the part of the political and media establishment.

Moreover, for all its crocodile tears about the shortfall in funds for the provision of local services that the non-payment of the household charge will supposedly generate (as if the total amount of funding made available for local services were not determined by political considerations such as giving priority to the repayment of unsecured private bondholder debt, and other measures intended to keep the financial sector sated), and its stern demands for discipline, the Irish Times has rarely had anything so righteously robust to say about imposing such a thing on the main culprits for the current crisis: financial institutions.

Thus the decision of Michael Noonan to rule out the implementation of a Europe-wide financial transaction tax, was passed over in relative silence, even though the tax revenues lost and the decisive social power accumulated by finance capital as a result of the current arrangement is deeply corrosive of democratic influence over public institutions, and even though there is a several orders-of-magnitude difference between the revenues lost on account of non-payment of a household charge, and those lost through tax avoidance arrangements facilitated by the ‘democratic institutions’ of the Irish State.

Of bourgeois democracy, Raymond Williams wrote the following in the 1980s: ‘The description has been sloganized, but it has a precise meaning: it is the coexistence of political representation and participation with an economic system which admits no such rights, procedures or claims (emphasis mine)’. What is passed off as Irish democracy, however, goes further than this, in that it is not simply coexistence, but the gradual devouring of the former by the latter.

Consider this image:

kleptocracy
When it appeared in circulation, attention focused -at least in those newspapers and radio stations that do not belong to telecoms magnate, media oligarch and tax ‘exile’ Denis O’Brien- on the appearance of the Taoiseach Enda Kenny alongside a man -Denis O’Brien- whom the Moriarty Tribunal had found to have made a payment of £500k and a loan of £420k to Michael Lowry, the erstwhile Fine Gael Minister for Telecommunications, who had held the position when O’Brien bid for and successfully won the second mobile phone licence.

The photo, and the appearance it documented, was cited -albeit fleeetingly and certainly not universally- as evidence of the dangerously close relationship between the Fine Gael ruling party and O’Brien, whose ownership of radio stations Newstalk and Today FM and control over Independent News and Media, among other interests, give him an immense influence over public life in Ireland.

Joan Burton, the current Minister for Social Protection (a Newspeak job title if ever one existed) warned, with some justification, to be sure, of the danger of ‘a Berlusconi-style, media-political complex with its attendant codes of omertà undermining the principles of transparent democracy‘.

Fine. But is there nothing else wrong with picture? What would we have seen if O’Brien had not appeared? Let’s try an experiment.

kleptocracy2

With O’Brien now removed from the photograph, we can glimpse what the photo opportunity was really intended to convey: the idea that Ireland is not a country at all, but a commodity to be traded on stock exchanges, and that the ‘head of the Government, the central co-ordinator of the work of the Ministers and their Departments of State, the person who sets ‘broad Government policy’ (source) is not a public servant at all, but in fact a Chief Executive Officer, beholden to the will of shareholders, that is, of Capital.

How to make sense of this?

  • Media obsession with corruption, or misappropriation of public funds, is selective and self-serving, since a focus on singular corrupt individuals functions as an alibi for the operation of a kleptocratic system.
  • Kleptocratic control over public institutions is strengthened when the venality of elected representatives is revealed. Since democracy -bourgeois liberal representative democracy, that is- is the ‘worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time’, stories about expense claims, high salaries, perks and so on, help to perpetuate the idea that politics is both a professional activity and largely irredeemable. With regard to the expense claims of TDs taking part in the campaign against the household tax (an anti-kleptocratic activity), this is intended as part of the same spectacle of corrupt individuals making off with public funds for their own purposes.
  • Thus the intended message, as regards the TDs is: Beware! Politics is an activity for self-serving professionals, and anyone who gets involved in a mass campaign that also involves such individuals is likely to be made a means to their end.
  • And since any other form of rule would be intolerable, there is no alternative to democracy (kleptocracy). Thus there is no alternative to the economic system which admits of no political rights, procedures or claims, to use Williams’s description, and which must be kept free of political interference.

In this way, we are kept talking at the front door, by the political and media establishments, about individual cases of corruption and supposed threats to the democratic system, whilst round the back, their accomplices in kleptocracy are looting us of everything we have.

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