Monday, January 16, 2017

Vulture Funds and Diarmaid Feritter

Vulture Capital
Paddy Hackett

 Diarmaid Ferriter, in a piece of his published in The Irish Times, is of the mistaken view that there is good and bad capital. He cannot understand that all capital is based on the exploitation of labour power. It is profit driven. Capital cannot be regulated. Capitalism in a small open economy such as is the Irish economy is even less open to significant regulation. At most the effects of capitalism in the Irish Republic can be marginally modified.

Factory closures and rationalisations that throw workers out of work is no worse than   “vulture capital” that throws tenants out of their apartments. There is ample evidence that there has been much of this. It compares well with the adverse effects of “vulture capital” in Ireland.

Feritter describes this capital as foreign. But indigenous capital is just as capable of taking on a vulture quality as is foreign capital. Indeed Irish capital is on the record for having engaged in this kind of conduct. The increasing centralisation and concentration of capitalist farming is another example of vulture capital. It forces small farmers out of existence. Capital, in general, has an inherently vulture nature. It would not be capital if it did not have this nature. The large scale offshoring of manufacturing capital from the US economy to the Chinese economy is as much a form of “vulture capital” as any other kind of capital. Offshoring has resulted in the casting of thousands of American workers out of employment and into destitution.

The imposition of taxes on incoming vulture capital cannot stop vulture capital penetrating the Irish economy. At most it may modify its volume. Even that depends on global circumstances that transcend the diminutive Irish economy.

The point is that capital, by its very nature, is fluid. Without this fluidity it would collapse and then the Irish economy would  be in an even more acute state. Ferriter is pushing a narrow nationalist agenda which is unrealisable in today’s capitalist world. It is a utopian programme designed to delude the working class of Ireland.
The “horrendous consequences for homeowners left at the mercy of the vultures” don't just apply to homeowners. Such “horrendous consequences” apply universally to workers in New York, Dublin and Aleppo. Capitalism, by its very nature produces “horrendous consequences”: wars, famine, unemployment, homelessness etc. There is no possibility of eliminating these serious problems under capitalism. Capitalism cannot be modified to eliminate them. Feritter misleadingly claims that the Irish government can take us down this road. The “horrendous consequences”for homeowners in Ireland cannot be divorced from “the horrendous consequences” of war and famine. They are all inevitable and related products of capitalism. The only solution is the elimination of capitalism by its forcible overthrowal through social revolution.

“the State was already prepared to ignore one of the lessons of the crisis by aggressively encouraging and facilitating the unregulated vulture funds to offload the toxic assets from the banks, whose very lack of regulation created such a mess in the first place.”
Even had it tried the Irish government, given its inherent limitations, would have been unable to prevent “vulture capital”, Irish or foreign, from picking up Irish based devalued assets. In a crash weaker capital crashes and is devalued and then picked up by stronger capital. This is a law of capital that has a universal character. This law occurs for diverse forms of capital such as industrial capital and capital in its property form. In the absence of this law capital could not recover from crashes. Indeed it would not exist.

The crash that hit Ireland formed part of the world crash. It was not simply caused by unregulated Irish banks. Narrow nationalism mistakenly endeavours to disconnect the two. The global crisis merely exposed the limitations of the Irish economy including its banking sector.
“The notion of collective responsibility has been conveniently used to distract from failures of leadership, and the prioritisation of private capital over public purpose.”
 There is no choice here. The inherent limitations of the governmental form prevent the prioritisation of private capital over public purpose. Under capitalism society is profit driven and based on the exploitation of labour power. Consequently  “public purpose” cannot serve as the driving force of society. To establish public purpose capitalism must be replaced with communist society.
“a relatively small number were able to skew the market through speculation, reckless lending and a refusal to reduce the inflation of the property market”
The property boom was not the cause of economic meltdown. The property boom in the Irish Republic  was a manifestation of the global economic crisis. Neither was it a product of subjective factors: “a small number”engaged in market manipulation. The latter, in so far as it existed, was a symptom of the unfolding cycle of objective economic events.
“Taking a stand against the vulture fund and the state that supports them” deludes the working class thereby impeding the class struggle. The source of the problem is not a particular form of capital –“vulture capital. There is no good and bad capital. All capital has an inherently vulture form. The source of the problem is capital in general. This being so capitalism must be challenged –not a particular form of it.

 “it is not “all about the economy”, it is about people and their right to a home.”

Alas, under the current social system, it is not “about people and their right to a home.” It is about profit maximisation. Feritter misunderstands the very nature of Irish society. In this way he is spinning an ideology that envelops the working class in illusion thereby assisting in the perpetuation of capitalism.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Apollo House

Apollo House

The street sleeping problem in Ireland cannot be merely solved by the adequate availability and quality of accommodation. Even if the latter is achievable, which is questionable, the problem will not inevitably go away while the current social system persists. Adequately available good quality accommodation will only perpetuate the problem. This is because improved conditions will tend to encourage others to gravitate towards the street because of the availability of quality accommodation for street people. Rather than minimising and even eliminating the problem it will magnify it. Through this process the size of the street people will increase. Furthermore if quality housing is made available for all of the homeless by the state this, again, only sustains the problem. This is because guaranteed quality housing encourage a never ending number of people to avail of it. The solution reproduces the problem. This again tends to increase the size of the homeless relative to the working class.

The source of the problem lies much deeper. It is located in the inherently oppressive nature of social conditions under capitalism. Rough sleeping is largely a product of people with psychological and other problems. These problems are caused by the prevailing conditions of oppression and alienation. Capitalist society damages people. The  solution to the problem requires the elimination of these alienating and oppressive conditions. This must involve capitalism’s replacement by communist relations. But this social revolution must assume global proportions. It is not a problem that is merely national in form. Indeed the entire national issue is itself, an historical problem, a product of capitalism. No nations existed in the Stone Age.

Suggesting that governmental policies are responsible for street sleeping is to fetishise government thereby investing  it with magical powers it cannot have. Government is a limited political institution. As a product of capitalism it cannot transcend capitalism’s inherent limits.

The HomeSweetHome campaign based in Ireland has “failure” built into it. This is because it peddles the illusion that capitalist governments, through popular pressure, can solve street sleeping together with the housing problem in general. The effect of this illusion  is to hinder the development of class struggle by implying that social revolution is not a necessity. HomeSweetHome’s assumption suggests that capitalism is progressive and thereby in no need of forcible overthrowal. Consequently the campaign does not exist to authentically solve street sleeping nor the housing problem itself. It creates the appearance of solving it –an image. Instead HomeSweetHome exists to obstruct the development of class struggle –to perpetuate capitalism and thereby the housing problem itself. It promotes a superficial programme bearing a plausible character that, in fact, constitutes an illusion.

The HomeSweetHome campaign fuses “art” and politics into a form of pageantry or theatre. It turns politics into theatre –an image. Such a strategy is a reflection of HomeSweetHome’s lack of confidence in its own politics. It believes it must introduce entertainment (images) into its campaign to win popular support. Its assumption is that politics alone is not adequate enough to mobilise popular support. Political theatre tends to bypass critical thinking. It thereby tends to draw people’s support for a cause on the basis of a rational deficit. Because of this it's popularity bears an inevitably ephemeral character.
It is the politics of the heart over the head. The theatrical character of the HomeSweetHome campaign reflects itself in the diverse nature of its
popular support: from Christian do-gooders to liberally leftie types. It is supported by a heterogenous collection of people because it does not pose a challenge to the system. It is a cross class campaign that ignores class division.

The politics of the theatre seeks to manipulate the masses through the form of entertainment –pyrotechnics. From the commercial world of entertainment celebs are deployed by the HomeSweetHome campaign because of their market value or commodified character. HomeSweetHome, itself, engages in marketing to enhance its image. Its existence is all about the creation and development of itself as spectacle or image. Its supporters can only relate to each other through music and imagery generally. It is, in a way, the music (image) and not the issue that rallies their support. This degree of support has not been given to the McVerry trust

which has been in existence for many years? Appearance, not essence, is what counts. The spectacle or image envelops its supporters.

HomeSweetHome fetishes the street people as a means of enhancing itself as a spectacle. There is now no place for dialectical thinking. The street carnival is the thing. Market value of musicians replaces artistic quality. Image, as market value, is now substance. It is market value that counts –the law of value. The street people are merely a feeble pretext for enhancing the marketing of HomeStreetHome. If there were no street people they would have to be invented.

The campaign is not being spearheaded by the street people themselves. This is because, as a category, they are not cohesive and have no independent power. The street people, as do much of the non-street homeless, form part of a subclass, the lumpenproletariat. It contrasts with the working class whose power is rooted in the character of its relationship to the production process. The street people’s backgrounds are diverse: drink, drugs, crime etc. As a small vulnerable category it is incapable of mobilising itself to promote its interests.  It forms, as Marx would suggest, part of the lumpenproletariat. Such a category can serve to undermine the class struggle as was witnessed by the existence of the Nazi storm troopers and the gangs used to attack striking workers. It, as a category, is distinct from the working class by virtue of its independence from the production process. Consequently it lacks the capacity to challenge the system. It is a category that depends on the capacity of the working class to liberate humanity from alienation. But this liberation is a function of the transformation of the production process. This process entails replacing capitalist relations with communist relations through social revolution. Given this the dissolution of street sleeping and homelessness generally must be based on revolutionary action. Street sleeping is a derivative problem whose dissolution is only possible through the abolition of capitalism. Strategically speaking tackling street sleeping politically is to misdirect politics. It is to put the cart before the horse. Such a misleading strategy can only succeed in confusing the working class thereby impeding its political development. It is not a central issue for the working class itself and fails to promote the class struggle. Street sleepers and much of the non-street homeless form part of an underclass that shares a common feature with  the rentier layer of the capitalist class Both are parasitic on the production process. The street sleeping people and much of the official homeless are not subject to exploitation. This is because they don't sell their labour power. Unlike the working class they stand outside the wage relation. Despite this its existence is largely a function of the economic system. As the economic system goes through cycles so too does the size of the lumpenproletariat.

Under capitalism the housing problem can no more be shut down than can wars, famine and pollution. The only real solution is by the working class forcibly taking over the building industry, vacant premises and land to solve the housing problem. This popular seizure of assets requires the creation of factory, office and street committees along with workers’ militias under a federation of workers councils. This system must be informed by participatory democracy. This transfer of wealth is only achievable through revolution. In a sense Apollo House is a demonstration as to the feasibility of the seizure of power by workers. The seizure, occupation and management of Apollo House was largely undertaken by workers. The state played no part in the Apollo House project.

 Workers can only successfully take control of and manage society through participatory democracy. They don't need the state. They, without any state, can solve social problems. They can end housing, health and the other problems by the forcible seizure of power involving self-organisation.

The housing and street people problem cannot be solved by the implementation of a programme based on the assumption that a solution is possible under capitalist conditions. This strategy is tantamount to effectively supporting  capitalism and thereby the disguised perpetuation of the housing and street people problem. Different elements within the spectrum of the  liberal Left advance different programmes. They compete with each other as to which element possesses the most rational programme. They don't see that the problem is not an issue of rationality. It is not a superstructural problem. It is an infrastructural problem as to the character of the foundations of society.  They cannot see that it is, at core, an issue as to the kind of society necessary to produce a sustainable solution to the housing problem. The housing and street people problem, as an ethical question, is only solvable through the politics of class action: social revolution. Social revolution is ethical.