Disenchantment – Argelaga

Disenchantment – Argelaga

An essay on political corruption in Spain published in May 2015, its impunity, its roots in the “partiocracy” that emerged from the “Transition”, its penetration of the Judiciary, and the resulting disenchantment of the population—awakened from its apathy regarding such chicanery now that the economic boom that accompanied the construction of the new Spanish State-form has come to an end—which has led to attempts by political opportunists to rehabilitate the party system by forming new, vaguely progressive “civil society” parties and regional separatist movements, rather than recognizing that “corruption is not the exception, but is inscribed in the very nature of the system”.

Disenchantment - Argelaga

What is democracy? Democracy is theft: that is how a modern-day Proudhon would respond, to judge by the enormous quantities of public money flowing into the coffers of well-connected individuals, or those closely linked with the political parties, after this money has been “allocated” and delivered to fake foundations or just handed over directly to its political beneficiaries in envelopes or briefcases. The regime’s apologists and, more generally, those who benefit from it in one way or another or are merely trying to justify their privileges, have said over and over again in every possible way that democracy is the condition of freedom and the rule of law that we Spaniards adopted for ourselves after the long, hard fight against Franco’s regime. The dictatorship was the sovereignty of the dictator; democracy is the sovereignty of the nation, a sovereignty that is not exercised directly, but by way of a parliament composed of deputies who belong to the parties and a government of the parties. It is therefore a delegated sovereignty. It is not the sovereignty of the law, the truth, or reason, the attributes of a free people, but the sovereignty of the parties, or, more precisely, of the highest echelons of the parties, which have by the same token performed the role formerly played by the dictatorship. Structured vertically, they function like bureaucratic machines whose power is concentrated in a leadership whose prerogatives are very broad. “Spaniards”, “nation”, and “Spain” are in and of themselves very imprecise entities, when they are not just so many other ways of saying, “the State”. The Spanish State defines these terms in its own image and confers form upon them, and not the other way around: Authority determines what the Spanish people is and what it is not. The State is the real sovereign, and the parties are now its essence: what they are calling a “democracy” is actually a particratic regime, and even more capitalist. Partiocracy responds to a particular form of representation of the hijacked popular will—the latter considered to be the desire of the “citizenry”, that is, of the captive electorate—that is supposed to be the responsibility of particular associations of interests: the parties. The latter are associated with business matters, because professionalization and the lifestyles of their leaders, the financial requirements of the organizational apparatus and the ingrained developmentalist nature of the State made this relation necessary. And we are thus confronted by the paradox that the cost of this alleged democracy, and therefore also the cost of this alleged national sovereignty, are determined by the enormous appetite of the bureaucracy that is composed of members of the parties. The exercise of democracy is just another way of feathering one’s own nest. The Spanish partiocracy is an especially glaring example of this phenomenon.

The party regime was slow to consolidate; it took a certain amount of time to control the careers of high officials and judges, to obtain access to the money in the savings banks, to create a swarm of institutions that would promulgate laws regarding urban development, along with countless other useless commissions and bureaus. During the period of economic expansion that accompanied the reconversion of the State apparatus, which drove the proliferation of unnecessary public works and encouraged speculation in real estate—which was responsible for the creation of a conformist mass of wage-earners—the partiocracy enjoyed a high degree of social acceptance. The relations between public policy and the money of the construction industry seemed to benefit everybody, or at least they did not harm too many people. That is why what they call democracy has been able to repose for almost three decades on the lie that politicians have worked more or less on behalf of the public interests, and that they do not constitute a particular social class, a kind of extractive elite, whose interests have nothing public about them. Only when their unilateral decisions aimed at remediating some of the disastrous consequences of economic globalization put the squeeze on broad sectors of their constituencies did disenchantment and resentment spread among the population. Despite the control exercised by concentrated wealth over the communications media, the extortionate demands of the parties were always in the foreground. Each and every instance of customary practices that have long been taken for granted, such as, for example, administrative malfeasance, cronyism, embezzlement or taking kickbacks, was interpreted as an intolerable abuse by those who had never before thought about anything but their own private affairs and had always given a blank check to the parties. In this atmosphere of outraged innocence, something as obvious as the opaque financing of the parties and trade unions, the slush funds and secret bank accounts of the associates and relatives of politicians, would indeed be annoying and demoralizing for those who had religiously performed the rituals of voting and filing tax returns. The fact that the revelations might be targeted exposures, accidental discoveries, abuses that could not possibly have been concealed, or merely secondary effects of other cases, no matter how hard the judges tried to look the other way, does possess the virtue of highlighting the honesty of the politicians and the independence of the judiciary, relegated to the status of a mere instrument of the partiocracy. But does anyone really believe in justice?

The crisis of Justice has been underway for a long time, from the time when it became a trivial commonplace that Justice was one thing for the “representatives”, and another thing for the “represented”. In aristocratic terms: one for the horse and another for the rider. Spanish Justice is almost exclusively centered on minor crimes against property and small-time hustles. Only poor people go to jail, not the white collar thieves or the corrupt politicians. Of the 70,000 people now in prison in Spain, amidst an epidemic of corruption scandals, only 35 of those prisoners have been convicted of “economic crimes”.1 The Special Prosecutor for Corruption—not to mention the Examining Magistrates in the lower Courts—is incapable of prosecuting political crime. In theory, the law authorizes bringing suspects to trial, but in practice, especially when the suspect in question is protected by a party, the procedural difficulties, the temporary nature of the Examining Magistrates, the delays and the absolute absence of means, makes it almost impossible. The examination is often blocked, postponed or even delayed for years, and when the case finally comes to Court, the accused are sentenced to symbolic punishments, when they are not simply absolved or pardoned. The judges, who are afraid of complicating their professional careers, yield to pressure and comply with higher instructions, disallowing evidence and testimony that would result in guilty verdicts. Furthermore, the members of the highest levels of the Judiciary, the Supreme Court, the Constitutional Court, the State Prosecutor’s Office and the General Council of the Judiciary, owe their appointments to the general consensus of the parties, and the same is true of the corresponding bodies in the autonomous regions, which is why it is hardly likely that they will do anything to the detriment of the interests that gave them their positions; we have come to the point where corruption has infiltrated the judicial apparatus, just as it had previously made itself at home in the other branches of the civil service.

Since the very first days of the Transition, corruption has been practically legal; that is why it is so generalized. Until the 2013 reform of the Penal Code, the illegal financing of the political parties was not a crime; the parties did not even exist as entities that were answerable before the law. Malfeasance, the most serious and widespread political crime, is not punishable by a prison sentence. The Public Service Act even allows for adjudication without the involvement of a prosecuting attorney as long as the costs are defrayed by the defendant, while the concealment of money from the tax authorities in amounts of less than €120,000 is not considered to be fraud. Not only is there no bureau for the investigation of the origins of suspicious patronage jobs, but those persons holding elected positions are immune from prosecution and therefore their abuses can only be investigated by the High Courts, whose members are duly appointed in the parliaments. Thus, the politicians who are the suspects participate in the election of those who must investigate them: one can easily imagine the outcome of such inquiries. The Bank of Spain, the National Commission of the Stock Market and the Ministry of the Treasury are very remiss when it comes to providing information to the judges, and when they do provide it, they give only a very little at a time. The Court of Accounts cannot compare notes with the Tax Agency, the financial statements of the political parties are submitted only after a six-month delay and, finally, the explosive growth of political patronage jobs, overtime, expense accounts and per diems cannot possibly be monitored and controlled without the help of leaks and whistleblowers; local tax collection procedures will continue to ignored, and, in short, the origin and quantity of money at the disposal of the political class is completely unknown. One gets the impression that the whole judicial system is organized to permit corruption. That is why there are no measures that can successfully address it.

Up to this point the scandals have not brought the politicians to heel, because the satisfied and optimistic masses who voted for them do not consider influence peddling, the sale of confidential information, forgery, fraud, racketeering or bribery to be serious evils, since they are not directly affected by them. This is proven by the fact that the politicians implicated in the commission of such transgressions have won overwhelming electoral victories. It seemed that their ill-gotten gains, extravagance and nepotism made them more popular. The domesticated masses of voters did not question irregularities in political fundraising, money-laundering or the transformation of government institutions into patronage mills, but thought that all of these things were characteristic features of any “democracy”. Few thought it was wrong to take advantage of an opportunity to make money from a patronage job. The “democracy for which Spaniards fought so hard” was the exclusive creature of the parties and, in view of the fact that this “democracy” was founded on the convergence of private interests and political interests, it was logical that public officeholders and appointees would line their pockets. The cynical maxim of live and let live, however—mind your own business and let your neighbor go to the devil—is only effective in an era of stability and economic boom. The situation is very different when all this pilfering and embezzling and so forth coincides with—and even contributes to—bankruptcy, unemployment, privatizations, evictions, budget cuts and a series of infuriating bank bailouts. Faced with an inequitable sharing out of the costs of the crisis and shocking revelations of the extent of corruption, the least that can be said is that the burden of submission is becoming harder to bear. The “people”, no longer so resigned—the wage-earning middle class, employees with precarious jobs and young people without any prospect for a decent job—is losing its faith in the traditional parties and, realizing that it was the victim of their leaders, it is demanding that the perpetrators return the money that they stole and that the guilty must pay for the damages they caused. As a duped and perennially downtrodden mass, it begins to question the party-based administrative system, creating a vacuum that regional separatism and the new civil society groups have sought to fill.

The frustration of the masses has not been accompanied by an outright rejection of all parties, but rather by the demand for the renovation of the partiocracy. This is the moment for regenerationist and separatist options, not autonomous popular struggles. The violence required for such struggles does not issue from sports stadiums. For the downtrodden masses it is not a matter of pouring into the streets; instead, it is a matter of making their presence felt in the media. Or of flooding the streets in order to make a splash in the media. Nowadays, parliamentary seats are obtained on television talk shows and interviews. Moreover, this frustration is not shared by all: in 2009, corruption was asserted to be a major problem by only 9% of the population. In January 2013, after four years of crisis, a survey conducted by El País showed that 48% of the respondents claimed that they were welcoming the new year with a positive outlook, as opposed to 43% who felt pessimistic. However, almost two-thirds of the masses—those who are not unemployed—were concerned about the parliamentary system, although they thought that it was safe from the effects of the crisis. Although they thought that the economy was going from bad to worse, almost all of the respondents claimed that for the time being their situation was good. The reader will pardon us for pointing out that a large number of them said this while under the effect of tranquilizers and sleeping pills, whose consumption has doubled. A little more than a year later, pessimism has made considerable headway, but social revolt is still absent, while the political scene is struggling to re-adapt without thereby questioning even the least significant institution, its efforts being limited to giving the system a facelift. The political caste has been caught out at a bad time: the demand for financial transparency laws that would reduce, and open up to public scrutiny, the amounts of the social surplus value required for its modus vivendi clash with its need to reinforce the social status of the parasitic class that obliges it to maintain its rate of wasteful spending and to conceal the sources of its funds. Nothing will change with respect to this aspect of things, however, and there is every reason to expect that deliberations on proposed legislation providing for criminal penalties that would make the leaders of the parties and trade unions legally responsible for the abuses committed by them or their subordinates will be postponed sine die. If all these criminals were to be charged for their crimes, the whole political class would end up behind bars. We can therefore expect nothing but palliative measures of dubious efficacy, such as attempts to reduce the costs of secondary administrative bodies (the municipalities, for example), privatization of public services (sanitation, water), amnesty for back taxes owed on black market income, and a transparency law with enough shadowy loopholes, in the expectation of the onset of a period of growth that would create jobs and once again submerge the deracinated masses in consumerism and cocooning. For those who have been expelled from or who have exhausted all their possibilities in politics, there will always be the option of joining private enterprise, the so-called “revolving door”, since party politics and the bank-based economy are one and the same. High finance is just the other side of the partiocracy.

In the media there is talk of a “crisis of legitimacy” and of “the bankruptcy of ethical capital”, in yet another attempt to conceal the fact that we are confronted with an utterly exposed exploiting class and that the system in which this class shelters is a spurious regime. Economic and political reality are still concealed under the umbrella of the ruling ideology and the spectacle. The pressure of mass culture is too much; the media industry seeks solutions in the framework of the State, the preserve of the political class, which take the form of abundant ineffective measures in the inequitable allocation of sacrifices. Thus, the scribblers and loudmouths of betrayal call upon “everyone” to do their part, that is, the employers and the workers, the bankers and the retirees, the government workers and the politicians, the white collar employees and the users of public services, the “citizenry” in general, to couple their individual interests to the general interests of the system. The “represented” must once again trust their “representatives” and overcome the current “crisis of representation and trust” of the parties. In order to “restore the bond” between the two elements, politicians must reform the “representative” system and even create new social forms from scratch; employers must be more flexible in their dealings with the trade unions; workers must renounce job security and accept a later retirement age; government employees must accept the fact that their jobs will be subjected to the principle of profitability; students must pay the real costs of their education; and so on. From the point of view of the spokespersons of domination, the blame must be shared; everyone was responsible. They justified the fact that the politicians would cling to their privileges and even that these privileges will be multiplied, arguing that everyone else also wants to preserve their social rights intact. With the greatest cynicism, they asserted that privileges and rights were not compatible (implying a dissimulated double standard with regard to classes). The “represented” and their “representatives” were therefore unable to find the magic solution, so they resorted to a third party. From the technocratic point of view, it was simply a matter of an expert advisory board commissioned by parliament to undertake a “democratic audit” and suggest consensus-based mechanisms of control (El País). From the civil society point of view, less convinced that everyone was equally to blame and more interested in bailing out the wage-earning middle class and the university students, it is a question of the “democratization of democracy”, a “re-founding” of the system, even a “second transition” or a “civil society revolution”, which is to be the work of a network of internet voters who, from the world of cyberspace, will bring about a parliamentary “new majority” that will be unconnected with the two big parties that have until now alternated in performing the tasks of government.

Because they have not come up with any solutions for unemployment, indebtedness, precarious employment or poverty, the majority parties and the State institutions have passed from being the solution to being the problem. Surveys conducted in 2014 actually showed that according to the respondents, the parties and government institutions were the third most pressing problem facing Spain, more serious than corruption, but less serious than unemployment and debt. The arrivistes seeking to inherit their electorate are proposing to reform the regime from within, as the franquistas said, “from the law to the law”. To facilitate this project they are constructing vaguely-defined progressive coalitions and parties, with realistic programs and pragmatic leaders who favor moderation and agreements. The political system, however, is unreformable, no matter how you look at it. Substitute one political class for another and we will soon be right back where we started. It is the system that is the problem. Corruption is not the exception, but is inscribed in the very nature of the system. It is an essential part of it. Controlling the political class would mean controlling the tangle of relations that connect it with big capital and finance, and cutting off these relations, which would in practice mean the liquidation of the political class, and if this class must display any bravery with regard to anything, it will be by refusing to self-destruct. Furthermore, the main cause of the crisis is not corruption, but the speculative flows of international finance, beyond the reach of the States. The parties have merely diverted the effects of this crisis to the wage-earning masses, for that is their function, and have thus unwittingly opened up the Pandora’s Box of corruption scandals. Reform has no meaning as long as the State is still part of the financial circuit of globalization. Separating the State from international finance, however, would mean separating it from capitalism, and the political class only exists thanks to the interdependence of State and Capital. Or to put it another way: the future of this class depends on State developmentalism, and the latter, on capitalist growth. To abstain from capitalism implies abstaining from politics, and going beyond the State.

The fact that most people remain “calm” and act “civilly” indicates that the crisis has been to some extent normalized; it has come to be accepted as part of the prevailing order. The partiocracy is not finished yet. No one believes in a social uprising, because no one who has anything to lose wants it to happen, and they do not want it to happen because they are afraid of it. It is this fear that is responsible for the fact that the masses are desperately appealing to the State, paying their bills and paying the piper with resignation, or, as is often the case, passively supporting the “social movements” and civil society alternative institutions for “renewal”. The wage-earning masses do not want to desert, they do not want any other way of life, and that is why they cling to the one they have now. The times are not mature enough for radical changes and class reconciliation proceeds by way of tortuous back roads and narrow alleyways as well as by the main highways. The disruption of the social framework is not enough. The crisis has not yet affected the foundations of domination; it is a semi-crisis. Few people are being forced to choose other ways of life, to regulate their conduct in accordance with new values based on solidarity, to constitute a community that would satisfy its needs for freedom and security outside the State. The crisis has merely given birth to a new reformism, of a social democratic and ethnic-identity type, which is attempting to create, with a politically correct rhetoric, a new kind of capitalism. Subversion must be very attentive to this trend.

The editors of Argelaga
“El descrédito”, Revista Argelaga, No. 6, Spring 2015, pp. 5-10.
https://argelaga.wordpress.com/2015/05/19/6-primavera-2015/

Translated from the Spanish in May 2015.

  • 1. In Spanish usage, the term “economic crime” [“delitos económicos”], broadly defined, includes such ordinary white-collar crimes as concealment of income to avoid paying creditors, tax evasion, theft by fiduciaries, price fixing and various categories of fraud; in addition, however, in a more specific sense that is related to international law and the concept of “crimes against humanity”, “economic crime” [“crimen económico”] is defined as an “inhuman act, of an economic nature, that inflicts severe suffering on a civilian population” [Translator’s Note—definitions taken from the Spanish Wikipedia page on “Delitos económicos” and “Crimen económico”].