Monthly Archives: January 2014

Podemos – interview with Jorge Moruno

This is an interview, conducted by Emilio Delgado, with sociologist Jorge Moruno, who is one of the initiators of Podemos, in the Voces de Pradillo newspaper,  You can read the translated manifesto here, some notes of mine on the initiative here.

I have translated some of Jorge’s work, on the phenomenon of the escrache here, climates of mobilisation here, 2012’s European General Strike here, the possibility of a new Europe here, miner marches here, 15M here, among other things.


What does the PODEMOS initiative seek to achieve?

The Podemos initiative is being launched with the intention of offering a tool to citizens in order to relocate democracy to where it has to be: in the people. Podemos is not a party, nor is it a coalition of parties, and although it may end up standing in elections, its raison d’etre is to serve as a catalyst, as a move that opens the possibility for a different scenario where popular outrage takes political shape. Podemos aims to be a useful participative method to generate democracy and power for those who do not have it so that among all of us we can change the script that we are so used to reading. Departing from the realisation that we are witnessing a regime crisis, we understand that the common agreements that gave rise to the pact of ‘78 have been breaking apart, both at the top and at the bottom. At the top the elites are already rolling out a new scenario that aims at demolishing any possibility of bringing the majority along, as well as attacking the areas of strength that might make things difficult for them. The scenario they are leading us into is one of a new serfdom within a social desert, one that can be established politically, once the series of “structural reforms” have been adopted and normalised.

From below, the never resolved territorial fractures on the one hand and, on the other, the mobilisations of the 15-M with its replicas that followed in the form of struggles against evictions and mareas, have opened up a cycle of mobilisations that calls into question this very regime of 78 as being no longer capable of ensuring any form of decent life for the majority of the population. These breaches opened up by popular mobilisation with its new repertoires of collective action and the kind of demands, have shown us that not only must the style of communicating politics change, but also the way of thinking it and practising it. It has been the mobilisations that have changed the political agenda and leapt to moral dominance, helping to repoliticise a common sense hitherto the heritage of the elites. On the other hand, whilst social mobilisation is fundamental, the time available to stop the oligarchic counter-revolution is scarce and it is urgent to alter the political terrain so that it cannot be consummated. Podemos has no desire to represent a series of social struggles that are always impossible to represent but seeks to facilitate the translation of outrage into political power.

What is the difference between this attempt at popular unity with other previous attempts at left unity.

It may be the starting point for analysing the situation. Unity of the left, of what already exists with what is emerging, is not a synonym for popular unity. We are at a historic moment where left unity is not the real ideological and political challenge. It is the dominant common sense, ideology, which is what has to be struggled for, when arguments that describe the common things suffered by the population get classified as radical. Today, to be a democrat makes you into a radical in the eyes of the elites who are holding democracy captive. We do not believe it is a question of unifying options, or of pulling what is scattered around under the same umbrella. To us, the way to build up numbers entails changing the kind of political approach. It is necessary to modify the perspective rather than solidify it. Left unity is desirable, but attention ought to be focused on a fundamental rupture, one that takes place between the people and the government of thieves. Combining acronyms is not so important, what is necessary is popular overflow in favour of democracy. We need to build a narrative, a story that not only explains who they are, but also what we can come to be. The left cannot navel-gaze and distance itself from plebeian rage by timidly presenting itself as an offer with a limited field of action. It is time to opt for wider dynamics that engulf us socially and ideologically. We must go out to win.

To what extent is this initiative open to different people and collectives who wish to make it their own?

It is an initiative open to the entire population, to everyone who struggles against cuts, to every person who wishes to turn it into a hammer to strike against the corrupt caste of leaders who work for a privileged minority. Elections cannot be an end in themselves, what is most important must be a popular movement that organises itself to recover its sovereignty. Podemos is not a closed answer but an open question, under construction, and its cement can only be people who are organised. Without that it falls like a house of cards. This opening is the main strength, the condition of departure for an initiative that seeks intermingling and meeting up, where it is not necessary that everyone coincides on everything, but on fundamental elements for living a decent life.

How are contributions and popular participation going to be organised?

Podemos set out from the beginning as a call for popular participation, with a requirement of a minimum of 50,000 people showing support in order to get going. Once these are achieved the Podemos Circles (CPs) start to form so that people take up the initiative as their own, not so that they support it as a spectator, but that they build it as something that is theirs. The CPs do not ask anyone for their card, nor do they enter rivalry with other activities in other organisations, collectives or parties, that would entail falling into the same logic that prioritises a particular affiliation over popular unity. The CPs have complete autonomy to organise themselves in relation to the problems that affect them in their sector or territory, by seeking to widen the margins for inclusion in defence of democracy and popular sovereignty. They are nodes that must share the pain of the crisis and the desire to improve their life. If it turns out that there will be standing for election, both the lists and the programme will be elaborated collectively by prioritising the contributions, arguments and decisions of the citizens. But this is under construction, we will have to innovate.

Some of the criticisms that the initiative has received have to do with the speed of the process, with its top down construction, or its presentation in the Euroepan elections. What can you tell us regarding that?

There are moments known as ‘windows of political opportunity’, as can be the case with elections or a crisis faced by the elites themselves, which open up the political space to approaches that previously had the road blocked off. In a consumerist society mediated by the commodity, at times it is elections that are the only events where the population engages in more discussion regarding public affairs, between channel-flipping and the shopping centre. With this said, the European elections are important, but what is more important is that people get organised and their power confronts the Troika diktat. Those processes that accumulate strength from below and then afterwards, when the point arrives, jump into elections with every guarantee, can wind up forever in the same state of accumulation that does not always translate into votes, or can simply need many decades to take shape. This is not the case with us. Those of us who have formulated the Podemos question think that in the emergency of our times, an irruption from another point can equally help to generate a collective response and connect with broad sectors of the population, unblocking our difficulties in reaching them. It is essential to count upon this strength that is already organised, but it is equally crucial to speak to that part of the population that is not, but is fed up nonetheless.

What are the candidacy’s main lines of content?

As we were saying before, the content has not been put together and there will be a lot to talk about and propose, in a debate with the citizens, but obviously there are certain outlines that serve as a skeleton for the rest: democracy and popular sovereignty, defence and renewal of social rights and public services, participative method, new model of production, access to both employment and socially produced wealth.

Have you used any similar processes of social articulation as a reference point? In the Spanish state there are territories where there have already been processes of popular unity that have resulted in concrete political tools that are capable of creating excitement and generating social majorities or at least the acceptance of wide layers of the population, I’m talking about the CUP in Catalonia or above all the Basque left, but also recent movements in Galicia and Andalucia? Do you foresee possible processes of confluence with the left of the peoples?

Obviously one of the wellsprings that have allowed these left forces to grow and bond together has been the national question, which is one of the two main fractures of the regime of 78, together with the social question. In our case it is necessary to counter the idea that patriotism is compatible with being a tax evader or with privatising collective rights. The CUP without doubt, because they are well known now, but their journey started out a long time ago, they are the ones who have burst onto the electoral map as a force that places emphasis on democracy alongside the national and the social question and obviously they have been soaked in the tonic opened up by the mobilisations that the 15-M began. The Procés Constituient is equally a force that has been able to interpret and converge with the unsatisfied demands of the population. In response to the second question, Podemos is an initiative open to everyone who is faced with cuts and seeks more democracy. In this sense, it is for the lefts of the peoples as well as for other forces, an initiative that extends a hand to them and invites them to make it their own.

After the presentation there has been a chain reaction throughout the political map, especially in Madrid. What is your assessment of the popular reaction after the meeting in the Lavapiés theatre?

The response from people has obviously overwhelmed us and that was something to be desired, because before launching it no-one was sure how people were going to react. The Podemos Circles keep on shooting up, the response in the meetings and the excitement it is awakening among people is the best incentive to work hard and keep going. No doubt about it, it is an ideal scenario for finding out if Podemos can help break the limits that prevent us from extending and interpreting the popular feeling of disgust with the caste of spivs and the dictatorship of debt.

Do you have weapons of mass destruction?

As Evaristo from La Polla Records said, we have a secret weapon: our brain, which is always stronger and more intelligent the more people that make it up.

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By Definition


In the midst of a smarmy and crowing post on the Iona Institute website, David Quinn whines about “the worst of motives” being imputed to “those who believe that marriage is the sexual and emotional union of a man and a woman by definition”.

What does this mean, exactly?

Some people hold that the authoritative source for the definition of a word is a dictionary. If I select one of the words as I wrote this on my phone, the option ‘Define’ comes up, allowing me to consult an online dictionary. This is quite an arbitrary way of deciding things. In reality, words have no universal definition, and their meaning depends on the particular context in which they are spoken.

Here’s an example of what I’m talking about. Where I come from, the word “boy” is often used as a form of address towards someone male who is considered an equal, rather like “mate” or “bud” in similar situations. Innocuous. But when uttered in the USA by a white person addressing a black man, it carries a heavy racist charge.

You can’t impose permanent limits -definitions- on what words mean, no matter how hard you try, because there is a potentially infinite range of contexts in which a word can be used.

The definition of words is never a matter of text handed down on stone tablets. For example, for many people in Ireland right now, the meaning of the word “homophobe” is now bound up with mental images of certain people. Right now it is harder than ever to say, “no, no, “homophobe” doesn’t mean people like that (refined and articulate media performers): it means violent and incoherent bigots with mouths flecked with spittle”.

You may be so concerned about what “homophobe” means that you can try and lay down the law on this. You can contact your legal team. They may establish an agreement with an entity that broadcast the use of the word with that particular meaning that it was wrong of it to do so. But that doesn’t mean you can control the meaning of the word. Quite the contrary, in fact. As we have seen.

You might write an article for the newspaper of respectable opinion saying “homophobe” is a horrible word, and should not be applied to respectable people, such as our parents or grandparents, or other People Like Us (including, presumably, the Iona Institute), in order to keep the word defined along the lines of what Rory O’Neill describes as a “horrible monster who goes around beating up gays.” But again, that doesn’t mean you can control what the word means.

I once had a flatmate who kept an aluminium baseball bat in his room. Other friends of his had been badly beaten up in vicious homophobic attacks, and this was his protection against anyone who might try doing the same to him. That’s homophobia there – right?  The thug who follows someone back to their home after they leave the pub, not the calm and reasonable man on the TV talking about the need for respectful democratic debate.

But wait. Where does the violent thug get his phobia from? Where does he get his ideas about what’s natural and unnatural? Where does he get his ideas about what’s normal and abnormal? Why does he find certain expressions -even suggestions– of sexuality so intolerable that they have to be violently repressed and punished?

It’s not as if, in Ireland, homosexuality were ever deemed illegal or considered a disease. It’s not as if the religious organisation that took charge of Ireland’s schools and hospitals, and exercised huge influence over public morality, ever taught that homosexuality was sinful, or deviant or intrinsically disordered, or that the family unit based on heterosexual marriage is the cornerstone of society.

It’s not as if such an organisation is still in charge of a large part of Ireland’s schools and hospitals. It’s not as if its most conservative figures have easy access to major media outlets in order to shape ideas about what is acceptable and what is not.

So: where could a violent thug get his ideas and impulses concerning homosexuality from, given that Irish society’s most powerful and influential institutions had nothing to do with it?

Do you see what’s happening here, then?

When you seek to fix the meaning of “homophobe”, so that it is applied only to violent thugs and not People Like Us, you are, in effect, hiding the social wellsprings of homophobia from view. You are hiding the way it is rooted in institutional practices that impose a sense of what is natural and normal, and as a consequence, establish homosexuality as something unnatural and abnormal.

In a plea for moderated language as a basis for democratic persuasion in Saturday’s Irish Times, Noel Whelan complains about people being “branded” as homophobes, calling to mind the image of a red hot iron being plunged into the person’s flesh, as if the victims of homophobic violence did not exist.

We might like to think otherwise, but definitions are not set in stone tablets sent from the top of the mountain. Even if they were set in stone tablets, people would still differ over their interpretation, and maybe don wigs to argue the point. Definitions -despite what the word suggests- are never definitive, never permanent, because that’s not how language works and it’s not how societies evolve.

The Iona Institute says it believes that “marriage is the sexual and emotional union of a man and woman by definition“. Leaving to one side the fact that there are many men and women in marriages that have precious little sexual or emotional union for years on end, the “by definition” here should give pause for thought: who does the defining? Is this definition handed down on stone tablets? Did it appear out of nowhere?

In this particular case, the implication is fairly clear: whoever is doing the defining, it sure as hell won’t be the gays (and as a committed democrat, I can speak without fear of contradiction when I say I’m not a homophobe etc etc).

Never mind. The inescapable reality for the Iona Institute is that people shape definitions and institutions, not vice versa. Or, as one person put it, in terms rather archaic now, Man is not made for the Sabbath.

In its apology to the Iona Institute, RTÉ stated “it is an important part of democratic debate that people must be able to hold dissenting views on controversial issues”, in terms presumably agreed in advance with the Iona Institute.

What these words tell us that it isn’t just a definition of marriage or homophobia that the Iona Institute seeks, but the power to enforce definitions that maintain proper order, including the definition of democracy.

According to the idea of democratic debate shared by RTÉ, the Iona Institute and Irish Times columnist Noel Whelan (and many other people), democratic debate doesn’t need to account for inequalities and prejudices enforced by dominant institutions.

It doesn’t need to account for the power to summon lawyers to threaten and prosecute.

It doesn’t need to account for the history of violence perpetrated against oppressed minorities and communities and the social wellsprings of such oppression.

It doesn’t need to account for conflicting interests and motives (‘it is also a very important part of democratic debate that individuals do not constantly have their motives and intentions called into question’)

It doesn’t need to account for the fact that calls for tolerance and respectful debate and liberal persuasion are a great deal easier in these parts when you are invited to speak up on behalf of the oppressive tendencies of the State, not against them.

The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled, says Keyser Soze in The Usual Suspects, was convincing the world he didn’t exist. Similarly, the hardest forms of oppression to eradicate are the ones we aren’t even aware of because we are conditioned to see and experience them as part of the normal order of things: this is the way it is, and it can be no other way.

But there are always people behind the curtain doing the conditioning: drafting laws, lobbying, delivering lectures, applying penalties, threatening the force of the law, defining terms. And it’s never because God told them to, whatever they tell themselves.


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Notes on Podemos

What follows are some notes on Podemos. I will add some more when I get the time.


Podemos is a political initiative in the Spanish state that seeks to draw together the forces of social movements and parties of the left within a broader movement based on citizen participation and a break from the existing political regime). ‘Podemos’ translates literally as ‘we can‘, or ‘we can do it‘. However, as emphasised by the initiative’s logo, the word is also intended to suggest ‘demos‘.

Podemos is the first person plural of the verb ‘poder’. When this word takes the form of a noun it means the same as the word ‘power’ in English in many different senses, including those that concern the power to do something, or the power over something or someone (e.g. the ruling power, the powers that be).

As its initiators stress, Podemos isn’t a political party, nor is it out to become one. Rather, it is an attempt at bringing the necessary social and political instruments into existence to translate popular outrage into power over political institutions.

As regular readers here will know, there have been many resounding and vivid mobilisations in the squares and streets across the Spanish state, arising from the actions of successive governments that served the interests of big business and financial speculators, in willing obedience to the European Commission, the International Monetary Fund, and the European Central Bank.


But despite all this, not only has the ruling Partido Popular government continued to implement the austerity policies and dismantling of the welfare state initiated by the previous Socialist government; it has criminalised and conditioned the forms of protest that pose a challenge to it.

And it has done so through what El País cartoonist El Roto calls an ‘absolutist majority’: the use of an absolute majority of seats in the parliament -which doesn’t emanate from the votes of the majority of voters, or even the majority of those who voted in the elections- to drive through brutal cuts on behalf of the rich, and to demonise opponents: ordinary people who confront those responsible for evictions from family homes are classified as Nazis, campaigners for legislation on mortgages are painted as in league with ETA.

The clash between a sneering authoritarian government with a stratospheric sense of entitlement on the one hand, and the new horizontal networked forms of popular mobilisation on the other, has led to the crumbling of the compact between the rulers and the ruled, and the discredit of the public political culture that maintained this compact. Politicians and political parties are deeply despised by large sectors of the population.


The 15M, the Mareas, the Mortgage Victims Platform (PAH) and other mobilisations, most recently, the neighbourhood uprising in Gamonal in Burgos, have created a sense of antagonism between those on top and the rest of society. Many people have been politicised, but against this there is widespread despondency, a product of the grinding facts of being forced to live with less, and the apparent impossibility of dislodging the political caste spread across both the Partido Popular and the PSOE. What has taken hold, as with elsewhere in Europe, is what Peter Mair described as ‘a democracy that is being steadily stripped of its popular component—democracy without a demos’.

Quite a few people in left-wing circles are satisfied that Izquierda Unida (IU, United Left), as the third largest political party in Spain, is poised to take advantage of the discredit of the two ruling parties, and to take on the form of a Spanish Syriza. Not least among these are the leadership of Izquierda Unida. However, whilst there has been a collapse in support for both the PP and PSOE, this has not translated into a surge in electoral support for IU, which currently stands at 9-10% in the polls.

If we rewind to 2011, to the initial explosion of the 15M, the event that brought millions out onto the streets, the points of ‘Real Democracy Now’ manifesto seemed to fit in with the social and political outlook of IU rather well. The party been unable to capitalise on this fact; rather, on the surface, it seems concerned with cementing a place for itself within the existing political order so as to await the complete annihilation of the PSOE.

Enter Podemos. The manifesto (read my translation here) was launched Friday week ago. The initial figurehead for Podemos is Pablo Iglesias, a lecturer in political science at the Universidad Complutense in Madrid. He is the regular presenter of an online TV show dedicated to political debate from a largely left wing perspective, and, in recent months, a frequent guest on political debate shows on mainstream TV. You can read an article of his from a while ago -on the ‘Syriza effect’- translated by me here.


He is a highly effective media performer, with an oratorial style is combative and uncompromising, leavened with sharp humour and astringent political analysis. The public effect of his interventions is, I think, quite similar to that of Owen Jones in the UK, albeit without Jones’s all-purpose amiability. He has put himself forward as the candidate for the European elections but repeatedly stresses that if he is defeated in the open primary process, he will get fully behind whoever is elected.

As an initial condition for presenting himself as a candidate, the organisers behind Podemos sought 50,000 signatures supporting the project. This was achieved in little more than a day.

It is early days, but it looks as though Podemos has set a cat among the pigeons on the left and the political scene more generally. Podemos ‘circles’ have been launched all over the place – in neighbourhoods, towns and places of learning. The project describes such circles as ‘a cornerstone of the project and a basic tool for empowering citizens and creating mechanisms for direct communication and decison making’. Packed meetings have been held in Asturias and Aragón.

Pablo Bustinduy writes that Podemos is ‘a call out to all those who want to practise politics and restore meaning to democracy, to those who are not prepared to wait and complain afterwards; it is an invitation to take words seriously, to think about what popular unity actually is, how it can be achieved, what are the tools needed to do so, what are the goals to be pursued, and in what language they should be expressed.’

He goes on to note that whilst criticisms regarding Podemos are well-founded (regarding leadership, its functioning, the programme and so on), “the very fact that these things are being spoken about – and with a view to the future, in the first person, speaking not about what has (not) been done, but what has to be done, what can be done- is enough to indicate how timely and necessary the act is, and to  foretell the possibilities it contains”

Juan Domingo Sánchez Estop writes that ‘what is interesting about the experiment that the Podemos initiative has set in train is that the two souls of socialism – the anarchist one and the social democrat/communist one, show, by their reactions of incomprehension, their deep communion, their shared faith in the existence of the State as a substantial reality that has to be destroyed or occupied/taken, without thinking that this power we believe to have before us is a relation in which we take part and which passes through us, or, better still, constitutes us as subjects.’

Writing of the Podemos meetings in Asturias, Rosario Hernández Catalán writes: “Either we organise among ourselves or they eat us for an afternoon snack, and (Podemos) is a brave proposal, but it is merely the sounding of a starter pistol. It is we who are the athletes. Pablo Iglesias is not going to run the marathon for you. Among the public certain people said some awful things, understandable  but very dangerous things, such as “I delegate it to you and a trust in you. Do not fail us”. And to this, very quickly and very trenchantly the promoters responded: “No, we are not a party with magic solutions, you can not delegate it, this is not a proposal for you to delegate to us, it is a proposal for self-organisation”. That is why they convinced me, because they were insistent upon this idea, that it is we who must organise ourselves. They do not have any superpowers.”

She continues: ‘They have made a call to us to raise the self-organisation that already exists (PAH, Mareas, autonomous occupied social centres, self-managed villages, etc.) To co-ordinate the cells that already self-govern and generate new ones. As they were talking I sensed a model of biomimesis, what was being said was something organic and not mechanical. If it fails it will be above all our fault, let’s imagine that Pablo turns into a cocky little tyrant, it will be because we let him and did not rein him in beforehand. Let’s imagine it winds up in a mere social-democratic mini-party in the style of IU, it will be because the people were incapable of organising themselves into the circles that we are being urgently encouraged to form.’

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Very Crime Correspondent. Such Wow.


I left this response on Conor Lally’s piece in today’s Irish Times, which is titled ‘The Public Accounts Committee needs to know its limits on the penalty points saga’

How about that: the Irish Times crime correspondent can’t see much of difference between, on the one hand, a Garda cancelling penalty points and, on the other, a TD holding constituency clinics and making representations on behalf of his or her constituents. What is more, the journalist blurs the distinction between altogether legitimate activities for a public representative (ensuring that constituent rights are upheld and entitlements are met) and illegitimate ones (lobbying on behalf of special interests).

Clearly there are good and bad public representatives. But public representatives are not an autonomous group. They are, however unevenly and however unsatisfactorily, subject to the scrutiny and demands of the public. If a particular TD provides assistance to a member of the public in keeping with his or her duties (and does so as a consequence of Ireland’s emaciated public service infrastructure and weak democratic culture) that member of the public is under zero obligation to vote for that TD.

There is no comparable situation when it comes to the police. An Garda Siochána occupies a powerful position in Irish society, combining the capacity to survey the activity of members of the public with a presence that implies the use of violence. If you have a situation where the Garda is failing to treat every member of the public as equals in terms of the law but rather provides indulgences for particular individuals, you have the exercise of unaccountable, arbitrary power that is proper to an oligarchic police State, not a democracy.

Accountability to the public is a basic element of a democratic societies, where democracy is the basis for the law, not vice versa. Perhaps the crime correspondent of the Irish Times is by definition unable to see this. If not, you’d have to at least wonder where he gets his analogies from.

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In Defence of the Indefensible


The Irish Times carried a report yesterday, written by Ronan McGreevy, with the headline ‘President defends decision of wife to visit jailed activist‘.

The article begins as follows: ‘President Michael D Higgins has defended his wife Sabina’s decision to visit the activist Margaretta D’Arcy in jail.’

However, there are no indications within the body of the text as to what he is defending her against.

Is he defending her against criticism? We don’t know.

Who has criticised her? We don’t know, because we don’t even know if she has been criticised.

What are the grounds for the criticism? Well, bearing in mind that we don’t even know if she has been criticised and, if so, who it is that has made the criticism, we can’t elaborate a series of potential reasons.

However, most of us are not morons. So when we read articles like this, we don’t scratch our heads in utter confusion at the absence of relevant detail. Rather, we use our imagination and intuition to fill in the gaps and flesh out what is suggested by what is there in the text.

We might use our intuition and conclude something like this: Michael D Higgins might have his own ideas on the relation between spouses, but as Head of State, it’s natural for these ideas to be subordinate to the demands of office. Therefore, it goes without saying that some people -whose views need no question- will demand that he exercises proprietary control over his wife, and accounts for her behaviour, as proper order demands. And, if he’s not prepared to do so on his own behalf, he should at least do on behalf of the State he is supposed to represent.

Thus what informs the views of such people are particular convictions about the function of marriage as a social institution.

Or, we might use our intuition and also conclude something like this: visiting people in prison is a questionable activity. It’s natural that some people -whose views need no question- are of the belief it is wrong to visit people in prison. It’s natural that some people believe it especially wrong to visit people in prison when these people have done something that might call the legitimacy of the State into question. (At the risk of turning into a serial quoter of the New Testament, Jesus thought people who do not visit those in prison will be sent to hell).

In the frame established by this news report, these are just views that are natural for certain people to hold, and hence it’s self-evident that such views should need no introduction when it comes to the question of the conduct of the wife of the President.

The thing is, there are some views that get treated as having an imagined natural constituency, and others that do not.

So, as demonstrated by this report, there is a natural constituency of people who think women are the property of their husbands, and that it is a priori wrong to visit people in prison. Their views then shape the focus of newspaper reports.

So rather than Michael D Higgins having to defend himself and his wife from such a constituency  -which is what is really happening- the constituency is presented by the news report as though it were a democratic public opinion.

By contrast, within the frames habitually established by mainstream media, there is no such natural constituency of people who think bombing the world to pieces is wrong, or that the use of Irish airports for this purpose is wrong, or, for that matter, that the imprisonment of 79 year old women with cancer protesting to defend human rights is wrong.

So, for example, Alan Shatter, in last night’s Irish Times report, was not described as ‘defending’ the court decision to incarcerate Margaretta D’Arcy. However, if you do a Google search for ‘Margaretta D’Arcy defend’ what you get is a host of news reports referring to Michael D Higgins ‘defending‘ his wife’s decision. To the credit of the Irish Examiner, it carries the accurate headline ‘Shatter defends jailing of Margaretta D’Arcy ‘ with the equally accurate standfirst ‘Justice Minister Alan Shatter has roundly defended the imprisonment of an elderly and ill anti-war activist’, reporting on Shatter’s response to questions in the Dáil.

This all casts some light, I think, on how the preservation of the institution of marriage between a man and a woman can also serve an important political function. It is not simply a matter of religious conviction or bigotry, though it is that too. Similarly, the preservation of draconian abortion laws that treat women’s bodies as the property of the State. These are mechanisms of social control that shape how we perceive the public interest. Failing to keep a tight rein on your wife is a dereliction of duty, but the aerial bombing of civilians is no concern of the public.

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Margaretta D’Arcy vs the Rule of Law


Tonight Ireland’s Minister for Justice Alan Shatter declared that it was a “matter of regret” that Margaretta D’Arcy had refused to sign the bond indicating she would not enter the ‘non-public’ areas of Shannon Airport. Shatter spoke against the immediate release of the seriously ill 79 year old, claiming that no-one was above the rule of law, and that the action was necessary to prevent her from encroaching on a runway.

The fact of Margaretta D’Arcy’s incarceration dramatises the fundamental illegitimacy of the “rule of law”. Why did Margaretta D’Arcy refuse to sign the bond undertaking? Because the US war machine uses Shannon Airport. As long as the US war machine mutilates, maims and massacres as it sees fit, the “rule of law” that allows such things to be facilitated in Ireland has no legitimacy. “The law is the law”, I saw an Irish journalist declare the other day, justifying Margaretta D’Arcy’s incarceration with the mating call of absolutist thugs the world over. Such a stance, which is commonplace in Ireland not only among power elites but the population as a whole, is a demonstration of unquestioning obedience to illegitimate power. This is what Margaretta D’Arcy has chosen to confront. The distinction between “public” and “non-public” places, advanced by Alan Shatter, has no legitimacy either, since this distinction is being used to facilitate murder, and is moreover a distinction that the US war machine itself does not recognise.

When Jesus confronts the demoniac in Mark’s gospel, the demon replies “my name is Legion, for we are many”. The “Legion” referred to here can only be the Roman Legion, the force of military occupation in Palestine. We might be inclined to ask what effect the fact of imperial military might in a territory, in this case Shannon Airport in Ireland, can exercise on people’s minds: is it not a form of madness to be not only indifferent to mass murder, but to treat it as part of the normal order of things, as a matter of everyday necessity? If this were only something that a few politicians were involved in, we might have some sort of cause for comfort. But this is something that a large sector of the population -and to be sure, the entire political, media and legal establishment included- views with equanimity, and which the law systematically protects.

In such a scenario, Margaretta D’Arcy’s actions, which the US empire’s political and journalistic flunkies are representing, at best, as feats of tiresome eccentricity and, at worst, as flagrant disrespect for the unquestionable rule of law, appear as an example of what true sanity looks like.

What we now see is how the maintenance of a whole legal and political order goes way beyond the mere criminalisation of protest (as if that were not bad enough) to the point of locking up a 79 year old woman with cancer so that weapons of death and destruction can continue to be unleashed on the poor and defenceless of the world. The only conclusion we can then draw is that this order and those who defend it are rotten to the core. Free Margaretta D’Arcy now!

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Podemos – translated manifesto

This is a rush translation of the manifesto titled Mover ficha, which literally means to move a piece on a board game, as in chess, but which might best be translated as Making a move. It is from the new political initiative in Spain called Podemos, literally We can, or We can do it. I will post a bit more on this interesting and eye-catching initiative in the coming days, time permitting. The signatories are listed at the bottom of the link to the original.


Turning outrage into political change

Just as with other moments in history, we see today a European continent submerged in perplexity. Whilst the majorities look back with nostalgia on the past that is lost, certain powerful minorities, with no criterion other than their own survival, show that enrichment is their flag and impunity their horizon. Never in Europe have there been so many people discontented with their loss of rights, and, at the same time, so few perspectives for challenging this outrage through a voting option that excites while at the same time, shows the capacity to represent the majorities under attack and a capacity for committed and efficient administration that makes the best possible options become real. Many find it intolerable that in the greatest crisis in the system since the crash of 1929, those forces that claim to be progressive are at their weakest point, thereby condemning the majorities in our countries to a kind of melancholy that leads to resignation and political depression. But we have gone through worse times and have been able to overcome the difficulties. Why should now be any different?

The elections to the European Parliament will be held at a time of a profound crisis of legitimacy for the European Union. In our case, we are faced with the greatest loss of credibility for the regime born out of the 1978 Constitution. Movements of political outrage such as the 15M connected with a clear popular will: against the sacrifice of rights on the altar of markets driven by speculation and plunder. The impotence or abdication of responsibility by governments, the voluntary ineptitude of government political parties, the conversion of parliaments into bureaucratic organs deprived of political power and the stupor of the unions have left citizens abandoned to their own fate. As in so many other countries, the confusion is being used to turn private debts into public ones, for the transfer of common goods developed over decades to private interests, and to dedicate what remains of public resources to the funding of narrow and private business interests. We are faced with a financial coup d’état against the peoples of the south of the Eurozone. Those who are in charge are selling off the country and our future in pieces. The rise in repression (with more authoritarian laws, the rise in fines in a situation of economic impoverishment, and even, obstacles to the exercise of civil and political rights) is the final element of a landscape dominated by the deepening of social and gender inequalities and increased plunder of natural resources. It is not strange to see the apparent pessimism and defeatism among sectors who, however, would need only a spark of excitement to exit the trap of despair.

The citizen safety laws (which turn the forms of protest inaugurated by the 15M into offences), the return of the repression of women’s freedom, the curtailment of democracy at the local political level, the greater control over communications media and the control of the judiciary seek to create a scenario where fear suspends democracy. Forms on the pathway to authoritarian regimes wrapped up in electoral processes ever emptier of content. Does it make sense that the 90% of the population suffering the brunt of these policies should have no access to tools to create a brighter future?

But it is not true that we are consigned to defeat. Despite their efforts, we can see that this wall is not unbreachable, and that, from below, it is possible to put a stop to these processes that are dismantling our democracies. Today our demand for a politics that goes back onto to the streets, that talks like the majority of people who have had enough, is a reality. Our demand for a greater generosity from representatives, for a greater horizontality and transparency, for a return of the republican values of public virtue and social justice, for the recognition of our plurinational and pluricultural reality is more real than ever. It is decades since our desire for making our own decisions and answering our own questions was so real. The caste is driving us into the abyss for their own selfish benefit. It is only from the citizens that the solution can come, as happened with the protection of jobs, the defence of families through the blocking of evictions, or the guarantee of public services: small but meaningful victories. Popular mobilisation, civil disobedience and confidence in our own abilities are essential, but so too is the forging of keys in order to open the doors that they want to close on us: to bring to the institutions the voice and the demands of this social majority that no longer recognises itself either in this EU or in a corrupt regime that has no possible regeneration.

In the next European Parliament elections there needs to be a candidacy that offers itself to the wave of popular indignation that astounded the world. We are glad to see the advance of the forces of the left, but we are conscious of the need to do something more in order to set in gear the changes we need. It is a time for courage and for not allowing the closure of the window of opportunity that the commitment of so many good people has opened. We need a candidacy of unity and of rupture, led by people who express new ways of relating to politics and which will entail a real threat to the two-party regime of the PP and PSOE and those who have taken our democracy hostage. A candidacy that in addition to stewardship of what is public, proves able to involve the majorities in the configuration of their own future. A candidacy that responds to the young people who are invited to get out of the country, to workers who day by day see their rights diluted, to women forced to go back to demanding what should obviously be theirs, to older people who are finding it was not enough to have struggled and worked for a lifetime. A candidacy that advances from spaces already conquered and manages to go beyond the present paralysis. A candidacy that makes the move that turns pessimism into optimism and discontent into popular will for change and democratic openness.

1. A candidacy for the recovery of popular sovereignty: it is the citizens who have to decide, not the selfish minority who have brought us here. People’s needs come first. Austerity and cutbacks are choking the economy and our lives. There must be a derogation of article 135 of the Spanish constitution and a moratorium for a citizen debt audit that determines what parts of the debt are not legitimate; the illegitimate debts will not be paid.  Alternative policies are needed in order to establish a tax on financial transactions and controls on the movement of capital, along with the nationalisation of the private banking sector. Those administrations in our country that have adopted the prescriptions of austerity are proof of how useless they are for resolving people’s problems. We want a candidacy that therefore opposes the cuts that are being applied in the name of austerity by the Government of the Partido Popular in the State but also by the PSOE and other parties in different Autonomous Communities. We want another Europe, one that is just, the Europe of rights and democracy, not that of plunder and contempt for the peoples.

2. A candidacy that, faced with governments in the service of the 1% minority, calls for a ‘real democracy’ based on the sovereignty of peoples and their right to decide their future freely and in solidarity. Democracy holds no fear for us democrats; we are delighted that Scottish and Catalan people can talk and say what future they desire. As such, one that supports the consultation called in Catalonia for the 9th of November.

3. A candidacy that defends decent wages and pensions, a progressive tax regime so that those who have the most pay the most, one that goes after tax fraud, that rejects redundancies in profitable firms, and that stands for the sharing of all jobs, including domestic work and unpaid care work. It is essential to defend decent labour conditions for young people condemned to eternal precarity or exile.

4. A candidacy for the right to decent housing. There must be a programme to build public housing, as well as a model of decent and affordable rents. The human drama of evictions can and must be ended, by suspending every single one and by approving retrospective surrender of houses by way of payment, as demanded by the Mortgage Victims’ Platform.

5. A candidacy that rejects every form of privatisation of public services and common goods: education, health, justice, transport, information, housing and culture, that stands for its reversal in all of these and opts for their democratic management. They are rights and must be under public control. A candidacy that stands for a radical democracy where binding referendums and popular legislative initiatives form an important part of a new legal order following a constituent process.

6. A candidacy that combats against gender based violence and defends the rights of women over their own bodies, and as such, the right to decide if they want to end their pregnancy or not. And that also defends freedom of sexual orientation and identity against every form of discrimination and homophobia. A candidacy for the unbreakable right to be and to love as one wishes.

7. A candidacy that seeks a change in the productive model so that it is at the service of people, through an ecological reconversion of the economy, through the nationalisation and socialisation of energy firms, and through food sovereignty.

8. A candidacy that defends citizen rights for everyone and demands derogation from immigration laws. A candidacy for a country in which everyone is a citizen and no-one is invisible, prisoner of over-exploitation, persecution or marginalisation due to institutional xenophobia.

9. A candidacy that rejects military interventions, that stands for an exit from NATO and is a firm defender of relations of solidarity between peoples.

10. A candidacy that is the result of an open participative process for citizens, in the elaboration of its programme and in the composition of its list, based upon the criteria of the presence of social, political and cultural activists, with role rotation and income equivalent to the average wage. A candidacy with commitment to transparency and accountability, with financial resources independent from the private banking sector and from lobby groups.

Those of us signing this manifesto are convinced that now is the time to make a step forward and that by making it many more will join us. Those at the top tell us that nothing can be done except resign ourselves, and, at best, choose between the same colours as always. We think it is no longer time for giving up but for making a move and pulling together, by offering tools to outrage and the desire for change. In the streets “SÍ se puede” (“Yes, it can be done”) is repeatedly heard. We say: “Podemos” (“We can do it”).


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Habemus Legatus!

I left this comment on the article in today’s Irish Times by James Sheehan, which is titled ‘Radical reform and renewal needed in our obsolete hospital system’.


-“What’s the diagnosis, doctor?”

Elsewhere in today’s Irish Times, John Waters reviews a recent study by Julien Mercille of UCD, and concludes that economic debate in Ireland’s main newspapers was characterised by “an overwhelming degree of uncritical acceptance of fiscal consolidation/austerity”. This study also revealed the predominance of figures from elite institutions among outside writers. We might speculate, mutatis mutandis, if the same thing happens in other areas of public debate, such as health and social affairs.

The study cited by John Waters grounded the media coverage in successive Irish governments’ addressing of the crisis by following neoliberal principles – austerity, ‘structural reforms’, privatisation of public assets, and the protection of the financial sector against the interests of the population at large.

In this particular article by James Sheehan, the founder of the private Blackrock Clinic and someone who can get the Minister for Health to speak at his book launch, there is a great deal that conforms to the same neoliberal principles. Let me focus on one aspect in particular: the idea that healthcare planning -as with so many other aspects of public policy under neoliberalism- must be “removed from political interference”.


On the surface, this, under the guise of blandishments about “radical reform”, may appear an attractive idea: why should self-serving politicians stick their oar in and wreck attempts by experts to improve public health? But politicians -even if they often act in Ireland as the enemies of people who elected them- are supposed to represent the interests of the public at large.

What James Sheahan calls “political interference” is, in fact, supposed to be someone articulating concerns on behalf of the public. And rightly so, since the health of the public, the quality of services they are able to access, the question of who owns hospitals and who pays for them, are fundamental political issues.

So even as Sheahan talks up the “shame” of “concerned citizens” due to the parlous state of Irish hospitals, he advocates that such citizens should hand over the decision making process to the experts. Trust us, we’re doctors.

Well, it’s one thing to trust in medical practitioners who are treating you for a condition. But as we have seen in recent days with payment scandals in publicly-funded bodies, it’s another thing entirely to entrust the running of the health system to unaccountable private interests, however much Ireland’s media might try, on behalf of elite interests, to shape our disposition in this direction.

And it’s worth dwelling on the particular elite interests getting expressed in this article. James Sheehan is also a patron of the Iona Institute, which has one columnist writing weekly in the Irish Times, and another writing weekly in the Irish Independent. The Institute also has regular access for its contributors to RTÉ and other media channels, where it often appears as a representative voice for committed Catholics.

It has, in other words, a powerful media presence, conferring it the power to shape public perceptions about what is possible (private health, private education) and what is not (universal healthcare, an end to government funding for private schools) what is acceptable (heteronormative families where the mother works unpaid to maintain the home and raise children) and what is not (gay marriage, abortion).

Perhaps John Waters could examine the influence of these elite interests in his next article? I am sure there would be a great deal more to discuss, particularly in terms of how private actors can exercise decisive control over institutions that many people assume to be public.

ADDS: A recent feature in Legatus Magazine, the journal of the ‘organisation for top-ranking Catholic business leaders’ -‘and their spouses’-, Legatus’ 2013 Ambassador of the Year, outlines how “Jimmy and Rosemary faced a lot of opposition from political parties and various people trying to put obstacles in the way of their setting up the (private) hospitals.” Political interference, how are you.

Sheehan is reported in the article as saying “with the religious orders largely withdrawing from health care due to lack of numbers, I felt it was important that those of us in the laity took up that role, to propagate the culture of Catholic hospitals.”

The article also says that “a prominent chapel is at the heart of the Galway Clinic, right off the main lobby, with wards surrounding it named for Our Lady of Knock, Blessed John Paul II, and Blessed Mother Teresa.”

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Constitution and Language

This is a translation of an article by Pablo Bustinduy. The original was published on his website on 25th September 2012.

Constitution and language.

To adapt to every change and event, words too had to change their habitual meanings.

Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War, III, 82.

1. Thucydides’s sentence occurs amid a description of chaos. It is a political chaos, full of violence, disorder and uncertainty, unleashed by the civil war in Corfu, Athens’s ally in the Peloponnesian War. Beneath his steely tone, Thucydides can scarcely hide his terror faced with the consequences of the stasis, the conflict that tears the polis apart from within. With the support of Sparta and an army of mercenaries, the oligarchs conspire to bring down the democracy; the demos of Corfu unites with the slaves and takes up arms to defend it and save its alliance with Athens. Thucydides then says: the scene served as a model or a template for a whole chain of democratic revolutions in Greece. And words, in order to adapt to all the changes and events, also had to alter their habitual meanings.

2. In Philosophical Investigations (§531), Wittgenstein says there are two ways of understanding a sentence. A phrase can be understood when it can be replaced by another which says the same thing in a different way. But a sentence can also be understood in the sense in which it cannot be replaced by any other, nor can even one of its words be changed. In the first case, one can paraphrase, express the idea in a different way, translate, simplify, explain. In the second, one feels that this meaning can only be transmitted by those same words and in that precise order, and that any alteration, however minor, will cause it to lose power or a substantial part of its meaning, as happens when reading a poem. In the first instance, the meaning is common to many sentences; in the second, it is the meaning of a singularity that cannot be reduced.

3. In a political revolution, the established order begins to crack outward from its sentences. Constitutional sentences, policing sentences, consensual sentences: they all lose the potential to determine community, to define what things are trying to say, to delimit, in the end, the sphere of common sense, of meaning and its legitimacy. A constitution is above all a regime of representation, a field of possible meanings that bind what can be said and what is understood at the moment of saying what is said, and thereby ensure, within that field, that concepts and ideas become translatable, reproducible, open to manipulation and control. When a constitution cracks, there are suddenly words which rediscover their singularity, which unhitch themselves from the sentences that contain them, and they allow the recuperation of their meaning, a meaning that is incommensurable with and irreducible to the order that can no longer translate them. The word independence, like the word revolution, no longer fits either the space allotted to it or the established grammar: its meaning demands the generation of a new way of speaking in order to explain it, to render common that which right now cannot be said in any other way.

4. Unable to conceal his disdain, Aristotle says in Politics (V, IV) that revolutions are carried out in two ways: by force or by means of fraud. Fraud in turn has two aspects: sometimes citizens are fooled into assenting to a change of government, and are swiftly betrayed and subjected against their will. In the second case, citizens are persuaded to support the revolution, and afterwards they are persuaded once again to maintain their loyalty and keep the peace in the city. What changes from one case to the other is the attitude of the citizens, but not the meaning of things, since Aristotle implies that the new order never keeps its word. This is something to bear in mind in the present situation: if independence for Catalonia, for example, does not involve blowing apart the corrupt bigwig clientelist system that rules it today; if it is confined to simply struggle against a looting, but not against its source and origin, against the capitalist dictatorship of debt; if it confines itself, ultimately, to being a carbon copy of the transition’s shamelessness, albeit with a local twist, the fraud will be consummated and the opportunity for emancipation lost. The same risk, only different, speaks in Spain through the voices of technocratic demagogy. It is not a matter of saying the same thing in a different way. Emancipation means: making words and things alter in their constituent relation, in what they authorise and make possible when the former are bound to the latter.

5. The word ‘constitution’ does not only refer to a juridical apparatus or a set of laws subordinated to a single order or principle. Foucault explains this in Society must be defended: a constitution is something that does not refer so much to the order of the law as to the order of force, to the force of practices and the force of discourses, to a balance and a back and forth that establishes itself between the two and stabilises them, creating an order between the two, between their asymmetries and inequalities. The conclusion is clear: the sovereign is not he who defines words vertically, from nowhere, and once and for all, but he who is able to rule this order, to make words that already exist correspond to the practices that set each thing in its place and each subject to her position. Hence a revolution is not carried out by simply replacing one set of laws with another, but by accumulating forces whereby laws, unable to contain that which overwhelms them, can no longer keep a hold on practices and discourses, places and positions. A constitution cracks whenever this imbalance becomes ungovernable: just as in the Corfu of Thucydides, it is a matter of getting this force to institute new meanings for old words. To not yet have the language to describe the future is not a problem: the problem is to possess it and for it to mean nothing.

Illustration by Ramón Rodríguez.

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Trouble With The Mill


Yesterday evening I went along to a meeting about Balbriggan library. The venue was the upstairs floor of the Milestone Inn, a pub on Balbriggan’s main thoroughfare, which nowadays consists of so many takeaways that it hardens your arteries just trying to count them. If you are on the lookout for attractive buildings you might consider the old bank building opposite Railway Street, which was upgraded from a bank to a funeral parlour at some point during the current economic crisis.

People hold public meetings in the Milestone Inn because there is nowhere else to hold them. This last few years I have been to a number of meetings there, and have at times made up 25 percent of the public. The surroundings are perfectly suitable for a Friday night disco where people are far too interested in drinking and getting down on the dancefloor to be worried about the surroundings. When the place is deserted, as it usually is at public meetings, it feels like a scene from a David Peace novel. And you feel like one of the characters. But it’s the only place. The town doubled in size to around 20,000 over the last decade or so and a decent venue for discussing the common life of the town was never going to be high up on the planning authorities’ list of priorities: there were developer urges to be sated. Oh, and Phil Hogan decided to abolish Balbriggan Town Council -an institution over 150 years old- at the stroke of a pen. Welcome to democracy in Balbriggan.

Last night was different. My guess is 300 or so people turned up. When I got to the pub there was a queue to get in. The queue snaked through the ample enough lounge area and up the flight of stairs, and the upstairs area was bunged.

Fingal County Council has decided to move the library to a nearby former mill building. As I understand it, the intention is for the Office of Public Works to buy the mill building and then lease it to Fingal County Council, which will use it for the library and, it has been suggested, a museum. Meanwhile the library building -which also houses the soon-to-be-abolished Town Council, will be handed over to the Department of Social Protection, which will use the building as a site for one of its rebranded ‘Intreo’ centres.

The plan to move the library from its existing building has materialised without any kind of public consultation. For many people this seems to be the final straw, the ultimate expression of the contempt displayed by public authorities toward the local population.

For all the traffic that passes through it, the town centre is quite a desolate place now, with many premises closed down and boarded up, as a consequence both of the recession and the centre of commercial gravity shifting up towards the new Tesco behemoth that overlooks the town.

The library, for locals, is not just a pleasant place to go in its own right, but a public institution that is bound up with the historical memory of the community and its sense of identity. Its removal from pride of place in the town would mean, for many people, the end of the town as they knew it.

Several speakers brought up the names of people who used to work in the library, and remembered them with affection. Others spoke of childhood memories of going to the library. People seemed bewildered at the thought that what was such a precious thing for the life of the town should be taken away.

There was some speculative discussion of the financial interests operating behind the decision. Debts accumulated by Fingal County Council. The local consortium who currently own the mill building who, it was speculated, were out to make a tidy sum from the operation. The involvement of Moriarty was suggested, which sounded a rather sinister note for me since some people immediately started objecting to the naming of names, until I realised they were talking about the local supermarket and hotel magnate, not some Satanic criminal mastermind.

As far as I could see, everyone there was white. News of the meeting seemed to have spread through circuits, online and off, that involve mostly people who have lived in the place since well before its dramatic expansion. People living in the newer parts of town, where there is a greater proportion of migrants, were inevitably out of such a loop. One of the organisers referred to the fact that most of those in attendance were familiar faces, and that there was a need to encourage newer town residents to take part.

The fact that the library is to be turned into a social welfare office -as opposed to some other kind of building- seemed to be a particular cause of concern for some. One individual, with an eloquence I found unnerving, compared the “Beauty” of the library to the “Beast” of the social welfare office. One meant knowledge, culture, history. Andrew Carnegie had built a beautiful library to reflect that. Whereas the dole office, by its very nature, was a “beast of a building”. “You cannot send someone to collect his dole cheque in a building that reflects wealth, affluence and beauty”, he said, in an observation that many people saw fit to applaud.

By the standards of North County Dublin property developers, Andrew Carnegie can look like something approaching a secular saint. But his beneficial legacy to Balbriggan in the form of a pleasant library building can obscure some uncomfortable truths. “There are higher uses for surplus wealth than adding petty sums to the earnings of the masses”, he wrote. “Trifling sums given to each every week or month…would be frittered away, nine times out of 10, in things which pertain to the body and not to the spirit.”

Carnegie worked vigorously to smash organised labour at his factories and introduced 12 hour days. He was a devotee of Herbert Spencer’s social Darwinist view of the survival of the fittest. Contrary to what some people seem to think, Carnegie would have endorsed the financial suffocation of local councils in the pursuit of profit. He would have had no problem with the removal of public services that got in the way of wealth accumulation by the high and mighty. If profit meant demoralising a community and driving it into ignorance by mothballing a library and consigning it to museum status, he would have given it the thumbs up without hesitation. He would see nothing wrong with forcing a trade-off between a decent public library and decent social welfare services, or with ratcheting down the quality of both.

If Balbriggan library occupies a special place in local people’s affections it isn’t because of an enlightened social vision on the part of Andrew Carnegie -who accumulated his vast wealth through the ruthless exploitation of multitudes- but because of what local people and those who have worked in it have done with it down through the years. It ought to be possible to campaign for both a decent and flourishing public library and decent social welfare services in the town without having to see it in terms of the Beast of unemployed masses out to devour the Beauty of the library.

The meeting exposed the threadbare quality of municipal politics in the town. After a couple of candidates to the upcoming local election had given a couple of brief but hardly electioneering statements supportive of the meeting and of keeping the library where it is, one Town Councillor stood up and denounced the fact that the meeting had turned “political”, and then left. As if a meeting to prevent a public library from being moved were not by its very nature political, and as if Fingal County Council were not a political institution, and as if he himself were not a politician! In Balbriggan as in many other parts of Ireland, politics is constantly presented as something practised by politicians, not everyday people. This is an image of politics that many politicians, of course, are more than happy to maintain.

On the whole, people seemed buoyed by the sense that after a long time sitting around muttering about the state of things in private, this was a public sign that people really did care about their town and were not willing to be trampled on any longer. Some people spoke with passion and emotion about “taking the town back” (but from whom?). Clare Daly, one of the local TDs, received the biggest applause of the night when she said that in a strange way, the attempt to move the library was in a way one of the best things to happen to the town since it had resulted in such a show of strength, the biggest such meeting in any town in the Fingal area in recent years. There will be a protest on February 10th outside the County Council Offices in Swords, and petitions to be circulated.


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