All About My Mother-In-Law

A few more thoughts on ¡Democracia Real YA! while I have a bit of time. Yesterday Madrid’s electoral commission, in a bout of authoritarian panic, prohibited a demonstration planned for 20:00h in the Puerta del Sol, claiming that it could interfere with the right of citizens to exercise their vote. Via Público, here is the result:

This is big. I was on the phone to my mother-in-law last night. I have written about her political views before. She thinks I am an airhead idealist. I asked her, half-joking, if she was planning on going down to the square to camp out. She said that if she didn’t have to work, she would go. She said she was completely supportive of what the demonstrators were doing, as was everyone in her street. It was not just young people, she said, although she recognised that it was they who had started things. Now it was pensioners, housewives, who were all beginning to lend their support. She then said that what they were doing in Spain was the same as what the Egyptians and the Tunisians before them had been doing in their countries. That to me was the amazing bit. You see, there has been an anxious attempt, on the part of the political class in Spain, as in Ireland too, if you recall Enda Kenny’s remarks post-election about there being no need to take to the streets, to point at Egypt and Tunisia and say things like “See? These people are willing to risk their lives for the freedoms you already enjoy. Here we have the ballot box; there is no need to go out onto the street.” And yet now you have people like my mother-in-law -who have developed quite an anti-political cynicism during the years of PP-PSOE neo-liberal rule- who not only reject this idea, and recognise that democracy is about more than just pulling a lever every four years to choose between two parties packed with professional politicians beholden to the interests of speculators, but who consciously identify with the Egyptian and Tunisian people in so doing. I was taken aback by the excitement in her voice last night when she was telling me this.

The genius, and I don’t use the word lightly, of the ¡Democracia Real YA! campaign, has been to seize upon the deep cynicism and disenchantment fostered toward government over the past twenty years in Spain, and incorporate it in a direct challenge to both the political and the economic system. Anti-political attitudes are habitually used by the dominant class as a bulwark against political activity, distracting attention from the gradual concentration of control over the economy in private hands and fostering a sense of helplessness in the population. (One name for this, in Ireland, is Liveline.) But Democracia Real YA! treats the question of material well-being and control over one’s destiny as essential elements of democracy. In Western democracies, progressive and left-leaning groups seem to have been kept in line, maybe because they actually identify with it, by the incessant right-wing drum beat about ‘freedom’ that has been part of the soundtrack to people’s lives for at least the last 30 years. But DRY is now making it plain, for millions, that when laws in supposed democracies are imposed for the benefit of the powerful, freedom is restricted, and democracy is traduced.

Like I said, this is big. It has been very easy for elites in Western countries to represent the populations of places like Egypt and Tunisia, even when they have overthrown dictators, as needing to remain under the tutelary wing of their Western technocratic masters, and as essentially travelling the same end-of-history path mapped out for Western states. Not so easy when it comes to Spain, which has once already functioned as a symbol of global struggle, and as the site where, as Hobsbawm puts it in Age of Extremes, what got played out were “the fundamental political issues of the time: on the one side, democracy and social revolution, Spain being the only country in Europe where it was ready to erupt; on the other, a uniquely uncompromising camp of counter-revolution or reaction”. There are a lot of young people in Spain who believe that the story of democracy in Spain, of ‘the transition told to our parents’, as the title of a recent book has it, presents a fraudulent account of what democracy is supposed to be, and masks the reality of a country still dominated, to an intolerable degree, by rigidly authoritarian and reactionary conservative elites. Unlike their Irish counterparts, there is no question of them going anywhere, and if an EU-IMF ‘bailout’ comes, it could very well be in Spain, once again, where the spark to all-out confrontation is lit. Assuming, that is, that this confrontation has not already begun.

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5 Responses to “All About My Mother-In-Law”


  1. 1 LeftAtTheCross May 19, 2011 at 7:44 pm

    On your point about the anti-political attitude, the attempted hiding of politics from the public discourse.

    I was watching the DVD “The Baader-Meinhof Complex” the other night, and afterwards was Googling the film and the RAF, and one of the points made which I hadn’t given much thought to before but is fairly obvious really was that the confluence of the post ’68 counter-culture with the repression of politics by the previous generation (a generation which had lived through and participated in the Nazi normality) led to a moment of widespread legitimisation of dissent in Germany in the ’70s, to the extent that 50% of under-40s expressed a passive support for the RAF’s ideals and actions.

    Is a similar process underway in Spain now perhaps?

    Reflecting this back on the situation in Ireland, perhaps the opposite is in some way a factor in the reluctance to voice or act out dissent. The fact that the previous generation lived through the NI Troubles in the 70s and 80s, and given the widespread level of passive support for the Provos, and the hi-jacking of radicalism at large by militaristic nationalism which left little room for alternative currents of dissent against the state, perhaps to a large extent the pendulum has swung in the other direction during the past 15 years since the GFA kicked in.


  1. 1 Irish Left Review · Democracia real YA! Protest in Dublin, Saturday 2pm at the Spire on O’Connell Street Trackback on May 19, 2011 at 5:37 pm
  2. 2 BOICOT A LA DEMOCRACIA. A POR LA III REPÚBLICA « THE.CAT Trackback on May 20, 2011 at 12:48 am
  3. 3 Critical Legal Thinking › Ghost Manifesto – Spain’s Real Democracy Now Trackback on May 20, 2011 at 7:31 am
  4. 4 Ghost Manifesto – Spain’s Real Democracy Now! | Reflections on a Revolution ROAR Trackback on May 21, 2011 at 2:30 pm

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