“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.
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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.
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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.