‘Today, the idea of democracy is inseparable from the non-payment of debt’

Translation of an article by sociologist Jorge Moruno and philosopher Juan Domingo Sánchez Estop, published today in Público, analysing the present conjuncture in the Spanish state in light of major corruption scandals and the crumbling of the current regime’s legitimacy.


Government resignation – and then what?

The Bárcenas papers are not a simple case of political corruption in which a boss puts his hand in the till and all can be simplified by talking about rotten apples. Beyond the final denoument, what we are faced with is an entire process of putrefaction of the party system that arose from the 1978 assembly (cortes), in which the Partido Popular is the main -but not the only- political exponent of the Spanish real estate-financial bloc which has benefitted so much from these decades of bubble. Some of us have taken to referring to this ruling layer from the political-speculative tandem, which draws together the worst of our society, as a lumpen-oligarchy, thereby highlighting the nature of its policies and the way it puts them into practice.

This modus operandi functions by democratising the idea of the speculating property owner, turning every citizen into a potential entrepreneur with regard to his home or the one she aspires to obtain. The spreading of this idea and its practice brought about a situation in which, for a time, the possibility of social ascent was associated with the negotiating ability of the individual and not with the extension of collective rights and the development of a democratic culture that placed value on what is public. This operation of moving society to the right, based on the ideology of the property owner, always works as long as one can speculate a little bit more. Corruption, then, is not a mere consequence of casino-capitalism; it is also the necessary lubricant for putting it into practice. The common thread between regime politicans, speculators and builders is reflected perfectly in the Bárcenas papers, where many of the donors are now receiving contracts for Madrid hospitals up for privatisation. Corruption -of the systemic kind- is also seen in the way the vice-president of the CEOE (Spanish employers’ body) receives a discount in the cafeterias of public institutions such as universities and ministries, whilst at the very same time he rails against anything that sounds public, even when this sector is his biggest source of payment.

When an entire caste from business -the Rosells, Fernández, Ferrán- and finance -banks, investment funds- gets the support of the political caste of a regime completely removed from citizen feeling in order to traffic in public wealth and services, to speak of corruption is to speak of the decomposition of the entire political edifice as we know it. As such, corruption cannot be reduced merely to people with surnames, but rather, it refers to a widespread and embedded practice, which ends up eroding the legitimacy and the morality of a transition that dates back to 78. The composition of the entire political regime has been altered, but there is no reason why this should translate mechanically into a social transformation that benefits those at the bottom, or entail a pre-revolutionary situation.

This conjuncture of generalised crisis can also be understood as a crisis of authority itself, since it can no longer appear as a ruling class because it cannot establish a minimum consensus and can only maintain itself in the final instance through coercive and repressive domination. The lumpen-oligarchy no longer bothers keeping up appearances and appears in the raw, directly as a mafia. When one no longer directs but simply dominates, the forms and ideologies hitherto installed in the imaginary and in everyday life crumble away, thus opening up the field to the unpredictable. In this indeterminate time, when things are not what they were but nor are they what is coming, an opening onto the unpredictable appears, and with it, the possibility for new combinations to surge forth, for new models, faced with the difficulty of restoring the tried and tested through the path of coercion. It is an essential task to prevent these openings from ending up in the Berlusconian swamp where UPyD or an unpredictable Aguirre would play a degenerative role with regard to democracy.

But this crisis of authority which is now becoming a crisis of the constituted regime, the regime of 78 in our case, equally, and perhaps primarily, affects the left wing forces that have found a place for themselves within the regime. In their favour, and perhaps to their chagrin, they are not completely inserted within the regime, which could become a strength if they are able to take appropriate advantage. The historico-political moment ahead of us does not allow for acting in accordance with a worldview and a prefabricated discourse adapted more to a belief than a testable material reality. With things as they are, the only thing we can be sure of is that in a situation that was not of our choosing, the curtain is being pulled back whilst we are still undressed, leaving us at first unable to put forward alternatives and narratives to the widespread disorientation. Even so, it is of the greatest importance to hold back a train headed straight for collision, to remove it from the line, and to explore new lines, once we have managed to apply the brakes and avoid debacle. The line we must take does not entail reviving formulas that correspond to very different times, realities and compositions, as is the case with ‘mass fronts’. Today there are no mass organisations such as those of the 20th century, nor can the reality of antagonism be defined by a limited and inadequate call for left unity.

To draw together all that exists beneath an umbrella bearing the brand “Left” serves to centralise plurality and at the same time proves of little political use. To flood the discursive frames ingrained on the left means to give new meaning to the potency that the left once held. To reject any other possibility and automatically interpret in it an anti-political or even fascist tendency amounts to a grave political error that exudes stiffness, conservatism and, as a consequence, the belief that metaphors and symbols are timeless entities and not the product of material times and the people in whom they originate. Lenin took Marx to Petrograd not to recite psalms, but in spite of the insults and every manner of accusation he had received from those of the saddest passions. One could say the same about the Cuban revolution, or the current Latin American processes that have found the official left to be politically clumsy when not an obstacle.

In these conditions, to be responsible can only mean going on the offensive and breaking off with good manners and niceties; to be responsible today, more than ever, is to break off with those at the top (los de arriba) and open up to those at the bottom (los de abajo), but without repeating supposed self-justified truths that leave us nearer to the parochial house than to politics. Today, the idea of democracy is inseparable from the non-payment of debt, from breaking with and holding back the country’s impoverishment and social destruction. We need to apply a triple A for debt, using different criteria to those usually imposed by ratings agencies: Audit (auditoría), Cancellation (anulación), Alternatives (alternativas) are our AAA. To place the debt at the centre of the debate is to place emphasis on access to housing, public services and to think about labour flexibility not as precarity or unemployment, but as access to a continuous income when jobs are discontinuous.

Protests and waves (mareas) must be at once functional in their own spheres and protagonists of a change, since they represent the true value of politics through conflict. The presence of new candidates and organisations in institutions and the development of the movement’s own democratic institutions need not be incompatible; what is more, both should feed back upon each other in a process that is constituent in scope. This will not happen in the way that this relation has been understood until now; the hatred of democracy practiced by European and Spanish elites can be fought only if this combination is taken into account. Mobilisation, democracy, and candidacies which manage to draw together and interpret in a vivid way the totality of social aspirations and frustrations in terms of radical democracy, would be the different aspects of an enormous ¡sí se puede!

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