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.