Archive for April 25th, 2011

Swindles and Snares

Evening all. Things have been very busy of late, leaving little time for writing here. I hope to address this over the next few weeks. In the meantime, in the absence of any consequent ideas on my own part, I figured I would translate yet another article from Spain, from Vicenç Navarro’s website, originally published in Público. As I’ve said previously, it’s quite striking just how many similarities abound when you look at the roles played by the government, the media, the financial sector and so on in the crisis playing out in different countries. One difference between Ireland and Spain at the moment is that Spain is not under the thumb of the IMF, but it’s important to remember just how much of the economic measures taken in Ireland prior to the EU-IMF bailout had, in fact, been taken by the government in consultation with both of these entities, and how vocal, then as now, the finance, business and media establishments in Ireland were in support of brutal austerity policies.

A myth that has sprung up since November is the idea that the date of the bailout marked the loss of Irish sovereignty. In fact, in so far as sovereignty might indicate the potential and the willingness to deviate from the path set out for you by others, Irish sovereignty had long been ceded. But even at that, thinking about sovereignty in this way is a form of revisionism. Whilst in the years preceding the EU-IMF bailout the Irish State may have acted relatively autonomously, this is entirely different from the notion that the Irish State was beholden to any significant degree to the popular will, as opposed to the will of financial speculators, construction magnates, the American Chamber of Commerce, and so on. On this question I tend to think Bakunin’s assessment of representative government applies well to the Irish situation, particularly in light of the immensity of the financial burden now imposed on the working population, that ‘universal suffrage, considered in itself and applied in a society based on economic and social inequality, will be nothing but a swindle and snare for the people; nothing but an odious lie of the bourgeois democrats, the surest way to consolidate under the mantle of liberalism and justice the permanent domination of the people by the owning classes, to the detriment of popular liberty’.

It might be useful, whenever you hear someone lament that ‘we’ve lost our sovereignty’ to say to them that they really mean ‘we’ve lost our democracy’, since the point of a sovereign democratic state is that, as Navarro notes below, the power of the State derives from the will of the people. If the state goes against the will of the people in some matter, by, for instance, privileging the welfare of finance capital oligarchs over the welfare of its citizens, then it is not that the state is not sovereign, but that, from the point of view of the State, the people are not sovereign.

This piece, titled ‘Rebel!’ (¡Rebélate!), was published on the 14th of April, the 80th anniversary of the Second Spanish Republic.

This article questions the theories spread widely in the country’s political and media establishments of how the highly unpopular measures imposed by the Spanish state (centrally and regionally) are a response to the demands of external factors such as the financial markets. This article shows that this emphasis on external factors dilutes the importance of internal factors, which are those which determine such policies. Such policies are a response to an enormous concentration of financial and business power that is damaging not only the welfare state, but also democracy in Spain, widening the distance between the governors and the governed. The article concludes with the need for mobilisations in order to recover democracy in Spain.

This article is a reflection on the present, taking the past as a guide to where we ought to go. After all is said and done, republican values are the highest expression of the democratic values that we would have to uphold in a political system, in which each citizen should have the same decision-making capacity in the governing of the country, without electoral laws or restrictions that give more weight to some than to others, as is happening in Spain. The flawed transition from dictatorship to democracy produced a scarcely democratic culture and an electoral process that was designed – has some of its designers have recognised- to weaken broad sectors of the left. It has meant that, even when surveys show that the majority of the Spanish population is on the centre-left and left, left policies (despite great advances) have not dominated the majority of legislative behaviour during the democratic process. The State’s considerable lag in Spanish welfare (with the lowest per capita public spend in the EU-15), is one indicator of this.

Our electoral system is scarcely representative and it shows. And this low representativeness in the Spanish parliament (which is recreated in the regional parliaments) is accompanied by a set of parties, the majority of which are enormously influenced by big news outlets and lobby groups, among which finance capital plays an essential role. As such, we have seen how a consensus has been developed among the political and media establishments of the country as to the need to delay the retirement age from 65 to 67 years, a legislative proposal by the government which was approved almost unanimously in the chambers of the Spanish parliament. This near consensus stands in contrast with the enormous unpopularity of this measure among the citizenry, the great majority of which stands opposed to it. According to the Spanish Constitution, the power of the State derives from the will of the people. But, if we compare what it is that the citizenry wants on the one hand, and what different branches of the State (and, especially, the legislative and executive branch of the State) approve on the other, there is a significant contrast.

Another example of this are the measures the State has taken to get out of the crisis (from the freezing of pensions to the radical cuts that are now being applied to the already underfunded services of the welfare state). The unpopularity of these measures is very high, but this is not an obstacle to their implementation, since they are promoted by the majority of broadcast media outlets. These outlets editorialise and repeat grindingly that there are no other possible measures in response to “external” factors, in this case, the financial markets. They accentuate with high intensity that which is “external” in order to dilute internal responsibilities. But what is external is a mere excuse to carry out what the financial, business, political and media establishments have always desired: to weaken the labour market to optimise the interests of capital. It is what used to be called “class struggle”.

Naturally there are variations in social classes and their conflict is expressed in many ways. But today this conflict is the vast majority of the population (working class and the majority of the middle classes) against an enormous concentration of Spanish financial and economic power which, in tandem with its foreign allies, is imposing itself on the majority of the citizenry. For example, to reduce the deficit, instead of freezing pensions and cutting spending in health, education, home help and other areas, they could have recovered 35 billion euro by imposing taxes on the most privileged sectors (without affecting the majority of the population), as both tax inspectors and the Ministry of Economy itself have suggested. Furthermore, by correcting the enormous fiscal fraud -which primarily benefits the banking sector, large businesses and those on high incomes (eliminating, for example, fiscal paradises), as well as reversing the regressive fiscal cuts carried out over the last 15 years – 80 billion euro more could be obtained.

It is not, then, what is ‘external’ but what is ‘internal’ that is blocking the expression of the democratic process. And the citizenry is aware of it. Survey after survey shows the alienation of the citizenry from the political class and from those who govern. Our democracy is seriously threatened. It is for this reason why there is an urgent need for mobilisations to continue the struggle begun by previous generations in defence of democracy. Our parents fought to defend democracy and they were brutally repressed as a consequence of their defeat. My generation fought in the difficult 50s, 60s and later in the 70s, standing opposed to the dictatorship. It was this struggle and others that were responsible for the end of the dictatorship. It should never be forgotten that although Franco died in his bed, the dictatorship died in the street.

And it is now that one must struggle to recover the democracy that is being held captive, in which the State is adopting positions systematically against the majority of the population and against its wishes. This is an outrage and it requires popular mobilisations based in the republican values that demand of the State that it respond to society and not, as is happening now, that it acts against it.

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April 2011