Weekend World

It is nearly a week since the massive demonstrations in Spain first captured worldwide imagination, having been initially ignored, by Spanish media and world media alike, for several days. From the point of view of sympathetic onlookers, and no doubt some of the participants, the massive gathering in the Puerta del Sol in Madrid on the Friday night, in direct defiance of the ban laid down by the Central Electoral Commission against demonstrations in light of the forthcoming local and regional elections, was an indication that this movement had massive potential to open up a space in which the dominant order in Europe, and even worldwide, could be challenged. Whether people are in the thick of it at one of the demos, or watching the images flood in from wherever, it becomes hard to get a sense, when there is such an ebullient defiance of the forces  of order and expropriation, if the movement is likely to last. Because the movement was so widespread and intense in its manifestations, it was easy to get lulled into a sense that this was the way it was going to be for some time to come.

The election results, and, more prosaically, the end of the weekend, cooled things considerably. While there had been no declared intention on the part of the original motive force – Democracia Real Ya- that this was an initiative designed to influence the election – and indeed it had no impact anyway, the degree of attention conferred on it by media outlets was in part down to the fact that the political parties, who were under intense scrutiny precisely on account of the elections, had been caught on the hop. Once the results were known, the concerns, interests and intrigues of the parties of formal institutional political power came to the fore once again, and the movement, the camps and the protests were relegated to a secondary concern. The Partido Popular, as I noted the other day, obtained massive gains in the elections, with wins in key Socialist Party strongholds, even though it only garnered the vote of 24% of the population. The consequences, in terms of the attitude of power towards those taking part in the protests, were predictable enough. It was this, and not ‘lo de Sol‘ that was real democracy. Within the major sites of protest, such as Puerta del Sol in Madrid and Plaza Catalunya in Barcelona, there are concerted efforts on the part of the state to undermine the symbolic and practical role played by these sites in the staging of protests and ongoing resistance and organising.I saw this tweet from Barcelona this morning:

From Plaza Catalunya, it reads ‘They are evicting us with violence. This is totally illegal, the police are not carrying identification badges’. In the Puerta del Sol, where local traders are seeking the eviction of the protesters, assemblies are taking place through which a ‘consenso de mínimos’ is being worked out, that is, a minimum set of demands intended to give shape to the 15-M movement. These are likely to include a reform of the Electoral Law, anti-corruption measures, the separation of powers, and the creation of mechanisms that allow citizens greater power to hold politicians to account. While these seem rather modest demands, they still do pose a substantial challenge to political power in that they seek to address the marginalisation of the left, the domination of the judiciary by right-wing, often PP-supporting judges, and the impunity with which politicians undertake corrupt activities. From the point of view of the more radical members of the movement, it is likely to be considered a little tepid. I am not entirely convinced myself, but it is important to note that these will be points elaborated through an intense democratic process, and it will be in terms of the power of the challenge presented, not the length of the list, that the movement will exercise an effect. If there is intense resistance from political power, this in itself will widen the perceivable gulf between political and economic power and the majority of the population.

All this means that this weekend will be important, since it will allow people who have been working and/or studying all week to show their solidarity once again by amassing at these places and others throughout Spain and beyond. In Ireland the second demo has been organised for 2pm tomorrow at the Spire. It remains to be seen whether these protests in Ireland will, as in Greece and elsewhere, begin to directly address the common predicament of the two countries in light of the international character of the crisis. The gathering last week I think captured the imagination of quite a few activists round these parts. For the moment, however, the main aim of tomorrow’s protest ought to be to show solidarity and support with the movement in Spain since this is the central point upon which any local spin-offs that build on the movement is going to depend, for the next number of weeks at least.

It is not as if the two countries have nothing in common. As this translated piece by Vicenç Navarro from yesterday shows, the absence of the language of class struggle, the inability to perceive the role of the local bourgeoisie, or even name it, and its common interest with the institutions that are wreaking havoc on the local population, the tendency of governments to blame the policies they are adopting on the demands of the financial markets: all these things are as common, to both countries, as muck.

It isn’t the financial markets.

There is an understanding of the reality that surrounds us that is becoming widespread which assumes that states have lost their capacity to take decisions, since they have to act according to the dictates of the financial markets. This perception is accompanied by a narrative in which all categories of power such as class power or class struggle have been totally substituted by the “power of the markets that determines what happens in each State”, including the Spanish state. As a commentator wrote in one of the country’s biggest circulating papers, “capital is no longer personified in the bourgeoisie”. According to this posture, this bourgeoisie has been substituted by financial elites that are not the owners of anything except the capacity to produce paper that isn’t even money, but from which they derive mountains of money. And despite having caused the crisis they continue to receive public assistance from the State (paid by all of us through our taxes) that allows them to continue their speculative and unproductive practices that make the situation worse.

From them it is deduced that the bourgeoisie has lost its power too, making class analyses irrelevant. The social structure thereby gets turned into rich and poor, with the majority defined as middle class, new categories of social structure grouped within states, whose capacity to take decisions is determined by financial markets. It is important to emphasise that the governments themselves -to justify their highly unpopular public policies- call upon the same argument indicating that there is no other alternative than to follow the diktats of these markets.

This reading of reality, however, is mistaken, and it is easy to show why. First of all, the policies that the Spanish state is imposing on the population (flexibilisation of the labour market with greater ease provided to the business owner to sack workers, cuts in spending and public employment, cuts in wages, delay to the retirement age, and freezing of pensions, among other measures) are public interventions that the supposedly disappeared Spanish bourgeoisie has longed for for many years. In the light of these facts, to say that the bourgeoisie has disappeared or has no impact on the State strikes me as an error. As Lope de Vega might say ‘the dead were never so alive’. This bourgeoisie, both the financial and the industrial bourgeoisie, has some interests that diverge and some that coincide. And among the latter is that of using “the pressure of the financial markets” as an excuse to carry out what they have always desired. Naturally the Spanish bourgeoisie (and its components in the different peoples and nations of Spain) is helped by the bourgeoisie in member states of the European Union, whose political instruments control the institutions of the EU.

But external agents are not those who determine what happens in Spain. They condition and they facilitate, but they do not determine. The attention to what is going on outside dilutes the importance of the internal, which is the determinant. The Spanish ruling class (an absent term from the hegemonic narrative) is the one that influences the Spanish state. And part of its power has been to transmit the message that there is no alternative to the policies that are being carried out in response to external agents, the financial markets. And predictably, mass media outlets play a key role in the promotion of this message.

But it is not true that there are no alternatives. Here’s one example. The budget deficit could be reduced, instead of cutting public spending and employment, by raising taxes, an alternative that is not even contemplated by the main political parties or debated in the major media outlets. The parties to their left have proposed credible and practicable alternatives based on the calculations of treasury inspectors from the Treasury Ministry which have indicated that, reversing the tax breaks that have been implemented in the last 15 years (which have favoured the most powerful groups in the population) 35bn euro could have been obtained, without affecting the tax burden on the majority of the population, bringing in more money than what is being saved through social spending cuts, such as the freezing of pensions and or the cutting of public employment. What is more, if Spain had the same progressive fiscal policy as Sweden, the State (central, regional and municipal) would take in 200bn euro more than currently is the case. The fact that these alternatives do not enter the political debate corresponds to the systematic marginalisation and discrimination that mass media outlets exercise over these political forces. In reality, the low ideological diversity of the media in Spain is one of the major problems encountered by Spanish democracy. Another is the Electoral Law which marginalises the second party on the left (IU), thereby marginalising the left as a whole.

There is a class war in Spain in which the bourgeoisie -the ruling class in Spain- wins on a daily basis. The American financier Warren Buffett said: “This is class war, and my class, the rich, is winning”. Mr Botín (financial bourgeoisie) and Messrs Martín Villa and Amancio Ortega (industrial and services bourgeoisie) could say the same thing in Spain. All the Ibex firms (apart from three) have continued to turn profits, among with the biggest, but not the only ones, have been the banks. Meanwhile, the working class is paying for the crises that the former created. A symptom of the power of the ruling class is that no-one speaks, neither of classes, nor of class struggle, considering such categories as antiquated, in which one even arrives at the conclusion that the bourgeoisie has disappeared.

3 Responses to “Weekend World”

  1. 1 Alright Jack May 27, 2011 at 10:07 am

    I’ve been trying to figure out what’s been happening on the squares the last couple of weeks. Not just the mainstream media, but also blogs like these have been more silent on what exactly has been going on. How many are still sleeping there and is it going to stop after sunday?

    Anyway. I’m sure the article has some merit to it, but I can’t completely agree. It’s basically the same argument that is made by UKUncut etcera. Of course Zapatero has some more alternatives than the media presents. But the undemocratic pressure from the market and the political-economic structures (build up by the IMF, WTO, WB, EU and rating agencies + banks) are real and certainly do constrain the possibilities under which national governments manoeuvres. That’s why I’m so excited about the DRY movement, because it’s puts this legitimate argument on argument central (it’s in the name). It’s the older alter(/anti)-globalization’s Seattle ’99 argument, but put into a contemporary context of Spain and all the youth’s discontent there. There’s an ongoing and seemingly endless race-to-the-bottom going on where countries need to become ‘competitive’ in attracting capital and corporations and thereby cut down on welfare spending. Taxing the rich arguably also makes a country less competitive. Of course this ‘American Dream’ ideology, making the ‘middle-class’ people belief that the rich people shouldn’t be punished for their success etc should be challenged. But in the end just that will not be the solution.

    Perhaps they should put a proper European democracy to their demands, not the nonsensical European Parliament election where you can only vote on national parties every 5 years.

  2. 2 Hugh Green May 27, 2011 at 10:46 am

    I think the argument by Navarro is different than that made by UKUncut, as far as I understand the argument of the latter, in that he is using the example of the potential alternative of raising taxation as a means of illustrating the class dimension that is continually obscured. There is no question that the institutions you name exert the power you describe over national governments, but there is also the question of the class composition of those national governments and how this determines the extent to which they choose to oppose or embrace this pressure. What Navarro’s piece points to, and this is something that has been immediately obvious in the last couple of days in Ireland with business groups such as hoteliers and restauranteurs backing calls for the scrapping of wage protection agreements, is that this ‘competitiveness’ drive, which is supposedly the product of the dictates of these institutions, sits rather snugly with the interests of the local ruling class. I’m more sympathetic toward the idea that it is a matter of people in each area using the name of democracy to settle the score with the local bourgeoisie. And if that takes place under the umbrella of a Europe-wide movement, then great.

    Aside from that, it isn’t so much that I’ve been ‘silent’ on the question of what’s been going on in the camps in terms of the numbers occupying: I just haven’t been able to take the time to find out what’s going on and present it in some sort of coherent fashion. But I will take a closer look if I get a chance.

  3. 3 make do and mend May 27, 2011 at 3:38 pm

    “Taxing the rich arguably also makes a country less competitive.”

    Pay tell, why? What examples can you give us? Denmark? The US prior to Regan taxed its rich at significantly high rates. They had a pretty robust economy and were considered somewhat competitive by world standards.

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May 2011

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