Use Your Disillusion

To be honest, I’m not too sure why I translated this. It’s a worthy enough document, but hardly says anything new. It is a manifesto signed up to by various prominent Spanish public figures on the left, including Baltasar Garzón, Pedro Almodóvar and Almudena Grandes. It is fairly clear that there is a strong whiff of disillusion with the PSOE pervading the document, and also clear is the rousing effect that the 15-M movement has had on proceedings. As usual, it illustrates important differences between Ireland and Spain, in terms of political atmosphere, that a similar document emanating from prominent Irish artists, writers and lawyers is nigh inconceivable, not only with regard to the conscious identification with left-wing politics, but in terms of the core ideas expressed.

But however apt its description of events, it seems imbued with a sense of a missed bus. That is, this talk about rebuilding the left and what the left should do and so on. ‘The left’, as a name for a group of forces characterised by their relation to a notional parliamentary centre, seems to have been hollowed considerably in light of the mass demonstrations in Spain and Greece against parliaments, and the violent suppression of popular demonstrations by tooled-up police.

What does it mean to speak about a ‘left’ from the point of view of someone who now opposes the very form of representative parliamentary democracy practised in these states, once the latter began to reveal itself, in the eyes of growing numbers of the Spanish and Greek public, as just one more instrument of wealth and power?

And this makes me wonder about the United Left Alliance here in Ireland. On the one hand I can see the point in using the Dáil as a platform for public advocacy of opposition and resistance. On the other, is there not a certain legitimation of parliamentary democracy going on? In that Fine Gael and Labour can point to the assembled opposition and say, “see? Isn’t it wonderful how we have a democracy in which all manner of dissenting viewpoints can be expressed? And isn’t it wonderful, furthermore, how we were elected to administer the IMF/ECB programme by the very same token?”

Now, I’ll admit the word ‘left’ is a fairly minor consideration in this situation, and I can also see the sense in naming a party as ‘left’ and organising along these lines, in so far as there is a division to be insisted upon, at every turn, between politics of neo-liberal governance and politics of resistance. Nonetheless I can’t help but wonder if coming months will see public confidence in Irish parliamentary democracy crumble beyond repair, not to give way to some sort of revolutionary turn, but rather taking with it any sort of interest in the broad type of political ideas the ULA claims to stand for. So I am very sceptical about these discussions about what ‘the left’ ought to be doing, however much I might agree with certain things, so long as they do not take into account the crisis of legitimacy of representative parliamentary democracy, and what this means in terms of how people are to participate in democratic processes.


The discrediting of politics and the regular complaints about the corruption of democratic life cannot be met with indifference by the consciences of progressives. There are many people who, from different ideological perspectives, have felt defenceless in the midst of this economic, social and institutional crisis. The left has a more serious problem than the forward march of reactionary forces in the latest municipal elections. It is a question of its lack of horizon. Whilst the financial markets impose the dismantling of the welfare state in search of untrammelled profits, a socialist government has been incapable of imagining any other prescription than to accept anti-social pressuring and to degrade public rights and working conditions.

It is evident that the electoral results have taken a heavy toll on the PSOE. But the alternatives to its left have not picked up on voters affronted by neoliberal policies and the shortcomings of an imperfect democracy. And yet, this is not the time to give up on one’s dreams, because the street and social networks have suddenly started showing signs of rebellion by speaking out about politics. This civic energy, renewed and full of nuance, has four decisive concerns: democratic regeneration, decent working conditions, defence of public services and the development of a sustainable economy, committed to respect the environment and to operate in the service of all. These are the great worries of the 21st century in the shadow of a system that is ever more avaricious, that treats international solidarity and the dignity of the nature of human beings with arrogant and unimpeded contempt.

Democratic corruption has proven the best ally of speculation, separating political trajectories from civic sovereignty and decomposing institutional powers from the inside. Public life must be restored with pride in its honesty, legitimacy and transparency. And as such it is essential to seek new forms of participative democracy and bring to this with a common dream the ideals of solidarity of a social and democratic left.

The financial powers rely on our isolation and our fear. Their threats try to paralyse us, to privatise our consciences and submit us to the law of selfishness and every man for himself. But the energy of the social fabric can consolidate a coming together in which different sensibilities on the left flow together and find the necessary consensus for the creation of a common dream. We must transform the aged bi-partite electoral map. The level of civic protagonism reached in certain processes such as the referendum on Spain’s membership of NATO, the opposition to the war in Iraq, or the 15-M movement, show us the way.

The support and effort of all is needed, because nothing is written down and everything is possible. The world is changed by those who, from their principles and civic commitment, stand up to injustice, break with the temptation to accommodate and get up and fight giving direction to the dream. The memory of human emancipation demands an honest look at values and the future. We are convinced about the need to reconstruct the present of the left. And you?

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June 2011

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