The Other Justice: John Brown

Translation of  a post by John Brown, originally posted in Voces de Pradillo 13th July 2013.

-The Rule of Law has been saved
-Good work
(El Roto)

The Other Justice

The demand for justice undoubtedly belongs to the moral and political heritage of the people and the proletariat.

To demand justice from this point of view means to rebel against inequality, against any situation where certain men may place themselves above others and exercise dominion over other persons. Justice ought to permit social and political equality, but under the present circumstances it does not do so. Today, justice does not guarantee equality, but rather equality between the owners of property and its inevitable corollary, effective inequality between property owners and those of no property.

Anyone who possesses only their own hide but has no access to their own means of production and life is formally equal to the boss to whom they must sell ‘their labour’ in order to live, but in practice, beyond the phantasmagoria of commercial law, in the hard world of capitalist production, the most perfect inequality reins.

To demand justice under these conditions means demanding the application of clauses that give legal sanction to a real relation of inequality. The popular demand for justice is, however, perfectly legitimate, but it can only be effective if it is tied to the construction and development of social practices that base equality not in property, but in free access to the productive commons and social wealth.

The recent initiative of recreating a Socorro Rojo (‘Red Aid’) in order to organise grassroots public services and social assistance that States deny the population, by organising the distribution of food and other basic goods to the ever growing number of people in need, is an excellent initiative that goes precisely in the direction of this kind of justice and equality.

Today, the question of justice fills the news in Spain with the scandals that have recently come to light affecting the highest spheres of the government and the State. The Bárcenas papers[1] and the Gürtel case[2], among many other cases of corruption, show us that the most powerful have, for years and with full impunity, been violating laws and helping themselves to public money without any kind of scruple.

This is perfectly normal, at any rate, in a regime such as Spanish neoliberal transfrancoism, which, as with other neoliberal regimes, has abandoned any perspective of public interest and claims that the government must put the defence of private interest first. The servants of a privatised State are thus the first to serve themselves, since their interest forms part of this prized private interest which, according to neoliberal ideologues, will end up benefitting the whole of society, by virtue of the trickle-down principle.

In recent years we have seen how this trickle down has been accompanied by an enormous gushing upward of social wealth, which has served to dry out completely the soil on which the majority of society lives, by depriving them of public services and social rights that until now had been considered basic. To think that the pony of the Partido Popular[3], the residence of the lover of the Head of State[4] and successor to Franco, and the Barcelona mansion of Mr and Mrs Urdangarín[5] have been funded at the cost of children starting to faint from hunger in primary schools, arouses an understandable outrage and a demand for justice.

However, justice is not the solution to the problem that afflicts our societies. The mere demand for justice, which we could call ‘justicialism’, has few perspectives on effectively changing reality. Corruption undoubtedly exists, but no-one should fall under the illusion that by putting an end to corruption things are going to improve palpably for everyone. Even if the whole government and the main ‘opposition’ party and the highest figures of the Bourbon family were placed in the dock, and even if they were given harsh sentences and served justice, thus re-establishing the formal legal conditions for the distribution of wealth, the situation for the immense majority of society would remain catastrophic, not because the law was not applied, but by virtue of its strict application.

The illegitimate financial debt that is driving families to ruin and liquidating essential public services would continue to apply with all the catastrophic consequences we see today. Only a formally illegal act with regard to the existing legislation, such as a default on illegitimate private and public debts, can change things. For this, justice is not enough; there is also a need to build the social force capable of imposing this rupture and of mounting effective resistance from below against impoverishment.

It is through the logic of property that Shakespeare’s avaricious Shylock could legally demand from his debtor the payment of a pound of flesh near to the heart. This murderous logic must be broken, not in the name of existing right and justice, but in the name of another right and another justice that base equality and justice not upon property but in free access to common goods. It is only in this way that we will have a justice and an equality rooted in the material conditions for their realisation.


[1] See here.

[2] See here.

[3] In online images of documents that purported to be accounts of the ruling Partido Popular party, one of the items was a pony. In the documents that did get leaked, no such item appeared.

[4] See here.

[5] See here.

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