Barcelona’s mayor proposes a network of refugee-cities

[Proposal announced by the mayor of Barcelona Ada Colau’s in her Facebook on 28th August 2015. Below you can find a translation of her message into English, by Rafaela Apel & Richard McAleavey.]

Enlace permanente de imagen incrustada

The day before yesterday 50 people died by suffocation in the hold of a ship. Yesterday more than 70 people were found dead inside a lorry. Today we wake up with two shipwrecks: perhaps more than a hundred dead. We have a sea full of dead people. Borders full of wires, spikes, blades… and dead people.

Men, women, boys and girls, dead.

And a part of Europe weeps, cries out, a part wishes them to be saved, to not die but… but does not want them to come over. They should go away, they should disappear, they shouldn’t exist and we shouldn’t have to see them on TV, let alone on our streets, with their blankets, in the subway or on the steps of our homes.

Some irresponsibly promote fear of “the other”, “the illegal”, “those who come to sell without a permit”, “to use our healthcare”, “to take our school places”, “to scrounge”, “to beg”, “to commit crime”…

But fear is just that: fear. Our fear to live in a bit worse conditions against their fear to not be able to survive. Our fear of having to share a small part of our welfare against their fear of hunger and death, which is so acute that it gave them the strength to risk it all in order to come over without any baggage other than their own fear.

Fear against fear. And theirs is stronger. So, Europe, Europeans: open your eyes. There will not be enough walls and wires nor teargas nor rubber bullets to stop this. We either approach a human tragedy starting from our ability to love that makes us human or we are all going to end up dehumanized. And there will be more deaths, many more. This is not a struggle to protect us from “the others”. Right now it is a war against life.

Governments have to stop threatening with the “call effect”. What Europe urgently needs is an “affect call”, a call for empathy. They could be our children, our sisters or mothers. It could be us, just like many of our grandparents were forced into exile.

Even though it is a matter of State and European competence, from Barcelona we will do all we can to participate in a network of refugee-cities. We want cities that are committed to human rights and to life, cities of which we can be proud.

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Andalusia: first sign of the two party system’s recovery? – Emmanuel Rodríguez & Isidro López

[Article written by Emmanuel Rodríguez (@emmanuelrog) and Isidro López (@LumumbaJr), published originally in Público on 23 March 2015, right after the regional elections in Andalusia, Spain. Translation by David Ferreira (@igualitarista)]

One of the peculiarities of Spain is that the country has been built from north to south. That history has been written in this direction is shown by the use of highly charged ideological terms like the reconquista, by which the conquest of the south of the peninsula by the christian kingdoms of the north is “naturalized”. It is one of those key paradoxes in the historical construction of Spain, at least if you consider that the Valley Guadalquivir and the Mediterranean coast [roughly the borders of Andalucia] have been the center of civilization in the Iberian Peninsula since prehistoric times, or if you take into account that Andalusia has been, for a long time, the richest region throughout modern time until the nineteenth century.

Do the Andalusian elections show a “reconquest” by the actors of the regime of ’78 of territory lost since the emergence of 15M? Not so much nor so obvious, it must be said. Certainty, the two party system has lost territory, having fallen from 80% to 62% of the vote. The two political actors of the latest generation, Podemos and Ciudadanos, have accumulated nearly 25%. Teresa Rodriguez of Podemos has achieved a hard won space against the “very Andalusian, leftist” Susana Diaz of PSOE. For his part, the candidate from Ciudadanos (Juan Marin), unknown till recently, has won a little more than 9%. A clear success for a party that declares itself “of and for” the middle classes, in territory in which the middle classes are so weak they nearly approach irrelevance.

However, for PSOE the results are practically the same : a little less than a million and a half votes and the same number of MPs as in 2012. Nor has the abstention been significantly mobilized. It has only increased from 60% to little more than 63%. The losses have been centered on the regional opposition party, the Popular Party, that went from 40% to 27%, and the partners of the socialists, United Left, that fell from 12% to 7%. For PSOE it has been enough to have a candidate able to play the cards of an incoherent and empty leftism, enhanced by the infinite repetition of “Andalusians & Andalusia”, in addition to the imposing image of a pregnancy that is show as often on television as at large political rallies, to achieve this “historic victory” that Susana claims for herself.

In any case, can these results be extrapolated to the rest of the country? It is here where all the interests lies in the Andalusian test case, especially for the only force calling openly for the rupture with the regime of ’78, Podemos. There’s little doubt that the party system has distinct time and resistance in the southern half of the Spanish state than in the rest of its territory. Nor is Andalusia a mere exception, but a piece just as unique as the others within a complex peninsular puzzle. Put another way, and considering the material of available opinion polls, it is doubtful that in Madrid or Valencia the Popular Party will be beaten as the number one force, as much as its 50% may be taken down into the 30s. just like the “historic” Susana Diaz, the regional organizations of the Popular Party are aware of the absence or low density of the organization of Podemos and Ciudadanos at the regional and local level; and that in this territory they can count on the strength of civil society, that is, of their clientele networks long and generously fed by the public budget. In the same line, but with different colors, the results in the Basque Country and Catalonia may show similar results with the affirmation, as well, of the parties in government: The Basque Nationalist Party (PNV), and a reinvented Convergence and Union (CiU).

It’s also necessary to recognize that Ciudadanos is a viable electoral reality and has managed to consolidate itself in territory that was less advantageous. Their 9% may double in the traditional voting areas of the Popular Party, fragmenting that “centrality of the spectrum” that the strategists of Podemos have envisioned. At the national level, the confirmation of a quadripartite -4 parties between 15% and 30% of the vote- opens a scenario of complex pacts in which the prospect of a constitutional rupture would end up delayed indefinitely. In this terrain, the possibility of a progressive government (PSOE, IU, Podemos) would be the worst option, in fact.
Ultimately, the always preliminary conclusions of the Andalusian election results may be, in the first place, that the political cycle is long, not short. In other words, that the election results may not conclusively show disillusionment with political change. It opens an uncertain period and with obvious problems of governance, but in which the position most probable -and most interesting- is articulating a consistent opposition that shapes the opportunities for rupture in the medium term. In second place, we confirm what we already knew: the political reality of the country is complex and responds to social and geographic diversity that makes inviable the populist hypothesis, at least in its academic version extracted from quick lessons of progressive governments in Latin America. The emergence of Ciudadanos, as the party of regeneration of the segments most neatly identified as the “middle class” and the diversity of the electoral results in the three regions that make up more than half the population (Andalusia, Madrid, and Catalonia) should serve as sufficient counter-proof. And lastly, and perhaps what’s most important: Many of the elements disregarded until now, mainly the need to build an organization territorially established, with competent structures and a solvent project (beyond the repetition of the memes of corruption and the “casta”) take at this juncture a relevance of strategic importance. For it to happen it requires a turn, in some aspects, that is a 180 degrees.

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The metamorphosis of Podemos

[Originally published in on 3rd March 2015 and kindly translated by Richard McAleavey ]

The metamorphosis of Podemos

Podemos General Secretary Pablo Iglesias in the Puerta del Sol, Madrid, on the March for Change, 31st January 2015 (source:\Marta Jara)

When the monster awoke one morning following a torrid dream of elections, it lay on its bed, transformed into one more party of rule. There it was with its hierarchies, its internal posts, and its phony rhetoric. It was now a party for cynics, destined to contain the democratic tide, rather than be washed over by it.

Such is the party-driven nightmare that many of us participating in Podemos have sought to highlight from the beginning, when we set our desire on electoral victory as the immediate political horizon. If Podemos must be a party in order to break the locks on the institutions, let it at least be a party different to all those it seeks to evict, both in the way it functions and in the things it proposes. The journey of representation means taking on baggage that may prove uncomfortable, but some of it can be an unnecessary burden that we would do well to avoid.

Obviously, we must keep in mind the limitations and the peculiarities of the sphere of political representation, as I wrote nearly a year ago. It is as illusory to pour scorn on the breaches that can be opened up from within the existing institutions, for which we have to adapt to the rules of a game that we ourselves have not defined, as it is to think that it is exclusively the Party or the State that brings about democratic change – least of all in one country, as Syriza is very well aware. Moving within the frame of what is possible, winning elections, which took Syriza a decade, does indeed require an electoral ‘war machine[i].

What is less clear, however, continuing this war metaphor, is whether this machine works better in the manner of national armies of old, or whether it should be understood based on the innovations and lessons that networked insurgencies have provided. What is even less clear is whether such a machine would then serve to develop good government (the “what for” that ought to complement the “winning”). To win seats in parliament requires a competitive logic; a good democratic government requires a logic of co-operation.

Since Podemos unveiled itself in January 2014 as a ‘method for participation open to the entire public’[ii], the initiative has evolved to the point that it has formalised as a political party. This constitutive process finalised on the 14th of February passed following the election of the different internal posts on a national level. However, with regards to the process of organisation, and in an electoral context where prospects are good, the debate frequently took the form of a war waged in personalised and binary terms, between fans and trolls. This internal rancour was fed in part by the establishment of a system of internal lists and voting that did not correct the existing inequalities in terms of access to media resources, but rather took advantage of these inequalities, albeit without acknowledging this openly. But it is not as simple as this.

The preoccupation with ‘internal democracy’, or to put it another way, with forms of internal-external interaction and communication that do not merely go in one direction, is not the product of the fear of winning or the inability to win, and it is not liberal scruples that take no account of the particulars of what we are building or of what is at stake in strategic terms. This preoccupation is legitimate because it emerges from what we have learned about the party-form after a long historical experience, not from self-serving theoretical abstractions. It is legitimate, moreover, because it is faithful to the ultimate objective that moves all of us who have set out on this adventure in good faith: contributing to a real democratic rupture. The way in which we organise ourselves and treat each other within the Podemos environment prefigures in many respects the way in which a Podemos government will be organised and how it will relate to the public.

In many ways, Podemos is currently more democratic than other parties, but it is also true that there has been a consolidation of a mode of operating in which the decisions tend to come from the centre so as to be rubber-stamped by what had initially been nodes that had a degree of meaningful autonomy. This tendency has not been consolidated completely, due to territorial diversity, due to the margin allowed by the gaps in internal regulations, and to the informality that still characterises a good deal of relations inside the party, as a consequence of its particular origin and its initial development.

What is true is that until summer of 2014, or perhaps until the citizen assembly in Vistalegre, Podemos was overflowing at every level, with different constitutive and militant elements (television spokespersons, Anticapitalist Left, circles, sympathetic activists etc.) interacting with a social ecosystem influenced in large part (but not completely) by television. As we know, the electoral success of the 25th of May placed the media focus definitively on Podemos, and, in the context of an accelerated political decomposition of the regime, Podemos began to occupy centre stage. It forced all the other parties to use its terms and its methods, albeit in a purely rhetorical manner. This being the case, the main preoccupation, in organisational terms, of the group that developed around the leadership of Pablo Iglesias, consisted of controlling this overflow, out of fear (reasonable in some cases, excessive in others) of entryism and the ‘appropriation’ of the brand -on a local level, for example- for different ends to those declared by the main leaders. The problem is that this intent on control, along with the way in which it has been practised, can end up mystifying the possibilities for empowerment and effective participation, thereby limiting the very effectiveness of the political strategy that has been set out.

One fear, already present since the beginnings of this project, is ‘if the project is presented in terms of representation, presupposing the homogeneity and the unity of the body it must head up, it will cancel out its own conditions of possibility[iii]. Well, this risk appears to be materialising before our eyes. A glance at the evolution over time of all surveys (see the interesting graphic below that is regularly updated on Wikipedia) shows how growth was vertiginous in the run-up to the European elections, less so but still very significant during the September-November process of constitution, only to stagnate since then, even following the successful mobilisation of the 31st of January.

15-day trendline showing average ratings from various surveys between November 2011 and mid-February 2015. Podemos in purple. Source: Wikipedia

Should things continue like this, even were Podemos to win the next general elections, it may not do so with the resounding victory needed to kick off a constituent dynamic driven from below. Even victory at the elections itself is open to question, despite decent surveys, given that the Spanish electoral system, when it comes to parties at State level, rewards parties that win over 25% and punishes those below this level. Podemos currently oscillates in and around this percentage, which is relative and a function of the degree of growth or collapse of other forces. Hence it is worrying to encounter the self-satisfied reading according to which the surveys ‘unanimously show an upward trend, at a vertiginous speed, and if we manage to maintain this ascent we will be in a position to govern, possibly with an absolute majority[iv]‘. As we can see for ourselves, this assessment is incorrect, as is also the insinuation that the rapid upward growth is exclusively down to a small team.

That is, from the citizen assembly onward we have witnessed a slowing of the growth of Podemos, though for the moment it is still benefiting from the deterioration of the PP, PSOE and IU. Another symptom is the diminishing participation in internal electoral processes, despite the rise in the number of people signed up (this may also indicate that those participating are the most recent arrivals, whereas many of those who took part initially are now abstaining). This slowing down coincides, moreover, with a decided withdrawal, as a consequence, on the one hand, of internal electoral processes, and, on the other, the growing subordination to the agenda of television stations that are currently sympathetic but whose fundamental task consists of normalising the phenomenon. Firms such as Atresmedia and Mediaset have their own interests, in accordance with which, for example, they frame the content of what must be the object of public debate. The current promotion of Ciudadanos in these media outlets also goes in the direction of preventing a broad majority for Podemos and filing off its rupturist edges.

Undoubtedly it is dizzying to think how far Podemos has gone in such a short period of time. Today the betting favours Podemos because it has positioned itself as the new winning horse, because it is the only option in the running that seeks a rupture with the regime of 78 and has possibilities of governing at State level and in various regional governments. And even were the least favourable results in the polls to become reality, they would still amount to an unprecedented historical event. It is logical to try and preserve positions that have been won and to avoid false steps now that a distorting microscope looms over Podemos and complicated decisions are on the way following the next regional elections. But to be satisfied with this is a dangerous invitation to lead the opposition. Once the novelty has worn off, might it not be the very fact that Podemos is finally recognisable and predictable, that is, less monstrous, what now makes it more vulnerable? Is it reasonable to tone down proposals for the electoral programme, or cast aside as marginal ideas that are feasible and at the same time innovative -constituent- as is the case with those that bring a transformative quality and those that would oblige other forces to make a move? Does respectability entail looking more like what you are criticising, or does it rather mean taking this criticism to its ultimate consequences?

These observations do not deny that the electoral fray is still wide open. They merely express cautiously that the political task that confronts us is enormous. It is for this reason that it is worth asking the new state-wide Citizen Council, whilst recognising the great deal of good it has achieved until now, that it conduct a serious reflection on the shortcomings of the present strategy and on what can be improved, not only with a view to winning the elections but also to anticipate the future actions of government in the European framework. In order for Podemos to gather together a broad social (and hence electoral) majority the party will need to avoid closing in on itself, and to seek formulas that lead to new overflows, new viral effects. This representative majority will not be achieved merely by attracting old voters or activists from the PP or the PSOE or IU, but also all the various abstentionists who when taken as a whole constitute the main ‘political force’ in the country. It will mean winning over but above all listening to and incorporating not only those who see themselves as middle class despite their precarious position but also the poorest of the popular classes, those with the least education, for whom abstention is structural. It would not be a bad thing to have more plebs and less party aristocracy. It is possible to involve people in the formulation of proposals for substantial change that they can treat as their own and not as measures desired exclusively behind their backs by an elite. After that the details of how it gets set up and its practical application will always be technical and the work of people with the necessary training; a great deal of work has already been done here, both in the university and in the movements. It is not enough, then, to denounce corruption on TV and avoid committing errors.

Podemos has not finished its metamorphosis. The tale can be different to what those who are satisfied by the current state of things are hoping for.

When the party awoke one morning following a torrid dream of elections, it lay on its bed, transformed into a monstruous tool for democracy….

[i] Link to remarks by party strategist Íñigo Errejón in October 2014. Errejón is now Political Secretary of Podemos

[ii] Link to initial Público report on Podemos launch, January 2014

[iii] Link to January 2014 article by Pablo Bustinduy, currently member of Podemos Citizen Council

[iv] Link to remarks by Luis Alegre, current Secretary General of Podemos in Madrid region, 10th February 2015, during campaign for Secretary General post.


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Gaza: European premises and conclusions


Conclusions of the Council of the European Union, 22 July 2014

Last week, while the Israeli army bombed Gaza and the macabre body count increased, the twenty eight Foreign Affairs Ministers of the European Union met at the Council and adopted Conclusions about the situation in the strip. They didn’t mention Gaza in the title, though. They rather talked about the non-existent ‘Middle East Process’.

Point number 1 develops the premises on which the European governments’political position is based. These premises make the rest of the declaration -which refers to the so-called “peace negotiations”- a farce. The difference between the tone used to qualify the actions of the Israeli army and those of the Palestinian groups -considered terrorists- is huge and clarifying.

First of all, “the EU strongly condemns the indiscriminate firing of rockets into Israel by Hamas and other militant groups in the Gaza strop, directly harming civilians. These are criminal and unjustifiable acts.” The document also replicates Israeli propaganda on human shields.

However, the EU only “condemns the loss of hundres of civilian lives, including many women and children“, without mentioning the responsible for such deaths, which is no other than the Israeli State itself. Furthermore, the EU Ministers recognize “Israel’s legitimate right to defend itself against any attacks“, reaffirming the idea that the ultimate responsible for the deaths of the Palestinians are the Palestinians themselves. Our governments only ask that the military operation should be  “proportionate and in line with international humanitarian law (sic)”. That is, the acts committed by the Israeli army are not “criminal and unjustifiable“, contrary to those of the Palestinian resistance. The world upside down.

Of course, such support was warmly welcomed by the Israeli government. Not only that. In an official statement the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ spokesperson goes so far as to insinuate that the Council conclusions were previously negotiated with Israel, as if it were another EU member state. According to the statement, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the far-right Avigdor Liberman, “who has been in contact with his colleagues, foreign ministers across Europe, prior to the meeting [of the Council] declared that the statement of the EU ministers illustrate that the free world is united against Hamas terrorism and that Israel has the full right to protect itself. FM Liberman also thanked the Foreign Ministry staff for their effective efforts in bringing about these results.

No further comments are needed.

 Comunicado IL

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Speech by Pablo Iglesias after Podemos’s success in the European elections

This is a translation by Richard Mac Duinnsleibhe of the speech made in the video below by Pablo Iglesias after Podemos (‘We can’) burst onto the political scene last night with over a million votes and 5 seats in the European Parliament. 


“There is magic. There is magic tonight. 

It’s as though you could touch the hope and excitement [ilusión]

That hope and excitement that has always been the motor of change.

Bona nit [Catalan], gabon [Basque], boas noites [Galician], buenas noches [Castillian].

Few expected a result such as this for us. But allow me to make a call for lament, and to remain on high guard.

The parties of the caste have had one of the worst results in their history.

But I must say that for now we have not achieved our objective of overcoming them.

Tomorrow there will still be six million unemployed, and they will go on evicting families in our country.

Tomorrow they will go on privatising hospitals. There will still be people working under appalling conditions.

There will still be young people forced to go into exile. There will still be a quarter of citizens living in poverty.

There will still be migrant workers who are treated like animals. There will still be unpunished bankers at large. There will still be corrupt bankers climbing into official cars.

Tomorrow, Merkel and the financial powers will go on making decisions against us and against ordinary people [la gente].

We have made a lot of progress, and we have surprised the caste. But the task we are confronted with from tomorrow on is enormous. That is why I want to ask everyone committed to the defence of democracy to be on high guard. Podemos was not born to play a token role. We were born to go out and get them all, and we are going to go out and get them.

(Crowd chants “Sí se puede!”)

Maybe for many people this result is a success. But I want to say that we are not satisfied. From tomorrow on we will start work so that as soon as possible we can celebrate that our country has a decent government, and we will get rid of the caste.

We are going to work for the union of the peoples of the south of Europe, in defence of sovereignty, and of a decent and democratic Europe. A Europe in which no financial power is above the interests and will of ordinary people [la gente].”

(Crowd chants “The people united will never be defeated!”)

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Nelson Mandela: Before prisoner, beyond president

Nelson Mandela: Before Prisoner, Beyond President

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Close encounters of the shameful kind

[Post originally posted in Spanish in Quilombo]
Spanish Civil Guard evicted inmigrants by force from Isla de Tierra (Earth Island, part of the Alhucemas Islands archipelago) to the Moroccan shore. Early morning of Tuesday 4th of September. Photography: Uly Martín, El País.

Military, police, lights and cameras were looking forward to the arrival of the aliens, who had previously landed in the wrong planet. François Truffaut, rest in peace, was not there. He would have tried to communicate with those strangers: who were they?, what did they want?, what were their dreams?, how can we help?. The aliens believed they had reached an hospitable planet, but instead they found a game preserve. No melody was sung. Perhaps they didn’t know John Williams’ music. Or maybe it is because they arrived handcuffed, exhausted and terrified. The armed nasty threatened them with their flags. And then someone, somewhere, felt ashamed to be human.

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There is no turning back

[Article originally published in Spanish in Quilombo. Kindly translated by Richard, to whom I am thankful]

“It’s not a crisis, it’s a con”.

Actually, we are faced with both a crisis and also a con. It’s a crisis because we are at a historic crossroads, a moment of systemic chaos in which, after the failure of the neoliberal governance model, “competition and conflicts escalate beyond the regulatory capacity of existing structures” (G. Arrighi). This occurs on a global scale, but with special intensity in the complex and segmented European subsystem. It’s a con because the efforts to curb the disorder, to take advantage of it, and to institutionalise new relations of production and government, are carried out by extorting those from below.

In Spain, Portugal, Italy and Greece this translates into a deepening of the economic depression. This is nothing that could not have been predicted when said depression is brought about through shock therapies that seek to undertake looting that could not have been approved otherwise. What is happening in Spain is neither new nor unusual, even if the situation is more serious because of the power held by conservative forces. Staying within recent history, since Mexico suspended payments in 1982 debt crises have multiplied, with greater intensity and frequency than in preceding decades: 2.6 banking crises a year (compared with 0.1 per year in the period 1948-1972); 3.7 monetary crises per year (compared with 1.7 in the same period); 1.3 governments per year suspending payments (compared to 0.7). The consequences of the adjustment policies that accompanied these crises are widely known, so there should be no cause for surprise. What is new –remaining in the frame of recent history- is that these dynamics of debt-adjustment-looting are no longer occurring in Latin America, in Eastern Europe or in Africa, but in a zone that benefitted from the former: Western Europe. The relations of subordination are reproduced in this case within the same political framework, that of the European Union, thereby destabilising it.

What got off to a gradual and wavering start under the previous PSOE government, and what has been intensified, with even fewer scruples by the (State and autonomous community) governments of the PP (and CiU), are thus deliberate policies, in the knowledge that they will cause suffering and transfers of wealth to European business elites. It is true that there is strong pressure on the part of British, French and German financial groups to prevent a devaluation of their assets and take an even bigger cut, and that the European Central Bank and the German government use a very big stick and a very small carrot on the peripheral countries so that they accelerate the cuts, privatise public assets and reform their labour markets. But it never occurs to any of the political parties “of government” to break with this logic. All they do is argue clumsily about timeframes, the odds for debt rollover, the possible offsetting through “growth policies” (which they identify with large infrastructure projects) and only because they see their own political shelf-life in danger.

* * *

By this point, then, it ought to be clear to everyone what future is offered to us by the current political regime, Spanish and European: cuts to public spending budgets that affect the welfare of the population; dismantling of public services and their reconfiguration along the lines of debt relations (health re-payment [the reference here is to what is known in Spain as copago, or co-payment, a concept familiar to users of the Irish health system – R] student loans, etc.), widespread impoverishment through a deliberate wage reduction policy (internal devaluation); onerous tax burdens for impoverished wage labourers, the precarious and unemployed; diversion of public funds to keep private or privatised financial institutions afloat; repression of protest through the criminalisation of activities previously allowed for (relatively speaking) in rights of demonstration and association; the stigmatisation of certain social groups, etc. More looting and more con.

All of these are polítical decisions, not necessities imposed by a fictitious scarcity. Nor is there an obedience due to Brussels or Berlin that might exempt our rulers from responsibility. But the existing institutional mechanisms do not allow the articulation of any democratic alternative from within the national State. Less still with the “bound and tied” [In the original, ‘atado y bien atado’: the reference here is to the famous words of Franco, referring to the future longevity of his regime after his death – R] constitutional lockdown agreed by the PSOE and the PP in 2011, and the numerous reforms that limit political representation (electoral law, city councils, the forthcoming ‘vote for exiles’ in Euskadi). The PP’s absolute majority, derived from a considerable (declining) support in society but above all from the socialist meltdown, forces minority groups that oppose the adjustment to practise politics more outside the Congress than inside, if they do not wish to fall into irrelevance. Though the new parliamentary division ought to be between those parties who support the adjustment policies called for by the bailout referendum and those who reject them, what happens in the street is key. Votes received in elections during the blackmail of the crisis in no way legitimise government actions that violate the rights of the people and are based on lies and fraud.

The coming to power of a particular party will not in itself allow a process of change to begin. History shows the opposite is true, and I include here the electoral rise of a force such as Syriza in Greece. First of all it is the multitudes who change the correlation of forces in the street, since it is they who produce wealth, knowledge, and new ways of thinking and acting. This is what can then allow for an electoral defeat of the ruling parties even when the game is rigged. Those who attack the 15-M from the outside with a ferocity they do not use against the system itself, without making the effort to bring forward their own ideas on the inside, are unable to see this. Movements include explicit social mobilisations, organised to a greater or lesser degree, assemblies that might prove tedious, but also –and this is not reflected in the media- implicit changes in attitude, less visible repertoires of political experimentation, the gestation of new narratives, diverse practices of exodus. Not even an election victory will be enough, especially if it only serves in turn to politically disarm the citizens. The electoral game should at any rate be contemplated as a tactic subordinate to broader strategies.

And what we are witnessing in the Spanish state is a destituent process. An accelerated process of political delegitimisation not just of the government, but of the very power constituted during the transition. Especially for the generation that was born afterwards. The PP’s absolute majority, and the control it exercises over the majority of autonomous region governments, far from entailing a guarantee of stability, exacerbates, through its authoritarian intransigence, the rebellion against authorities that a growing number of people view as parasitical. This is the main fear of investors and international bodies and the main reason for the ‘technical’ interventions that accompany the so-called ‘bailouts’. The political conclusion is obvious. If we want to short-circuit this drift we have to stop seeing the aforementioned delegitimisation as a danger, and work seriously on the democratic opportunities opening up. Work towards the unpredictable.

* * *

It is not a simple task. Feelings such as indifference, resignation, fear, guilt and cynicism continue to dominate a large part of society in the sphere of the political. Property-owning individualism promoted by neoliberal utopianism has left its imprint in our subjectivities. This makes it difficult for a democratic alternative to be formed from and for the common, and explains in part the ease with which the new right-wing forces sell anti-democratic alternatives. The discourse of “against all politicians“, and the lack of interest in politics, feed off the crisis of representation, but if it is not grounded in the pro-common it ends up contributing to the attack against what is public (lo público) and ultimately against democracy.

Thus, I meet public healthcare workers who believe the cuts are on account of “abuses of the health system”. Council public servants who justify the cuts because of past wastefulness. Self-employed who maintain that if the economic situation is bad it is because those who have a job do little work (it is always other people, of course) and the rest do what they can in order not to work. People with mortgages who blame those who got into debt in order to gain access to a home without having enough economic means. Unemployed people who give off stink about other unemployed people. There is no shortage of people who add that immigrants get too much assistance. Amid blatant lies and many half-truths, they take on board a particular story about the “crisis”, the one that confuses symptoms with causes and reasons, or simply doles out blame. And in the game of recriminations, deep down they feel they are entitled to something. How can the wheat be separated from the chaff, when they always conceived of housing, political parties, and social relations, as investments?

They cannot stop seeing themselves as middle class, that virtuous term midway between offensive wealth and ignominious poverty, but which gradually moves away from the former and draws closer to the latter. They have spent their adult lives in the Transition’s framework of social consensus, they hang on to their jobs, they fill the terraces and continue paying their mortgages and their taxes, once the corresponding deductions have been made. It is surprising how naturally they take on board the ‘need’ for the cuts, the loss of purchasing power, the deterioration of public services, the rise in university fees. As if it were a matter of a storm that they hope will pass at some stage for normality to be resumed.


But there is no normality to go back to when the state of exception becomes permanent. There is no turning back. Unless we consider as normal and acceptable the trajectory that has left us with the economic, social and ecological consequences we see today. If we do not, we cannot confine ourselves to reacting against each new outrage; to imploring a lesser suffering, like the left in Andalusia does; to meeting with our own (those of our class, union or professional organisation) and only when we see some degradation of our social status as imminent. It makes no sense to go on requesting the restoration of what has been altered from someone who makes clear, time and again, that they will act by decree without listening to us, without consulting us, without obeying us. In this way we are destined to lose, and we may end up becoming reactionaries ourselves.

There is no turning back. Not to a partitocracy whose democratic deficit was already obvious prior to the economic crisis, nor to a welfare state in which the coverage for risks that one confronts throughout one’s life depends on waged employment that is ever more scarce and precarious. And which Capital does not hesitate to dismantle as soon as the profit rate falls. These risks ought to be covered collectively, but in a way that is universal and unconditional. And labour must no longer be identified with employment. There is no turning back, but looking ahead the game is wide open.

It will be better for us to demand and build together a new political framework, a different economy that is not based on the fiction of unlimited growth. This is the debate that I believe must be promoted. Hence the healthiest, most creative and most innovative thing we can see in Spanish politics is the program set forth by the movements and the inclusive communication they deploy. It is good for us to meet up with others, with our peers though they might not resemble us, in the way that miners, public servants, the unemployed and the precarious did in Madrid, to understand that what government propaganda calls ‘privileges’ are in reality the material conditions necessary for a real democracy: in particular, the need to avail of an adequate and stable income that covers vital necessities. The fairest way of preventing these material conditions from being the privilege of a few consists of extending them to everyone.

The family is often cited as the institution in Spain that, along with the informal economy, shores up the decomposition of what is public and the rise in unemployment. Beyond the hierarchical and patriarchal relations that still pervade it, I wish to point out that the family is a sphere where the majority of people find it natural to act with criteria not of the market but of co-operation, of giving, of care and of affection. Something similar happens with the closest of friendships. When cooperation transcends these narrow circles it becomes the main source of innovation, before it has a value placed on it and is captured by Capital. Let us draw the logical conclusions from this, both economic and political, before it is too late. It is not money that makes society.

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Drill, Canary, drill!

Manifestación LanzaroteMore than 20.000 people demonstrated in Arrecife, Lanzarote (Canary Islands), on 24 March 2012 against the offshore oil prospections authorised by the Spanish Government. Photography: Kepa Herrero (Lancelot Digital).

Many people visit the Canary Islands but few bother to get to know them. They are usually considered not as a country or region, or as a community with its own history and complexities, but as ‘a product’, something that is there just to be consumed, mainly by others. A recent initiative by the new conservative Spanish government follows this logic. On Friday 16 March 2012 a proposal by Ministry of Industry, Energy and Tourism José Manuel Soria (born himself in Gran Canaria) was approved, authorising a consortium led by Madrid-based Repsol to explore for oil a significant area just 37 miles offshore Lanzarote and Fuerteventura. They expect to find oil in rock formations 3,000 (9,900 feet) to 3,500 meters below the surface. The objective is to reduce dependence on crude imports and raise money to reduce Spain´s budget deficit. But this time the islanders want to have a say on their political, economic and environmental future.

Ever since Norman nobles conquered Lanzarote and Fuerteventura and subdued the aborigine population to the Crown of Castile, the Canary archipelago found itself in a subordinate position within the capitalist world-system. The Canary Islands have been more dependent on the world’s economic cycles than on Spain’s, and external shocks have regularly affected their economy and environment. Most recently, mass tourism and the related real-state boom abruptly transformed the old rural and scarcely populated societies into highly developed service economies, doubling its population and more than tripling its urbanisation in a very short period of time. As a consequence, the islands’ fragile eco-systems have been and continue to be subjected to strong pressure from growth-oriented policies.

The approval of exploration licenses for oil drilling is the last chapter of this story. It followed the suspension of a subsidy program for new installations of renewable-energy projects as part of the package of spending cuts – a highly contested policy shift. With this decision the Spanish government put the Canary Islands in the race for ‘tough oils’, to use Michael T. Klare’s term. It refers to oil that ‘can only be exploited through costly, environmentally hazardous techniques’.

José María Aznar’s government had first granted Repsol the right to explore the area in early 2002. But local governments objected, and in 2004 the Supreme Court ruled that the permits were illegal, as no serious environmental impact study had been undertaken. According to Repsol, hydrocarbons production could reach 100,000 oil barrels per day. Maybe not too much for world markets, but significant for Spain, amounting to about 10% of its daily crude oil imports, according to 2011 government data. ‘Spain’, Soria stated weeks ago, ‘cannot afford the luxury of disregarding possible sources of energy’, especially when Morocco has already allowed oil exploration on their side of the imaginary frontier. This emphasis on the Spanish interests at the expense of the archipelago has strained the relations with the regional government (a coalition between Coalición Canaria and PSOE) and the cabildos or Island Councils of Lanzarote and Fuerteventura. All of them oppose the explorations and drillings and have announced legal actions.

It is not that the Government of the Canary Islands – which in the past has promoted unsustainable infrastructures and massive urbanisation – has suddenly found a passion for the environment. There is certainly an element of political strife between old partners (José Manuel Soria was the regional government’s vice-president when PP governed in coalition with Coalición Canaria), but the truth is that from the local bourgeoisie’s perspective there is little to win with Repsol drillings. It is the Spanish central government that issues the permits, potential tax revenues will be collected by Madrid and it is very unlikely that oil production will create local jobs on a significant scale. The islands would only suffer the risks, potentially detrimental for tourism and fisheries. In a recent visit to the islands Repsol’s CEO Antoni Brufau tried to appease the regional government by promising the creation of thousands of jobs. But very few islanders really believe this. Canary Islands’ rate of unemployment of 31% ranks among the highest in Western Europe despite the significant influx of tourists in the last years (more than 10 million in 2011), but this is due to structural imbalances that oil production -delinked from the rest of the Canaries’ economy- won’t solve.

The regional government’s incapacity to confront Madrid’s fait accompli has angered many nationalists within the co-ruling party and from other political groups. Some local politicians threaten to revise what many call the ‘colonial pact’ -the centennial Canary Island’s pragmatic integration in Spain after the independence of the American colonies. This pact allows for several fiscal and economic peculiarities, namely low-taxation, free trade and in recent years generous transfers to finance infrastructure projects. Although explicit pro-independence movements are a minority in the region, Spanish Repsol´s triumphant entry offers them a powerful argument: as the Canary Islands is not a sovereign state they cannot decide upon the waters surrounding the islands beyond the 12-mile limit, according to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, so waters between the islands are considered international waters. And unlike Portugal with Madera and Azores, the Spanish government has not yet delimited an exclusive economic zone in application of the straight baseline method due to disagreements with Morocco, as well as to the unsolved status of Western Sahara. The sovereignty argument thus puts the emphasis on who decides on the oil drilling and who can benefit the most from the oil revenues.

“Barranco de los Canarios” Beach, Sotavento coast, South Fuerteventura (Canary Islands). Photography: Carlos de Saá

Stronger opposition comes from the local environmental movements. They denounce the important risks at all stages of oil production, endangering islands that have been declared biosphere reserves by Unesco, that is, commons to be shared by humanity and developed on a sustainable way. Seismic prospection can cause high damage to submarine fauna. Opening well perforations produce waste that spills into the sea, negatively affecting submarine habitats of high ecological value, like the marine seagrass meadows. During oil extraction, materials like heavy metals or aromatic hydrocarbons are released; they can affect the food chain and therefore the human being, causing health damage. Accidents frequently happen, either small spills unnoticed by the media, or huge catastrophes like the BP Deepwater disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. A significant amount of oil is already regularly dumped from oil tanker vessels into the Canaries’ uncontrolled waters. From the perspective of a more human and ecologically oriented economy, the negative externalities clearly outweigh the positive ones, and the Canary Islands get mainly the former.

Other concerns relate to the geopolitical instability linked to oil production, especially if there are US oil companies involved. The Canary Islands, which voted against NATO integration in the referendum of 1986, could however be further militarized under Africom. A cable leaked by Wikileaks revealed that in 2008 José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero’s socialist government already offered to add “Las Palmas to the list of ports where [the US] can take nuclear powered warships”.

Many people in the Canary Islands are now mobilizing on the Internet and in social media, asking for online signatures against the drilling and demonstrating. They demonstrated in the streets in unprecedented numbers on the 24th March, some days before the 29th March general strike against labour market reforms. They thus join a global fight against the extraction of fossil fuels at all cost, whether they are in the natural reserves of Alaska, in Canada or Latin America. If prospection finally confirms the existence of hydrocarbons and drilling starts in a few years, it will still take a decade for Repsol to reach plateau production. A long struggle has started, one that may substantially modify the political and social landscape of the archipelago, hopefully for the better. We will need support for such a big challenge.

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The debt and the body

Friedrich Nietschze wrote in Genealogy of the morals that in ancient times “the creditor could subject the body of the debtor to all manner of ignominy and torture“. Well, this is what happened in Spain, a dreadful cocktail of debt, forced labour and body torture. Quite symbolic indeed.


Spanish Police Arrest ‘Bar Code Pimps’ Gang

By HAROLD HECKLE Associated Press
MADRID March 24, 2012 (AP)

Spanish police arrested 22 suspected pimps who allegedly used violence to force women into prostitution and tattooed them with bar codes as a sign of ownership, officials said Saturday.

Police are calling the gang the “bar code pimps.” Officers freed one 19-year-old woman who had been beaten, held against her will and tattooed with a bar code and an amount of money — €2,000 ($2,650) — which investigators believe was the debt the gang wished to extort before releasing her.

All those arrested were of Romanian nationality and had forced the women to hand over part of their earnings, the statement said.

The women were tattooed on their wrists if they tried to escape, the statement said. Police also seized guns and ammunition. It was not immediately clear when the raids took place. (to continue, click here)

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