Let’s have a look at the local and regional election results and what the likely consequences are for the 15-M movement.
Up until yesterday’s vote there was a widespread assumption that the movement was concentrating its efforts on influencing these elections, if not directly then indirectly. This was the assumption of the Central Electoral Board who sought to ban the protests and whose ban was overturned by tens of thousands going out onto the streets once again, and, given the fact that news media is very much orientated toward the election coverage and how this would affect voting, there was a perception engineered, in spite of the fact that even DRY’s official manifesto was an attack on the political class and the economic and political system they held together, that what was really at stake with these protests was an effort to get voters to vote in a certain way.In this we can see a tendency in media political discourse, which people in Ireland will also be familiar with, whereby any act of political expression must have an obvious association with electoral procedures, and what determines the truth of any given expression is not the application of reason and critical assessment, but the legitimation of that expression at the ballot box.
It is quite easy to see why this happened. First of all, media institutions are orientated toward a systematic coverage of elections, in which voting patterns and trends provide the basis for enquiry and discussion. It is all about which party is likely to take what seat where. In Spain, the main narrative, on account of the PP-PSOE institutional dyad, is always about how the fortunes of each party will be affected. Second, these institutions presume themselves to be natural and essential elements of Spanish democracy, which has as its primary document a constitution that institutionalizes capitalism much as the Francoist powers pre-Transition desired. Therefore it would be fanciful in the extreme to imagine that these institutions might suddenly treat with any seriousness the proposal, from DRY, even treating the protesters as some sort of devil’s advocate, that Spanish democracy is actually a fake. No: the odds are stacked too greatly towards centering coverage on one basic question: how will this affect the elections?
The tethering of the phenomenon of the protests and the camps to the elections yesterday led to DRY making an official press release, in which it denied that it was not a political party, that it never had any intention of being one, and that it had no intention of becoming one. It said that any links made with DRY and any political party were slurs, and that it was a non-party, non-union platform.
This non-party, non-union character points to another important question, which is DRY’s representation as an apolitical initiative, which is to say, that the ‘people like you’ that they declared themselves to be in their manifesto were presented in media outlets as the same classless ‘people like you’ who appear as the identified subject of advertising campaigns for breakfast cereals, toothpaste and parliamentary political parties.
For this manufactured subject, being apolitical or non-political is the foremost feature of existence. Therefore when news outlets made their way down into the crowds to report on the event, they reported on it as though they too were participating in it, as Guillermo Kaejane pointed out in his excellent account of the Sol camp, translated here. So there was a certain tendency to represent these people as just normal people who were as mad as hell and couldn’t take it any more but who didn’t have any substantial critique either of the economic or political system. Then, elsewhere, in more explicitly right-wing media, there was a tendency to claim that these people were not normal, decent apolitical subjects at all, but insurrectionist leftist malcontents, scroungers, layabouts, and so on.
People in Ireland will be familiar with the atmosphere on that redoubtable instrument of popular control Liveline in which being ‘political’ is not far from lighting your own farts on a crowded bus. Similar boundaries and prohibitions exist in Spain, even if declaring yourself a leftist or a socialist in Spain does not, these days, produce the same sort of frisson of discomfort that it often does in Ireland, even though it is only in the former where presumed leftists and antifascists were systematically exterminated, with 150-200,000 still lying buried in unmarked mass graves. This approved ‘apolitical’ disposition comes with a certain pedigree, the words “Haga usted como yo y no se meta en política” (In English, “Do like me and don’t get involved in politics”) were what Francisco Franco said to one of his ministers at the beginning of his regime.
It is the inheritors of his tradition, the Partido Popular, who have been the resounding winners of yesterday’s local and regional elections whilst the PSOE has been annihilated. The main method of the PSOE’s annihilation is the usual one: abstentionism. It lost a million and a half votes where the PP gained half a million. The causes are not especially surprising. The PSOE government under Zapatero enacted right-wing neo-liberal policies at the behest of the European Central Bank, the EU and assorted financial institutions and ratings agencies. This was in spite of the fact that it had promised people it would do no such thing. As a result it was easy for the Partido Popular to blame the PSOE for Spain’s appalling economic situation, even though any rational consideration would reveal that if it were in power, it would do precisely the same thing, only more viciously. The Partido Popular’s increased number of votes can be put down to the effectiveness with which it appealed to the apolitical ‘people like you’ of the toothpaste and cereals commercial. My wife received campaign literature in the post from them. It went straight to the bin, but only after noticing that the tagline on the envelope read ‘Centrados en ti’, i.e. ‘centred on you’, which is a fairly blatant way of making a claim to the politics of the centre.
Any such claim is fraudulent. The Partido Popular -which sits in the same parliamentary grouping as Fine Gael and Fidesz – contains some of the most reactionary xenophobes in Europe. In Catalonia, its candidates have been campaigning on an anti-immigration platform, with two candidates reported as having drawn a direct relation between immigrants and “diseases that had been eradicated in the city (Barcelona) since a long time ago and are now starting to reappear, brought in by immigrants”. Manichaean moral panics are nothing new in Barcelona, and the PP will seek to maintain this long-standing vile tradition, with more to come with regard to headscarves worn by Muslims. The Partido Popular’s Sarah Palin figure, former Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, serves as a valve for the crypt0-fascist effusions of its most reactionary wing. He heads up a think-tank called FAES, the name a thinly veiled reference to Falange Española. The name is also reminiscent of the falangist group of which he was a member as a student- Frente de Estudiantes Sindicalistas (FES). He is also an associate of former Fine Gael leader, Taoiseach and present Chairman of IFSC Ireland, John Bruton.
The PP has probably managed to garner some of its increased vote by focusing on Zapatero as the incarnation of the crisis. As this Público report notes, current leader Mariano Rajoy launched the following questions ‘like torpedoes’ at the last rallies of the campaign:
“Who froze pensions?” and the attendees shouted “Zapatero!” “Who cut public sector pay?” “Zapatero!” “Who landed us with 4.9 million unemployed?” “Zapatero!” Who raised VAT?” “Zapatero!” “Who got rid of the 400 euro rebate and the cheque-bebé? [A birth grant- HG] ” “Zapatero!”
It is this party, reinvigorated through its electoral victory yesterday, and eyeing victory in next year’s national elections, that has become the 15-M movement’s chief antagonist. After adopting the politics of austerity, the PSOE is now imploding. The PP will seek to portray its victory in yesterday’s elections as the real real democracy, and there will be a sharp move toward demonising the protesters outright as forces seeking to disrupt Spain’s recovery. But the movement has opened up a space, both conceptually and physically, in which the anti-democratic dynamic of neo-liberalism is laid bare. The world-wide demonstrations of solidarity on Saturday indicate it incarnates the most robust challenge to neo-liberalism seen in Europe to date. Its task, for the present, will be to hold firm as it starts to get ugly. If it manages to do that, that’s when it will start to get really interesting. The alternative is a descent into barbarism.