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