1. On Lucrative Horrors and Combative Identities

On Lucrative Horrors and Combative Identities – Miguel Amorós

Economic growth provokes such devastation that modern capitalist society is characterized more by what it destroys than by what it creates.

None of its achievements can compare with the destruction caused by its necessities. This means something quite obvious, that is, that the thirst for profits that leads the productive system, and ultimately the way of life that it entails, results in an avalanche of harm for the population, from health risks (pollution is responsible for one fourth of all illnesses) to environmental destruction.

This devastation has reached such heights that the contrast between private interests and public harm has become clear to even the most dull-witted elements. This is when the centers of power speak of the environmental or territorial conflict, of the culture of refusal or of interactive government. Labor problems have long since ceased to be the main concern of our rulers, as is demonstrated by the fact that more than 40% of the workers earn less than 1,000 euros a month, and this is due to the fact that, under the threat of precariousness and exclusion, the mechanisms of control and integration function perfectly. This is not the case in other domains, since the failure of political environmentalism allowed the social question, which had been expelled from the urban neighborhoods and factories, to reemerge in the misnamed environmental struggles, and particularly in the defense of territory, without the moderating influence and dispersion of “participatory democracy”.

Nonetheless, this emergency has not been so overwhelming that it has produced a phenomenon of generalized consciousness, and the struggles still have a long way to go.

It is therefore not the danger of a social movement born from the defense of the territory that has sowed such anxiety among our leaders, but the fact that developmentalism, based primarily on real estate speculation, has unleashed a financial crisis from which they expect to extricate themselves by way of a new paradigm: the “green” economy, or “sustainable” development.

Developmentalist “sustainability”, however, requires a degree of popular collaboration that in other times was not judged to be necessary by the arbitrary regime that ruled in the past. Thus, if the advocates of a way of life that is respectful of nature always clashed with the paternalistic and authoritarian ways of the government, since the latter had inherited the technical personnel, the programs and the procedures of the dictatorial past, and above all, because the plans of the developers and financiers whom it served did not permit any obstacles, now that the impact of the real estate bubble, climate change, the hole in the ozone layer and a foreseeable shortage of fossil fuels has launched a new “green” cycle with an expectation of vast profits, a more dialogue-centered modus operandi is apparently in order. Hence the relative attention given to local groups and civil society coalitions, especially the more moderate and accommodating ones. The interests of the ruling class are now less oriented towards “seashores” and golf courses than to renewable energy, hybrid vehicles, recycling and environmentally-friendly architecture, but since the construction of gigantic infrastructure projects, GMO farming and environmental destruction will continue, the deactivation of the inevitable protests makes it unavoidable to deal with the protestors.

Thus, at least according to what the leaders who are most attentive to the new interests of economic domination say, the language of order has changed its vocabulary because it no longer has to deny the existence of conflicts, but to accept them as something that cannot be avoided and that must be managed; as a result, those who protest against devastation and waste are no longer stigmatized as egoists, subversives and enemies of progress. For this new brand of leader, territorial struggles are unavoidable, but easy to deal with by way of the right techniques of participation and consultation, that is, by way of “participatory democracy”, something that many of those involved once demanded, which does not prevent the authorities from imposing a policy of “zero tolerance” against conflicts that cannot be recuperated, such as, for example, the struggle against the TAV in Euskal Herria.

In view of the “crisis of confidence” in institutions and parties, a reflection of the extreme incompatibility between globalized capitalism and bourgeois democratic forms—as is demonstrated, for example, by unilateral communication, the suppression of public space and the increasing prevalence of emergency laws—the “anti-system” enemies of yesterday have to be turned into the collaborators of today. The punitive arsenal contained in the legal codes of “democracy” does not contradict this seeming decriminalization of protest; it rather serves as a disciplinary reserve against any possible excesses, providing a legal cover for repression when civility does not work. The necessities of control have multiplied now that the downtown districts of the cities have been transformed into sites that are exclusively devoted to consumption, a process that is intended to embrace the totality of the territory. The new regime can continue to call itself democratic while it legally establishes a discreet state of emergency that facilitates the repression of not only political dissidents, but also of entire sectors of the population who might refuse to be integrated as obedient consumers in the economic system and will not put up with its depredations. The same need for pacification and making the territory profitable that caused its defenders to be treated as agitators, criminals and marginals, when capital exercised its rights of conquest, leads these same elements to be treated with kid gloves when it is a matter of establishing the environmental and social cost of the territory-commodity. This change of policy is a consequence of the change that has affected capitalist interests in the stage that corresponds with the artificialization and consumption of the territory, that of the constitution of the territory-business. The leaders seek out the support of the most backward and least combative sectors that have emerged in the struggle, a struggle which is still underdeveloped, and therefore not sufficiently conscious of the absolute incompatibility of its goals with those of capital. And how is this going to be accomplished? The same way as always, first, by attracting to the negotiating commissions a handful of representatives separated from the horizontal structures established at the beginning of the struggles, in such a way that these structures lose control over their delegates and as a result, lose control of the struggles themselves. Second, by isolating and ruthlessly repressing the dedicated opposition. Dealing with power corrupts, and the authorities are very well aware of this.

Their occupation is the oldest one in the world. In order to liquidate the struggle against development and in defense of the territory and to integrate the affected residents in the green management of the catastrophe, their alleged representatives have to proceed along that shameful road that in times past was trodden by the trade union leaders. If in the past it was labor, today it is residence that is the basic form taken by exploitation, and therefore the one that best defines proletarianization. The proletarian is an inhabitant who must be constantly reeducated in consumption and seduced with participation. And as recent history teaches us so well, in the suburbs of Paris, in Genoa, Athens, Berlin or Barcelona, when seduction does not work because the autonomy of the political sphere is impossible under globalization and its effects are pure illusion, those who exclaim like the boy in the fairy tale that the emperor has no clothes, refusing to be corrupted in collaboration with capital and the state, are dealt with by means of merciless war. There are more than enough laws for this purpose.

Formal bourgeois democracy was based on the formulation of a public interest on the part of political mediators, a public interest to which they subordinated private interests, which in relation to the territory took the form of regional planning, from which lasting laws and regulations were deduced that were applied in the name of the public interest. Another turn of the capitalist screw, developmentalism, profoundly modified this system. Consumerist individualization shattered the authority principle, the disciplinary structures of society like the family, the school and the church were undermined and political paternalism was rendered ineffective, leaving no other recourse for the powers that be other than the police, the courts and the prisons. From then on, decision-making became more of a technical matter, dependent on experts, and was financed by private capital, something that favored the rule of business interests in public affairs, whose increasing influence made the very idea itself of the common interest disappear, thus completely discrediting politics. The new form of territorial management, increasingly determined by private interests, mainly those of the real estate developers and green capitalism, could not be confined by the norms of a general plan. Laws and planning initiatives therefore were increasingly characterized by a generally emergency or exceptional nature: they were revised, planning was carried out in stages, emergency plans were implemented, there were “multi-functional responses” and “special projects”, etc. It was a sort of a-la-carte planning, compatible with each private interest, which rendered previous measures inoperative when it was considered that they were harmful to private interests; a kind of planning that sought immediate economic results, squeezing the maximum profits from the entire territory. This rather abrupt change of course, which took place over only a period of two decades, seriously harmed the really existing collective interests and unleashed conflicts everywhere.

Since resistance to the devastation thus caused could not be stopped exclusively with repression, the new “managers” of the territory were compelled to change their tactics. Thus, the penal state gave birth to “participatory democracy”. The modernist leaders assumed the task of making the common interest disappear because the application of the prevailing regulatory regime was prejudicial to the private interests that they represented, and as a result the common interest had to be suspended or done away with, but this conferred legitimacy on the conflict just as it deprived them of legitimacy. Thus, instead of trying to impose, in the name of the common interest that they were supposed to represent by virtue of their electoral mandate, they had to first come to grips with the conflict, and then negotiate case by case with ad hoc interlocutors who volunteered to perform this task. These negotiations concluded not with the establishment of a new legal framework or regulatory regime, but with something like the signing of a contract. This kind of participation, concerning which it was made quite clear that it was not a substitute for “representative democracy”, that is, for the parliamentary bureaucratic party system, was nothing but the necessary complement to a political-administrative apparatus that was neither capable of stopping the destruction of the territory, which was required by economic growth, nor was it capable of achieving consensus in the name of the common good, since its very mode of functioning made such a common good impossible to formulate. This territorial participation or “governance”, by fixing the “democratic limits” of the conflict, also established the tasks of repression by delineating the terrain upon which it could be exercised. Thus, far from implementing any kind of democratization, no matter how mild it might have been, which would have implied the recovery of the public space, where discussions are held and decisions are collectively made, just the opposite took place, as was confirmed by the increasingly draconian and punitive nature of legislation and the practical outlawing of demonstrations, assemblies, public debate, and any objective information.

Unfortunately for the ruling class, building bridges is not as easy as signing mortgages. The good intentions expressed by the authorities for the future were not enough to deactivate the territorial conflict, since the causes that brought it about were still very much present. We are not on a new stage; at most, capitalism is preparing a new stage, but not ex novo; it must rely on the old productive activities. The new interests have not come to abolish the old ones, but to prolong and extend their rule. The authorities thus are not attempting to amend the horrors of the old productive system, which have fundamentally not changed, and as a result they are even less capable of containing the immense deployment of penal measures as well as the construction of prisons and internment camps; what they are trying to do is to make these horrors compatible with the new orientation of domination.

So it is not a matter of putting an end to the classical model of developmentalism, based on the fusion of private economic interests, political interests and administrative interests, a model that has been responsible for so many atrocities, but of bringing this model up-to-date, of “rearticulating” it thanks to a state-managed ecological restructuring of the economy.

This miraculous reconversion does not annul the preceding degradation, putting an end to uncontrolled urbanism and the destruction of the territory, that is, putting an end to gigantic transport infrastructure projects, nuclear power plants and coal and oil burning power plants, dams and water diversion projects, incinerators and toxic waste dumps, sports complexes and ski resorts, the construction of electric MAT lines or new prisons…. What is taking place is precisely the opposite; capitalist environmentalism and its “participatory” pseudo-democracy are attempting to preserve this degradation—it must not be forgotten that this is the only mode of accumulation that capital currently possesses—while merely whitewashing its image. The opening of new markets is at stake: that of greenhouse gas emissions, that of oceanic waste dumps, that of sewage, that of environmentally-friendly cars, ecological construction, organic food, rural tourism, renewables, alternative punishment, etc. Private wealth now requires a new developmentalism—“a new productive model”—a new politics, a new language, a more sophisticated repressive apparatus, and, to top it all off, another type of programmed horror, but this time based on the regulation of the financial markets, new technologies of industrial ecology, huge investments and the reeducation of the masses with regard to technological innovations and a new kind of consumerism. These tasks are beyond the capacity of the market; they require measures that only the state is capable of implementing.

As was the case with fascism, the authoritarian state is erected as a remedy for disturbances that are inherent to capitalism. The fact that the interests that determined our lives in the past are the same ones that are still doing so today, is a banality that is extremely obvious with respect to the question of the territory.

The purpose of the series of laws regulating land use and urban development was their total commodification, which not only gave a carte blanche to the unlimited expansion of the conurbations and the culmination of the disaster engulfing the coastal regions, but also to the diffuse urbanization of natural and rural spaces, now within the reach of the urban hordes thanks to generalized motorization. In barely two decades the peninsular territory was completely banalized, and any uniqueness annihilated, whether by its pure and simple degeneration under a layer of asphalt or concrete, or else by its transformation into an environmental commodity. The collapse of the mortgage market put an end to a lucrative business that also acted as the main driving force of the economy, but today the private developers are still planning development in the metropolitan areas and nearby regions and regulating land use. Thus, with the change of course announced by the bankruptcy of neoliberal policies and the financial crisis, new laws and new plans are or will be born affecting neighborhoods, the countryside, natural hazards, geographical information, the coastal zones, infrastructures of all types, etc., that herald a different kind of planning and establish new conditions for the real estate market and green recreation. Business is not interrupted, but is shifted from new construction to rehabilitation, isolating buildings and landscape management, while the culture of the motor vehicle is furthered somewhat by the development of bio-fuels or electric cars. The difference between this new situation and the old one lies in the fact that in this new cycle of capital accumulation the state plays the main role. All decisions, from the renovation of parking lots to the return of nuclear energy, from the introduction of new GMOs into the diet of the population to the planned routes for the high-speed train, now require “the state’s approval”, and, as a corollary, new laws and stipulations that will regulate compliance.

The adoption of the ecological lexicon on the part of businessmen is a logical accompaniment of this process, because now the language of ecology is the language of politics and therefore the idiom of business. Soon it will also be the language of pedagogy and jurisprudence.

Words, however, cannot conceal reality. As we have already noted, the old vandalistic projects will continue without respite their destructive task shoulder to shoulder with the new ones, but this task will now be self-defined as “green”. The ruling interests are still those of the ruling class, although they are now legitimated as affairs of state and as protectors of the environment; behind the AVE, the MAT lines, the dams and highways proposed by the PEIT or the plans for private self-financing highways, there are powerful business and financial interests, the same ones that are now promoting ethanol distilleries, desalination plants and solar electric generation complexes. Under the rules of neo-liberalism, politics was nothing but another private business; according to the new rules, business is pure politics. The new paradigm does not repeal the previous one but preserves it with a facelift; as a result, as we have pointed out, the old horrors will be joined by the new ones and finally, under the attentive gaze of the agents of order, with state guidance and the commitment of the “citizenry”, we shall have aberrations of every kind. The participation of “civil society” will not change this reality in any way, since under the present conditions it is a simple aspect of business and its function is nothing but demobilization. Someone might gain access to the world of offices and officials and think that he is “refounding” a more just and democratic system, when in reality he is just adding his grain of sand to a “society of control”, as the sorcerer’s apprentices who have read Foucault would say. In an effectively authoritarian regime, democracy is only a moment of repression.

More often than they did two decades ago, the defenders of the territory, even those who confine themselves to “civil” protest, that is, protest that is symbolic and ineffective, speak of an alternative model of territorial planning, based on the reduction of access to the private vehicle and the development of public transport, on a proposal to reestablish the equilibrium of the city and the countryside, on “responsible” consumption and on a “new culture of the territory”. These proposals are as intriguing as they are empty, since what they seek is an impossible formula of a compromise between the preservation of the territory and metropolitan expansion, or, what amounts to the same thing, the globalized economy. No conservationist legislation, or state subsidy, or even any political coalition, will be capable of guaranteeing territorial integrity while at the same time keeping the territory in the market, or, to put it another way, no capitalism can function generally without having the entire territory at its disposal. There is not enough room between corporate leaders (including politicians) and the defense of the territory for dialogue, since their respective interests are diametrically opposed: if there is profit to be made, it can only be at the expense of the territory; if there is any benefit to the territory, it is only to the detriment of capitalist profits. And such an irreconcilable opposition of interests can only give rise to conflict. Thus, the defenders of the territory must face it: they must not engage in dialogue, but in battle. They do not have to choose between words and deeds, but between defense and attack. The struggles are and will be local, but the combatants are not just confronting small-time local speculators or the venal politicians of their hometowns.

Once the territorial conflict becomes generalized, the lobbies of the highway construction companies, agribusiness, distribution, recreation and oil and gas industries will become active, well protected by the state. As its proposals bear fruit, the defense of the territory—of traditional gardens, forests, free spaces, rivers, animals, ancestral occupations and knowledge, its customs, traditions and history, etc.—with its anti-authoritarian practices will reveal both an irremediable institutional rupture as well as the incompatibility of life that is rooted and free of pressures with economic globalization. For the monstrous conurbations and the disappearance of the rural world are the consequences of economic globalization, and industrial GMO agriculture is the adequate means to feed such offspring. The same thing can be said of the reservoirs, power plants, highways, mega-ports, airports and high-speed trains: these are the structures that best correspond with the supply of water and energy or with the mobility of people and the circulation of commodities that are usually supplied to the metropolitan areas. It is entirely obvious that territorial equilibrium, its recomposition from its fragments, will never be achieved except by the dismantling of the productive apparatus, de-urbanization and the abolition of the state, authentically titanic historical tasks, which must orient the anti-developmentalist struggle and the defense of the territory and exceed by far any kind of “transversal management”, such as is being called for by creative leaders and their civil society coalition accomplices.

We are facing a confrontation between the metropolis and the territory that it is attempting to colonize, and by an irony of history, the cause of freedom, reason and desire has abandoned the cities, or more precisely, what were once cities, in order to take refuge in the countryside, or what was once the countryside, and to wage from there, with the nihilist crowd of the excluded in the suburbs, the counterattack against the anti-historical forces based in the conurbations. Far from the shopping malls, and therefore far from the commodification of life and the nationalization of existence, time and place recover some meaning and allow individuals to recover their memory and cooperate against capitalist irrationality, constructing, if it transcends the civil society platform horizon, a new identity of the exploited rooted in the territory, and therefore in their concrete condition as residents, rather than in the abstract condition of citizens. This identity does not have to aspire to contribute a more regulated framework to the housing and real estate market, but abolish all commodity relations; nor will it attempt to complement the technocratic regime that likes to call itself a “democracy” when it is nothing but a disguised totalitarianism, but rather to replace it with a real democracy of the base, horizontal, direct, and characterized by self-management. It will not be rallying point for a new kind of nationalism, but the emblem of a universal will for freedom.

Miguel Amorós

Text compiled from notes for talks given on May 9, 2009 at the Ateneo Libertario of Sabadell and on May 21, 2009 at the Ateneu Llibertari of Casc Antic (Barcelona). Published as a pamphlet by Desorden (Valencia).