The power of symbols and the dance of death


The power of symbols is that they come up to enlighten us when we no longer know what to ponder out.

For ten days Paris is mourning her dead, honouring her heroes and licking her wounds. With a question on the lips: “What’s next ?”

In front of the restaurant ‘La Belle Équipe’ nineteen people felt down on Friday 13. Monday they were tens to come to honour them. Many uninjured -or not quite as they try to forget, but the images, they won’t forget at all. Try to sleep when you cannot, reviewing the scenes while horror images permeate the drawers of memory. Nonstop. Lifeless bodies. A “war scene” some said -which some would say is incorrect, but we understand them, we nod, keep silent … and would like to surround them with our arms and comfort them.

Eighty-nine people at the Bataclan. Carnage. First aid and emergency physicians arrive soon, they exhaust all their available pressure dressings in minutes. Outside, relief, support to other victims attacked in the neighbourhoods. The Bataclan area is too dangerous and the organization of the evacuation of the wounded is a daunting task for relief.

And then there are all these orphans since there is a significant number of young parents died.


And then there are those, anonymous or not, who were there at the moment they were needed the most … those who opened their doors to people stuck around the places of the attacks –simple Parisians. But also, and especially, those police officers, firefighters and medical personnel who flocked in a generous impulse, solidarity, more an impulse of humane duty than professional (BRI, RAID, and the military to relieve the police scenario). A duty of humanity, yes, that’s right. They deserve the nation’s gratitude.

But there are also invisible wounds that rescuers, even the most seasoned, are not always prepared to face up: no health professional has seen as many bullet wounds in such a short period of time. But then what’s going to happen ‘after’ –the time of so-called defusing will come: the aid will be extended over time for many survivors, a psychological therapy often provided by the Val-de-Grâce armies service to help all these “collateral” injured to help them evacuate –or learning to live with- images of horror embedded into the retina. It will take time.

All the week out, Paris lived at the rhythm of bomb threats and suspicious packages. Everyone is on guard. With a dose of psychosis, no doubt, but how can you do otherwise?

What not to do after Paris

Paris, my home town, is perhaps the city where I’ve felt most at ease. I’ve never been to Baghdad (where Paris style Islamic State terror events are relatively commonplace); or Beirut, where they just began; or Syria’s ravaged Aleppo (thank you, Bashar al-Assad of barrel bomb terror fame); or Mumbai (which experienced an early version of such a terror attack); or Sana’a, the capital of Yemen, now partly destroyed by the US backed Saudi air force; or Kabul, where Taliban attacks on restaurants have become the norm; or Turkey’s capital, Ankara, where Islamic State suicide bombers recently killed 97 demonstrators at a peace rally. But I have spent time abroad and always came back to Paris. And so, as on November 13, 2015, I find myself particularly repulsed by the barbaric acts of civilian slaughter carried out by three well trained, well organized, well armed suicide teams evidently organized as a first strike force from the hell of the Islamic State (IS) in Syria and Iraq.

Think of the Islamic State –and various Al Qaeda– crews as having developed (to steal a term from John Feffer) “splinter lands” strategies. To continue to grow, they need the United States and its allies to lend them an eternally destructive hand to further smash the worlds around them. So in response to the Paris attacks, French President François Hollande’s statement that “we will lead a war which will be pitiless” was just what the terror doctor ordered, as was the growing pressure in Washington for a “big military response” to Paris. The first French reprisal air strikes against IS’s Syrian “capital,” Raqqa, were indeed launched within two days.

All of this is like manna from heaven for the Islamic State, the more “pitiless” the better. After all, that group’s goal, as they write in their magazine and online, is “the extinction of the grey zones” in our world. In other words, they seek the sharpening of distinctions everywhere, which means the opening of abysses where complexity and interaction once existed. Their dream is to live in a black-and-white world of utter religious and political clarity (and calamity), while engaging in what American pundits like to term a “clash of civilizations.” And—what a joy for the Islamic State!

In the European context and with the destruction of those “grey zones” in mind, the Paris attacks should also be considered the Islamic State’s first incursion into the politics of the 2017 French presidential campaign. Think of those mass killings as an enthusiastic endorsement of the extremist candidate Marine le Pen, whose poll numbers were already on the rise even before the attacks, and her anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant National Front Party. She is now, effectively, IS’s chosen candidate, the one most likely to go after grey zones. In the process, of course, pressure on France’s large, increasingly isolated Muslim population will only increase.

Such attacks are guaranteed to put wind in the already billowing sails of far-right wing parties all across Europe.

If the IMF were a Greek citizen, it would have voted “NO”


If the IMF were a Greek citizen, it would have voted “NO” in this weekend’s referendum.

According to a report prepared prior to capital controls and the banking sector meltdown, any deal that included creditor concessions on fiscal reforms would mean Greece’s debt load would have to be written down, as the country would need at least €60 billion in new financing. It’s not me who says that, just The Financial Times –Britons are realistic.

This should not come as a surprise because long before Greece returned to the spotlight, S&P reported, that by the end of 2015 Greek financing would be at least €43 billion. As for Greece, it appears that suddenly the idyllic image of its recovery in October 2014 was about to be torn to shreds and the Syntagma riot cam will have to come out of hibernation.

In other words, Greece defaulted the second the people started protesting the crushing, and very simple math, and they decided they have had enough of the technocrat and appointed another Prime Minister. Because, you see, it is not that Greece implemented zero reform, and rooted out the pervasive corruption that saw billions in foreign “aid” end up in offshore bank accounts of the political oligarchy, or the simple math of sources and uses of funds: it is the danger of the Greek people returning to what they did best in those days of 2010 and 2011 when every other day saw a riot in the center of Athens, that will be the straw that finally breaks the camel’s back.

And thus we go back to square one, as we always said we would, when only timing was a matter of debate. Well, we now know the timing: T minus 15 months and counting to yet another Eurozone collapse.

Actually the collapse may have come earlier than that: some 6 months.

But back to the IMF’s report which underscores the Fund’s long-standing position that EU creditors will ultimately need to write down their holdings if Greece has any hope of returning to a situation where the country’s debt-to-GDP ratio is “sustainable,” and suggests Syriza is indeed making a smart move by holding out.

  • IMF ASSUMES GREEK GDP GROWTH OF 0% IN 2015, 2% IN 2016 AND 3% IN 2017

What this means is that the Troika “joint” position just fractured, and the Greek demands for more debt writedowns, so vociferously rejected by the Eurogroup, were actually valid.

The report was drafted before the shutdown of the Greek banking sector and is dated June 26. Although the report has “not been approved (by the) IMF’s Executive Board” it concludes that Greece has “substantial financing needs” which would render the debt dynamics unsustainable.

The report argued that any agreement for a softer reforms package such as lower primary surpluses, weaker structural reforms or lower than expected privatization revenues would make the haircuts on the debt “necessary.”

“Using the thresholds agreed in November 2012, a haircut that yields a reduction in debt of over 30% of GDP would be required to meet the November 2012 debt targets,” it added.

And the punchline from the IMF’s report (attached below), which just pushed the Oxi vote to win on Sunday (and why stocks are suddenly swooning following this report):

Even with concessional financing through 2018, debt would remain very high for decades and highly vulnerable to shocks. Assuming official (concessional) financing through end–2018, the debt-to-GDP ratio is projected at about 150 per cent in 2020, and close to 140 per cent in 2022 (see Figure 4ii). Using the thresholds agreed in November 2012, a haircut that yields a reduction in debt of over 30 per cent of GDP would be required to meet the November 2012 debt targets. With debt remaining very high, any further deterioration in growth rates or in the medium term primary surplus relative to the revised baseline scenario discussed here would result in significant increases in debt and gross financing needs (see robustness tests in the next section below).”

This points to the high vulnerability of the debt dynamics.

It gets better:

“A lower medium-term primary surplus of 2.5  percent of GDP and lower real GDP growth of 1 percent per year would require not only concessional financing with fixed interest rates through 2020 to cover gaps as well as doubling of grace and maturities on existing debt but also a significant haircut of debt, for instance, full write-off of the stock outstanding in the GLF facility (€53.1 billion) or any other similar operation. The debt-to-GDP ratio would decline immediately, but “flattens” afterwards amid low economic growth and reduced primary surpluses. The stock and flow treatment, nevertheless, are able to bring the GFN-to-GDP trajectory back to safe ranges for the next three decades” (Figure 8)

Well, yes. As we can’t tire of showing:

Also recall that in 2011, Citi estimated that if Athens waited until 2015, a haircut of 94% would be necessary to bring the debt-to-GDP ratio down to 60%:

What happens next? All the other “peripheral” nations – Spain, Italy, Portugal, show up at the IMF’s door and ask if their debt, shown below, is also now deemed unsustainable.

Full IMF report here.

24 hours to stand with Paris

Hundreds of thousands will march through the streets of Paris tomorrow to support the beautiful French values of equality, fraternity and liberty – and we can be there with them.


The entire world will be watching what happens as people take to the streets in response to the brutal murders of 17 people on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. Counter protests are planned, Europe’s far-right is mobilising throughout France, and two Muslim places of worship have already been attacked. This is just what the gunmen wanted: division and fear.

But tomorrow we can show them that citizens everywhere also support the values the journalists, staff and policeman died for.

On Sunday, marchers will be joined by French President Hollande, Germany’s Angela Merkel, the UK’s David Cameron, Spain’s Mariano Rajoy, and many others. But this isn’t just a moment for France or even just Europe. This is one of those moments when those of us who stand for tolerance and freedom of expression everywhere can raise our hands, our pens and our voices. Because the effects of violence like this ripples out, and threaten all of our freedoms.

Many of us found the cartoons in Charlie Hebdo offensive, racist and purposely infammatory. Along with the Prophet Mohammed, they targeted immigrants, nuns, the pope, Jews and more. But free speech is easy to support until we’re asked to stand for the speech we don’t like. We can help define the message this attack sends to the world’s reporters, editors, and publishers. And to those who would like to see them silenced.

We can’t all be in Paris on Sunday. But we can stand in solidarity with those in the streets, joining to them where marches are called: it means an important message of global unity at a time when it is so desperately needed.

What happens after these attacks will affect all of us. The world will be choosing between a crackdown and anger or unity in the face of fear. This is our chance to respond with a clear call for hope and cooperation, for liberty, equality and fraternity.

With sadness, but also so much hope and determination.


The Attack on Charlie Hebdo (The New Yorker)

Charlie Hebdo Editor Killed in Paris (TIME)

People Around the World Are Pouring Into the Streets to Support Charlie Hebdo After the Paris Massacre (Mother Jones)

No, we are NOT all Charlie (and that’s a problem) (openDemocracy)

America is a long game

The problem was always bigger than any one particular case, trial or lack thereof. If Darren Wilson had been indicted, the larger problem would not have been all fixed. And the fact that he wasn’t indicted isn’t going to stop the process of political awakening by which millions of Americans are standing up at last to the institutionalized racism, police brutality, militarization of police forces and incarceration-for-profit that has black men feeling too often at a disadvantage should they wish to … oh, I don’t know…walk down the street.

The President Obama asked protesters of the Ferguson decision to be peaceful and non-violent, which is understandable. But a system that incarcerates on average one out of every three African-American men, keeps 500,000 non-violent drug offenders locked up, and has the largest mass incarceration rate in the world, has a lot of nerve telling those who complain about this to be peaceful and non-violent. The system itself is laced with violence. The polite kind.

The Michael Brown grand jury decision is a shock to all, but should be a surprise to no one. The American criminal justice system gets it right sometimes and gets it wrong sometimes. But when it comes to African American men, the statistical trend towards getting it wrong is wrong in itself. And this must stop.

The American experiment has never been perfect; it’s a process. It is as perfect or as imperfect as the people who foster and protect it in each generation. The US is a country that’s gotten it wrong many times before, but it’s a country that over time does tend to make things right. America, quite simply, is a long game. And now, for the current generation, the challenge is clear. Hope they won’t be the first generation to wimp out on the job of making right in America a thing that’s so clearly wrong.

Darren Wilson will not stand trial, but the American criminal justice system absolutely must. The jury is the American people and the trial has only just begun. May justice be done, in this and all things. And may it be done through us.

G8 Summit: an unsightly family picture

>> Haga clic aquí para la versión en castellano

Relaxed, smiling, senior representatives from Japan, Russia, United Kingdom, United States, France, Canada and Italy, seven tieless men and one woman (Angela Merkel), accompanied at the ends, by the Presidents of the Commission and the European Union greet the public at the end of the of the G-8 summit in Northern Ireland.

Wish you were here: the G8 leaders at Lough Erne © The Guardian

Wish you were here: the G8 leaders at Lough Erne © The Guardian

Why do make fun the attendees of this ersatz, this inefficient and pretentious group of international multilateralism? After so many nonsense and crises they provoked they could be more circumspect when snapped. As a minimum.

Then it would be worthy to put the brakes on fanatic liberalism without further delay, to leave as soon as possible that shameful « invention » of the Reagan-Thatcher era. And start diligently rebuilding the United Nations authority provided with appropriate means (personal, financial and technical).

As always, the result of the meeting is a sum of platitudes and purposes that repeatedly let us down: powers « agree to fight tax evasion by strengthening EU proposals relating to tax havens and condemn the undiscriminating austerity » Remember when in 2008 G8 spoke of « rescue » at that auspicious times provoked by the « surprise » of financial crisis, and they solemnly promised regulation of financial flows and purging of tax havens. They are presently more satisfied than ever.

Moreover, all measures are listed in a conditional way as simple recommendation: « Countries should … multinationals should … (…) The restoration of financial stability needs to go hand in hand …fiscal policy should … »

Should … should … should …

How can 6, 7, 8 or 20 countries pretend running a world of 196 states? They did a good job: weakening the nation-state, transferring economic and political power to large financial institutions and speculative supranational consortia, sidelining the UN and its agencies, replacing ethical values ​​by the law of market.

Maybe their smiles indicate that « we are in command still enough. » as the United Nations were born to support – « We the people … » – the design and construction of a better world. And the G7, G8, etc. originated with large hegemonic ambitions to continue to strengthen their members’ prosperity and power.

If the G8 had little time, if this was its farewell…

How nice it would be if it was…

The political economy of networks


Networked forms of the 1960s/70s were distinctive because essential to their origin, character and sustainability were values of solidarity, equality and democracy. Consciousness of these origins could help us now, when networked organizations are everywhere, to distinguish between the instrumental use of the concept of network in essentially undemocratic organizations (i.e. within states and corporations) and, on the other hand, as a way of connecting distributed activities based on shared values of social justice and democratically agreed norms.


The latter possibility is radically enhanced through the new information and communications technology in its non-proprietorial forms. The new possibilities of systems coordinating a multiplicity of autonomous organizations with shared values, through democratically agreed norms or protocol, can help upscale economic organizations based on non-capitalist – collaborative, P2P (peer to peer organizations such as The Pirate Bay) co-operative or other social and democratic – forms of ownership, production, distribution and finance.

What enables us to make this apparently surprising dive from the forms of organization shaped by the consciousness-raising groups of the women’s movement (or indeed other civil society initiatives of the same period, such as the factory shop stewards’ committees combining against multi-plant, multinational corporations and developing alternative plans for socially useful production is the importance they give to practical, experiential knowledge and the need to share and socialize it.

The political economy of knowledge

The reason why this is important for the development of a political economy beyond capitalism is that behind the imposed choice between capitalist market and the state is the polarization between scientific, social and economic knowledge on the one hand and practical knowledge on the other. While the former was regarded as the heart of economic planning and centralized through the state, defenders of the free market sustained the latter as being held individually by the entrepreneur, capable of coordination only through the arbitrary workings of the market, based on private ownership. The relevant step forward of the women’s and other movements of the 1960s/70s was to make the sharing and socializing of experiential knowledge – in combination with scientific forms – fundamental to their focused, but always experimental, organizations. And to do so through consciously coordinated (networked) and self-reflexive relations between autonomous (distributed) initiatives.

Translating this into economics in the age of information and communications technology – a project requiring much further work – points to the possibility of forms of co-ordination that can include and help to regulate a non-capitalist market. A regulated, socialized market, that is, in which the drive to accumulate and make money out of money is effectively inhibited. It also provides a base for democratizing and, where appropriate, decentralizing the state, within the context of democratically agreed social goals (such as concerning equality and ecology).

It is over these issues concerning the sharing of knowledge and information and the implications for the relationship between autonomy and social co-ordination that the ideas coming from the Occupy movement can creatively converge with those of earlier movements. It is interesting in this context to read the economics working group of Occupy London describing in the Financial Times how Frederick von Hayek, the Austrian economist and theorist of free-market capitalism, with his ideas on the significance of distributed knowledge, is the talk of Occupy London. No doubt this was partly a rhetorical device for the FT audience. But the challenge of answering Hayek and his justification of the free market on the basis of a theory of distributed practical and/or experiential knowledge does provide a useful way of clarifying for ourselves the importance of the networked social justice initiatives of today and the anti-authoritarian social movements of the past for an alternative political economy. (
There is a point at which Hayek’s critique of the ‘all knowing state’ at first glance converges with the critique of the social democratic state made by the libertarian-social movement left in the 1960s/70s. Both challenge the notion of scientific knowledge as the only basis for economic organization and both emphasize the importance of practical and experiential knowledge and its ‘distributed’ character. But when it comes to understanding the nature of this practical knowledge and hence its relation to forms of economic organization, these perspectives diverge radically.

Whereas Hayek theorizes this practical knowledge as inherently individual and hence points to the arbitrary, unplanned and unplannable workings of the market and the price mechanism, the radicals of the 1960s/70s took, as we have just explained, a very different view. For them, the sharing of knowledge embedded in experience and collaboration to create a common understanding and self-consciousness of their subordination and of how to resist, was fundamental to the process of becoming a movement. In contrast to the individualism of Hayek, their ways of organizing assumed that practical knowledge could be socialized and shared. This led to ways of organizing that emphasized communication and shared values as a basis for co-ordination and a common direction. It provided the basis for purposeful and therefore more or less plannable action – action that was always experimental, never all-knowing; the product of distributed intelligence that could be consciously shared.

At the risk of being somewhat schematic, it could be argued that the movements of the 1960s/70s applied these ideas especially to develop an unfinished vision of democratizing the state. This took place both through attempts to create democratic, participatory ways of administering public institutions (universities and schools, for example) and through the development of non-state sources of democratic power (women’s centers, police monitoring projects and so on). It involved working ‘with/in and against’ the state, such as in the early 1980s when Madrid was handled by Enrique Tierno Galvan and the Greater London Council was led by Ken Livingstone.

Today’s movements are effectively focusing their energies especially on challenging the oligarchic market, and the injustice of corporate, financial power. Here the development of networked forms are increasingly linked to distributed economic initiatives – co-ops, credit unions, open software networks, collaborative cultural projects and so on. In this way, today’s movements are beginning to develop in practice a vision of socializing production and finance and creating an alternative kind of market, complementary to the earlier unfinished vision of democratic public power.

What they have in common, more in practice than in theory, is an assertion of organized democratic civil society as an economic actor, both in the provision of public goods and in the sphere of market exchange.

From social rebellion to transformation


As we become increasingly dominated by the pursuit of economic growth, what campaigners can learn us from #occupy as well as previous radical movements in our attempt to forge a new kind of political economy based on a framework of equality, mutuality and respect for nature.

occupy-everything2The philosophy and experience of radical movements in the 1960s and 70s are complementary to the ideas of the direct action movements today. It is here to examine the possibility of forging a new kind of political economy by assimilating the best of both of them.

The Occupy movement’s ability to create platforms out of our closed political system to force open a debate on inequality, the taboo at the core of the financial crisis, is impressive. It is a new source of political creativity from which we all have much to learn.

One cannot fail to be impressed by the similarities between the late 1960s and 1970s and the current movement. There are both within the same strong feeling of power “from below” that comes from the dependence of the powerful on those they dominate or exploit. There’s the creative combination of personal and collective change, and proper rapport between resistance and experiments in creating alternatives here and now. There’s the repulse of hierarchies and the creation of organizations that are today described as ‘horizontal’ or ‘networked’ – and that now with the new technology tools for networking (Twitter, Facebook …) have both more potential –but it should also lend to greater distortion…

Here come back the same old problems: informal and unaccountable leaderships, tensions between inclusion and effectiveness. The Tyranny of Structurelessness, a strong assay of American feminist Jo Freeman inspired by her experiences in the 1970s in favor of the liberation of women and addressing, in particular, those unforeseen difficulties from the perspective of the movement women’s liberation, may be well read.

But that was 40 years ago – even before the widespread use of faxes, not to mention personal computers and mobile phones. Reflecting on these marginalized earlier movements possibly take forward the debates opened by Occupy and the Indignados.

From social rebellion to capitalist transformation

The fate of the energies and aspirations of that rebellious decade is a long and complex cluster of stories. Considering their relevance today, I want only to point to a historical process that was not generally anticipated at the time and still is not fully understood today. This was the ability of capitalism, which sought a way out of its stagnation and crisis, to feed opportunistically on the chaotic creativity and experimental culture-restless of the movements of the 1960s and 1970s.

For example, in the 80s while attacking unions, corporate management was also dismantling the military-style hierarchies characteristic of many leading companies and decentralizing the production process. A new generation of managers, especially in the innovative industries, assumed that more tacit knowledge by workers would infer a valuable source of increased productivity and higher profits – as long as workers have little or no power on their real redistribution.

Another prime example is how, in the endless pursuit of new markets, marketing experts were able to identify and anticipate business opportunities in the broad perspective and wants of a growing number of women with own income.

The key underlying feature of these and similar trends is that much of the innovative nature of capitalism’s renewal in the 1980s and 1990s – strengthened by the credit expansion– came from external sources to both the society and the state. In fact, frequently its origins lay in the resistance and the search for alternatives to both.

In other words, capital proved very much more agile in responding and appropriating the new energies and aspirations stimulated by the critical movements of the 1960s and 1970s than did the parties of the left – for which these movements could have been a force for democratic renewal.


Now, with the credit that supported the social turmoil of this particular period of capitalism having become toxic, the search for alternatives is back again. Even the Financial Times, much to our astonishment, insisted in a series of articles on the crisis of capitalism to conclude that “at the heart of the problem is widening inequality”.

Are we witnessing in the combination – not necessarily convergence – of unease within at least the cultural elites, the growth of sustained popular resistance and public unhappiness, the emergence of what Karl Polanyi called a ‘counter-movement’ to the socially destructive consequences of rampant capitalism? And to what extent might the ideas of the movements of the 1960s and 1970s influence the character of that counter-movement?

A fundamental break

To answer this we need briefly to remind ourselves of the essential nature of the original social critique driven up by the 1960s/70s movements and in particular the nature of its potential break with the institutions of the post-war order: their paternalism, their exclusions, their narrow definition of democracy and the assumption that production and technology were neutral values.

Essential to the character of this assessment was its aspiration, more in practice than in theory, to overcome the deleterious dichotomies of the Cold War between the individual and the collective/social; freedom and solidarity/equality; ‘free’ market versus ‘command’ state – dichotomies that were refrozen through neoliberalism and the conditions in which the Berlin Wall fell.

The ideas and practices of the feminist’s movement are particularly explanatory. This movement arose partly from the gender-blind inconsistencies and from unfulfilled promises of radical movements of the time. It deepened and extended their transformation, adding ideas emerging from women’s specific experiences of breaking out of their subordination.

Especially important here was an emphasis on the individual as social and the collective as based on relationship between individuals: a social individualism and a relational view of society and social change. After all, the momentum of the women’s liberation movement was encouraged both by women’s desire to develop as individuals and their determination to end the social relationships that blocked these possibilities of progress. This required social solidarity: an organized movement.

The nature of its organization was shaped by a constant attempt to create organizational forms that combined freedom and autonomy – what every man struggles for– with solidarity, mutuality and values of equality. The result – cutting a complex and tense story short – was ways of relating that allowed autonomy, coordination and mutual support, without having to go through a single center. It’s what might be called an early solution, pre-ICT (*), a form of network organization.


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