Monthly Archives: February 2013

Poll: Do you feel more positive about Ireland’s economic situation? – A Response.

A response I posted to The Journal’s regime-bolstering daily rounds of mind orientation known as the ‘opinion poll’.

It’s all good.

The figures recently released by the European Commission, showing that nearly 40% of Irish children are living at risk of poverty, can only do wonders for Ireland’s competitiveness. Even better, these figures date from 2010, so that percentage hopefully has risen. Foreign direct investors will be cheered at the prospect of a hungry young workforce. The desperation of their parents to find a job can only be good for labour market reform. They could be given more encouragement by relieving them of the burden of having to receive benefits, but all in due course.

Employers will certainly be relieved at the latest example of flexibility shown by the trade union movement. Hopefully this will give our successful entrepreneurs the encouragement they need to conduct an all-out assault on those things that hold the economy back, such as the obligation to pay workers. Thankfully, our successful entrepreneurs have been ably supported in this by the Labour Party and Joan Burton, whose efforts to abolish paid labour via the JobBridge scheme have not been appreciated.

Emigration is another plus. There is nothing like a constant outflow of young people to keep unemployment down. They are much better off abroad eating at soup kitchens in Australia than hanging around here and getting all upset. People have taken far too negative a view of emigration. People, like live cattle, are one of the finest exports of Ireland’s economy, and they ought to be measured as such. They should also be transported in crates too, in order to keep costs down.

Best of all, the fact that it has now been decided officially that citizens of Ireland are unfit to decide what way they want the economy to operate, with the final say now going to the European Commission, means that we don’t have to worry any more about democracy affecting profitability.

Yes, folks, 2013 is the year stability returns to Ireland’s economy.

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Translation: Bifo: “The defeat of the anti-Europe begins in Italy”

Bifo

This is a rushed translation of an interview with Franco Berardi (Bifo), conducted by Amador Fernández-Savater for the Interferencias blog on eldiario.es, published 27th February.

What is the context in which the Italian elections have taken place?

The political disintegration of Europe. Europe was born as a project of peace and social solidarity, taking up the legacy of the socialist and internationalist culture that opposed fascism. In the 90s, finance capital’s major centres of power decided to destroy the European model and the signing of the Maastricht Treaty unleashed the neo-liberal assault. In the last three years, the anti-Europe of the ECB and Deutsche Bank seized the opportunity of the 2008 financial crisis in the US to transform the cultural diversity of the European continent (its Protestant culture, gothic and communitarian, its Catholic culture, baroque and individualist, its spiritualist and iconoclastic orthodoxy) into a factor of political disintegration of the European Union; and above all in order to make labour resistance bow completely before capitalist globalisation. The drastic cutting of wages, the elimination of the 8 hour limit to a working day, labour precarity among young people, the postponement of retirement for older people and the privatisation of services. The European population has to pay the debt accumulated by the financial system because debt functions as a gun pointed at the backs of workers.

We are at a historic turning point.

Two things can happen. Either the labour movement can stop this offensive and set in gear a process of social reconstruction of the European Union, or  in the next decade civil war will break out in many parts of Europe, fascism will spread everywhere and labour will be subjected to 19th century conditions of exploitation.

What has the Italian electorate had to say about this alternative?

75% of the Italian electorate has said NO to the European project of Merkel-Draghi-Monti: 25% abstained; 25% voted for Beppe Grillo’s 5 Star Movement; and the other 25% voted for the party of the mafia and fascism, for the most brilliant swindler in history, Berlusconi, the sworn enemy of Angela Merkel because the mafia cannot accept economic rule from Berlin. The Italian elections are a response that can evolve in a positive direction or a catastrophic one. It depends on the progressives, on the intellectuals and the autonomous social movements of the continent, it depends on us.

What is your analysis of the Grillo phenomenon?

Beppe Grillo’s movement is the novelty in these elections. It has picked up votes mainly from the left movements, but it has also gathered votes on the right. Beppe Grillo has said repeatedly that his movement would steal votes from the right and it has achieved this. I do not believe the 5 Star Movement will be able to govern Italy, that is not the point. The important and positive function that the Movement can have is to make the country ungovernable for the anti-European party of Draghi-Merkel-Monti. The Italian electorate has said: we will not pay the debt. Default. Europe’s financial governability has ended, even if Berlusconi and Bersani reach an agreement in order to survive and keep impoverishing the country by transferring resources and wealth to the financial system. That agreement has no future, it will not last. But it is then that the worst can begin.

 

What do you have in mind?

The financial class will try to strangle Italy as it has done with Greece. The political crisis will be turbulent and violent. The result may be frightening. The mafia and fascism have shown they control 35% of the Italian electorate and the left no longer exists. The idea of the North’s secession will re-appear even with the Lega Nord’s collapse.

 

Do you see an alternative?

Yes, a process of liberating Europe from the violence of finance capital could also begin – the reconstruction of Europe on a social basis. Outside the political schemas of the 20th century, there could arise everywhere an unconventional movement for organised default and productive autonomy. An occupation momvement could transform universities into sites of practical research for finding post-capitalist solutions. The factories, which finance capital wants to destroy, could be occupied and self-managed, as was done in Argentina after 2001. The squares could be occupied so that they became sites of permanent debate.

 

This movement of society that you propose, would it have any programme?

The programme was set forth by Beppe Grillo, a programme which, despite what the professional liars of La Repubblica say, is very reasonable:

-A citizen wage

-Reduction of the working week to 30 hours.

-The restitution to schools of the 8 billion dollars that the Berlusconi government stole from the education system.

-Good working conditions for all precarious workers in education, health and transport.

-Nationalisation of banks that have favoured speculation at the cost of the community.

-Immediate abolition of the fiscal pact.

 

There are those who say that Grillo’s party administers the absence of movements in Italy and reproduces it.

I don’t agree with that. Must everyone stay still when society is unable to move? We shouldn’t complain because someone else is practising politics in our space, but rather practise politics and create a movement. Grillo’s party has prevented the government of financial dictatorship. Now it is the turn for the movement of society. Will society have the necessary energy and intelligence to self-manage social life with a movement of generalised occupation? If we don’t have that energy, we deserve the disaster that will come.

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Democracy in Ireland: A Response to Fintan O’Toole

Dictadura_y_miedo_el_roto

‘A few drops of fear are always handy for consolidating democracies’

This is a response I left on the Irish Times website to an article by Fintan O’Toole titled ‘Repression shaped our past’ (but not our present, sub-editor?).

Fintan O’Toole says the Irish system of institutional incarceration was ‘extreme for any democratic society’ but stresses that he isn’t suggesting Ireland was a totalitarian dictatorship on a par with Stalinist Russia. Fine. But this raises the question for me of the criteria used to classify Ireland as a democratic society.  

 It strikes me as nigh on impossible to describe any society that installed such brutal measures in the interests of religious, social and moral “purity” as democratic, whatever the claims made by such a society’s political institutions. North Korea officially designates itself as a democratic republic, but few people take this claim seriously, for obvious reasons. So why should we take the description of Ireland as a democratic society -or, as a democratic state, as its constitution puts it- at all seriously? 

 If you look at the recent history of the other PIIGS countries, you see dictatorships and long periods of rule by reactionary conservative forces. In Ireland, there is no formal dictatorship (even if the main ruling party has roots in fascism and even if there was strong support in Ireland for Francoist Spain). But there were ‘institutions of confinement’ as ‘the most prominent buildings in many Irish towns’, as the author puts it. 

 Should we assume, then, that in Ireland there was democracy operating in its political institutions at the very time that such a brutal carceral regime was in force? With any other country, I think most Irish people would give the answer a resounding ‘No’. But with their own country, with the State that they are supposed to give some service, as the popular refrain lifted from Othello puts it, they think the parliament is a legitimate democratic institution, and that if ruling politicians heaped a mountain of illegitimate private banking debt on the population, and strip away whatever provisions there are for a modicum of dignified living in order to do so, well, that’s something up with which we just have to put. Because that’s democracy.  

 Or is it adaptation?

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Unyielding, Indispensable

The other day I published a translation of the first communiqué from #AcampadaMérida, or Campamento Dignidad (‘Camp Dignity’). What follows is a translation of a short text from John Brown, originally published 22nd February, in support of the camp.

Acampada Mérida: The unyielding, the indispensable

Merida

At times, the important things do not take place at the centre of the monsters we know as modern States. Within those political structures, the capital plays a central role, since it is, in both senses of the word, the main stage for representation. Representative politics and spectacle meet up in the space that takes on the role of the centre. However, life, the life of people, flows through other channels distant from the spectacle and from representation. Today life is painful for many people, they lack housing, income that allows for a dignified life, freedom. That pain cannot be seen in the grand representations of the capital, but it is far more noticeable in small spaces: in the neighbourhoods or regions on the periphery seldom spoken about on television.

Hurdas

In Extremadura, this social and personal pain, this moral pain too, is very intense. The indicators of unemployment, poverty, child poverty and exclusion are alarming. They are among the highest not only in Spain, but in Europe, surpassing those of Greece or Romania. The region itself is not among the poorest, but it is among the most unequal, the most unjust, and it has been this way for a long time. Everyone remembers the scenes from Land Without Bread (Las Hurdes) filmed by Buñuel. Fewer recall  those of the land occupations by dispossessed peasants in the 1930s. Also in the collective memory lies the brutal class vengeance exacted by Yagüe and his hordes against the Extremaduran peasants called “moors of the North” by the troops from Army of Africa and its bloodthirsty officials. Those moors of the North were treated like the moors of the south, with the brutality displayed by those little lords toward those whom they despise and fear, with the brutality of an internal colonial army. The villages of Extremadura were turned into Kabyles of the Rif, and exterminated with fury.

In Extremadura a great deal of memory persists, because in Extremadura, misery and repression, and the inequality that is an insult to dignity, are not mere things of the past. The deaths of the present, the sufferings of this past that does not end, are today the work of cold mechanisms that expel people from their homes, deprive them of their means for living by taking away their jobs and eliminating other sources of income. Within this frame, Dignity has been lifting its head for some years now, with organisations such as the Platform for a Basic Income. Comrades in the Platform have begun, away from the centre of the State, distant from the gaze of the press and the regime’s television channels, a camp at the doors of the Extremaduran Employment Office. The camp demands above all two things: decent employment and a basic income. Through work, or, if not, through a guaranteed income independent of work. It is not an extravagant demand but an indispensable one, unless it is wished that entire swathes of the population should succumb to desperation, and plunge into civil death. Hence the name of the camp -‘Dignity’- which is the other side of outrage in the face of an inhuman plundering regime.

An embrace to all those who are camping: you are the unyielding ones, the indispensable ones.

Hiredknave

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The Labour Party: Hatred of Democracy

The remarks by Colm Keaveney TD comparing the group of protesters in Dundalk to Golden Dawn whilst describing them as ‘neanderthals’ -an expression that recalls precisely the fascist perspective he claims to oppose- are the latest salvo in the assault on truth conducted by the Labour Party. 

Labour and its supporters have repeatedly resorted to describing loud and rambunctious -though not at all dangerous- protests as ‘anti-democratic’ and attacks on free speech, and so on. Frequent references are being made to fascism and Nazism. The shameless arrogance and ignorance of such a stance, in the context of brutal attacks on the livelihood of working class people -which Labour claims the government is conducting in the name of the Irish people in the ‘national interest’, is all too unsurprising. 

It is important to bear in mind though that this isn’t just an attempt by Labour flunkies to shore up legitimacy for its actions in government, but an implicit call for the police to batter such protestors.

Given this context it is important to highlight and emphasise, in public, on the one hand, the seething hatred of democracy that such a stance demonstrates; and, on the other hand, the impeccable democratic legitimacy of protesters who disrupt and frustrate a regime bent on stripping away wages, benefits and public services in order to sate insatiable financial loan sharks.

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Braised Rabbit, State Violence and Deprivation

This is a comment I left on an Irish Times article -no link, usual story- about the responsibility of poor people for eating unhealthy food. It suggested that it ought to be possible to provide healthy nutritious food to children even if you are impoverished, on account of the fact that the author knew one poor family in particular who, years ago, displayed great inventiveness in putting food on the table, including 'wild puffball mushrooms or braised rabbit'. I am not making this up.


In the author's attempt at myth-busting so as to épater les bourgeois, she has installed a myth of her own. The myth is that 'no-one is forcing less-well off people to buy and eat this guff'.

This is only true in so far as there is no-one standing in the supermarket or convenience store threatening physical violence if they do not buy cheap frozen burgers.

However, what would happen if a parent chose -through the autonomy and agency that this author wishes to attribute to them- to lift an organic chicken and walk out of Tesco's whilst throwing the cashier the couple of euro she had in her pocket that she might otherwise spend on cheap food? She would be arrested, and possibly even jailed. Therefore the threat of State violence places limits on people's food choices, and what they feed to their children. The 'therapeutic, protective intervention from the state' the author decries would all be in the service of Tesco.

In the 'Society of the Great Middle-Class Newspaper', such limits are seen as entirely natural and organic. If you can't feed your children properly, it's your own responsibility.

But official figures recently released show that more than a quarter of people in this State are experiencing enforced deprivation. Enforced: that means they are literally forced into it. But let's forget about what that means, about how the choices of the powerful are serving to enforce that deprivation -through cuts in wages and welfare payments, through privileging the health of the financial sector over the health of the public- and let's pretend that being poor is all part of the natural order.

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Boaventura de Sousa Santos: Ninth Letter to the Lefts

Translation of an article by Portuguese sociologist Boaventura de Sousa Santos, the Spanish translation of which, by Antoni Jesús Aguiló y José Luis Exeni Rodríguez, was originally published in Rebelión on 21st February.

Basura

(“Holy God! How do you clean up so much trash?”)

Ninth Letter to the Lefts

2013 in Europe will be a disaster on the social level and unpredictable on the political level. Will European governments, especially those of the south, create the stability that allows them to finish their mandate or will there be political crises that force them to call advance elections? Let’s say that each one of these hypotheses has a probability of 50%. This being the case, citizens must rest assured that whatever political instability that might arise is the price to pay so that an alternative power, and not just a changing of the guard in power, might come about. Can the lefts build this alternative? Yes, but only if they transform themselves and unite, which is demanding a great deal in little time.

Here is my contribution toward the creation of this alternative. First of all, the lefts must focus on the welfare of citizens and not on how creditors might react. History shows that financial capital and multilateral instituions (IMF, ECB, World Bank, European Commission) are only rigid to the extent that circumstances do not oblige them to be flexible. Secondly, what historically unites the lefts is the defence of the strong Welfare State: obligatory and free public education; a universal and free state health service; sustainable social security with a pensions system based on the principle of redistribution and not capitalisation; the nationalisation of strategic assets and natural monopolies (water, postal services)

The differences among the lefts are considerable, but they do not prevent this basic convergence that always determined the electoral preferences of the popular classes. It is true that the right also contributed to the Welfare State (one need only recall Bismarck in Prussia), but always under pressure from the lefts, and it withdrew when pressure reduced, as is the case, for more than thirty years, in Europe. The defence of the strong Welfare State must be the greatest priority and it must shape the rest. The Welfare State is not sustainable without development. In that sense, if divergences do arise in terms of ecology, science or flexicurity at work, the basic agreement on development is unequivocal and as such constitutes the second priority to unite the lefts. Since the safeguarding of the Welfare State is a priority, everything must be done to guarantee investment and job creation.

And here is where the third priority that must unite the lefts arises. If guaranteeing the Welfare State and development requires renegotiating with the Troika and other creditors, then this renegotiation must be carried out with determination. That is, the hierarchy of priorities shows clearly that it is not the Welfare State that must adapt to the conditions of the Troika; on the contrary, it should be the latter who adapt to the priority of maintaining the Welfare State. This is a message that both citizens and creditors will understand well, albeit for different reasons.

In order for unity of the lefts to have political success, three factors must be considered: risk, credibility and opportunity. With regard to risk, it is important to show that the risks are not greater than those that European citizens are already running: those of the south, a greater impoverishment chained to periphery status, providing cheap labour to developed Europe; and those in general, progressive loss of rights in the name of austerity, higher unemployment, and democracies held captive by finance capital. The risk of an alternative is a calculated risk with the purpose of testing the conviction with which the European project is being safeguarded.

Credibility is rooted, on the one hand, in the conviction and seriousness with which the alternative is formulated, and the democratic support it can count on, and, on the other, in having shown the capacity to make sacrifices in good faith (Greece, Ireland and Portugal are an example of this). It is only sacrifices imposed in bad faith that are not accepted, sacrifices imposed as maximum demands merely to open up roads to greater sacrifices.

And the opportunity is there to be seized. The widespread outrage, expressed en masse in the streets, squares, social networks, workplaces, health centres, educational institutions, among other spaces, has not come together as a social bloc capable of rising to the challenges that circumstances are posing. The current context of crisis requires a new politics of popular fronts at a local, state and European level made up of a heterogeneous plurality of subjects, social movements, NGOs, universities, public institutions, governments, among other actors who, united in their diversity, prove capable, through flexible forms of organisation, articulation and action, of achieving a major unity in action and purpose.

The objective is to unite the forces of the left in democratic alliances that are structurally similar to those that constituted the basis for the anti-fascist fronts in the inter-war period, with which there are worrying similarities. Two of these must be mentioned: the deep financial and economic crisis and the overwhelming pathologies of representation (widespread crisis in political parties and their inability to represent the interests of the popular classes) and of participation (the feeling that voting changes nothing). The danger of social fascism and its effects, which are felt more and more, creates the need for a formation of fronts capable of struggling against the fascist threat and of mobilising society’s sleeping democratic energies. At the start of the 21st century, these fronts must emerge from below, from the most articulated politicisation of the outrage that flows in our streets.

To wait without hope is the worst curse that can befall a people. And hope is not invented: it is built with dissent, capable rebellion and real alternatives to the current situation.

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