Monthly Archives: February 2013

On Ireland’s Mission Civilisatrice in Mali

This is a response to an editorial entitled 'Mission to Mali' published by the Irish Times, on the subject of Ireland's participation in a joint deployment in Mali alongside British forces.

Imagine if during the past 40 years the British Army had decided to bomb the Bogside and West Belfast from the air in order to ‘defeat the brutal militias’ who were ‘terrorising its population’. Imagine if the Irish Times welcomed such aerial bombing, describing it, in the clinical term it uses here, as an ‘intervention’. The situation is somewhat different, but not the impact on human life of such bombing.  
 
For all the affinity the Irish Times feels with the United Kingdom, a visiting martian might think the recent history of the British Army in Ireland would still inform its analysis of colonial powers re-asserting themselves in other parts of the world, affording it some degree of critical scepticism. But what do martians know anyway?  
 
What is ‘normalised’ relations with ‘the British’ these days? Prince Harry, the grandson of the monarch, so fulsomely welcomed to the 26 counties, is exalted as a hero for blowing Afghans to bits with an Apache helicopter (perhaps EADS may introduce a helicopter called ‘Fenian’ one of these days), and you can be arrested for posting a picture of a burning poppy on the internet. Meanwhile, there is a whopping great MI5 headquarters, just up the road in Belfast. Does Ireland have a whopping great military intelligence headquarters somewhere in Norfolk? 
 
What is stunning –and near criminally stupid- about this piece is how it pretends that the United Kingdom is in any position to teach anyone anything about human rights. If the United Kingdom were a planet from another galaxy, you could understand the Irish Times getting the wrong end of the stick. But there are ample examples of the grossest human rights abuses, including indefinite internment without trial, torture, and murder, perpetrated by British state forces in Ireland. These abuses continue right up to the present, as illustrated in the case of the incarceration of Marian Price. What is more, they are well known to many people, even to those who live in a bubble in and around Dublin 2.  
 
Many such abuses will never be investigated. What this joint deployment shows is that the Irish government –and by extension the Irish establishment- is concerned more with defending the interests of former colonial powers abroad –their access to uranium, for instance, in the case of Mali- than it is with justice for people in Ireland. And the victims of such ‘interventions’, as far as they are concerned, do not even exist.

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Intolerable Democratic Freedoms: A response to John Bruton

This is a slightly extended version of a comment I left in response to an article by former Taoiseach and current chief IFSC lobbyist John Bruton published in today's Irish Times. No link, for the usual reasons.

If you seriously believe ‘the people’ have the right to force a woman to give birth, you are saying that a woman’s body is the property of the State to do with it as it wishes. So on reading this, I ask myself whether John Bruton’s commitment to forcing women to give birth is on account of religious conviction, or more earthly concerns. A loosening of legislation on abortion in Ireland would mean a loosening of the State’s claim over women’s bodies.

‘The people’ that appears in the constitution is largely the creation of men, in particular, privileged men such as John Bruton. This can be seen in the way the constitution designates women as subalterns, with their role in society carefully and piously organised in terms of their duties in the home. Similarly, the concept of ‘equal right to life’ of the mother and the unborn arises from the notion that a woman’s body is the State’s to dissect as it sees fit, not from the notion that women ought to have autonomy when it comes to their own bodies.  As that renowned benefactor of commercial property to the Catholic Church, Benito Mussolini might say, Tutto nello Stato, niente al di fuori dello Stato

Yes, it is rather rich of John Bruton to be talking about human rights and constitutions as if he had any interest in them beyond the possibility of using them for purposes of control and domination. His only interest in constitutions is when they can be used anti-democratically.

Bruton is the head of the lobby for the IFSC, an entity that assists with the suffocation of public finances for schools and hospitals and social services –the very things that allow human rights to be realised- by seeing to it that corporations can ratchet down the amount of taxes they have to pay. Contrary to his claims here about wanting constitutional simplicity, he had no trouble advocating the constitutionalising of structural balances in the so-called Stability Treaty campaign. He did this because it prioritised debt repayment to the financial sector over schools and hospitals and social services, and because it laid the basis for the kind of starkly right-wing society he and his ideological bedfellows across Europe –such as Jose Maria Aznar in Spain, fervently desire.

But the achievement of such a society requires control –often obsessive control- in the face of popular discomfort and resistance. The idea that the State might give up some of that control is anathema to the likes of Fine Gael in general and John Bruton in particular. I suspect that is why John Bruton wants a continuation of Ireland’s draconian abortion laws, just as he called for a heavily regulated environment for social media and just as he called for strict controls on the decade of centenary commemorations in Ireland – because there comes a point when the thought of real democratic freedoms proves simply intolerable.

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Baptism Ceremonies At The Hotel California

I was sitting in Mass one day. I can't remember precisely where, or precisely when, but since I was sitting in Mass, it was in Ireland, and a long time ago. There was a priest giving a homily, and everyone was asleep, and I was probably conjugating French verbs in my head or something. Then the priest said something that made me prick up my ears. He said "now I'm sure a lot of you are sitting there thinking, what is this eejit on about, sure I didn't sign up to any of this? I didn't ask my parents to baptise me in the Catholic faith?" A pause, and then he said, with a hint of relish and malice: "Ah, but didn't ye renew your baptismal vows with your confirmation?"

Did we? Did I? My own confirmation experience consisted of a man reading the story of Fatima to the class, since he thought that the confirmation lessons were a load of nonsense and he wouldn't be able to hold the attention of our 10 and 11 year old minds. It would have been more fruitful, I imagine he thought, to enthrall us with the story of the foul and terrifying visions of hell that one of the children witnessed, and the secrets Mary had told the children, one of which entailed the conversion of Russia, or something. So what the priest was saying to teenage me sounded like a load of bollocks. How could I have renew my baptismal vows when I scarcely had any idea what I was getting myself into? This was before the age of clicking on End User Agreements and other automatic acceptances that any rights or claims you may have to anything are thereby rendered null and void, and before the time I was legally able to sign contracts. Though not, come to think of it, confidentiality declarations under Canon Law in the event that I ever became the victim of clerical sex abuse. Thankfully, no such need ever arose.

Somewhere, I can't remember where exactly, Marxist critic Terry Eagleton says one of the problems with Catholicism in Ireland is that Irish Catholics were never taught enough about Catholicism in order to repudiate it properly. I think he's right about this, as my experiences mentioned above illustrate. Clearly, what I was taught -if you can even call it 'taught'- is rubbish. But is it just Catholic teaching? What if this not being told the full story about things -or at least a story compelling enough that you can set about rejecting it- extended into other spheres of thought? Like, for instance, politics?

I am bringing this up because I spent quite a while yesterday reading through the comments on a very well-written article by Irish Times columnist Fintan O'Toole on the 'normalised freak show' of Anglo Irish debt, about how private banking debt has been transformed into sovereign debt (I'm not linking to the article as I can't be bothered writing to the Irish Times for permission to provide the link).

A visiting alien might arrive in Ireland and, on learning about how the public has had the private debts of bankers transformed into sovereign debt, and that this debt burden will lead to the evisceration of Ireland's social infrastructure, its schools, its hospitals, its welfare services, might conclude that there is something gravely wrong with Ireland's political institutions.

The alien need not be some kind of radical communist from the future to conclude that such a polity could not, by any stretch of the imagination, be called democratic, despite the formal constitutional declaration that it is a democratic state. She-He-It might also conclude that the only way to resolve the issue would be for people injured by such a situation -the majority- to look at the way the political institutions operate -to whom do they listen? In whose interests do they act?- and decide on some forms of collective organisation and action that might remedy the situation.

She-he-it would then be puzzled to find that the situation is a great deal more fragmented than that.

She-he-it would encounter many people who have passed into numb resignation. One person says 'Unlike Hotel California where you could check out anytime you like and never leave! The option we still have is emigration. And seeing that the last vestiges of hope has gone it is an option we should all seriously consider!'. Another person says: "It seems that nobody on the corrupt little island is bothered either way. The wasters in The Dail can go about their daily business untouched. The streets are quiet apart from a little parade the other day all jovial and all that. All`s fine there looking at it from abroad." Another person says "God this is so depressing. I really hate this country and all our bloody politicians. I would so love to emigrate, leave the whole place to the bankers and the politicians and let them pay the debt they created."

She-he-it would encounter many others who believe that the political institutions themselves are fine, the means of decision-making are fine, and the real problem is the fact that folks just vote for the wrong people. What is more, they will go back to voting for the wrong people (Fianna Fáil), again. Therefore the people -like a twelve year old who condemned himself to a life of guilt, and eternal damnation in the hereafter, when he renewed his baptismal vows at confirmation- are to blame for the entire situation. Thus they must pay the debt.

But guilt here is not conferred by the all-conquering glare of an omniscient God-Policeman, but by the demands of the all-powerful earthly Sovereign whose origin is, well, a bit shady.

A person says -and this is quite representative of what many people think, not just people with the time on their hands to be leaving comments on websites:

I continue to find it surprising, just how little respect so many people like FOT (Fintan O'Toole) have for the concept of democracy and the institutions of the state. 
 
There seems to be total indignation at the idea in Ireland, that people might actually be held responsible for their democratic voting decisions. But this is how democracy, and the concept of the nation, works. 
 
Democracy is predicated on the idea that the 'will of the people' is spoken during election. That as a nation, we collectively make decision on our shared destiny, and make choices on the direction of the nation. 
 
FOT would absolve the voters of all responsibility for their actions. He, and others like him, are creating a caricature of a democratic nation, where people should only be willing to accept rights and privileges in a democratic nation. But are allowed reject the grown up stuff like responsibility and obligations. 

You have to do this because you made that vow at your confirmation. This is what many people think, or, if they do not think like this, what they have to contend with, any time they turn on the news or read the analysis of a political correspondent. Politics is representative democracy, nothing more. This, by the way, is also what the General Secretary of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions thinks too. Even as social democracy collapses across Europe in a giant fondue of contradictions, incoherence, and money-grubbing managerialism, and even as parliaments enact legislation gutting social and labour rights at the behest of the European Central Bank -or in the service of their local compradors- David Begg says that the trade union movement should not challenge the decisions made by the Irish parliament. Civil disobedience, you see, is for Trotskyites.

I responded to that person above like this:

Sorry, this is rubbish. Democracy has nothing to do with the concept of the nation. Democracy is not a form of state. Democracy is not predicated on the idea that the 'will of the people' is spoken during election. This is a particular notion of democracy, based on Hobbes's conception of the sovereign: those individuals who make up 'the people' must surrender any right of their own to the sovereign, who acts on their behalf. According to this conception of the sovereign I must accept that Leo Varadkar and Phil Hogan and so on are carrying out my will for the duration of an election term, even as they dismantle each and any provision that allows for a modicum of democratic equality.

But much as I might wish it otherwise, leaving the odd comment here and there on websites is not really going to change people's minds.

Not only is there an economic, material, crisis placing more and more people in states of enforced deprivation and poverty, as the Central Statistics Office revealed today, but there is also a political crisis.

There are at least two dimensions to the political crisis. One is in institutional terms. The parliament has a kind of zombie legitimacy: its ruling parties legislate while drunk, and responsibility is leveled at 'the politicians' by mass media, and large sections of the public who look on aghast. But there is also a political crisis in terms of language.

We have not developed the vocabulary, or the experience, or been able to set aside the time, to find words for what is going on. Imagine you go to a doctor, and he asks you what the matter is, and you say, well, "this thing here hurts". And in reply he says, "ah, I see. The problem is that your thing is hurty. So we will have to give you some stuff for it and do some things with it. And then the hurty thing is going to be less hurty, sometime, maybe, probably, in the future". No-one would accept this kind of communication was a decent way of practising medicine. But somehow we assume the way we talk and think about things now is adequate to the task of political emancipation. Well it isn't. We need new spaces, new dynamics, for this kind of thing to happen. Otherwise we'll just keep on renewing the same old vows.

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#occupypropertytax, Phil Hogan, and the search for scapegoats

The night before Paul Murphy and other CAWHT campaigners were assaulted by undercover police whilst engaging in democratic protest in council buildings that belong to the public, a house in Ballyshannon, Co. Donegal was burnt down in an arson attack. The house had been bought by Donegal County Council to house a Traveller family. Racist remarks had been made by local councillors about the housing of Travellers in the area. One Fine Gael councillor said “as far as I’m concerned they can be sent to Spike Island for all I care”, in support of comments by a Fianna Fáil councillor that “there should be an isolated community of them some place – and give them houses and keep them all together”.

Some months ago, it was revealed that Phil Hogan, Minister for the Environment, who is also the minister responsible for the introduction of property and water taxes, had made racist representations to the council in his local constituency, on behalf of constituents who wanted to make sure Travellers were not allowed to move in to the local area. This blatantly racist abuse of power by Hogan received scarcely any public censure, and Hogan was allowed to continue in his current role.

The fact that Hogan was -and is- allowed to continue in his post is one of the contributing factors to the arson attack in Donegal. The failure to censure him -he should have lost his job, at the very least- has set a precedent. It has shown that blatant racist abuse can be perpetrated by public representatives, with impunity. That Hogan -who received a preferential loan from Michael Fingleton, let’s not forget- remains where he is shows the determination of Ireland’s ruling caste -including the ICTU leadership- to ram through the Troika programme, regardless of the destructive effects on the population, and without any fear of the consequences for whoever gets singled out as a scapegoat, or gets beaten up by the cops, or gets burnt out of their homes.

Those who stand against the dismantling of Ireland’s already emaciated welfare state, the stripping away of social and labour rights, and permanent kleptocracy, can expect no protection or support from the likes of David Begg, the president of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions. In an interview with the public broadcaster on Sunday, Begg voiced support for the property tax. He said that its implementation was the democratic decision of parliament. He said his people would not be joining the ‘Trotskyists’ who are always trying to interfere with what ICTU does.

I said in a previous post that ICTU does not take democracy seriously. That is far too benign a judgement in light of Begg’s words, and in light of ICTU’s anti-German posturing on Saturday. They take democracy seriously all right, but only as an alibi for repression and robbery. They have no problem with the expropriators taking what they please, just as long as it is conducted in the name of the Irish people. Anyone who stands in the way of the sovereign – ‘Trotskyists’, anti-property tax campaigners, whoever – can be crushed like bugs for all they care.

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The German establishment and the crisis in Spain

I am publishing this translation of a piece by Vicenç Navarro, originally published in Público on 7th of February, not because I think it contains anything new -anyone familiar with his work will be conscious of his constant repetition of the same themes and the same rigid terminology, making him a rather tedious writer to translate-, or because I believe in social democratic Keynesianism as a political programme, but because it illustrates precisely the kind of cross-border thinking and engagement with the populations of other countries in Europe that is utterly lacking from the Irish context. Also Germany’s role in the establishment of Spain’s fascist dictatorship, and the consequences of that, are all too easily forgotten.  It is a translation from the Spanish of the original German article written for Kulturaustausch.

The responsibility of the German establishment in the Spanish crisis

The fact that a German publication should have invited me to write an article on the policies promoted by the German government that affect Spain (among other countries), an article that will be published in a forum aimed at the German intellectual and cultural world, forces me to speak with complete frankness, since we are talking about how one country sees the other, and how this affects the public policies pursued by their governments.

Spain is currently in a deeply difficult situation, with a very high unemployment rate, which is engulfing various generations. There is enormous suffering and fear of the present and of the future among the popular classes. The high number of suicides among those who are evicted from their homes is an indicator of this suffering, which is reaching desperate levels. The public policies promoted by the financial, economic, political and media establishments in Spain consist of cutbacks and more cutbacks to public spending, including welfare spending, and making it easier for business owners to sack workers. All this sacrifice is presented as necessary in order to get the public deficit down and inspire the financial markets with confidence, thereby permitting the Spanish State to borrow money at lower interest rates than those it is paying now, and to pay off its growing public debt. The Spanish State is a poor State, with highly regressive fiscal policies, and very little redistribution. A consequence of this is that services and transfer payments from the Welfare State are very poor. Its social spending per inhabitant is one of the lowest in the Eurozone and the cuts are impoverishing it even more.

This situation is due to the huge domination the conservative forces (the heirs of the previous dictatorial state) have had over the Spanish State in the last seventy years. The banking sector, captains of industry, the Church and the Army, who were the backers of the fascist coup in 1936, have been the dominant forces during all these years in Spain, both during the dictatorship and during the democratic period. I have documented in numerous publications the major responsibility such forces have held for Spain’s social and economic development.

Whilst all this is going on, it is worth asking how German financial, industrial, media and political establishments view the situation in Spain. And let’s be frank. Reading the German press, one gets the impression that these establishments (via the broadcast media they control, which are many) see the Spanish people in a deep crisis, resulting from having spent well beyond their means. This is the kindest reading of the reality in Spain made by these German establishments. But a more frequently recurring one, which appears in the popular press is that the Spanish working class has too many rights, it is unproductive, it does not work enough and a long volley of observations in that vein that are more in the category of insults than that of credible facts. It is easy to see from empirical data that his perception is mistaken. The productivity of the Spanish worker (standardising for unit of production and productive sector) is not very different from that of the German worker. But this image is doubly offensive since apart from being untrue, it hides Germany’s responsibility in the genesis of the crisis that Spanish society finds itself in.

 

German responsibilities in the genesis and persistence of the crisis in Spain

In reality, the German establishment plays a large part in the situation that Spain finds itself in. Let’s start with the history. The German establishment played a key role in the victory of fascism in Spain. Without the help of Hitler, chosen by the German people, General Franco’s military coup against a democratic State would not have succeeded and the installment of a fascist dictatorship would not have taken place. The evidence for this is overwhelming, despite the arguments from revisionist historians who always resort to equal weighting, of justification and resources, between the mis-named sides on the Civil War inorder to place equal weight upon the responsibilities on both sides of the conflict. It was the German establishment that played a key role in the establishment of one of the most bloody dictatorships there has been in Europe. Even the Gestapo advisers, who acted as consultants to the dictatorship, were surprised by the force of the repression.

It was this fascist dictatorship, made possible by aid received from Nazi Germany, which is the origin of the present situation, since this regime imposed on the Spanish people implanted a productive structure and financial system that led us, when democracy arrived, into the famous property bubble, which has led Dr Merkel to criticise, rightly, the Spanish political authorities for not having prevented it. But what Dr Merkel ought to have said as well was that the German banking sector played a key role in generating and maintaining this property bubble, since it was money from the German banking sector that played a key role in developing it, obtaining enormous profits arising from it. Dr Merkel ought to have criticised the German government and the German banking sector since both collaborated in the maintenance and sustaining of the financial structure that produced the bubble and its subsequent burst. In reality, this explosion happened when the German banking sector stopped lending money to the Spanish banking sector, alarmed by the awareness and discovery that it was contaminated by the toxic products of the US banking sector.

And now, one of the causes of cuts in public spending, including welfare spending, which are brutally damaging the welfare of the population is precisely the payment of the Spanish State’s debt to the German banking sector. In reality, even the supposed help from the German authorities -through the European Commission and the European Central Bank-  to the banking sector is nothing more and nothing less than aid so that the Spanish banking sector pays the German banking sector (as was recognised by the economic adviser to Chancellor Merkel, Jürgen Donges, during the debate that took place in the German Parliament regarding the approval of this supposed financial aid to Spain.

 

Germany and the governance of the euro

But there is another area in which the German establishment is responsible for the suffering of the popular classes in Spain (and Greece, Portugal, Ireland and Italy) and it has to do with the excessive influence that this German establishment, particularly the financial establishment, has had in the governance of the euro. Germany is, without doubt, the country that has benefited the most from the establishment of the euro. The German State can currently obtain money as it wishes, practically without paying interest rates, and this is intimately related to the enormous difficulties that the States of the peripheral countries have in obtaining credit. Such an unequal situation has caused a large amount of capital from the peripheral countries to move to Germany, which has benefited enormously from it. These peripheral states are completely defenceless against the speculative attacks of the financial markets, and this is no mere coincidence. This is down to the enormous influence of the Bundesbank, which for many years has managed to put a stop to the purchase of public bonds of states, forcing instead that the ECB loan money to German banks and those of other European countries (including Spain) at very low interest rates, with which these banks buy the public debt of these states at scandalously high rates of interest. The German establishment press has the cheek (to put it kindly) to say that the fact that the interest rates are so high is down to the fiscal indiscipline of the Spanish people, whose underfunded welfare state is being cut back further and further to pay off German banks. But the German establishment benefits even more from the situation since, because they are unable to devalue their currency, these countries cannot compete with German products through monetary devaluation.

None of these facts appears in the German press, whether in the ‘respectable’ or popular press. In the latter, the message is deeply offensive and is intended so that the German worker looks upon the Greek, Portuguese, Irish or italian worker as the beneficiary of his taxes, paid so that, in the final instance, these parasites from the south of Europe continue to benefit from excessively generous levels of welfare. In fact, Dr Merkel has used very similar expressions. Once again, the German establishment is using racism to mobilise its popular classes, diverting the complaint away from the situation in which the German worker finds himself (with low wages and scant social protection) towards the foreign worker, instead of directing his justified anger toward the German establishment. In fact, one of the victims of the policies of the German establishment has been the German working class itself, since its salaries have been kept well under the level of its productivity. The famous supposed success of German exports is based on this fact.

The regressive Schroder-Merkel reforms created an enormous problem of domestic demand due to the limited purchasing power of the German working class. This allowed the German economy to have exports as its engine instead of domestic demand, a situation that harms the working class and the popular classes of all the countries in the Eurozone, since the recession would not have happened if German domestic demand had risen, which would have stimulated the European economy. What is best for the German worker would have also been what was best for the Spanish (and Greek, Portuguese, Irish and Italian) worker. What is more, such a growth in German domestic demand, besides stimulating European economic growth, would have weakened the euro somewhat (since the German balance of payments surplus would not have been so great), thus boosting competitiveness across all European countries.

German readers can see that in the power establishment in Germany, centred upon financial capital and the exports sector has a great deal of responsibility for what is happening in Europe. Needless to say its policies can count upon the complicity of the ruling elites in the peripheral Eurozone countries, who are implementing such grossly unpopular policies, destroying, in the process, the idea and concept of Europe, with the goal of saving the euro. And they are succeeding.

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The Government Of Freeman Woo

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One of the most annoying phenomena of Ireland’s political and economic crisis is how, in the absence of any concentrated popular potency, in the absence of any common language of democratic contestation, certain isolated individuals found solace and support in what is often referred to as ‘Freeman woo’.

Briefly put, because it would be too annoying to go into any great detail, this is the phenomenon of people thinking there is a form of legality –the real form of legality- that has been buried by the legal and political establishment, with the connivance of the police, and that this real legality can be uncovered and imposed via hocus pocus invocations about common law, lawfulness vs. legality, oaths, licenses, your birth certificate getting sold on the stock exchange, and god knows what else.

I remember in the early days of Occupy Dame Street overhearing someone telling someone else that he was planning on giving a talk about common law the following day. I had no idea what he was talking about, but his confident assertion, combined with the fact that we were standing in a very unusual place –there were tents going up in the middle of a city square- made me think, for a moment, that maybe he knew what he was talking about. Then it struck me that he was talking utter bollocks.

As far as I can see, the whole method behind Freeman woo is that the law, as it is currently applied, has no real legal basis. The bailiffs may come, the sheriff may take possession of your home, you may be jailed for not paying your debts, but all of this is really illegal, because there is this other law, you believe, which often has something to do with ‘our Founding Fathers’ (we are talking about Freemen after all), that prohibits all the stuff that they’re doing. Indeed, this belief can prove effective as a delaying tactic, in those moments when the forces of law and order are trying to figure out what the hell you’re talking about. But, in the end, you’re gonna get it.

The reason I bring all this up is that I feel like a Freeman this morning.

Last night, there was emergency legislation rammed through the Dáil to deal with IBRC, the entity formerly known as Anglo Irish Bank. The operation, as Andy Storey foretold, was ‘devious and undemocratic – instead of having a proper, informed debate about this hugely serious issue the government would be railroading through legislation that would see people living in Ireland take formal responsibility for debts that are not theirs to pay’. I watched some of the TV footage. I posted a couple of updates on Facebook.

The first one, at 11:25pm, read like this:

The Dáil has been colonised by the European banking lobby. Just listen to the fascist hyenas whooping it up, pissed out of their skulls, from the government benches.

The second one, at 12:41am, read like this:

Looking at the leathery grey faces of the men on the Irish government front bench it’s hard to resist feeling like all vitality is being sucked out of you. None of them really has any idea what’s going on, they just think they’ve a right to be there, a right to be in command, even when they’re not. All the information they get comes from their special advisors and hired consultants. You can see that they’re not really there at all, but thinking about the pension, and the escape, whichever comes first. Whatever happens, it won’t happen to them; they know that. But might the guillotine beg to differ?

This morning, and the reason I feel like a Freeman this morning, I read an excerpt from the legislation rammed through last night.

‘AND WHEREAS IN THE ACHIEVEMENT OF THE WINDING UP OF IBRC THE COMMON GOOD MAY REQUIRE PERMANENT OR TEMPORARY INTERFERENCE WITH THE RIGHTS, INCLUDING PROPERTY RIGHTS, OF PERSONS;’


Let me shorten that:

THE ACHIEVEMENT OF THE WINDING UP OF IBRC THE COMMON GOOD MAY REQUIRE PERMANENT INTERFERENCE WITH THE RIGHTS OF PERSONS;’


We all know what ‘the common good’ means nowadays: it means the common good as articulated by the European banking lobby and the local bourgeoisie. So we can say farewell to our Freeman friends with their belief in common law.

But look at the second bit: permanent interference with the rights of persons. And I feel like a Freeman because I was under the impression that one of the main points of having laws was to prevent interference with the rights of persons. I feel like shouting “Are you on your oath, TDs?” at those who voted for this legislation. What right do they have to decide that the law may permanently interfere with the rights of persons? They are only representatives. Did they swear some secret oath that allowed them to say, yes, we have the right to permanently interfere with the rights of the people we represent? Isn’t there a law against this? (Answer: this is the law)

But then I don’t feel like a Freeman, because in fact, the Freemen are in the government. They are the ones convinced they have a sovereign right –simply because they were elected- to demolish people’s rights, permanently, and to do so not only through banking legislation, but through facts on the ground: stripping away the social and material infrastructure that sustains people’s rights to health, education, welfare, labour protections, and so on.

I submit that the Government Freemen feel they can vote for such things because people let them get away with it, because people continue to recognise them as their legitimate representatives, even when the reality of that representation is four score and ten drunken assholes rutting and whooping in celebration as they do the will of the European banking lobby.

I submit that the only way of ridding Freemen and their legalistic hocus-pocus from government –a legalistic hocus-pocus that imposes illegitimate debts and mass misery- is to make it clear, on the streets, and via every other channel possible, in the simplest and most forthright of terms, that they do not represent us.  

I submit that we should beware the Freeman belief in lawful rebellion too, which believes it can ‘instruct governments’ on pain of ‘peaceful and dignified mass protest’. As with other Freeman beliefs, this imagines that a government conducting all manner of assaults on rights is willing to do its bidding through the hocus-pocus of representation.

Until that moment of rupture comes, we might as well all be eating sandwiches made out of Black’s law dictionary.

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Magdalene Laundries: Normality and Abnormality

The history of the Magdalene Laundries is unthinkable without the history of oppression of women in Ireland, and how that oppression was -and is- codified in law, and organised in the sphere of production. Furthermore, the specific form of labour carried out by the women in the ‘abnormal’ institutional setting of Laundries has to be thought about in relation to the forms of labour carried out by women in a ‘normal’ setting, that is, in the family home, within the institution of the family and the institution of marriage. ‘Normal’ women were expected -in their ‘duties’ referred to in the constitution, to bear children, raise them, cook, shop, tend to the farm if there was one, and -among other things- clean.

It’s important to note that none of these tasks performed in the home is considered as proper work by the State. Not while the Laundries were operating, and not now. It still goes unpaid.

Housework, mostly carried out by women, is not included in GDP statistics. The absence of such work from GDP was noted by economist Arthur Cecil Pigou, who named it as the ‘unmarried maid’ paradox. The work of a woman who worked as a maid in a man’s house and got paid for it would be included in GDP. However, if she married the man and did the work unpaid, it would not be included. So whenever a state commits to reduce its budget deficit, by cutting public expenditure, it does so without having to worry about the effect of its policies on unpaid labourers in the home -mostly women- because those people’s work, from the official point of view, does not exist.

In a recent book on economics and capitalism, Ha-Joon Chang claimed that the washing machine had been a far more transformative force for change in society than the Internet. This, he reasoned, was because it freed women from the monumental amount of hours of work they had to dedicate to washing clothes.

So it was seen as natural, in a patriarchal society organised around the institutions of marriage and family, that women should have to spend long hours washing clothes, and that they should do so unpaid. That -along with childbearing, child rearing, cooking, shopping, as well as the emotional and sexual services they were expected to provide their husbands, was part of their ‘duties’, as recognised by the constitution.

What, then, happened whenever society encountered women who would not fit into these roles because, on account of some thing they were perceived to be, or of some thing they were perceived to have done, their presence clashed with the normal functioning of society’s production? Such ‘abnormal’ women would have to be disciplined, to be sure, but their labour power would have to be salvaged, and harnessed. And since they could not be allowed conduct the rest of their ‘duties’ within the family environment, they would continue with the one ‘duty’ they could still perform: cleaning. Forced, unpaid, and with industrial scale efficiency.

So the Magdalene institution is unthinkable without the institution of marriage, without the role accorded to the family in the Constitution, and without the claim of ownership over women’s bodies laid by the State, which is still in force, as is evident from Ireland’s draconian laws prohibiting abortion.

That should put into some sort of perspective the decision to appoint Martin McAleese to put together the report into the Magdalene Laundries. The chosen appointee to the Seanad of Enda Kenny, one of the most dedicated anti-abortion TDs in the Dáil, there was nothing to distinguish him in terms of skills or expertise or experience. The decisive but banal factor in his elevation to the Seanad, and the decisive factor in ensuring his central role in the production of report into the Laundries – a factor which has not been subject to any meaningful questioning – was his marriage.

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Laundering The Laundries

Is this collusion?

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I have heard a few discussions of the Magdalene Laundries in recent days, in anticipation of the report released today that is intended to clarify ‘any State interaction and to produce a narrative detailing such interaction’.

And so people are talking about it in terms of whether there was State interaction, or collusion, or not. On the one hand, the Magdalene Laundries, on the other, the State. And then: how much interaction was there, and in what forms?

What I find hard to process is the notion that the State and the Magdalene Laundries existed as two separate and distinct entities. How do you situate the Magdalene Laundries outside the State?

In his Economy and Society, Max Weber proposes that a compulsory political organisation with continuous operations will be called a “state” insofar as its administrative staff successfully upholds the claim to the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force in the enforcement of its order (17. Political and Hierocratic Organisations, vol 1.).

By contrast, the interdepartmental committee ‘adopted the full meaning of “the State”, to refer to a body, whatever its legal form, which is or was responsible for provision of a public service under the control of the State and with special powers for that purpose.’ Note the strange circularity. For a body to be recognisable as the State, it has to be under the control of the State.

Well, returning to Weber, how did the Irish State successfully uphold its claim? Can we seriously claim that the carceral regime of psychiatric institutions, industrial schools, and slave labour laundries, which dotted the landscape and terrorised generations of Irish working class people, especially women, played no part in upholding the order of the Irish State?

The function of the Magdalene Laundries, the way they served to uphold the order of the Irish State
for instance, in the protection of ‘the Family as the natural primary and fundamental unit group
of Society
, or in their
use as a penitentiary institution by the criminal justice system, was not deemed within the scope of the interdepartmental narrative. This may have arisen in part from a concern with getting the claims of former detainees addressed urgently.

But it serves to place the institutions in a kind of historical quarantine, as if all that remains to be done is issue the apologies and provide appropriate redress (not that there is any guarantee of that being done to the satisfaction of the victims). That way it is assured that contemporary political questions about a State that used the slave labour of women to uphold its order and maintain its legitimacy can be safely set to one side. That way political society can quickly get back to addressing the greatest economic crisis since the foundation of the State, as they put it, as if that were something to be proud of.

 

 

 

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Taking Democracy Seriously: A Response to Miriam Cotton

In a recent article on Irish Left Review, Miriam Cotton took me to task for my 'intellectually-rationalised paralysis' in light of the current crisis. Her article -written with admirable openness and honesty- is an acid criticism of the failure of the Irish Left to put together a coherent response to the present crisis.

I disagree with many aspects of her analysis. I don't believe what she describes as 'rapacious, international financial corporatism' is 'worse than capitalism': it is capitalism.  I certainly wouldn't treat my own writings as indicative or representative of tendencies on the Irish Left -for good or bad. Indeed, if what I write ends up getting treated in that way, it highlights one of the serious problems of the Irish Left: in public, it is either very small, or very quiet, or both.

Miriam's analysis proceeds from the view that there ought to be a development similar to what has happened in Greece, as described by Helena Sheehan's recent piece on Greece: a proliferation of strikes at general and local level, resulting in an increasing convergence of the politics of the street with the politics of the ballot box. 

By contrast with Greece, Ireland's 'austerity and financier-facilitating ‘trade unions’' have 'have stood aside in pale and limp demur', as the austerity regime of bailouts, cutbacks and the destruction of social rights extends itself.

Given this context, she believes that my claim, made at the end of my ICTU piece in relation to 'the climate of grim sacrificial inevitability' (my words) that 'we need imaginative ways of communicating the conflict, of capturing people’s commitment to a struggle for democratic rights' is 'lobbing cold water over any idea' of calling for strikes. In effect, what I am saying is 'sit down again everybody.  As you were.  We need to do lots more talking and thinking before we act.'

Let me address this as clearly as I can. I have no problem with people calling for strikes, or calling trade union leaders traitors. My point -which I'm afraid Miriam elides- is 'that (ICTU) does not take democracy seriously. And that -amid a climate of grim sacrificial inevitability- is a problem that no amount of simply shouting 'traitor!' or 'general strike!' will solve.'

The point about 'not taking democracy seriously' is the crux of my argument.

The idea of democracy does not figure in unions' public discourse at all. I wrote a number of months back, in The Great Theft Movement – Ireland asKleptocracy, that '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.'

But not only do Irish trade unions do nothing to challenge this conventional wisdom; they reinforce it at every turn. They endorse the legitimacy of the current government -obedient to the Troika and to the rule of finance capital- with their support for the Labour Party. For example, SIPTU President Jack O'Connor made a speech the other day commemorating revolutionary socialist and syndicalist Jim Larkin. In it, he counselled support for a right-wing government in its dealings with the Troika. He made no mention of democracy, or any of its habitual sub-categories (political, economic, social…).

What he did do instead was draw equivalence between the 'extreme left' and the 'extreme right' and cast himself and revolutionary socialist Jim Larkin as moderates of the present conjuncture. By so doing, he was casting people who call for strikes and resistance -in defence of democratic rights- as equivalent to fascist forces such as Golden Dawn.

To repeat: no mention of democracy. No mention of how public services are an essential element of democracy and indeed the democratic gains won by the labour movement. Instead, an endorsement, in fluent technocratese, of 'an optimally efficient public service'  reconciled with the legitimate entitlements and interests of those who are employed in the provision of it'.

No mention of democracy. Instead, talk about how the present economic crisis 'threatens our very existence as a sovereign state'. 'Our' existence. As a state. Tutto nello stato..

The question, then, is how the combination of street politics and the politics of the ballot box can converge, as we have seen in Greece, and, to a degree, in the Spanish state, with regional elections in Galicia and Catalonia, without some kind of democratic rupture, without some kind of popular recognition that the process of inflicting massive cuts in wages and public services and stripping away social rights and transferring wealth from the poor to the rich known as 'austerity' has no democratic legitimacy. In a recent interview, Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras used the concept of the 'two squares' to outline how the rapid growth of the Greek radical left -in terms of electoral power- came about in recent years.

Tsipras said that "the movement began on two squares in Athens. Let’s give them some kind of name: the one below and the one above. The square below was always more politicised, with themed assemblies, with different talks. Many young people took part. They practised direct democracy. But the important thing is that these demonstrations were completely peaceful with great mass participation, with very many people taking part….The square above was less participative. That is why the system was more frightened by the one below. It was not the same as wrecking a bank or wrecking a cash machine. Wrecking strengthened the system. By contrast, the peaceful stance did sound an alarm for them. We have to bear in mind that these spontaneous and massive reactions led to the fall of two governments. But by contrast, going back to the comparison of the two squares, burnt out banks and burnt out small properties did not produce political results. It is very simple: where you had fires, big business could find some small business owner to cry."

Practically no-one believes that what we have seen in Greece could occur in Ireland. That is the current assessment of the financial markets. Moreover, Ireland stands at a conceptual remove from the countries of the South of Europe, both in the minds of financiers, and in the minds of those who resist. On top of this, the trade union leadership is fully aligned with the government's illusory agenda of recovering national sovereignty, an agenda supported by Ireland's right wing media and its owning class, which entails killing hospital patients and driving up suicide rates, so that the sovereign representative body might be restored to its former power.

But as Pablo Bustinduy pointed out in an article I translated yesterday, there is no longer an inside and an outside when it comes to the ransacking of Europe. It will never be enough for a small retinue of Irish Leftists to lock themselves in a room and come up with an electoral programme they think will get people's attention and, simultaneously, hope for the best when it comes to campaigning to mobilise people against specific issues, and do so all within the same framework of national sovereign representation that IBEC and Fine Gael, as well as the trade union movement, defend.

In Ireland, there is no such thing as discussing politics in a nice square in warm weather. So, other ways have to be found. There are always possibilities. But if there is no popular potency in defence of democracy, then, Bernadette McAliskey's words from a few days ago will prove true: "we have got to get a political programme together here and get the struggle for civil rights, social rights, political rights and economic rights together or we are in, comrades and colleagues, for one hell of a hiding."

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