Monday, 29 December 2008

A brief history of Spain in stickers (part 1: the right)

Politics geek that I am, whenever I see an interesting bit of graffiti or a sticker knocking about I take a quick snap with my camera phone, so's I can check it a bit later. Having a handful of these I thought I tell youse all a few brief things about the politics and history of Spain through this random collection of snippits.

First up, snapped on Calle de Goya, in the poshest part of the city, a poster for La Falange. It'd be surprising in most countries to see fascists concentrating their propaganda in the rich parts of town. Not, obviously, in Spain, where a lot of the older fortunes round that way were made off Franco's coat-tails. This lot, so I'm told are the 'official' Falange, the direct descendants of Franco's party of government. The picture, suitably enough for the area, is of Jose Antonio Primo de Rivera, founder of the party, executed by the Republican government in November 1936 (during the Civil War). On the very same road, still prominent (and shiny enough to be being maintained), a plaque adorns the front of a chapel anouncing that this fascist Germanophile was "fallecido por dios y espanya" (killed for God and Spain). This is apparently identical to the thousands that were placed on religious buildings across the country under the Generalisimo. In 1981, Madrid's main thoroughfare (Gran Via) had its original named restored, after 42 years as Avenida Jose Antonio.

The modern day Falange now exists as 3 small squabbling parties, arguing over a legacy. As in other countries, the obsessions of the modern far right have shifted from fear of Bolshevism and International Jewry toward more immediate concerns and La Falange participates on some basis in the broader two year old Frente Nacional, that peppers the same areas of Madrid with obscenely racist anti-immigration posters, such as the one illustrated here. The caption at the top reads 'deduce: who is last?' with an elderly Spanish man pushed to the back by various ethnic caricatures. Concluding with 'if you're Spanish, you (should) always (be) first'.

More weird and not so wonderful things than straight up, old-fashioned, Castilian fascism are to be found when venturing out of Madrid, and wandering round Seville, I found something probably unique in European politics: Carlism. Just when the rest of Europe was beginning to stop arguing about such trite nonsense as which particular line of their unelecting, sponging royalty got to be King, Spain was just getting started on a 19th Century full of revolutions and counter-revolutions aimed at founding Republics, or placing different royal lines on the throne. The hardiest challenger to the 'Alfonsine' line of the House of Bourbon, was Carlism. Carlos, the brother of King Ferdinand VII, was briefly heir to the throne, prior to Ferdinand's death, on grounds of being his closest male heir. He was then stripped of this right when it was decided, instead, that a woman would be able to accede to the throne. What he came to represent though, in a time where Spain veered between liberalism and absolute monarchy was the absolutist of the absolutist, the most interventionist notion of the Spanish throne. Now, you might wonder at this point why anyone gives a shit about this sort of thing in this day and age. After all, I saw this sticker on a electrical box in 2008 Seville. Besides which, the Spanish monarchy are absurdly popular, probably the best-loved royal house in the World.

It goes back I suppose to the great big ideological mess that is Spanish conservatism. Back in the '30s, the ostensibly fascist party in Spain (the aforementioned La Falange) were not that big a force. They did a good line is street fighting with anarchists and socialists, but the major force on the Right in pre-civil war politics was a formation called CEDA, an alliance of traditional conservative groups. It was this sector of society that backed the army in their coup d'etat and came to identify the conservative part of their identity with Franquismo and the crusade against godless Reds. So, even though Franco didn't recognise their monarch (and was fairly ambiguous about the role of the actual monarch), it came to pass that Carlism was the only ideology to really turn-out a mass social movement (Los Requetes) that voluntarily fought for Fascism, mostly landowning small/medium farmers from the Northern region of Navarra, who marched for "Dios, patria, rey" (god, country, king). These days the Comunion Tradicionalista Carlista (not to be confused with the Third Way branch of Carlism that supports national socialism and workers' self-management) pulls between 20-50,000 votes nationwide and spends its time promoting Catholic social doctrine, chiefly through intolerance of gays and abortion. They are currently the only political organisation to recognise Carlos Hugo de Borbon Parma as the rightful King of Spain (he's a university professor who lives in Brussels apparently).

Stay Home

You know the feeling. Every January we all trot dutifully back to work and feel like shit. In fact most of us are already back by December. It's awful, nothing makes you feel quite so drained, and quite so sick of your working life like coming back to it after a period of leisure. You don't return to it refreshed and raring to go, it simply fares unfavourably in the backdrop of all that holiday freedom.

In a matter of weeks we will approach the most depressing day of the year, the 3rd Tuesday in January, by which time we will all have reached the conclusion that 2009, for the most part will be as bad as 2008, dropped or failed in all our New Year's Resolutions and lost any buzz we got out of writing a different number on everything.

So this year I propose we just don't. Sod this bullshit, let's not go back. Just leave the bastards waiting at the gate on January 2nd, thinking, "where have they all gone?" Take another day of festive cheer, and another, then keep taking them. Let's see how long it takes for the World to fall apart without us.

Sunday, 28 December 2008

Our Ridiculous Railways

Travelling anywhere on the trains these days is a massive, expensive ordeal. A return ticket from Ipswich to Manchester (that's about 250 miles if you didn't know) costs me around 100GBP, if I buy on the day. In addition to this it takes forever, is regularly replaced by a coach service (with no compensation offered), often late, and is generally a load of shit. This we all take as red...

But why oh why, on top of all this bullshit, has the industry decided to take on an airfare style approach to pricing? It's a fucking train for God's sake, I don't want to spend hours working out what particular combination of time and place will save me tenner. I don't want to understand the logic that says if I book the train from Ipswich it will cost me one thing, and if I book it further along the line it'll cost me a tenner more. Under what possible logic does it cost me 14GBP if I book from Leeds, but 30GBP from Manchester. And what a fucking faff to get all the way across the pennines to save three quid. And why is it cheaper on the Saturday than the Sunday?

How about this for a piece of logic? Why not have 2 fare variations - off-peak and peak, advance and on-the-day? Then even out the prices so the big fares are less and the tiny fares and normal. HOW FUCKING HARD IS IT!?

Saturday, 27 December 2008

The Road to Nowhere

In the wake of major bombing raids which killed an estimated 200 people in the Gaza Strip, the Hamas leadership declared its determination to continue with their present course of action. Namely, randomly lobbing rockets into Israel.

Now, let's take the current disposition of the Israel State as a given. They want to preserve their little colony, keeping the best land and resources for themselves. They've no problem with perpetual war, because the security industry is one of their major exports. They'll do almost anything within reason to eject the democratically elected Hamas movement from control over the Gaza Strip, having already effected a coup d'etat to put Fatah back in control of the West Bank.

To be honest, Israel doesn't need the pretext of rocket attacks to do what they like in the region, and they've always more or less behaved however they damn well pleased.

But from the perspective of Hamas. Imagine for a moment that they're a serious political movement that sets achievable aims and draws up plans and strategies by which they might make them reality (and not, as many suspect, a murderous death cult that is happy to glorify in martyrdom in perpetuity). So where does the 'randomly hurling rockets over the border' strategy get them? It's not really an inconvenience to the Israeli State, which can stand to lose the odd civilian now and then without collapsing. In fact, it gives them an indefinite excuse to continue the collective punishment of Gaza (not that they need excuses, or wouldn't manufacture other ones if they did, but no need to make it easy for 'em). In fact I don't really see any positive end game, other than giving Hamas the feeling that they're doing something, anything, to defy the oppressor.

I note today that Hamas leaders have been calling for a new intifada. Well, I wonder what was so effective about the first intifada? Might it have been the spectacle of bare footed children hurling stones at tanks? A whole people rising up to defy a system of occupation? What was politically powerful about that moment was that a whole people was taking direct action, protesting, forming a political movement against domination.

The people of Palestine have power as political entities that they certainly don't seem to able to wield as guerrilla warriors, even on the military scraps they get fed by the Iranians and the Syrians. As the siege goes on, I can't help but wonder if the means to ending it lies out of the scope of Hamas' limited vision, toward a more general mobilisation of the Palestinian people...

Thursday, 25 December 2008

bollocks to it!

There's an old joke among anarchists about the Greeks. It runs roughly like this...
2 Greeks anarchists are making a molotov cocktail. One asks the other "so what are we throwing this at then?" To which the the second one, looking confused, replies "what are you, an intellectual?"
Ok, it's about as funny as most old political jokes, but reflects the confrontational habits of our Greek comrades, who are a commendably throw first, ask questions later sort of bunch.

Aside from being more numerous than most European anarchist movements (maybe the Italians and the Spanish could plausibly claim to be stronger), I think there might be other reasons why they've just found themselves at the head of a two week orgy of youth rebellion, mobilising students, workers, unemployed and migrants in a slightly inchoate uprising against well... pretty much anything they've got.

Yes, there's a few thousand of them, with little strongholds dotted about the country, and there's more than a little long term sympathy in Greek society for this sort of tning.

But why now? What's going on? Why are liberal newspapers muttering darkly about everyone else catching 'Greek syndrome'?

There's a po-faced explanation. There's an economic crisis on and obviously people at the margins of the society are becoming more combative, and people with radical messages are finding greater sympathy for their ideas. Economic and social suffering may find itself expressed as violent street protest.

I'm not really convinced by this, well, I might be, but I don't really like it as an explanation. My preferred idea is this...

We've just been through a very long economic boom ... prior to this year, the UK had gone for quite some time with consistent, if moderate growth. And yet, did anyone really feel like we were living through good times? I mean, we were mostly pretty gloomy throughout weren't we? We spent the entire time complaining that society was falling apart (even those on the right) and that everything was getting worse. If you weren't part of the London financial or media elite, you more or less experienced better times as ... (a) real wages that more or less stayed the same (b) pressure on all the public services you depended on (c) steadily increasing costs for everything necessary (d) racking up massive debts (e) doing as you're told forever more with no prospect of anything changing ever.

It's a long time since we've had anything that resembled social hope round here. So for a while we've had 2 things as a substitute - (a) buying stuff and (b) hoping we might get famous or rich or both. It's hard to remember a boom time that had less to offer people in terms of improving our lives. I mean in the early 20th century a boom might mean economic security, temporarily at the beginning, then more or less permanently by the 1960s.

So, here we are afterwards. They've given us the grand sum of fuck all for a decade or so, and now they're telling us (whilst they give lots of money to the perpetrators) for the next few years there'll be a bundle of people out of work, the rest of us will have to put up with "belt-tightening" (ie. being poorer).

Mind you, if you're just entering the world of work, it's worse than this. New jobs these days are fucking shit. They're just a boring as ever, but they're worse paid and less secure. More than ever you're somebody's little bitch for an increasingly large proportion of your life. That is if you happen to have escaped the fate of people in those communities where there is basically fuck all work and has been throughout the boom times. So if you can get a job, it'll be rubbish, and if you can't you probably wouldn't want to anyway.

So what happens when we get to a recession? What's Greek syndrome really? A riot for fairness? For jobs? For prosperity and social justice? Not in my book. I don't think people are demanding a return to fairer capitalism.

Young people are bored of this shit. We're bored of shitty work and shitty unemployment. We're bored of a lifetime of obedience, bureaucracy and tedium. Of every little thing taking a chunk out of us. It's the street protest equivalent of throwing your hands in the air and yelling "FUCK THIS FUCKING BOLLOCKS. IT'S FUCKING SHIT".

And the Greek anarchos are at the forefront of that kind of rage. More so than their more sensible-sounding red and black flag waving cousins. Still, it might start there. But you wait til the Summer!