‘Real Democracy Now!’: A dictatorship against the mass assemblies

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Over recent weeks the squares of the main Spanish cities have seen thousands of people coming together in assemblies where anyone who wants to can speak and can talk with confidence about the lack of a future we are faced with and what we can do about it. And they will be listened to with respect. There is discussion everywhere, in little groups, in bars, between the different generations, the young and the retired; and this has created a collective sense of excitement, of unity, creativity, reflection and discussion around the need to come together in order to understand what we can do about the “no future” capitalism offers us.

Now though there are less and less people taking part in the meetings, which already cannot really be called assemblies as real discussions are not allowed. Various commissions “filter” the agenda and in practice there is hardly any discussion of the social struggle. All these meetings do now is to vote or come to a “consensus” about democratic demands as if they were the expression of the movement, when the majority do not know about them or are openly opposed to them. Under the excuse of “apoliticism” they carry out the same “shit politics” as the PSOE or PP[1].

What is going on? Are those who say that from the beginning this was a just citizens’ movement for democratic reform, a set up, being proved right? Or is there an attack going on against the assemblies, a sabotage in order to put an end to this massive coming together, this discussion and reflection, because the state is scared and under pressure?

 

Mass assemblies: not “for democracy” but “despite democracy”

 

Two days after the brutal repression of the demonstrations of 15th May (the movement of the “indignant” which in Spain is known at the “15-M movement”) the setting up of a camp in the Puerta del Sol served as example for other cities. Ever-increasing numbers of people took part in a completely spontaneous movement of assemblies and discussions. There is a cynical lie being put about that the ¡Democracia Real Ya! Movement began this movement. These same “exemplary citizens” were very concerned to make it clear at that point that the movement to set up camps was nothing to do with them. Or as is said in a text by some anarchists from Madrid: “they distanced themselves in the most disgusting way possible from the events that happened after the demonstration and fingered those who were involved in them”.

On the one hand: the worsening of the attacks on our living conditions, unemployment, evictions, cuts in social spending. On the other hand, the example of Tahrir Square and North Africa, the pensions struggle in France, the students in Great Britain, Greece, the discussions in the workplaces or among revolutionary minorities, the comments on Facebook or Twitter, and of course all the expressions of being fed up with corruption and parliamentary antics... All this and more, has brought about the explosion of discontent and indignation, the unleashing of a torrent of vitality and struggle, ripping open the passivity and the voting of democratic normality.

Thousands and at times tens of thousands of people have come together in the central squares of the most important cities in Spain, turning them into real “agoras”. They have come after work, camped, with their families, searching... and they have talked and talked. Speech has been “freed”[2] in the assemblies. Even the most anti-state have recognized that this movement is not within the channels of the democratic state, as the above anarchist text says: “It is as if, suddenly, passivity and everyman for himself has broken down around the Puerto Del Sol... In the first days there were small groups talking about things, people gathered around to listen, to say something. It was normal to see people arguing in small groups. The work groups and general assemblies were massive events bringing together 500, 600 and 2000 people (sitting, standing, coming together to listen to something) etc. And apart from this, this permanent sense of a good atmosphere, of ‘this is something special’. All this reached its peak on the Friday/Saturday night when a day of reflection began. 20,000 were heard shouting ‘We are illegal’ like children enjoying breaking the law, this was invigorating and impressive”.

The movement has certainly not posed the question of an open confrontation with the democratic state. In fact, each attempt to arrive at concrete demands has deviated towards “democratic reform”, towards introducing the slogans of “Real Democracy Now!” And this is normal, given the working class's lack of confidence in its ability to launch itself into struggle, its lack of clarity about the perspective, and above all given the need for the working class to recover its class identity as the revolutionary subject, and thus its ability to become the head of a revolutionary offensive. However, discussion, reflection and the attempt to take the struggle in hand are precisely the way to gain confidence, sharpen clarity and recover class identity. This has been seen, particularly in Barcelona, in the efforts by striking workers to unite with the assemblies, and the calling of united demonstrations around workers’ demands in Tarrasa[3]. The real confrontation with the democratic state has been taking place in the self-organized and mass assemblies that have spread throughout the country and beyond.

And this is just what the state cannot tolerate.

 

The response of the state: re-establish the democratic channels

 

After the first attempt to put a brake on events at the end of the election week on the 22nd May[4] - legally banning the gathering, which was flouted by the massive demonstrations in the squares at the hour when the law came into force, i.e. the early hours of Saturday the 21st May -  the strategy has been to combine the natural weakening of the movement due to tiredness and the difficulty to put forward a perspective for the struggle with sabotage of the movement from the inside.

When the movement began to weaken, a week after the municipal elections, the state unleashed a strategy of media recuperation in Madrid and Barcelona.

In Madrid the complaints of small businessmen and shopkeepers around the Puerta Del Sol were given free reign in order to make the campers feel guilty for the crisis. Support was given for a strategy of dismantling the massive camp and just leaving an “information point”.

In Barcelona, the calculated intervention by Catalan police[5], while initially leading to an increase in the numbers taking part in the gatherings[6], eventually led to the complete derailing of the discussions toward the democratic demand for the resignation of the Catalan interior minister, Felip Puig, joining in with the opposition against the new government of the right and the nationalists.

None of this would have had the same impact if it had not been for the work from the inside by Real Democracy Now!

 

Sabotage from within: the dictatorship of ¡Democracia Real Ya!

 

In the first few days, faced with the avalanche of assemblies, ¡Democracia Real Ya! (DRY) had no option but to keep a low profile, but this did not mean that it did not try to gain positions in the key commissions of the camps and to spread its positions about citizens reforming the system, such as its famous “Ten Commandments” and similar things; of course, without openly showing its face and defending apoliticism in order to prevent those with other political opinions spreading their ideas, while DRY were left free to spread theirs (unsigned).

The anarchists in Madrid already detected this ambiance at the beginning of the movement: “In many commissions and groups we are seeing everything from the accidental loss of minutes, personal ambitions, people who cling to being spokesmen like glue, delegates who remain quiet at general assemblies, commissions that ignore agreements, small groups who want to maintain the refreshment stand etc. For sure many of these are the result of inexperience and inflated egos, others however appear to be directly taken from the old manuals on how to manipulate assemblies”.

We had to wait until the first symptoms of the reflux of the movement before seeing the real offensive of the “citizens' movement” against the assemblies.

At the Puerta Del Sol they (DRY) accepted the complaints of the shopkeepers and hastened the dismantling of the camp in order to leave an “information point”. They filtered the interventions at the assemblies, which were already only discussing the proposals of the commissions, which they controlled. They openly presented their positions as the expression of the movement, rather than having them discussed in the assemblies. DRY called coordinating meetings of the neighborhood assemblies without having been elected as delegates to represent the assembly. They even held a national coordination assembly on 4th June that no one in the general assemblies knew about... And the same dynamic could be seen in all the large cities.

In Barcelona freedom of speech has been kidnapped: the assemblies simply have to pronounce on proposals formulated behind their backs. Conferences of intellectuals and professors have replaced discussion. One of the most obvious symptoms of this offensive against the assemblies has been the increasing weight of nationalism. In the week after the 15th May thousands of people packed into the Plaza de Cataluňa and discussed in different languages, translating into various languages the communiqués issued and received. There was not a single Catalan flag. Recently however, it has been voted that Catalan is the only language used.

In Valencia it has been more of the same but on a wider scale. The text Control of the Assemblies in Valencia, which has circulated anonymously, makes this clear “Since the 27th the internal dynamic of the camp and the daily assemblies has changed radically... and in them it is already almost not possible to talk about politics and social problems... It can be summed up as follows: the commission of ‘citizen participation’ and another called the ‘judicial’ commission, in total 15-20 people, have taken absolute control of the moderation of the assemblies; they are ‘professional moderators’ who impose themselves though cliques and commissions... All the placards with any political, economic or simply social content have been removed from the square. Now it is a kind of alternative fair... There is no freedom of speech in the square or assembly. In the commissions they have been able to install the dictatorship of the system of ‘minimum consensus’ with the result that you can never arrive at any substantial agreement. They have presented a document, which they claim has already been adopted, called ‘Citizen, Participate!’ which contains many beautiful things but establishes that only the commissions have the right to present proposals to the assemblies. In this text, it is established that it will be obligatory for the commissions to function by minimum consensus... this is total control in order to empty out the content of the movement.” And things have not stopped there: today a demonstration against attacks on pensions was converted into a protest against article 87.3 of the Constitution: whilst the retired shouted “for a minimum pension of €800” and “for retirement at 60”, the citizen movement shouted “prisoners since 78”[7] in order to demand a more representative Constitution.

However it has been in Seville where the DRY has exposed itself most clearly. It shamelessly asked for a blank cheque from the assemblies, to do with what it wants according to its whim. It has even dared to call upon the participants to hold their assemblies under its initials.

 

What is at stake?

 

It is increasingly clear that the strategy of DRY, in the service of the democratic state, consists of putting forward the idea of a citizens’ movement for democratic reform, in order to try and avoid the emergence of a social struggle against the democratic state, against capitalism. The facts have shown however that, when the enormous accumulated social discontent finds even a small area to express itself, it pushed to one side the moaners about the “perfect” democracy. Neither DRY nor the democratic state can stop the development of social discontent and militancy, but they can put all kinds of obstacles in its way.

The drive against the assemblies is one of them. For a “large minority” (if we can be allowed to use paradoxical terminology) these assemblies are a reference point of how to look for solidarity and confidence, of how to discuss, in order to take charge of the struggles against the terrible attacks on our living conditions. Continuing discussing, like in the assemblies, even if these meetings are only small, is the way to prepare the struggles. Organising mass and open assemblies each time there is a struggle is the example to follow. DRY's sabotage and the imposition of a citizen’s movement could make a part of this “growing minority” become disillusioned and think that “it was all a dream”. They cannot erase history like Big Brother, but they can confuse our memory.

Therefore the alternative is to defend the assemblies where they still have some vitality; to struggle against and denounce the sabotage of DRY; and to call for the continuation of the struggle where possible, to fight for taking control of the discussion and struggle. To do this, the most determined minorities in the assemblies during struggles need to get together.

The struggle against capitalism is possible! The future belongs to the working class!

 

International Communist Current,  03.06.2011

 

 

 

 


[1]    “PSOE and PP: the same shit”  is one of the slogans against “bipartisanship” which has become emblematic of this movement

[2]    “Free the word” has been one of the slogans of the recent assemblies in the movement against the cuts in pensions in France.

[3]    An industrial suburb of Barcelona.

[4]    On Sunday 22nd May there were elections in Spain. The law stated that the Saturday was to be “a day of reflection” and that all meetings were banned

[5]    The Spanish bourgeoisie is not that stupid in its confrontation with the working class and less so in Catalonia. It is hard to believe that, only a few days after the repression against the demonstrations on the 15th May which sparked the protests, they could put their foot in it so badly. Furthermore, proving that there is always an exception to the rule, there was the pathetic declaration on the main Spanish TV channel by the spokesman for the opposition Socialist Party in Catalonia who spoke with contempt about those involved in the camp and said that the party agreed with the breaking up of the camp although not with the way it was done, demonstrating that this plan had been discussed by the government and opposition.

[6]    The Catalan riot squads brutally broke up the camp (leading to some serious injuries) which stimulated solidarity from other assemblies

[7] The date the constitution drawn up after the death of Franco came into effect

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