The movement of the Indignados

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The movement of the Indignados: A report of the demonstrations in Madrid at the end of July

The movement of the ‘Indignados’ in Spain provides us with some rich lessons. It shows a gradual rise in combativity of the exploited faced with the relentless deterioration of their living conditions and a deepening reflection about how to struggle, how to respond collectively to the economic crisis and the attacks of Capital. The movement has moreover seen expressions across Europe, notably in Greece, but also further afield, in countries like Israel and in Chile.

And the recent events at the end of July have confirmed this deep social discontent and the maturation of working class consciousness. Indeed, while the international media have largely ignored the events that hit Madrid at the heart of the summer, preferring to shine their spotlight on the removal of the remaining camps of protesters and proclaiming the death of the movement, the militants of the ICC who were present in the square have found instead that the tens of thousands of ‘Indignados’ who occupied the streets were motivated by a genuine desire to continue the struggle, knowing that the crisis would only create furher havoc and that the struggle would of necessity resume. But it was above all the quality of discussions about the real nature of bourgeois democracy, the trap of reformism, sabotage of the movement by "Real Democracy Ya" (DRY), the importance of the assembly debates... that have truly excited our comrades. They immediately reported their intervention to all the militants of the ICC around the world to inform them of what they had witnessed and experienced. We are publishing this text below as it is, almost in its entirety, which explains its very direct and sometimes telegram-like style.


On the rallies in Madrid in July


Friday, July 22nd: The first columns of marching workers arrived from the working class towns on the outskirts of Madrid. According to many accounts, the arrival of these marchers resulted in massive assemblies and people being very happy together; they hugged, sang and discussed animatedly.

Saturday 23rd: Plaza Puerta del Sol and the surrounding streets were occupied. Maybe 10,000 or more, far more than was reported by the press and TV who spoke only of "hundreds of the Indignados". We were there and we distributed our supplement
[1]. It was very well received. Small groups gathered around us. What was striking was the desire of people to talk and how they expressed themselves spontaneously against capitalism and in favour of the assemblies as the most valuable tool. The general assembly began after 10 o clock at night and was devoted entirely to the accounts from the marches. There were some very moving moments as the speakers were very excited and almost all spoke of revolution, of denouncing the system, of being radical (in the sense "going to the roots of the problem" as one of them said) .

Sunday 24th: In the morning in Retiro Park, the assemblies were devoted to specific themes: international coordination, national coordination, political action, using the web ... In the international coordination assembly there were individuals from Italy, Greece, Tunisia, France and also some young Spanish expatriates. A ‘European Day of Indignados’ was proposed and there were also two interventions talking about a World Day, with the axis being on "the fight against the cuts in social spending that is taking place everywhere today." One of us intervened to insist on the fact that more and more people are “in the same boat”. Someone else took up an initiative which arose in Valencia for an "international day of debate on the 15M" in which collectives would be invited not only from Spain but from other countries too
[2]. This initiative was given explicit support by the moderator of the assembly.

That said, in the general assembly that followed, there was some manipulation. The focus was solely on the reports from each of the "themed" assemblies, preventing any unscheduled interventions. In addition, the reports from the speakers were too long. The report from the International Coordinating Committee was relegated to last place when many participants had already left. The spokesperson - who we hadn’t seen in the committee - didn’t say anything about the proposed day and we weren’t able to intervene to rectify this.

In the afternoon there was a massive demonstration (100,000 people). There was a lively atmosphere; we succeeded in distributing our press and there were many discussions. At a given point, the police erected a roadblock in the Paseo de La Castellana. Instead of chosing confrontation, the demonstrators divided themselves onto several adjacent streets and then regrouped, encircling the police. The police plan was made to look ridiculous as they found themselves surrounded on all sides with no possibility of reacting
[3].

In the evening there was an assembly dedicated to discussing "state and economy." A Catalan who seemed to clearly defend the positions of ATTAC
[4], made a very long speech of 30 minutes, in which he said we needed a "cooperative system", that the state was "disappearing" under the weight of the "markets" and also that nations were being "crushed". He suggested that the state and the nation were "revolutionary alternatives to capitalism today, that defending the state and the nation is revolutionary today." A number of interventions, including ours, vigorously opposed these views.

Monday 25th: There was a forum discussing several topics: ecology, feminism, politics, cooperatives . We had arranged a table for selling the press and decided to participate in one of these forums. We chose the one on For or against a new constitution.

A woman gave a long presentation. She spoke about a development of "representative" democracy towards a "participatory" democracy that the assemblies were spearheading. There should be assemblies for everything: to select the candidates of the political parties, to elect the union leaders, to approve the municipal budgets ... It would be, in her words, "a new order, an order of assemblies". All this, she presented as a new contribution to "political science" (sic) ...

The assembly wasn’t impressed by this "discovery". One young person said frankly that the problem was capitalism and that it was impossible to "reform" it or "democratise" it. Another spoke of revolution and wanted to return to the teachings of Lenin to form a revolutionary party. This provoked the anger of an anarchist who, while defending the need to destroy the state and establish the power of the assemblies (or, he added, Soviets) said that Lenin wanted to form a party without workers, with only intellectuals. Another speaker said that we need a revolutionary party which does not participate in the parliamentary or electoral game, but "only accepts the law of the assemblies."

Other interventions denounced the proposed new constitution. "We were wrong in 1978. Why fall into the same error today?". A youth from Ciudad Real spoke about "dual power": the power of the assemblies and the power of "so-called democracy" and he added that we should have "a strategy to achieve the triumph of the former." One girl expressed her thoughts thus: "They want to combine assemblies and constitution, but this is impossible, the assemblies have nothing to do with the constitution, they stand in total opposition to it". Some interventions were made in defense of a new constitution, but a guy who at first read a long text on a "draft new constitution provided by a group from Granada" came back in a second intervention to say that he was only speaking on behalf of the group, but that he preferred "the power of the assemblies". Interventions on the impossibility of reforming capitalism were loudly applauded as was the need to talk not about democracy in general but about the state. One of our comrades responded by saying that the state was the organ of the ruling class, that it was its repressive and bureaucratic apparatus with its troops, its police, its courts and its prisons, and all hidden by the democratic facade: "We, the exploited, have nothing but the assemblies to unify us, for enable us to think collectively and to make decisions together; the power of the assemblies - even if it is a long struggle – is not a utopia if this fight is part of a world-wide process." Several people came to congratulate us for this intervention.

Sensing that the wind was turning, the Catalan from the previous day changed his tune: he was in favour of "all the power to the assemblies" and for a "world government" and that "in this context, we would have enough force to establish new constitutions"(sic). A "marxist" speech, this? Maybe, but in the "Groucho tendency"
[5]!

In the afternoon we went to Móstoles - an industrial town on the outskirts of Madrid - to visit the coordination of the assemblies of the South, the one that called the demonstration on June 19th. This was a very combative collective that had participated in 15 M with a class approach. A youth who was a very active participant expressed his joy about the 15M movement and discussed with us the analysis he had made of it: the denunciation of democracy, the shenanigans of DRY on which he made some very specific points, the revolutionary perspective, the awakening of the proletariat, the trap of immediatism, the need to develop consciousness ... The only point on which he disagreed with us was the analysis of Spain in 1936 which he saw as a self-management revolution. He was very happy to welcome us and we decided we would send our press to this location; he was also going to propose to the collective that it should participate in the meeting in Valencia in October.


Some thoughts

These three days were very intense, showing a movement of great depth.

It seems that there is still a large amount of discontent within the movement but there are other important aspects too: a desire to discuss and clarify, a sense of togetherness, a continual search for links ...

From the beginning, DRY and its satellites have done their best to keep the movement inside the straitjacket of a series of "specific demands"- the famous catalogue of democratic demands. There was always muted resistance in a large section and open opposition from a large minority.

However, two months have passed and "the confrontation between classes" has not yet come about
[6]. Is this is a weakness? Is it a sign that the movement is running out of steam? If we review the reasons why class movements have ended in recent decades, we see that one of the causes is the physical defeat but the most common cause was the ideological defeat. Led away from its class terrain, the class has found itself locked in a combat with no way forward, which eventually led to deep demoralisation. But the exhaustion of the movement in France in autumn 2010 was not exactly a result of any of these factors. It was mainly due to the fact that the government would not give way despite the massive protest and, faced with that, it was difficult for the core of the assemblies to confront the unions. What we find in Spain, is a characteristic that’s even more "original" and certainly still a bit disorienting for some politicised minorities but also for the bourgeoisie itself: the movement avoids a direct confrontation and devotes itself to reflection and to developing links and solidarity ... We could say that the movement prefers to prepare for future confrontations by "building up its forces."

On the one hand, a degree of consciousness is emerging of the huge stakes on the immediate horizon
[7] But there is also a degree of consciousness of the class’s own weaknesses, an awareness of  its lack of confidence in itself, the need to rediscover its class identity, in short, a recognition of the lack of maturity in being able to react to the ongoing situation of brutal attacks and deteriorating living standards.

In this context, this attempt to "build up its forces" also shows a certain foresight. This is probably a necessary and inevitable phase in a period in which the perspective of widespread class confrontations is looming. The movement of the 15M renewed and developed a whole range of features that were present in embyonic form in the movement in 2006 against the CPE: assemblies, the emergence of a new generation, giving specific attention to ethical and subjective factors, wanting to establish new links, starting a conscious battle ...

Reflecting on the days in Madrid, a series of observations are striking:

- people spoke quite freely about "revolution", because they saw "the system" as the problem;

- "all power to the assemblies" emerged from the ranks of a small minority and became more widespread and popular (
[8]).

- The push for the "international expansion" of the assemblies was quite remarkable, as is indicated by growing support for a proposal for a "world day of assemblies."

It's true that this was all taking place in the midst of great confusion. All sorts of things were added to the cocktail of "revolution": self-management, cooperatives, nationalistion of the banks ... On internationalisation, we had a conversation with a young Valencian: he reproached us for our scathing denunciations of DRY and pointed to the proposal from DRY for a "European day of struggle that could become worldwide" as evidence against this. At the same time, he added: "I do have a problem with the agenda for that day. If the goal is democracy, why is it that no country has a true democracy? "

The proletariat suffers from the weight of the dominant ideology with DRY and other bourgeois forces(
[9]) present in the assemblies supported by the politicians and the media. At the same time the communist minorities are small in size and influence. In this context how can we not expect a debate taking place in the midst of enormous confusion with a proliferation of the most diverse theories and the most ridiculous proposals? Consciousness has to forge a way through this chaotic and dizzying situation.


The proletarian collectives


In the assemblies, we saw that DRY - the tentacle of the state in our midst - was confronted with muted resistance and by an increasingly active minority
[10]. We should differentiate its two parts: the first one, much larger than anyone would imagine, passively resisted DRY’s proposals, let it go ahead, not daring to remove it from its leading roles, but expressed a variety of objections to its proposals.

By contrast, a minority element did oppose the democratic, citizenship and reformist politics, opposing it with support for class politics and for adopting a revolutionary perpsective of the struggle against capitalism, and for the power of the assemblies.

This minority generally organised itself inside "collectives" that became widespread and devoted lot of work to reflecting on things, most notably, to our knowledge, those in Valencia, Alicante and Madrid, even if, for now, these collectives are dispersed and scattered without having succeeded in breaking away from a concern with local actions.


ICC 1/8/11


 


[1] This includes extracts from the editorial of the International Review no. 146 that provided a balance sheet of the "15M movement" ( also available on our website).

[2] In Valencia there was an "Assembly of Equals" regrouping 5 collectives with a strong anarchist component. A collective of youths has notably proposed holding a day of debate on the 15M in September or October. We supported this proposal by adding the possibility of inviting collectives from outside Spain, which was approved. In our opinion this is an important initiative.

[3] The sensitivity to repression and the will to respond massively are still very alive in the movement. On July 27th, there was a protest outside the parliament and the police attacked the participants. That afternoon, a spontaneous demonstration of solidarity took place bringing together 2000 people who went through the city centre shouting "If you attack one of us, you attack all of us!"

[4] Association pour la Taxation des Transactions Financières et l’Aide aux Citoyens (“Association for a tax on financial transactions and aid to citizens”)

[5] Groucho Marx said: "These are my principles but if you do not like them, I have some others in my pocket."

[6] As we explained in the editorial of International Review 146, the confrontation between the classes was present from the start but not explicitly or on a directly political or economic terrain but more at what we might call the "subjective" level: the development of consciousness, solidarity, building a network of collective action.

[7] There are enormous attacks - particularly the many redundancies in the health and education sectors – that begin at the end of September (in Catalonia, they’ve already happened)

[8] In Rua Alcalá, very close to the Cortes (Parliament) there is graffiti which says: "All power to the assemblies". Indeed the attempt to write this message attracted the attention of the "commission of respect" - a kind of domestic police created by DRY - which considered such writing "too violent" and surrounded the three "guilty" youths but a large group of protesters surrounded these "officials" to ask them to let the youths "express themselves".

[9] Alongside DRY there is IU (United Left, a front created by the Stalinists), UPYD (a liberal centre party), MPPC (a republican movement), and several leftist groups, including the Trotskyists.

[10] Graffiti appeared in Valencia proclaiming "DRY does not represent us", which turns against DRY one of its own slogansthat it used widely against the politicians: "They do not represent us."