Steps Forward

What follows below is a translation of a piece by prominent Spanish radical journalist Pascual Serrano. It is an astringent and perspicacious corrective to some of the more utopian commentary in circulation, and whilst it does not address the matter directly, it gives a good account as to why the term ‘Spanish revolution’ is altogether premature.

I noted yesterday that there was a danger of characterising the 15-M movement as apolitical just as media outlets had sought to do, for their own reasons, prior to the elections. But while it is true that the DRY! manifesto is radical in scope, Serrano’s analysis of the assemblies shows that there is a large amount of naivety within the movement, particularly with regard to how existing institutions of power function, and how there is a danger that forms of explicit political organization might be disregarded, limiting the possibility for the creation of an effective countervailing force. In a way this naivety is to be expected: the whole thrust of neo-liberal capitalism is toward depoliticization and atomisation. The danger is that depoliticizing impulses, and the repudiation of already organised and experienced organisations, end up frustrating, then reversing, the development of the movement. Guy Aitchison has a decent article on this at Politico.ie

15-M in Spain, the necessary step forward.

On Sunday 22nd May, those who mobilised across Spanish territory who demand a real democracy experienced -or are experiencing- the first dose of humility. While assemblies were underway, hands were being raised in interventions, original phrases were being written out on posters requesting that no representatives of any organisation should put in an appearance, those who were really organised were winning the elections and taking power. In reality they were not taking anything they didn’t already have. It is true that all of us knew that these gatherings were not going to affect in any important way the result of the election, but mindful of the fact that whilst we were mobilising, others were formalising the protocol of the change of government so that nothing changes, we ought to think how to move beyond what is being done. And as such it is important to get over the phase of enthusiasm and self-satisfaction to begin strategy and operations.

Looking at the documents and the proposals approved by the assemblies of indignados it is clear that, indeed, they are radical, however what needs to be defined is the minimum that is going to be demanded of power, and what means of pressure and during how much time people are prepared to struggle. If the nationalisation of the banking system appears among the approved items, but of whom this demand will be made is not specified, if willingness is shown to accept an intermediate measure by whatever means, it is obvious that no power is going to take that demand seriously. Other demands are already reflected in legislation, but listing them without being concrete about how what already exists can be guaranteed does not represent any advance. Some are contradictory – the right to a home is put forward but, following this, it is being requested that handing back your home when you are in arrears cancels the debt. So, it is assumed that families will end up out on the street.

The movement has had a honeymoon, with media and even in its relations with power. They acted with such surprise that they managed to catch the attention of the press, whilst the pre-electoral moment and an Interior minister who is a possible candidate for presidency of the government in the general elections of next year guaranteed the non-intervention of the forces of order. All the same, neither political nor economic power has felt in the least bit threatened -for now-, they have even allowed themselves to cynically say that they too shared in the feelings of those gathered and they were equally outraged, which confirms that the battle lines have not been clearly enough drawn.

When it comes to the set of ideas of the demonstrators as can be seen in interventions at assemblies and in the slogans of their placards and in their writings, it is true that there are robust expressions with concrete political positions, but there are also too many instances of apoliticism and de-ideologising which are more reminiscent of populism and fascism. Expressions such as we are neither left nor right or all politicians are the same does not help much to define the struggle. It is true that in economic policy there is hardly any difference between the PP and the PSOE, but the majority of the motions approved in the assemblies were, years and even decades ago, to be found in leftist political parties that do not receive nor have they received the support of these demonstrators. And we are not talking about electoral support -though it is also the case here-, nor in actions or mobilisations that these political groups, with their mistakes and their failings, have been trying to put in place for years. It would not make any sense to call for a change to the electoral law if at the same time one is saying that all politicians are the same. The president of the Valencian regional government Francisco Camps is not the same as the mayor of Marinaleda, Jose Manuel Sanchez Gordillo, or the Bildu candidates in Euskadi.

Elsewhere, if during the electoral campaign it was considered healthy that neither logos of parties nor organisations should appear at the gatherings, once the elections have passed, in my opinion, I don’t see any reason why there should be proscription of parties -mostly extraparliamentary ones- that have maintained in their programmes the proposals that the assembled are now demanding, or of ecologist, feminist, anti-fascist or alter-globalization organisations that have been mobilised for years. I myself, at least, do not feel comfortable in a gathering that says that all politicians are the same and that prohibit a republican flag, one with a hammer and sickle, or an anarchist one or one with an image of Che. The indignados do not want to impinge on the political panorama, they situate themselves as immaculate, they believe themselves to be above ideologies, they limit themselves to protesting and asking that their problems be resolved.  Who is going to resolve them? Who is going to develop the laws that guarantee the rights they are demanding? Who is going to rein in the banks? Who will tell them to give back the public money that was given to them? They will not expect that the deputies from the PSOE and the PP who make up the majority in Congress, less still if there is no confrontation with a right-wing that continues to profit from the misdeeds of the PSOE and whose corruption does not get punished at the polls.

In my opinion, those in power wager that, as days pass, the mobilisation will fall, it will peter out through not identifying concrete actions, the inert assemblies will get bored and conflicts will arise between those who are mobilised. The case of Argentina during 2001 should be a useful example. The entire  citizenry mobilised, outraged, coming together against the economic measures taken by their government, under the slogan of “Get them all out”, led to nothing. They were not able to create an operating organisation, to develop representative structures, they drowned in their anti-political discourse and their fear of parties and leaders. Finally, the talk of “Get them all out” wound up in nobody going. In another vein, with the days that pass, media attention toward the gatherings will most likely drop, the TV cameras will leave the squares, the front pages of the newspapers will forget about the mobilisations, and as such it is necessary to move forward with concrete proposals. In Tunisia and in Egypt people stayed mobilised because there was a well-defined short term demand: the resignation of the president of the country. In Spain, none of the demands can be approved by a parliament dominated by the PP and the PSOE, so another option will have to be sought.

The level of outrage that has gripped the streets of Spanish cities has meant a break with the degree of resignation that has reigned in Spanish society in recent years. It has shown that many of the traditional methods of mobilisation have become obsolete, that many organisations that believed themselves to be in the vanguard have no capacity for action. There is no doubt that there is a tremendous potential to a movement that has brought out onto the streets of the main Spanish cities a generation whose imagination traditional organisations have not managed to capture, organisations which are now obliged to join in with humility, but bringing its experience and elaborated alternatives. It has also awakened euphoria among many of us and a hope in the citizenry and young people which we will never forget, but we should not allow that intoxication to paralyze us for us to wake up only with a hangover and a frustration that everything remains the same.

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