Monthly Archives: May 2014

In Politics, Do Not Give Your Emotion A Preference

It’s election time. According to the Irish Times, the multitude of identical faces appearing on lampposts is ‘comforting evidence’ of ‘vibrant and fully engaged democratic structures‘. As a person on Twitter noted, one can only imagine the elation the Irish Times editorial team might feel when confronted with the evidence of such structures on a visit to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

There, people have refined democracy to such a degree that not only is there no need for continuous and widespread citizen participation in all areas of political life, there is no need for complete delegation of such participation to a range of representatives elected once every four years. Indeed, such is the perfection of vibrant and fully engaged democratic structures in North Korea that this wasteful need for a range of representatives has been replaced by the decision taken collectively and continuously by the People to place their trust in the Dear Leader.* And there are posters of him everywhere, showing how well these structures work.

To me this model of democracy is a lot more practical and pragmatic than the model where we should have elections. The problem with elections is that people say things on posters. Not just things, but sometimes bad things, and things that are not true. Personally I prefer candidates who make no claims on their posters, because that way, you are unlikely to be misled about what you are going to get. Or, if they’re going to write things, let it be at least pure information based on fact.

Think Local, Fact Local.

Think Local, Fact Local.

See this example above. Local Man, Local Issues, Vote For Local Youth. All of this information is true. He is a Local Man, even if he does look like he is about to launch a March on Rome. And they are Local Issues, like sports facilities. We won’t have any trouble around here with issues from other places. And, since the sports facilities are for the youth, who are Local, and the sports facilities are going to be located Locally, this is an excellent example of a set of factual and logically consequential statements that do not seek to rouse the vile passions of the ignorant mob, or, what would be worse, use emotive language.

The only criticism I would make here is the way Brian Dennehy is his wingman. It would have been better for the candidate to make it explicitly clear that the Brian Dennehy in question is NOT the American made-for-TV actor Brian Dennehy, but a Local. Unless in fact he really is that Brian Dennehy, in which case he should specify that he is.

Brian Dennehy: Local?

Brian Dennehy: Local?

The danger of making it seem like Brian Dennehy the made-for-TV actor is your running mate is that it could excite the vile passions of the ignorant mob, whose understanding of basic matters of law and order comes from watching afternoon courtroom dramas, frequently starring Brian Dennehy as a lawyer or a judge getting a mother accused of murdering her children off the hook. So this could generate false hopes among the rabble. The best you can hope for is that they ask themselves why Brian Dennehy is standing for election as a local candidate in Balbriggan, and how this might be possible, and conclude that, in fact, no, it is not possible. As I say, we live in hope.

For me the best kind of politics happens when emotion is kept out of things, and things are based on solid facts. Let me give you an example. There was this one time I stood in a hospital corridor and there was a patient lying on a trolley, moaning in pain about something. Some of her family arrived. They were getting emotional. They were cursing the government. I said, this is not logical. We need to focus on the facts. The deficit has to come down. We are contractually bound by this. That means cutting the health budget. That means adverse consequences for people like you. It is all very well for you to howl about your personal predicament but this does not change the fact that this is the best thing in the national interest.

The family started spouting populist nonsense about how the rich were getting away with murder, with no appreciation of how there was a need to make the country more competitive. She continued howling, so I gave her a Vulcan nerve pinch.

The simple fact is, all the political possibilities available to us are contained within campaign literature. There is no need to think about what is going on in your life, in your workplace, your housing estate, or in your local hospital or school. Too much involvement in these things is illogical.

In my experience there are far too many people who try and get political in these areas, and they say things because they feel strongly about them, and not because they are objects of scientific interest. I believe we should take a more measured and pragmatic approach to things. It is a matter of reading these leaflets carefully once every four years, and making our choice.

If we make the wrong choice, it proves that our rulers are smarter than us. That is democracy. It is only once we have evolved our powers of scientific and democratic reason to the degree that everything can be delegated to a single leadership figure that we will have got the democracy we deserve.

*A correspondent writes: ‘Actually, there are regular ‘elections’ in North Korea to the Supreme People’s Assembly, which the same people always seem to win’. I accept this. Things are not perfect in even North Korea, yet.

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Do Not Panic. Smash The Irish State

The writer Julian Gough has a piece in yesterday’s Irish Times, titled ‘The State has no right to take the names of Beckett and Joyce in vain’, which is scathing of the decision taken by the Irish Government to name the next two patrol ships after Samuel Beckett and James Joyce.

He has good reason to be scathing about what he describes as the ‘grotesque wrongness’ of appropriating the names of these writers for the purposes of ‘a branding exercise’, when this is a State with a history of suppressing and censoring writers so as to suppress the truth about the State.

Beckett and Joyce, among other writers, are now consecrated by the State as a sign of the essentially creative spirit of the Irish people. God knows how many meeting rooms in the Greater IFSC area bear the name of some figure off that Irish Writers poster, you know the one. It must be nice for partners in accountancy and law firms to think that they are following in the footsteps of Joyce and Beckett whilst figuring out ways of helping their clients to avoid contributing tax to public hospitals and schools. And of course both of them have been sanitised politically (as well as scatologically), both in terms of their literary work and as public figures.

The central character of Joyce’s Ulysses, Leopold Bloom spoke of ‘manufactured monsters for mutual murder, hideous hobgoblins produced by a horde of capitalistic lusts upon our prostituted labour. The poor man starves while they are grassing their royal mountain stags or shooting peasants and phartridges in their purblind pomp of pelf and power’. It isn’t the sort of thing you would see inscribed in the wall tiles of a top law firm toilet.

Samuel Beckett gave public support to the Republican side in the Spanish Civil War, a stance that placed him at odds with the Irish political and religious establishment, which was fervently pro-Franco. He then played a heroic role in the French Resistance. It isn’t the sort of thing Phil Hogan would be big into.

For the Irish establishment to glom onto the literary achievements of these two artists and others by naming patrol ships after them is rather typical, really. It has been a constant feature of its history to expect others to prostitute their labour for the purposes of their ennoblement. And Julian Gough is quite right to point out the stark hypocrisy in the way the Irish State celebrates the achievements of people it could not bear to have around the place, but only once they have made it elsewhere. The rest of the time it just doesn’t want to know.

Where I differ with Gough, however, is the way he imagines that the State can somehow earn the right to use the names of Joyce or Beckett or whoever for its official purposes. I think there is a more general lack of understanding in Irish society about ‘the State’, which is strange, given the fact that the word seems to crop up in public political discourse in every second sentence.

Let us break it down a bit more: does the State have the right to do anything at all? To imagine that it does is to confer it some kind of political credibility. But should it have any? Gough rightly notes the lengths the State went to in order to suppress the kind of creative thought vital to a democratic society. And the way the State has established itself has been through institutions that rely on coercion, subordination and violence. So: why should the State get the right to do anything?

That is before we even consider the State as an instrument for class rule: as long as there is capitalism, the State will be capitalist and there will be wage slavery for the majority. Thus the right of the State, if such a thing can exist, is really the right of the ruling capitalist class.

As long as we imagine the State as somehow detached from capitalism, that it is somehow ‘our’ State –or as long as we ignore that the State we are talking about is a capitalist State- it may seem incongruous and inappropriate to us that the State should capitalise on Beckett or Joyce or whoever.

But why shouldn’t a capitalist State seek to maximise loyalty and legitimacy by identifying itself with the cultural achievements and history of those it calls its people, or to present the history of these people as indistinguishable from the history of the State? (Also, why shouldn’t it create the category of ‘diaspora‘, mentioned in Gough’s piece, in the service of internal racial logic, outward expulsion of surplus population, and inward flows of cash?)

This doesn’t mean we can have no objection when it does such a thing. On the contrary, such crass expropriation and cultural incorporation ought to be resisted at every turn. But not because you want to build a better capitalist State where the ruling class gives culture its appropriate place.

That is what bothers me about Gough’s suggestion that he would have no problem with Michael D. Higgins giving a speech about Joyce and Beckett and naming the ship because he is a far more appropriate figure than a gom like Enda Kenny. Of course Higgins is a far more cultivated and democratic figure. But for him to do such a thing, we do not need to imagine any seismic revolutionary shift, no explosion of popular democratic mobilisation; just a letter from the Cabinet inviting him to do so. For if Joyce and Beckett can be brandished as signs of the cultural refinement of the Irish State, so too can a poet ensconced in Áras an Uachtaráin delivering exquisite speeches on this and that whilst market forces run riot everywhere else.

What Gough’s piece shows, for all its scathing anger directed at the right targets, is how deep the stranglehold the Irish State has on our collective political imagination, how deeply we identify with it in our view of the world, as if it were ours, when in actual fact it is only ‘ours’ in so far as a group of slaves might speak of “our” master. According to this view of the world, history is not made by peoples, but through the State, with the State and in the State.

There is only one solution for this stranglehold. It must be smashed.

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Another Note On Diarmuid O’Flynn’s MEP election campaign

I’m returning to this because I think it raises important political questions. Diarmuid O’Flynn has expressed an anti-abortion stance as part of his campaign. In my view this stance is incompatible with genuine democracy, freedom and equality.

There is nothing in the world that would make me change this view. Just as water is wet, a State that compels women to give birth and deems them incapable of making decisions about their own bodies is anti-democratic, despotic and anti-woman. Therefore I can find no reason for voting for any candidate in the European elections who espouses such a stance. This applies to Diarmuid O’Flynn and it also applies to every other candidate with a so-called ‘pro-life’ stance in these elections.

In the abstract, there may be certain circumstances, at particular times and places, where it may be necessary to vote for a candidate who espouses such a stance. This would be when you judge the outcome of not voting for that candidate to be appreciably worse.

Fortunately, this isn’t the case in the European elections. If Diarmuid O’Flynn had not expressed such a stance, there might have been useful propaganda value in O’Flynn reaching the European Parliament, given his campaign track record and his public profile. It might have sent out a valuable political signal regarding the Irish debt burden.

But given the public stance on abortion he has expressed, voting for him, and elevating him to MEP would send out an entirely different signal: that it is OK to ditch women’s rights in the pursuit of ‘national sovereignty’.

Though his views as expressed on his blog seem particularly harsh and ignorant with regard to women who are suicidal on account of a pregnancy, I think it bears stressing that O’Flynn’s views are not that different from the Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, or from the vast majority of TDs in the Dáil, whose stance on allowing abortion in the event of a risk of suicide took no account of what any woman might think herself, as illustrated by the absurd expert apparatus proposed to oversee authorisation of an abortion in just such an event.

Whilst I oppose his stance on abortion, it doesn’t seem plausible to me that his views on abortion had a bearing on his decision to campaign in the way he has done over the last few years.

It seems a lot more plausible to me that his campaign -and I think it’s important not to confuse a part (Diarmuid O’Flynn) with the whole (all those who have participated in the Ballyhea campaign), as some people have done- is motivated, first and foremost, by a genuine concern about the effects of the illegitimate banking debt on Irish society.

I don’t, as it happens, think he is some sort of sleeper candidate for the Catholic Right who has been unwittingly rumbled. As one of his campaign team told me, they are not professional politicians. They are not surrounded by a team of experts that can weigh up the effect of every public utterance in advance and tailor remarks accordingly.

A person might display admirable qualities in certain actions and dreadful qualities in others, but the whole point of being a public representative is that you intend to represent a constituency. This constituency is then in turn represented by you: in the representative realm, this constituency has no voice of its own, merely the words you put in its mouth. A ‘pro-life’ candidate, then, has the effect of representing a ‘pro-life’ constituency, even when no such constituency really exists, and even when the candidate doesn’t actually make any declaration or vote on any legislation regarding this matter.

And so there is no way of separating the admirable qualities from the dreadful ones in the representative realm.

In other circumstances, people may be open to persuasion, they may reach points of common action on some things and irreconcilable divergence on other matters. In the representative realm, however, stupidity, cowardice, ignorance and bigotry become real and essential characteristics. A vote for a bigoted candidate is a vote for that candidate’s bigotry, with all the symbolic violence that comes with this.

In other contexts, these are only stances adopted by people, and people’s stances can be changed through dialogue and interaction and finding common cause. Taking this possibility seriously -and the possibility one might fail- is what politics is actually about. Unfortunately, there are no shortcuts through the realm of representation for this. There are no blind eyes that can be turned. That is a useful lesson, I think, with regard to what is still an urgent matter of building the broadest and strongest possible coalition against illegitimate debt.

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A Note on Diarmuid O’Flynn’s MEP election campaign

The other day I was asked by Diarmuid O’Flynn’s campaign to translate a profile of him published in El País. I was happy to do so because I think the Ballyhea Says No campaign has shown exemplary opposition to the illegitimate debt burden placed on Irish society as a consequence of the bank bailout, both by its continuous protests and the way it kept track of the figures involved.

I also think that the private banking crisis transformed into a sovereign debt crisis, and the austerity policies imposed as a consequence, constitute the most urgent political matter facing not only the population of Ireland but of Europe more broadly. I believe the broadest coalition possible ought to be forged in order to break this deadly stranglehold of debt. Such a coalition would inevitably entail being on the same side as people with whom I have little in common politically, and whose political stances in other areas I might even find anathema.

However I must make clear, in light of this Broadsheet post, and comments on his blog, that I do not endorse Diarmuid O’Flynn’s campaign, and I believe people should not vote for him.

He has said that he will oppose any potential moves emanating from the European Union to liberalise Ireland’s draconian abortion laws. He says he will do this based on the principle of national sovereignty, that it ought to be up to the Irish nation to decide on their laws in this regard, and not the EU.

In effect, he is saying he will use his seat to maintain Ireland’s draconian abortion laws, upholding the power of the Irish State to compel women to give birth. His ‘national sovereignty’ argument in this regard is based on a conception of a nation that can do with women’s bodies as it pleases. Such ideas fly in the face of basic principles of equality and justice. For those who genuinely support such principles, no such nation can be allowed to exist.

A vote for him would be in effect an endorsement of the violation of women’s rights. There is no way, as he suggests in his blog, of ‘prioritising’ the issues he highlights in his manifesto over his stance on this issue, as debt-driven austerity and the liquidation of women’s rights are inextricably linked. To do such a thing would be especially dangerous in light of developments elsewhere in Europe, in particular in Spain, where the implementation of the austerity policies promoted by the Troika goes hand in hand with the re-introduction of restrictive abortion laws. This development is part of a horrifying reassertion of ‘national sovereignty’ on the part of the Spanish government, meaning sovereignty over women’s bodies.

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Ireland 2014: Who Are The Terrorists?

He then proceeded to tell me about the many runs he had done, bringing in cocaine, ecstasy, cannabis and firearms. Massive amounts of drugs were coming in and quantities were allowed to get into the hands of the criminal gang. He told me how he was being well looked after financially by both the criminal gang and the gardaí.

He then went on to tell me where he had left a handgun in a wooden area in Cork. He contacted a particular detective sergeant and told him of the location, and drawing a map in the area pinpointed it. On finding the location, two gardaí threw in a number of firearms to beef up the find. He explained that the press reported it as a subversive arms find. When I asked him why they would do this, he replied, “To further their careers in the force.”‘

Above is an excerpt of testimony from retired Garda Jack Doyle, which was read into the Dáil record by Mick Wallace the other day.

The drugs, and the terrorism. Yes, terrorism. If you make the public fear the threat of terrorist violence, from dark ‘subversive’ forces, and there is no grounds for fearing such a threat, because it does not exist, you are engaging in terrorism.

We don’t think about it that way, however. We have been conditioned to see terrorism as simply the acts of people whom Pope John Paul II referred to as “the men of violence”. (Police forces are “men of violence too, they just carry it out on behalf of the State)

Terrorism is acts intended to make a community afraid, to make any member of that community feel that they could be on the receiving end of a form of violence: assassination, shooting, bombing; beatings, arson. These are acts of violence intended to produce terror throughout the community. They are intended to drive the community to behave in particular ways, not only to be fearful but also to stop doing certain things and giving support to other things.

So, if a Garda tells the public that there are “subversives” at work, and that they have guns, and that luckily brave Gardaí are on the case, when no such thing is happening, they may well be furthering their own careers in their mind, but they are also engaging in terrorism.

When I read that testimony yesterday, I thought. how many other acts of terrorism have been committed by members of the Gardaí and of other State bodies over the years? You know, things like intercepted arms finds attributed to “subversives”, “suspect devices” that needed the bomb squad to come in. And then, more insidiously, briefings to the press intended to make the public believe they would be faced with a cataclysm of terror, from the Provisional IRA, from ‘dissident’ republican splinter groups, from Al Qaida -and maybe all of them at the same time- if not for the brave cops.

I grew up in a society in which the news every night was filled with ‘terrorists’. You would be stopped at checkpoints and there would be signs up that read ‘blame the terrorists’. You would walk out the front door and there would be a soldier crouched in front of the house opposite, pointing a rifle. Sometimes you would get a soldier pointing his rifle at you -all the better to see you with. You would see patrols of police in bullet proof vests and carrying machine guns walking up and down the street. There would be bomb scares where you had to leave the shop or the area you were in.

All of these things, day in day out, year in year out, condition you to think and act in particular ways. You don’t even realise it is happening. I remember the day the checkpoints started to be dismantled and all of a sudden you were in a car going up or down a street that had always been blocked off -it was as if a physical weight had been lifted off my shoulders, and then there was the feeling at night that you no longer had to walk along roads tensed and ready to run like blazes, in case a car pulled up and someone got out of it with a gun and shot you dead.

People in power often speak of those times as the dark days of the past. Let’s not go back to the dark days of the past and let’s have a brighter future, they say. But the truth is that all the time these “dark days” were supposed to be happening, there was lots of light too. Not a light cast by people trying to shape a kind of normality, but the everyday light that comes from doing everyday things, whether at home or at work or in school or out and about. And when people talk about the dark days of the past, they often ignore how the people most affected by the violence of that time can still have dark days that still stretch right into the present.

One of the things I remember, from these ‘dark days’, well, I can’t really remember it at all because I never really noticed it at the time. So I can only describe it as a feeling: the feeling that you were living somewhere that for all the wider problems, whenever it was going to get better, it was going to build on the things that were already good about the place. Things everyone my age at least pretty much took for granted: you would go to school and university and not have to pay anything, you would go to the doctor or the hospital and you would get the treatment you needed because that was your right as a human being. In fact I don’t think I even considered it in such philosophical terms: you got seen to because everyone got seen to and that was that.

But now I think about this idea that everyone has the same right to receive treatment based on their medical needs, and look at what is going on in southern society, and think that people in power want to bury this idea -and broader principles of democratic equality-altogether. They will never tell you that they are not in favour of these things. If they are seeking election, of course, they will tell you anything. But when it comes to a choice between what the banks want, what the markets want, and what these principles demand, the banks and markets win every time. And the banks and the markets always have to win, because it is in the general interest, the public interest, the national interest, that they win. For now. Then, sometime, something called a “fairer deal” can be struck.

The means by which these principles are being buried right now is, quite simply, terrorism. The rights of banks are being enforced and the population is being terrorised by the consequences and implications. Yesterday I read a story in the papers about a 5 year old girl with cerebral palsy who has had her medical card withdrawn, because of cuts to the health service, cuts that people in power insist are inevitable, necessary and a positive step. Of course they will never tell a 5 year old girl with cerebral palsy that we won’t be paying towards her health care any more, or someone with terminal cancer. But they will announce to the public that they are the ones making the tough choices, getting the country back on track.

Getting the country back on track -through terror and fear. And all the while posing as the heroes saving the public from catastrophe, from those who would lead us back to “the dark days”. Not only the terror experienced by people who have now lost their medical cards, their welfare payments, their jobs and their homes, but the terror of those who fear losing them in the future, and those who see what they are prepared to do to five year old girls with cerebral palsy, and feeling as if no-one seems willing to shout stop, that it is each to their own.

Ireland 2014: Who are the terrorists?

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‘Independents’ And A Shedding Of Skin

Yesterday morning before I had my wits about me, that is, before I got my first coffee of the day, I had a hand thrust in front of me, which I shook, and a leaflet thrust into my other hand. It was for a candidate in the local elections, who was advertising himself as ‘non-party’. On the train I read his leaflet, an utterly bland and pointless list of smalltown proposals that gave the distinct impression he was well in with the local chamber of commerce. Then I did a search for him online, and it turned out he had been a longtime member of Fine Gael, and previously elected several times for that party.

Then there is another candidate, an ‘independent’ and jewellery owner, who managed to erect a banner across the street at the point of entry to the train station, making it look like he owned the train station and people were flocking to his domain. His banner read, with quotation marks, “I know I can make a difference”, a personal conviction shared with Hitler, Genghis Khan and Al-Qaeda. Turns out, according to him, that he had been asked to stand for Fine Gael but had turned it down out of… I can’t remember the reason. I saw the same individual at a public meeting not so long ago speaking in a way that suggested, to me at least, an appeal to the local folk, the people who have been living in the town for at least six hundred years, to stop holding their tongue about the infestation of newcomers. He has also claimed that the town has had its ‘fair share’ of social housing and more four bedroom houses need to be built privately for private purposes.

Then there is a candidate who has an ad poster up in the train station that reads ‘Your local independent candidate’, as if to say, don’t be going voting for any of these blow-in candidates. She inherited her current council seat from her mother, who I think abandoned the sinking Fianna Fáil ship early on.

The worrying thing about all this particular kind of ‘independent’ – I also saw a Christian Solidarity Party ‘independent’ poster in Meath- is the way they place themselves in opposition to the party system whilst determined to become the exception that upholds the rule: these are people who will not be swayed by party influence or loyalty, but this is because they haven’t the slightest intention of deviating in any way from neoliberal orthodoxy in its smalltown expressions. If anything they are out to enforce it. They are as much creatures of the party system as Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael.

This is not a criticism of decent candidates who choose to use the ‘Independent’ label for perfectly sensible purposes. But I get the feeling that if there is a surge in support for ‘Independent’ candidates on the whole it will be presented, and even celebrated by the press, including, of course, Independent News and Media, as a surge in support for a snake that is gradually shedding its skin.

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Friends, do you hear that?

This is a translation of an article by Olga Rodríguez, published in eldiario.es on 13th May 2014.

Friends, do you hear that?

Julio Cortázar

Julio Cortázar

In an article published in 1975, Julio Cortázar recalled Cato the Elder and his demand, Delenda est Carthago (Carthage must be destroyed), with which he would end all of his speeches in the Roman Senate during the last years of the Punic Wars, thus calling for the invasion of Carthage. With this example, Cortázar was advocating a similar insistence against the Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet.

“I am awake to what surrounds me as history and hence, once again Delenda est Pinochet. (…) A Latin American writer has the obligation to be Cato, to repeat ad nauseam: Delenda est Pinochet.”

It was a time of repression and infamy in Chile, whilst large sections of society, who were satisfied with the neoliberal economic measures imposed by the dictator, looked the other way.

Also at that time Argentina was living days of terror, but this mattered little when it came to going ahead with the hosting of the World Cup on Argentinian soil in 1978. The Latin American country saw death flights, electrocutions, robbery of children, torture, murder and disappearances mixed with celebrations in the football system, with cheering and goals.

Many Western countries looked the other way, untroubled by the horror and the systematic violations of human rights that were being committed in the country. With their participation in the World Cup they legitimised the Argentinian dictatorship, more than certain countries, with the US leading, had done until then. Among various Argentinian exiles based in France an awareness campaign was launched, with the title “Friend, do you hear that?”, that Cortazár disseminated in his articles.

Returning to the present. In this country there are families with all members in long term unemployment, who do not get even a euro in income, assistance, pension, or unemployment benefit. There are homes threatened with an eviction notice, and people –many people- who have already been expelled from their homes, stripped of their right to decent housing. Meanwhile, public money is used to pay off banking debt and the Government says that building a hunting lodge for the king, costing €3.4 million, is in the “general interest”.

There are politicians and businessmen with accounts in tax havens in order to evade paying taxes, whilst ordinary people pay theirs and the rise in VAT and income tax. There are houses with empty fridges in which families go to sleep as soon as the sun goes down so as to be able to deal with the heating bill at the end of the month. Meanwhile, the Government spends four million euro to advertise the new electricity bill. All very logical.

Pensions will go down by three points of purchasing power, that is, €3 billion approximately, until 2017. Wages are being frozen, public services and assistance is being cut, public enterprises and hospitals set up with the money of everyone are being privatised, poverty and inequality is growing.

People are sacked in order to hire on the cheap; rooftops are expropriated for the installation of phone antennae, but expropriation of houses owned by banks in order to give them to people who are homeless is prohibited; houses that belong to the public are sold off to vulture funds; the losses are socialised and the revenues are privatised.

We are governed by lobbies that do not stand for election and give little pats on the back to Rajoy for having picked up all the messages, “for how well he is doing things”, as Botín[1] has said. Meanwhile, youth unemployment stands at 56% and thousands of educated, trained and willing young people feel forced to emigrate or move back to their parents’ home to be able to maintain themselves.

In recent years there has been a silent ideological and economic coup d’État, for the delectation of an insatiable financial power that, unless it is stopped, will be able to lay waste to everything it meets in its path. It is for this very reason that we must draw attention to those guilty of this looting. Their photographs must be taken and there must be an explanation of the profits they extract by stripping people of their rights.

It is the moment to shout out loud: “Friends, do you hear that?” Do you hear the mothers who have nothing to maintain their children? Do you hear the couples condemned to living under the same roof against their wishes because they can’t cope with the expense of a separation? Do you hear the people who have been evicted, or those threatened with losing their home? Do you hear the long term unemployed whom this system offers nothing but humiliation?

Do you hear the people who work at least ten hours a day and don’t even reach €800 a month? Do you hear, meanwhile, the accumulated cash swarming into the pockets of the super rich? Do you hear the inequality of opportunities? Do you hear the ways the rich have of paying less taxes? Do you hear the lies they tell? Do you hear that, Friends? Or do you prefer to go on ignoring it?

It is the moment of the Delenda est that Cortázar shouted from his exile. Inequality and poverty are not natural catastrophes that fall from the sky out of divine punishment. Behind them there are people responsible and they must be pointed out, through the polls and the street, with protest, with condemnation, with votes. It is time to say, against them, Delenda est this almighty plunder. Delenda est. Enough. Enough.

 

 

[1] Emilio Botín, Chief Executive of Grupo Santander Banks.

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15M and the Voice of He Who Knows

This is a translation of a piece by Luis Moreno-Caballud, originally published on the Interferencias blog on eldiario.es on Thursday 15th May 2014, three years on from the date that marked the beginning of the 15M movement in Spain.

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15M and the Voice of He Who Knows

We grew up weighed down by the Voice of the News, which said to us: “that’s the way it is”. Go out on your own, this is the least bad of all worlds. Study, earn money and one day you too can say to others: “that’s the way it is”.

But, why did we believe, -and why do we still at times believe- in that Voice?

Perhaps because it wasn’t just the Voive of the News: it was the Voice of He Who Knows. Centuries of authority, experts, facts, figures, intellectuals, of “great men”, of “this guy is a genius”, of “modern European progress”, of “all of the most advanced countries”, couldn’t be wrong. Right?

27th of October 2013: 4.7 million people watch the first episode of the seventh season of Salvados, “Is life still the same?”, which asks if anything has changed since the crisis began. And there it is again, the Voice of He Who Knows, speaking this time through the mouth of the journalist and writer Arturo Pérez-Reverte:

Nothing is going to change, Jordi, nothing at all is going to change. If there was a revolution today the first thing people would do would be to go out and see if their car has been burned. Do you know why people want the crisis to pass? To go back to doing exactly the same thing they did before: to buy themselves a car again, a mortgage, to go off to Cancún on holidays again….

These words are familiar to us. He Who Knows always explains to us what “people” really want. But you can see him nervous, changed. Lately he shouts more, as if he found it harder to be heard: “Lack of questioning, lack of culture, Cainismo[1], baseness, envy, that’s who we are, we Spaniards!”, Reverte insists. It seems that we now have to add consumerism and irresponsibility, as prime minister Rajoy himself confirms: “In Spain we have gone too far spending what we did not have. We have bought second homes on credit, plasma screen televisions, trips to the Caribbean..”

And our “great men”, they declare:

“What is natural is barbarism, and not civilisation”: Muñoz Molina[2], 2013.

“The masses are predictable and -as logic dictates- herd-like”: Javier Marías, 2012.

“The masses are that which does not act for itself. Such is its mission. They have come into the world to be directed, influenced, represented, organised…”: Ortega y Gasset, 1929.

We have seen too many science fiction films not to know that this is a self-fulfilling prophecy. The echo of the Voice of He Who Knows is inevitably reproduced in thousands of comments everywhere:

people are idiots”, “people are uncultivated”, “the country is asleep”, “there is no education in this country”, “we have the politicians that we deserve”….

And also:

“I don’t know anything about politics”, “I didn’t go on to study, I don’t know how to speak properly”, “we don’t have an opinion because we don’t know”….

And of course, these others:

“it’s not my problem”, “I wish they’d leave me in peace”, “each to his own”, “they are thieves, but I’d do the same if I could”

So many and so strong are these thousands of echoes, effects and resonances of the Voice of He Who Knows, that we sometimes forget how easy it is to stop listening to them.

But all of a sudden someone turns up and breaks the circle. Simply by asking: “and what if it wasn’t like this?” Someone decides to rely on the intelligence of others, and their own, and in that moment the spell has been broken. The people are us and we are not fools in the slightest.

The Voice of He Who Knows will not shut up, in any case: “they are anti-system”, “the slogan is taken from the Stéphane Hessel book Indignaos[3], a book that is worthless”, “Can the world be changed? It’s very difficult, we see a world dominated by money, consumerism, that’s the way it is…”, “young people today live much better than 40 years ago”…

Until someone, anyone, for example a woman called Cristina, from Burgos, dials the number of the radio station and breaks the circle.

I am 46 years old, I was at the demonstration in Madrid this Sunday and I have to say something: there was a lot of young people, but we were people of every age and walk of life. Anti-system? Yes, obviously: the politicians and the bankers and those who are actually supporting these measures that are cutting away at all the rights that cost our parents and grandparents so much blood, sweat and tears to win, the politicians for whom we voted, who are obviously run by the same hands of capital that are also running the media, they are the ones that are turning our young people, our children, into anti-system. Because they are leaving them outside the system.

And when the circle is broken, it is not to know more than the Voice of He Who Knows, but to know in another way: by knowing that there are things that everyone knows about. Such as dignity. Knowing that is whoever knows how to write a bill to abolish evictions is no more worthy than whoever knows how to stand in front of a door so no-one gets in -or whoever knows how to deliver an embrace, a shout or a tweet at the right time. Knowing that whoever knows how to install loudspeaker equipment is no more worthy than whoever knows how to cook a paella. Nor is he who knows how to wield a scalpel more worthy than whoever has managed to bring up four children.

When the circle is broken, we suddenly realise that we people know how to do millions of things. And the things we know how to do multiply. 80% of the population supporting a movement of occupied squares where people live without money? More than a thousand evictions stopped and more than a thousand people rehoused? The privatisation of Madrid hospitals made illegal and the person responsible forced to resign? Also cancelled: projects of savage and speculative urbanism like those of the Gamonal neighbourhood? A myriad of co-operative, collaborative projects, based on neighbourhood solidarity proliferating throughout the state? None of this was possible according to the Voice of He Who Knows. But it has been.

I grew up, then, so weighed down by the Voice of the News, by the Voice of the Expert, by the Voice of the Opinion-maker, by the Voice of the Master, by the Voice of He Who Knows, that I never imagined that I was going to witness such a strong commitment to the intelligence and the ability of anyone as the one we witness today in the Spanish state.

I am very happy to have been wrong.

Happy 15M.

[1] Literally, ‘Cainism’, referring to the biblical figure Cain, who killed his brother. The term is used to denote a violent antipathy towards those who should ideally be as members of the same family.

[2] Antonio Muñoz Molina, prominent journalist and novelist

[3] In French, Indignez-Vous! Translated into English as ‘Time For Outrage!’

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Debt: present in our lives, absent from the election campaign

This is a translation of an article by philosopher Juan Domingo Sánchez Estop, originally published today, 15th of May, on Voces de Pradillo. It analyses the social and political dimensions of debt, and the reluctance of left political parties in Spain to make debt the major issue in their campaign for the European elections. It is particularly relevant in Ireland not only on account of the common issue of debt –the debt burden is in fact far greater in the Irish case-, but also the pitfalls of a narrow focus on corrupt political elites. You can read my dialogue on democracy and the republic with Juan Domingo here and here.

coincide
-Our interests coincide, said the banker to the mortgagee….
(El Roto)

Debt: present in our lives, absent from the election campaign

One of the big issues absent from the current election campaign is that of debt. Little is said about debt, and what does get said is said timidly, as if it were a difficult and delicate question that people were unable to understand.

However, debt, both private and public, constitutes the very epicentre of the permanent crisis in which we are immersed. Debt evicts, debt fires people, debt cuts wages and pensions, debt removes rights, debt redistributes wealth upward and fills the envelopes of the corrupt, it is debt that feeds the ‘politico-business caste’, and reproduces it.

Thus to speak about corruption, or the political caste, without speaking at the same time about what sustains it, is simply to remain on a superficial level of discourse, which can of course unleash ‘justicialist’ passions, a will to re-establish justice and the rule of law and punish those who get rich by violating the legal order.

However, we have already seen how in other countries, ‘justicialist’ political operations, intended to put an end to corruption by energetic means, by not intervening upon the causes, merely served to reproduce the corruption and even widen it. Such is the case in Italy, where the political-media-legal operation Mani Pulite (Clean Hands) imprisoned, or at least brought before the courts, a large section of the Christian Democrat and Socialist political caste accused of the gravest acts of corruption. We know that the result of this operation was the emergence of a regime of corruption that was even more systematic and operated with even more impunity, during the twenty years of Berlusconi rule.

The point here is that you cannot treat as an offence, a crime, or an anomaly, what is in reality a perfectly normalised and stable system, one that exists to pillage society’s wealth. Neoliberalism, from the end of the 80s until 2008, functioned through ‘speculative bubbles’ (dotcom, construction, food, etc.) based on easy credit. Thanks to the big credit facilities that allowed many people to buy houses or cars or fund their holidays, the capitalist regimes of the richest countries achieved what had seemed impossible: to maintain or raise the consumption levels of wide sectors of the population while freezing and even reducing real wages.

Nowadays, finance capital is calling in the “easy” credit of the previous phase, which, for the population, has been turned into a mountain of debt. Not only for the population, but also for the State, which, at the service of the banks, saved the banks, when according to sound liberal logic they ought to have gone bust. Indeed, when the speculative activities of the banks and other financial actors (the property bubble was the last major one, and in Spain, the decisive one) failed, the Spanish State, along with the other major capitalist States -opted to ‘bail them out’ through big injections of public funds obtained by getting into debt (issue of public debt and other loans). This made the Spanish State, whose public debt was one of the lowest in the EU, along with others, raise their levels of indebtedness spectacularly. At this moment, the Spanish State is the debtor of the very banks it saved with public funds. To pay this debt, or at least its interest payments -since the debt has become unpayable- the State is resorting to the liquidation and privatisation of public services such as education.

On top of the cuts there is a steep rise in indirect taxes such as VAT imposed equally on all citizens independent of their level of income.

Once the crisis was declared, private and public debts became unpayable. Private debts on account of a lack of waged income -due to the mass unemployment caused by the crisis- public debt on account of the fall in the State’s tax take, also originating in the crisis.

Every attempt to cut public spending through cuts in social provision or tax increases lowers the ability of the population to consume and raises the debt. There is no longer any economic rationality behind the measures intended to reduce the deficit and pay off the debt, since these very measures are what cause the debt and the deficit to rise to unprecedented levels. However, the debt, this unpayable debt that rises when there are attempts to reduce it, has another purpose: to subject governments and populations to a political rule that corresponds to the interests of finance capital, to place society as a whole and every sector of production under an inexorable discipline.

According to the real powers that be, one of the things that governments and citizens must be clear on is that the main priority must be the payment of the debt.

However, what seems a common sense idea and an elementary moral principle is beginning to be questioned by wide sections of society. Whoever refuses to be evicted from their home puts their right to housing over and above the payment of debt, and thereby calls into question the legitimacy of a credit system that cannot allow access to even a good as elementary as housing. The user of public services who puts their health and the education of their children before the payment of debt implicitly calls into question the idea that this payment should take precedence over the conditions for a civilised life. Widely representative social movements such as the PAH (Mortgage Victims Platform), the Marea Verde (Green Tide, in defence of public education) and the Marea Blanca (White Tide, in defence of public health care) thus stand opposed to the debt by not accepting its consequences.

What is needed now is for these relatively disperse demands: housing, health education, public services, etc. to be united under a general demand that comprises them all. This can only be the repudiation of the payment of illegitimate debt, the debt acquired by the State in order to save the banks, the debt acquired by individuals on the basis of abusive credit contracts, the public debt that originates in corruption. There must be an urgent evaluation of this illegitimate debt and its payment must be stopped, since it is on this non-payment that the safeguarding of a civilised life for society depends: one where there are no children going hungry, where old people have decent pensions, where economic activity is reborn on new foundations and generates income for all. The demand for the repudiation of illegitimate debt is a perfect cross-sectional demand that is neither of the left or the right but rather strict common sense. If it is extreme, it is of extreme necessity.

It is worrying, then, that the parties of the Spanish left have, in this European elections campaign, placed to one side this demand that ought to form the basis for every other demand, since it is only by liberating ourselves from the burden of this illegitimate debt that it will be possible to practise a different politics, to govern in favour of the 99% of the population.

In Greece, one party, Syriza, has made this repudiation its banner, without remaining on the margins as a consequence: right now it is the first party in the country, which means that the majority of society understands perfectly well what the debt means nowadays. A left that seeks to move out of the margins, out of adolescence and out of a rhetorical void must understand this. The sooner it does, the sooner we will be able to put a stop to the disaster unfolding.

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How We Do Things Around Here

-Tubbs: Look Edward a shooting star. Should we make a wish?

-Edward: Yes Tubbs, wish for an end to this plague of strangers, for our futures to remain local and for new road to be totally destroyed.

I have had the dubious privilege of witnessing this kind of behaviour first hand on many occasions. Someone whose sense of themselves is so bound up with the inbred nativist nationalism that prevails in this country, that when they get confronted with any kind of plain speaking to which they are not accustomed, they reflexively turn the focus onto whatever it is that makes the person different from them: would I be right in thinking you wouldn’t be from these parts, begob, because this isn’t the way we say or do things round here.

The intent is to undermine the other person in the eyes of everyone else, to make them feel like they have no right to be saying what they’re saying, that they are a sort of unwelcome foreign body, unused to our noble and established ways.

In this case, it’s only the head of government, the bould Enda. What a rancid, dandruff-strewn hole these gobdaws have made.

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