Archive for May 22nd, 2011


Just catching up on a bit of reading after spending the morning and afternoon in Dublin, of which more in another post in a little while. Today, you may be aware, was a day of ‘reflection’ in Spain in advance of tomorrow’s local and regional elections. This entailed the banning of protests. The principal effect, as far as I can see it, has been to strengthen the 15-M movement even more, by giving a practical example of how self-instantiating people power can push the bounds of the possible. I am in two minds over the name ‘Spanish revolution’ that is being applied to what is going on. I am fine with it in terms of the popular confidence it reflects and projects, but I am one of those people who believes there are still quite a lot of undiscovered valuable lessons to be learnt from the previous Spanish revolution. So I would nearly prefer it if this was a conscious reference to the previous one, and there were a bit more borrowing of names, battle slogans, and costumes. Like, for instance, this:

Which, according to this report here in Público has been appropriated and adapted to read “Madrid será la tumba del neoliberalismo. ¡No pasarán!” I do not think this is the sort of borrowing carried out, as Marx put it, ‘in order to present this new scene in world history in time-honored disguise and borrowed language’. On the contrary: if this slogan appears, it is out of recognition that the scene is not new at all. It strikes me more of an announcement that there is a lot of unfinished business to attend to.

However, a lot of the use of ‘Spanish revolution’ seems to be fuelled by the novelty of people actually getting out onto the streets to challenge the legitimacy of the reigning political and economic order. But there is a very long road to be walked difference between the point where you manage to reveal to large numbers of people that the systems that determine their lives are based on manipulation, lies and exploitation, and -what is more important- that it doesn’t have to be like this– and the point where you start the process of constructing a new order. I would make the modest suggestion that this doesn’t happen until the expropriators start getting expropriated.

Still, the achievement of mounting a direct challenge to the reigning order is not to be sniffed at. For me, this -bearing in mind it is taking place under the influence of the popular exertions in the Arab world- is the most exhilarating development I’ve ever witnessed. At a level of personal sensation, the only thing I can compare it to -and the two things are hardly commensurable at all- was back in the first months of when the first IRA ceasefire was called, and the roadblocks were removed from the roads in town, for the first time in your life you were able to pass through town as you needed to, and you could walk home from the pub at night without getting ready to jump into a hedge and run across the fields whenever you heard a car approaching because you’re worried you’ll be shot if it slows or pulls to a halt. That probably sounds a little strange.

I was down at the Dublin demo today. There was a good turnout, and it beat any other protest I’ve been to in Dublin hands down. Normally you go to one of these things and you hear four or five people from trade unions or political parties or NGOs get up and make a series of defiant declarations about this and that, and people looking up at them clap in agreement. Most of the time when I’m at one of these things I don’t pay too much attention to what’s being said. Sure you could figure out what they’re going to say before you walk out the door of the house. The main reason I go to these things is to make up the number. Whereas today there was a sort of open-megaphone session to begin with, where anyone was free to say whatever it was they wanted to say. It was hard to tell how planned or unplanned this was. But people were a bit reticent to say stuff, and some people who did say stuff said really goofy things, others said quite sincere things, the manifesto was read out, there were a load of slogans chanted, not all of them inspiring, some of them more so, and then I started to lose earshot of the megaphone and the child was getting hungry so we headed off. There were some great home-made posters there. I particularly liked the one that read ‘No bread for so many chorizo’, which must have had quite a few non-Spanish-speakers scratching their heads.

I suppose the thing that struck me most about the demo was the way it shed light on an aspect of the logo Democracia Real Ya! that had been pretty hidden to me previously. It is pretty easy to grasp the claim implicit in the phrase -that what there is is not real democracy at all, but a lie. But it’s one thing to point out the lie and say things like it doesn’t matter who you vote for in parliamentary elections because the broad mass of politicians are subservient to international financial institutions and the most important decisions affecting human life are taken by unaccountable, unelected bodies.  it’s another thing entirely to show what real democracy actually is. I mean, if you are going to talk about people power, hadn’t you better have some sort of notion as to the ways it ought to operate? Not in terms of grand theories, which are grand, or in long and drawn out pieces of writing, which of course have their place, but in terms of ordinary people speaking and interacting with each other in words and symbols out through which a properly democratic will can realise and remake itself?

So the thing that Democracia Real Ya! really brought home to me is that all the things I mentioned above: the goofiness, the hesitancy, the unwillingness to speak of quite a few (myself included) – these are all things that people taking part in any attempt at democracy (can we dispense with the real yet? Yes, let’s.) will likely have to start off with and work through. We (and I include myself) are so conditioned to thinking about democracy as merely the form of the sort of state in which we live. And because these states are based on the notion of representative democracy, in which you are supposed to delegate decisions to someone else, when the realisation dawns -as was being chanted at today’s demo- that they do not represent us, then you need to learn how to represent yourself to others. And since the dynamic in capitalist democratic states is towards depoliticisation, the chances are that you’re very bad at representing yourself to begin with. The problem, and the opportunity, as the slogan ‘Democracia Real Ya!’ indicates, is that you have to start getting better at it straight away.

But it can be done. See this piece and this report for further details.

Reflections on Reflection

Translation of piece by Luis García Montero from today’s Público.

Reflections on reflection.

Nowhere has there been so much meditation these last days as in the Puerta del Sol. Through it, the light of reflection has shone into the electoral campaign. Those addicted to the routine consumption of televisual pigfeed usually repeat the refrain that intellectuals are no longer committed and have lost their place in society. As fodder for cheap audiences, they are not used to receiving new ideas in the world of tele-garbage, be it gossip- or credit card-related. They are more into pigfeed than thought.

But there are other places that are not based on the shouty routine of mediocrity. The perplexed voter has read in recent years many books about the state of western democracy. Economists, philosophers, historians, political scientists, ecologists and writers have sounded the alarm about the winter for a word, democracy, which is being hollowed out. Under the political and media control of big finance, the true semantics of its vocabulary have been torn away from society. Democratic forms are drifting away from civil sovereignty.

Like the palace politician, the official politician, who moves amid the territory of pigfeed and viewing audiences, the perplexed voter also began to think that the perspective of intellectuals and of alternative movements was a lost endeavour.

But one day he went to the Puerta del Sol that had been taken by the people, he read the posters, listened to the proposals of the assemblies, spoke to the young people, and found himself in the street with all the meditations and preoccupations that he had once read about in books. In the name of the day of reflection, the Electoral Board orders the closure of the only spaces in which people truly wish to reflect. It is not a bad metaphor for understanding the state of our democracy. The magistrates are willing to cast to one side the constitutional right to hold meetings.

The perplexed voter recalls today that, at the beginning of the assemblies, he asked one of the organizers if it was possible to contribute to the resistance fund for the camp. They explained to him that they didn’t accept money, they needed blankets, paper, pens and books. He recalls another morning, when a young man with a Colombian accent approached him to tell him off about an article he had written about his country in Público. The perplexed voter had to admit, after a very intricate discussion, that he was wrong and the young man was right.

In the middle of the camp, other young people put out seats and a sofa with a notice that read “reserved for people older than 50 years of age”. A shiver of seniority ran through the bones of the perplexed voter. The young have their culture, their well-thumbed books, their blogs, their newspaper, their historical experience and their need to fight. The perplexed voter is proud of sitting on that sofa. Beyond the elections, there is a civic energy willing to restore democracy to dignity, which is to say, to refound the left.

‘Republic of Sol’

Rush translation of piece from Público today.

The Government of the Republic of Sol

Organization in the Sol camp is complex. There are no leaders, its structure is horizontal. There are ten commissions: food, infrastructure, respect and care, communication, outreach, activism, infirmary, internal co-ordination, legal, and sound. Some of these are divided into subcomissions with more specific tasks. Such is the case, for example, with activism, which is divided into graphic arts, neighbourhood activism and immigration.

Each commission meets in assembly several times a day, although there are always people on duty to attend to requirements that arise. In these assemblies any proposals that have arrived are debated, as are any that they have raised themselves. Their conclusions are reported in the general assembly. “You could say that it is the primary organ of government in the camp, this is where final consensus is reached, explains Marta, a spokesperson. The general assembly meets three times a day: in the morning, in the afternoon and in the early morning. The first announcements are to make known the conclusions of the commissions. After that, anyone can speak.

There are also two spaces: for children’s play and a library. As well as this, various debating groups have been formed about economics, culture and education, environment, feminism, politics..’it’s people who arrive and who really want to set up discussion groups about particular things. A lot of the time it is so that some people can express clearer and more consensual ideas in the assembly” says Marta.

The assembly reached numerous agreements yesterday. Among these, to set up in contiguous streets to the central Madrid square and even to set up tents for working groups and new assemblies. The attendees justified the measures due to the risk of the square overcrowding, since this prevents meetings from running smoothly. Thus, from now on, streets such as Tetuán, Carmen or Arenal would be occupied. In recent days these streets, including Preciados and Jacinto Benavente have been used for the stay of assembly members. It was also agreed that no images would be recorded in areas such as the creche, the infirmary, or the legal affairs or communications commissions.

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May 2011