Monthly Archives: April 2013

Some notes on Irish health care and abortion

What follow are two comments I posted on two recent Irish Times opinion pieces by Ann Marie Hourihane yesterday and Monday previous. The first was titled ‘A medical conspiracy against the public‘, and the second was titled ‘Hospital patients’ relatives are also victims of our shoddy health system.’

Both pieces were published accompanied by a picture of Praveen Halappanavar. Both used Praveen Halappanavar’s experience in University Hospital Galway as a starting point for a discussion of the general problems of the Irish hospital system, but without discussing the crucial matter in the Halappanavar case, the fact that Savita Halappanavar was refused an abortion because of the law.

As I note in the second comment, this approach uses precisely the same framing of the issue as the Catholic Right.

Considering both these articles – and the publicity generated by the first article, with discussion on Liveline among other things- I think there are a couple of other things, beyond the avoidance of the key issue of the refusal of an abortion, worth highlighting. There is no mention of rights in either article.  There is no mention of how the Irish health system divides patients up in terms of their ability to pay, in terms of private and public.

What there is instead is reference to ‘conspiracies against the public’, and ‘faceless managers (making) darn sure they remain faceless’: a kind of discourse regularly used to justify attacks on public sector pay and conditions and collective bargaining.

More suspicious minds than I might read such things and conclude that public services, which are presently being dismantled under the Troika-backed austerity drive, are being conflated with the bureaucratic despotism of the State, and that the effect is both to shield certain constituencies from scrutiny and/or blame for Savita Halappanavar’s death, and to mobilise animosity against the very idea of public services owned by the public.

First comment (on the piece titled ‘A medical conspiracy against the public’)

It’s beyond doubt that the Irish hospital system is deeply deficient. It’s beyond doubt that every day patients who ought to expect quality care delivered with warmth endure pain, isolation and humiliation and bewilderment instead.

However it’s wrong to claim identification with Praveen Halappanavar, as this piece does, without addressing the specific, central issue in his case: the fact that Savita Halappanavar was denied a termination because of Irish law, and, according to the expert witness in the inquest, would still be alive had her request been granted.

The central issue in the Savita Halappanavar case is not that the hospital system is a ‘conspiracy against the public’, but that the Ireland’s abortion laws are the expression of a conspiracy against women and an attack on women’s rights. Her request for an abortion was denied because ‘the public’ considers women’s bodies as property of the State.

It is wrong to draw a veil over this specific violation of rights whilst using Praveen Halappanavar’s ordeal to make observations about a situation characterised by the absence of health rights in general (in fact the author does not make mention of rights of any kind).

Second comment (on the piece titled ‘Hospital patients’ relatives are also victims of our shoddy health system.’ This piece included the following: ‘(Savita Halappanavar’s) death was not just about Ireland’s abortion law; it was about an abysmal standard of hospital care. Why is it in poor taste – as implied by several correspondents to this newspaper – to associate Praveen Halappanavar’s suffering with that of the relatives of other patients in the same hospital system? It is only logical to do so.’

I found the author’s previous column associating Praveen Halappanavar with the general problem of the quality of care in Irish hospitals objectionable. Not on account of taste, however, but because it did not address the central fact of the matter in Savita Halappanavar’s death: she was denied an abortion when she requested it on account of this country’s laws. Her death was a consequence of this, as concluded by the expert witness to the inquest. Therefore it did not treat the fact that a patient was denied the treatment she requested, on account of legal restrictions that do not exist in most other jurisdictions, as in any way significant to a discussion of general health system concerns. This, by the way, is precisely how the Catholic Right is framing Savita Halappanavar’s death: there was no violation of women’s rights, merely inadequate care.

In presenting the Savita Halappanavar case as a simple example of deficient care, that article, and this one, pass over in silence the basic political question of how the State and the social relations that underpin it determine the nature of health care in Ireland.

To wit, if a State considers a women’s bodies as primarily the State’s property, and not her own, shouldn’t that tell you something about the kind of society you live in, and what you might expect from its health system in terms of rights?

Look at the way ruling politicians have sought to instrumentalise psychiatrists -as “social police”, as the president of the College of Psychiatry in Ireland put it- so as to maintain this inhuman order that maintains women as property of the State. Doesn’t that tell you something important about the interests governing the health system in Ireland?

Elsewhere in the papers today, a former Taoiseach, and present chairman of an influential financial lobby group dedicated to preserving the interests of a centre enabling corporations to avoid paying tax that would sustain things such as public health systems, writes of his opposition not only to abortion but also to allowing women to travel for an abortion [the reference is to a John Bruton article in the Irish Independent]. Doesn’t tell you something about how the political and media establishments view the question of public health, and the fundamental -political- matter of health rights – a matter both of the author’s articles have ignored?

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The Femicidal Intent of the Law

chattel (n.)
early 13c., chatel “property, goods,” from Old French chatel “chattels, goods, wealth, possessions, property; profit; cattle,” from Late Latin capitale “property” (see cattle, which is the Old North French form of the same word). Application to slaves (1640s) is a rhetorical figure of abolitionists, etc.

The whole treatment of suicidal ideation, suicidal intent and the threat of suicide with regard to abortion legislation serves to make the woman guilty: they are her ideas, her intent, her threat.

This will not be changed an iota by any legislation under proposal by the government. Such a crisis is rarely, if ever, presented in terms of what it really is: the law killing women by threatening them with a forced birth.

Why, then, do we not speak of the femicidal intent of the law?

Sir, – If a farmer suffers suicidal ideation because his livestock are starving, does anyone recommend, let alone legislate for, the destruction of his cattle? Would anyone remark, “But the animals are going to die anyway”? Surely every effort will be made to save the livestock – and thus the farmer? If I am threatening to take my own life because I can’t meet my debts, should I be entitled to have my debt “terminated”? How then does it makes sense to legislate for the destruction of the unborn based on the suicidal ideation of the mother?

– Yours, etc, Fr EAMONN McCARTHY CC, Freemount, Charleville, Co Cork.

Above, in an Irish Times letter published today, a priest compares crisis pregnancy with looking after cattle.

Then, he compares a crisis pregnancy to being in debt, with the threat of suicide appearing as a threat to the creditor, and you can’t be having that. (In so doing he ignores the fact that many people do die by their own hand because they can’t meet their debts and hence there are many excellent grounds for ‘terminating’ debt).

The plain conclusion to be drawn is that this man sees women as cattle and slaves, and that such views are acceptable in polite Irish society.


April 30, 2013 · 8:55 am

“Students are always dangerous. They sow an example.”

What follows is a translation of a post from today by Juan Carlos Monedero, who teaches at the Complutense University in Madrid, on the subject of riot police being sent in to arrest students seeking to occupy the Political Sciences faculty. The mobilisation of riot police takes place on the same day as various marches are planned to ‘lay siege’ to the Spanish parliament.

The images are from the blog Haciendo un camino, by a Political Sciences student at the same university. I have also added some explanatory links in English to the text.

Of incidents in the Complutense University, or of six million two hundred thousand unemployed

When you look back and contemplate Francoism, the reason you don’t die of shame is because you see many people who risked everything by protesting against the dictatorship. Nearly always there were students from the Complutense University. They behind them numerous dead on the road to this democracy. One of them was murdered when they threw him out a window: Enrique Ruano. He studied law. His murder was justified by Fraga, the founder of the Partido Popular. Mari Luz Nájera, from Sociology, was murdered in a demonstration in support of our democracy. Or of one that, they thought, was going to be better. Another one, Yolanda González, was murdered by fascists. Her murderer, Hellín, was then hired by the State’s security forces, who went to bed as the forces of order and woke up as democrats when Franco died. Here the neoliberals are right: you don’t appreciate what you get given as a gift.

Today, the same day that we await new cutbacks to be announced by Rajoy, when Gürtel, the corrupt network that brought the PP to power remains unpunished, when the Bank of Santander announces 12 billion euro in profits, when we see Greece die of hunger from following the same diktats that they want to dictate to us here, when we know that there are more than six million two hundred thousand unemployed people in our country, they are arresting students once again. What terrible things they must have done. No doubt much worse than what Urdangarín did, what Bárcenas did, what so many others did. Students are always dangerous. They sow an example. Have they prevent classes from taking place? Others are preventing them from studying, from having access to health care, from having work. Their Minister, of Education, has told them to go and study abroad. We teachers only get outraged when they take away our extra payment. Though now, not even that. Today those who cleaned out the banks will have breakfast and dinner in the lap of luxury. There are students who will do so in the courts at Plaza Castilla.

The Complutense University released a statement: “A small group of people has violently occupied the faculty of Social Work and that of Politics and Sociology, contained in the same building, preventing access and the normal functioning of both centres. In light of this situation, the necessary means will be taken to re-establish normal academic and administrative activity. Joaquín Goyache, Organisation Vice-Chancellor”

Poor Vice-Chancellor. Our system places some people in such a fix. In the end, like it or not, they end up putting you on the same side as your executioners. Or is it not that the PP is strangling public universities? When we look back, each person sees what reflection they can.

In our democracy, going to prison now seems a matter of decency.


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Enjoyment and disobedience: a Reflection on solidarity and fascism

This is a translation of a reflection by John Brown.



One of the most terrible wellsprings of power is that there is no automatic relation between its arbitrary and despotic action and the outrage of the population (on this, the master Spinoza was somewhat more optimistic).

In principle, people ought to rebel against injustice and arbitrariness, but the majority of times the opposite happens, that is, the more despotic and even ridiculous and bizarre power is, the greater the obedience it generates. A large part of the success of Hitler, Mussolini and Berlusconi rested on this. Making a show of the absurdity and ridiculousness of power is a transgression of basic social prohibitions, which, in a certain way –as Freud saw in his texts on the masses- is shared between the leader and the mass. Hitler “freed” the German population from the “prejudices” that prevented it from giving free rein to its deep-seated hatreds such as that directed against Jews or against intellectuals.

What is called “totalitarianism” is a power that is based not so much in prohibition or repression as in a permanent invitation to enjoyment unbound. The leader does not tell the population to do such and such, but above all says “Enjoy!”. And this enjoyment freed from prohibition and (linguistic and cultural) symbolic articulation is usually expressed in the dark joy of violence and murder. Jean-Marie Le Pen summarised this by saying “I say out loud what each person thinks inwardly”.

Disobedience and outrage in the face of arbitrariness and despotism, far from being immediate or automatic, are the result of a certain degree of organisation of the potency of the multitude, of a certain solidarity. One does not become outraged alone, one always becomes outraged by wrong done to another, but for that other to be conceived as “my other”, I previously have to have developed with him common notions and feelings. The power of the capitalist State blocks the development of these common notions and feelings and foments individualisation, since it is the isolated individual who becomes the mass and forgets his social and moral singularity in the shared enjoyment with the leader. Here we can see –as Hannah Arendt saw clearly- that liberalism is the basis of fascism. The individual of liberal economic calculus is the basic element of the Nazi-fascist mass.


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“You lucky, jammy bastards!”: Lessons on left-wing politics from Life Of Brian


From a comment I posted on the, on a report stating that Clare Daly and Joan Collins are launching a new left-wing party – United Left – next month. The comments posted below the line were not exactly mind-blowing in their originality, hence my own response.

Let’s think a little bit about the Life of Brian reference for a minute. What do wisecracks about the People’s Front of Judea and the Judean People’s Front -which seem inescapable any time public attention turns to small left-wing parties- tell us about our public political culture?

The joke in the film was funny because it was true. But now that it has become an automatic response to any particular situation involving left-wing political formations, I think it reflects a deep stagnation in public thinking about politics.

The last five years have seen an unbridled capitalism run rampant, suffocating public services, driving tens of millions of people across Europe into unemployment, and dynamiting the post-war democratic settlement. It is an immense human crisis.

Mainstream political parties across Europe who lay claim to a left-wing tradition -a tradition founded on a recognition that democracy is not just about the right to vote but about everyone having the material possibilities of participating in the running of society as equals- have bowed to the authority of the European Central Bank and finance capital. Many of their leading members eye up succulent positions on the boards of private companies once their political tenure has ended. The consequence has been an immense concentration of decisive political power in the hands of unelected, democratically unaccountable bodies.

None of the mainstream parties in Ireland has any response to this all-out attack on democracy. In fact they all endorse it, as does Ireland’s media. From their point of view, and the point of view of their supporters, many of whom are regrettably gullible, this is all excellent stuff, this is the future – the one you shouldn’t kick in the face.

In this context, the matter of whether a new left-wing political party is likely to be successful is certainly open to question. However, many people don’t seem to realise that the proliferation of small left-wing groups is in part testament to the hegemony of the ‘Romans’, who have convinced many working class people (a) that they are middle class; and (b) that that they should be grateful to them at the very moment that the popular classes across Europe are being crucified.

In this sense, people who make wisecracks about the People’s Front of Judea are comparable to Ben the Prisoner from The Life of Brian, who, looking on at the crucifixion party, shouts “You lucky bastards! You lucky, jammy bastards!”


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“They impose things on us as if they were natural laws, inescapable laws of physics. No: it is pure and simple exploitation.” – TVE Interview with Rafael Correa


This is a partial transcript of an interview conducted by the Spanish State broadcaster TVE with the President of Ecuador Rafael Correa, conducted April 19th.

Despite the dull-headed questions of the interviewer, which are sadly par for the course on Spanish TV, Correa makes many interesting observations on the current crisis. Foremost is his warning to the public that what is happening in Europe now is precisely what happened in Latin America.

Later on in the interview, not included in this transcript, there is a discussion of press freedom in Ecuador. I will post a transcript of this separately if I get the time.

For the moment, what strikes me on listening to the first part of the interview, is both the lucidity of Correa’s explanations by contrast with the robotic idiocy of ruling politicians in Europe, especially in periphery countries. It was interesting how Michael D. Higgins’s speech to the European Parliament about a new ‘emancipatory discourse’ won such widespread acclaim, in Ireland at least, even though -or perhaps precisely because- he did not make mention of capitalism, neoliberalism, socialism or anything that might prove politically controversial for either his audience or Ireland’s media establishment.

By contrast, Correa here -and it is not that his spoken discourse is radical at all- says that IMF bailout packages have nothing to do with the human being and everything to do with bailing out private banks. As Correa puts it: “The problem is power. It is a political problem, not a technical problem.”


ANA IBÁÑEZ: Let’s greet today’s guest, who is the president of Ecuador, Rafael Correa. President, good evening.

RAFAEL CORREA: Good evening Ana, thank you for the invitation, thank you to TVE, thank you to Spain, which always welcomes us with a lot of affection. Greetings to all Spanish people, and most especially, to those Latin Americans and Ecuadoreans living in this dear country.

ANA IBÁÑEZ: There are many of them.


ANA IBÁÑEZ: You are here in Spain as part of a European tour, which has taken you to different countries, among them Italy and Germany -there you met the Chancellor, Angela Merkel. How was that? How did you get on, because your economic policies are quite different.

RAFAEL CORREA: Perhaps, but there’s a mutual respect, since we respect all countries, the governments of countries, despite the ideological coincidences or differences that we might have. The tour was very successful. We met Chancellor Angela Merkel, the President of the Federal German Republic, the President of the Lower Chamber, the Mayor of Berlin, we have been in contact with German investors. An official visit to Germany. Taking advantage that official visit we wanted to go to Italy, to Spain, to thank our emigrants. Because you know that they can vote, they even have representatives in the Assembly, and the support they have given is extraordinary. Here in Spain we got as much as 83-84% of the vote. And six Assembly deputies, elected from abroad.

ANA IBÁÑEZ: In a little while we are going to speak about your re-election, Mr President, a re-election moreover via a historic majority, but I want to move on, in particular in economic matters. Here in Spain, there are many of those who blame part of the troubles we are going through on Ms. Merkel, with regard to cutbacks, deficit, structural reforms. How is the crisis we are suffering seen in Latin America, and what do you, who apart from being President also hold a PhD en Economics, believe is failing?

RAFAEL CORREA: I will say only this to you: do not repeat the same mistakes that we made. This crisis is a carbon copy of the debt crisis that took place in the 1980s in Latin America, where it wasn’t that we were loaned money by the international banking sector through solidarity, but because they had excess liquidity. Does that story sound familiar? The international organisations, the international bureaucracy, always the heralds of  finance capital, invented the strategy of aggressive indebtedness. So you had to get into debt in order to keep developing. In reality they were making us serve the purposes of international capital because there was excess liquidity.

Why was there excess liquidity? Because of the two oil shocks, the rapid rise in oil prices. The Arab countries had large oil incomes, they put them into First World banks, First World banks had nowhere to put them, and they saw Latin America as a good place. And before 1976 for example, last century, a banker wouldn’t go to Latin America even as a tourist. And suddenly queues of bankers started to form to lend money for anything, even for weapons and military dictatorships. And the IMF, the World Bank, at an aggressive moment, at the right time, facilitated the development. And it developed so much that in 1982, when Mexico declared itself unable to pay, they ceased the flow of credit that had been the source of growth, they began to demand that credit back – the repayment- and the interest rates, which were floating, moved from 4-6% to more than 20%. 

ANA IBÁÑEZ: In the case of Ecuador – sorry for interrupting you Mr President, what you did was, let’s say, identify that debt that you considered illegitimate?

RAFAEL CORREA: That was later on.

ANA IBÁÑEZ: And refuse to pay it?

RAFAEL CORREA: But look. Like Mark Twain says, a banker is the guy who lends you an umbrella when it’s sunny and takes it off you when it starts raining. They stopped the credit. They raised our interest rates. And the bailout package from the IMF came, exactly what is happening in Europe. But with huge adjustment programmes, austerity, memoranda of understanding, so that nothing stayed in the country, but rather so that what went in on the one side on the part of this international bureaucracy came out on the other in order to pay commercial debt with private banks. It was nothing else.

It wasn’t a matter of exiting the crisis as quickly as possible. They wanted to guarantee payment to private banks. And they pulled it off. But obviously through deepening the crisis in growth and employment. The crisis lasted ten years. In Ecuador we began the 90s with the same income per capita as in 1976. And we see that it is exactly the same thing that is happening in Europe. So the only thing I ask of you is.. let’s learn from history. Look at what happened in Latin America.

ANA IBÁÑEZ: You spoke, I imagine, with Mariano Rajoy, with different presidents of countries such as Greece, Ireland and Portugal, I understand, because I read it. Did they pay any attention?

RAFAEL CORREA: I said it at the Cádiz summit, the Ibero-American summit a few months ago. I said it: don’t commit the same mistakes that we did. We Latin Americans are experts in crisis. Not because we are enlightened, but we have all suffered them. We know it from memory that these prescriptions -and I insist on this- do not have the human being in mind. I am not criticising governments, I’m criticising systems. They do not have the human being in mind. They have in mind capital, and especially finance capital.

ANA IBÁÑEZ: Mr Correa, how are relations between Ecuador and Spain?

RAFAEL CORREA: Very good, but let me respond to the question you asked me. We renegotiated our debt in 2008. Because from that crisis on -so that you understand- in ten years Ecuador paid in net terms around $2bn -at the height of the crisis- to the international banking sector. And despite that our debt tripled. Because of the accumulation of interest, poor negotiations etcetera. It was shown that it was absolutely illegitimate and illegal. And it was because of this that we did not pay, and we bought the debt at market price, without harming the bondholders but without benefiting them either.

ANA IBÁÑEZ: Let’s continue talking about economic matters because as you well know, it’s a matter of national and international interest also, but answer my question on the matter of relations with Ecuador. What are they like now?

RAFAEL CORREA: Very good, they are very good. I have just spoken with President Rajoy to say hello. They are very good at the moment. Preoccupied of course by what is happening in Spain, and in so far as we can be of help you can always count on us.

ANA IBÁÑEZ: There is the unavoidable matter, also related to the crisis, of evictions, which here in Spain affect thousands of families, both Spanish as well as of other nationalities, among them many Ecuadoreans. I would like to know if you are in any conversation with the Spanish government on this issue, and in what way is Ecuador helping its compatriots with this problem.

RAFAEL CORREA: I insist, we are very respectful with all governments, especially a government of a country loved as much as Spain, but you said it, or you asked it. There are thousands of Ecuadoreans involved in this and we have to defend our compatriots. I do not criticise governments. I criticise systems. The law on evictions in Spain has been around for more than a century.

ANA IBÁÑEZ: They are now trying to make modifications, a submission just went ahead yesterday to the economic commission, it was approved with the votes of the Partido Popular, which is the government party.

RAFAEL CORREA: Indeed, the government of President Rajoy has moved forward to flexibilise that law a little. But it is a complete abuse by capital conducted against human beings. I would say it is even immoral.  They impose things on us as if they were natural laws, inescapable laws of physics. No: it is pure and simple exploitation. All of the risk, all of the cost of the crisis is borne by human beings. Look, when banks, and bankers, had excess liquidity they even went out looking for citizens to saddle them with credit. The property bubble came along. They themselves endorsed the houses. They put the value on them. “€300,000. Here, €350,000 for a car and the furniture”. Not out of solidarity, but because they had excess liquidity and the business of banks is to saddle with credit, not to hang on to that liquidity. The crisis arrives. In good faith, the house cannot be paid. Here’s the house back. The family has to lose its house. But now the house is worth €50,000. So I end up living, as well with €300,000 (in debt), as well as losing your house you end up ruined the rest of your life. They are ruining whole lives.

ANA IBÁÑEZ: How are the Ecuadoreans responding? Are they adopting any kind of measure?

RAFAEL CORREA: A simple abuse by capital against human beings. I want to make this clear. It isn’t anything techincal. They are abusive. I would say criminal.

ANA IBÁÑEZ: We are clear on this.

RAFAEL CORREA: How are we helping? With advice. We are advising thousands of Ecuadoreans. We have conducted legal consultations at different European legal institutions, legal advice as I already mentioned and we have conducted a very deep investigation of the contracts, and what we have found is horrifying. They are contracts ..beyond the fact that the law itself is immoral, the contracts are deeply abusive. They have clauses such as, for example, “and after signing this contract we can change anything without letting you know”..basically that’s what certain clauses say. Horrifying. Barbarity.

ANA IBÁÑEZ: As you know, this programme is broadcast on the 24 hour channel, on Television Espanola, also on the international channel. There are many Ecuadoreans who are paying attention to this interview. Any of them in this situation, in danger of eviction, where should they go so that your government helps them?

RAFAEL CORREA: They can go to consulates of Ecuador in Spain, we have many of them. We also have the national secretariat for migrants, the Senami, they can go to Senami offices, they can seek advice via internet.

ANA IBÁÑEZ: Unemployment is another issue here that is making the news…

RAFAEL CORREA: That’s what we’re talking about, the crisis.

ANA IBÁÑ in Spain. The crisis, precisely, that’s why I said we were going to keep talking a lot about economics, since there are many young people, as you know, people not so young, going to make a living in other countries, Spanish firms are looking for new business niches. In this vein, what opportunities does Ecuador offer?

RAFAEL CORREA: Opportunities I’ll talk about a little later. Let’s reflect a little on unemployment. Destroying jobs without growth does not overcome a crisis: it makes it worse. And policies are being implemented that do not depend on a government -it is the system- in this case the European system, dominated by certain countries, that are destroying jobs. They prevent growth. The European crisis is a financial crisis, it is not a crisis in the real sector. It’s one thing not to be competitive, to not have the human talent, to have one’s industry overtaken  by new industries in different kinds of technology,  meaning you have to re-train the labour force…those are real crises. The Spanish crisis, and the European crisis, is a financial crisis. To put it in basic terms, co-ordination. There are houses. There are people who need houses and there are banks that do not need to hang on to the house. The problem is co-ordination. And the best way of co-ordinating socially is through the currency, through monetary policy. But what you have is the insistence by the European Central Bank on having a monetary policy that is very rigid. And who do you think benefits from that monetary policy? Finance capital. The problem is power. It is a political problem, not a technical problem.


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Resisting fear, striking blows together


This is a translation of a text by Gerardo Pisarello and Jaume Asens, originally published 22nd April on

Resisting fear, striking blows together

For nearly five years now we have been living with a rampant capitalism that accepts no limits. A capitalism that moves ahead shamelessly and aspires to commodify everything: housing. health, education, public space, affective relations. To make headway, this process needs to smash individual and collective autonomy. It needs to isolate people and reduce them to servitude, to impotence. This is what directed consumerism and programmed alienation are: figures of impotence. The other one is fear – of being evicted, of losing a job, of not being to be able to pay debts, of being fined in the underground, of being deported for not having documentation, of being arrested in a demonstration or in an occupation. Individualism, fear, and voluntary or involuntary servitude, are forms of impotence that go hand in hand. They all form the basis of debtocracy.

This story is not new, of course. Debtocracy is the child of neoliberalism. And the latter of capitalism’s drive to cast off ties. To free itself from the binds imposed by popular struggles and resistance. After the fall of unreal socialism, we know that the beast does not want a muzzle. It does not tolerate juridical limits, rights, laws. Unless, of course, they are its own laws: the ones that benefit banks, the major tax evaders, the dark fabric of kleptocracy. Those laws it does want -the ones that ensure the ‘guilt of the sardines’ and the ‘impunity of the sharks’, as the great Rosa Luxemburg said. The other stuff, human rights, is a nuisance. An unacceptable shackle. It doesn’t matter whether it’s social or environmental rights or civil or political rights. The beast wants neither a muzzle, nor criticisms, nor protests that go beyond its control. Only docile and fearful consumers. Without blinking it approves obscene rules that leave thousands of people without work, without a home and without a future. But it barks outraged against a union picket or against the stickers from an escrache. Thus, whilst it strangles the welfare state, whilst it liquidates the commons, it erects the penal state, punitive exceptionality, continuous surveillance.


The city under surveillance, the city of fear, is at the nucleus of neoliberal barbarism. Disciplinary practices that go beyond the walls of the prison and extend throughout the metropolis. Scanners at airports, digital fingerprints, online storage of personal data, surveillance cameras, private security in parks and squares. “The police everywhere, justice nowhere”, as Victor Hugo wrote in the 19th century. A kind of low intensity war fought not in the trenches but in the supermarkets, in the parks, in the underground, and on sofas in homes. A war that erects walls, borders and that turns the city into a great panopticon in which we are all detainees and guards. Watchful guards against our neighbour, who has been turned into a threat. And alongside this veiled repression, which has been accepted almost voluntarily, we have the other kind. Pure and simple repression, against the excluded and the dissident. People on strike, social activists, sex workers, graffiti artists, beggars, migrants without documentation, young people without a future. All of them in the crosshairs of civic ordinances, which have been turned into the authentic constitution of the city. All of them in the crosshairs of penal codes that toughen in keeping with rises in inequality and resistance.

The criminalisation of protest, of dissidence, isn’t new either. But it accelerates as resistance grows. It was on show with the irruption of the 15-M, with the general strikes, with the surrounding of the Parlament of Catalonia, with 25-S. First there is condescending paternalism: the carrot. Then, the stick, the grim face of governments that proclaim themselves market friendly [in English in the original]. As austerity policies have intensified, the right wing and its accomplices have competed against one another in coming up with repressive initiatives. Today: greater policing and judicial forcefulness. Tomorrow: restrictions on the right to assembly, prohibition on hiding one’s face in demonstrations and the appointment of magistrates specialising in ‘urban warfare’. Later: the opening of internet sites on which ‘citizens’ can inform on ‘subversives’ [antisistemas], the broadening of conduct that constitutes attacks on authority, the treatment of protests as terrorist or proto-terrorist behaviour, police monitoring of social networks.

It is the penal law of the enemy. That which has no qualms about going “beyond the law”, as the Catalan Interior Minister Puig put it. Or in resorting to ‘juridical engineering’, if some troublesome guarantee has to be gotten rid of, as minister Fernández Díaz puts it. It is the law that is not. The one that criminalises whoever raises her voice. The one that expels the indignados from public squares, that treats striking workers as ‘rats’ and evictees as ‘nazis’. And alongside it, the penal law of one’s friends. The one that is placed in the service of power and that looks the other way whenever there is tax fraud, the one that pardons big bankers and promotes or absolves police violence. There is no great originality here either. The punitive violence of the State has always found its enemies. And when it hasn’t, it has invented them. The inquisition persecuted peasants driven from their lands by accusing them of being witches. The propertied classes persecuted workers by accusing them of being degenerates, scum, vagrants. Seen in a historical dimension, names such as perro-flautas or terrorists are often variations of a long-standing hatred. One that implicitly carries demophobia, the classist (and even racist) hatred that the powerful feel towards those who might endanger their privileges.  

We have been living for years, decades, with an unapologetic capitalism that seeks to reduce everything to mere commodity, to immediate profit. Its forward march has given rise to multiple forms of barbarism. Rises in poverty, depression, suicides, internment centres, outbreaks of xenophobia. But it is also generating, through its totalising desire, unprecedented spaces of solidarity, or resistence. One day it is the PAH, worthy of those who put their bodies in the way to stop evictions. Another, the mobilisations against the privatisation of water, strikes, dozens of co-operative, anti-capitalist initiatives, which spring up here and there. After the neoliberal deluge, these initiatives might seem modest. But they are achieving what appeared impossible: for the political class that has managed this debtocracy, this kleptocracy, to be more delegitimised than ever. For the bipartite and monarchical regime inherited from Francoism to appear an unbearable burden. This delegitimisation may, of course, translate into resignation and neglect. But it can feed, and is already doing so, reactions of outrage that mutate into struggles for dignity, for the constitution of something new. That this should occur will not depend on any divine law. It depends on us. Because what has never yet happened –as Schiller wrote- does not get old. It remains there for whoever has the ability to rescue from oblivion those struggles and dreams of those who went before us. And to feed, with this memory, our own reasons to be and to strike together. Against fear, and for freedom.


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The Parameters of Decency: Comment

This is a comment I left on the Irish Times website in response to an article by Dr Chris Hayden, a priest of the diocese of Ferns, titled ‘Dancing on Margaret Thatcher’s grave crossed the line of human decency’.


A generation ago in Ireland it was customary not to speak ill of the dead but it was deemed fair enough to bury them in unmarked graves and tell their mothers that they were in limbo. Or hell, if the dead had killed themselves. Thus the open season on the deficiencies of the dead began a long time before Margaret Thatcher rose to power in Britain.  

 Large swathes of civil and criminal codes are not designed to ‘curb and police behaviour arising from such normal phenomena as greed, envy and anger’. They are designed to protect the regime of property. As such, they generate such phenomena as greed, envy, and anger, which in turn appear as normal, when in fact they appear in different societies to a greater or lesser extent. 

 Thatcher’s principal genius was in mobilising the energies of greed, envy and anger that the regime of property creates.  

 Riches equated to moral standing: the more you had, the better the person you were. If your prospects of a job were destroyed, you were enjoined to envy those in stable employment (though not the rich, your moral betters). And the resultant anger was directed at the poor (i.e. the morally deficient) and the institutions that protected them. It was the behaviour of the poor -their irrational, angry effusions, their failure to shoulder the demands of the regime of property- that had to be policed, whether through the application of a police truncheon or the sanctimonious outrage of newspapers at trivial improprieties.

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Escraches: ‘thousands of citizens have decided that in the future we want to be able to look ourselves in the mirror’ – open letter by Ada Colau

Continuing the series of translated pieces regarding escraches (previous posts here, here and here; for background reading on the PAH, see here), what follows is a recent open letter by Ada Colau, spokesperson for the PAH, written in a personal capacity, and published in Público on April 18th. It is also included in a new book by Ada Colau and Adrià Alemany titled ¡Sí se puede! Crónica de una pequeña gran victoria’  (‘Yes we can! Chronicle of a little great victory’). The letter deals with the government’s response to the PAH campaign and in particular the resort to comparisons with Nazi Germany with regard to the tactic of escraches.


Mr Mariano Rajoy, Deputies of the Partido Popular, members of the Government of Spain,

This is Ada Colau writing to you, but not this time as spokesperson for the Mortgage Holders’ Platform, but as an ordinary citizen.

The past few days have been intense. The Government delegate for Madrid, Cristina Cifuentes, and other members of the Government and your party, as well as certain media outlets, have launched grave accusations against me. Many lies and distorted truths have been told: that I was a philo-terrorist, that I was a sympathiser with such and such, that I had been convicted in non-existent court cases, that I was a subversive (antisistema) on account of various peaceful actions, that I have received millions of euros in funding…It’s all the same. Lawyers tell me that I ought to report this, and in certain serious cases I shall, but it is not worth the trouble responding to defamation. Nonetheless, certain basic misunderstandings have built up, and I believe it appropriate that I clarify them.

First of all, you have not understood the PAH movement. Let me inform you. The PAH is a citizen movement in which thousands of people participate, the majority of them directly affected, certain others in solidarity, but all of them mobilised in defence of the right to housing. It is a partyless movement, one that is deeply plural and cross-sectional, in which very different people have found ourselves moved by outrage at abuses by financial entities and the complicity they found with both your Government and the previous one. Therefore I can tell you that your accusations that the PSOE is pulling the strings of the PAH are ridiculous and show a worrying ignorance of reality. You ought to come along to our meetings and see for yourselves. In them you will find voters of all parties and abstentionists; middle and lower classes; immigrants and indigenous; young people and older people..that is, the citizens in general.

Secondly, the PAH does not have nor does it need leaders. It seems you have insisted on seeking out ringleaders in order to decapitate them, as a quick way of putting an end to a protest that financial entities, and now it seems you yourselves, find troublesome. I am no-one important or especially bright. At the moment I am a spokesperson, but there are thousands of people just as involved as me or more so. This is the strength of the collective: we are a profoundly democratic movement rooted in decentralisation and the leadership of each and every one of the people who take part in it. This is one of the secret ingredients that explain how in the most difficullt of moments people get the best out of themselves. Empowerment and solidarity make us unstoppable. And now, let’s talk about the escraches.

It upsets you that we are able to protest outside your house. I understand. I wouldn’t like it either. But if you had ever attended an eviction, you would understand that it is something infinitely more upsetting. There are thousands of people on the brink, out on the street and in debt, in unemployment, with nothing to eat…and all this despite the fact that they live surrounded by abundance. Thousands of families live on the street in the country in Europe with the most empty houses. They go hungry in a State that allows tons of foodstuffs in good condition to be thrown away. And you govern this country, and so you ought not be surprissed that these families should call to your house after having tried in vain to get your attention. This absolutely exemplary movement has exhausted all the routes offered by Spain’s inadequate democracy: for more than four years we have tried to negotiate with financial institutions, we have spoken with political parties, with social services, local councils..We have spent resources on court cases and like little ants we have collected nearly one and a half million signatures. And nothing: the Partido Popular has not moved even a millimetre and announces that it will reject the measures in the Popular Legislative Initiative (ILP). What a coincidence. At the very moment when the PAH enjoys the greatest support from society (between 80 per cent and 90 per cent, according to all surveys). When the one and a half million signatures from the ILP have now been handed in. When social pressure has forced them to process this ILP that they did not even plan to debate. When a European judgement comes through that shows that the people affected are in the right and says that the thousands of mortgage foreclosures and evictions that have taken place in recent years in Spain are illegal. In that very moment, when it would seem that nothing else can delay the necessary legislative reform, your only answer is to embark on a campaign of criminalisation against us.

Instead of listening to popular clamour, you attempt to generate confusion by comparing our peaceful actions with ETA terrorism or Nazi Germany. You need to be evil people to say something like this. I remind you that as regards evictions, the only homes violated and the only deaths as of now have been those of the population. Not those of your honourable ladies and gentlemen, who until now have kept a safe distance, in comfort, looking on at a drama that could have been avoided if you had acted where you are supposed to, in the Congress. Of course the citizens are not stupid and have seen straight away that this whole campaign of defamation merely sought to make noise in order to divert attention. Hence it is not going to work for you. Reality is stubborn and thousands of swindled and evicted people are not going to disappear however much their Government ignores them.

Let me finish by using the parallel with Nazi Germany that you make use of so lightly. If the gravity is not comparable, in both cases we are talking about situations of systematic violations of human rights. Fortunately we are not confronted with concentration camps or mass deportations and murders. But we do have violent evictions, thousands of impoverished people who see their basic needs compromised, condemned for life to social exclusion and the underground economy. And all this to maintain privileges and astronomic profits for the financial elites.

Decades after Nazism, German society has not yet forgiven itself for not being able to react to prevent barbarism. Well, in Spain thousands of citizens have decided that in the future we want to be able to look at ourselves in the mirror. A democracy that allows the systematic violation of human rights, and even promotes it, is not democracy, however much people vote every four years. Democracy will be when the general interest is placed before the diktats of the markets. When there is nothing more important than the life and dignity of people.

Mr President it is never to late to correct things. Do not fear the escraches, do not fear the population. Go out onto the street and speak with people. Do justice and halt the evictions. There are lives at stake and they can wait no longer.

Barcelona 8 April 2013.


(Photo: Diego González Sanz)

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Escraches: The Independent Republic of My House

(image via Público)

This is the third translated piece on the phenomenon of escraches. You can read the first one by Guillermo Zapata here and the second one by Isaac Rosa here.

This one is by Jorge Moruno and was published on his blog La revuelta de las neuronas on 13th April. It addresses the reaction on the part of ruling politicians.

The independent republic of my house

My house is the terrain of my family – Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría, Deputy Prime Minister

The arguments brandished by regime managers against the democratic empowerment of escraches are proving more ridiculous with each passing day. If a few days ago ETA was dissolving and diluting into Spanish society, today we hear from the jaws of that great authority on the subject, Dolores de Cospedal [President of Castile-La Mancha autonomous government and Secretary General of the Partido Popular] that escraches are “pure Nazism”. It must be that the recent declarations of Felipe Gonzalez, denouncing the fact that the children of Pons [Esteban González Pons, high-ranking Partido Popular politician] should have to listen to people ringing the bell of their home whilst anyone else’s children can be expelled from theirs by the police force paid for by everyone, have re-inforced her self-esteem. When a political regime reveals itself as kleptocratic, where the rule of thieves holds sway, the regime seeks to drain politics of debate and the street, whilst clinging to legal norms for dear life. Only a totalitarian treats legal forms as alien to the social and political relations from which they emerge, and sanctifies their value, as though they were the object of transcendental divinity and not a human product. Reactionary minds such as those that designed the laws of blood and honour in Nazi Germany believed that preventing Jewish contamination had to be supported by a legal framework. The sovereign confronts the multitude by trying to convince it that what is legal is always synonymous with what is legitimate, even when the justification for this legality is based on a popular sovereignty that can be clearly seen as mutilated. Narrow-mindedness interprets democracy as a rigid and static system, as a petrified legal construct empty of politics, which always finds its own justification within itself. There is no place for constituent discontinuity within the constituted political regime.

But those who hate democracy and thus politics, those who do not wish to lose the monopoly of speech with which they name reality, look on aghast at how their ability to convince rusts away, and hence they appeal to any argument; it matters little to them that they insult the intelligence of the population with such brutish analogies. When the escrachados [targets of escraches] refer to their private lives, their intimacy and living space and seek to discredit citizen escraches, they make a show of their profound immorality by the mere fact of putting it in those terms. To appeal to the inviolability of their own space, when at the same time they wish to deny its existence to a great many people if they can get away with it, shows their contempt for people. For us all to enjoy the independent republic of our own home, the property held by the banks must cease to cause servitude and to deprive others of their lives. Property does not include a social dimension in addition; on the contrary, it is generated socially and is then usurped by the monopoly of a few. Hence there is an urgent need to commit to a lifelong sustainable social rent so that people can be truly independent.

They stand for a homeland [patria] of fools and of the oligarchic financial caste. Those who disobey stand for a Europe and a Spain of everyone and for everyone, where equality at birth assures the right to existence. Robespierre said that any social law must be subject, above all, to the right that each person has to exist. Precarity, unemployment, evictions, financial dictatorship and the loss of rights deny our existence and our equal status. It is time that politics, forever young, challenges and then consigns to history the kingdom of the dinosaurs.

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