Gernika: Legacy of a massacre

A version of this article appeared in the Gernika 80 Then & Now – 80 Years of Basque-Irish anti-fascist struggles magazine, published in April of this year, to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the bombing of Gernika.



“Did you do this?” This is the question a Nazi officer is supposed to have asked Pablo Picasso in occupied Paris during the war, regarding Picasso’s famous Guernica. Picasso supposedly replied “no, you did.”

Readers of literature on the Spanish Civil War will know something about the carnage that inspired Picasso’s painting, and who was responsible for it. But the event it depicts, and its authors, may not be as widely known as such people might imagine.

Visiting the Museum of Modern Art in New York in the 1970s, where Guernica was on display, social scientist and political activist Vicenç Navarro noticed that the accompanying description of the painting contained no reference to the Spanish Civil War, nor to the Nazi and Italian fascist forces that carried out the bombing. For many, Picasso’s painting stands out a sublime representation of the horrors of war, but no war in particular.

Picasso himself, however, as noted by Navarro, was painting for a particular time, a fact reflected in his broader political commitments: Manuel Azaña, Prime Minister of the Second Spanish Republic, named him director of the Prado Museum in 1936 following Franco’s putsch, and Picasso paid for the museum’s artworks to be transported to Valencia and later to Geneva. He refused to allow Guernica to be moved to Spain until the dictatorship had fallen and democracy was restored, but died before Franco did.

Even when its original context has been forgotten, Guernica carries a powerful symbolic weight. When Colin Powell visited the United Nations to present the case for war in Iraq, the tapestry reproduction of Guernica was covered up. As the New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd mordantly noted, ‘Mr Powell can’t very well seduce the world into bombing Iraq surrounded on camera by shrieking and mutilated women, men, children, bulls and horses’.

The memory of the bombing of Guernica, captured in Picasso’s painting, the “rain of fire, shrapnel, and death”, in the words of one of the survivors, still has the capacity to prick consciences as to the human cost of war. Nonetheless, the mechanised slaughter, the raining of ‘fire, shrapnel and death’ on civilian populations, in the decades that followed the bombing of Gernika, became standard operating procedure, conducted by forces in the habit of identifying Nazism as the ultimate evil. When high altitude bombs were dropped on civilian populations in Baghdad or Fallujah or Gaza, the perpetrators cast themselves as the righteous defenders of a civilisation facing a threat from the latest incarnation of Hitler.

In the Spanish State, there are many who refuse to countenance the commemoration of these atrocities, and how they have shaped the present. The transition back to formal democratic rule, from the dictatorship established through the bombing of Gernika and countless other atrocities, did not involve any process of making amends or coming to terms with the destruction and repression that had been wrought. What prevailed, instead, was a so-called ‘pact of forgetting’, according to which the ruling elites of the dictatorship held the upper hand in shaping what would be acceptable under ‘democracy’, with many of the repressive institutional elements of the dictatorship kept in place. Those who had suffered the repression were expected to forget about the crimes committed against them and their families.

Neither the scale of the Francoist repression nor the collaboration with Nazism and Italian fascism have been taken seriously by the current rulers of the Spanish State, not least because it was Franco and his dictatorship that laid the basis for their rule, even if it does occasionally classify enemies as ‘Nazis’ for such offences as protesting eviction from their homes. At best, there is an equivalence established between those who fought to defend democracy and those who fought to demolish it. To illustrate: on 12th October 2004, the then Socialist Party Defence Minister in the Spanish State, José Bono, staged an Armed Forces parade, for the day known as ‘Spanishness Day’ –Dia de la Hispanidad. There was participation from both ex-soldiers who had remained loyal to the legally constituted Republic, and from a veteran who had fought in the Blue Division, that is, who had gone off to fight for Hitler on the Russian front.

José Bono said at the time that “What happened has been written about, but from my ideological position of struggle against Franco, which is on record, I say that there is greater strength in the symbolism of an embrace between two Spanish men, whatever their biography, than in the seed of hatred of those whose finger hurts from pointing it at their opponent”. Pointing the finger at Nazi collaborators, by the lights of the Socialist Party grandee, amounted to planting the seed of hatred perhaps in the same way that Picasso displayed hatred towards the Nazi officer.

Bono was speaking as member of a government that had withdrawn Spanish troops from the war following an election earlier that year. The direct political heirs of those who gave the orders to bomb Gernika, members of the Francoist Partido Popular, foremost among them the then Prime Minister José María Aznar, had lost. Aznar had given enthusiastic support to the invasion of Iraq, despite overwhelming public opposition to Spain’s participation in the war. Not surprisingly, the public was more attuned to the consequences of war than those pushing for it.

Aznar had cast the so-called War On Terror as a conflict between the West and the Muslim world, with the latter poised to recover Andalusia. “No Muslim ever apologised to me for Andalusia”, Aznar later remarked haltingly to an English-speaking audience, referring to the expulsion of Jews and Muslims in 1492. The fact it had been his chosen side that had carried out the ethnic cleansing did not, of course, trouble him.

Aznar’s party, re-elected last year to the central government with 33% of the vote, has refused to show any kind of condemnation, let alone remorse, for atrocities either during the Civil War or in the decades of dictatorship that followed it. In 2010, the municipal government of the Partido Popular in Madrid vehemently refused the removal of headstones commemorating the ‘German Aviators’ of the Condor Legion who ‘died for God and for Spain ¡Presentes!’. A spokesperson for the municipal government in Madrid argued that “the dead must be allowed to rest in peace”, and that the wartime bravery of the Blue Division -Spanish troops who fought alongside the Nazis needed to be recognised.

No such peaceful rest can be admitted, from the same quarters, however, for the estimated 150,000 victims of the dictatorship who lie unidentified in mass graves across the Spanish State. Such is the fate of those who were viewed through the lens of prevailing Spanish nationalism as the arrayed forces of ‘anti-Spain’: among them republicans, socialists, Basque and Catalan nationalists.

Nor, for that matter, can Gernika be left in peace, given its symbolic importance both to the Basque Country and to the wider world. In 2014, the Museum for Peace in Gernika awarded its Prize for Peace and Reconciliation to Arnaldo Otegi, the Secretary-General of Sortu (then imprisoned by the Spanish State for ‘glorifying terrorism’) and to Jesús Eguiguren, the President of the PSE-EE (affiliate of the PSOE in the Basque Country), for their participation in peace negotiations. Otegi and Eguiguren received the award along with the Brazilian Landless Workers’ Movement (Movimento Sem Terra). In response, the National Court in Madrid heard a prosecution case brought against for the mayor of Gernika by a civil society association with close links to the Partido Popular. The allegation was that the award, for which the mayor was responsible, amounted to a ‘glorification of terrorism’.

There is a savage irony in a political regime, established through high altitude bombing, mass civilian slaughter and brutal repression and torture, becoming concerned with the ‘glorification of terrorism’ in the town where its murderous feats gained global notoriety. It is also important to recall, in this regard, that during the repression in the Basque Country following the fascist putsch of 1936, 29 elected mayors were executed by Francoist forces, and that the mayor of Gernika was in this case under investigation from a judicial organ, the National Court, established by Francoists in order to exercise jurisdiction throughout the whole of the Spanish State.

For the Spanish nationalist forces controlling the state, people seeking independence for the Basque Country have long constituted an enemy within, subjected to political repression, vilification, and torture. Each and every political enemy -Basque or not- is routinely presented by ruling politicians and media outlets as either in cahoots with ETA, or the same thing as ETA. This is reflected in the reasoning of the National Court. It has maintained in its sentencing that ETA is not simply an armed paramilitary organisation, but a broad array of cultural, social and political organisations. As philosopher Juan Domingo Sánchez points out, ‘even if these organisations were to condemn ETA and to pronounce every curse from every holy book upon them, they would still not cease ‘being ETA’’.

Former Amaiur deputy in the Spanish Congress, Sabino Cuadra, says that the attitude of the ruling powers in Madrid to ETA’s cessation of activities is that ‘rather than a peace and democratic normalisation based on dialogue, negotiation and agreement, they seek to impose another peace, like the one in 1936, that speaks only of the victors and the vanquished’. It is ‘a false peace that our people rejects’.

The intransigent contempt -at best- demonstrated by the Partido Popular and the Spanish right towards the campaign for Basque independence cannot be separated from the history of brutal repression most vividly captured in the memory of Gernika. Nor can it be separated from its reactionary and anti-democratic character of its social and economic policies and its approach to the rule of law more generally. Jaume Asens and Gerardo Pissarello characterise the Partido Popular approach to the law as:

‘The law that criminalises whoever raises her voice. The one that expels the indignados from public squares, that treats striking workers as ‘rats’ and evictees as ‘Nazis’. And alongside it, the penal law of one’s friends. The law that is placed in the service of power and that looks the other way whenever there is tax fraud, the one that pardons big bankers and promotes or absolves police violence. This is nothing original. The punitive violence of the State has always found its enemies. And when it hasn’t, it has invented them. The inquisition persecuted peasants driven from their lands by accusing them of being witches. The propertied classes persecuted workers by accusing them of being degenerates, scum, vagrants. Seen in a historical dimension, names such as perro-flautas or ‘terrorists’ are often variations of a long-standing hatred. A hatred that implicitly carries demophobia, the classist (and even racist) hatred that the powerful feel towards those who might endanger their privileges.’

The full force of this law has been brought to bear on people fleeing their countries of origin in the same way as hundreds of thousands once fled Spain fearing persecution and death. In October 2015, 15 West African migrants died as they tried to swim to the Tarajal beach in Ceuta, Spain’s outpost in North Africa. Spain’s Civil Guard fired 145 rubber bullets at them, and later claimed this was justified on account of the “attitude” of the swimmers. The action was deemed lawful by the courts. Prisoners in the country’s Foreigner Internment Centres have staged revolts against the brutal treatment received at the hands of the authorities. At the end of one revolt, in October 2016, in which prisoners agreed to come down from the roof on the word that there would be no reprisals, a prisoner told a newspaper that “we came down off the roof and they gave us a tremendous beating. I have huge pain in my sides. Some of us are barely able to breathe. We have bruises everywhere”.

Spain presents itself to the world as an outward-looking democracy. Its ruling political party is in the same parliamentary grouping as Fine Gael in the European Parliament, an expression of a common outlook that can be traced back to the era of Blueshirts setting off to aid Franco in crushing the Republic.  Though the Partido Popular is at one with other ‘moderate’ forces in the European Union in pronouncing on the dangers of ‘populism’, its roots in 20th century anti-democratic revanchism, and its fidelity to those roots, cannot be ignored.

But the Spanish State, with its history of anti-democratic repression on one hand and subterranean struggles for democratic equality and solidarity on the other, is only one part of the picture. It is important to recall that whereas the indiscriminate bombing of places in such places as Bilbao, Durango and Gernika during the Spanish Civil War appeared to the wider world as exceptional and unprecedented brutal events. That is how they still appear in our imagination. However, the percentage of civilians killed in wars in the 21st century is far higher. What is more, these bombing massacres are carried out by regimes that present themselves as democratic whilst systematically undermining the material basis for genuine democratic equality. They frequently justify these atrocities in terms of protecting against the threat from new kinds of fascism.  Faced with this, and the brutal indifference and contempt that greets people fleeing war zones in search of a better life, perhaps the best question to ask is: did we do this? Assuming, of course, that we do not wish to be like the Nazi perusing Picasso’s studio.

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The Story With Paddy

Content note: this post contains graphic descriptions of sexual violence and rape.

By Estelle Birdy

Waiting outside the doctor’s surgery for your mother, you are in the car with your Dad. Bored and with a liking for churches when they’re quiet, you ask can you get out of the car and go into the nearby cathedral. You are 8, maybe 9.  It is early evening, winter, damp and dark. Your breath shows in the air. You get to the church porch. There is a man. A squashy-faced bald old man, with a shine on the corners of his suit and a coat that smells of back-of-church. He has tiny badges and pins stuck all over his lapels. They have things like bleeding hearts and doves on them. There is a table. There are leaflets and things for sale, like medals and bottles of holy water. There is noise from inside the church. There’s something happening inside. It’s not mass but something else with voices and too many people. So, you stay in the porch. You look at leaflets and the man starts to talk to you. He asks what your name is and what age you are. He asks about your school. He asks do you know Paddy Murphy. You do know Paddy Murphy. He’s in the other class in your year in your school.  His family live on the poshest road. He grins at you. He has fat fingers and unclean nails but you feel that he is a nice man because he smiles and he just wants to talk. You like to talk too. You feel grown-up, unencumbered by parents, in the church, talking to an adult about the things he is selling. Holy things. He says he is Paddy Murphy’s Dad.  He keeps you talking. People walk by in the street outside the open door. It is dimly lit. You say, eventually, that you have to go, your Dad is waiting. He is disappointed but very smiley. He asks can he have a little kiss. You are unsure. He leans down and you go to give him a kiss on the cheek because he is a nice man and you are a nice girl child. At the last second, he turns his head.  He kisses you hard on the mouth and holds your head. His fat tongue forces its way into your small mouth and probes around. You pull away and stand back. His smile is back. You smile too. You feel like getting sick. You don’t know what has happened. You search his face for clues. He just smiles back but now his eyes glitter. You are frightened but you know you can’t show it. He must have just accidentally done it. He is disappointed that you have to go. You continue to smile. You are afraid to turn your back to him. So you keep smiling and say you really have to go, your Dad is waiting. Once outside you skip –run, the 100 metres to your waiting Dad. You don’t tear away because you know that Paddy Murphy’s Dad is watching you. You get through the gates of the car park in front of the cathedral and then you run. You get into the car and you say nothing. Your Dad chats to you and you tell him nothing. Later you say you met Paddy Murphy’s Dad. You describe him. Your Mom says that he’s not his Dad, that it’s his Grandad but don’t say that at school. You tell what happened once it’s safely in the past. Years and years afterwards. Once you can’t get into trouble for being so silly, for going to kiss a stranger on the cheek, for talking too much, for being alone, for thinking you were safe in a public place. Your parents are horrified. Your Dad’s eyes look like the eyes of a killer. The man is dead now.

Your teenage friend, Mary Murphy, tells you that she was sexually abused for many years by her adult neighbour. You nearly die for her. Your stomach feels like it is tumbling into the earth. She tells you what he did. He put his penis in Mary’s mouth, on a regular basis, when Mary was between the ages of about 6 and 9. The discussions about this revelation go on for a long time. This is just about the time that child sex abuse started in Ireland. Before this, there was none. She tells another friend. You both persuade her to go for counselling. It doesn’t help much. It’s known that there’s no point in going to the Guards. You are angry beyond belief. You discuss what could be done. You discuss going to the Ra. The women of the neighbourhood know well that he is a danger to their children. He goes on community based trips. The women won’t let their children go with him. He then joins Sinn Fein. He was never interested before.  There is no way out. There probably never was. You hear afterwards that he raped an adult woman. He got off ‘on a technicality’.  Years later, he sues the County Council. He got off a bus, tripped and banged his head on a County Council Men- at- Work sign or something. In court, he’s looking for compensation, because that bang on his head caused a brain injury and since then, he has unnatural sexual thoughts about women and children, he says. You seethe. Years later again, he is murdered. The rumour is, by the Ra. When Mary Murphy told you this, your other friend, just another Mary Murphy, revealed that she too had been sexually abused by a relation for years. She never got over it. Later again, your other mutual friend, Mary Murphy tells how she was staying with her uncle as a young teenager. He plied her with drink, put her to bed and got in on top of her. He raped her and gave her breakfast the next morning. She was 14. No one ever told the authorities because what was the point, said the Mary Murphys.

Your friend, Mary Murphy, an adult, is raped. Driven to a secluded spot, after a night out, thinking she’s in a taxi because she has been told that this is the case. A bottle is broken and laid beside her face. She is raped in the dirt and the dark. The other man watches and keeps guard. Mary goes to the Guards. She gets swabbed. The Guards take statements. They are helpful. They prosecute. There is CCTV footage. Mary is seen walking, with her arm linked through the arm of her soon-to-be rapist. He was walking her to his friend’s taxi.  He gets off.  She wants to take a civil case. She is warned to drop the matter. Her rapist has paramilitary links. She is never the same again.

You go to the Tralee Festival with your friends, because you all think it will be like Feile. It is not like Feile. You walk through jammed streets. You are groped by countless male hands. You have to fight your way through. They grab your tits, your gee. They laugh at you when you push them away. They call you hoor and prostitute and dyke. On a windowsill, you and your girl friends are horrified to see a girl child, complete with frilly ankle socks, astride the leg of a middle-aged fat man. They are locked in a gruesome embrace. He pulls her up and down his leg. Her toes barely tip the ground on either side of the pavement. You try hard to get out of Tralee the next morning. You can’t. You meet a group of decent fellas on the campsite. A few of them are English, of Irish descent. Your two girl friends leave to go down the town with the other lads. You’re so sad and fed up and disgusted you stay on the campsite, with Paddy Murphy, one of the Plastic Paddies. Eventually, he says, “Do you want to go for walk?”. You walk through and away from Tralee, up into the hills. You can hear curlews. It’s very peaceful. On the way back, he takes your hand. Later on you kiss and it is lovely. You get back to the campsite to find the tent, your tent, occupied and ‘in use’ by one of your friends and a new -found partner. Being a decent sort, you stay out all night, in your sleeping bag, in the rain with Plastic Paddy Murphy. The next morning, you throw your friend Mary Murphy out and you and Paddy Murphy climb in, and mess around and snooze in the tent until he has to leave. You would be surprised to be raped by Plastic Paddy Murphy. You stay in touch for years afterwards. Your friends, the Mary Murphys, would also have been surprised to be raped, by their beaus.

You are at college. You go out a lot, to pubs, to clubs, to parties. You live with a rake of friends. Sometimes, you bring home fellas, Paddy Murphys. Sometimes they are Paddies you’ve just met that night. You sometimes just have a cup of tea, listen to music. You sometimes sleep in the same bed as them. You snog and have a laugh. You have sometimes (nearly always) been drinking. You do not have sex with any of them. You sometimes spend the next day with them too. You don’t have sex with these fellas because you don’t want to.  It never enters your head that they might rape you. You don’t want these particular Paddies putting bits of them inside your vagina. None of the Paddy Murphys rape you or even give it a go. You would be very surprised if they had. You would very much expect someone to ask permission to walk into your home. So, you’d definitely expect someone to ask to come into your vagina.  Your friend, Mary Murphy tells you about her friend, Mary Murphy, who was raped by her friend, Paddy Murphy. Paddy didn’t think it was rape because they were in bed, they were friends and she only said no in a weak way. She said she stiffened with fear and he went ahead with breaking and entering into her body. It made things awkward. Paddy and Mary couldn’t be friends anymore. Paddy was sad about this, apparently. You talk to your other friend, Mary Murphy, about this. You are shocked by this story.  You hadn’t ever felt pressurised into having sex. You are scared because your luck would surely run out. You couldn’t keep meeting Paddy Murphys who didn’t rape you, could you? What if you were attacked and none of your friends in the house heard? If you went to the Guards, they would say, “You were in bed, you had been drinking, are you surprised you were raped”.  You say no one would believe you. Your friend Mary said, “I would believe you”

You work in a tough factory, in a deprived, drug ridden suburb of Dublin. You are the only woman working on the factory floor. You work in a small team. You have a laugh. The manager of the team, Paddy Murphy, takes the piss out of you and your Culchie friends. He rarely says Culchie though. He calls them and you, Woolahs. He talks about every Sunday seeing all the Woolahs with their little heads bobbling around on the buses coming up from the country. He says he sees them with their packages of sandwiches on their knees, all delighted to be back in the Capital. He says he’s going to win the Lotto and he’ll build a huge wall round Dublin to keep us out. He also says students brought drugs to Ireland, no one else. Students destroyed the working class people with their drugs.  He is funny and he is kind and he brings you the stores to order your own special chain-mail glove (because your hands are smaller than everyone else’s) and your own special boning knife because “she’s pretty handy with a knife, so she needs her own”.  After a while a man, Paddy Murphy Scumbag, from another team altogether, starts shouting at you as you pass by. He tells you what he would like to do to you. It involves tying you up and putting a gag in your mouth and he says you would like it. He says he’d like to whip you. He says you’d like that. He talks about what you would look like naked. What PVC and leather clothes you’d like to wear when you’re not in your white overalls, wellies and hard-hat. He talks about spanking you and how you’d like that. He calls you whore. He eventually is happy enough to do this in front of other men. You say nothing. You half smile. You hope he will just stop. You know your shoulders slouch now whenever you see him. It is relentless. Paddy, your manager, takes you aside one day. He has never witnessed this talk. He has been told by the other men on your team. He says you do not have to put up with that. He says it is disgusting and that the other fellas think it is disgusting and it is sexual harassment and you don’t have to tolerate it. He says you need to go to the officey-type management and tell them. You say, you don’t want to cause trouble. The man will lose his job and he is known to be violent. He walked out of a pub in town, beat and mugged a woman, took her money and walked back in to spend it in the pub. You don’t want any trouble. You’d just like him to stop. Paddy says he wants to do something. He is annoyed and he is sad for you. A few days later, Paddy Murphy Scumbag’s Manager takes you aside. He apologises to you. He says he was unaware of what had been happening. He has docked Paddy Murphy Scumbag’s wages. He has been warned not to go near you. The Manager says he is really, really sorry. Paddy Murphy Scumbag stares at you. He glares at you and lets you know that he would kill you if he got you alone. Your teammates never leave you alone though. They flank you whenever you go anywhere outside of your area of the factory. They studiously ignore his dagger looks and tell you to do the same.  He ends up in jail for something. You are telling this story 25 years after the fact and your best friend, Mary Murphy, says, “You never told me that at the time!” You probably didn’t and you’re not sure why.

You are walking home through town on a sunny afternoon. A man is walking alongside you, grinning. You do not catch his eye. You speed up. You slow down. He is still there. You walk for 10 minutes like this. You are getting closer to home but you know you can’t walk near your home or into an uncrowded area. You can’t lead him. You stop at a critical junction. You will have to walk away from your home to lead him away. You know there is a Garda Station nearby. There are loads of people around. All of this you assess in milliseconds, before you turn, finally to look at him. He tells you you are really beautiful. You smile the I’m-not-getting-raped–and-murdered-today smile at him. He asks you to go for dinner, a coffee. You politely decline. He persists, calls you madam. You say no but by now you know it is time. You invoke your husband. “No, my husband really wouldn’t like it.” He looks unsure but you raise your left hand and display your markings. That’s enough for him. He turns and leaves. You wait to see that he has gone a good distance in the opposite direction before you walk in the direction of home again. You tell the story to your Spanish friend, Maria Murphia. She tells you of the exact same experience she had one day walking home. She described her prospective suitor. It sounded like the same man. He persisted for longer with her because she waited too long to invoke a boyfriend. Invoke the boyfriend. Always just get it over with, because it won’t end until you do.

This much you know about George Hook’s comments.


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George Hook And The Entitlement To An Opinion

Everyone may be ‘entitled to their opinion’, whatever that means, but not everyone is entitled to a national radio slot where they can spout misogynist garbage.
Rosa Luxemburg is often quoted as saying that ‘Freedom is always and exclusively freedom for the one who thinks differently.’ Her preceding sentence was ‘Freedom only for the supporters of the government, only for the members of one party – however numerous they may be – is no freedom at all.’

George Hook is a cheerleader for Ireland’s ruling party Fine Gael in a very literal sense: he does warm-up speeches for them at their conventions. He is one broadcaster on a radio station owned by a billionaire media magnate who got his big break after greasing the palm of the Fine Gael Minister for Communications. On the whole, the radio station itself, as with the rest of the billionaire’s media interests, is anti-worker, anti-union, anti-left, pro-austerity, pro-big business, pro-establishment, pro-police. Crucially, though, it is not all that different from the state broadcaster RTÉ (who used to -and for all I know, still do- employ Hook as a rugby commentator) in this regard. Both run advertisements for Denis O’Brien’s private hospitals.

Where is the national media outlet that campaigns for universal health care? Or universal education? Or the democratisation of industry? It does not exist. What we have instead is a set of right-wing media institutions that habitually accuse the least right-wing among them of being in the grip of communists.

How did this state of affairs -this narrow-gauge ideological domination- come about? Suffice to say it was not through civilised debate and argument. Debate about freedom of expression and press freedom, without addressing this landscape first, is no debate at all.


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On Free Schoolbooks

Was down the local bookshop today. Forked out €25 for some additional back to school materials, which probably takes the bill over €200 (not including uniforms) For nearly every schoolchild in Ireland there are parents or guardians who fork out for basic school materials and textbooks.

The schoolbook market in the Republic of Ireland is a racket. All of this should be paid out of general taxation, as it is in other countries. So why is it not?

One reason is that people are accustomed to it. It is just the way things are. For example, it’s hard to imagine too many teachers standing in front of the class at the start of term and saying “Listen up, I don’t know why your parents have to spend so much money on schoolbooks. In other countries, school books are free for children. Everyone gives money so every child can have school books. We should have that here.” Maybe some of them do. All of them certainly should.

There is no real argument against introducing free schoolbooks for all children, because it is so rarely discussed in the first place, at least in the media. Yes, for two minutes every year some worthy from some charity will say they ought to be free. But the question as to why there are not free schoolbooks for all children is never posed.

Hardly anyone would want to say they are against it in principle, though if any momentum ever gathered in favour of it, you would probably get a host of economists and Austrian school dentists on the radio arguing that is not the right time and that it would be better to give children vouchers for toothpaste instead.

There might be a general grumbling that it would ‘cost the taxpayer’ more. What -the Drivetime presenter might ask the man from IBEC- will this cost the taxpayer? The overall cost would not change; in fact it might well fall, given that schools would purchase in bulk. Perhaps there would be a surge of concern and teary-eyed nostalgia for small-town bookshops, from the same people who think unstaffed libraries are a great idea. Then there will be others who will advise that in fact that books are so 19th century, and that there should be tablets provided to every child, purchased by the state from some company that pays no tax.

With free schoolbooks, the responsibility for educating children would be shared across the whole of society. It would not fall solely to people who happen to be their parents. This would be a good thing since it would go to show that people actually have a minimal obligation to the welfare of others. On the face of it, it’s hard to imagine that this would amount to a revolutionary moment in Irish society: schoolbooks are free in lots of countries, including Northern Ireland, and have been so for generations. In those countries, free schoolbooks are a fact of life that goes unquestioned, like colour TV. Whereas here, it feels like paying for schoolbooks is a fact of life that goes unquestioned, like colour TV.

In other countries, the concept of second hand textbooks is completely alien, because all textbooks are second hand, or potentially second hand, or third hand, because you hand them back to the school at the end of the year and they get passed on to the next year’s students. Of the many complaints about school I heard while attending it, I do not recall the lack of a textbook of one’s own being a major source of discontent.

The danger, I suppose, is that if you give the idea that you are obliged to care about the welfare of others seriously an inch, it will take a mile. Once there are free schoolbooks, who knows what other atrocity might occur, like canteens getting built in schools where free meals are served, and children actually sit at a table and have a meal with others, rather than eating out of their lunchbox at their desk. How would that be a good preparation for the world of work, this idea that you are allowed a lunch break?

All hell might then break loose if children began to think that there were certain other things to which they were entitled. Like if everyone makes sure that everyone has free access to schoolbooks, what if they started to think everyone should make sure everyone else has free healthcare too? Or the right to a home?

And what would all this cost the taxpayer? It’s quite instructive how often ‘it’ll cost the taxpayer more’ can be replaced with ‘it’ll cost rich people more’, with the meaning preserved. Worse than that, the dominant morality in Ireland has it that rich people are automatically exempt from paying tax, so ‘it’ll cost the tax payer more’ ends up suggesting that the ‘squeezed middle’ -who do pay taxes- will end up forking out for some imaginary category of poor people who do not pay taxes, and if you give them this much then they’ll come and take even more off you.

Such is the morality of the ‘people who get up early in the morning’: above all, save the rich, and then piss on anyone below you. They don’t teach this shit at school. Do they?


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On Leo-liberalism


When Leo Varadkar is hailed as ‘refreshing’ and ‘straight-talking’ by commentators and journalists, it is because he’s saying things that they wish they could say, but are hampered in doing so, whether by polite convention or broader public opinion. It comes as a minor thrill, in these quarters, for the reactionary character of elite Irish opinion to be properly let off the leash from time to time.

Varadkar’s elevation to Taoiseach, elected only by a set of reactionary TDs, has brought with it a repackaging of the most regressive aspects of establishment politics -class condescension and contempt, entitled arrogance, and smug vindictiveness- as shiny, enlightened centrism.

Whereas his predecessors in the role of Taoiseach, at least as far back as I can remember, were able to reconcile, to some extent, the task of serving ruling class interests with that of appealing to a wide cross-section of Irish society*, Varadkar embodies little more than the sneering insouciance of Dublin’s business elites and technocrats.

This is an individual who won over the TDs of his own party by squandering public money on a campaign to demonise recipients of social welfare, based on the fraudulent premise that welfare fraud is a burning issue, when the real burning issue is the class hatred that drives Fine Gael TDs and its wider membership. This is someone we can really get behind, they concluded.

Varadkar’s Dáil appearances since his appointment have been characteristically hollow and obnoxious, a Trinity debating chamber equivalent of the Golden Cleric award. It came as no surprise that yesterday he was dismissive of Paul Murphy’s call for a public inquiry into the plain evidence that multiple Gardaí provided identical false evidence for the Jobstown prosecution, and sought to upbraid Murphy for conduct ‘unbecoming’ for a TD. For Varadkar, as for the rest of his party, undermining the left is a national duty: where’s the problem? Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin, ever anxious to show how his party loves cops even more than Fine Gael, requested that Murphy be referred to the Dáil disciplinary committee for his remarks.

The other day, Varadkar defended his successor at the Department of Social Protection, Regina Doherty. The latter had complained to An Garda Síochána about an individual who was tweeting information -already available in the public domain- about Doherty’s business dealings. As a consequence, the individual, Catherine Kelly, a US-based academic, was approached by plain-clothes gardaí at Dublin Airport. This was a “private matter, not one of public policy”, Varadkar said.

Bollocks. Varadkar’s high-minded distinction between the public and the private was nowhere to be seen yesterday when he conducted a character assassination on NUI academic Rory Hearne, who had co-authored a report on family homelessness in Ireland, after the report, and the claim that newly established family hubs supposed to address homelessness might become become a new instance of Direct Provision-style incarceration, were raised at Dáil questions by Joan Collins TD.

Instead of addressing the implications of the report, Varadkar spoke about how Hearne had been an election candidate for “one of the left-wing groups” and recounted how he had found him “less than pleasant” at a running event in the Phoenix Park, and how the encounter was “not the kind of polite conversation I would expect from a university academic”.

Whatever the content of the conversation cited, no-one is obliged to be pleasant to Leo Varadkar or give him the polite conversation he expects, whether in private or in his public role as head of government. What was striking here is how Varadkar dispensed with the polite fiction that the head of government is first and foremost a public servant and hence not entitled to use the Dáil to engage in attacks on members of the public. There will be no referral to the disciplinary committee, of course, since attacks on the left, and attacks on ideas appearing to come from the left, have carte blanche.  Here that we find the truth of the ‘centrism’ in which Varadkar cloaks himself and that cheers the hearts of official Ireland: behind its proclamation that there is ‘no longer left nor right’ is a signal that it is open season on the left, and, by extension, on any vestige of social equality, democratic accountability, and any intellectual work that does not serve the ends of power.


*Clearly I had repressed all memory of John Bruton at the time of writing.


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A life enough in itself: the revenge of the ‘values of the south’

Pier Paolo Pasolini

Translation of an essay by Amador Fernández-Savater, originally published on the Interferencias blog on 30th June 2017.


A life enough in itself: the revenge of the ‘values of the south’

In the 1970s, the Italian film director Pier Paolo Pasolini proposed thinking about political conflict as a contest that was fundamentally anthropological: between different ways of being, sensibilities, ideas about happiness. A political force is nothing (it has no force) if it is not rooted in a world that rivals the dominant one in terms of desirable forms of life.

Whereas the homini politici of his day (party leaders, vanguard militants, critical theorists) looked toward state power as the privileged site for social transformation (one takes power and changes society from above) Pasolini warned -with poetic, seismological sensitivity – that capitalism was advancing through a process of cultural homologation that laid waste to those other worlds (peasant, proletarian, subproletarian) by infecting them with consumerist values and models ‘horizontally’: through fashion, advertising, news, mass culture, etc. This new power does not emanate, irradiate or descend from a central location, but rather spreads ‘indirectly, in the lived, the existential, the concrete’, said Pasolini.

In dress and in walking, in seriousness and in smiles, in gesticulation and behaviours, the poet decoded the signs of an ‘anthropological mutation’ underway: the consumerist revolution. Trying to halt it from political power would be like trying to hold back a flood with a firehose. It is not possible to impose other contents or other outcomes within the same framework of accumulation and growth. Rather it is the reverse: it is the mode of production-consumption that will set the boundaries of political power. One civilisation can only be stopped with another. Other ways of dressing and walking will be needed, another seriousness and other smiles, another gesticulation and other behaviours.

The political contest (the one that is not a mere game of thrones) expresses an ‘ethical clash’ between different ideas about life, or even better, about the good life. Not ideas that float around and are declared rhetorically, but rather practical ideas: made flesh, materialised, inscribed in the most everyday acts and appliances (Facebook, Uber and Airbnb are figures of desire, hence their strength). What might an anthropological view tell us about politics? What worlds are colliding today? In what ethical clashes over the good life might transformative political actions come to the surface?

The old spirit of capitalism

Let’s take a step back. Where did the idea of organising the whole of life around work, efficiency and productivity come from? According to Max Weber, bourgeois culture found its origin, its engine and fuel in the Protestant ethic (especially that of ascetic Protestantism). Through the re-conception of work as “profession” and through the theory of predestination (only in earthly success can we find signs of our salvation), a subjectivity is generated that puts money and enrichment at the centre of life, that aspires to the ‘rationalisation’ of our entire existence (the relation with time, the body, honour, the education of children), that condemns poverty as the worst of evils (‘choosing poverty is like choosing illness’), etc.

This subjectivity is not an ‘automatic reflex’ of economic objectivity, but a decisive element of ‘capitalist culture’ without which there is simply no capitalism. Only a new kind of imaginary and subjectivity (a new organisation of desire) could have sufficient force so as to break the ‘traditionalist mentality’ (which then reigned) according to which one does not live to work (this would be absurd), but rather one works to live, and if one has access to wealth (through one’s own work, or another’s, or good luck), one takes up contemplation or war, play or hunting, sleeping soundly or the sensual enjoyment of life, but it does not come into one’s head to reinvest this wealth so as to go on accumulating.

Bourgeois culture is thus born as much through the potency of a religious imaginary that it then abandons, secularising its values: the sense of individual responsibility, the self-made man, meritocracy, credit, progress, the puritanical and severe sensibility, etc. Modernity has been predominantly a ‘culture of the North’: anglosaxon, masculine, white and Protestant. But the dominion of this imaginary (live to work, invest profits to make more profits, submit all aspects of life to a regimented and systematic control, etc.) has never been completed.

The sociability of the south

According to the sociologist (of everyday life) Michel Maffesoli there has always existed, insisting and resisting, a ‘sociability of the south’. A sociability that is diffuse, submerged and hidden, hard to see but present, capable of rebelling and becoming active should it be threatened. An informal dynamic (forms of bond, of subjective belonging, of making practical) decisive in everyday life, as a substrate or a ‘phreatic surface’ of collective existence.

What does this sociability of the south consist of? First, it is a vital, a-rational, impulse. A will to live, a wish to live. But not to live in any way, but by affirming a kind of bond, a kind of existence, a certain idea of happiness: an anthropological being-together. It is also a set of wisdoms and strategies for reproducing these bonds, these forms of life.

This ‘south’ originally and historically refers to Mediterranean and Latin American countries, but in the work of the author soon becomes a more movable notion regarding ‘values’ and ‘affective climates’ rather than a geographic location. In this sense, there is a ‘south in the north’, as there is also a ‘north in the south’). Cologne (lively, joyful, chatty, proletarian) would be the ‘south’ in Germany and financial Frankfurt, the ‘North’.

We can now pick out five ‘values’ (things that count) for this sociability of the south.

-first, the present: life does not stretch out ‘forwards’ (a future of salvation, or perfection) but is rather affirmed ‘now’. This certain lack of concern for tomorrow does not exclude (paradoxically) a stubbornness to reproduce and to last. The temporality of the sociability of the south is intense, not extended [extensa]: it focuses on ‘perservering in its being’.

-second, the bond: life happens in continuity with others, bound up with others, intertwined with others. Not only out of necessity, but also out of the pleasure of sharing. The most precious bond is the close one, nearby, within the reach of one’s hand (the tactile as a value). This ‘here’ does not separate us from what is ‘there’ (in the distance), but the reverse: it is through what we live ‘here’ that something from ‘there’ might resonate with us.

-third, the tragic: the assumption of the anarchy of what there is for what it is. It is not a matter of ‘solving’ or ‘overcoming’ what is given (uncertain, dark, manifold) but rather of knowing how to ‘hold it together’. A different relation then, with evil, with risk or death, which are not things to be eradicated (according to the reigning logics of control, securitization and total predictibility), but rather one flank of life (which can also be a force, a lever, if we know how to hold it together.

-fourth, the dionysian: not a life enclosed upon oneself (work, success, progress), but rather the ‘extatic’ life that seeks to go beyond itself through the enjoyment of the body, the love of the mask and disguise (appearances), fusion with the other in collective celebrations (musical, sporting, religous), etc. Excess, extravagance, dizziness, surrender, destruction: the ‘dionysian’ is the trying out of otherness.

-finally, the double-dealing: not the passion for the upright, the straightforward and the explicit, but rather for deviation, slyness, improvisation, nixers, cheek, duplicity, trickery, toying with the law and norms, informal strategies of conservation and survival (for me and mine). Not the passion for correcting and putting things right, but rather for trying one’s luck, dummying, dribbling, and outwitting.


The crisis as opportunity

Neoliberal economists make their own ‘anthropological’ reading of the world and conclude that the economic crisis of 2008 has to do with ‘insufficient geographical mobility’, ‘limited entrepreneurial spirit’, the ‘family safety net’, ‘informal work’, or ‘indifference (or even repugnance) towards wealth creation’ that are still too present in the countries of the south (the so-called PIGS: Portugal, Italy, Greece, Spain, none of them Protestant countries, by the way). In the reflected light of such analyses, we see the sociability of the south in action.

Might we read the neoliberal oversight of the crisis as an attempt to wipe out once and for all all these ‘cultural shortcomings’ and thereby accelerate the ‘world to come of capital’ (Laval and Dardot)? The debt crisis would in this way be the perfect opportunity to unleash the ‘creative destruction’ of all that which, inside and outside ourselves, prevents us from thinking about ourselves and acting like simple social atoms, boundless egocentric particles, machines for egoistic calculation. Customs and bonds, attachments and solidarities.

By eliminating social protections, by weakening labour rights, by promoting widespread indebtedness of students and families, by rendering people precarious, reducing wages and social spending, the goal is to promote a ‘paddle your own canoe’ and destroy everything that allows people any measure of freedom with regard to the market. All that there is between beings and makes them something more than ‘elementary particles’ in competition: links of a thousand kinds, rights won, places of life, public and common resources, networks of solidarity and support, non-market circuits of goods and services etc. The material basis of any kind of autonomy. To govern today consists of eroding that between, that dense knot of bonds, affects, mutual support.

But just when this was to be ‘extirpated’, the sociability of the south flexed and activated. In Spain of the crisis there has been a proliferation, for example, of informal micro-groups of solidarity and mutual support (family, neighbourhood, friendships) that have tempered the devastating effects of the neoliberal management of the crisis: fear, solitude and despair. A proliferation that is itself a challenge to the liberal-individualist paradigm: “each to his own”.

Just when we were told that we ‘had lived beyond our means’ and it was now time to repent and pay, the values of the south take their revenge, affirming and spreading other ideas about wealth and happiness: based more in the present than in the future, in bonds rather than in solitude, in the time available and not in life for work, in empathy and not in competition, in the enjoyment of humour rather than in guilt for debt.


The new spirit of capitalism

Even more difficult. According to certain authors, we might be making the passage today towards the overcoming (intensification, radicalisation?) of the old ‘spirit’ of capitalism whose origins were studied by Weber.

For example, according to Franco Berardi (Bifo), the bourgeoisie still “lived in bonds” (with a community, places, physical goods, a working class it could not get rid of, the relation between value and labour time). However, financial capitalism is much more abstract: it does not identify with any place, with any population in particular, with any kind of labour, with any rule, even if its decisions have (devastating) consequences on places, populations, workers, etc.

Elsewhere, according to Christian Laval and Pierre Dardot, this logic of infinite accumulation of capital has today become a ‘subjective modality’. What does this mean? Well, the ‘homo economicus’ (defined by prudence, steadiness, equilibrium in exchanges, happiness without excesses, balance in strivings and pleasures) has been replaced by the ‘entrepreneur of oneself’ (defined by competition and constant self-transcendence living in risk, going beyond oneself, assuming a permanent disequilibrium, never resting or stopping, putting all one’s enjoyment into self-transcendence). One expression summarises, according to the French authors, the subjective type of today’s capitalism: “more, always”. The enjoyment of limitlessness.

In this transformation we will surely have to re-evaluate the resistance presented by the ‘sociability of the south’, when for example capitalist culture no longer demands the repression of the affective/passionate, but rather its complete instrumentalisation in the service of the logic of profit: the instrumentalisation of the intimate. But without doubt the affirmation of a ‘life that is enough in itself’ remains absolutely subversive (more than ever?). A life that does not seek to extract and accumulate “more, always”, but that is lived in the enjoyment of caring and sharing, as closely as possible, all that has been given to us, here and now.

The insurrection of the sociability of the south would consist in affirming politically this other idea of happiness, this subterranean potency, this sea swelling beneath.

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Suits You, Sir?

Image result for el roto traje

By Estelle Birdy

Many years ago, in the dark distant past, I worked for an organisation. The organisation (a business organisation, rather than a shadowy spy organisation) shall remain nameless. However, it was the type of organisation that might have been more than a little involved in economic and political ‘shock therapy’ in South America. Of course, I didn’t know this until much, much later but I hated this organisation and its management style, so maybe the Universe was telling me something all along.

Anyway, all of that is by-the-by. All of us, the founding team of this organisation in Ireland, were young (ish), no more than mid- twenties. We were mostly graduates with some work experience behind us. There were some really great people working there. One day, we were all having a chat, on a break, when someone said something like, “I would never dream of leaving work on time”. I thought this must be a joke, naturally enough. But no! The initial statement was followed by a raft of statements from others like “Oh no! I would never either! That would be awful! I have never in my life left work on time” As no one had actually had a very long life at this stage, it probably wasn’t that big a statement. Nevertheless, I thought I’d been dropped into a parallel universe, where people thought handing over your labour for free was the done thing.

So across-the-board was this declaration of intent, that I didn’t feel in a position to disagree with and say something like, “What in the name of God are you all talking about? Are you all taking hard drugs?”. So, I just stayed silent. In fairness to this particular organisation, during the start- up phase, there was a lot of extra time required and they paid proper overtime rates. If they hadn’t been paying, I wouldn’t have been working.  It seemed, however, according to what they were saying, that most of my colleagues would have done, and would have been only delighted to do so.

In the intervening years, I worked in several areas (flexible and resilient see?) most notably in recruitment. I had a lot of success in recruitment, which I attribute to liking and getting to know people pretty well. When I was in recruitment, the first time around, I made my way into fairly senior roles. So a lot of the time, I would have been meeting with senior management type people. When I was interviewing these kinds of people, ostensibly highly successful career people (if measured by the standards of patriarchal capitalism), they would fall over themselves to tell me how they wouldn’t think twice about working through the night, working seven days a week, never taking a lunch break, whatever it took, “to get the job done”. Now, if we were talking about Firefighters or Cardiac Surgeons, working in occasional life-or-death emergency situations, I’d have said “Fair play, well done lads”.  Sadly though, we aren’t talking about those kinds of workers.  We’re talking about, Accountants and mostly, although not exclusively, men.  Correct me if I’m wrong here, but no one has actually ever died for want of a Balance Sheet? Much as I admire the work accounts people do, because I can’t do it at all myself, I don’t think any of us genuinely think that a spreadsheet should ever keep you up all night, right?  In the case of these be-suited maniacs, with titles like Manager and Director, they wouldn’t even be getting paid for any of these extra hours. They had been led to believe, by some unknown entity, that offering their labour was not the same as someone offering their labour, on a building site, or in a restaurant, not dressed in a suit. Not alone that, they felt it would be shameful to even utter the words that they wanted to be paid for any and all work that they did. There’s a reason some workers always want to know what the hourly rate of pay is. That reason is, that that is the intelligent way to look at things!

Of course, times change and I left recruitment the first time, in 2006. When I returned, I found that there was a new phenomenon; these same types of ‘successful’ men were now often saying to me that they wanted jobs where they did not have to work all hours that the universe sends; where they could have a family-life, maybe work from home, part-time, play sports, see their friends.  Some of them, had already left their jobs and taken time out. The very fact that these people exist, I’ve met them, is heartening but also a tragic indictment of the system that we are all forced to endure. People are, quite literally, breaking down. They are being broken by the system. If I posted an ad for a Part-Time job of any kind, I would immediately be inundated with hundreds of applications. People desperate to get a break from the pressure. With no scientific backup whatsoever for this claim, I put this phenomenon of people wanting, en masse, to turn their backs on this inhumane system, down to 3 things; women kicking down doors for the rest of us, Millenials not giving a fiddler’s fart for employers wishing to strap them to their desks, and IT people knowing stuff the rest of us don’t and consequently, getting to do whatever the feck they like.

Back in the day, I’d meet women who had, quite literally, clawed their way to some semblance of seniority in organisations, by playing the patriarchal game. They too said things like, “I’ll work all hours” because they had to say these things, to get recognised for their work at all. Once they got to the top though, some of them realised that they’d been cheated by the system. An appalling vista now lay before them. However, through their sheer visibility, they made it possible for many other women to enter the work force and we are now, making a difference. You know all that lip-service that the Men- in- Suits pay to the importance of Emotional Intelligence? We women are just doing that on the daily lads. It’s called having some cop-on and actually caring about people and the world. Millennials, they’re another group the Men-in-Suits pay lip service to. They’re awfully important you know? They need autonomy. So, the Men-in-Suits offer them slides at work, a beer fridge and round the clock Quinoa-based meals. Meanwhile, Millennials are changing the face of work and they’ll only buy your bullshit for a short while, before they set up on their own in bean-bag filled, shared work space. IT people, I don’t know what it is you are actually doing; numbers and stuff? Just keep on doing it, in your combat shorts and flip flops, from your bed… whatever. Thanks to these 3 groups, in my opinion, I now had men coming to me saying they wanted out of their jobs where they had to work round the clock. They had seen that there was another way, and they wanted a piece of the action. Feminism and having some cop on, raises all boats equally, I find.

Having said all that, the old ideas about work have not gone away. For every one organisation with some interest in us all living in a functioning society of care, there are twenty that still seem to think that it’s a badge of honour for an employee to work 60 hours a week, for no extra pay. For every person who tells me they want to work for a smaller portion of their waking hours in order to have a fulfilling life, there are many others who tell me “I’m a Manager so, of course I don’t get paid for working those hours! I’m on a Management Salary!” Really? You’re on a Management salary, are you? Does that make you no longer a worker? Are you telling me, my friend, that you would be away from your family and/or friends and your house, with the mortgage that’s breaking your back, even if you weren’t getting paid at all? Or are you a worker, just like any other worker and if so, why are you allowing yourself to go along with this abuse of yourself? This wage theft? It’s as if these people have been programmed to think that it is somehow shameful to expect to work and get paid for it.

And listen up women, Millenials and IT workers! Freezing your eggs so you can have someone painfully re-insert them into your hormone destroyed body, once you’ve worked until you’re dead inside, is not a ‘Company Benefit’! Getting all of your meals at work, doing your yoga classes at work and being given a slide and a giant ball to sit on, while wearing a kaftan, doesn’t change the fact that you spend nearly all your waking hours at work!

It seems that there is an idea abroad that if you wear a suit or something similar and are perhaps desk based, that you should no longer think of yourself as a worker. Certainly, if your employer gives you a title like Manager or Director, you must cease, immediately, thinking of yourself as a worker. In this way, you can be divided from all others who are workers. People like bus drivers, retail workers or nurses. You don’t need a union, because you aren’t a worker. Never mind that you get up at the crack of dawn and leave your home and family, perhaps to do something you love, perhaps to do something you don’t care about. Either way, you’re different. You may very well be earning considerably more than a bus driver (or you may not) but I think you should think carefully about what your role is. We can assume that you are, like most of us, a fair- minded person who expects to work for the money given by the employer.  Your labour is, after all, all that you have to give. You exchange your labour, whether you get a great buzz out of that labour or not, for something. Money, usually. For every hour you work, you are exchanging your labour for some kind of monetary compensation, or at least you should be.  If you’re earning €80K per annum, no one’s going to argue that that isn’t good money. If you work a 40 hour week, you’re earning €38 Gross per hour of your labour. That goes down to €25 Gross per hour if you’re doing that 60 hour week you’re so proud of. Still nice money but not that nice anymore, is it?

Every time you don’t take your lunch break and stay at your desk, your wages are being stolen from you, whether if you are working in a suit, a cool T-shirt or a boiler suit.  Every time you cross a workers’ picket line, you weaken your own position as worker, even if you’re wearing a suit. Every time you start work early and stay late, you’re handing your labour over for free and getting abused, just like any other worker, even though you’re in suit. If you’re so generous with your labour and happy to give it away for free, why not next time, give your three hours per day for free to the fella setting up his tent along the canal? Or the Women’s Aid Shelter? Voluntary work is voluntary work; your big multinational employer does not need or deserve your free labour.

The upshot is, if you work for money, you are a worker. Whether your work involves you wearing a suit, smart casual (which apparently means Chinos, i.e. worse than a suit) a swimsuit, or not a damn thing. Don’t work for free, don’t separate yourself from other workers and don’t fool yourself that you’ll get that you’re being ‘looked after’ by your employer when they freeze your eggs for you or get you that ball pit to play in. Work should always be a fair exchange and no work should ever keep you away from the people you love and care about without proper compensation.  Stop acting the goat.


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Our ‘Friends’ In The North

DUP MP William McCrea (right), sharing a stage with notorious loyalist murderer Billy ‘King Rat’ Wright in 1996, in a public show of support for Wright, on the grounds of ‘free speech’.


Conservative MEP Daniel Hannan, today.

Whatever the shortcomings of the Good Friday Agreement, one of the main reasons Labour under Blair was able to secure that agreement was because it was not, unlike the Major government that preceded it, beholden to unionist MPs for support.

May’s deal with the DUP effectively steamrollers that whole edifice: the British government can no longer adopt a convincing pretence of impartiality, let alone act impartially (there is no such thing) with regard to politics in Northern Ireland.

This deal -whether the DUP forms part of the government or not- has taken place months after assembly elections in which unionist parties, for the first time, failed to secure a majority of seats. What’s more, a majority of people in Northern Ireland did not vote for Brexit last year, whereas the DUP did support it, with the lure of Saudi money.

The wholesale contempt for the North was crystal-clear in an election campaign in which Jeremy Corbyn was pursued relentlessly for his supposed IRA links, and for being supposedly equivocal in condemning ‘all’ bombings.

In all this, the entire history of British state support for loyalist paramilitary violence and murder was almost completely ignored; implicitly, Britain gets to kill whomever it wants. Explicitly, Theresa May declares she wants to get rid of human rights legislation that ties this Britain’s hands.

People in Britain, educating themselves on who the DUP are now that they have come into national view, are right to point out the history of DUP associations with loyalist paramilitaries. They are right to point to the endorsement the party received from the combined loyalist groupings in advance of the elections just past.

But they should also be wise to the effects that May elevating the DUP will have on loyalism. Loyalist paramilitaries will take all this as a sign that they were right all along: that their campaigns of terror -including the murder of 836 civilians from 1969 to 1994- were fighting the good fight, in defence of the same Britain that Theresa May claims to defend.

It is to this Britain -militarist, jingoist, anti-democratic, vindictive- that May -or whoever succeeds her-, that the Tories and the DUP will appeal in the months ahead (as well as homophobic, creationist and thoroughly corrupt, the DUP are also deeply Islamophobic).  They have nowhere else to go, and their appeal ought to be viewed as their conscious and considered response to the democratic revival that Labour’s surge represents.

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On Democracy in Britain

I hope very much that Corbyn’s Labour Party wins. Observed from afar, the campaign feels like a decent country of tens of millions, forever submerged, contending with a death grip of greed and military jingoism.

Friday night’s spectacle, on Question Time, of belligerent and pompous middle-aged men demanding Britain remain willing to incinerate millions ought to be seen as an excellent argument for getting rid of nuclear weapons. They bring forth genocidal urges in the population of the state that maintains them. They promote haughty indifference to the needs of other human beings, whether at home or abroad. Even though its manifesto proposes to maintain nuclear weapons, a Labour victory would provide some relief from this.

The mudslinging aimed at Corbyn with regard to the IRA is intended to stem any potential flow of older voters from Tory to Labour. Most younger voters in Britain, in the words of that lad’s mother, ‘don’t give a shit about the IRA’. Perhaps it is also supposed to sway men with memories -distant and not-so-distant- of singing ‘No surrender to the IRA’ in the pub after a football match.

It is also a means of shifting the focus away from discussion of actual policies, and from the possibility that matters such as funding and priorities for health and education ought to be decided democratically. This is clear from the response of Conservative politicians to the murderous atrocities in London last night. By seeking to make ‘security’ and ‘extremism’ the over-riding concern, the intention is to dampen deliberation and dissent with regard to vital matters in which the Tories and their backers currently hold the upper hand.

The use of the spectre of terrorist violence is not peculiar to Britain. But it is something common in other countries too. The ETA bogeyman was frequently raised in connection with Podemos in Spain, based on an even more tenuous connection than that of Jeremy Corbyn meeting Gerry Adams. People in the Republic of Ireland, too, are well accustomed to the IRA being brought up with dreary regularity any time the government of the day finds itself backed into a corner on any matter that might cause political embarrassment.

It is a way of browbeating people into not thinking about or discussing politics. “It’s all very well for you to want to safeguard the NHS, but hand it over to someone who has consorted with murderers? Really?” And, in the wake of an atrocity such as the one in London last night, this urge tends towards suspending politics -democratic politics- altogether. Talking about how the NHS is being destroyed is transmuted into an act of being in league with terrorists.

The influence of the military is palpable. Let’s recall how Army chiefs made their presence felt when Corbyn was elected Labour leader, muttering darkly about the possibility of taking action to rectify things if he ever got into power. If, as is often claimed, there is some British tradition of ‘fair play’ -though I have not seen anything there that I haven’t seen in other countries- it isn’t a tradition observed by the British establishment, which has no qualms resorting to any means, including murder, as we have seen in Northern Ireland, to achieve its ends. Unsurprisingly for those of us who have witnessed the effects of loyalist paramiltary violence, which killed 836 civilianscivilians, not members of the IRA or any other organisation- in the 25 years from 1969 to 1994, the entire controversy over Corbyn and his supposed links to the IRA in recent days has included little or no consideration of how the British State colluded with loyalist paramilitaries.

Most people do not want to be associated with terrorist violence, and may feel uncomfortable getting into an argument over it. How does one even process a claim such as that of Theresa May this morning, that there is ‘too much tolerance of extremism’ in Britain? There is nothing to debate here. It defies rational consideration. Willing the incineration of millions of people in other countries, or murdering hundreds of people out of loyalty to the Crown is not entertained as ‘extremism’, of course, even though it is certainly tolerated, when not encouraged. These facts have no part in any debate, because the whole point is not to have any debate. The overall intent is to suggest that those who ‘tolerate extremism’ are her opponents -and opponents of Britain- in the upcoming elections.

Democracy, if it means anything, entails facing down authoritarian threats from any quarters. The actions of the ruling Partido Popular, following the Atocha bombings in Madrid, led to its ousting days later in the elections as it became clear that the party had sought to manipulate public responses to the atrocity for its own electoral ends. The Tories deserves to be exposed in this light for what they are doing right now, and kicked out come Thursday.

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A note on the ‘classist’ Leo Varadkar

‘There are no longer social classes, only levels of consumption’ – El Roto

A Waterford Whispers article bears the headline ‘Leo Varadkar Becomes Ireland’s First Openly Classist Leader‘.  The joke is that all previous holders of the office of Taoiseach were of the same disposition, but just kept it in the closet.

It’s worth thinking about what ‘classism’ really is. To me at least, it seems to mean prejudice towards members of an identified social class, or towards that class on the whole. No doubt that such attitudes really do exist, with real effects on how people are treated. Certain accents or clothing that reflect class background are felt as synonymous with stupidity or laziness, for example. Other accents may be heard on occasion as bearing hallmarks of privilege and class condescension that have little to do with the speaker.

But it’s possible to have a system of class domination and exploitation without any outward signs of classism. One example is the State.

The liberal State proclaims a society without classes by separating the political realm from the economic realm. Everyone is proclaimed equal before the law, and a relation of explotation and domination -having to produce a profit for someone else in order to live- is made appear a contract freely entered, a matter of choice and an expression of freedom. Thus the ruling ideology across many capitalist societies proposes that we live in a ‘classless society’, or that ‘we are all middle-class now’.

Here lies the danger of considering class as an ‘identity’: a person from a working class background may arrive to a position of power and influence, and still consider themselves proud to be working class, even if they live off the rents that come from being a slum landlord, or from hosting a radio show that defends established power at every turn.

A more typical experience would be for someone from a working class background, who, on reaching a point of material satisfaction and status, disregards the network of social supports that allowed them to reach this point, and considers that they must be in possession of something special that the system has recognised. An example of this would be working class children who are selected at an early age to go to grammar school, and then, upon reaching a middle class profession as adults, look upon the system of selection as something that must be good, since it recognised them as worthy.

When ‘working class’ appears as nothing but an identity proclaimed by an individual and is happily greeted as such, rather than the expression of a class consciousness with the abolition of class society at its heart, we might well be free from ‘classism’, but certainly not from class exploitation and its effects.

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