Archive for June, 2010

Tiny But Vocal Minorities

It would be tempting to dismiss as hysteria those accusations, made by Church officials and lay enthusiasts, that ‘tiny but vocal minorities of secularists’ want to silence the Church. But I happen to think they are sort of correct.

Like Vincent Twomey says here:

When the Irish Bishops’ Conference issued its statement recently on the proposed legislation, there was an outcry from a handful of members of the Oireachtas. A tiny but very vocal minority were outraged at the audacity of the bishops to express any opinion on this or, presumably, on any other matter. They effectively claimed that the church – in particular, in the wake of the Ferns, the Ryan and the Murphy reports – should remain silent.

This, of course, would leave the way free for that tiny but vocal minority of secularists to impose their views on the whole of society, views that are repugnant to the sincere convictions of most citizens. These same citizens are being increasingly intimidated by a media that has adopted these “liberal-progressive” views. Is this democracy, Irish style?

Let me qualify that. I believe it’s true that a tiny but vocal minority of ‘secularists’ wishes to impose its views on the whole of society. It just so happens that their ‘secularism’ is but one element of their view of the world. And it is not so much that they wish to silence the church but that they wish to subject it to eternal ridicule.

Marx pointed out with relish that the bourgeoisie, wherever it has got the upper hand, ‘has put an end to all feudal, patriarchal, idyllic relations. It has pitilessly torn asunder the motley feudal ties that bound man to his “natural superiors”’.

Of course, Marx wasn’t writing about 20th Century Ireland way back in 1848, and you could hardly have expected him to clog up the thrilling sweep of the Communist Manifesto by introducing a whole pile of qualifiers about what happens when the interests of the bourgeoisie are intimately intertwined with those of the Church in post-colonial spaces predominantly geared toward agricultural production.

But what Marx goes on to say next is more to the point: ‘(the bourgeoisie) has left remaining no other nexus between man and man than naked self-interest, than callous “cash payment”. It has drowned the most heavenly ecstasies of religious fervour, of chivalrous enthusiasm, of philistine sentimentalism, in the icy water of egotistical calculation.’

All of which was all rather spiffing, but unfortunately curtains in the end for the idea that the church authorities occupied a privileged position in the natural order. And, to simplify most grossly, as is my privilege on this website, whilst the fighting Irish priests put up a doughty resistance, the Celtic Tiger put a few reducers into them, as Big Ron might say.

In Ireland these days, influence over public opinion no longer flows from the pulpit, but from media institutions. Since media ownership and control is concentrated in the hands of a relatively small élite, the views expressed through those institutions on the whole tend to reflect the views of that élite, which are indeed “liberal-progressive” in character, as Twomey calls it.

But let’s decouple ‘liberal’ and ‘progressive’, since they mean two different things, however much the right-wing government of the United Kingdom might claim otherwise.

The views of the tiny but vocal minority (which are by no means confined to the tiny but vocal minority, by the way) are ‘liberal’ at least in as far as they coincide with the dominant conception of equality under neoliberalism, which is to say, equality of opportunity in the market and before the law. Clearly, privileges on account of sexual preference contradict this conception, and it is therefore no surprise that there is broad support for the Civil Partnership Bill among élite opinion, much to the chagrin of prominent churchmen.

As for ‘progressive’. The view is progressive only in so far as the removal of state discrimination against people on account of their sexual preference amounts to progress (as I believe it does). But élite opinion in this case is only ‘progressive’ in so far as it supports measures associated with the realisation of formal bourgeois equality, but nothing more. Generally speaking, it has no difficulty applauding the use of state power to maintain and deepen economic inequality.

I sense this sort of thing is not likely to be what Vincent Twomey has in mind when he uses “liberal-progressive”. Perhaps in his eyes ‘liberal’ means ‘namby’ and ‘progressive’ means ‘pamby’. On the other hand, he may not see it as a sort of insult at all. He may just think that the best engine for progress is a society grounded in feudal, patriarchal, idyllic relations.

Let me crack on, as I’m scarcely any nearer to the point than when I started. The ending of ‘feudal, patriotic idyllic relations’ in Ireland, in terms of the progressive loss of Church power and influence, has, as long as I have been living here, been celebrated in media as one more chapter of liberation in the history of the nation, with the shackles of religious authoritarianism being gradually cast off and a new secular order introduced.

What this ‘liberation’ entails, in fact, is not much more than the removal of ‘any other nexus between man and man than naked self-interest’, with a few improvements here and there (as is the case with the civil partnership bill). But it makes for some great Sindo storylines.

Against their loss of power and influence, church authorities are fighting a rearguard action, quite uselessly. When they claim a privileged position for the institution of heterosexual marriage, they stand athwart the tracks shouting stop! in the face of the oncoming locomotive of neoliberal progress. The reaction of most people, mindful of content of the Ferns, Ryan and Murphy reports, is to call for more coal.

It seems safe to say that it is fairly commonplace for people educated and formed in institutions run by the Catholic Church to consider occasionally the yawning and blindingly obvious gap between core Christian teachings and texts and how people of authority in the Catholic Church express that church’s priorities, both in word and in deed.

My own pet example is the Church’s position on the family. Gospel accounts of Jesus’s position on the family are pretty instructive. Jesus was anti-family, big time.

He said “if anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters, yes, even his own life, he cannot be my disciple” (Luke) and also “I have come to turn a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law, a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household” (Matthew).

But the Church grinds on with its project of sustaining the family as the foundation of the social order, resisting anything and everything that it sees as militating against its sanctity.

It does so seemingly blind to, or willfully ignorant of, how, as Marx put it, “the bourgeois clap-trap about the family and education, about the hallowed co-relation of parents and child, becomes all the more disgusting, the more, by the action of Modern Industry, all the family ties among the proletarians are torn asunder, and their children transformed into simple articles of commerce and instruments of labour”.

In fact, it is the foremost peddler of this bourgeois clap-trap. In response to the transformation of human beings into mere instruments of labour, the Church promotes ‘family values’, because it is on a tidy retainer from the very forces out to tear asunder all family ties, and it never shies away from throwing its full weight behind extreme reactionary political forces.

Many in Ireland who are aware of the content of the Ferns, Ryan and Murphy reports are aghast at the continued power and influence of the Church, particularly in the realm of education. It is perfectly understandable that they should be inclined to see the Church as an absolutely corrupt organisation, devoid of any moral authority whatever, and one that ought to be consigned to the trash can of history. For my part, I tend share that position. But because the Church plays a useful role as a bogeyman out to derail the neoliberal locomotive of freedom, it will not be leaving the stage any time soon.


Save The Irish Race and Win an iPad

Like I was saying on Twitter the other night, there is something grim, nay thoroughly disgusting, about the wheeze concocted at a captains-of-industry circle jerk at Farmleigh last year: I refer to the proposed issuing of a ‘certificate of Irishness’.

Certificate of Irishness open to 70 million people worldwide – The Irish Times – Mon, Jun 21, 2010

Some speakers at last year’s forum were critical of the disconnection between Ireland and members of the diaspora, particularly those unable to qualify for citizenship by virtue of having a parent or grandparent born in Ireland. The forum also highlighted the role the emigrant network could play in helping Ireland improve its economic fortunes.

Mr Martin said the Government had taken a broad and inclusive approach to defining Ireland’s global community. “The Irish diaspora is not limited to Irish citizens living abroad or to those who have activated citizenship. Instead, it encompasses all those who believe they are of Irish descent and feel a sense of affinity with this country.”

The reach, power and influence of many members of the diaspora can provide Ireland with an important competitive edge, he pointed out.

Note how ‘diaspora’ is used uncritically both by the reporter and the Minister for Foreign Affairs, as though this term referred to a mere fact of nature.

But what is the diaspora? Ask someone at random waiting for a bus and they’ll most likely tell you that it is a group of people whose ancestors, or they themselves, were born in Ireland but now reside somewhere outside Ireland’s territory. They might also narrate the historical circumstances that resulted in the creation of this diaspora: famine, deprivation, unemployment. The diaspora, then, exists as a product of blood relation.

The maintenance of the diaspora, it follows, is the maintenance of historical memory and, as a consequence, moral obligation to blood relations. Blut ist dicker als Wasser, as the German proverb claimed.

How might membership of the diaspora be determined? Is it for people with a blood relation to people simply born on the island of Ireland? Or is it for people with a blood relation to someone entitled to Irish citizenship? Remember, not everyone born on the island of Ireland is entitled to Irish citizenship.

Last night I held a newborn baby in my arms who was born in a hospital here in Ireland. It is surprising how much you forget about newborn babies when you haven’t been in contact with one for a while – in my case, two and a half years. When you witness how vulnerable they are, and utterly dependent they are on the constant care of adults for food, protection and comfort, they are bloody terrifying.

Since neither of his parents are Irish citizens, he is not entitled to be an Irish citizen ‘unless one of his parents has been resident in the island of Ireland for a period of not less than three years or period the aggregate of which is not less than three years’, as the government note on ‘Entitlement to Irish citizenship of persons born to certain non – nationals‘ politely puts it.

Now, as it happens, both of his parents have been resident in the island of Ireland for a period of more than three years, so he is entitled to Irish citizenship. In so far as Irish citizenship accords certain privileges, lucky him, I suppose.

But let’s say there was another baby born in the same ward, neither of his parents are Irish citizens, and neither of them has been resident for three years, but both of them have been resident for two years, 11 months and 27 days. In this case, the institutions of state will determine that he shall not be entitled to be an Irish citizen. Bad luck, little chap: the constitution says you may not be excluded from citizenship by reason of your sex. But your parents, well, that’s another matter entirely. Frankly, I blame them for their failure to meet the necessary racial-biological criteria. Look on the bright side though: you are absolved of the fundamental political duties of fidelity to the nation and loyalty to the State. Hope it all works out for you.

Now, let’s stick with the latter baby. Suppose he and his parents leave the country -on account of some enacted injustice, let’s say deportation or forced emigration through unemployment- will he be considered part of the diaspora? Will he at some point in the future be able to apply for a certificate of Irishness from the Department of Foreign Affairs in order to display in his home? Leaving aside the fact that he is unlikely to feel too much of a sense of affinity with a country where he was refused citizenship, it looks as though it the Department of Foreign Affairs will not look kindly on his belief that he is of Irish descent because it has already been established that according to their racial-biological criteria he clearly is not. Although, he may still be part of the Irish nation, strangely enough. So there may be hope yet.

Can you see where this is going? The idea of the Irish ‘diaspora’ depends from the concept of an Irish race (and also an Irish homeland) enacted and protected by the institutions of State.

My little hypothetical administrative detour demonstrates that this racism often operates on a solidly arbitrary basis (why three years and not two and a half?). However, state racism is rarely, if ever, a matter of black and white. Mark Mazower’s Hitler’s Empire gives a good account of the administrative and adjudicative difficulties encountered by Nazi functionaries in identifying ethnic Germans as distinct from the rest of the population during the Nazi occupation of Eastern Europe.

So what is on the surface a tacky but fairly inocuous money-spinning exercise to fill state coffers reveals, on examination, the appeal of blood-and-soil associations to elite groups, and the readiness of the Irish government to build on racist legislation to attract inward investment as a means of sustaining the Irish race.

One effect of this -the solidifying of the idea of the Irish race in the general consciousness (commonly but euphemistically known as ‘the Irish people’)- will be a gathering momentum to narrow to an even greater degree the entitlements of non-citizens. At the same time, the rest of the population will be subjected to exaltations of the Irish genius and endless obsessions about who and what is really Irish, moving ever more explicitly into the elaboration of racist forms of control and segregation. Consider this, from the Irish Times poll on whether the Certificate of Irishness is a good idea:

Firstly the Department of Foreign Affairs asserts that the idea is “not designed with the intention of raising significant amounts of revenue” – maybe, but it is certainly hoped to which is an unwritten target I suspect. Secondly, the idea “encompasses all those who believe they are of Irish descent and feel a sense of affinity with this country”. Believe? Sense of affinity? One would expect a Certificate of Irishness to be based on birth and baptism records and DNA evidence, not mere “believe” and “affinity”.

And consider also, strikingly, a proposal to enact a Law of Return as in Israel, on the Irish Times letters page today:

Irish Times – Letters

The Global Irish Economic
Forum where this idea originated showed that many Irish-Americans are
not pleased at the way their Irish ancestry is ignored by the Irish
State. We should be focusing on truly appreciating and nurturing this
relationship like other states do. The Israeli state offers extensive
rights to the Jewish diaspora through the Aliyah, or law of return, to
achieve citizenship and has reaped significant social and economic
benefits in return.

Given that so many of the Irish diaspora were
driven from this country due to poverty, hunger, or fighting for Irish
freedom, do we not owe their descendants a “law of return” to their
homeland? It is not as if there are no empty houses or space in which to
accommodate them. The creation of such a right would lead to a greater
strengthening of the Irish identity and Irish-American relations as we
would begin to reverse the injustices that caused so many to leave and
provide a real and valued gift to Irish-Americans after all they have
done for the Irish State.

It should be recognised, as an element of the assembled élite’s concern with elaborating on the Irish diaspora, that many of the assembled in Farmleigh come from the pinnacle of corporate culture in which the uniqueness of belonging to a corporation’s workforce is exalted. A worker is one of ‘our people’, even part of ‘one big family’. These designations occur in the absence of any real rights for workers and in the face of mammoth inequalities in pay between the executive caste and the rest.

It is hardly a source of wonder, then, the current Irish government should seize on the assembled bigwig concerns about the ‘Irish diaspora’ and act accordingly. It’s in their DNA to do so.

Monday Mélange

OK I don’t have any good ideas for posts at the minute so I’m just going to copy and paste some stuff that caught my eye when going through my feed reader. Since I got myself one of these heinous mobile devices, I have been mainly following events through my Twitter feed. When I returned to the site of my Bloglines account this morning, it was as overgrown and full of rubbish as a Fingal County Council-maintained lawn. But there were some gems amid the mess.

Starting with Dublin Dilettante’s photo survey of Ballymun’s ‘regeneration’.

Ballymun in June 2010 « Circumlimina

Take a good look at these pictures; when journalists, politicians and commentators talk, voices plangent with squirely concern, about fiscal consolidation, painful decisions and essential cuts, this is what they have in mind for you and yours, unless you happen to be one of them.

You know the way in Ireland you hear calls for Michael O’Leary to be brought in to sort the government out and put an end to waste? Because Michael O’Leary is the head of a profitable Irish enterprise and therefore knows exactly how to get things moving with a raft of common sense measures? Well, they’re trying that in the UK at the minute. Not, mind you, with the head of an enterprise as unrefined and vulgar as Ryanair, but with the former head of a massive British firm respected the world over. / UK / Politics & policy – Lord Browne poised for Whitehall role

Nevertheless, Mr Cameron’s wooing of Lord Browne, a crossbench peer and a former business favourite of Tony Blair, was at an advanced stage as the prime minister looked for business leaders to identify savings across Whitehall.

Francis Maude, Cabinet Office minister, has long advocated the introduction of corporate big hitters into Whitehall, expanding the role of non-executive directors who sit on departmental boards which are charged with producing “business plans”.

A number of senior heads of private-sector companies have been approached by the Conservatives to join the group of directors.

These include Sir Chris Gent, chairman of GlaxoSmithKline, the pharmaceutical giant, John Gildersleeve, chairman of New Look, the clothing retailer, and Anthony Habgood, chairman of Reed Elsevier, the publisher. All declined to comment.

Browne, of course, is the former chief executive of BP. And BP is respected in US military bases the world over, as Nick Turse points out in this fine article for Truthdig.

Tomgram: Nick Turse, BP and the Pentagon’s Dirty Little Secret | TomDispatch

While one exceptionally powerful department of the federal government has been feeding money into BP (and other oil giants) with abandon, BP has consistently run afoul of U.S. government regulators from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). According to the Center for Public Integrity, “BP account[ed] for 97 percent of all flagrant violations found in the [oil] refining industry by government safety inspectors over the past three years.” Records obtained by the Center demonstrate that between June 2007 and February 2010, BP received a total of 862 citations, mostly for alleged violations of “OSHA’s process safety management standard, a sweeping rule governing everything from storage of flammable liquids to emergency shutdown systems.” Of these citations, 760 were considered “egregious willful,” which OSHA defines as a violation even more severe than those committed due to “plain indifference” or evidencing “intentional disregard for employee health and safety.” As a result, BP faces $90 million in penalties which the company is currently contesting.

Over those same years, BP received around $5.7 billion in federal contracts, according to official government data. In fact, the $2.2 billion the Pentagon paid to the oil giant in 2009 accounted for almost 16% of the company’s nearly $14 billion in annual profits.

This fiscal year, the U.S. military has already awarded the company more than $837 million, inking its latest deal with BP in March.

One can see why Cameron finds Browne such an enticing prospect: what better candidate for strengthening the hand of corporate power over the British population than handing the state spending review to the directorship of an individual whose trail of destruction is second to none?

But let’s not allow the company record to be sullied by the performance of one lavishly-paid individual. It has a long pedigree, as Adam Curtis shows:


But one of the films is fascinating in the light of the present BP crisis. It is about how the new intake of BP managers is selected, the kinds of training they get, and how they will progress up the company.

It was filmed in 1980, two years before Tony Hayward joined BP. And it gives a very clear picture of the culture that shaped him and many of the others that today run the company. I particularly like the executive role-playing game – played in an old country mansion – using staplers.

The record playing all weekend on my sound system is Reflection Eternal’s Revolutions Per Minute. Talib Kweli has delivered some stunning work down the years, but none as immediate or as urgent as this one with Hitek. One track that bears listening to in this context is Ballad of The Black Gold:

You can listen to it here:

Reflection Eternal – Ballad Of Black Gold by Sneakattackmedia

An excerpt:

We won’t get it poppin’ till we’re oil-free
If you’re oil-rich then we invade it
They call it occupation but we’re losing jobs across the nation
Drill, baby, drill, while they make our soldiers kill
Baby still, the desert where the blood and oil spill

Relevant to the ‘why can’t we just all vote for Scandinavian-style sfuff?’ question I keep hearing in my head, and the ‘let’s all listen to Keynes’ recommendations:

ladypoverty: Old men in the sea

Naturally, Skidelsky’s hero in all of this is John Maynard Keynes, the economic technocrat who, in my uninformed opinion, was a narrowly intelligent dude who was also a product of his socialist-influenced times. Skidelsky likes him because the combined effect was to produce someone who was a not complete moron, who “stood out against the herd.” Without even reading the remainder, one can conclude that what the world needs now are more John Maynard Keyneses coming out of elite institutions and entering into public life — just like we need more FDRs and a replacement Obama.

Liberalism’s problem is that it attributes past successes to whatever elite personalities attended them, rather than to whatever it was ordinary people were doing to bring those successes about — in fact, the only way liberalism has ever worked, at least to the degree that people still think positive things about it. People were doing shit in the 1930’s that contested the relationship between society and investors, and this led to that period of prosperity which made the American “middle class” a reality. It wasn’t because FDR had a magical personality, so all we have to do is help Obama find his inner FDR and he will summon the moral resolve to take on the people who own the country!

I repeat this complaint so often in response to all that liberalism has to offer, and insofar as the overtures are unending, as if Paul Krugman were life coach to the president. There is no technocratic solution to the fact that investors want limitless returns and society wants progress, just as there will be no “negotiation” between organized investors with concentrated resources and unorganized consumers whose commitments are diffuse: those with power must be appeased, even if they are wrong. If that is a principle worth objecting to, then people, not presidents, will have to register the dissent on their own terms.

All the same, Dean Baker notes the determining impact of politics on who gets clobbered.
Peter Peterson’s Fiscal Times Blesses Deficit Reducers as Being Non-Ideological and Washington Post Concurs

Of course, the crisis has hit — the country is facing its worst downturn since the Great Depression. While students, workers, and poor people have paid the price, this is entirely the result of politics. The government quickly moved to rescue the major banks, using vast amounts of public money to save Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and Bank of America from bankruptcy. At the same time, it has refused to spend enough money to boost the economy back to full employment levels of output or take serious steps to prevent people from being thrown out of their homes.

However, the decision to protect the wealthy rather than students, workers, and poor people was entirely a political decision. The banks were able to use their political power to ensure that they got the resources needed to prevent their collapse. On the other hand, those not interested in helping students, workers, and poor people began to highlight concerns about deficits in order to head off additional spending. It may always be the case that the wealthy will dominate the political process to the extent that they do today, but it is worth pointing out that it is politics, not economics, that determines who suffers in a crisis.

That’ll do for now.


Just flown back from a week and a half in Spain, and boy are my… never mind.

Talking of bad starts, the first thing I heard on the radio the other day when I got back into the country was a column by Olivia O’Leary about the Fine Gael ructions. The combination of the utter dullness of the subject matter with the perfervid enthusiasm of the broadcaster had me longing for the comfort of a Ryanair seat. I do not wish to single out one broadcaster for this, since I am really concerned with a tendency, but there are times when listening to RTE Radio is like getting forcibly medicated by an aurally constituted, psychotically happy Nurse Ratched.

Despite the fact that one is bombarded with news about it from all media outlets, no-one in their right mind ought to give a rat’s ass what about happens in the Fine Gael leadership contest. I pointed out a few months back that ‘Richard Bruton’s chances will now get talked up ad nauseam in the media, and just as the British media had ordained Tony Blair as the right Labour candidate before any leadership contest had taken place, a similar course of events will now engulf the nation, and the ruling class will look to seize the opportunity to rebrand the country with a vigorous modernising veneer’. That to me smacks of being right.

From what I can see, a substantial section of Fine Gael has shit the bags because Labour have pulled ahead in the polls. They think voters are turned off by Enda Kenny when in fact they’re just not that into Fine Gael as a party, and with good reason, seeing as Fine Gael are largely indistinguishable from Fianna Fáil. Now my interpretation of Labour’s improvement is that because they articulate centre-left policies, and in a country where right-wing formations have ruled the roost since ever, lots of people want to see some sort of substantial change. And whilst I don’t agree that Labour are going to do this, I can see why people might find the idea that they might do so attractive.

In other words, the population is moving to the left in its voting intentions. And it stands to reason, therefore, that a right-wing media will have no intention of subjecting this trend to any sort of meaningful examination, preferring instead to represent politics as chiefly a spectacle of the centre-right. For this reason, the Irish Times dedicated more than 3,000 words of its op-ed writing to the FG leadership contest yesterday.

Anyway, as something of an antidote, here’s a translation of a piece that appeared on El Público’s website today. Titled ‘Class Struggle in the EU‘, it’s written by Vicenç Navarro, who holds a chair in Public Policy at Pompeu Fabra University and is professor of Public Policy at Johns Hopkins.

A reading of our reality that has been generalised in the political and media culture of our countries is that we live in a globalised world in which states are losing power, being replaced by large financial and industrial firms (called multinationals) which now constitute the units of economic activity in the world. The neoliberal right applauds this evolution, which they consider responsible for an enormous prosperity. Sectors of the governing left, on the contrary, lament this evolution and point out the costs that these changes signify for democratic institutions, since they assume that, in this scenario, it is economics that determines politics. And they conclude that, in a small country -like Spain- trapped in this globalised system, the State can do little, except to follow what globalisation (financial and commercial markets) demands of it. It would seem, then, that there is no alternative but to reduce public spending and reduce wages.

Such a theory, however, is wrong. The small Scandinavian countries are among the most globalised countries in the world. Due to their small size, their economy is very integrated in the European and world economy. Their total exports and imports relative to GDP is the highest in the world. And, however, they have the most developed welfare states and the highest wages in Europe. The cause of this is that power relations (among which those of class, but also those of gender) have a configuration favourable to the popular classes. The working classes, in alliance with the middle classes, have developed advanced welfare states (characterised by the universalisation of labour and social rights) and high living standards, in contrast with the countries in the south of Europe (Greece, Portugal and Spain), where the historical dominance of their states by the right has ensured squalid welfare states, low wages, and low living standards. To point at lavishness and exuberance on public spending in these countries as the cause of the crisis in the Euro, as some neoliberal authors are writing, is laughable.

The left must recover class analysis, forgotten for some time now, to understand our realities and understand that, contrary to what is being promoted, states continue to have a central role and that power relations in each country are the determining factor in its economic and social development, as well as the way in which each responds to the crisis. What is more, the wrongly-named multinationals are in reality transnational firms, which is to say, based in a State, which operate in various nations. And it is impossible to understand their international behaviour without understanding the relations of such firms with the State in which their headquarters is based.

The construction of the European Union (a step I see as positive) was made based on a neoliberal institutional architecture (which I consider negative, see the Europe section on, a result of the enormous influence of the German banking sector on the German state, a consequence, in turn, of the weakness of the working class, a result of the widespread availability of cheap labour from eastern Germany and the countries of eastern Europe. This weakness explains the economic stagnation of that country, caused by low domestic demand (a consequence of wage reductions and the spectacular descent in labour income as a percentage of national income) and the limited economic stimulus. As I pointed out in a previous article (“La sabiduría convencional europea”, Público, 10-06-10), such power relations in Germany were decisive in configuring the “German model”, based in a higher competitiveness due to a growth in productivity well above growth in wages, which creates great wealth that is concentrated in exporting firms, including banks. Gerhard Schröeder won out in his conflict with his minister for Finance, Oskar Lafontaine, and with the unions, which opposed this model, favouring a model based on domestic demand instead of exports.

Something comparable happened in the UK, where the government of Tony Blair gave full independence to the Bank of England and liberalised the banking sector, converting the City into the global centre for hedge funds (which justifies the name given to it, “the Wall Street Guantánamo”, for being even more deregulated than Wall Street). Left groupings within the Labour Party were defeated and unions marginalised. In both cases (Schröeder and Blair), socioliberalism (the incorporation of neo-liberalism in social democracy) was what contributed largely to the domination of finance capital in the European Union and, with it, the enormous crisis in social democracy in the European Union.

In the UK, the Labour Party passed from having 33% of the total electorate in 1997, to 25% in 2001 and 22% in 2005. If this country had had a proportional system, the Labour Party would have lost its parliamentary majority by 2001. The fact that it did not lose it is due to the perverse electoral system, which allowed it to keep a majority for 13 years, and this was wrongly presented as proof of its popularity. Abstention and disillusion were also reflected in the loss of half of its affiliates.

Something similar occurred in Germany. Schröeder’s Agenda 2010 programme was the beginning of the end for his party as one of government. It lost the elections and the party went from having 800,000 members to 380,000. It was not social democracy, but the growing distancing of governing social democratic parties from the practices identified with such a tradition, that led to its decline. Will the same thing happen in Spain?

I remember not too long ago being at a talk given by an Irish union boss who said that union power was dwindling but that what was needed was a Scandinavian-style economy with greater social protections. Yet as Navarro points out above, you can’t have one without the other. But don’t expect to read that in the papers or hear it on the radio.

Hi, Atus!

Going to be out of town for a week and a half. Nothing will appear here for the duration. Miss me if you like.

The Approaching Tide

SCENE I. Before PROSPERO’S cell.

Their understanding
Begins to swell, and the approaching tide
Will shortly fill the reasonable shore
That now lies foul and muddy.

Self-inflicted wounds – The Irish Times – Tue, Jun 01, 2010

THE KILLING of activists on the Gaza flotilla was a tragedy waiting to happen, the brutal culmination of a series of profound misjudgments by the Israeli government, from its initial wrong-headed decision to block the ships’ access to Gaza, to its incompetent operational conduct of the interception.

It seems doubtful that an Irish Times leader writer might ever grasp it, but there is an elementary distinction to be drawn between the interests of a state and the interests of its citizens.

But, whether in the case of Israel or Ireland or any other nation-state, this distinction is not enough: there is another distinction to be drawn between human beings in the fullness of their existence and the formal category of citizen.

The full interests of human beings are incommensurable with the framework of state and citizen, even if human beings often resort to this framework to protect basic rights and entitlements.

For human beings, the actions of a state in any particular instance need to be judged, at a basic level, not in terms of how they affect its citizens, but in terms of how they affect human beings, regardless of whether they attain the formal category of citizen conferred by the state.

Precisely because this is such an elementary principle -one which can be grasped by a small child- it requires vast resources within the nation-state, not least those of state institutions, particularly the school, to make the population firstly forget it and secondly reject it.

In practice, despite all the claims its institutions make to the contrary, and despite all the formal constraints placed on it by international institutions to limit the awesome destructive power of the nation-state system, the basic principle of the nation-state is the rejection of universality.

No nation-state, therefore, can have the ‘right to exist’. Not Israel, not the Republic of Ireland. That these nation-states exist, like all others, is a matter of fact, not a matter of right.

Because the institutions of the nation-state and its history inform how people see the world from an early age, the nation-state provides the basis for the account they give of themselves, and the demands they make. There is a quote doing the rounds at the minute, along the lines of ‘people find it easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism’. This is scarcely less true in the case of the nation-state.

Now, consider the Irish Times editorial from the other day. Its title is ‘Self-inflicted wounds’. But the wounds referred to in the title are not those inflicted on the bodies of the flotilla passengers by Israeli guns.

Rather, the editorial is speaking about the State of Israel as though it had the properties of a human body, and as though its murderous actions were primarily harmful, not on account of the lives wiped out by its elite commandos (to say nothing of what the Israeli state is inflicting on the Palestinians in Gaza), but on account of the damage done to the State itself.

This is just one example among countless of how, within the discourse of the nation-state, priority is given to the protection of the state over the protection of human beings. If the destruction of the human beings is wrong in this case, it is implied, it is because it runs counter to the interests of the state.

Perhaps the best case that can be made by this line of reasoning, is that since the state is supposed to represent the interests of its citizens, any action that presents difficulties for the state runs counter to the best interests of its citizens.

But there is no reason why the interests of a state should automatically coincide with the interests of its citizens. Furthermore, the interests of the citizens so defined are incommensurable with the interests of the human beings who fall under the category of citizen; and no account is given of what happens to those human beings who are not its citizens.

In the case of the State of Israel, we are talking about a state that defines its citizens on the basis of ethnicity. It demands, furthermore, that it has the “right to exist as a Jewish state“, as people like Shimon Peres explain. This entails, as Joseph Massad points out, having ‘the right to colonise Palestine solely by Jews and one that has the right to have discriminatory laws between Jewish and non-Jewish citizens and one that grants Jews differential rights — in short, Israel’s right to be a racist state’. Israel is, in fact, a racist state.

So when the Irish Times expresses concern that the State of Israel has inflicted wounds on itself, and places this concern above what has happened to the people it killed, and the people whom it continues to brutalise it is saying that Israel’s actions run counter to how a racist state ought to act.

There is nothing sensational about this: there is no ‘pure’ racism, and many -perhaps most- states engage in all manner of racist practices, including Ireland and other EU states. It is just the case that Israel is a flagrantly racist state.

For a Palestinian living in a refugee camp, whose family was expelled from its home by Zionist forces in 1948 and who is denied return to the site of her home, suffering blockades, bombardments and checkpoints while American Jews from Brooklyn are free to go and live in Israel as citizens, this racism is blatantly and painfully obvious.

It is also obvious for many of Israel’s citizens. Azmi Bishara:

When Israel was established in 1948, more than 700,000 Palestinians were expelled or fled in fear. My family was among the minority that escaped that fate, remaining instead on the land where we had long lived. The Israeli state, established exclusively for Jews, embarked immediately on transforming us into foreigners in our own country.

For the first 18 years of Israeli statehood, we, as Israeli citizens, lived under military rule with pass laws that controlled our every movement. We watched Jewish Israeli towns spring up over destroyed Palestinian villages.

Today we make up 20 percent of Israel’s population. We do not drink at separate water fountains or sit at the back of the bus. We vote and can serve in the parliament. But we face legal, institutional and informal discrimination in all spheres of life.

More than 20 Israeli laws explicitly privilege Jews over non-Jews. The Law of Return, for example, grants automatic citizenship to Jews from anywhere in the world. Yet Palestinian refugees are denied the right to return to the country they were forced to leave in 1948. The Basic Law of Human Dignity and Liberty — Israel’s “Bill of Rights” — defines the state as “Jewish” rather than a state for all its citizens. Thus Israel is more for Jews living in Los Angeles or Paris than it is for native Palestinians.

Israel acknowledges itself to be a state of one particular religious group. Anyone committed to democracy will readily admit that equal citizenship cannot exist under such conditions.

But for many Europeans and Americans, whose culture has long represented Jews and ‘Orientals’ as belonging to categories of racial ‘otherness’ (in the case of Nazism, they often fell under the same category), and whose mind is constantly plied with images of a superior Western civilisation that sits in opposition to a timeless Oriental barbarism, with the State of Israel often appearing as a kind of bridgehead of Western civilisation, the reality of this racism is much more difficult to grasp.

It is made especially difficult to grasp because elite public opinion in the US and the European Union rarely confronts how Israel’s racism and its expansionist colonialism is a product, and therefore a continuation, of the US and Europe’s own histories of racism -in particular, antisemitism and anti-Arab racism- colonisation and imperialism.

But it can be grasped, and everyone has the capacity to grasp it. To do so, however, means resisting the particularist discourse of the nation-state, of which the Irish Times editorial is a triflingly minor example.

Perhaps it is easier to grasp in Ireland than in other places. The historical and geographical conditions are very different, and yet for some reason, it’s not too hard to imagine a situation in which armed militias expelled hundreds of thousands of Catholics from the North of the island and declared a state. And then it is proclaimed that the state is the state of the Protestant people because the Land of Ireland is the land of Protestantism as revealed by a particular interpretation of the Bible. And this means that Protestants from all over the world have rights as citizens, and can move to county Tyrone or county Armagh, and are furnished with arms and subsidies to do so by the United Kingdom. But Catholics whose families have lived in Tyrone or Armagh for generations have no right to return, and their houses are either demolished or occupied by incoming Protestants from Brazil and Australia, their farms expropriated. And then this state then starts sending in its militia to bulldoze people out of their homes in Monaghan, Dundalk and Castleblayney, crushing any form of resistance with extreme violence, imprisonment, torture. Then the people who are expelled, imprisoned, tortured and starved have their history systematically denied, are characterised as congenital terrorists for exercising their legitimate right to resistance under international law, and represented as subhuman filth. I could go on sketching this scenario, but to continue in the way I have started would not be adequate to convey the enormity of what has been done to the Palestinians.

Erich Fromm, rabinnical scholar turned psychoanalyst, and author of The Fear of Freedom, described an orientation of ‘social narcissism’, in which concern for the superiority of one’s identified group -whether race, class, or nation- is sustained through all manner of ideological strivings, at the expense of the capacity to grasp reality. This ‘social narcissism’ can seem an inescapable condition of the nation-state, and Israel is hardly an exception in this regard, since Israeli children are indoctrinated to believe that the world at large is antisemitic, and that the land in which they live is theirs -and only theirs- since time immemorial. (Watch this documentary for more details.) One consequence of this, for the Palestinians, is, as Azmi Bishara points out, that ‘two-thirds of Israeli Jews would refuse to live next to an Arab and nearly half would not allow a Palestinian into their home’.

(Photo: A Palestinian woman whose house has been occupied by Jewish settlers faces Israelis who came to celebrate Jerusalem Day in the mainly Arab neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, occupied East Jerusalem (Ahmad Gharabli/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images). Source, WSJ via Mondoweiss via Lawrence of Cyberia.)

But what the heroism of those on the Freedom Flotilla shows, despite the murderous response of the Israeli state, is that this orientation can be overturned, and that people are capable of putting their own lives on the line for their fellow human beings, not because they are part of a particular race, class or nation, but because there are basic principles of universal solidarity, understood by people of all religions and none, that are not worth living without.

And despite the bloodbath, this episode in the struggle for Palestinian liberation from the Israeli state’s racist brutality is not over yet.

‘I didn’t think they’d make a difference but when I heard, I cried’ – The Irish Times – Thu, Jun 03, 2010

Lads and lasses in jeans and brightly-coloured shirts chanting “Freedom, freedom,” hefted a plywood coffin painted with the flags of the countries of activists on the cruise ship assaulted by Israeli commandos early on Monday morning – Turkish, Lebanese, Algerian.

Yesterday was the third day after the slaying of the flotilla activists, a time when mourners traditionally gather to show respect for the dead. The procession made for the fishing port where they stood outside the vast tent erected to greet the blockade-busting ships.

Inside the long narrow tent, festooned with bright swatches of cloth, flags and posters in Arabic, English and Turkish, hundreds of men – politicians, teachers, sheikhs and farmers, Fatah, Hamas and independents – had gathered to grieve. “Welcome Freedom Flotilla,” read the banner over the entrance.

But the flotilla did not come. Every Gazan feels its loss. Sami Aby Salem, a journalist, observed: “I was not enthusiastic about the boats. I did not think they would make a difference. But when I heard the news, I cried.” While the mourners in the tent listened to speeches, religious readings and music, the youths carried the coffin out onto a rocky spit of land and launched it into the restless silver sea. The box soon sank, but a boy dived in and brought it to the surface, heavy with water. Fishermen on a fast boat lifted it out, let the water drain away and put it back. It bobbed and took in water but did not it sink.

Amjed Shawa, co-ordinator for Palestinian non-governmental organisations, remarked that the tragedy has both moved people deeply and given them hope.

“Egypt has opened the Rafah crossing, Jordan is taking in the wounded, Kuwait has called for withdrawal of the Arab peace plan. These are small but significant actions. We need words translated into actions, pressure on Israel to lift the siege. We are waiting for the Rachel Corrie,” the Irish-registered ship due next week with more aid, more solidarity activists and more media.

The MV Rachel Corrie, named after an American woman who was crushed under an IDF bulldozer in Gaza as it moved to demolish a Palestinian home, is still making its way toward Gaza. It has not deviated from its mission, which is to break the Israeli blockade.

Perhaps the thuggish, fascist stupidity of the Netanyahu-Lieberman government, with its grotesque, but not unexpected, association of the flotilla -which seeks to highlight the issue of a million and a half Palestinians imprisoned in a concentration camp– with the threat to the US from Nazi Germany, will employ violent means to stop it. It seems more likely that comparably rational elements of the Israeli establishment will prevail, and it will be allowed in via some sort of diplomatic fudge. Either way, millions of people have been jolted into to confronting the reality of what is going on in Palestine. And millions of people are now finding out who Rachel Corrie was.

As Edward Said wrote about Rachel Corrie:

What Rachel Corrie’s work in Gaza recognized, however, was precisely the gravity and the density of the living history of the Palestinian people as a national community, and not merely as a collection of deprived refugees. That is what she was in solidarity with. And we need to remember that that kind of solidarity is no longer confined to a small number of intrepid souls here and there, but is recognized the world over. In the past six months I have lectured in four continents to many thousands of people. What brings them together is Palestine and the struggle of the Palestinian people which is now a byword for emancipation and enlightenment, regardless of all the vilification heaped on them by their enemies. Whenever the facts are made known, there is immediate recognition and an expression of the most profound solidarity with the justice of the Palestinian cause and the valiant struggle by the Palestinian people on its behalf.

A continuous element of Zionist strategy in Palestine has been the establishment of ‘facts on the ground’ in contravention of international law: as witnessed in the expulsion of the Arab population, the continued denial of the Palestinians’ right of return, the continued colonisation of the West Bank, all with the end of entrenching the ‘Jewish and democratic’ State.

And yet the Freedom Flotilla has produced facts of an entirely different order -‘facts on the sea’ if you will- which demonstrate that solidarity with the people of Palestine extends the world over, and can’t be contained by Israeli blockades, walls and propaganda. A global campaign for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions is gathering new momentum.

They might stop the boats, but they can’t stop the tide.

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June 2010