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Thirteen dead in fire at several discos in Murcia, an inevitable tragedy?
Thirteen people died on Sunday, 1 October, in a fire at three discos in the industrial area of Las Atalayas in Murcia. According to press reports, the fire started in one of the discos, which itself was divided into two different parts, and from there it spread to the others. Within minutes, the flames engulfed all the combustible material in these establishments, the roof of one of them collapsed and, in the context of the characteristics of this type of establishment, i.e. closed and overcrowded, etc., it turned these discotheques into an inferno from which thirteen people were unable to escape alive.
In the aftermath of the tragedy, there is regret among the bereaved for such a terrible misfortune. All local, regional and national authorities are showing ostentatious solidarity or offering, as the President of the Region of Murcia, López Miras, “all the public services of the region” to those affected. In the meantime, however, they are directly blaming the company that owns the site for the incident and launching a corresponding legal offensive to prove that it is solely responsible.
However, it is clear from the press itself that both the company and the “authorities” are to blame for what happened. According to El País, there are two opposing versions. On the one hand, the Murcia town hall claims that the premises where the fire broke out had been open since 2008, but had undergone such extensive alterations a few years ago that it lost its operating licence because it was impossible to ensure safety at events such as the one on Sunday. The company owning the premises therefore committed criminal conduct by keeping the premises open, hosting parties etc. According to the municipality, the cause of the fire was the owners’ failure to comply with the law and they should be held responsible for the incident. On the other hand, the company that owns the premises claims that it had a licence to open the premises, but that the licence was burnt in the fire.
It is clear that the company has a direct interest in claiming that there was adequate legal cover for the opening of the premises and that, therefore, in the absence of a breach of municipal regulations, whatever the cause of the fire, there is co-responsibility with the municipal authorities, at least in respect of possible safety deficiencies. Hence the assertion that the licence exists but that it was burnt: this is a defence against an aggravating circumstance which may lead to criminal liability for what happened.
The City Council is trying to accentuate the absence of a licence. However, this is ultimately an irrelevant fact. First, because, as everyone knows, the safety criteria that must be met to obtain a licence to open does not guarantee that a fire like the one that occurred on Sunday cannot occur. How many buildings and establishments with the proper legalities have burned down without the security that municipalities require of owners being sufficient to prevent it? The required security measures are minimal. Authorities are primarily concerned with not hindering the establishment and operation of businesses, not forcing them to “over-invest” in security because it would increase costs that would make it less attractive to start a business. Second, the lack of a licence to open the business is seen as determinative of the fire in question because it was the lack of security measures that prompted the municipality to revoke it… Why, then, was the company nevertheless allowed to operate? According to the press, it was the city council that revoked the pre-existing licence in January 2022. So why, almost two years later, have the technicians or the municipal police not shut down the premises? Because just as virtually nothing is required of owners of this type of premises to obtain a licence to open, nothing is required after such a licence is not obtained.
The municipality, of course, has announced that it will launch an investigation to find out why the premises remained open despite not having a licence... But can anyone in their right mind believe that this is some mysterious fact? Nowadays, even the smallest municipal council has enormous powers for control. Town halls control the local police and have the backing of the National Police and the Civil Guard. They have at their disposal recording means that were unthinkable a few decades ago, systems for monitoring people and their activities, networks of CCTV cameras spread across the territory... As representatives of the state, they are tasked with ensuring its repressive function, and they have almost inexhaustible resources to carry out this surveillance. To think that the municipality of a city as large as Murcia did not have the resources to close down a premise that did not comply with municipal regulations is completely absurd.
The bourgeois state is capable of sanctioning, persecuting, repressing, etc. by a wide variety of means. Its coercive force is constantly growing and developing at all levels: from the individualized surveillance of citizens to the coping with the masses during major events. And this ever-growing repressive capacity is justified by arguments that its function is to protect the population, to prevent catastrophes, whether provoked (attacks, etc.) or “natural”.
Where is this protection when thirteen people died at a disco which, according to a statement by the city council itself, should not be open? Nowhere: the bourgeois state, the state of the capitalist class, which presents itself as the guarantor of the common good, is totally incapable of carrying out the tasks it claims. Under its baton, catastrophes like the one in Murcia keep recurring. And it is not just because there are corrupt officials and corrupt businessmen who are able to falsify licences or turn a blind eye when there is none, but because this state itself will never systematically act against the bourgeoisie at any of its levels, will not interfere in its affairs, will not touch its sources of income. And it doesn't matter what the situation is, what risks it entails and what the consequences may be: the bourgeois state is not there for that, it does not have these functions. At most, it will respond to such a catastrophe, sending funds and resources to the people affected (which is usually another type of business activity sponsored by it, albeit this time directly), but nothing more. The idea of the state as an entity placed above special interests, able to correct (or repress) the selfish excesses of any individual or company, to provide a kind of collective view that can overcome potential abuses... is a mere lie.
A few weeks ago, torrential rains swept through the area between the south of Madrid and the north of Toledo. As is well known, the emergency services sent a warning message to the population via radio signal to their mobile phones, asking them not to leave their homes. By the time they did so, the rains had devastated parts of some villages in the area, carrying away bridges and houses that had been built for decades on old dry river and stream beds. Two people died. The “authorities” were fully aware that there were many buildings in the area where the rains occurred that were potentially life-threatening due to flooding, the effect of standing water, etc. But instead of evacuating, expending available resources to prevent danger to the population... they sent out a warning text message and let things run their course.
Intimidation, repression, etc. These are the functions of the bourgeois state. Evacuate a city or close a disco? In their horrible bookkeeping, such costs are greater than the revenue. Money is worth more than any human life.
It is capitalism, in which only the law of value, of maximising profit and increasing it, always rules, that causes the dangers. Discotheques, nightclubs are built (which in themselves pose a huge risk to visitors) because of the need to turn the frustration and fatigue that life in capitalism produces into “regenerative” consumption that relies on escaping reality. These clubs make huge profits for their owners by selling alcohol, drugs, etc., and by the use of thunderous music and lights, they facilitate the induction of a trance-like state for the visitors. This benefit is not to be denied by any entrepreneur in the name of safety, operating regulations, etc. And they call this consequence of such practice, for example in the form of a fire like the one in Murcia, a catastrophe, when in fact it is actually a normal consequence of the way things work under the capitalist regime.
October, 3d 2023
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