Comments on Occupy Wall Street

When the future looks back upon the Occupy Wall Street movement that is quickly spreading due to the profound discontent with the status quo it is important to understand how they will conceive of this moment. While various peoples are sure to conceive of it and whatever results may come in different terms, there are several aspects of it that are worth noting for the fact that they will be indisputable.

The call to Occupy Wall Street on September 17th emerged from Adbusters, a Vancouver based schizovocal magazine that bills itself as the Journal of the Mental Environment and is best known for satirizing commercial advertising from the pages of a glossy magazine. The event date and intent, as well as preliminary co-ordination groups were formed, several months in advance via it’s website. As the initial activists started to set up camp and post their arrival to Zucchoni Park online, they immediately heralded it as a call that “resonates around the world“ and encouraged others to join them or create their own version of this in their own country.

As other commentators have noted, such as Michael Moore, this action hasn’t received the amount of news coverage befitting such an action. Especially so, as this was not a group that was directly funded by financial interests in the way that Tea Party events are. However as of now the media’s choice of news is not my concern. What is worth pointing out is that even despite the lack of video news coverage, the number of people that have turned out to the event is extremely low considering the number of people to which it is addressed – the self-proclaimed 99%.

My general criticism of the Occupy Wall Street movement is in its use of gestural politics, leaderless resistance and intellectual incoherence stemming from an idealist conception of politics. Over the past two decades there has been a growing fetishization of such modes of politics despite the fact that these forms of post-left/post-structuralist movements have yet to achieve any compelling results or continued to function as an organization after minor accomplishments were achieved. It is because of an idealized notion of democracy based on radical and anarchist philosophies was the explicit or unintended organizing principle for such groups they have been reified as organizational ideals supposedly unsullied by the dirtiness of actually existing politics. A recurrent theme through the propaganda released by O.W.S. is that one of its purposes is itself the process. The decentralist urge in America politics is an understandable one given our history of frontier democracy, the advanced state of capitalism we have obtained, the subjectivism encouraged by a high level of cultural, racial and ethnic diversity, a traditional proclivity towards individualism and the history of leftist movements in the United States. Yet however attractive such a reliance upon these mores and modes of political action is, it is an yet another form of American exceptionalism which presents false hopes to the 99% of Americans which Adbusters seeks to represent from achieving true political agency.

To critique this form of organization qua itself is not my argument. Within the realm of imagined relationships this will always be a source for inspiration for those that are affected by social, political and economic disenfranchisement and seek to ameliorate the dearth of agency in the prevailing conditions endemic to prevailing relations. However, it is in this, our current specific historical context that we must determine the inherent limitations of such a form of organization and see that it is not compatible with achieving the social change with it tentatively claims it wants to accomplish. Doing so we must first recognize that this form of politics alludes to a specific form of syndicalist politics that inspires it without giving concern to the historical context or content of that time. We must recognize the context in which we now find ourselves and only after all of this is done is it possible to come to any possible conclusions as to the perennial question – what is to be done?

At the zenith of syndicalism’s effectiveness during the fin de siècle it still represented a minority movement that started in Europe and spread to the United States. This is not to say that it did not have a lasting effect on the politics of the time, but they largely had the effect of speeding up changes that were already in process rather than causing them. Direct action was favored over political integration into the existing order, which was conceived of as imposing myriad prohibitions against party actions and thus weakening efficiency. Given the logics of collective action inherent in relation dependant upon property rights and the state’s inherent conservatism this is and was a just criticism. Yet however many of the prominent personages connected to continuing the prevailing economic and political order died after assassinations, the order still remained, changed only by deteriorating social ties. Additionally, the body count mostly consisted of workers and activists during strikes and sieges. Recognizing that this mode of politics wasn’t getting the support it’s theoreticians thought it would – the European syndicalists, such as Kropotkin, abandoned violent propaganda of the deed with those of spectacular actions.

In the United States, the IWW was the first syndicalist group, besides the Knights of Labor, to eschew political action in favor of militant direct action. While at first it was largely composed of unskilled workers who had been established in America for some time, as they saw their jobs increasingly going to new immigrants for lower wages they left the union other groups as the IWW fought for their rights. Thus the IWW became composed primarily of newly emigrated, unskilled workers disenfranchised by the traditional unions such as the AFL. Their idealized tactic, the One Big Strike, was to unite every worker so that at the called for moment they could bring the American economy to a standstill and usher in an epoch of social democracy.

This eschatological notion of syndicalist origins is the forebear of the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement. The conceptualization of historical change is that after One Big Moment, there will be a sudden change in American politics that changes the beneficiaries from the current model of politics from the owning class to the working class.

OWS has several primary differences from previous syndicalist organizations. For one – it has not organized itself upon class lines for a long period of protracted, multifaceted conflict. In previous syndicalist and working-class movements it was correctly understood that through the crucible of union and class struggles the future leaders of the sundry legalistic and militant movements would arise. In order to achieve popular legitimacy, group-cohesion and organizational effectiveness, roles proscribed by the existing situation needed to be filled. Those with the needed skills and ambition would ascend to then fill them. Depending upon the political context, there would be an active attempt to have a bureaucracy rotating positions and into and out of the work force to prevent concretization of roles and so that others could learn how to function accordingly in different positions. As such, future leaders would emerge from their engagement with these groups as well as youth groups that were also formed to help instruct the next generation. In addition to this, groups for workers interests and women’s leagues were also formed to help find promising people for the struggle and to simultaneously encourage community and class values.

It was these practices that made the I.W.W. as well as the Populist and Socialist parties from the 1870’s to 1930s effective despite being numerically small. While not able to wield any national power, they were able to influence people in regional elections in areas with large populations and pull enough votes away from the mainstream parties such that they forced their competitors to adjust their rhetoric and policies to incorporate those of these more radical groups. For those not as historically aware of this, a similar trend is now visible with the emergence of the Tea Party, which is causing a rightward turn of the already conservative Republicans.

Now while these groups lack of national significance or continuing power might suggest that it is solely due to their flawed ideology and actions that caused their disappearance from the map of contemporary American politics, this is only one factor. When piecing together the non-Liberal Left’s decline it is important to contextualize it during a period marginal gains provided to the conservative unions following the destruction of much of the foreign manufacturing bases in World War II and of repression and institutional marginalization of these groups which increased in intensity following the Russian Revolution. Thus though over the long term they were ineffective unto themselves, they were able to definitely shape American policy and would have likely to have continued to do so have not the various Red Scares given cause to delegitimize such tendencies. And as this influence gradually vanished following a cultural campaign against the USSR, the threat of war and revelations about the true state of Soviet affairs, so did the Democratic parties attempts to appeal to the liberal and non-liberal left. Taking for granted that these groups would continue to support them, the Democrats turned rightwards in order to have a greater opportunity for corporate and conservative donations and single-issue NGO’s started to multiply. Yet whatever relief one may feel by blaming this or that party as the sole cause of the current economic crisis is to overlook the role of the American public, which has been pliant, undeservedly content and willfully ignorant and is only just paying attention now.

Many of those associating themselves with Occupy Wall Street criticize this current incarnation of the American political process and are very insightful into diagnosing its problems. This however it not new nor are they are not alone in disseminating such an interpretation of American Political economy. What is new is the spectacular embrace of rejecting traditional political practices.

Their form of individualizing political practice does not maintain that prolonged engagement with political institutions is the way to achieve social change. It is quixotic in the worst possible way as it presumes a historically false model of social change. Furthermore the skill sets created by engagement with Adbusters form of political practice include only Agent Provocateur identification, buying less material goods and how to Twitter petition for Pizza. While going to the barricades is indeed one aspect of political conflict, Adbusters practically endorses this one aspect as THE means that will lead to the type of social change they will EVENTUALLY describe as desirable.

That said, it is hard to deny the mobilizing power of Occupy Wall Street and those that are popping up in other areas. It is able to represent everything to everyone. Think GMO foods are destroying the earth? Go to the park or organize something in your area! Think the death penalty is cruel? Think that all student loans should be forgiven? Think the minimum wage needs to be raised? Think there should be more government accountability? Think there should be less government so that business can regulate itself? Think that Glass-Steagall should be brought back and everything will return to normal? Go to the park or organize something in your area!!

However it is this ability to mean everything to everyone that it also it’s weakness. Occupy Wall Street will continue to garnish followers in other cities, more drums will be hit, more signs will be made, more marches commence and more mayors will continue to have their police departments use kids gloves to avoid bad press. Occupy Wall Street is a the public announcement of what many within the non- liberal left have been saying for sometime: that the tactics and structures of the working class interest groups are fetid and in need of replacement. Unions predate on other unions members rather than on non-unionized workers as it’s easier to accomplish. The election of Democratic presidents has turned into a ritual wherein candidates promise Leftist reforms and then turn right. However merely occupying space which can only be held precariously doesn’t achieve these changes – merely presents a space wherein they can be discussed.

In many ways Occupy Wall Street will be most successful as a failure despite a full-fledged effort waged on behalf of those involved. It will function as a crash course in political education needed by those still unclear as to the vast diversity and interconnection of problems in an advanced capitalist society as well as deracinating the idea that spontaneity alone is a sufficient political practice. They will soon learn that concerted organization with a wide division of functions is necessary. These positions are not new, and it is to those that have been advocating this position that those at Zuccotti Park or those generally sympathetic to Occupy Wall Street will turn.

Toiling for decades to spread this very knowledge of how bad things were becoming for American workers and how to change it are the various Socialist parties. So much sound and fury has been spent classifying Obama as a Socialist that people, especially the youth that comes to question the still prevailing Cold War narrative. As people come to realize that complexities of these historical problems facing the various models (Soviet, Cuban, Chinese, etc.) bespoke of by talking heads, they will come to see more and more that they do not in any way represent Socialism. They will see that these are bugbears bandied about by demagogues to muzzle those that criticize the current state of affairs and at this point an important fact comes to light – that it is not until Soviet “socialism” collapsed can it possibly rise in America.

While the American socialist groups may now have less interference to pursue their paths of political action today – they still bear the imprint from which they were born. The coat of paranoia, cultish devotion to key leaders, catechistic responses to outsiders and an understandable yet off-putting fixation on specific historical epochs during which heroic actions happened, which, while valuable, matter little to the issues of Americans, has yet to be shed. It is of little surprise that such an option doesn’t seem desirable now, however romantic sentiments doesn’t achieve political change. Disciplined parties do. One need not refer to any great Marxist revolutionary to see that this is the truth, but simply look at the historical record.

Review of "Nature's Metropolis – Chicago and the Great West"

The history of capitalism is the history of the relation between town and country, and Nature’s Metropolis: Chicago and the Great West by William Cronon shows the epic scale of this relationship in Chicago’s inception and growth into the second largest city in America. Using a Hegelian-Marxist conceptual framework and a wealth of financial reports, invoices, federal bankruptcy data, census data, newspaper subscription records, and court rulings, Cronon expounds on how technological development related to production, transportation, housing, marketing and distribution mediated the economic relations between town and country.

Cronon opens by illustrating how Chicago grew to enormous proportions due to its relationship to a series of frontier and natural environments and how massive public projects were able to remove the natural physical limitations to trade. The mesh of physical contingencies that Cronon describes in the development of Chicago’s industry highlights the social and economic logic that is eventually sublated by subsequent development.

Cronon then surveys different historians’ approaches to understanding the development of the 19th century American West. He turns against Turner’s frontier thesis, and shows how agricultural development in the less developed region led to commercial expansion in the city. This critical point is then tied to an exegesis of Von Thunen’s Isolated State. This state is conceived of as such: The central zone is the city and is able to obtain the highest rents as it is the most population dense. Outside of this are five zones that, due to their capital investment and transportation costs to the city determines their proximal relation to it. First there is the zone of intensive agriculture (dairy and market gardens), following that is extensive agriculture (unrotated wheat) or intensive forestry, then open range livestock raising, a zone for trapping, hunting and trade with the hinterlands and finally the “wilderness”.

After explicating the weaknesses of this ahistorical concept, Cronon moves into a Marxian geography wherein capital enters and exits regions of increased profitability and is constantly changing these zone and the relationships of those in them. In his chapters regarding the conflict between small lumber stores and direct sellers as well as between local butchers and the Chicago meat processing plants we see this most clearly. However it would be a mistake to conceive of Cronon’s work as a social or labor history of Chicago, while these human concerns are intimately connected to his narrative, he is primarily concerned with explicating commodity market relationships, developments and their effects on the physical composition of Chicago. Though this may seem to be a disavowal of the very human element that created the wealth of the city, it functions more to delineate the competitive limits for both labor and capital based upon technological and regional development and the sundry effects this had on human relationships involved in the struggle for control of such processes. Examples of this include but are not limited to the standardization of packaging to handle greater volumes of wheat than any previously amassed, their grading of grain and lumber based upon variable qualities to simplify pricing, the purchasing power given to the grain barons, the creation of the first futures markets, attempts at regulation, etc.

In addition to the commodity history of grain, Cronon also focuses on meat, lumber, railways and capital investments. Each historically situates the conceptual/physical transformations brought about by centralization process as well as how many of these very aspects which gave Chicago a competitive advantage over nearby cities and helped it to rise also lead to its decline. One example of this is the large number of trains that turned Chicago into an entrepot. As the city grew, housing and commercial real estate development along with safety concerns sapped the train’s efficiency, thus forcing shippers to circumvent the city altogether and capital intense industries, such as Hormel, to decentralize. This dialectical perspective is evident throughout.

In the closing section Cronon outlines Chicago’s moral economy as conceptualized at the time, thus highlighting the oft-cited divide between town and country. The White City becomes a point for discussion on capitalist relationships in general and how symbiotic but unequal relationships were conceptualized and navigated. As generally ebulliant I am about this intricate work, there are also some glaring omissions that must be calculated within the historiography of Chicago’s commodity markets. The proximity of iron ore and coal is are two important aspects overlooked, as is the massive number of immigrants constantly entering into the city and putting constant downward pressure on wages. Cronon cannot be overly criticized for this, but at least some discussion of regulating industries and capital competition as it relates to the changes so artfully described would add yet another layer to the developments Cronon described.

P.O.U.M. Exhibit

Today I went to the Catalyunya National History Museum to see an exhibition on the 75th anniversary of formation of the P.O.U.M. (Partido Obreador Unido Marxist) and was rather underwhelmed by the small room made in their memory. Though their time on the world stage was small, the role they played was large. It is not just Ken Loach and George Orwell who use this group as a way for explaining the conflicts going on within Spain’s Republican Government and the country as a whole during the period of Civil War, but the many International Brigadeers who came to fight on the Republican side voluntarily and were so taken by their experience they made efforts equal to their time on the battlefield to make sure that it would be truthfully recorded for posterity. In fact, this conflict is the first historical occurrence of a concerted, international effort on the part of the defeated to lay out their mistakes, weaknesses and try to arrive at an after the fact assessment of what they should have done differently.

Heroic, unique and thoroughly documented in narrative though their actions may have been, history has not been kind to the P.O.U.M. The dearth of materials curators were able to display is understandable given the P.O.U.M. was a vehicle of the Trotskyist Opposition. Members were under attack from Fascist and Stalinist elements prior to General Franco taking control of Spain. After Franco’s victory physical items indicating membership or sympathy became cause for arrest or disappearance. The slanderous or true accusation by someone to the authorities also meant that you could become one of the hundreds of thousands of Spaniards killed in political purges against the socialists, anarchists, communists, pacifists, militant progressives, anti-clericalists and unionists. As such, the display cases consisted only of red cards indicating membership with the group, several books, pamphlets and newspapers published by the party. It is likely that other artifacts were destroyed out of a sense of self-preservation.

What was the most compelling aspect of this exhibit were the few dozen pictures showing group members not simply fighting on the front lines, but relaxing together on the beach and smiling for the camera in a moment of joy, or sitting at a cafe. These pictures showed a human side that appreciated pleasant distraction and social gatherings in a way that so often gets ignored in discussions of political mobilization and conflict. It showed that those fighting on the battlefields were not doing so simply because they were ideologues who craved conflict or automatons following orders but as they sincerely sought to gain for themselves a manner of living that would allow them to extract more pleasure from life through a better standard of living and working less. Though they recognized that they would need to take a militant stance as the only way they could possibly achieve their desires given the social conditions they inherited, their motivation for doing to was the very opposite of the military ideal, specifically the desire for joy and play. And it is in this humanization of forces that the CNHM did a great job in presenting the P.O.U.M. to those who made it to their 75th anniversary exhibit.

Review of "Left Out: Pragmatism, Exceptionalism, and the Poverty of American Marxism, 1890-1922"

Brian Lloyd’s book Left Out: Pragmatism, Exceptionalism, and the Poverty of American Marxism, 1890-1922 gives an intellectual history of the early socialist thought in America. He claims that too much of the historical writings on this period has taken for granted the Marxist nature of American Socialists by simply categorizing the two major tendencies into Reform and Revolutionary Socialism (ex: Ira Kipnis), and then begins with careful consideration of the thoughts developed within socialist journals such as the Masses, the New Republic as well as the “socialist” books published at the time.

From here the book begins with an exposition of pragmatism as conceived by William James and Dewey. Lloyd shows the differences between these two thinkers that have often been conflated into a singular “pragmatist school,” largely due to the work of the former to create a unique “American” philosophy, and how it is vastly different from the Marxist holism. These thinkers, defined as they are by empiricist epistemologies, focus on biological and cultural dispositions, functionalist psychologizing, positivism and, in the case of James, dualism. If this seems like a strange opening for a Marxist intellectual history of early American socialist parties, it is done so in order to show the heterodox and unstable nature of socialist ideology at the time.
These two liberal are shown to have greatly influence the intellectuals writing for the socialist press and Lloyd further demonstrates the authority upon which Spencerian notions of social/cultural development, Veblenian economic stages, Nietzschean and Bergsonian concepts of the Will/interest and Darwinian determinism affected the “scientific” theories emerged in Progressive and socialistic discourses. In addition to these divergences form Marxist thought, the various socialist parties would at times rely upon small-producer ideologies – as evidenced in the Granger movement and the farmers faction of the Socialist Party – in order to act as an organizing principle.

Several intellectuals prominent within the socialist discourses of the time are then brought under scrutiny to show how the intellectual framework they used was more inspired by pragmatist notions than Marxist ones. The explanatory concepts used by of Eastman, Fraina, Hillquist, Boudin, Seligman and others are shown to be amalgams of naturalistic science and bourgeiouse thought. Several of these supposed socialists actively seek to discredit Marx, either because he is “foreign” and thus unfamiliar with the U.S.’s unique conditions, or as he has been discredited by Bernsteinian notions of evolutionary socialism, or simply because he wrote in a time so far removed that his concepts no longer apply to the non-competitive capitalism of the time. There were even those that claimed that Marx was really a pragmatist and a positivist, and would cloak their language with the terminology of Marx in a ceremonial fashion but really then would combine empirical data and the highly subjectivist new psychology within a framework of economic determinism that has naught to do with Marx.
It is from this exegesis that Lloyd pulls out how it should have been no surprise how all of the aforementioned socialist intellectuals were pulled into the nationalistic and xenophobic discourses justifying repressive social measures under the auspices of liberal values and crypto-imperial aspirations at the beginning of World War I. By exhaustingly limning the conceptual limits of hayseed empiricism, practical idealism, inchoate liberalism, “great men” theories, economic monism, etc. that characterized American “Marxism” and the Second International, their policies of exceptionalism become more understandable. As can readily be understood from the above, not only is their understanding of the path towards socialism completely divergent from the epistemological-ontological philosophy of Marx and instead steeped in exceptionalism, but the ramifications of such a position are then shown after the October Revolution. Many of the above thinkers go from Socialists to Anti-Communists, some of who became employed within various levels of government as political advisors to Woodrow Wilson.

The last 50 pages of the book outlines in broad detail the Marxist-Leninst position on a Socialist movement and provides a philosophical counterfactual to the projects of the various socialist groups. Lloyd is careful to state that he does not claim that were these American “revolutionary” organizations to adopt a dialectical and historically materialist ideology they would have been successful. He does, however, describe a clear contrast to the various pseudo-Marxisms and their myriad blind-spots. While this is done throughout the book as well, here we see a systematic presentation of the poverty of American Marxist thought.

Viva Barcelona!

It’s been a little over a month since moving to Barcelona. While getting accustomed to the time change and daily rhythm which is so vastly different from the of New York hasn’t been difficult per se, but it has exacted from me my ability to write. The amount of bureaucracy here is indeed mind-blowing and probably a reason why the black market is so prevalent throughout the country. However, now that I consider myself mostly adjusted, I wanted to take the time to write in some detail about some of my thoughts since arriving.

First I must admit that since arriving I have found myself consistently gratified for having taken the time to read Robert Hughes book Barcelona, a comprehensive account of the history of my new home cities development from Roman colony to empire to unwilling appendage of Castillian influence to war zone to home of the 1992 summer Olympics. Hughes also introduces the eminent personages that helped construct the city and bring it renown, catalogs many of the distinctly Catalan cultural traditions, traces it’s political and economic developments as well as give detailed examination of the city’s famous architecture. Poets, revolutionaries of the Right and Left, Kings, colonialists all have their place, but it is the artisans which designed the city that he devotes most of his attention. This is unsurprising given Hughes background as an art critic, but his exegesis of wood, marble stone and cement is no mere formalism but informed by the historical contexts and conflicts of the time.

Hughes gives the history behind the Teatro de Liceu, a work of epic beauty constructed during the beginning of the Golden Age of the Catalan bourgeoise which could not cope with the industrialism which helped bring it into being. The strange placement of Monjuic, a castle at the edge rather than the center of the city, is explained, as well as the large statue of Christopher Colombus pointing to the New World close to Barcelona’s docks. The reasoning that so many of the cities street names are of foreign origin are brought to light, as are many other aspects of the city that I have since encountered.

While the two thousand years of history and development that are gone over in this 567 page book have an impressive amount of detail, it is the final chapters on Gaudi which are by far the most in depth. Given Gaudi’s impact on notions of Barcelonans Catalan identity and subsequent use in advertising matrerial this is unsurprising. However, this section is no more paean to genius, the capacity of architects to bring an aesthetic pleasure to the banal and incorporate local craft traditions into work in a time of increasing standardization and deskilling. Additionally, the book ends with a masterful deconstruction of La Sagrada Familia, the building probably associated with Barcelona in the same way that the Eiffel Tower is with Paris.

And speaking of Paris, I must admit that after having read this I have a fervent desire to return to Paris after having read Eric Hazan’s The Invention of Paris: A History in Footsteps. While I visited many of the literary sites made famous by the long history of Parisian intellectuals and writers, the Lost Generation and Henry Miller, this text, I’m sure as Hughes does, presents a type of history shows just how embedded the past is into the present.

Whilst on the subject of the past embedded in the present, and one of the reasons why I wanted to write this blog, was that one of the things which have taken me by surprise since arriving is the living memory apparent within the public places of Barcelona. While visiting the library closest to my house I noticed several Republican political posters from the Spanish Civil War. Whilst walking around the Montjuic park I came across a statue of Fernando Ferrer – a secular educator that was sentanced to death for a falsely attributed role in an assassination plot. In a bookstore by the Liceu metro line, off Passeig de Gracia, I entered a bookstore which contained a large display of books related to the Spanish Civil War at the front of the store, the area which is considered most valuable to attracting customers. There are posters and graffiti, heavily concentrated in the Gracia area, for the CNT, CGT and COO and whilst walking in the Old City there was a large rally composed of these groups protesting cut in social spending.

I see this and in light of the fact that all of these public acknowledgments of previous and still existing social conflict stems from the death of Franco and the relaxation of strictures preventing remberence I find stunning. The various conceptual and historical frameworks offered by G. W. F. Hegel, Friedrich Nietzsche, Reinhart Koselleck, Benedict Andersen sets my mind running in various directions, especially when considering the manner in which such history is deployed amidst the current Spanish economic crisis. This is a topic that I’m sure I will meditate on more as time goes on and I find myself exposed to more experiences – however one such topic that I think worthy of attention is how there are certain historical periods which some regions/countries get stuck in.

For Spain it is clearly the Spanish Civil War which is historical moment that is constantly returned to it as a source of inspiration, reflection and criticism. During the time immediately preceding, during and following the war there was a flourishing of literature which was describing the events. The two books most widely acclaimed about the events, Ernest Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls and George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia, are truly great but should also be paired with a Spanish work of similar greatness, Lorca’s Three Tragedies. Additionally, it wasn’t just the literary arts that was affected. Perhaps the most famous work related to this was Picasso’s Guernica. While the ideological foment embedded in this period wasn’t atypical and had several echoes in other national literatures and arts – however that this continues to be a guiding source of inspiration is.

Recent films such as Pan’s Labyrinth, Last Circus, There Be Dragons also center on or have these events play a major role in plot and character development. Even Javier Bardem’s recent film Biutiful, set in modern day Barcelona, focuses on a character haunted by his father who died while fleeing Franco’s death squads. Such a history is not surprisingly disavowed in Woody Allen’s omphaloskeptical film Vicky Cristina Barcelona.

This is not so unsurprising as such events allow for dramatic tension that rarely emerges. Inter-natinonal war is one thing, but prolonged civil war with entrenched positions based upon class/ideological differences is. My own interest in the dynamic provided by nationalistic and ideological tension contained within the context stems from a period of convalescence where I devoured The Spanish Anarchists: The Heroic Years 1868-1936, The Battle for Spain: The Spanish Civil War 1936-1939, The Spanish Civil War: Revised Edition, The Spanish Civil War, Free Women of Spain: Anarchism and the Struggle for the Emancipation of Women in a period of a few weeks. I bring this as just as many of the conflicts within the Civil War are still relevant to contemporary issues and not just to Autonomous communities in Spain.

To cite a specific example, last Thursday I unwittingly walked into my first major Spanish demonstration protesting the neo-liberal policies mandated by Germany to support the EU (pictures). Spain still has credibility where Greece and now Italy do not, but this doesn’t mean that there still isn’t rampant unemployment, social unrest and problems that are lying underneath the semi-peaceful veneer. This is, however, unlikely to change. As the moral hazard created by Greece and now Italy spreads it is likely to create increased tension amidst those and other member nation states as incentives to fail become available. While the battles for the future control over resource management and government policy will now be directed by politicians rather than princes or fuhrers, thus taking the heroic element out of politics with bureaucracy, what economists should consider is not the increasing perfectibility of Dynamic Stochastic General Equilibrium models – but how it is that historical traditions inform economic responses.

That said, I’m going out to see more of the city.