Monthly Archives: May 2013

Translation: The 15M and Occam’s star, by John Brown.

This is a translation of an article by John Brown, evaluating the effects of 15M, originally published on his blog on the 14th May.

The 15M and Occam’s star

Anyone who reads the press of the Spanish regime these days will notice that on the whole it reports a diminished presence of the 15M on the streets. Some speak of a ‘better organisation’, others fear a ‘radicalisation’, but all are agreed upon its diminished presence as a movement in public space, however much the Puerta del Sol was filled with people once again on the 12th of May 2013 for the celebration of the second anniversary. Indeed, if the 15M had been a movement, that is, a group of persons with a precise political or social objective, those who celebrate or lament its demise would not be wrong, but the 15M is something else, or perhaps not even a thing, but an event. First of all, its name being that of a date ought to alert us of this fact. No-one is in doubt that the 15th of May 2011 something important happened in the Spanish State, first in the big cities, and subsequently in the whole of the country. For the first time, a multitude outside the control of the State, the parties and the unions took over en masse the centres of numerous major cities, demanding a refounding of democracy, clamouring against corruption and against the effects of the crisis on a youth population already plagued by mass unemployment. It was a matter of redefining the rules of the game so that it was no longer the same people -the social majority- who lost out. The 15M went on for a month in the Puerta del Sol and turned into the real parliament, the one in which the problems of the population are dealt with, and the citizens themselves intervene freely and directly in the framework of an open assembly. First it was to reconquer democracy as a space for the word and responsibility of each person before everyone else. It was not merely a matter of demonstrating that the rebellious multitude of the 15M existed: this happened in the first weeks during which the contact between very diverse social, ideological and aesthetic realities created a general climate of trust and friendship. Beyond this, it was also a matter -unwittingly- of recovering one of the  proofs upon which the ancient city was based, in which, as Aristotle said, “citizens are friends.” Political passion in democracy produces friendship. Antagonism too.

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The crisis brought the content for the debates and moblisations. The wave of cuts to wages and in essential public services such as health, education, the massive loss of rights belonging to workers, old people, people dependent on care and their families, and the hundreds of thousands of evictions became urgent themes of moblisation. Commissions were set up, entities that brought their findings to the assemblies on all of these themes. above all, the people who woke up to politics and real citizenship that the 15M took part in a multitude of concrete activities of demanding common goods and rights, of an end to evictions. On all these fronts, power has proved deaf and blind, but the mobilisation has continued to move forward. The different mareas (tides) of public services that draw together workers, users and citizens in general remain active and engaged in struggle, despite the lack of a response from power.

The permanent clash with power as an obstacle lends the reigning pacifism an antagonistic tone to its demands. It is no longer simply a matter of formulating petitions addressed to power, but explicitly, to bring down what is already openly named as ‘the Regime’. This results in a series of social movements whose trajectory depends less and less on the reaction of power and which maintains its demands in an autonomous fashion. In the same way, the Mortgage Victims’ Platform has already reaped important successes: the presentation of the ILP (popular legislative initiative) backed by a million and a half signatures, the verdict of the European Court of Justice against the Spanish mortgage law, and various judges declaring occupations to be legitimate. All this is not the 15M, but it does constitute a reality contaminated by the 15M virus, something that could not have existed on this scale without that initial event.

The independence of the movements, and their perseverance in their goals against a backdrop of general impoverishment of a society on the part of a ‘democratic’ government that is a debt collection agency in the service of finance capital, are causing a wobble in the foundations of the regime. If Francoism maintained itself thanks to the myth of the ‘two Spains’, since 15M there are another two Spains, but distributed in a very different proportion: that of the 1% and that of the 99%. As a result, surveys show an enormous percentage of support for the 15M, for the PAH, for the mareas, a percentage that far surpasses the results of the two major parties put together. The 15M enjoys the support of 75% of the population and the PAH almost 90%. The institutions and the consensuses of the Transition are losing legitimacy at high speed, whilst the movements are gaining it. Perhaps this is the famous constituent process: the progressive unfolding of a potency of the social majority that wishes to give itself another form of political life and another social organisation that allows for something so normal -but so impossible for many people nowadays- as to live with dignity.

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One can surround the parliament from time to time, one can interpellate power via escraches: all of this has its use, since it delegitimises the existing order. However, the essential thing is the admirable perserverance of the social movements, their ability to converge with other movements, their ability to create hegemony. Nowadays, as a friend from Madrid said recently “people talk about politics in the doctor’s waiting room” and at the queues in the markets. In a country whose current regime was founded by a man, Francisco Franco, whose main objective was that “no-one should talk about politics” and in which the truncated “party-based” democracy that currently reins serves to achieve the designs of the “Caudillo” through somewhat less brutal means, this is a colossal victory for democracy.

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We know there are dead stars that keep on sending their light millenia after they have gone out. In a certain way, a cause that has ceased to exist continues to produce effects. William of Occam made this hypothesis -before this astronomical phenomenon was known- to illustrate his thesis according to which cause and effect are connected via divine will, which could also dissociate them. The image of a dead star that continues to cast light on us is a sad image for us to use in reference to the 15M, since the 15M remains alive- but it goes on living through its effects. The 15M, like every true event that changes history, has become an absent cause, but by contrast with Occam’s star, an absent cause continues to act, it is its effects, which are fused with the cause itself. It will take a while for us to appreciate them fully in terms of changes in our own political subjectivity, of affirmation of our singular and collective potency, since the effects of the 15M go on taking place within us and counteracting the sad passions induced by power. We were sleeping, and we awoke.

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Debt, Freemanism and Hidings To Nothing

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‘The ideological aquifers are completely dry’ – El Roto

Today’s Irish Times reports over 100 ‘Freeman’-style arguments used in the Irish courts this year, citing the Law Society Gazette. On Tuesday, Francis Cullen (36) was sentenced to another three months in Mountjoy Prison for refusing to recognise the court’s jurisdiction. He claimed, according to the Irish Times report, that he was ‘a private, sovereign person’.

The Law Society of Ireland ‘advises advise anyone in financial difficulty to get advice from someone who is trained in and knowledgeable about the law as set down in the Constitution and by the Oireachtas and the courts’, according to the Irish Times, which also cites a barrister pointing out the harmful and abusive dimension to providing vulnerable people with legal advice that is false.

100 court cases over the last 12 months seems like a big number to me. It would also be interesting to know how many people planning on using such arguments eventually thought better of doing so, before their case came before the courts.

I don’t think it’s too hard to imagine the appeal of a freeman-style argument. Someone living in a situation of paralysing indebtedness can feel their life is falling apart. The legal fact of being in debt is only one aspect of the private disaster unfolding in their lives, which can also include relationship breakdown, separation from family, and a destructive effect on one’s self-esteem.

An existence as a financially solvent and autonomous individual is a basis for self-respect: that is the kind of existence prized by contemporary society. Spiraling debt is not just a matter of the quantity of debt shooting upward due to interest, fines and penalties. It is also the way in which the means of paying a debt may shrink, in a situation of unemployment and the consequent effects on a person’s morale. Overwhelming debt and a sense of things falling out of control in one’s personal life can have a corrosive effect on a person’s sense of self.

When the legal system appears on the scene, the effect can be traumatic. A split emerges in the mind of the person addressed by the court summons: between the person called upon by the forbidding and imperious complex of courts and solicitors, and the person with a memory and a history, informed by family and relationships and some degree of social worth.

Hence the appeal of the notion that I am a ‘private, sovereign person’: such a notion appears more grounded in reality than the legal ‘fiction’ of a person who exists before the court only by virtue of the fact that he or she is in a situation of a debt that cannot be paid. It follows that if this split can be successfully claimed as a legal fact, then neither the debt nor the court enforcing the payment or punishment in lieu of has any standing. This is an ‘if’ of proportions that are very large and fast approaching infinity.

The appeal can also be explained in terms of the way Freemanism -for want of a better word- preserves particular conceptions of masculinity, petty bourgeois individualism, and property rights.

There is a tendency to draw on patriarchal imagery and rhetoric rooted in feudalism, of a time prior to the recent fall – when women had no political rights and every man his rightful place. We are speaking of Freemen of the land. Ben Gilroy -who says he is not a Freeman, but it scarcely matters since he relies on so much of the same discourse, speaks of the founding fathers of the constitution. Tradesmen who may have had a viable business during a property boom but for whom work has dried up and debt has ballooned may be particularly susceptible to Freemanism. It is worth restating here that dominant media institutions present the ideal existence in terms of independent businessmen-cum-entrepreneurs operating in an age where class has ceased to exist (though of course, you should be eternally grateful you have a job) and social supports are a luxury, not a right. To illustrate, I suggest you turn on Liveline some day.

Paradoxically, a ‘private, sovereign person’ sees their existence as inseparable from the regime of property: ‘You are the sovereign supreme authority over your own self, your own bodily kingdom. If you can claim ownership of nothing else, you can claim ownership of yourself’, as the Sovereign Independent writes. In the final instance, Freemanism is a product of the regime of property and its conventional wisdom. However, one cannot ‘own’ oneself in the same way as one owns a washing machine. You cannot exchange your head for a washing machine.

This is a political problem then, and not a mere problem of insufficient legal advice. We have to draw a distinction between the manipulative chancers who claim expertise and seek public approval, and those people whose desperation and isolation causes them to either seek refuge in tenets of Freemanism in order to cope with personal catastrophe in the face of legal threats, or enthusiastically circulate material that purports to demonstrate the fundamental illegality of the law (usually by reference to some ‘real’ law that has been usurped).

It is not just a matter of the predicament of individuals who end up in jail with hefty sentences for paying heed to these syncretic doctrines: the more such ideas take hold, the more the possibilities for emancipatory democratic politics shrink. Isolation, debt and an internet connection are an explosive cocktail.

I don’t quite know what the best way is of addressing this as a political problem, but it strikes me that the wrong way of addressing it is to consign people who are attracted to such things to the ranks of the politically unacceptable and ridiculous, or identify a reactionary movement where no such thing exists. If a couple of thousand people -I think it was less than that- vote for someone standing on a platform of Direct Democracy in a by-election, promising greater democratic influence over political decisions, that is not so much an augury of a Grillo-style Five Star Movement in Ireland but the symptom of a fracture opening up in the political system, a consequence both of the real, decisive power of neoliberal technocracy and its destructive effect on people’s lives, and the largely successful presentation of politics as equivalent to representation, within a regime of property. In a country with anything approaching a democratic culture, the phenomenon of someone standing for an election in a political party named ‘Direct Democracy’ would be the object of intense ridicule. However, there has been little democratic questioning of the regime of representation in Ireland.

Having watched the evolution of 15-M in Spain closely, and having also observed the swift passage of Ireland’s Occupy event from initial euphoria and promise to puzzling debacle, it is tempting to diagnose the Irish situation in terms of its absences. One such absence is a climate of openness, trust and friendship. Another is any effective critique of representation at this juncture from a left-wing perspective, since it is widely believed that organising a representative political subject takes priority over democratic participation, and, in so far as democratic participation is desirable, it is with a view to laying the basis for a successful electoral vehicle, not the construction of social institutions beyond capitalism and the regime of representation. To me, both absences lay the foundation for a hiding to nothing.

My sense is that the overall absence of social institutions that operate democratically and on the basis of social solidarity, but crucially, that operate in spite of and against the regime of property, means that Freeman-type ideas will take even greater hold in Ireland, especially in the shadow of the new Insolvency Service of Ireland, which effectively turns people into powerless subjects of a regime that exerts control over the minutiae of one’s personal life. Refusing to address the phenomenon of Freemanism as a vivid symptom of a deep political problem, but merely as cause for derision and ridicule, is only going to make things worse.

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Translation: Frontiers of democracy – Pablo Bustinduy

This is a translation of a piece by Pablo Bustinduy, published 15 May 2013 in Público.

Frontiers of democracy

‘An inclusive but largely passive citizen body, embracing both elite and multitude, but whose citizenship would be limited in scope’

Ellen Meiksins Wood, Democracy Against Capitalism.

1. In ancient Greece, freedom (eleutheria) meant: to be free from service. A citizen is whoever has no master and owes nothing to anyone, whoever need not sweat for another to rob him of the fruits of his time and his effort. Beneath, of course, was the body of slaves; behind was that of women and foreigners. In the centre of the square, however, the presence of the demos was scandalous: its rule was not based on lineage, wealth, intelligence or aptitude, but in socialised decision making and political reasoning, in the common power of the free people. Hence most political posts were assigned by drawing lots, and the principal discussions were submitted to the shouts of the assembly: because he who does not work for a tyrant does not entrust him with the ability to decide in his place.

2. In modern democracies, the ‘rule of the people’ becomes the rule of its representatives, and the people a fiction for which equality consists of the vote of an oligarch and that of a worker being of exactly the same value. Everything that separates them –their work, their income and relations, the power that they exercise or is exercised over them, disappears by magic from the political scene. In capitalist democracy, the demos is a smooth, homogeneous, cold surface, where social life leaves no trace and everyone has the same right to not do (almost) anything (almost) ever. But the Greeks had already said that every city carries two other cities within it, that not everyone lives in the same conditions nor do they have the same possibilities. Hence the people is at once the name of the lower classes and the entire social body: because that body is cracked within.

3. In parliament, democracy enters a closed off place that seeks to have the monopoly over what is legal and what is legitimate (it is no coincidence that the parliaments of the South of Europe are shielded by armour: this is in the final instance the porousness of the ‘political sphere’). The representative fiction by principle depoliticises everything that remains outside it. Hence escraches are “pure Nazism” and the million signatures for the referendum on health care are a “parody”. On the other side of that frontier, however, there are more and more people who no longer have cause to maintain the social pact. It is a historic block (in the near tectonic sense of plates of rupture, of a continent that seeks to give itself its own shape) that is growing and is more solid than what one might think. The paradox is that the more pressure it applies against the limit, the more it reaches its own border, its own moments of overflow and definition.

4. In a commentary on the lessons of revolution, Trotsky says that in this kind of situation there are usually two activities that come to the fore which force a retreat rather than a leap forward. The first can find nothing around it but faults, difficulties and impossibilities for movement; the second only sees an obstacle when it splits its head against it. One sees mountains everywhere; the other is convinced that the “ocean is only knee deep” Spinoza said that hope and fear are two symmetrical versions of a single paralysis, of the same inability to act. It is likely that finding a mid-point between these two extremes is today a prerequisite for addressing the problem of organisation.

5. The situation has become more and more unpredictable. The unity of the demos, spoken of so much, is never pre-ordained: it is a dialectical, contradictory process, which advances by disabling limits, exerting force against them, rendering them useless. Gilles Dauvé and Karl Nesic write in Beyond Democracy:

‘In Petrograd, in 1917, and with 90,000 textile workers (men and women) already on strike, one of the detonators of the revolution was a demonstration of women who, on the 23rd of February, became sick of queuing in front of bakeries and decided to stand outside the head offices of the municipal Duma to demand bread (…) On the way they blocked the trams and stopped outside the doors of factories and offices, inciting, mostly successfully, for work to stop. It is an example of how ‘domestic’ and ‘worker’ categories can be mixed together, the workplace and the space outside it, the occupation of the firm and the Street; it is to create a threshold from which everything can be placed under discussion. At a more modest level, as soon as a breach opens up in reality opens up there can be a surge of that ‘fraternal disorder’ (Babeuf) that produces a community of struggle. In Rouen, in 1968 and after having been invited to stop work, the employees of a shopping street start to debate at street level; any passer-by who wishes joins them, without anyone asking them who they are or in whose name they speak. Frontiers only govern as long as routines govern.’

Processes can occur at many levels and with different logics: what is essential is the gathering of forces in the instant that trajectories cross, when frontiers can be overwhelmed and things can be placed under discussion.

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Suicide and the lilies: A Comment

I left this comment on Olivia O’Leary’s article in today’s Irish Times titled ‘By the manner of his death, Donal Walsh has left a reason to live’, in which the author writes against suicide, saying that ‘existence itself is a privilege’, and citing the line from Luke that says ‘Consider the lilies, how they grow: they toil not, they spin not and yet I say unto you that Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these’ to express what ‘those of us lucky enough to be alive’ ought to ‘live life’ beyond the ‘urge to achieve, or the disappointment that we haven’t’.

The range of choices that appear before someone don’t emerge in a vacuum. They develop over time. We shouldn’t pretend that everyone’s family, friendships, working life and experiences are even roughly the same. Some people see the life in front of them as worth living; others come to a point where they don’t.

Privilege means ‘private law’. Existence cannot be a privilege since it means that there are other people excluded by this private law. But such people do not exist. So we should think about the quality of our existence, not the fact that we exist. Hence it’s fine to speak about considering the lilies, but many people struggle so much with their everyday circumstances that they rarely find themselves in a position to think about the qualities of a lily. You can’t appreciate a lily when the bailiffs are at the door. And anyway, no two people see the same lily.

A New York Times article -How Austerity Kills- reported the other day on how in the US, the suicide rate had ‘jumped during and after the 2007-9 recession’ above and beyond what pre-existing trends would have predicted. In Spain, there is a grisly trend of people opting to kill themselves because they see no prospects to life outside the family home from which they stood to be evicted by the state, operating in the interests of banks. On Saturday, in Solihull, England, Stephanie Bottrill walked out in front of a lorry because she felt she had no way of finding the £20 needed to pay the new so-called bedroom tax on the home she had lived in for the previous 15 years.

If we are not prepared to look at the social factors involved in suicide -not least policy decisions that favour major financial interests over people’s health, welfare and flourishing- and we instead simplify the phenomenon so that it appears as a matter of individual choice, as a matter of being incapable of seeing things in the right way, we end up bolstering the dominant individualist political ideology that draws its power from blaming its victims. If we are interested in putting an end to the horrors caused by suicide, we should think about collective ways of creating a world worth living in.

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First Book of Frags by Dave Lordan: A Review

Writers have long been interested in the way words rule us –and rule through us. “My name is Legion,”, says the Gerasene demoniac under exorcism by Jesus in Mark’s Gospel, “for we are many.”

Radical theologian Ched Myers tells us that in Mark’s social world, the Latinism ‘Legion’ ‘had only one meaning: a division of Roman soldiers. Hence the words that Mark’s Jesus exorcises from the demoniac are not just the violent expression of social, political and military domination, but also the act of naming them, of casting a radical distance between who we are and the thing that afflicts us.

But that was then. First Book of Frags, the new prose collection by Dave Lordan, wrestles with the problem of whether language can afford radical distance at a time at a time when demoniacs can envisage a ‘Billion-Year Reich’, a ‘new Omnipower based on the evolutionary synthesis of nano-technology, wireless computing and the built environment’, an ‘autonomous superconsciousness’, as in The Destruction of Europe is Hiring.

It is no longer just a matter of getting scourged or crucified: our language-borne demons are the product of ‘Troy, Waterloo, Ypres, Ebro, Kursk, the Bulge, Inchon, Khe Sanh, Beirut, Najaf- a calendar of horrors to the human way of seeing’. What First Book of Frags shows us, is that these days, our only exorcists are the demoniacs.

In the first frag, a priapic herald of this new age emerges from a Marks and Spencer Christmas Cracker, promptly kills his mother, and fucks off in search of hardcore thrills, (mis)quoting Blake. In Blake’s Songs of Experience, Blake’s Chimney Sweeper emerges as a ‘little black thing among the snow’, at a time when coal warmed the hearths of genteel religious hypocrites and fuelled the industrial growth that made them affluent. Here, Lordan’s narrator appears as snow itself: a little white thing in middle class Dublin, in the bleak despair of a home that never was, covered head to foot, not in soot, but in cocaine. Cocaine: the fuel of the age of finance capital, property booms, public houses listed on the stock exchange, Garda commissioners running multi-million euro drug rings to keep the peace of the rich, and atomised peri-urban fear.

The frags heave with a fraught awareness of how the symbolic and material worlds around us, and their ever-present potential for annihilating violence, cannot but shape whatever existence as conscious political subjects that we might be able to eke out for ourselves.  The place commonly referred to as Ireland is the starting point, or perhaps the ground zero, for most of the frags. When, in Street Party, chaos hits the ‘humdrum, pebble-dashed exurbs’ of a country full of ‘zombie politicians who died and came back from the dead’, the giddy euphoria of the little platoons who emerge, buoyed by a sense of community with their neighbours for the first time, descends into murderous paranoia and grandiose oedipal political delusion (I found myself wondering here if the writer had found inspiration in the debacle phase of the Occupy movement, though I’m sure this is entirely coincidental).

Several of their other narrators, in their composite epistles, job ads, prospectuses and brochures, are matter-of-fact enthusiasts for creative destruction: of human bodies, of the built environment, and the natural habitat. They speak as though ‘is’ and ‘ought’ had been fused together by a series of primal, market-propelled explosions. They speak amid catastrophe as if that is just the way it is. The lack of suicides in a local town, in A Bill, is looked upon by a denizen as a source of collective shame in a land where suicide is the norm.

What is a frag anyway? I found it hard to get away from this question as I was reading through the different pieces.  I found my own response prefigured by my own personal witnessing of something very much like a classic military fragging. Forgive the excursion into personal anecdote, but I hope this helps explain better what I think is so important about Dave Lordan’s book. Over 30 years ago whilst still something of an infant I was out on a Saturday night getting some ice cream with my parents. I can’t recall what time of year it was because Ireland is one of those places where you eat ice cream oblivious to the weather. We were sitting in the car outside the shop when there was an explosion, then the sound of gunfire. I was pulled out of the car by my mother and held face down on the pavement. As the gunfire continued, we crawled along the ground, some ten or fifteen yards, back into the shop.  I can’t recall my panic too well. What I recall is the stippled texture of the pavement slabs, the pathetic offering of a 2p lollipop from the shop owner to pacify me as he stood in front of boxes and boxes of the wildest confectionery delights from now extinct names such as Rowntree Mackintosh-I had just been shot at, for god’s sake- and the face of Ronnie Barker performing in drag, which had been on the television before we went out the door. I don’t recall the howls of the mutilated policemen who had been sitting in the police van when the blast bomb got thrown inside, and I have only the faintest recollection of bystanders shouting at the police, telling them to stop firing wild and indiscriminate shots down the street. And as for the man who was dying from a heart attack in the car behind ours, I only realised it some years later, when I was told about it.

I’ve recounted that story plenty of times this last couple of decades, but it only dawned on me recently, when someone pointed it out to me, that the details about Ronnie Barker, the miserable shopkeeper, and the pavement texture, were a means of coping with the trauma produced by the initial ‘fragging’. So, if the frag can be conceived of as the wielding of an improvised explosive literary device, we need to think of it not just in terms of the explosive, visceral sonic force with which Lordan attacks the historical, temporal, spatial, literary and political symbols and co-ordinates of our reigning power structures. The author also forces us to think about the way in which we ourselves, and the stories we tell about ourselves, which is usually the same thing, are assaulted, and what new –and often grotesque- creations we end up fashioning as a consequence.

From the bleak and catastrophic impact of the frag, things do not simply fall apart in some hopeless collapse of meaning: they lodge themselves with extreme violence in other things -and in our consciousness, creating new -and frequently, dreadful- hybrid objects to behold, and ways of seeing and making one’s way in the world. The frag is both a weapon, and a mirror on a Medusa of a world whose all-devouring logic threatens us with ‘dying out in disaster’, as the Hibernia-based Nazi operative in Dr Essler’s Cocaine puts it, where even local archetypes must be hawked for their market value as in The Cornerboy. But the frags show that it is not at all true, as the same Nazi claims, that ‘meaning, too, is a victor’s prerogative’: meaning is a conscious act of creation.

Anti-fascist poet of the Spanish Republic León Felipe once wrote a poem cursing stories: they were the tools used to drown shouts of anguish, to cover up sobbing, and to bury bodies. For this exile, stories were an anaesthetic and a soporific. It is against this conception of the story, and, more broadly, against the tethering of the social and political imagination -what Blake called the mind forg’d manacles- that the frag is deployed. Those who do not move, do not notice their chains, wrote Rosa Luxemburg. The First Book of Frags is intended to make us move with a jolt.

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The Bus Route to Serfdom: Comment

I left this comment on Broadsheet.ie’s thread on the Bus Éireann strike. First time around I said ‘confirmation uniform’ in a sort of Freudian twist, but I doubt that alters the gist.

It’s illuminating to see the old Irish anti-union repertoire given a good dusting down, as if the social and political context for the Bus Eireann strike were identical to that 10, 15, 25 or 40 years ago. Practically no-one in Ireland, aside from the libertarians whose Twitter avatar is a photo of themselves in a pinstripe suit that may or may not be their confirmation outfit, will express an opposition to unions as such. Not even William Martin Murphy was opposed to unions. No, no-one is opposed to unions; but lots of voluble people of a right-wing persuasion –but then again, in Ireland practically no-one admits to being right-wing- are opposed to each and every instance in which members of a union take actions to protect their livelihood and their rights.

So the Bus Éireann action is characterised above as an ‘insult to the workers of 1913’, for example. Even John Bruton, the Mr Potato Head of international finance, a blueshirt lumpenbourgeois who calls for more austerity and less regulation for financial institutions that suffocate public finances across Europe, all the while drawing at least one succulent public pension, is in favour of honouring the workers of 1913. He said so in a piece in the Irish Times last year. According to this reading of the Lockout, the workers were not engaged in a fight for basic survival and dignity, but so that their great-grandchildren would get the chance to take part in JobBridge before emigrating.

A lot has happened since 1913. In case anyone hadn’t noticed –and to be fair, there are a few people here who are a bit slow on the uptake- we’re living at a time when right across Europe the democratic achievements won in large part by the labour movement –welfare state provision, public health, education and transport systems, workers’ rights- are being rolled right back. And no, the ruling powers have no intention of restoring them, because the total destruction of any kind of collective solidarity sets their pulses racing with excitement. But some people are so serf-like in their identification with the holders of power and wealth that they would rather give up their own rights and dignity so that ‘the markets’ would bestow a sweet smile on them once again, and would rather attack working class people for defending their rights, than voice even the tiniest opposition to the ongoing rampage against the social, economic and labour rights of the vast majority of people living in this country and across Europe. But of course, they’re not opposed to unions in principle. No sir. Sure if Big Jim Larkin was around today he’d agree with them. Right, Jim?

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‘Global Diasporas’, state racism and the economy: comment

I left this comment on an Irish Times piece published today titled ‘Global Diaspora Forum can help drive State’s recovery’

I find the idea of a national ‘diaspora’ troubling, to say the least, and it is especially troubling that Ireland should be given the accolade of ‘thought leader’ on such a matter, particularly when it shares such an accolade with the State of Israel.

Let us contemplate what ‘diaspora’ (meaning, scattered) entails in the context of Israel. It entails citizenship of Israel for Jews around the world, and entails the fiction that Jews around the world were ‘scattered’ from the territory of Israel in the first instance.

This is a biblical fiction, with zero foundation in historical fact. But this biblical fiction is used to justify conferring political rights to Californians and New Yorkers and Russians over people -Palestinians- whose right of return to the place of their birth – Palestine, the land to which the State of Israel lays claim – is systematically denied by the State of Israel, as is the history of their violent expulsion.

Thus the notion of the diaspora as it relates to the State of Israel is a fundamentally racist concept, since it holds that any Jew from anywhere in the world can be a member of the diaspora, but not any non-Jew who was born in the territory claimed by the State of Israel. It is worth noting that Hillary Clinton, a supporter of the initiative written about here, is also a supporter of Israeli state racism, and of the extreme and murderous violence used to uphold it.

Israel’s case should therefore enjoin us to ask: who is included in the Irish diaspora, and who is not? There is no answer to this question that does not entail the application of racial-biological criteria, since Ireland’s citizenship laws now distinguish between people born in the territory of Ireland to Irish parents, and those whose parents are not Irish. Given this, behind the invitation to celebrate of the idea of the diaspora is an invitation to accept that the State may enforce racial-biological criteria in order to determine those people to be conferred social, economic, political and human rights, and ought to be privileged and celebrated for it, and those people who have no such rights, and who will be oppressed, vilified and deported for it. All in the service of ‘economic recovery’. But whose economy?

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The Shadow of 15-M

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Yesterday, two years on from the initial demonstrations that marked the beginning of what has come to be known as 15-M, the streets and squares of the Spanish State were full of demonstrators once again. But what is this 15-M? In today’s El País, Guillem Martínez traces its dimensions. I have translated the piece below, and added some footnotes for context.

The shadow of the object

In 2011, the press took weeks to describe and put a name to the 15-M. It must be pointed out that before the name of indignados [1] – a name now in disuse; it is only those recently incorporated to the movement who are in the outrage phase- other, less lucid ones were tried, such as radicales, antisistema, and los violentos, the semantic pit that once you fell into it, boom, not even Dyno-Rod could get you out[2]. Such slow reflexes indicate how difficult it is to describe the phenomenon. To describe the phenomenon, then, you had to move away from –or even destroy- the cultural frames of Spanish democracy, which are designed to brand as pathological –that is, as radical, anti-system, violent, or thick-as-a-post- any criticism of its functioning. Two years later, and following a striking cultural rupture, descriptions of the 15-M are more agile. But they still suffer from a severe vice: the hope that the 15-M might start to fit the description of a party. Something that is very unlikely to happen.

The 15-M is, thus, a sentimental, intellectual and political trademark [3], one that is variable, is not homogenous, and lacks a centre, and hence cannot be easily described by a culture accustomed to describe reality through the declarations made by its elites into a microphone, from the centre. Perhaps it is easier to describe it through its shadow, which is growing so long that it marks out a historic phenomenon. Its shadow is that aforementioned cultural rupture, which has distanced journalistic language from that of government, such that the institutions have been stripped of their halo. Thus, broad layers of society have been able to read the Bárcenas case [4], the Urdangarin case and the Corinna affair [5] as a structural problem. It has also deprived the institutions of their domination of agendas: their shadow is a Prime Minister who speaks from a plasma screen [6], or a president of the Generalitat [7] who talks about a process of Independence but who cannot set foot in large areas of his country, such as every school and public hospital. Its shadow is the non-existence in the peninsula’s societies of an authoritarian option, as in France and Greece, countries in which Pakistanis, Moroccans and pale faces have not had the chance to prevent the eviction of an Ecuadorean woman. Its shadow is the existence of a horizontal programme –the defence of democracy and welfare against a State that has prioritised, above these two objects, the payment of Debt and determining who must pay it- that has united different citizen target groups [8] with disparate interests, as is the case with a doctor with a second home, the cleaning staff of a hospital, and its patients. Its shadow is how, in hospitals, in colleges, in nursing homes abandoned by the state, and in which services are still being offered that are not covered by budgets, a distinction is being drawn between what is of the state [lo estatal] and what is public [lo público], thus prefiguring a new idea: the common [lo común]. Its shadow is the PAH’s [9] Obra Social[10] -and that of other groups-, which has taken on functions of the State, such as the development of broad areas of Welfare, in what is –and I’m afraid no politician has understood it- a constituent process. Its shadow is the leadership of Bankia, that is, the financial and political leadership of Spain- being taken to court, something unheard of in a political culture founded upon the opposite direction. Its shadow is the visualisation of a stagnant political system, which cannot even accept a tepid, moderate ILP.[11] Its shadow is the rise of co-operatives, and of new forms of credit, which are also co-operative. Its shadow is the experimentation with new technologies, which has broadened the possibilities for democracy, against a Regime that can no longer offer differentiated programmes, and hence offers only representation.

Its shadow determines many things of everyday life, and indicates a strange object to see and to be described. But it must be enormous, since it weighs on the mind of politicians more than they wished.


[1] The English cognate is ‘indignant’, but the meaning in Spanish is far closer to ‘outraged’

[2] In the original, ‘el señor Roca’, a term for the major manufacturer of toilets and other bathroom products. I have taken the liberty of a localised translation.

[3] The English word is used in the original

[4] Luís Bárcenas, politician and former head accountant for the governing Partido Popular who was revealed to have a Swiss bank account containing €22m, and to have used accounting manoeuvres to make clandestine payments to key figures in the Partido Popular, including the current Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy

[5] Corinna zu Sayn-Wittgenstein, former wife of a German aristocrat who has had a close relationship with the king, organising the now infamous hunting trip on which the Franco-appointed Head of State shot an elephant.

[6] Mariano Rajoy’s press conferences now offer the bizarre spectacle of journalists sitting watching the head of government make announcements not from a podium, but from broadcast images on a plasma screen

[7] Artur Mas, president of the Government of Catalonia

[8] In the original, the English word target is used

[9] Plataforma de Afectados por la Hipoteca: variously translated as Mortgage Holders’ Platform and Mortgage Victims’ Platform. See previous posts on the subject here, here, here and here. Also see Provisional University series of posts here.

[10] Obra Social, literally, ‘Social Work’. Name of campaign dedicated to citizen re-appropriation of empty housing blocks currently in the hands of financial entities, in order to re-house families evicted by the Spanish State’s draconian evictions regime.

[11] Iniciativa legislativa popular, literally, ‘popular legislative initiative’, referring to a provision in the Spanish Constitution whereby 500,000 signatures can force the Congress to consider a legislative proposal. In the specific case alluded to, the PAH’s initial proposal, which achieved 1,500,000 signatures, entailed dación en pago for mortgage holders unable to repay their mortgage. Dación en pago basically means that you are no longer saddled with the outstanding mortgage debt once you hand back the keys of the house to the bank. This element of the proposal was removed by the Partido Popular, as was the provision for an end to evictions from principal residences and social housing. The PAH characterised what remained as a ‘joke’.

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The Future of Irish Alternative Media: Towards an Alt-Media Network?

via Critical Media Review:

3.15 Teachers’ Club, Parnell Square, Dublin – as part of the Left Forum

Register for the meeting here

alt mediaIn recent years there has been a flowering of Irish alternative media. Quality material is now being produced regularly in all mediums including print, blogging, radio and television. As part of the Left Forum on the 18th of May the media section invites those working in Irish alternative and community media (and those who wish to work in community and alternative media) to come together to discuss how the various publications and channels may work together in the future. The idea of a network will be discussed; such a network could be a basis for pitching articles, blogs or broadcasts to publishers and for publishers to commission articles, blogs or broadcasts. The network may also act as a basis for sharing resources, training and education and discussing funding strategies. The meeting also invites those not yet working in alternative media (but who wish to) to attend.

This meeting will be the beginning of a process which will continue with the Ourmedia international alternative media conference to be held in the city centre and DCU on the 24th and 25th of June.

Participants from the following media groups and media research schools will be in attendance, we hope more will follow:

  • Look left (Magazine)
  • Liberty (Newspaper)
  • Irish Left Review (Blog)
  • Irish Anarchist Review (Magazine)
  • Rabble (Newspaper)
  • Dublin Community Television (TV Station)
  • The Live Register (TV show)Dole
  • Spirit of Contradiction (Blog)
  • Critical Media Review (Blog)
  • Cunning Hired Knaves (Blog)
  • Anarkismo (website)
  • Workers Solidarity (Newspaper)
  • Radioactive (Radio)
  • Irish Student Left Online (Blog)
  • Soundmigration (Blog)
  • Dole TV (TV show)
  • School of Communications – Dublin City University
  • Media Centre – National University of Ireland Maynooth
  • School of Media – Dublin Institute of Technology
  • Univerity College Cork

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John, Meet Karl

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This is a comment I posted on John Waters’s article today in the Irish Times titled ‘Media ignores the news in pursuit of liberal agenda’

When it comes to what gets included and what gets left out by the media, one interesting example in the Irish context is the figure of Karl Marx. Five years in to the latest capitalist crisis, I can’t recall any feature on capitalism’s most famous critic in any Irish media outlet. Elsewhere, many outlets have devoted attention to whether or not Marx had anything interesting to say, if only to make a show of how informed and open-minded their devotion to capitalism is.

In Ireland, there has been next to nothing. Why? Residual anti-communism? A fear of unleashing violent passions among the public? Bog standard anti-intellectualism? Whatever it is, it places the Irish public at a loss. You don’t have to be a Marxist to see that Marx has some interesting things to say about capitalism.

And about ideology too. It’s head-buried-in-the-cushion embarrassing to see John Waters go on about the ideological function of Ireland’s media and their agenda as if these things bore no relation to the material constitution of Irish society: who owns what, who does what, who serves whom, and so on.

In the German Ideology, Marx wrote – that ‘the class which is the ruling material force of society.. is at the same time its ruling intellectual force.’ Moreover, they ‘regulate the production and distribution of the ideas of their age’.  What this means is that the decisions on what gets left in and what gets left out, and how things are expressed, in newspapers, TV programmes and so on,  arise, in the final instance, from class conflict. This is because the ruling class must ‘represent its interest as the common interest of all the members of society’. Or, as the man used to say, we are all in this together.

But since there is no such thing as class in Ireland *cough*, or at least, everyone is middle class nowadays *cough*, it seems Marx and others can be ignored, and we can ignore material interests altogether in seeking to understand how ideology treats ‘matters of true social importance’, as John Waters puts it.

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