A future of fanatics, fundamentalists and fascists

Citizenship and Capitalism

Santiago Alba Rico – HERRIA-2000

Translation: Machetera

Let’s start with a story.

Once upon a time there was a teacher who went on a journey and became lost in the desert.  He walked and walked without coming upon either houses or food and after a few days he was so tired and famished that he sat down on the ground and began to talk with the rocks that surrounded him.  He pleaded with them, he argued with them, he lectured them with conviction and patience.  He passed many hours that way when suddenly a fairy passed by, her attention drawn by the strange behavior of our man.

“What are you doing?” she asked.

The teacher looked up proudly, a little annoyed by the interruption.

“I’m teaching these rocks to turn themselves into bread.”

“That could take quite awhile,” said the fairy. “It’ll go a lot faster with this.”

And she took a magic wand out of her bag.

The man, furious and disgusted, answered, “I’m a rational man.  I don’t believe in magic.”

And turning his head, he continued to explain to three little rocks, the molecular composition of flour.

There are no fairy tales without magic.  Once there was a child who, fleeing an ogre, stopped in his tracks and began to teach his boots so that they might fly.  Once there was an unfortunate maiden, desperate for affection, who spent her life teaching a frog so that he might turn himself into a prince.  Once there was a mistreated slave who spent several hours every day, next to the chimney, teaching his clothing to transform itself into gold, teaching a pumpkin to become a coach and teaching two mice so that they might turn into coachmen.  Fairy tales don’t exist in real life.  We can well imagine the sad end of these tales and the radical frustration of the readers.

Much more irrational than magic, is the belief that the impossible can be achieved without it.  In fact, in the argument between the [rightwing] Spanish Partido Popular (PP) and the [neoliberal] Spanish Socialist Workers Party (PSOE) on the subject of the required study of “Citizen Education” (see box), the PP has all the advantages.  It believes openly in magic, or at least, in magic wands – in other words, in religion and repression – while the PSOE believes or at least is sticking to the belief that a convincing story can be made without wondrous interventions or supernatural adventures.  Either way, for both, the argument has the advantage of leaving the real question aside, which is not the “required study of citizenship” but that of citizenship itself.

In 1765, in the relevant section of the Encyclopedia, that intellectual hinge between two regimes and two eras, the illustrious Diderot clarified that “the name ‘citizen’ is not adequate for those who live under subjugation, nor for those who live in isolation; hence it appears that those who live completely naturally, such as sovereigns, and those who’ve definitively renounced this state, such as slaves, can never be considered ‘citizens’.”  And this, added the French philosopher, precisely because what distinguishes the “citizen” from a “subject” is that “the first is a public man and the second is a simple individual.”  In the private order, among individuals, the relationship is simply one of “subjugation” while access to citizenship is inseparable from human “civilization,” with the term “civilization” understood in the same sense that Antoni Domenech understood it; not as the opposite of “barbarism” but of “domestication.”  Where the sovereign is the king, all relations are private relations; each member of society subjects themselves individually to the monarch’s will, from whose rule the entire country becomes one big family; in other words – in its original sense – a set of famulos: “servants,” “housekeepers,” “maids.”  Where, as in ancient Greece, citizenship is limited to free males, the places that fall outside the public arena, as purely private spaces, are the quarters for women and slaves, where the woman and the slave are dedicated purely to reproduction, as isolated and subjugated individuals.  What the Greeks understood very well anyway, as did the revolutionary Jacobins, is that the process of “civilization” is in reality a struggle against “domesticity” by individual dependencies, and that access to public space is not the result of the acquisition of ethical or cultural “values” (that women and slaves, in ancient Greece, shared with free citizens) but the acquisition of material resources.  By contrast with “individuals,” who depended practically biologically on their spouse or master to survive, citizenship was always conditional (at least since Cleisthenes) on economic autocracy: civil and political rights emerge naturally from ownership over the means of production (in this case the earth).

To leave the domestic arena of individual relations – the house and the slave quarters, the family and the factory – it’s necessary to be “master of oneself” and this, paradoxically, implies extracting oneself from the order of individual exchange – owned by slavery and the patriarchy, regimes of isolation and submission – in order to participate in public and general wealth. Therefore, it’s possible to conceive of a state of citizenship without true democracy, such as in the ancient Athenian polis or in voting liberal societies; hence, inversely, democracy may only be established after the material conditions of citizenship are generalized.  We can very well imagine a social regime in which slaves might select their masters or women select their rapists through a vote and in which, without ever leaving home, without their actions ever having been political, nor acquiring the dignity of citizenship, slaves and women might voluntarily reproduce a “subjugated” relationship.  The human being ceases being a “subject” in order to become a “citizen,” not through the right to vote or “humanitarian indoctrination,” but rather through the routine enjoyment of certain material guarantees: food, housing, health, education and – specific to all these – ownership of the means of production (what on other occasions I’ve called “collective goods” in order to distinguish them from “universal goods”: art or the earth itself; and “general goods”: bread and clothing).

Only an ideological hallucination has been able to convince us that capitalism is the natural way, and the only possible one, for general citizenship.  It is precisely the capitalist market that conceives of itself as the sum of isolated and individual exchanges, the two characteristics that Diderot attributed to a “subjugated” relationship, and is only capable of seeing men, therefore, in their condition of isolation and individuality.  The market only recognizes “simple individual men,” in a permanent natural state, who establish individual relations – however, in a social medium historically and structurally created on the basis of unequal looting. These fictitious subjects are formally their own masters where in fact they are only able to “contract” for their re-domestication; where they only enter precisely after renouncing citizenship itself and in order to negotiate their condition as subjects through a private contract.  The market, like the monarchy, generalizes the domestic order, the order of the domesticated, the extension and hegemony of familial bonds, without needing supernatural or mythological legitimacy from outside: precisely the imaginary regime in which the slaves select their masters and women their rapists.  In this context, citizenship or “poleis” becomes a combination of “politesse” and “police;” in other words, a regime of domestication where the rich, alternatively or simultaneously, educate and punish the poor.  In regard to the public sphere, it has also been completely de-politicized or domesticated, identified by television shows about the living quarters of women and slaves: what in – a fraudulent inversion – we call “advertising” to describe the complete invasion of common space by private interests and desires.

After the defeat of republican Jacobinism, capitalism did the same as Roman imperialism and for similar reasons: urged on by its own growth and popular pressure, it extended formal citizenship at the same time as it looted human beings of their material conditions for existence, without interruption.  In this manner, the concept of citizenship adjusted itself to the new management tool of economic life: the Nation-State.  As the Italian jurist Danilo Zolo noted in a book eloquently titled (Of Citizens and Subjects), the term “citizen” ceased to mean the opposite of “subject,” and came to mean simply, the opposite of “foreigner.”  One is no longer a universal “civilized” being, a repository of material rights which unfold naturally from the exercise of civil and political rights, but a “Spanish citizen” or a “French citizen,” whose pertinent rights are subject to an unequal exchange in the global capitalist economy and are defined against the rights of “Senegalese citizens” or “Bolivian citizens.”  In the context of unequal sovereignty, in which “Spanishness,” for example, derives its civic-political advantages (including that of traveling freely throughout the Third World) from neo-colonial aggressiveness, it’s enough to put the tourist and the immigrant side by side in order to calibrate all the inconsistency and injustice of “national citizenship.”  The immigrant, in effect, is the non-citizen par excellence, not only a voluntary servant but an irredeemable “barbarian;” not a familiar subject but an inhuman and non-assimilable stranger.  Under capitalism, our cities are inhabited by doubly “uncivilized” human beings: national “servants” who privately negotiate their right to exist as precarious subjects, and “barbaric” foreigners, pure individuals who enter into the market without the possibility of negotiation, deprived of nationality and speech at the same time.  The growing setback of formal freedoms is written into the very functional framework of a war between “servants” and “barbarians;” in other words, an increasingly aggressive war, not for citizens, but between non-citizens.

Citizenship is not acquired in school, nor through reading the Constitution, nor by voting every four years for a new master or a new rapist.  Citizenship cannot be taught, just as breathing or blood circulation cannot be taught.  To the contrary, citizenship itself is the condition of the entire educative process, just as breathing and blood circulation are the conditions of all human life.  Citizens should arrive at school already made and school should educate them in philosophy, in science, in music, in literature, in history.  In other words, to cite Sánchez Ferlosio, they should be “instructed” in a common patrimony of collective and universal knowledge.  While the market materially produces subjects and barbarians in an uninterrupted manner, educators are being required, through speeches and “values,” to transform them into citizens.  The school, truly damned by the process of capitalist globalization, is thereby turned into a scapegoat for the miserable structural failure of a radically “uncivilized” society.  It is required to educate on behalf of liberty, to educate on behalf of tolerance, to educate on behalf of dialogue, while management of the mountains and rivers, work, pictures, food, sex, machines, science, art is given over to the Mafia.  People are educated by the multinationals and foreign laws, for precarious work and suicidal consumption, for Party Laws* and television, reduced by a colossal force to the condition of subjects – to rocks, mice, and pumpkins – and the school is supposed to correct with good words these industrially manufactured egos, as part of its economic role and social menace, in the capitalist force.

Teach anti-racism and integration?  The Spanish government signed off on the expulsion of eight million immigrants from the European Union.  Isn’t that a much more educative gesture?

Teach the rule of law?  Solbes, the Economic Minister, tells us that “I’m not in favor of great laws that would grant the recognition of rights for life.”  Aren’t these declarations, and the economic “liberalization” that accompanies them, much more influential than an article of a Constitution?

Teach non-violence and tolerance?  The United States, the most “democratic” country in the world, mounted a televised invasion of Iraq and tortures its inhabitants directly.  Isn’t that a much more convincing demonstration that violence is actually useful?

Teach participative sportsmanship?  A single Formula One race (a fusion of bellicose rivalry, aristocratic ostentation and business competition) teaches more than 4,000 books of philosophy.

Teach fraternity and equality?  Six hours of advertising a day condition our self-esteem to practice distress and pugnacity at elite levels.

Teach respect for one another?  It’s enough to view any television program to understand that entertainment is to laugh at the expense of others and excitement is to see them defeated and humiliated.

Teach solidarity?  The labor market and individual consumption turn indifference into a question of daily survival.

Teach respect for the public space?  The streets, newspapers, television screens, are full of advertising calls to enrich a few multinationals and kill scores of thousands of people around the world.

Teach dialogue as a means of resolving conflicts?  Laws, arrests, tortures, journalists and politicians have continually made it clear that there is no talking or negotiating with “terrorists.”

Teach humanitarianism, compassion, dignity, pacifism?  In August, 2007, seven Tunisian fishermen were arrested, isolated and prosecuted, in accordance with Italian and European laws, for rescuing shipwrecked migrants in distress.  No humanitarian discourse could be more decisively instructive.

We have turned infancy over to Walt Disney, health to the House of Bayer, food to Monsanto, the universities to Santander Bank, happiness to Ford, love to Sony and after all this we want our children to be reasonable, tolerant, with a sense of solidarity; responsible “citizens” and not purely biological “subjects.”  The capitalist market treats us like rocks, mice and pumpkins and then asks teachers and professors to turn us into “civilized” humans.  No-one should think it strange that increasingly, fewer people believe in speeches and more believe in God.  If we accept capitalism, if we don’t undertake a real transformation that would assure that citizens rather than subjects arrive at school, the future – electoral as well – is that of fanatics, fundamentalists and fascists.  As we’re seeing.

Source: HERRIA-2000, July 2008 (Ekal Herria).

* Translators Note: The Law of Parties was approved by the Spanish parliament (Las Cortes) in 2002.  Its sole objective was to make the independent Basque party, Batasuna, illegal, in order to prevent it from being able to stand for elections henceforward.  Presently, Batasuna continues to be outlawed.

Machetera is a member of Tlaxcala, the network of translators for linguistic diversity. This translation may be reprinted as long as the content remains unaltered, and the source, author, and translator are cited.

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