On his excellent blog La pupila insomne, Cuban blogger Iroel Sánchez Espinosa collected the perspectives of five prominent Spanish activist intellectuals on the 15-M movement. These perspectives were originally published on 28th May.
Below is a translation of the views of each, which I had intended to publish sooner but alas forgot. However I think they are still very relevant, especially in light of the massive turnout in sweltering Madrid heat on the 24th of July past, which indicates that the 15-M movement is growing stronger, not receding.
My thanks to Iroel for allowing the translation to be published here. I have taken the liberty of abbreviating the biographies somewhat, due to the fact that few readers will find the longer biographies of any use.
A grave crisis of legitimacy
For years, the Spanish political system has built up a grave crisis of legitimacy. The starting point for the crisis can be found in the Transition process, which, instead of link with the democracy ‘murdered’ by the civil war, gave continuity to an important sector of Francoism. During the Transition the social left (neighbourhood movements, union bases, leftist party bases, Christian bases, nationalist movements..) gave way, made concessions, folded, or went home. This was all in order to avoid a new civil confrontation. As years passed, “Spanish democracy” did not evolve into a system of greater participation, of deepening of political and social rights, nor did it manage a real separation of powers, nor did it dissolve the Francoist power structure –it only managed it partially with the military, but not so with the judiciary, nor in the State executive, nor in the Church-. The Francoist apparatus and social bases continued to hold great power and political influence.
The alternating in power between the PSOE and PP has closed the political spectrum and blocked the possibility of a real democracy –or at least one that is not subservient to Francoism. The PSOE has undertaken the task of dismantling the productive system in line with European demands (industrial rationalization in the 1980s, dismantling of the public sectors). When the economic crisis spread, the ghost of Francoism was roused and the PP took up the task of warning us that “everything could be worse”, which is to say, there could be less niceties and more repression.
Sunday past there was a poster in the square that read “I voted for Sol”. The twenty-five thousand people who challenged the law on Saturday in the Puerta del Sol, the thousands of people who peacefully resisted yesterday in the Plaza de Catalunya have brought an independent variable to political life: there is an ever greater section of the population that has lost its fear and that wants a real change.
Ángeles Diez lectures in Political Sciences and Sociology at the Universidad Complutense de Madrid.
We can now speak of a great social triumph
Whilst too early to make political predictions in the strict sense of the term, I think we can now speak of a great social triumph. Marx said that the most important result of a mobilisation is the way in which it transforms the people who participate in it. And after the mobilisation of 15-M, many young people –and many not so young- will not be the same again. The confluence of a series of circumstances has allowed the gains from previous experiences (the okupa movement, protests against the Iraq invasion, social forums), empowered by alternative media and social networks, to reach a turning point (or a boiling point) and bring forth a situation that is qualitatively different and full of possibilities. That famous conversion of quantity into quality. And vice-versa.
Carlos Frabetti is Italian but lives in Spain and writes in Spanish. He is a writer and mathematician, and member of the New York Academy of Sciences. He is president of the Association against Torture and founding member of the Alliance of Anti-Imperialist Intellectuals.
We will see many Puertas del Sol
Carlos Fernández Liria
I am of the opinion that the present crisis is a phase of another crisis that has been a long time coming. Since the 1960s, capitalism has not ceased to seek out a way of countering the blind alley of its productive system: a system obliged to grow and accumulate, on a finite planet, in which raw materials and energy resources are running out. Capitalism cannot maintain its rate of profit without accelerating the process. In order to do this, a revolution was begun in the 1980s against the poorest classes on the planet, at the same time as the process to dismantle the Welfare State and to proletarianise the middle classes got underway. Then came the onward surge from finance capital and what Naomi Klein has called disaster capitalism. It is not that capitalism can no longer allow a Welfare State, it is that it cannot even allow a society to be called by this name. It works better under conditions of generalised social disaster, for example, in Iraq. What Galbraith called the revolution of the rich against the poor is on the road to devastating the planet from a social and ecological point of view. We are on the brink of the abyss, but the only capitalist solution to the problems of capitalism is more capitalism, which is to say, to accelerate the process that will bring us into an unprecedented human disaster. It is hard to credit it: after millions of years of existence, human beings, in four hundred years of capitalism, are on the verge of destroying the planet. Capitalism has been little more than the blink of an eye, but it is proving to be fatally suicidal.
And so, what is happening in Spain is just another chapter in this panorama. We are going to see many more Puertas del Sol, many Qasbahs, many Tahrir Squares in the near future. The peoples will put up a fight, and resist this madness, this heinousness.
And here is my evaluation of the ‘spanish revolution’ and the elections. It all demonstrates that the terms have been reversed: the antisistema of the Puerta del Sol are in reality conservatives, among other things because they wish to conserve the planet. They also want to conserve common sense, dignity, good sense, prudence. Those who have voted PP en masse in the elections, by contrast, are partisans of the neoliberal revolution, the cruellest, the most destructive and the most radical that has ever been produced in history. They must be brought to a halt, along with this insanity, this delirium. There are growing numbers of people who see things this way. And as such, I think that after this summer, we will find that the so-called “Spanish revolution” has only just begun.
Carlos Fernández Liria is a philosopher, writer and scriptwriter and teaches at the Faculty of Philosophy at the Universidad Complutense de Madrid.
Repoliticization is a revolution
Santiago Alba Rico.
I think there are basically three questions we should try to answer.
Is the 15-M movement a revolution?
Obviously not: it has not transformed the system, nor has it brought down a government; it hasn’t even produced a proper confrontation. And nonetheless, there are historical contexts in which the only change to which one can aspire –and it is enormous- is to the very simple and unexpected one that something must happen. A miracle is simply a fact that occurs, not against the laws of nature, but against people’s expectations, and, in this case, against people’s hopelessness. The fact that it is not the right wing nor the Church that is taking to the streets, as had been happening in recent years, the fact that “savage democrats” have taken over squares and turned them into political literacy centres, is an event so small in itself, so great in its context, that we can say in a very precise way that it is in the almost-nothing where everything starts –or can start. And from the subjective point of view, there is something very symptomatic: it is not a revolution but its protagonists speak publicly of revolution, a term confined to history books and the language of advertising. Repoliticization is a revolution: this is how the demonstrators experience it. And names bring changes, at least at the level of consciousness.
Is the 15-M movement leftist?
Only potentially. As is happening in the Arab world with the leftist and Islamist forces, this movement is catching everyone a little on the back foot. That it is not a leftist movement is shown at the electoral level it has damaged the PP less than the PSOE and has benefitted UPyD, an authoritarian and ultranationalist party, with a very populist democratic language, but completely empty of social and economic content. Also the strong repression –and self-censorship- of the political terminology, the insistence on consensus, the dominant festive-self-referential character in assemblies of a motley composition which seek to avoid confrontation at all costs (with the system they have challenged and are challenging.
Should the 15-M movement be supported from the left?
Undoubtedly. It is a unique occasion, unexpected, marvellous. Because with all that said in the previous point is less relevant than the fact that the streets have been transformed into schools; the spontaneity has been quickly organised into very serious and active working groups where all that capital of militancy and knowledge accumulated by the left under the worst conditions now finds an auditorium of strangers ready to listen and learn. What the 15-M movement has put in gear is a gigantic process of political and organisational learning that now has to be radicalised. The foundations are in place: the demand for real democracy jars objectively, not only with fraud, manipulation and lies, but with an economic structure that disables the democratic character of institutions and simultaneously produces devastating effects both socially and for labour. The intuition is already there: the idea that the enemy of democracy is capitalism. To move away from all that, in the conditions in which the anticapitalist left finds itself at the moment, as a nearly defeated minority, would be a serious mistake. All of this has only just begun and we must start with them; we do not choose the conditions, they are presented by history in a format built from misgivings, mistakes and even hallucinations. This movement is an opportunity; not the one that we would have wished for ourselves but the one that a combination of work, chance and discontent has provided us. If water happens to turn to wine, against all predictions, let’s not ask that it be a Rioja on top of that; let’s be glad about it and get to work to improve the vintage.
Santiago Alba Rico is a television scriptwriter, playwright and prize-winning author.
Getting outraged is not enough
The protests that unfolded in Spain on the 15th of May indicate a turning point in the, as I see it, remarkable capacity of Spanish citizens to put up with attacks on their society. As such, they are something very positive, however, they only show outrage. It is true that this is no small thing, but, as Pietro Ingrao has indicated to Stephane Hessel, getting outraged is not enough. You have to get organised, to go into combat with a preconceived and appropriate plan, and keep the struggle going for as long as is needed. None of these questions has been adequately developed, even if the necessary and indispensable phase of outrage has just appeared.
When Franco attempted a coup d’état in 1936, Spanish people did not just get outraged, they mobilised and they confronted it. The indignados must now put forward the ways in which their demands can be met; the letters to Santa Claus that adorn the walls are not enough. They must identify and fight back against the forces that oppose the implementation of their just demands. They need to establish effective organisational forms. They need to maintain unity and they need to get ready for a long struggle. No-one told them it was going to be easy; it is simply indispensible in order to survive with dignity.
Pascual Serrano is a journalist and essayist. His articles have appeared in Público, Diagonal and Le Monde diplomatique.