The Real Deal?

Big day out in Spain yesterday, with massive protests in over 50 cities and towns. You can see a few photos here. Below, a massive banner getting unfurled in Madrid’s Puerta del Sol that captures a truth rarely expressed in Ireland:

Translated it reads: ‘They are not bailouts, they are extortion. We will not pay for your crisis.’ It then goes on to read ‘Walk without fear towards the yellow’. I’ve no idea what the latter means, but yellow is the principal colour -along with black- of the campaign.

The campaign name will be somewhat familiar to keen observers of Irish politics. ¡Democracia Real YA! translates as Real Democracy NOW! But whilst Ireland’s Viagra-by-newsprint ‘Democracy Now’ initiative was to involve a crack team of gentleman parliamentarians, newspaper columnists and gadfly economists standing for election and clubbing together to point a giant accusatory finger at traditional political parties, ¡Democracia Real YA! has relied on popular mobilisation via social networks, and if yesterday’s demonstrations were anything to go by, it has got off to a great start. As well as There are twitter hashtags –#democracyrealya #spanishrevolution, the latter I suppose is a bit premature. Its Facebook page contains a list of nearly 150 suggested rhyming chants for the demonstrations, which sure beats ‘They say cutbacks – we say fight back!’ and eh, you know, the other ones. Campaigners have now set up camp in La Puerta del Sol, among many other places, a la Tahrir Square (#acampadasol).

Below, from yesterday in the day, you can see protesters singing ‘Less Police, More Education!’ and ‘Go away! before the riot police withdraw.

There are reports of police brutality and photos of agents provocateurs, which I will post when I get the time.

The post-crisis ‘civil society’ initiatives -whilst differing in scope and interests- have all prized unity over division. We The Citizens will Claim Our Future. Their wonkish touchy-feeliness have merely underwritten the dominant prescription -from government and industry- that ‘we are all in this together’. The possibility of some sort of confrontation is excluded ex ante.

By confrontation I’m not talking about chucking paving slabs at cops, but the basic recognition that in so far as you have some sort of popular movement, there have to be categories of people who are enemies of the people. This is something that the ¡Democracia Real YA! campaign appears to understand: ‘We (the people) will not pay for your (bankers’ and politicians’) crisis.’

Even in the campaigns organised by other Irish groupings with a more pronounced political identity – I’m thinking here of the Enough! Campaign by SWP/PBP, the Communist Party of Ireland’s Repudiate the Debt, there is a narrowing of focus to a specific feature of the crisis -the bank bailout and the debt accumulated- rather than an explicit calling into a question of either the political or the economic system that produced the crisis (the Enough! campaign seems to draw inspiration from the revolt in Egypt, but its call for a referendum is modest indeed). The right-wing economistic millenarianism of mainstream news outlets seems to loom large as a limiting influence here. Of all the campaigns conducted in these parts so far, I think the 1% Network has been the most effective, given the limited resources involved, in delivering a sharply illustrative message about just whose crisis it is, and to whom it ought to fall to fix it. But on the whole, what is missing, almost entirely, is the expression of a guiding message about just how corrosive the crisis is, not only to material well-being, but to basic democratic principles.

As I’ve noted before, we hear day in day out about how Ireland’s ‘economic sovereignty’ has been lost, but -as far as I’m aware of anyway- there has been no effective translation of this rather state-oriented term into everyday language. It is not that ‘we’ have lost our economic sovereignty -not least since many people had precious little to begin with- but that what democratic mechanisms ordinary people have at their disposal are being rendered useless and obsolete at an alarming rate. What has been withdrawn is not ‘economic sovereignty’, but democracy.

Where the ¡Democracia Real YA! campaign seems to have succeeded, by contrast, is in its refusal to narrow the focus to one particular element of the crisis (reform of political parties and institutions, re-orientation of economic policy) and to introduce a particular political subject with material needs to be satisfied. Its introductory page reads:

We the unemployed, the badly paid, the subcontracted, the precarious, the young..we want a change and a decent future. We are sick of antisocial reforms, of being left on the dole, of banks that caused the crisis raising our mortages or repossessing our homes, of laws imposed on us that limit our freedom for the benefit of the powerful. We accuse those in political and economic power of our precarious situation and we demand a change of course.

Through this platform, we wish to help co-ordinate a global and common action through all those associations, groups and citizens’ movements which, through different ways, are attempting to contribute to a change in the present situation.

We call on everyone, as citizens, to go onto the streets on the 15th of May, at 18:00, under the slogan “Real Democracy NOW. We are not commodities in the hands of politicians and bankers. We encourage you to come along in a peaceful manner and without exclusive political symbols so that one single voice is listened to.

You can send a mail to to sign up your own group, association, blog or platform to the call, or to collaborate in the publicity and organisation of the protest in your town.

We also invite you to add your signature to our manifesto (linked here in English).

Some people, and not without good reason, would be chary of the idea of demonstrations that leave out ‘exclusive’ (i.e. party political) political symbols. But I think ultimately the justification for such a move would depend on the scope of the manifesto. As it stands, the ¡Democracia Real YA! manifesto is a good deal more robust in this regard than anything I’ve seen materialise here. The English translation is a little clunky, so I’ve polished it up a bit here below.

  • The priorities of any advanced society must be equality, progress, solidarity, freedom of culture, ecological sustainability and the development, welfare and happiness of each person.
  • There are basic rights that ought to be attended to in these societies: the right to housing, employment, culture, health, education, political participation, free personal development, and the right to the consumption of the goods needed for a happy and healthy life.
  • The present functioning of our government and economic system does not attend to these rights, and in many ways is an obstacle to human progress.
  • Democracy belongs to the people (demos = people, krátos = government) which means that government must be by the people. However, in Spain most of the political class does not even listen to us. Politicians should be bringing our voice to the institutions, facilitating the political participation of citizens through direct channels that provide the greatest benefit to the wider society, not getting rich and prosper at our expense, attending only to the dictatorship of major economic powers and holding them in power through a bipartidism headed by the immovable acronym PP & PSOE.
  • The lust for power, and its concentration in a few people, create inequality, tension and injustice, which leads to violence, which we reject. The reigning obsolete and unnatural economic model fuels the social machinery in a growing spiral that consumes itself by enriching a few and sending the rest into poverty. Until the collapse.
  • The will and purpose of the current system is the accumulation of money, placing this above the efficiency and welfare of society. Wasting resources, destroying the planet, creating unemployment and unhappy consumers.
    Citizens are the gears of a machine designed to enrich a minority which knows nothing of our needs. We are anonymous, but without us none of this would exist, because we move the world.
  • If as a society we learn to not trust our future to an abstract economic profitability, which never returns benefits for the most, we can eliminate the abuses and the shortages that we are all suffering.
  • We need an ethical revolution. We have placed money above human beings, and we must put it back in our service. We are people, not products. I cannot be reduced to what I buy, why I buy it, and from whom I buy it.

Because of all the above, I am outraged.

I believe I can change it.

I believe I can help.

I know that together we can do it.

Come out with us. It’s your right.

Now, I ain’t saying that this is the sort of thing that can be simply copied and pasted into an Irish context. But at the same time, I don’t believe there is anything in the manifesto above that I can hear too many people saying ‘this is all a load of oul’ shite’. In its scope and its vision, it attempts to forge a systemic critique in terms that anyone can understand. Definitely worth watching, and learning from.

10 Responses to “The Real Deal?”

  1. 1 John McDermott May 17, 2011 at 1:30 pm

    between1999 and 2008 public sector wages rose an average of 110% in Ireland. in Greece by 109%, and in Portugal by 58%
    In Germany they rose by 13%!
    Render to Caesar what Caesar’s!

    • 2 SOMK May 17, 2011 at 2:14 pm

      The above (comment) sums up the problems of this country perfectly.

      This is precisely the kind of crap which stops us having a real debate in this country, not even a real debate, there is no debate necessary, the facts of this crisis should be blindingly obvious. The people are being fucked, simple as, it shouldn’t be on, it shouldn’t be tolerated and yet here it is.

      The sad fact is though we may have finally fallen out of love with catholicism, we still have a catholic mentality of guilt and conservatism. And not just right-wing conservatism, but intellectual conservatism, a conservatism that it utterly passive, that will happily bitch in texts to radio shows or on twitter, maybe even go to a citizens’ think in, but it won’t go to two, a conservatism that elects a Fine Gael government after a Fianna Fáil one (not that there was much alternative.), an imaginative conservatism that gives up on this country when things take a turn for the worse and heads for foreign soil instead of staying here and try to build something out of the wreckage.

      Maybe we’ll snap out of it, when the whole bloody rotten system finally comes crashing down, but by then it’ll be too bloody late. If this type of rhetoric would work on a country like ours instead call out the moaning sheep of the right like this guy then it would have already happened, but it wouldn’t and it didn’t.

      ps. In answer to the above (if you want to play this tiresome blame game), and why did those wages rise? How much did house prices rise in Ireland between 96 and 06? Roughly 300%. What was the engine of that? Private sector greed. A housing project is put on sale one weekend, five units are bought the price is bumped up another few thousand for the next week and if more are bought the price goes up again. The developers, the estate agents, the banks all knew this, and yet no one cried fowl they just merrily lined their greasy pockets. And people have the gall to blame the public sector for this mess!?

    • 3 make do or mend May 17, 2011 at 8:07 pm

      Please state your source(s). Are these supposed wage increases level across all sector classifications – ie did the clerk receive the same increase as the CEO? Do you include paid-in-kind remuneration and bonuses paid to the top echelon?

      Do you lump the increase in numbers of employed to the rise in the overall, aggregate wage bill during this time period? (I suspect you do?)

      You compare Irish public sector wage increases with the German increase. Did they start from the same base pay structure – ie did the German receive a much higher standard of pay in 1998 than many of their Irish counterparts?

      Do you include the increased number of bureaucrat’s salaries, including the “must-have” professionals, that Harney lumped into the NHS?

      If memory serves me correctly the meme of the time, and a meme supported by the middle classes, was that the top echolons of all civil service departments had to be paid on so-called private sectors wage levels in order to attract the talent. Of course now the middle class pundits scream for cuts to clerk’s salaries while remaining stum about the top echolon’s wages (they might still like one of those plum jobs).

  2. 4 Alan Rouge May 17, 2011 at 11:48 pm

    These are really interesting posts Hugh, thanks for them. It’s good to read about stuff going on like this that you (obviously) won’t get from our own media.

    I would definitely agree with the main argument here that there needs to be united co-operation that can present a coherent alternative and analysis. There are some small meetings and groups getting together and indeed some seem to be along single issues. Michael Taft at a TASC conference last week pleaded for someone to pick up the telephone and get all the civic groups and unions together to essentially form such an alternative.

    The Claiming our Future thing did bring together some of these groups. I was at the RDS event and thought it was a good achievement at the least getting 1,000 people in a room to discuss this stuff aside from the reactionary rhetorical nonsense spouted by the business class on TV, in print and over the radio waves.

    There was however, a reluctance to add some teeth to it though many I spoke to who were at the table I was at had been on many protests over the previous period. I have a suspicion that some of the people that head it up like Niall Crowely are opposed to direct action perhaps for fear of being shut out of the mainstream altogether – as if it got much coverage anyway!

    This is something we saw replicated in the students union protests where the careerists leaders of that dismissed and condemned the few dozen people that went and sat in the Dept of Finance building.

    I thought Kathleen Lynch and John Bissett made great short speeches at that protest at the Dail last year –
    There was a decent cross section of groups involved in that march from Travellers organization to Patients Together and had hoped something would build from that. Obviously it didn’t.

    It’s hard to see another big protest coming together. ICTU appear content that their pals in Labour have a seat at the roundtable. The middle-classes are fuming but the anger seems to only manifest itself in anti-public sector rants of a Monday night in Montrose or in virulent text messages to radio shows. The community sector was once content with the crumbs from the social partnership table which is obviously not much of an option now.

    Have you any ideas or suggestions on growing a popular movement in Ireland?

    • 5 Hugh Green May 18, 2011 at 3:33 pm

      Jesus, well, I guess that I would start with the well-worn Irish observation that if I wanted to head in that direction, I wouldn’t start from here. One of the important things about what is happening in Spain is the fact that the urban infrastructure facilitates gatherings, such as that in Sol and elsewhere, in a way that is hard to conceive of in Ireland. Sol is right in the centre of Madrid, in fact it’s known as Kilometre Zero. And it’s remarkably easy to get to via public transport, making it easy for large numbers of people to come and go. Whereas in Ireland the energy of activists gets pulled into the maintenance of cuts to what was a drastically meagre bus service even before the crisis. Another thing is that even though Spain was a dictatorship for a very long time, and even though there is a lot of complaint in Spain about the passivity of younger generations, there are long and proud traditions of left activism, whether republican or anarchist. And there is a growing sense, with the austerity measures beginning to bite, that the deals that were made in the transition to democracy were rigged in favour of those who had benefited most from the Franco regime. Then there is the idea of city spaces as actually belonging to the public. So when you have protests like these, the space of somewhere like Sol becomes a kind of synechdoche for the entirety of the commons – hospitals, universities, schools, and all manner of public infrastructure and institutions. The weather also helps, of course.

      I’m not trying to dampen the idea that you could have something similar in Ireland, but it is important to point out that the manifesto of this grouping, and the ideas behind it, are expressed, expanded upon, and propagated through the practice of actually getting out onto the streets and occupying physical space -insisting that it belongs to the people and drawing attention to the gap between what the people want, and what is being pursued by ruling elites. It would not be enough to simply come up with a manifesto and a series of declarations, there are habits and ways of seeing and thinking about the commons that need to be developed, etc.

      So there are limitations to using the Spanish experience here as a means of creating something in Ireland. Or at least, if you’re going to try establishing a popular movement, you need to be mindful of what those limitations are. This is not to say that one cannot grow a popular movement. In fact, given the depoliticised state of much of the population, I think you probably do have to have something that excludes party political symbols, but it cannot be modest in terms of its manifesto: it must call in to question the entire system, being as broad as what RDY have outlined in theirs.

  3. 6 Alan Rouge May 19, 2011 at 12:56 am

    You are right in terms of the scope of any campaign. I heard Mary Murphy speak against a trend of people and groups just looking after their own little space and issues not linking in with others and seeing the larger picture. I think she was specifically talking about the likes of the Older Bolder campaign for the pensioners.

    I would prefer non-party actions. I think it kinda compromises things if there’s party logos involved.

    Just from a straw poll of family and friends I don’t think there’s much support for attacking the pensioners. If or when more cuts come their way we could see something kick off. Although as we saw in the coverage of the budget last year some of the indirect cuts ie. not the state pension but services the elderly rely on, didn’t really get highlighted that much.]

    The point about us not having a sense of public ownership over public spaces is all too real. I still remember the out-pour of disgust at a few people sitting down on Dame St back in 2002. Gardai say that they will “facilitate” protest in a manner that says that we should be grateful that they allow us public demonstration.

  1. 1 Irish Left Review · The Real Deal? Trackback on May 17, 2011 at 9:08 am
  2. 2 #acampadasol PARTIES DEMOCRACY VS CITIZENS DEMOCRACY #acampadabcn « THE.CAT Trackback on May 19, 2011 at 2:15 am
  3. 3 Critical Legal Thinking › Ghost Manifesto – Spain’s Real Democracy Now Trackback on May 20, 2011 at 6:29 am
  4. 4 Ghost Manifesto – Spain’s Real Democracy Now | Reflections on a Revolution ROAR Trackback on May 21, 2011 at 2:19 pm

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May 2011

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