Monthly Archives: August 2012

What is happening in Spain? – Various Authors



“There is a Spaniard who wants to live and to live he begins, between one Spain that dies and another that yawns” Antonio Machado


Spain appears destined to be the European colony of capitalism 2.0. Casinos, parties, beaches, music festivals and all kind of activities designed to offer pleasure to the visitor and servitude to the person attending him. The lumpen-oligarchy that governs us believes that devaluing us as people is the main selling-point that will calm the markets.


Precarized labour, and precarity in access to transport and housing, are the compass guiding the madness that rules us. It marketises those spaces that had remained outside the market, such as health or education, and anything that sounds like it has to do with the public or a hard won right. They impose upon us a flexibility devoid of any security, subjugate us in the name of jobs that don’t exist, and inject us with fear so that we obey. They single out the unemployed person as a parasite and the person who works as privileged. Meanwhile big businesses are responsible for 71% of the €81 billion in evaded taxes and 63% of wage workers take home €1,000 or less each month.


We have not “lived beyond our means”, as they endlessly repeat to us. On the contrary, for them, the 1%, to live within their means, they have to live on top of us and moreover blame us for it. They subjugate and discipline the collective intellect in order to submit it to a labour market where there is no guarantee of work and where work guarantees you nothing. The disobedient multitudes are laying claim to their role of innovators, the true entrepreneur that builds in common for common ends, up against the surplus value of financial rent and the blackmail of debt. Marx said in his article Revolutionary Spain that ‘Insurrectionary risings are as old in Spain as that sway of court favorites against which they are usually directed.’ In Spain there was a Civil War, and not just a coup d’état, because people, those from below, decided to defend life against the sad passions of Francoism. Today we take up the mantle of past dignity in order to combat our worst enemy, the same one we share with the rest of the world: the fear and cynicism that leads us into neo-slavery, which is nothing less than being free so as to become serfs.








In the economic sphere, the crisis that began in 2008, and the fundamental collapse of the financial and construction sectors, present a desolate panorama. After two decades of a supposed economic miracle, the Emperor has been conclusively left without any clothes, as in the story: the Spanish economy has the highest rates of unemployment in the EU, especially so when it comes to youth unemployment, and a structural incapacity to put in place productive structures to replace the vacuum left by the construction sector and the meltdown of the property speculation model, both for the public sector (especially for local authority funding) and the private sector.


The exponential growth in debt as a consequence, alongside the interference of misbegotten speculative interests which translate into the rise in the bond yield, in the mechanism that sets the price of debt, combined with the paralysis of European institutions incapable of doing anything, headed by the ECB, not only portrays a scene of stagnation, but also allows us to talk about the end of a cycle.


The debt crisis means the asphyxiation of the public sectors of countries whose only escape in the medium term is a growth in public investment to replace sectors of the economy that have crashed never to return. The snake eats its own tail, and causes the metastasis to spread to ever bigger countries in population size, with the consequent impossibility for institutions of generating ways out.


In the political sphere, the situation is characterised by various elements: the EU’s proven inability to find a way out of the Spanish situation has translated into a de facto bailout without a quid pro quo, in which the Troika dictates the conditions in which the country must be ruled behind the backs of the citizens, without paying a single euro in return; the inability of the PP and PSOE governments to stand up for the country’s interests against the Diktat; the strategy of the elites, in the heat of the crisis, to dismantle the public services and social protection which, whilst never excessively generous in the Spanish model, had consolidated the model of coexistence since the Constitution of 1978.


Thus the situation can be resumed in two elements: in economic terms, it is impossible for this model of managing the crisis to provide, by any means, a way for the Spanish economy to recover prior levels of growth and quality of life, based on cutting back rights and narrowing the economy; in the political sphere, the neoliberal solution to the crisis of neoliberalism had blown apart the cement that provided the political regime with social consensus, and they have smashed the foundations of the social pact that has, as we speak, been put in question by the permanent state of exception decreed by the economic elites.


In this scenario, the social movements that have arisen as of the 15th of May 2011 have drawn a road map to follow: the break with the current Regime and the move towards a process of recovering politics that allows, at least as a first step, for the citizens to take on the responsibility of ruling themselves at a moment in which their rulers have placed sovereignty in the hands of private capital and private interests.






“In January of 1980, in the salons of the Hotel Ritz in Madrid, the Spanish reform passes its exam in front of the Trilateral Commission”, intones the narrator of the documentary Después de (After), whilst the camera portrays the noblemen Pedrol, Osorio, Garrigues and Salat in animated conversation. “The dictatorship has been ended without changing the social system” continues the narration, and “the democracy born from above has been born with a mortgage” (and proof of this will be that although Franco had died in 1975 and there had been a Constitution that was formally democratic in operation since 1978, this extraordinary tape by siblings Cecilia and José Bartolomé would be kept locked away between 1981 and 1983).


Spanish democracy has never left behind its founding nature of administered democracy. For the Francoist bureaucratic and corporate elites (including the monarchy), the Transition did not so much constitute a real rupture with the dictatorship as the formalising of its adherence to the norms and customs of the advanced capitalism that surrounded it. Despite the anti-systemic mobilisiations of the most conscious and combative sectors of anti-Francoism, the new constitutional consensus swept away those who opposed it with a diabolical combination of seduction (institutional or commercial co-optation) and terror (police or para-police violence). The civic-military attempt at a putsch in 1981 would conclusively discipline a centre-left that won power in 1982 with a rigorously neo-liberal programme (incorporation to NATO, industrial reconversion, liberalisation of the labour market, financial reform). In exchange for the right wing giving up dictatorship, (a large part of) the left gave up politics.


For 35 years, this system, based on cohesion among the elites and the depoliticisation of the masses, seemed to have worked. It showed signs of exhaustion during the crazed second imperial legislature of the neocon Aznar, it experienced ephemeral reformist hopes with the first legislature of the social-liberal Rodríguez Zapatero, and sank with the second, in the face of the ferocious impact of the global crisis on the already insane indigenous economic model. Barely seven months after its precarious electoral victory (due to the opponent not turning up), Rajoy already seems a mere parenthesis until the forming of a government of bipartisan unity headed up by some technocrat, to apply the memorandum of the European Directorate without any fuss: the tragic twilight of a Regime of (as defined by Vicenç Navarro) “incomplete democracy and insufficient welfare”, now under transition towards some kind of debtocratic protectorate that is unashamedly authoritarian and squalid. With the streets boiling over in spontaneous and electrifying (albeit intermittent and problematic) activity since the spring of 2011, the behaviour of the multitudes is now the most decisive and unpredictable of the unknowns in the Spanish equation.






By definition, it is not possible to build a democracy atop a landscape of mass graves and a past of terror. The situation of crisis puts an end to that illusion. In the crisis, a social whole of complex articulation can come undone: each of its elements has its own lifespan and effectiveness, and also its potential fault lines. Nothing guarantees that the crisis is the end, just as there are no guarantees that the old order will remain in place. The precariousness of the system’s balances are clear on numerous levels. First of all there is an erosion of the regime’s legitimacy. The recovery of historical memory, the deep disrepair of bipartisanism, widespread corruption (the symbol of which is a monarchy that simultaneously appears as the pinnacle of a system of plunder and the heir to Francoism), all mean that the population perceives the political system not as a democracy in which its voice is heard, but as a regime that rules beyond the reach of democracy and even against it.


This problem of legitimacy also affects the economic system which, in connivance with the political system, has dashed the expectations for the future of numerous sectors and various generations, particularly the youngest, by liquidating the already starved welfare state, imposing extravagant levels of unemployment, and attacking wages and pensions. Today even the agents of the State’s apparatuses of repression challenge the government’s measures in the streets. The illusion of living in a democracy escapes these days via the same drains as the hope of living in a system in which all can enjoy a general prosperity. Thus the neoliberal cycle closes in Spain as a political crisis and a social and economic crisis. Both crises are inseparable, since the Spanish regime of the Reform that now enters a grave crisis was the one that opened the doors to neoliberalism, not through immediate terror as with the dictatorship of Pinochet, but by retroactive recourse to the primitive accumulation of Francoist terror. The lack of a rupture with Francoism kept active the wellsprings of the regime’s “legitimacy”. At the hand of the new social expressions of labour that make up the social base of the 15-M and similar movements, this terror is starting to disappear. Is this how an end comes to the cycle that began on the 18th of July 1936?





Rule by debt is not a linear device, but instead functions by inducing catastrophes. Thus the exception becomes the norm: each crash allows for new modes of expropriation to be generated, each time at a greater order of magnitude. Spain is quickly moving towards another such moment of bifurcation. And though the political task is tremendous, there is no other alternative but to try and block this transition, to derail it towards a process of radical democratisation.


The draining of political legitimacy from the regime opens up a chink of opportunity. The multitude mobilised in the streets of the State has now put on record its growth and its density: its ability to act, and to produce truths beyond established grammar and institutionality, is ever greater. The bifurcation, however, is double: the resistance must also change gear. Its ability must be articulated urgently in a broad and popular front, that allows it to actively influence the process and to neutralise once and for all the risk of its colonisation, of an opportunist and reactionary capture of the discontent in the street.


The conclusive politicisation of debt and its non-payment ought to be at the centre of this articulation: the government must be prevented from committing suicide so as to regenerate itself as an even more ‘technical’ and dictatorial monster. When the government gets ready to sign the next memorandum, it has to find itself confronted by the demos mobilised in a clear and unambiguous form. I think that building that front with strategic intelligence, in the short time available, is the fundamental political task of these days.






The heat beats down on the asphalt in the streets of Madrid, but this is not just one more torrid summer. The temperature is high, indeed, getting higher all the time, but this can’t simply be blamed on the Sky King. Now, in the middle of August, the streets also burn with the railworkers’ strike, the taxi drivers’ protests, the public servant demonstrations, the ever more explicit expressions of a multitude that has had its fill of betrayals and unanswered aggression.


The cutbacks, the intervention, the new adjustments, the next bailout…the memorandum that is never the last one and which is always followed by a new memorandum, whilst the mountain of external debt is indefinitely piled higher and higher thanks to the enormous (strictly speaking, incalculable) amounts of private debt, belonging to financial entities and big businesses, that are going to be socialised.


Class struggle is waking up angry in the same the same streets that, not so long ago, denied it through an arrogant glorification of consumerism. They are looting us. It is that simple. Working conditions, social services, health and education infrastructure, public goods..all is coercively transformed into money, the same money that registers on shiny computer screens so that it can be sent virtually to fill the unfathomable holes in the balance sheets of national and foreign financial entities.


We are witnessing a radical redistribution of wealth in favour of the enormously wealthy, carried out by a ruling class that yearns for the abyss that its own blindness makes ever more probable.


It is a torrid summer. We have said so already. But it is not just any torrid summer. Today the streets vibrate with the texture of a dignity revisited, of a creativity regained, of a beautiful and precarious solidarity that manifests itself despite the opaque glow of police shields.


The streets are full of people. People who, sooner rather than later, will demand their primordial right to a new type of abundance: that of a direct, real and deep democracy in a liveable future for the many.





We are not living through a crisis, but a systemic change, the final phase in the conservative revolution started by Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s. It involves destroying the social pact that came out of the Second World War to shape our circumstances to suit a new economy, in which labour as a factor is starting to be treated with contempt. This is the greatest error of European social democracy and a large part of the left: believing that with a little Keynes and a little welfarism, we can reverse the situation and turn back. There is no longer a back.


But it is also the moment for building alternatives, which by necessity will have to be internationalist, without the waffling of previous eras. And this moment had very special characteristics in Spain: in addition to the effects of the conservative revolution, which are global, there are the shortcomings of the regime that emerged from the dictatorship. The Spanish population is starting to understand that our political and economic framework has met its last, that we need a new one and that we will not conquer it by respecting the present framework.


The 15-M, which emerged as a cry, is evolving little by little towards a full blown regenerationist movement. Of course, it is not enough. Poverty and social fracture are moving ahead far more quickly than our efforts, but we are no longer just a principle, but rather a political fact that the system cannot look down upon. Even today, with millions of people unemployed and condemned to exclusion, we have much more than a year ago, when we occupied the squares: we have restored hope to people. We only need to learn to be ambitious; to go to the root of the problem.





Translation note: the original Spanish language version of this text uses feminine pronouns throughout (e.g. ‘nosotras’ meaning ‘we’, or ‘vosotras’, meaning ‘you’ plural), designating the subjects being referred to as feminine. Since there is no direct translation for these in English, they are included in brackets. ‘Compañera’, for the same reason, has been left untranslated.


Over two years ago, while at work, I was listening to the radio. They were talking about how this country where I live was starting to bear the brunt of what had happened in the US with junk mortgages. The announcer (locutora) from one of your companies was warning us solemnly that we could go into recession. Nothing new for me, or for any of my compañeras in that badly paid, precarious and strenuous job: that thing called ‘recession’ had been living for some time in our purses. So faced with this extraordinary scoop that you supplied us with, I barely blinked.


Things, true enough, are getting worse. For us (nosotras), of course, the ones who pay for all your bailouts. But also for you (vosotras) too because from behind the smoke and noise of all this destruction, your perverse plan is coming to light, drawn up from the corridors of the European Central Bank, Standard and Poor’s, the Financial Times and any other of those clubs, guilds and unions where in your business lunches you decide on the shape of the world and for dessert you eat people tart.


A plan very similar to the one you drew up previously in the purses of the smart and the beautiful in America, Asia, or Africa. There are times these days when I cry, between amazement and rage, whenever I listen to you announcing the latest chunk of our lives you have decided to snatch from us. But I’ll stop complaining now. I’ll stop. If not, this text will only make you rub your avaricious hands together, thinking that my compañeras and I are worn out. Instead, I’m going to show you what I do to dodge the bullets you let fly from your shotgun mouths (Lagarde’s, Merkel’s and Ashton’s have lipstick on them!) : 1. As I share a bed, kisses and embraces without restraint; 2. I collect, and give away, books, records, plant pots, brushes and shirts; 3. I amuse myself by looking at fields in which to plant onions, garlic, and other desires; 4. I think about the crop of compañeras on both sides of the pond; 5. I find spaces that are free from your clutches, and there I oxygenate myself with all the colours you try to rob from us; and 6. I always raise a glass to those who (las que) deserve it.


After this display and with my cells brimming over with energy (in chaotic but productive connection with the cells of others (otras), with those whom I obstinately keep meeting up with and without your permission in the squares for more than a year now), I no longer listen to the hypnotic speaker from your company and, in succinct response to your menacing memorandum, I am passing you the list of a few things I am going to do alongside my compañeras: 1. we will awake the sleeping population (don’t get agitated (violentas), we can’t reveal what with!); 2. we will deliver a very severe up yours sign to your Debt; 3. we will gather your names, those of all of you who (las que) have signed the forms and approvals that got us this far, and we will communicate to you in writing, that you shall no longer count on us (nosotras), and we no longer count on you (vosotras); and 4. we will organise a witches’ sabbath for the coming hours. The bonfire will be fuelled with the package we had in our homes without us realising: The Transition in Spain or how to keep them fooled for nearly 37 years (it is a vast work, hundreds of thousands of pages re-written and re-edited daily by the major media groups, their house intellectuals and other courtesans of thought and word). We shall also burn the grey cushions of your dreams (your dream of “social peace”, your dream of “dutiful obedience”, your dream of “silent majority” and a few more besides). And no, we cannot yet reveal if we will also throw the euro onto the fire (but be assured that sooner or later, we will also take Berlin). To finalise, I remind you that our purses remain empty, but our mouths do not conceal bullets like yours do, but they do conceal tongues that conspire, sing and kiss.
















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Boiling A Frog At The Right Speed: The Irish Times On Social Solidarity

Reply left in response to the Irish Times leader column titled Austerity and solidarity, published Wednesday August 8th.

Why should social solidarity support the State and its institutions? Isn’t that getting things ass backwards?

Let’s do a quick run-down of how the State and its institutions have been operating of late:

a) tens of billions of euro funnelled away from vital public services and into the coffers of private bondholders;

b) the writing into law of the primacy of debt repayment, over and above any kind of public spending on vital services such as health, education and social welfare, achieved through the threat of catastrophe on the part of government officials in a campaign backed by local and international business elites ;

c) a commitment on the part of the government to privatise State assets, which is to say, hand them over to finance capitalists so that the latter can profit from them, in order to service debt repayments to the aforementioned finance capitalists;

d) a highly favourable taxation regime for corporations that goes untouched in successive budgets;

e) the elevation of executives in financial firms to the status of citizens of privilege, whereby executives of firms who come and work in Ireland enjoy lower taxation burdens than ordinary workers, getting special relief for sending their children to private schools with the blessing of the State;

f) threats, on the part of government officials, including the Taoiseach, to withdraw access to water –considered a human right in other jurisdictions but denied any such status here- should people not pay the charges imposed on them so that private banker debts can be repaid: a de facto privatisation.

Not much social solidarity going on there. And what this leader article is arguing is that if you cut spending on benefits too much, an agenda characterised by the kind of things listed above, and State institutions capable of implementing it, will be threatened.

If the opening sentence had read ‘AT A time of intense economic pressure, the State and its institutions are a vital component in providing support for social solidarity’, it might have expressed a laudable interest in ensuring the interests of the wider public were protected against pressure coming from powerful and unaccountable economic interests. Instead, it argues we should not boil the frog too quickly, lest it realise what’s going on and jump out of the pan.

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The Baler Twine That Binds, and The Common Good: A Reply to Fintan O’Toole

(‘The common good? That sounds like communism!’)

A reply posted on an article written by Fintan O’Toole titled ‘Irish State means little to many of its citizens’, published August 7th.

I think Fintan O’Toole’s image of ‘almost feudal’ loyalties trumping the common good operating at the level of the State leaves out an important consideration: loyalties operating at the level of the State that trump the common good.

Take the matter of corporation tax. The ability of corporations to get away with paying low rates of taxation, as we have seen with the budgets of successive governments, trumps any notion of the common good. A low corporation tax is given totemic importance by all the main political parties, business groups (quelle surprise), and public and private media institutions.

In other words, the power of business owners relative to ordinary wage earners goes unquestioned, as does the loyalty of elected representatives to the needs of business owners. Meanwhile the public is relentlessly encouraged to demonstrate their loyalty to billionaire corporations, to refrain from doing that might ‘frighten the markets’.

Take the matter of health care too. Why would we expect people to show loyalty to the principle of equal access to health care for all when private health care –or health care provided as an act of charity, which is just as bad- is continuously exalted in the public sphere? Example one: the regular appearance of private healthcare executives as contributors to debate programmes on the public broadcaster, as though such people held more gravitas and auctoritas than other citizens. Example two: in an Irish Times article from today titled  ‘When your income drops 70% you need to adjust fast’, one of the tips reads: ‘3 NEVER EVER GIVE UP OR DOWNGRADE YOUR HEALTH INSURANCE’.

We can say something similar about education. Why would we expect people to show loyalty to the principle of equal access to education for all when private education –which is to say, exclusive education in the service of a stratified society- is subsidised by the State, ‘grind’ schools are presented (without the scare quotes, I might add) as a perfectly natural tool for ensuring your child outperforms her classmates, and newspapers, such as this one, fete private schools for their achievements, via spurious exercises in consumer choice-oriented metrics?

Then there is ‘politics’, which is to say, representation. Why would you expect citizens to concern themselves with the common good when all that is required of them by way of political activity is that they absorb the opinions of the rich and powerful and to vote once every four years or so? I should point out here that the ideal of the passive and resigned citizen, who should only concern herself with serving the interests of capital, is actively promoted, relentlessly so, by media institutions such as this one. Example: in the article from today titled  ‘When your income drops 70% you need to adjust fast’, is there any mention of collective political activity, by way of demonstrations of solidarity or resistance, in defence of the common good? Is there Fergus. What there is instead, and this is general across all media outlets, is atomised consumerism and depoliticised passivity.

None of the above has anything to do with quasi-feudal attachments or wearing baler twine to hold your trousers up; indeed, people who believe in low corporation taxes, private health care, private education, representative democracy as the alpha and omega of political life, and keeping calm and carrying on, despite the fact that such things run altogether counter to the common good, are exactly the same people who will pour scorn on others who take to the streets in support of someone they (mistakenly) believe will ensure prosperity for their community, because they lack ‘loyalty to the State’, a concept whose supposed importance unites Fintan O’Toole the social democrat, Michael McDowell, the liberal who believes in inequality as a motor of economic progress, and a large number of big business figures who see the State as the guarantor of their activities of accumulation for the sake of accumulation.

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Solidarity! A reply to the Irish Times

A reply I posted to the Irish Times leader column published on Friday 3rd August titled ‘Frankfurt finds a better way.

Pardon me, but what can the Irish Times possibly mean when it says that solidarity between states provides the road out of the present mess?

It seems to be saying, unless my comprehension skills have deserted me once and for all, that the strict ‘conditionality’ and supervision demanded by the ECB is some sort of expression of mutual aid based on mutual concern.

If so, it’s a very strange form of solidarity indeed: governments agreeing among themselves to dismantle welfare state provisions, drive down wages, cut benefits, subject welfare recipients to a regime of surveillance and stigmatisation, privatise public assets, attack working conditions, contine to bail out financial institutions; and for what?

Who benefits from such, er, solidarity?

As far as I can see, it sure as hell isn’t the vast majority of any of the different peoples living in Europe, who are already being told to kiss goodbye to any sort of secure and dignified existence as envisaged by the postwar settlement in Europe, since the markets demand that they live otherwise.

Unless, of course, we’re talking instead about that privileged section of society often referred to nowadays as the 1%, and which embraces as its own the likes of former Goldman Sachs executives such as Mario Draghi of the ECB, and many other policymakers at a European level who are acquainted with a revolving door between supposedly public institutions and the institutions of an increasingly parasitical and predatory financial sector.

Indeed, it does seem odd, from the old fashioned democratic point of view, don’t you think, that Draghi should be sending out signals about solidarity when only a few months back he was proclaiming in a Wall Street Journal interview about how Europe’s social model had already gone? What concept of solidarity is he talking about?

Say! Hang on a second. Do you think..nah..but then again…Irish Times, I have a question for you. This ‘solidarity between states’ thing you’re talking about. Could it be, given the stark right-wing outlook of institutions such as the ECB, and their operation in the interests of finance capital first and foremost, that it’s not the nature of the solidarity we should be worried about here, but rather the nature of the states?


Because, and pardon me if I’m saying something darn foolish here, but you know what members of the public can be like: if European states are being stripped their obligations to ensure the health and welfare of their citizens, as Mario Draghi claims, and at the same time formalising their obligations to ensure the health and welfare of financial institutions and to keep the markets happy, as Mario Draghi demands…do you reckon it’s because the states are no longer social or democratic?

After all, it’s not as if Mario Draghi or any of the ECB Governing Council, or Barroso at the European Commission, or Van Rompuy at the European Council, or Lagarde at the IMF, or Goldman Sachs, or ‘the markets’ were ever given a popular mandate to decide on the economic policy of member states, and yet they do, with devastating effects for the populations of those states.

You know, if I didn’t know you better, why, I’d be tempted to interpret your mention of ‘solidarity between states’ as meaning ‘obedience and acquiescence of member state national governments in implementing the policies called for by European level institutions in the service of major financial institutions, and in so doing recognising the common interest and need for solidarity among the ruling elites of each member state, faced with the looming spectre of widespread revolt and social strife. And that means you too, Fine Gael, Labour, and IBEC’.

And to tell the truth, until you set me straight on this, I’m going to be more inclined to think of the states you’re talking about -such as this one- not as guarantors of social and democratic rights, but something else…something more like an organ of repression and dispossession on behalf of the so-called 1%.

Here’s hoping for a 500-part daily feature on the matter beginning this Monday coming, assuming there aren’t any more articles to publish about how public discourse is being destroyed be rude people on the Internet. Toodle pip, Himmlische, Dein Heiligtum, and so on and so forth.


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Quinn Fragments

This post is mostly a cobbling together of interactions on Facebook over the last week or so, concerning the Sean Quinn affair in the main. I am publishing it here after it occurred to me that I had written more than 1,500 words on the Quinn affair, scattered across various Facebook threads: a telling example of how Facebook appropriates your labour for its own ends without you even realising it, and then as good as scatters it unto the four winds by rendering it untraceable.


Supporters of the Quinn family at the rally in support of the family this weekend   urging the former Anglo Irish Bank to seek the suspension of the contempt orders issued against them this week.

Reading Balzac, Knocking Back Pharmaceuticals Paid For By Private Health Insurance

“Behind every great fortune there is a great crime” said Balzac, at the start of The Godfather. I don’t care much for the Quinns at all, in fact the sycophancy surrounding them always made me want to blow chunks.

However I think this spectacle -Anglo Irish Bank, now State-owned, trying to recover the money loaned to Quinn amid courtroom drama and tales of pan-European scrambles with shady property deals way out east- serves to obscure the far greater crime, which is to say, the wholesale robbery of the working class in Ireland that takes the form of the bank bailout and associated public policies, conducted not through criminality but through legality, and via the same machinery that is now deployed against Quinn. In this way, the Quinn trial functions as a moral fig leaf for naked kleptocracy.


Sean Quinn Goes To The Olympics

Whatever one’s reservations on the whole about the Olympic Games opening ceremony, the idea of a national health service being the object of national celebration in Ireland seems as far removed a prospect as interplanetary space travel. What there is, however, is 5000 people taking to the streets support of a former billionaire who was one of the major investors in Irish private health care before he blew most of the wealth others had produced for him by speculating on complex financial transactions.


The Cavan Zuckerburg

It occurred to me that there is a similarity in people’s attitudes to Facebook and certain people’s attitudes to Sean Quinn. There is no content in Facebook worth looking at or reading that is not the product of the labour of incalculable numbers of people but discussions always seem to depart from the standpoint of what Facebook allows (or does not allow) you to do, as if it were impossible for a better, more useful, productive and creative tool or set of tools to exist (read: means and relations of production in Cavan/Fermanagh area), and as if in light of the impossibility -or extremely remote likelihood- of such tools coming into existence, we have to rely on the ones assembled by right-wing billionaire Mark Zuckerburg (read: Sean Quinn) who, for all the problems we might have with the principle of it, does at the very least lay on this kind of service (read: at the very least he creates jobs), brings good quality jobs to the area and contributes a lot of money to good causes (read: brings good quality jobs to the area and contributes a lot of money to good causes). What this illustrates, I think, is that D4 and Teemore have a lot more in common, ideologically speaking, than either might care to admit. And against those who see some mere pre-modern, bog-based aspect to people mobilising in support of the Quinn group, the Ballyconnell protest is oddly reminiscent of those mostly young people who took to the streets of Dublin protesting Sean Sherlock’s SOPA legislation on the grounds that it would alienate companies such as Facebook and Google (though of course this was not the reason all of them took to the streets).


Quinn Goes To Swan River, West Australia

During his interview with Vincent Browne, Quinn claimed, according to Twitter at least, that he had been a wealth creator since he was born. It is not just Quinn who believes in the sustaining capitalist myth of the individual wealth creator: this is the primary justification offered for all sorts of regressive economic policies under liberal capitalism. There is a natural propensity to truck and barter, as Adam Smith would put it, and hence those able to put that propensity to best use are the best among us, and deserve to be handsomely rewarded for their efforts. Rationalisations of this kind have a strong hold over people’s economic and political imagination when their lives are bound up with the liberal capitalist system.  Who else bar Quinn, asked Cavan man Tom McEnaney in the Daily Mail, could have turned £100 and a hole in the ground into one of the most successful cement companies in the country?

Well, lots of people. The notion of Quinn’s individual genius makes no sense if wrenched from its setting in a given moment in history, under given legal frameworks and political arrangements, in a particular area with certain resources available to meet particular economic demands. What would happen if Sean Quinn had decided to take 300 of Fermanagh’s finest off to some other part of the world with different political institutions, social relations and so on? Karl Marx in his Economic Manuscripts offers a clue:

Wakefield discovered that in the Colonies, property in money, means of subsistence, machines, and other means of production, does not as yet stamp a man as a capitalist if there be wanting the correlative — the wage-worker, the other man who is compelled to sell himself of his own free will. He discovered that capital is not a thing, but a social relation between persons, established by the instrumentality of things. Mr. Peel, he moans, took with him from England to Swan River, West Australia, means of subsistence and of production to the amount of £50,000. Mr. Peel had the foresight to bring with him, besides, 300 persons of the working class, men, women, and children. Once arrived at his destination, “Mr. Peel was left without a servant to make his bed or fetch him water from the river.” Unhappy Mr. Peel who provided for everything except the export of English modes of production to Swan River!

Thus the defence of Sean Quinn is not simply the defence of his person, but the defence of a particular mode of production and the cultural glue needed to sustain it, now in crisis. That is why there is so much talk of the family man, the ostentatious displays of patriarchal rectitude, and even captioned photos circulating online of Quinn’s wife, presenting her as a mater dolorosa. That is also why the media prosecution of Sean Quinn focuses on his individual deeds, how his claims measure up against the established facts, his personal moral outlook, and so on. The legitimacy of someone making billions of euro off the labour of others and then blowing it all speculatively as he sees fit is never in question: what is at stake in this frame is merely whether Quinn did so within the bounds of legality and what his obligations are as a result.


Morbid Morality

I notice some of the impeccably neo-liberal voices on my news feeds were throwing up their hands in despair at the spectacle of the thousands of people taking to the streets to support Sean Quinn.

Whilst I do not take claims of D4 nefariousness in the Quinn case all that seriously -as though a person described by Fintan O’Toole in Ship of Fools as ‘the canniest businessman in Ireland’ had been simply taken for a ride by a nest of rich Dublin vipers due to his own naivety- there is certainly a morbid interest, on the part of the media and political establishment, in producing yet another spectacle that hinges on the idea of a morally bankrupt population that deserves to have its house put in order by an upstanding ‘technical’ firm hand.

In this spectacle, Quinn and his followers are held up as an example of pervasive moral laxity and a persuasive case for the introduction of yet another round of ‘reforms’ -which always translates into the withdrawal of rights and the intensification of cutbacks and privatisations, as though the Irish State, which on account of its protection of the interests of banks and financial institutions brought about a drop in income of the poorest households by 18% in the last year and a rise in the incomes of the richest households by 4%, were an entity that deserved loyalty and fidelity.

That such a programme of dispossession and impoverishment, entailing extortion of ordinary people to sate the appetites of ‘the markets’, is supported by the main political parties (who will say anything to prolong their own political shelf-life) and the media (who stand squarely behind the interests of a capitalist class that until relatively recently treated Quinn as a hero), is the chief moral obscenity, and we shouldn’t lose sight of it during the relentless coverage of the Quinn case.


The Border’s Benevolent Feudal Lord?

As for the rally itself, Irish nationalism of the 32 county variety is worth considering, both from the standpoint of understanding why the rally took place, but also why it has received so much coverage when so many other protests, rallies and public gatherings and the issues they relate to have been studiously ignored, unless there was some irruption of violence that allowed the assembled to be represented as a dangerous mob.

The Quinns are from Fermanagh, Jarlath Burns and Joe Kernan from Armagh and Mickey Harte from Tyrone were all prominent attendees. Quinn has been a major backer of the GAA -and of course his brother was GAA president at one point.

I doubt very much that all those who turned out this past weekend did so mainly with a view to defend the right of billionaires to gamble away the wealth created for them by wage labourers; at least some will have turned out in defence of what they see is a vital ingredient in any chance of future prosperity for the region, that is, a local businessman whose investments are driven not by the sort of icy cold calculation that keeps capitalism on the go but a kind of benevolent feudalism.

But the nationalist dimension is worth pondering too: the degree of cross-border circulation -or behaving for the most part as if the border did not exist- is something that many people from Dublin don’t get sight of or experience all that much. Quinn’s rise in the 1990s, and the increased prosperity in the places he operated, took place alongside a reduction in tension in border counties with the end of the armed conflict. And since then the GAA in Ulster –as a cross-border organisation- has thrived. I would not underestimate just how much GAA sporting life is part of the fabric of everyday life there. That is something to bear in mind in terms of the politics of this: when Jarlath Burns spoke about the ‘GAA community’ supporting Quinn: he was not talking about a group of people living within the Irish State and bound by its laws but a community that sees itself in the final instance as living beyond the constraints or definition of either jurisdiction in Ireland.

This takes on particular piquancy in the case of Peter Darragh Quinn, who has decided not to bother returning to the Republic of Ireland to face jail time. He might well argue since the border is illegitimate, neither jurisdiction called into being by that border is legitimate (though taken to its logical conclusion that doesn’t augur well for Quinn Jr’s property interests). 


We’ll have none of your class conflict around here: this is a local Empire, for local people

It’s striking how the language of empire rolls so easily off the tongue when it comes to Quinn’s supporters. When people call for Quinn to rebuild his empire, they forget that any emperor has as his corollary imperial subjects (to say nothing of slaves).

People are right to boil it down to a conflict between rich and poor, and in the final analysis it is quite clear which side Sean Quinn would prefer to be on. Nonetheless people still took to the streets in support of Quinn, when it seems unimaginable that they would do so in support of, say, the poorest in those regions who were being driven into desperation from seeing their incomes dropping by 20% over the last year.  This means that ‘we look after our own’ claims from GAA figures who took part –and let’s not forget that a few of them have had substantial and not entirely successful endeavours as participants in the property speculation industry- ought to ring hollow. One only has to go to a county GAA match to see that there are class distinctions in operation there too: for instance, in the choice of pub, or the mode of transport, among other things.

But since everyone wearing the same colours is out supporting the same county, there is a sense of fraternity forged –genuinely felt by some, less so by others- that serves to gloss over disparities in wealth and power, so the likes of Quinn, and it is not just Quinn, but any local potentate, appear on the scene as merely one of the boys (a way in which the GAA resembles the Orange Order a lot more than it would care to admit).

So far, so normal. That is pretty much the way domination has operated in many rural areas of Ireland for a long time. And another part of the sympathy for Quinn can be put down to the way the prominent local businessman is viewed an important community figure not just on account of the businesses he owns but because the owning of those businesses confers him with a certain standing that entails other civic duties. There can be bonds of trust established that appear strange and even ridiculous to people on the outside looking in, but a natural part of life to those who live according to them. And in a border area those things can seem a hell of a lot more important than whatever jurisdiction people are supposed to be living in, since the sense of community transcends the border anyway.

Quinn: Cementing Hegemony

And in such a context, it is Quinn’s earthly localness that provides the cement (no pun intended) for hegemony. The idea that Liberty Insurance or Anglo Irish Bank or whoever it is that takes charge of whatever Quinn concern- should decide to up sticks and move elsewhere, or cut its workforce, or wages and working conditions, appears as an operation conducted by capitalists in the icy water of egotistical calculation, whereas Sean Quinn, operating according to precisely the same rules, is seen, on account of his local connections,  as supporting the community (Marx might have described such a viewpoint as philistine sentimentalism).

But Which Caesar?

As we have seen in media coverage, not only in relation to the Quinn case, but also concerning Denis O’Brien and the household charge, the question of loyalty to the State is coming to the fore. This is to be expected, given that public confidence in Ireland’s constitutional claim to be a democratic state is continually undermined, not only by unelected and anti-democratic bodies such as the ECB, the IMF and the European Commission setting the boundaries of what is permissible, but also by ruling politicians, who simultaneously justify the measures demanded by those bodies as good sense whilst freely admitting that Ireland has lost its sovereignty.

This is where the matter of the border –and rending unto Caesar- really comes into play. For many of those who turned out last weekend, and very many more who would be sympathetic to Sean Quinn, their official status as citizens of the actually existing Irish Republic is little more than a formal nicety, since they live on that side of the border where they are not represented in the Irish parliament nor can they vote in referenda or in Irish presidential elections.

Therefore many of them view the Irish State and its claims to dispense justice with a fair degree of ambivalence -and with some justification, I might add. Did the Irish Caesar ever do anything for its citizens north of the border, in terms of the social and economic policies it enacted, for instance on the question of natural resources, in keeping its claims to be a democratic state for the common good of the Irish nation? It never did, and it never has done. It is no surprise then, that the political and media establishment south of the Border treat any kind of political demand made by such people, or sympathy with them, with deep suspicion. Post Good Friday Agreement, the political and media establishment have a particular conception of citizenship to shore up, and people who incarnate a blurring of formal boundaries, occupying a kind of political no man’s land, are instinctively treated as a sort of threat to stability.

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