Why Bourdieu?

Another book I picked up in Paris last month was by sociologist Nathalie Heinich, Pourquoi Bourdieu. (Paris: Gallimard, 2007. 188 p.) Among other things, the book has helped me understand better the anger of Alain Touraine, whom Heinich describes as a "collègue et ennemi" of Bourdieu, in the first half of his Penser autrement (discussed below, blog of 11-27), where he inveighs against a view of a society "without actors." It was the determinism of Bourdieu, Foucault, Derrida, Lacan and others that Touraine continues to combat.

Heinich first encountered Pierre Bourdieu (1930-1992) when she arrived in Paris as a beginning graduate student in 1977, and fell under his spell. His style of "domination" was "charismatic," she argues, in the strict sense defined by Max Weber (1919): based on "personal, extraordinary grace" ("la grâce personnelle extra-quotidienne" in the French translation she's using). The book is mainly about why she and scores of other young students and even non-sociologists were so overwhelmed by him, and why it was important for her and probably all of us to break the enchantment. I don't have time this morning, and you probably don't have patience for an extensive summary. Briefly, she (and others) found him extraordinarily attractive even physically (in 1977, he was "un homme jeune, beau..., souriant," ... etc.), and a lecturer who seemed to trap new ideas on the fly and appreciate enormously the little suggestions that his students dared to offer, treating students (his clear inferiors) as equals and researchers in other fields as friends -- whereas other sociologists of his own generation he viewed as competitors and treated them scornfully. If you were to be his student-collaborator-colleague, you had to be with him all the way, with no tolerance for other approaches -- e.g., Alain Touraine or even more distant intellectuals such as Barthes or Bachelard.

But it wasn't just his personal magnetism that made him such a towering figure. He really had interesting ideas, a great number of them, and Heinich describes some of the main ones critically but sympathetically. For my purposes here, as I seek to comprehend developments in Spain, these seem powerful tools. Stratification and hierarchy (of all social relations), the importance of non-material resources ("cultural capital") motivations and motives ("distinction"), etc.; the power of "habitus" and the arena of competition or "champ", etc.

But my time on this borrowed computer is nearly up. These are just notes to help me and maybe intrigue you. If I get a chance, I'll be back tomorrow, to talk not about Bourdieu but about other phenomena where Bourdieu, Touraine, Alvin Gouldner and others may help us understand. Hasta mañana.


Happy Winter Solstice to All!

My apologies for missing my latest self-imposed Friday deadline for an update on Spain. Things were just too chaotic last week, in our personal lives more than in Spain. For starters, Saturday Dec. 15 we rushed to Madrid in disorderly fashion (the refrigerator door fell off while we were cleaning our apartment, my external hard-drive went into infinite spin when I tried to back up my laptop, the train we were scheduled to take from Almería to Madrid had been canceled due to a track defect), so I got here without my laptop. Then, the apartment we had planned to move into wasn't really completed so we had to stay in a hotel with limited Internet access. The Madrid apartment is really tiny but very well located, right next to the Reina Sofía museum and very near the Atocha train station; it will be our urban pied-a-terre, while the main house (still not finished) will be in Carboneras. We're moved into the apartment now, and expect the final work to be completed today, and just this morning we discovered this wonderful Madrid institution, a cultural center with exhibitions and other activities and rooms where anyone can use computers or sit and study, absolutely free. It's called La Casa Encendida, an obra social of the savings bank Caja Madrid. "Obra social" -- there must be a common expression like that in English. Here it means an activity for community benefit. In Spain, savings banks (unlike the other banks such as BBVA) all have "obra social" as their chief mission -- their gains must go into such projects rather than as dividends to shareholders. Good system.

As I implied above, the week in Spain as a whole was much less chaotic than in our personal lives. The Socialist government even managed to get its budget approved in Congress at the last minute! This involved a lot of negotiation and patience with all the smaller parties and the one big opposition party, so it's further evidence of José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero's abilities as a political operative.

I hope to have something more substantive to say about events here this coming Friday. And now that I've discovered the resources of the Casa Encendida, I'll be able to post. Till then, Happy Winter Solstice!

(By the way, does anybody know why the early Christians, trying to peg their holiday to the pagan festival that everybody was already celebrating, missed by 3 days? The solstice is December 22, I believe. How could they get that wrong?

Hasta pronto.


Sociology of the Spanish "Right" - to come

Apologies. My intention is to examine the patterns of irrational discourse that characterize the Spanish "right," which will first require analyzing what holds its components together. (There is irrational discourse on the "left" as well, but in Spain that's not the big threat and therefore its analysis can wait.) This is a puzzle, because the big crowds that the Partido Popular musters for its noisy demonstrations include a range of people who ordinarily wouldn't even be able to talk to one another: barely literate fascist thugs, a few university faculty, rigidly schooled priests and bishops, accountants and other mid-level functionaries, rentiers, and -- a characteristically Spanish social group -- people we might call "career victims". I mean by that people who, after suffering some terrible loss to terrorist violence (such as personal injury or the death of a spouse, child or other relative), have organized their lives around that event. Some of those active in organizations of terrorist victims strike me as very admirable, politically responsible actors. Others -- well, despite what the Greek dramatists said, there's no scientific basis to believe that suffering necessarily leads to wisdom.

However my thoughts right now are too complex (which is perhaps no more than a self-flattering way to say "confused") to be of any use to anyone else. I've been reading Bourdieu, Touraine & others, looking for categories to examine and explain these things, and hope soon to be able clarify at least what the lines of inquiry should be. But not in time for my Friday blog. And it's already Saturday morning here in Spain! Hasta pronto.


The pain in Spain: fighting against progress

So far I've been focusing here on the Spanish left. But the real problem is the Spanish right. According to all opinion polls, the left draws the sympathies of a sizeable majority, and the Partido socialista obrero español (PSOE) has been the governing party for 20 of the past 25 years, achieving much in economic development, the growth of per capita income, and human rights legislation. But it has had to fight every step of the way, and its hold on power is precarious. The problem, of course, is the peculiar character of the Spanish right.

Spanish conservatives are not merely pro-business "liberals," as that word is used in Spain. "Liberal" here means defender of the free-market before other more social interests, and thus implies merciless capitalist exploitation -- which in the 19th century was equated with "Progress" (see last week's blog). The core of the Spanish right is far more conservative than that: not 19th century, which was far too dangerously enlightened (Darwin et al.), but reaching back to 1492. That was the year that Spanish intolerance reached unprecedented levels, with the expulsion of Muslims and Jews from the newly united kingdom. It was also the year that Queen Isabel sent Columbus on his adventure to find the Indies, the year that Antonio de Nebrija presented the Catholic Monarchs with the first grammar of the Castilian (now called "Spanish") language (“Language has always been the companion of empire,” he explained in his introduction), and the year the price of gold reached its all-time historical high. A very good time for empire and a moment the Spanish right would like to freeze.

Spain did not invent intolerance (remember Samson's attempted genocide of the Philistines), but its monarch and clergy did invent institutions and even a special vocabulary for it. Our words "race" (in the sense of a subspecies of humans) and "caste" both have Spanish origins. The main institution was the Inquisition, an instrument for squashing innovation so effective that Spain -- once the greatest power in Europe -- stagnated as Holland, France and especially England advanced technically and comercially and soon had taken all Spain's possessions in the Old World (the Low Countries, Naples, etc.) and most of its wealth from the New. Popular resistence to such repression never ceased, causing the Inquisition to be abolished repeatedly, but repeatedly it returned along with the reactionaries who resumed power after every crisis. Abolished in 1808, it was reintroduced in 1814 after the defeat of Napoleon, then abolished again in 1820, restored again in 1823, and not abolished definitively until 1834. The progressive 19th century of the rest of Europe never had a chance in Spain. And though it did not carry that name, something very like the Inquisition was reinstituted by Francisco Franco (1939-75), as the Catholic Church became in effect (again) an arm of the state.

And for many Spaniards today, that is still their ideal of eternal Spain: all Catholic, all heterosexual, all speaking Castilian (and not Basque or Catalán or Gallego or Valenciano or anything else), all obedient to one temporal authority acting in the name of the supreme authority of God (the Roman Catholic God, that is -- not others are allowed). The party most rightists vote for, the misnamed Popular Party (PP), claims to be defending democracy, but its values do not derive from the people but from their constituents' vision of eternal Spain. As a recent example, the PP has blocked renewing the membership of the highest court and as many other measures as it could because it doesn't regard the party that won the elections as legitimate. In short, the PP does not regard the popular will as expressed by voting to be a source of legitimacy. The proof of its illegitimacy is that the PSOE-led government has approved same-sex marriages, recognizes the aspirations of non-Castilian-speaking regions, promotes integration of immigrants and, most damning of all, has sought to laicize education, at least partly.

The Spanish right is a minority but an extremely determined and potentially violent one. Its components include outright fascists waving Falangist banners and assaulting immigrants, an indignant clergy that denounces a course on citizenship as an attack on the Church's exclusive authority over moral values, the Church's outrageously reactionary radio network COPE (which, among other absurdities, has repeatedly called for the king's abdication on the grounds that he is too friendly to the Socialists), and an extremely vociferous organization of "victims of terrorism." The AVT represents only relatives of victims of ETA but not of 11 March 2004 (which happened on the PP government's watch) and has persuaded itself that the Socialists, just because they are Socialists, must be allies of the terrorists. And of course PP supporters also include the usual shady business interests anxious to avoid restrictions on their expoliation of the landscape, perforation of illegal wells in a thirsty country, and other abuses.

Together, they can stage very noisy, colorful demonstrations where they insult the government enthusiastically. More seriously, they have enough deputies in Congress to block any initiative requiring more than a simple majority (such as renewing the membership of the high court). And this is why the Socialist government proceeds cautiously, too cautiously for many of its potential supporters on the left. The state still subsidizes the Catholic Church out of taxes, and in addition still pays salaries for religious instruction in the public schools (students can opt out of that class, but it must be offered) while permitting Church authorities to select and fire the instructors on grounds of creed or anything else.

The Socialists are in a bind. If they try to move too fast, they will be blocked on everything. If they don't move fast enough, voters who oppose the right will stay home or will vote for one of the smaller leftist parties.

Well, I never got to it, but what I had intended to write about today was a symptom of this unending stalemate, the publication of the latest report (2006 data) of Programme for International Student Assessment, PISA. This is an international, triennial measure of 15-year old students' academic abilities in the 30 member nations of the OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) plus 5 non-member states. In a terrible embarrassment, Spain came out near the bottom of all the European nations in the three categories: number 32 in mathematics (of western European countries, only Portugal scored lower), 35 in reading (above Greece but below everybody else in W. Europe), and a little better in science where it was no. 31 (ahead of Lithuania, Norway and Italy). Worse, Spain's rankings in math and reading had dropped since the last report (2003 measurements). There are many reasons, of course -- there always are, and may excuses, for a failure. But a big part is due to the failure to institute any comprehensive reform of an antiquated and underfunded school system partly dominated by the clergy, and this is due to the right-left stalemate in Congress.

However, the PISA report wasn't all bad news. Some of Spain's regions, tested separately, did better than the European average, La Rioja best of all. The worst was my home region, Andalucía. Truly woeful results, explained by the Socialist regional president, Manuel Chaves, as a result of Andalucía's historical backwardness -- that is, it had been the least-developed region since Franco times. But we recall that some countries that were at least as backward back then have made far greater strides; Cuba comes to mind. And Chaves' argument doesn't explain why the results were worse in 2006 than in 2003!

But at least Spain can congratulate itself that its students score far better in math than those from countries with more wretched school systems, such as Kirgizstan (no. 57) and the United States of America (no. 35). Canada, in contrast, did very well: no. 7 in math, 4 in reading and 3 in science. Maybe those Canadian kids are brighter. Or maybe there's something wrong with public education in countries like Kirgizstan, the United States and Spain.


Which way is Left? (3) - Thinking otherwise

In previous notes, I've discussed the ideas of Ulrich Beck (Roots & Wings, 9/30) and, last Friday, Vidal-Beneyto (The Spanish Exception). In our recent visit to Paris I picked up the latest book of another sociologist, Alain Touraine, whose work has interested me since his publications 40+ years ago on workers' consciousness in São Paulo.

In the course of his long career, Touraine (Hermanville-sur-Mer, France, 1925) has not only explored consciousness and social change among the oppressed, but has also worked to facilitate both. With workers in Latin America and Poland, or more recently with Muslim women in France, his research design has been a guided dialogue (guided by sociologists) among activists, with the objective of helping those activists understand their situation better so as to act to change it. Since 1992, he has been summing up these experiences for the rest of us in a series of books, of which this is the latest:

Touraine, Alain. Penser autrement. Paris: Fayard, 2007.*

He begins with a critique of what he calls the "dominant interpretive discourse" (discours interprétatif dominant) or DID of the past 60 years. The 19th century had effectively killed God (i.e., an eternal and unchanging moral arbiter beyond our reach), and then the horrors of the 20th century (world wars, genocide, etc.) destroyed our faith in God's replacement, Progress (better and juster society through the advance of science and technology). Then, before the world's thinkers could recover from the shock of World War II, they were split by an Iron Curtain that almost completely blocked new social thought on either side. The sudden and unexpected collapse of that curtain left intellectuals on both sides without any clear idea of where to go next and deepened their pessimism that human beings could even affect the course of our history. From such pessimism arose what Touraine calls the "dominant interpretive discourse", that our lives are shaped by forces beyond our control, and any contrary idea is an illusion or "false consciousness." According to the DID, our individual lives are ruled by material and sexual instincts that we barely understand and can't change, our social lives by the market, especially the mechanisms of global capitalism. This is a view of a society without "actors" (acteurs), that is, human beings capable of acting upon and changing their situation. Such a desperate view of our possibilities encourages people to behave completely narcissistically, with no sense of any larger social purpose or moral control. For those with power, it's all about money and how to get more of it, with no reason to regard the poor. For those without, it's also sometimes about money and survival, but also about something more precarious, personal identity, the precariousness of trying to be recognized as a human being with rights. Among the social consequences of such desperation among the poor are delinquency and "identity politics," including the many forms of fascism or extreme, exclusionary nationalism we see all over the globe, even in places thought to be as staid and stolid as Belgium and Switzerland (not to mention ex-Yugoslavia, Pakistan, Sudan, Guatemala, etc.) Among the social consequences of the irresponsible behavior of the powerful, eager to exploit and profit from the turbulence of the less powerful, are wars and global warming.

The second half of Touraine's new book is his proposal to "think differently" -- penser autrement. It is a continuation of an argument he has been developing in a series of books since 1992: that we don't need faith in either God or Progress, but in ourselves. And the self that you or I or Touraine needs to look to is what he calls "el double", the better self or ideal self that I or you imagine and constantly compare with our practical, here-and now selves: a self with rights, affirming its "right to have rights." Most importantly, this must be a self that recognizes equal "rights to have rights" in all the other selves we encounter.

Touraine insists that this is not just wishful thinking, but a description of something that is already happening all around us. In myriad groups, organized around concerns ranging from global warming to neighborhood deterioration or, what he takes to be the most significant change-agent today, women's rights, people are coming together, discovering their differences and how to accept and even profit from them in terms of personal growth. In the end, Touraine's proposed solution, or path to a solution, to the world's problems is parallel to and quite compatible with Ulrich Beck's: we liberate ourselves and one another through social movements, by which he means self-conscious organizations (conscious of our aims and of the conditions in which we struggle) to confront whatever form of oppression we experience.

Like Vidal-Beneyto, Touraine thinks that the "Left" is exhausted and has nothing more to offer us, but that is because both thinkers think of the Left the way the Left thought of itself in recent decades -- the decades of the "dominant interpretive discourse" where individuals counted for nothing, and only a mass organization led by an enlightened elite had a chance of effecting change. And since the forces of global capitalism were so strong and pervasive, the only change worth struggling for was a total, violent rupture with the present order, that is, revolution.

But the Left (at least in my mind) is and always has been something much more valuable and more permanent, since long before the French Communist Party (Touraine's bête noire) and similar outfits tried to congeal it. That something was never better expressed than in 1789, exactly 200 years before the collapse of Soviet communism: liberté, égalité, fraternité. And those are the values that Touraine is working to recover.

My earliest contact with this thinker, research still worth reading:

Touraine, Alain. "Industrialisation et conscience ouvrière à São Paulo." Sociologie du Travail Octobre-décembre.4 (1961).

* The English translation, Thinking Differently, came out two years after I wrote this review.


Which way is Left? (2) - The Spanish exception

José Vidal-Beneyto is a Spanish sociologist (b. 1929 in Valencia) long resident in France, author of a dozen or more books on mass communications and politics, and a frequent columnist in Spain's most prestigious daily El País (of which he is a co-founder). Recently (10 and 17 November) he contributed two articles lamenting the "Izquierda en desbandada" -- "The Left in a rout," routed from the battlefield by the merciless Right of global capital, consumerism and the defeatism of "There Is No Alternative." Nowhere (in his view, which is mainly of Western Europe) does the Left have a credible, coherent program able to mobilize citizenry against the terrible destruction wrought by global capitalism against the environment, human health, and personal freedoms. Britain's New Labor is reduced to vague electoral liberalism, Germany's SPD is hopelessly divided and adrift, and France's Parti socialiste is in low-intensity civil war after the debâcle of the last elections.

Because he is writing in El País one would assume he is also thinking of Spain, though the authors he cites are mostly French. However the contrast between France and Spain is more dramatic than he is willing to acknowledge. In Spain, the Left has hardly been routed by the enemy but is the national government, and its program of action is still credible enough to rally large numbers, maybe even a majority, of voters.

As in France, the Spanish Left is comprised of multiple groupings with their own histories, traditions and programs, making Left politics a matter of continuous negotiation and frequent compromise to secure a majority in Parliament or to win an election. In Spain, certainly, and in France too, I suppose, far more people identify themselves as "left" than "right," but they don't always vote the same way or even vote at all. Nevertheless the Partido Socialista Obrero Español has been able to win elections more often than any other party in post-Franco democracy: Felipe González in four successive elections (1982, 1986, 1989 and 1993) and, after a 2-term hiatus under the Right, the current government of José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, elected 14 March 2004. This gives the PSOE enormous authority in those negotiations with other left-leaning formations.

Opinion polls give the PSOE a continuing though narrowing lead over its main rival, the Partido Popular, for the coming (2008) elections: 39.7% to 37.4%. Whether this is enough will depend mainly on the PSOE's ability to win the votes of left-leaners who don't agree with everything they've done or even much like them. Those who think the PSOE is moving too slowly and timidly on social issues may want to vote for Izquierda Unida, whose deputies (members of parliament) would at least give conditioned support to a new Socialist government. However in IU the once-powerful Communist Party is fighting for control against non-communist radicals; the factionalism has become so ugly that IU's usual voters may just stay home. Left nationalists in Catalonia usually vote for Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (Republican Left of Catalonia -- "republican" here means anti-monarchical), which is currently allied with the Socialists in both the Catalonian and national governments; but party scandals and erratic pronouncements by ERC's leaders may reduce their voter turnout, too, meaning a drop in the total left vote.

The PSOE still has two great strengths, one proactive and the other reactive. The first is the series of social measures enacted under the present government, including the legalization of homosexual marriages, the provision of sizable subsidies to assist seriously ill or disabled persons or their supporters, gender equality in elective office, pay, paternity-maternity leave etc., and other generally popular measures. The reactive strength is the strength of repulsion of the hard-right hierarchy of the Catholic Church and the ridiculous spectacle of exaggerations, outright lies, and antidemocratic political maneuvers, some of them extremely clumsy, of the so-called Popular Party. The PP's unreconstructed reactionariness may just be enough to drive those other leftists to the polls, to hold their noses and vote PSOE to keep the likes of Ángel Acebes, Eduardo Zaplana and the unspeakable Mayor Oreja out of their lives. More on that formation, the PP, in future notes. It deserves the same kind of dissection that Karl Mannheim brought to German conservatism in his 1925 study.


Spain & América, today

When people here in Carboneras, the little Andalusian town where we live, say "América" or "americano", most often they're not referring to the United States but to any of the 20+ Spanish-speaking countries of "América" -- i.e., the entire Western Hemisphere -- where many of them have relatives who emigrated in the hard, Franco years or even later, in the better years since Franco's death in 1976. Many Republicans (i.e., defenders of the Second Republic against Franco in the Spanish Civil War) found refuge in Mexico or Argentina, and smaller numbers to other Spanish-speaking lands (including Puerto Rico -- e.g., Pablo Casals). Later, in the 1950s, many went to Venezuela, Argentina, Uruguay or to Portuguese-speaking Brazil, countries which then offered not only greater freedom but also far greater economic opportunities than Spain.

In more recent years, the relationship has reversed. Spain's economic growth has been phenomenal, while economic conditions in Spanish-speaking countries of America got worse and worse, and political repression drove tens of thousands into exile, many of them to Spain in the years of the Socialist government of Felipe González (1982-1996), which welcomed them. There have been periods of tension, and even today there are occasional outrageous acts of discrimination or even physical attacks on "Sudacas" (a pejorative term for South Americans), but generally Spain is still an attractive place for Latin American emigrants. Here in this little town where I live, most people (until they got to know me) have assumed I was from Argentina (it's my accent, I guess), which doesn't arouse any hostility but rather memories of distant cousins in that country.

Spain's relationships with its ex-colonies have been complicated by contradictory memories. Populist leaders in the Americas often invoke the massacres and humiliations of indigenous American peoples in the Conquest, and anti-Spanish prejudice is still cultivated in Mexico (where they call Spaniards "Gachupines"), but Mexico was also one of the countries that sent most volunteers to defend the Spanish Republic during the Civil War -- so they can't feel all that alienated from the "Madre Patria." Some countries, including Cuba, Venezuela and Argentina, all with large 20th century Spanish immigration, feel especially close to Spain. Anyway, since 1982 Spain has paid large "reparations" (though nobody calls them that) in the form of grants and loans for infrastructure and other projects, including the Junta de Andalucía's generous funding of various cultural initiatives.

So it was a big surprise, and at first seemed even a joke, when Hugo Chávez, considering himself offended by the king of Spain (who finally told him to shut up during his irrepressible interruption of Spain's president at the summit meeting in Santiago) brought up the 500-year old history of the conquest as another reason to re-evaluate the presence of Spanish companies in Spain. Spanish capitalists are not do-gooders, of course -- they're capitalists. But the Spain of half a millennium ago is not the Spain of today, and is really an essential (and currently the most prosperous) part of the larger Hispanic world, a market and (loose) political force of 550 million people.

Population of Latin America


Which way is 'Left'? Spain, France, the U.S.

Now isn't this a curious image? A weary, desperately hopeful Bush, nearly friendless in the world and with no support from either the American people or even his party, seems to be leaning on Sarkozy, who is much shorter but at the moment much sturdier. Sarkozy has announced that France will always be "a friend of the United States" and, while making no commitment to Bush's lost war in Iraq, promises to maintain troops in Afghanistan "as long as necessary."

Contrast this with a March 2003 photo of a healthier, much more confident Bush with Spain's then-president José María Aznar, who had just committed Spanish lives to Bush's Iraq adventure in exchange for a little petting. Aznar reveled in that caress in his "best friend" role in Bush's western; Sarkozy knows that this show is not John Ford but Molière, where he plays the clever scamp who happily relieves the pretentious nincompoop of a good part of his fortune.

On Wednesday we flew back from Paris to Madrid, and then on Thursday took the train to Almería, an occasion to catch up on the papers and reflect on the contrasting "Rights" and "Lefts" of Spain and France.

In Spain, the Right can't agree on what direction to take, the major party riven by in-fighting while its supposed leaders take disastrously extreme positions that even many of its usual voters find ridiculous (claiming against all evidence that Atocha train station bombings were really a Socialist plot to take power, for example). In France, it's the Left that doesn't know where it's going, or to say the same thing another way, is trying to go in all directions at once. In both cases, disorganization is both cause and consequence of being out of power.

Aznar's phony nationalism (claiming to promote the ancient values of Spain while surrendering its sovereignty to the U.S. neo-cons) turned into an electoral disaster for his Popular Party in 2003, as many Spanish conservatives now realize, but the PP leadership has been reluctant openly to disavow Aznar's odd mix of neo-liberal economics and medieval social policies. The PP factions are at war with one another (notably in Madrid, with PP Madrid Community president Esperanza Aguirre v. PP Madrid mayor Ruiz-Gallardón, and in Valencia, with former Generalitat president and now PP spokesman Eduardo Zaplana in open conflict with current Generalitat president, also PP, Camps), and has alienated its some-time allies in the other nationalist parties. In contrast, the Socialists (PSOE) now in government have been able to establish the direction of the Left, holding together (mostly) its own internal factions and keeping the support of the other parties that define themselves as Left.

Sarkozy, who is as far right as Aznar economically but not as medieval -- he doesn't openly voice nostalgia for the Reconquista (i.e., expulsion of Muslims) or the Inquisition -- is seeking to impose his vision on France's fractious Right while exploiting the notorious divisions on the Left, seducing some of the Socialist Party's best-known figures to join his government. His successes reveal the utter confusion of the Left, that famous socialists such as Kouchner et al. could think that Sarkozy's echo of Louis-Phillipe's 1840 cry "Enrichissez-vous" could be a left slogan today. Sarkozy's gestures (mostly mediatic) so far have been possible because he faces no concerted, united opposition. The big strikes scheduled for next week will be a major test.

I haven't yet got to what I wanted to talk about here, the parallel and divergent histories of the two countries' Socialist and Communist Parties, which explain a lot of what is going on now and, I think, will help us predict where and in what form the new European Left will take. But this note is already too long and it's late. Those thoughts for a future note.


Les petites nouvelles.

Il fait froid à Paris. But otherwise, there are some great treats here. One is the free Internet, at Wi-Fi spots throughout the city and paid for by City Hall (that is, the taxpayers). Right now we're in the Mairie (town hall) of the 3rd Arrondissment, along with a couple of dozen other people all with laptops (Apple iBooks like mine seem to be the most popular). That's because the city government (one overall mayor, plus local mayors for each of the arrondissments) is all or mostly Socialist (Parti socialiste), in contrast to the national government under Sarkozy (UMP), pushing hard to the right. We are lucky to be here between strikes. The big one of the subway and other transit workers two weeks ago has been lifted, in preparation for a more massive one that threatens to paralyze the country beginning November 13.

My French is no where near as fluent as my Spanish or English but so far I've been able to make myself understood, and to understand most of the replies, in the brasseries, la pharmacie and, most complicated, with the hôte du logement, and I've been reading the papers. So far I haven't found any -- not Le Monde, certainly not Libération -- as good for world news as Spain's El País. Libération is very interesting on the labor conflicts and the effects of Sarkozy's new measures on local households, and carries interesting literary reviews, but has almost nothing on events outside France that don't directly affect France. Le Monde has a little more, including the other day an essay on the coming Mideast conference by, of all people, Henry Kissinger, noted Christmas bomber. More when I learn something interesting enough to share with you. À bientôt.


Spain: Movies and memories

Last night we saw one of the newest Spanish films, Las 13 rosas, a true story made into a perhaps overly sentimental film, but nevertheless effective because we recognize its truth, of both the immense human capacity for cruelty and the strength of those who resist it. In Madrid after the defeat of the Republic in 1939, thirteen very young women -- girls, really -- arrested by Franco's police for various reasons (some had been in the Socialist Youth, one had helped a Communist trade-unionist escape, and so on) were sentenced to death, along with scores of men, accused of complicity in violent acts in which they had had no part, not even remotely. As a work of art, it is far less extravagantly imagined than El laberinto del fauno, a fairy tale of Franco repression and anti-fascist partisan victory, but this film has the enormous advantage of realism: this really did happen, pretty much the way it's told. For a historic photo and a good summary of the true history of the 13 "red roses" (in Spanish), see La corta vida de trece rosas en El País, 11/12/2005.

Otherwise, the news from Spain this week is: nada. Which also happens to be the title of a very good feminist novel of those hard, early years of the Franco dictatorship: Laforet, Carmen. Nada. 1944. (Clásicos Españoles. Madrid: El País, 2004.) No news, just olds. For example, this week an unemployed Spanish youth on a Barcelona subway car screamed at, punched, pinched the breast and then kicked in the face a slender Ecuadorian girl he'd never seen before (this was all recorded on security cameras), was quickly found and arrested, and then freed by a judge; he's on the street, but the girl is now afraid to leave her house. More North Africans and sub-Saharan Africans risked their lives and many lost them in attempts to reach Spain; and Mariano Rajoy, the terminally mediocre leader of the opposition Popular Party, made another grotesquely idiotic statement, this one so clueless that the Spanish press compared him to George W. Bush (he said we shouldn't really worry about climate change, because there were bigger problems such as CO2 emissions; he said this on the same day and in the same forum where Al Gore was about to show his movie). But racism in Spain, immigrant desperation and Rajoy's idiocy are not news.

Next week I'll be in France, so I can't promise any new report on Spain. I've already touched on some of the big issues. (Click on keyword "Spain" below to see the lot.) These include two essays on immigration 2006/10/07 and 2006/9/27, plus the notes of the past three Fridays on Spain's entanglement with Bush's Iraq war and its internal "nationalisms" (2007/10/5, the overbuilding crisis and Rajoy's "Día de la Hispanidad" idiocies (2007/10/12), and "Historical Memory" of the civil war and the Franco dictatorship (2007/10/19). And my compañero Baltasar and I have written many other notes on Spain on our Spanish-language blog, which you may want to visit. Hasta pronto.

Becoming brutal

And do you think this isn't happening to our boys (and even our girls -- remember Abu Ghraib) in uniform in Iraq? Not to mention the un-uniformed Blackwater guys and their kin. Israel shaken by troops' tales of brutality against Palestinians


Farewell to Franco?

"Why shouldn't truth be stranger than fiction? Fiction, after all, has to make sense." -- attributed to Mark Twain

The Socialist government's 2005 proposal of a "Law of Historical Memory" has been a sharp poke in the myths of both sides in Spain's great Civil War of 1936-39. This is because the war and its aftermath are remembered in diametrically opposite ways by Right and Left, and because each has huge emotional and even economic investments in its version.

It's easy to see why the emotions are so involved; it's impossible to remain indifferent after looking at the photographs of combat, destruction and suffering, or the posters of the Republic (which had the best artists) or of its enemies the Nationals, or listening to radio recordings (hysterical sermons, tense bulletins, impassioned speeches) or the marches or folk songs given new, revolutionary or nationalist lyrics ("Ay, Manuela", "Los cuatro muleros/generales", etc.).

For the Falangists of the 30s and 40s and their contemporary defenders, the war against the Republic was a Crusade that saved Christian Spain from Godless Communism, and those who opposed it deserved whatever punishment they suffered. All their guys were heroes, all their fallen "martyrs."

For defenders and sympathizers of the Republic, the heroes and heroines were all on their side, defending democratic legality with the support of other heroes from all over the world in the International Brigades. Together they expanded, liberalized and de-ideologized education, extended medical service to those who had never had it, opened the vote and elective office to women, empowered trade unions and civic associations in an intense and active democracy, and made possible a great cultural flowering in drama, poetry and all the other arts. In this view, the Franco dictatorship was inhumane and antihuman, and any resistance, whether by words or bombs, was more than justified.

The two great myths were constructed to solace the survivors and descendants on both sides, ways to "make sense" of real events that were complicated and contradictory. The truth, as usual, makes less "sense": heroes viewed from another angle -- or at another moment in their history -- become monsters, and glittering ideals turn into caricatures of themselves. The Falangist Nationalists killed many more Spaniards than their foes, and did so with the aid of German Nazi and Italian Fascist troops and arms and Muslim Moorish infantry, making their "nationalism" suspect. Also, their denial of basic civil freedoms and even of food to the needy makes their version of Christianity hard to defend. But the Left also committed outrages, including the massacring of prisoners during the Falangist siege of Madrid (far fewer than the other side, but still indefensible), and arrests and killings by one leftist faction against another -- not everyone defending the Republic was a Republican, that is, a true believer in the institutions of a democratic republic.

Until Franco's death in 1976, Republican exiles in Mexico, Russia and other countries and other sympathizers constructed their memorials mainly out of words, building a library of novels, stories, plays and tracts. Those supporters of the Republic who had remained in Spain and survived hunger, imprisonment of close relatives and other humiliations, including many widows, were so traumatized that they tended to keep their memories to themselves, too ashamed or frightened to tell their grandchildren what they had seen and suffered.

The Falangist myth was much more solidly constructed. Its "historical memory" was implanted in Spain by school texts, obligatory hymn-singing in class, the renaming of streets for Falangist generals, heroic statues of Franco, and, especially, the enormous monument outside Madrid known as the "Valle de los Caídos" ("Valley of the Fallen"), constructed by Franco's prisoners of war, and dedicated to "...perpetuating the memory of the fallen of our glorious Crusade," according to the 1940 decree of its founding. And there lie the tombs of Generalísimo Francisco Franco and the founder of the Falange (Franco's fascist party), José Antonio Primo de Rivera (1903-1936), attracting commemorative ceremonies of present-day falangistas, complete with the stiff-armed salute.

Then, after the sweeping Socialist Party electoral victory in in 1982, some town governments began to commemorate Republican and other leftist heroes by putting their names on a few streets and parks. And some of the grandchildren began digging for information in archives of the dictatorship, struggling for access with curators who opened them only reluctantly and partially, and only to those who could demonstrate a personal connection to the papers sought. And with the aid of elderly peasants who now felt empowered to speak, they also began digging into the ground, uncovering unmarked mass graves of school teachers, trade-union members, town officials of the Republican period, poets and others -- even priests, killed by the Falangists for feeding or hiding suspected Republicans.

Even today the Right, including the Catholic hierarchy, wants only its own martyrs remembered, conveniently forgetting those priests slaughtered by Franco's people. And sectors of the Left will not be satisfied by anything less than thorough condemnation of the Falangist mutiny and dictatorship it established, the annulment of all summary trials that condemned opponents of Franco to prison or death, and compensation for the dictatorship's victims and their descendants -- pensions and indemnities that will run into millions of euros.

So it was an important and rather surprising achievement this week when the Socialists and other left parties gained the support of even the opposition Popular Party (which includes Franco's political heirs and other rightists) for parliament to approve legislation to open all the archives to any researcher (as in other European countries), increase indemnizations to Republican veterans and their heirs, permit the children and grandchildren of exiles to opt for Spanish nationality (which should benefit many in Latin America), and -- of greatest symbolic importance -- to redefine the Valle de los Caídos as "a memorial to all the fallen in the Civil War and to those who suffered repression" in the following years. The place will need some serious design reforms. A hammer-and-sickle beside the huge cross may be too much to ask, and a Socialist Party fist with a rose could hardly compete with either of those images. Or better yet: Just pull down the cross -- which in Spain has become a partisan banner -- and set up a representation of Spain's now-democratic constitution.

Photo, top: A crane removes the statue of Francisco Franco from the main entry to the General Military Academy of Zaragoza- EFE, from El País, 24/08/2006.

Photo, side: El Valle de los Caídos, from Falange web forum



I put this new widget thing up at the top of the page ("Bookmark") because an announcement said it would bring me more web traffic. But how do you use it? When I mouse-over, everything I click invites me to create a new account, but I can't see how I could use any of them. So I haven't, but maybe I'm missing something. Can anybody tell me if I should bother? Do YOU use it?

Bolivarian Alternatives

A reader has asked about "Hugo Chávez' ALBA" which I mentioned as an example of inter-state associations that can limit multinational corporations' activity (see below, under headline "Globalization"). Here goes:

The Alternativa Bolivariana para los Pueblos de América is one of a half-dozen or more political-cum-trade associations among Latin American countries, in their attempts to establish policies and resources independent of the United States. In name and intention, "ALBA" is a direct response to "ALCA" (Área de Libre Comercio de las Américas ), Spanish acronym for the U.S.-sponsored Free Trade Area of the Americas.

ALCA/FTAA was founded at U.S. initiative in 1994 to reduce tariff barriers among 34 countries of the Western Hemisphere, that is, all of them except Cuba. Few, however, have actually joined, though the U.S. is still pushing the idea. Hugo Chávez has denounced it as another tool for imperialist exploitation by the U.S. The presidents of Brazil (Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva) and Argentina (Néstor Kirchner) have conditioned their participation on U.S. elimination of its agricultural subsidies (which appears unlikely), and there has also been loud objection to ALCA/FTAA's attempts to impose U.S. principles of "intellectual property" and patent protection, which the critics fear (with some historical basis) would be used to prohibit independent research and even exploitation of native plants which have been "patented" by a U.S. chemical company.

ALBA is the "alternative" proposed by Hugo Chávez. It does not exclude Cuba -- in fact, it was founded in Havana in 2004. (Just this week, Chávez surprised his Cuban hosts by proclaiming that "Cuba and Venezuela are really one government.") It does however exclude the U.S. It is "Bolivarian" both because Simón Bolívar (1783-1830) imagined a union of Spain's ex-colonies in America (he wanted to put its capital in Panama) and because it is Venezuela's treasury of bolívares (the national currency) that give it some plausibility. So far, besides Venezuela and Cuba, ALBA has negotiated agreements with Nicaragua, Bolivia, Haiti, and "bilateral agreements" (something less than full participation) with Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, etc.

Along the same lines, but with more radical implications, Venezuela and Cuba (with Venezuela's money) have created a new alternative to the International Monetary Fund, from which Cuba was excluded and which Venezuela recently abandoned. It was launched in Haiti with with $1 billion of Venezuelan money. Most of the countries of South America have already agreed to participate in what has now been redefined as a development bank which (at Brazilian insistence) will limit its lending to South America (thus leaving out Nicaragua and Haiti and other Caribbean countries -- Venezuela presumably will continue lending to them outside of the new bank).


Newsvine & new media

I just discovered Newsvine & am using it in two ways: Posting articles to see if I get any more readers, and reading some of the interesting stuff they collect. (You can see my page, with the articles posted, here.) It's free and easy. Makes me worry about the future of news media, though. If newspapers disappear, or morph into electronic diffusion of free info, who's going to pay for serious investigation?

There will be a solution -- we humans have always found a way out of whatever jam we've created for ourselves -- but I don't yet see what it will be. Probably a mix of things: university-based think-tanks, foundations (like the Fund for Investigative Journalism only bigger?), or funds gathered by interested NGOs (which would include all the neo-fascists as well as the people we like). The changes in our world of information are immense. The pretense of objectivity of the select few papers (Le Monde, New York Times, El País, Herald Tribune, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung and a couple of others have always insisted on their independence), while maybe never more than a pretense, will erode to nothing. Maybe that's all right -- in a free-for-all of people shouting at each other, some few thinkers may be able to filter the sensible from the insane. Diderot did it, in the 18th century, so maybe we can too.

See Poynter article, Facing the News Business Model Crisis.

Globalization: Ours & theirs

A friend writes, à propos my review of Ulrich Beck's book on globalization (also at Newsvine ): "I remain skeptical of globalization, a neo-capitalist plan to push American, British and other corporate countries markets into small countries around the world. With global warming, there may be a counter trend of people taking care of their own needs on a smaller scale as global trade may be come less and less plausible."

Here's my response:

Globalization: Since we can't beat it, we've got to figure out how best to use it. Interconnectivity among people all over the globe is not a neo-capitalist plan, or any kind of plan at all. It's been happening since the first navigators began exploring, or even earlier, and has been happening faster and faster since the steam engine, telegraphy, aviation and now electronic, wireless media. Our problem is that corporations know how to use it more effectively than most of us, but they are vulnerable in several ways that make them subjectable to pressure from citizen groups and even from states. Chiefly, they must sell their products to survive (in competition with other corporations), making them vulnerable to consumer boycotts and receptive to any "good" publicity that gives them an edge over the competition (My friend Charlie Kernaghan's National Labor Committee exploits this vulnerability brilliantly). Secondly, corporations can pressure governments by threatening not to invest, but they MUST invest somewhere, so states and combinations of states (Hugo Chávez's ALBA, for example) can severely limit their activity. And there are other vulnerabilities (the precariousness of CEO's positions, for example) that smart trade unions (Reuther was a genius) have been able to use.

Beck points out that the "anti-globalizers" are themselves enthusiastic globalists, organizing NGOs world-wide. Focusing on smaller scale, local needs while taking into account the the global is exactly what he advocates : "glocalization" is the ugly word for it, "cosmopolitanism" is (to my ear) much better. He uses both words, but emphasizes cosmopolitanism, which, he reminds me, is an ancient Greek concept: loyalty to and concern for the "polis", the local city-state, AND for the "cosmos", i.e., everything. Global organizations he mentions for praise most often include Amnestiy International and Greenpeace.


Beauty and the beast

In preparation for a visit to Paris, I wanted something to read to revive my half-forgotten French, and among the dozen or so things in French abandoned by tourists in our public library in Carboneras, I found this little bomb of a book. Very short (87 pp.) and very intense, the story of a monster of the civil wars in Russia, 1917-18, how he got that way and the girl who (at least partly and at least for a moment) transformed him.

Kessel, Joseph. Makhno et sa juive. Paris: Éditions Gallimard, 1987. See my note in Fiction Readings.

Nestor Ivanovich Makhno was a real anarchist guerrilla chieftain and there are those who defend his reputation and denounce Kessel for the bloody, horrific portrait. His defenders see him more or less the way Sonia, the Jewish girl in the novel, does -- "un homme dévoué au peuple, le sauveur des moujiks, le martyr de Sibérie que vengeait sur les riches et les seigneurs les souffrances que lui et ses frères avaient subies." (A man devoted to the people the savior of the muzhiks, the martyr of Siberia who was taking revenge on the rich and the lords of the land for the sufferings that he and his brothers had undergone.)

But this is a novel, not history or biography, and we know the writer has made up stuff. Whether or not the real Makhno was such a monster as Kessel's narrator claims (and the narrator is nearly hysterical and certainly unreliable), it's a terrific story and a very effectively written one. It is also a very old story, going back to Enkidu and the maiden in the Epic of Gilgamesh. But this is an especially vivid telling. And good practice in reading French.

For something about the historical Makhno, here's a socialist take, The Makhno Myth from the International Socialist Review.


Spain: Bubbles, bombs & bombast

It wasn't the story that got the most media attention in Spain this week, but it may be the one with the most serious long-term impact: The combined debt of builders, realtors and families for housing in this country is now as big as the entire gross domestic product of Spain! Un billón de euros -- that is, a million times a million, or what in the U.S. we call a "trillion." Which means, at current exchange rates, about one trillion four-hundred million dollars.

The double-digit yearly inflation of housing prices for the past 5 or 6 years and the mad pace of building -- 850,000 housing units last year, more than Germany and France together (and both are larger countries) -- created an economic bubble that got so big that the building & realty sector accounts now for nearly one-third (32.5%) of all outstanding bank loans, up from about 10% eight years ago. It couldn't go on indefinitely, and the mortgage crash in the U.S. (where Spanish banks had bought bonds that are now plummeting in value) has finally pricked it.

Now suddenly mortgages are more expensive, housing prices are falling, and buyers are disappearing. Realtors who had taken out big loans backed by the expected sale prices of over-valued land and buildings are defaulting. So far no major bank in Spain has come close to failing, as we saw recently in Britain (they say it's because they are more cautious in their mortgage policies), but one significant realtor, Llanera, has collapsed.

Slowdown in construction is expected to cut Spain's 2008 economic growth rate from an impressive 3.4% (predicted in May) to 2.7% (El Mundo, 3 Oct. 2007), and investment growth in construction will drop from 3.8% in 2007 to 0 -- yep, zero -- in 2008, according to the bank Caja Madrid. There go tens of thousands of the semiskilled jobs that have been filled largely by Rumanians, Lithuanians, Senegalese, and South Americans. And lots of other jobs and expectations.

Spain's rapid economic growth in recent years has been almost entirely due to the construction industry, mainly second homes for the wealthy. As economist José García Montalvo put it, "It's a disaster for the economy that a sector with such a low productivity is absorbing so much of our resources." (El País, 7 Oct.)

The building frenzy has wreaked havoc with local ecology, not to mention the scenery of the coastline covered with brick and cement hotels, apartment complexes and shopping centers. The disastrous flooding in Almuñécar less than two weeks ago, when the rain was heavy but no greater than normal, was largely due to "invasions" of riverbeds by eager builders. (The monstrous floods in Alicante today were probably aggravated by similar causes -- we should know later this week.) Almost all new building has been for high-priced second homes, most of which are empty most of the year (and when they're not, the first home is empty). Meanwhile, organizations of youth are organizing massive protests because they can't afford to buy and can't find anything to rent.

No other country in Europe has been building so much for such little purpose or with so little concern for the environment or for the social needs of its population. What has caused such a distortion of the economy? A combination of forces: an eccentric land-use policy legislated under the Aznar government (giving local governments the power to declare almost all land "urbanizable," meaning buildable), Spanish local nationalisms demanding ever more authority over land-use (and thus permitting the well-connected to make fortunes turning farmland and parkland into luxury housing), the growing prosperity of a certain class of Spaniards and the influx of well-pensioned foreigners, all seeking homes on the coast and near golf courses, and a local, city-government financing system that depends on sale of licences to builders (and thus a strong incentive to "urbanize" everything). The inertia is too strong for all the building to stop suddenly, but the slowdown will be felt.

The bombs you no doubt know about. ETA is back with a bang. It all seems so atavistic, violence for "national liberation" at a time when the nation-state is losing its relevance (see the note on Ulrich Beck, below). The problem for ETA is that, if they became a legal political movement and put Basque independence to a vote, they almost surely would lose. But that's a subject for another essay.

And bombast. Today is Spain's "national fiesta." Today, 12 October, Spaniards celebrate -- well, what, exactly? Columbus's encounter with the Arawaks in 1492 and the beginning of Spain's American empire? No, that didn't turn out all that well. Maybe the day of the Guardia Civil? Well, sort of. But really it's for Spain's patron saint, the Virgen del Pilar, who appeared atop a pillar in Zaragoza in the 13th century. Big party (military parade, appearance of all the royals with the government, and opposition leader Rajoy waving a flag to show he's more Spanish than anybody). A great occasion for attention-grabbers of all sorts, including far right-wingers who booed the president right when he and the king were honoring Spain's war dead, and in Basque country, the self-styled "Abertzale (Basque for "patriot") left" trashing everything they could in San Sebastián.

This is just a bit of what seems to me important in Spain this week. More next Friday.

Photo from today's "Desfile de la Hispanidad" in Madrid: EFE, El Mundo

Talking heads

Don't miss this insightful newscast by the Onion reportorial team, telling everything the media experts know about Africa's biggest country: In the Know:The Situation in Nigeria.


This week in Spain

Cartoon by Peridis, El País 5 Oct. 2007

The fallout from "Crawford"
José María Aznar (the mustachioed face above) must have been really stung by the revelations of his private conversations with George Bush, in Crawford, Texas, on 22 Feb. 2003, just before Bush launched his "Operation Iraqi Freedom" -- transcripts that showed that he knew Bush had made the decision to invade, even while he was claiming that he and Bush and Blair were still seeking a diplomatic solution. The transcripts were unearthed by a British lawyer who passed them on to El País, which broke the story last Tuesday. (Here's Ernesto Ekaizer's original 25 Sept. front-page article, accompanied by a wonderfully goofy photo of Aznar being petted by Bush.)

The Crawford transcripts compound an enduring embarrassment to Aznar's Partido Popular, the party's responsibility for dragging the country into an unpopular and disastrous war. This famous photo of the Azores meeting with Blair, Bush and Aznar grinning about the easy victory they expected in Iraq is republished every time the Partido Popular tries to duck responsibility.

But Aznar is far from repentant. Just yesterday he delivered what El País describes as "un furibundo discurso", a hellfire and damnation tirade against the now-governing socialists and President José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero in particular, for "rustling through old files to find something diffamatory." Wow! Most amazing, he condemns Zapatero for getting Spain out of Iraq and ending Spain's lapdog subservience to U.S. policy. According to him, Zapatero has taken Spain out of the front ranks of international diplomacy, relegating it "once again to the corner of those countries that don't matter, the club of irrelevant countries." And this man (Aznar) presents himself as a Spanish patriot, defending Spain's integrity and sovereignty. But not, apparently, its independence.

Conflicting nationalisms
Lots of media space has been taken up by some very minor and silly outbursts in Catalonia (the burning of photographs of King Juan Carlos I by young men demanding Catalonian independence) and some potentially more serious confrontations in the Basque country, consisting of threats to the mayoress and a refusal to allow the national flag to be flown at city hall in one small Basque town where nationalists claim to belong to another, non-Spanish country. These smaller nationalisms (Basque, Catalonian, Galician -- and there are others in this very diverse country) get harder and more aggressive in reaction to the kind of Spanish patriotism that Aznar and his cronies demand and that the party's current leader, Mariano Rajoy (shown above reclining upon the "rock" of Aznar) constantly reiterates: exclusivist and denying legitimacy to some very deeply felt and long-standing traditions and loyalties to the respective "patrias chicas" (small homelands). The democratic Constitution of 1978 doesn't let the PP go as far as Franco in suppressing them, but the party has organized huge rallies against the proposed revision of Catalonia's statute of autonomy. This attitude drives many Catalans and Basques, and some Gallegos and other national groups, up their respective walls. And the predictable, if regrettable, aggressive outbursts by Catalans, in their ways, and Basques in other ways, are magnified by the PP to claim that, under the Socialists, "Spain is breaking apart." As though it were any more together when Aznar governed.

Pending issues
Many other things have occurred in Spain this week. They include events related to overbuilding, urban corruption and the crisis of the real estate industry; the huge and amazingly stupid opposition of the Catholic Church and its allies to the proposed "Education for Citizenship"; Spain's involvement and casualties in Afghanistan; the struggle over the official "Historical Memory" of the 1936-39 Civil War. But since all these are ongoing issues, I ought to be able to address them in future dispatches.

I'm going to try to put together a summary like this every week. Let me know what you think of it, and what else you'd like to know about regarding Spain.


Everything really is going to hell...

... if Bush & Cheney carry out the attack on Iran that they've been planning. Since the last two invasions (Iraq & Afghanistan) have proven so disastrous, the only thing that occurs to the Bush Administration is to create another, even more dangerous war. Before that happens, listen to these Iran experts interviewed by Amy Goodman.


Everything's going to hell…

… and there's not much we can do about it, according to Richard Sennett's most recent book. Sennett, Richard. The Culture of the New Capitalism. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006, argues that 3 values of the "old" capitalism are eroded or lost in the "new" and should be restored: narrative, the sense that one's life has a pattern & is going somewhere (impossible when companies outsource everything & everybody is freelance with no job rights or pension & the older they get, the less employable they become); usefulness, the sense that one's activity actually benefits somebody--now available only in low-status or volunteer service activities; & craftsmanship, the value of doing something well--eroded where youth, energy & obedience are rewarded and experience is not, which is almost everywhere these days. In his final sentence, Sennett proposes, "Perhaps, indeed, revolt against this enfeebled culture will constitute our next fresh page."

But in such a scenario of seamless gloom, where is revolt supposed to come from? Cheer up, Richard. It's not so seamless. In fact, as Ulrich Beck (see below) and many others have recognized, it's a chaos of opposing global forces out there (transnational businesses, states and combinations of states, and nongovernmental organizations of all kinds) and like any mêlée, it's bound to create new opportunities among the disasters. Political craftsmanship in such confusion will be rewarded, new narratives composed, and commitment (even if to an illusory cause) may prove as satisfying as real usefulness. It always has.


Roots & wings

In his much-praised recent book, Ulrich Beck, German sociologist and professor at Ludwig-Maximilians Universität in Munich, demonstrates why neither nation-states nor international capital alone can save us from the many dangers of the "globalized" globe, and proposes an alliance of these two forces (which can't be ignored) with global "civil society" movements -- not to withdraw from globalization, but to engage it and realize its potential for making a better world for all of us.

Beck, Ulrich. Power in the Global Age: A New Global Political Economy. Cambridge, UK; Malden, MA: Polity, 2005.

Beck argues that: 1. The most urgent problems are now too global to be dealt with effectively by any state (global warming, pollution, exhaustion of carbon fuels, AIDS and other diseases, immigration, terrorism, etc.); 2. Transnational organizations (UN, WTO, NATO, etc.) are clumsy and ineffective, because they are still playing by obsolete "rules" of seeking common ground among states rather than among citizens; 3. Global capital is thus unrestrained by laws except companies' own "extralegal laws" of agreements among themselves, and exercises power over states by nonviolent means of threatening not to invest (in, say, Bolivia, if its laws become too uncomfortable) -- though companies do have to invest somewhere in order to survive, and fierce competition among and within companies makes their leaders' power precarious; 4. Global NGOs can exploit the vunerabilities of global capital (e.g., by organizing consumer boycotts) and pressuring states (e.g., by mobilizing voters and demonstrators), either to solve terrible humanitarian or ecological problems (e.g., Greenpeace, Amnesty International) or exacerbating them (e.g., al-Qaeda -- which is another kind of global nongovernmental organization).

The only hope for humanity is for these three forces (states, which are still necessary instruments of power, enlightened global capital, and global civil society) to combine forces as cosmopolitans, meaning that they feel themselves as belonging simultaneously to the cosmos and to the polis ("glocalization"), not to impose a Western vision of democracy or American culture or any other particular ideology ("universalism" of this sort is imperialism), but recognizing and accepting "the otherness of others" (die Andersheit der Anderen), different strokes for different folks, all recognizing one another's rights to live in a better world.

He says all that in far too many words (my favorite, from p. 286, is Globalisierungsbefürwortungsgegner, rendered by the translator as "opponents of the pro-globalization lobby") and occasionally surrealist metaphors (cosmopolitans should have "both roots and wings" he says over and over), repeats ideas and even phrases, and tells you many things that you already knew (e.g., Pres. Bush's attempt to impose his own sketchily-developed vision of a world order has had and can only have disastrous results, in Iraq and everywhere). Still, the basic ideas (the 4 points numbered above) are probably valid and well worth thinking about and maybe even acting upon -- the utopian (his term) cosmopolitan vision is a lot better than any of the alternatives under discussion.

Thanks to Professor Christopher Leo (University of Winnipeg) for suggesting the importance of this book. For other interesting postings by this astute reader of social theory, see his blog, Christopher Leo.


Cities and Revolutions in Latin America

A call-for-proposals (CFP) with this title caught my attention, because it's something I've been pondering for practically all my adult life -- since my days in rebellious Caracas back in the 1960s. The session organizers, Federica Morelli and Jordana Dym, have also given it a lot of thought. But if their summary of current historiography is right, I have some doubts about the split between pre-modern (colonial and 19th century) and 20th-21st century views of city dynamics.

They write that scholars specializing in the colonial period "tend to emphasize cities as places of social revolution and economic dynamism. Scholars of independence and the nineteenth century see cities as places for popular mobilization (riots) and organized political opposition (juntas, coups) by elites. Scholars of the twentieth century and beyond tend to contrast Indian or peasant villages with the 'mega-cities' of Latin America where factories take in internal and external migrants, housewives demonstrate against dictators, gangs use urban institutions to organize, and politicians develop popular support that launches presidential careers."

The cut seems to be ca. 1920 or so. As described above, “colonialist” & 19th c. histories both see cities as “as places of social revolution and economic dynamism,” including riots & coups. That is, the rapid, innovative social dynamic of “cities,” built places with the greatest density of population – and an inertia of change – is clearly differentiated from the inertia of much slower change in their rural hinterlands, where Marx remarked on “the idiocy of rural life.” It is in the 20th century that ‘megacities’ incorporate the urban v. rural conflict within the urban density: that large numbers of rural people “invade” the cities, that is, are impelled to migrate there, but are not fully assimilated culturally.

Q1: Is this view of the premodern periods generally accurate? In Argentina and Venezuela (the 2 countries whose social history I know best), in the late colonial period and throughout the first century of independence, pressure for change came mostly from the rural areas: montoneras (rebellious bands of mounted men) in Argentina, in Venezuela the many rural revolts leading to changes in the central government in Caracas. The men who came to power, almost always by revolution (i.e., rural revolt), included Páez, a cattleman from the southern llanos, followed by the Monagas brothers (especially José Tadeo) from the rural east, others from rural Miranda or Falcón, and then a whole series of cattlemen and shepherds from the western Andes, especially the state of Táchira, where there was no city of important size.

The earlier independence wars were also largely rural affairs. The assemblies of dignitaries who declared independence met in cities (Tucumán, a quite small provincial capital in the remote north or Argentina, and the colonial capitals were usually centers of conspiracy, but the troops and very soon their officers came from smaller towns & villages). And even earlier, in Peru, Mexico and other places, the most serious threats to the colonial administration had come from small towns and villages.

Q2: In 20th & 21st centuries, why has the assimilation of rural migrants been such a difficult issue? Why have they formed villas miserias (Argentina), barrios (Venezuela), favelas (Brazil), campamentos (Chile), etc., that is, dense and precarious shantytowns surrounding and in interstices within the city, but seemingly antagonistic to its urban culture? Here are some likely explanations:

• Too many arriving too suddenly
• Rejection of the newcomers by the urbanites
• Preference of the newcomers for maintaining family ties & other traditions

The problem with the first hypothesis is that Buenos Aires, Caracas, Mexico City, Lima, Sao Paulo and other great cities have had much more difficulty assimilating their own rural compatriots than they have had with the large numbers of foreigners who began arriving around the beginning of the 20th century. I don't mean that all those Italians, Gallegos, Japanese, and Eastern European Jews were welcomed by the native urbanites, but that many of them found oportunities in their new environment to become effective urban actors, whether in politics, arts, business, or crime. The rural-urban migrants mostly did not.

I'm tempted to submit a proposal, even though I probably won't be able to get to Lyon (France) next August (I plan to be in the U.S. around that time). At the very least, I wanted to develop some ideas about it.

See the call for papers, IXth International Conference on Urban History, Lyon, France, 27th - 30th August 2008: Cities and Revolutions in Latin America


"9-11" x 2

Today is the anniversary of two massive assaults on civilian populations. The first, in Santiago, Chile 34 years ago, caused a proportionally greater loss of life (Chile was a country of only 10 million) and especially deep damage to the institutions of civil society, ushering in a dictatorship that endured for 17 years. The second, in 2001 in Manhattan, was much more concentrated, its effect magnified by its location in the media capital of the world. The two planes that struck the towers killed in a few hours about as many people as the Chilean counterrevolution killed in its much more prolonged assault, beginning on September 11, 1973 and continuing its ferocity for months.

The Chile events were very close to me. Before the coup, I had been a close observer, hopeful but fearful for the success of the country's peaceful revolution. Then, when the horror occurred, as soon as possible -- in February, 1974 -- I got to Chile as part of the ten-person Chicago Committee to Save Lives in Chile, getting into prisons, interviewing survivors, and even meeting with trade union and political activists in hiding.

The other September 11 was also very close. In 2001, I lived close enough to hear the impact of the first plane against the World Trade Center and then to watch from our rooftop the burning and the appalling, sickening collapse of the second tower, to breathe the air thick with incinerated cement, metal, plastic and human flesh.

And so, every year on this date, I cannot help remembering both of them. And this morning, I was wondering how they might be connected. Suddenly it seems obvious. Two sides of the same coin. The assault on democracy in Chile was a continuation of the long-standing, and continuing, United States practice of suppressing the popular will in foreign states. The Al-Qaeda attack was a response to that practice.

The most visible dirty work in Chile was done by reactionary Chilean generals and their far-right supporters, but they had been set in motion by Nixon and Henry Kissinger and K's subordinates, who provided them the money, weapons, technical assistance to create chaos (manipulated strikes, shortages, etc.) and then, when that proved insufficient, to strike by land, air and sea the center of government and all other points expected to put up resistance (including factories, community centers, schools).

All hegemonic powers act to suppress the popular will whenever it challenges the system of subjugation -- Rome, France, Belgium, Great Britain, the Ottomans, the Chinese, the Russians before, during and after the USSR, the USA at least since the Mexican War. Often they cloak their aggression by claiming to act in defense of "democracy," "the rights of man" or "socialist brotherhood." Those who oppose them are labeled "extremists."

And sometimes, finding no legal, institutional way to realize their goals or even to lead what they consider dignified lives, those opponents become extremists in fact, attempting suicidal violence against what they see as the foreign oppressor.

And when that foreign power has degraded the notions of "democracy" or "socialism" or "the rights of man" by its cluster bombs, SAM missiles, air raids, tortures of prisoners and other horrors, the rebels look for some uncompromisingly opposite doctrine to explain themselves. Whatever seems most likely to horrify the enemy. A century ago, in most of Europe and much of the U.S., that was anarchism. Today in a large part of the world, and for the young Arabs who rammed the planes into the World Trade Center, it's a rigid form of Islam.


Back home in Spain

We just got back to our place in Carboneras last night, and we're still a little weary from all the travel: Buenos Aires, Caracas, Bogotá, back to Buenos Aires, and then Madrid. Four grand cities. For pictures and a brief report of some of what we saw in Caracas (in Spanish), check out Política y espacio: El "23 de Enero" and Otra visión de Caracas in Lecturas y Lectores. In coming days I'll post some other notes (in English) on South America today, and how the region has changed since my first acquaintance nearly 45 years ago.


What we're up to

In case you're curious: This afternoon we leave 40 degree C. Andalucía for 2 degree C Buenos Aires. We (Susana & I, and possibly the unpredictable Balta & Fidedigna) will be in South America for the entire month of August. On the 8th, we fly to Caracas, mostly to see works of Carlos Raúl Villanueva (especially the Universidad Central and the former "2 de Diciembre", now "23 de Enero") but also to see old friends & places I worked in my youth. Then on to Bogotá, to see a whole list of important buildings, get a sense of the city, and for Susana to deliver a lecture (a beautiful piece on two almost opposite examples of feminist architecture, Frida Kahlo's house in Mexico City and Victoria Ocampo's in Buenos Aires). Then back to Buenos Aires, for many things (friends, family, dentist), but mainly for the book, including visits to some of the public housing erected during Perón's first term in office.

I'm free -- FREE -- to think about 21st century urban problems now. That's because I finally finished Part I of our book on architecture & urbanism in Latin America, the part dealing with the pre-Columbian built environment (Olmecs, Mayas, Mexicas, Incas et al.). Six big chapters. Whew!

Be back in Spain in September. See ya'.


More capitalism, please -- Are you sure?

Terrible things are happening all over the world. Rainforests are disappearing, icecaps melting, the air is becoming unbreathable, and the Chinese are poisoning our toothpaste. And besides all that, there are people who want to kill us, although they don't even know us. Just in today's El País, lead stories include "50 big cities [just in Spain!] exceed air contamination limits," new suicide attacks in Baghdad and in northern Iraq,and terror in the United Kingdom perpetrated (apparently) by physicians who are supposed to be saving lives. And inside there's a map of all the places too dangerous to visit on your vacation.

What's going on, and what should we do? Besides duck, I mean. Is global capitalism the problem? Or is it the solution? And is there anything we can do about it, either way?

Scholar, Richard. Divided Cities: The Oxford Amnesty Lectures 2003 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006) gives us arguments on all sides. James Wolfensohn, the intelligent and enterprising past-president of the World Bank (1995-2005, before the lamentable Paul Wolfowitz), is well aware of the problems but convinced that only capitalism can solve them: he gives us lots of persuasive examples of how fomenting capitalism among the poor has improved lives from Rio de Janeiro to South Asia (micro credits, for example, using capital scraped together by the poor themselves, or provision of basic services like water for which the poor are willing to pay a small fee). Meanwhile, Stuart Hall and David Harvey have no doubts that global capitalism is creating poverty, inequality, frustration and massive social violence -- not to mention (curiously, they don't) environmental degradation. Changing the system will be a massive job but not impossible, thinks Harvey. But it will require challenging the very concepts of rights and social justice that Wolfensohn buys into.

Michael Likosky mostly agrees with Harvey and Hall, even as he accepts Wolfensohn's record of good accomplishments -- but raises the moral issue, of whether it is right to make the poor pay for infrastructural improvements that mostly benefit, economically, the big companies that build them?

And then there's Peter Hall, no relation genetically or ideologically to Stuart. He thinks things aren't all that bad, and anyway there's no alternative to capitalism. (He doesn't buy Harvey's argument.)

The only sensible answer is, yes, of course, to all of them. "Capitalism" is many things, all operating simultaneously, with notoriously contradictory effects. The clearest definition of it I know is by Ellen Wood: "a system in which goods and services, down to the most basic necessities of life, are produced for profitable exchange, where even human labor power is a commodity for sale in the market, and where, because all economic actors are dependent on the market, the requirements of competition and profit maximization are the fundamental rules of life."

Such a system is not entirely evil. It has proven very efficient at capital accumulation, which is needed for investment in anything, including good things like those listed by Wolfensohn. And a lot of perfectly awful things, enumerated by Stuart Hall. More important, and in support of Harvey, capitalism (as defined by Wood) is NOT inevitable or unchangeable. Maintaining it obviously requires constant "inputs" of energy and capital in propaganda, police and military repression (think Iraq), an elaborate state and judicial structure (for example, to deny rights to Bush & Blair's prisoners of war). This is because, basically, it goes against those most common human instincts of solidarity and group loyalties, instincts that are likely to break out whenever the State relaxes its vigilance. Nor is the system everywhere in effect (think of how decisions are made in Saudi Arabia, for example, or in your family), but because it is in effect in ruling sectors of the most powerful countries of the globe, its operations in some ways condition everything else.

But our discussions of that great ball of meanings we call "globalization" will get nowhere as long as we use such catch-all terms as "globalization" or even "capitalism." We can sit around nodding our heads in agreement with those who use these words the way we like, but to do anything useful we are going to have to pierce the rhetorical fog and challenge cherished formulations. Harvey seems to be pointing us in the right direction, though so far he is only waving vaguely. And it will only be worth following that path if we can deliver solutions at least as good as Wolfensohn's.


Falling apples, projecting fire extinguishers

The weekend before last, we were guests of our friend Michael Aizenman at the Isaac Newton Institute for Mathematical Sciences in Cambridge, UK. Fortunately, like most very bright people, Michael has many interests besides his specialty, mathematics, so we were able to find things to talk about.

Nevertheless, wandering through the institute and peering at Newton's walking stick and his notebook of living expenses (he'd bought Stilton cheese) got me thinking about math (sort of) as I tried to assemble the bits of Newtoniana scattered through my memory, mainly his three laws of motion (alas, I have yet to master calculus). And the only reason I, science-averse as I was in my student days, have any clear notion of those three laws is the amazing Leonard K. Nash who taught a Natural Science course for nonscientific freshmen at that other Cambridge, the one in Massachusetts. His classes were theatrical performances, with explosions to demonstrate Boyle's Law and, most memorable of all, his lecture on Newton's third law of motion. It came near the end of the hour. An assistant wheeled out a low cart with an upright fire extinguisher mounted behind a padded seat. Without interrupting his talk, Nash sat himself on the cart and pressed the levers of the extinguisher as he declared, "For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction." And propelled himself offstage at precisely the last minute of class.

This was in 1959, and still I remember. And as I looked at the Newton memorabilia, I I began wondering if Newton's Three Laws of Motion might not be applicable to political science. The first one, the law of inertia certainly seems applicable to American politics (and all other social behavior): the parties just continue doing whatever they have been doing forever, unless and until some external force -- riots, a stock market crash, public outrage over the disaster in Iraq -- makes them change course. And once that force is applied, it will keep propelling the pols until friction (there's a lot of that in politics) slows them down (2nd Law). And of course the 3rd Law, which I think of as the fire extinguisher law. We can easily come up with examples of "equal and opposite" political reactions, e.g., to the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

I was sure that this could not be a new idea, so I looked up "Newtonian political science" on Google. And sure enough, there's a whole book on "Quantum Politics," claiming to go beyond Newton to base political science on quantum mechanics. And I found this very
amusing review by Ingemar Nordin, Linkiping University, Sweden, who finds that although this whole approach is scientifically absurd (social behavior is not like physics), it may still generate valuable insights.

Chile & Venezuela: different Lefts, different paths

Someone just forwarded an anonymous attack --a string of insults, really -- on Ricardo Lagos, former president of Chile, because he dared to say in an interview that Hugo Chávez's kind of leftism was not replicable in other countries without Venezuela's fat "checkbook". An obvious enough point, one would think, but unacceptable to the anonymous author, who seems to think that boldness and clear revolutionary thinking are all that are needed to bring about revolutions everywhere.

We should be skeptical of all politicians, including Lagos & Chávez. Nevertheless, Lagos appears to me to be one of the most honest and effective of the bunch. He left office even more popular than when he entered, so clearly a lot of Chileans have a high opinion of him. He is of course pragmatic -- like all successful and long-lasting politicians, Left or Right. What the French call a possibiliste. And he is also cautious, as anybody governing Chile (with its terrible recent history) should be. So if his policies were "liberal" or "neoliberal", that was due less to his personal wishes than to his estimate (pretty astute, I think) of what his government could get away with.

Hugo Chávez is less obviously pragmatic, and far less cautious in what he says -- though I think he's very careful about maintaining good relations with his armed forces, which is a kind of pragmatism. He has also discovered that he can get away with, can dare to pursue, much bolder anti-U.S. policies than could Lagos. Not only that he can do it, but that he will be applauded for it. There are at least three immense differences between Venezuela and Chile that make Chávez's defiant rhetoric and aggressive reforms possible, all of them conjunctural (that is, produced by a convergence of historical processes that may not last long): (1) the high price of petroleum, and Venezuela's abundance of it; Chilean copper is selling well, too, but not like oil. So Chávez has the resources to spend on projects both useful and wasteful. (2) The weakening of the U.S. government's interest or capacity to slap down this opponent, because of its contradictory petroleum needs and the calamitous failure of its Iraq war (which was supposed to secure the needs of U.S. petroleum interests forever, but has ended up producing nothing but costs in all areas -- military depletion, diplomatic weakness, spiraling deficit). (3) The utterly different social-political history of the two countries. Just one aspect to note: Chile has a very large, established and monied conservative bloc, nearly as large as its very deeply established left. Votes, when free (before and after Pinochet) have always been close, with either Right or Left's hold on government precarious. Neither Lagos, nor Allende, nor anybody had the kind of support in the polls that Hugo Chávez musters. I think the main reason that the Right is so ineffective as a political force in Venezuela is that it never really had to bother about mobilizing voters, it was enough for them to make money while a whole series of corruptible governments of the white elite kept the darker masses at bay. The Venezuelan Left is also radically different from that in Chile, where both the Socialist and Communist parties became highly institutionalized, with large bases of trade union members, producing a more cautious political culture than in Venezuela where the ideologues of the Left parties, with much smaller and more marginalized rank-and-files, were responsible to no one but their own visions of the truth.

By the way, here's what Lagos really had to say about Chávez, in an interview in El País (26/03/2007). It sounds very sensible.

¿Considera válidos los análisis que dividen a América Latina entre los países en favor y en contra del presidente venezolano, Hugo Chávez?
Las políticas de Chávez se sustentan en la capacidad financiera que le da el petróleo y no son reproducibles en otros países que no tienen petróleo, donde no tienen esa solvencia. A lo mejor, a muchos jefes de Estado les gustaría tener la chequera abundante; otra cosa es saber darle el mejor uso a esa chequera. En condiciones mucho más modestas, Chile ha experimentado una holgura financiera producto del precio del cobre y ha hecho un uso cuidadoso de esos fondos, destinando parte de esos recursos al desarrollo en ciencia y tecnología y guardando otra parte... El tema de los pros y los anti Chávez es maniqueo.

Photo of Lagos from Chilean newspaper Clarín