Spanish indignados’ movement: What remains of 15M?

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In many discussions the following is asked:  where has all the vitality and combativity, the discussions and occupations of squares gone? Some people tell us They are being managed by the likes of Democracia Real YA or Assemblies of 15M[1]. However many think they have simply disappeared and that we shouldn't have any illusions about them.

We are certainly not in an explosive situation like May; does that mean that we have not experienced anything?

A reference point for how to struggle

Tons of “democratist” rubbish has poured forth from Democracia Real Ya (DRY), likewise the PSOE, in order to bury the militancy, spontaneity, creativity, discussions and mobilisations of the 15M movement. But they cannot draw a veil over these events. Those days in May will remain a reference point for the fact that it is possible to struggle, to decide for ourselves. Each time that discontent and anger overwhelm democratic normality in order to fight back, 15M will be a reference point.

First of all because it was a baptism of fire for the younger generation, for those who had never been in an assembly, who had not felt the solidarity and collective force of the workplace because of the chronic unemployment they suffer. In the squares and demonstrations the youngest and oldest have come together, and begun a transmission of experience, gaining confidence in the possibility of changing things. And this will not be easily forgotten.

It has also made it possible to go to the root of questions. Faced with disgust at reformist, electoral and trade unionist thinking, 15M had the courage to recognise the lack of perspective that this system offers and dared to speak loudly of revolution, although everyone saw its contents differently and it was not posed as an immediate prospect. And this was displayed from the very beginning when the Assembly of the Arrested (Madrid)[2] said in their communiqué: “We are faced with a situation without hope and without a future, a situation we are told to passively accept”.

Furthermore, in the squares, many have discovered for the first time that it is possible to organise the struggle for ourselves, that the assemblies can express a collective reflection, can be a space for experiencing the unity and strength of the movement. The elected commissions did not act on their own, but had to be accountable to the assemblies. The weakening of the assemblies was seen when some commissions elected themselves or where named by DRY or others, and this even included commissions that had initially been elected  by the assemblies but which began to function on their own account, trying to impose on the assemblies decisions that they had not made, such as the DRY's “Ten Commandments”.

Despite all the difficulties and differences, 15M saw itself as part of the same thread stretching from Tunisia to Wall Street and has also generated a tremendous solidarity and sympathy; and at times it expressed an internationalist sentiment, seeing itself as part of an international movement of struggle, such as when the first assemblies in the Plaza de Cataluña in Barcelona translated their communiqués of solidarity into different languages.

The movement of the indignant, although not being fully aware of it, is an attempt to respond to the world crisis of capitalism. As we saw at the onset of the movement in Tunisia[3], for example, this was expressed by the fact that many thousands of people felt they could no longer live in a system of commodity and wage relations. We have seen demonstrations of the indignant in Tunisia, Egypt, Spain, Greece, Israel, the USA, Chile, Great Britain....A simultaneity of movements that only has precedents in the 1968 movements or the international revolutionary wave of 1919-20.

Minorities, reflection and preparation of the struggles

The 15M movement continues to be a reference point through the living and active emergence of a considerable (compared with the period immediately preceding) number of minorities who are continuing the process of reflection and preparation for the next struggles.

These minorities cannot be seen as the representatives of the movement, because they have not been elected by the assemblies; nor are they backed by a massive and persistent moblisation. It would be a mistake for them to talk in the name of the 15M movement. Equally it would be an error to think that they have nothing to do with it. Each movement of struggles generates its minorities, who do not represent the whole, but who are part of it. What these groups express is the effort to continue the process of clarifying lessons for the future. They are also creating a network of discussion, of meetings, of confidence and solidarity that will be very important for the organisation of new mass mobilisations. No mass movement, no revolution is possible without the existence of these channels for spreading the struggle and for discussing theory and practice.

DRY: surrendering the movement to the bourgeois state

Other minorities however, had tried to integrate the militancy of the mobilisations into the channels of the democratic state, following the representative-electoral schema of parliament and the unions. These people, who are characterised fundamentally by the positions of the DRY, aspire to be the official representatives of the movement, putting forwards their programme of demands, calling their own mobilisations, wanting to find a “space” for the spirit of the movement in the bourgeois State. In return they offer to surrender the real movement to the conditions of the system, to take on objectives that are “reasonable” in a situation of crisis. They want a movement without mobilisations, without effective assemblies, without fruitful discussions.

These minorities are not as expression of the 15M but of the totalitarian state, whatever they think they may be doing.

From spontaneity to confrontation

The first spectacular days of 15M, with their massive nature and unity, with all the discussion and emotion, will not spontaneously repeat themselves. The magnitude of the movement surprised the state, though at the same time it did not feel directly threatened and allowed it to run out of steam. The next attempts at massive mobilisation will not find the same open ground; on the contrary, they will only come about through a confrontation. In this sense, things may initially look more like they did in the last days of the movement: manoeuvres in the assemblies, dead end demonstrations etc.

The organizing of sovereign assemblies and massive mobilisations will mean a struggle against the concerted efforts of the DRY, the trade unions, PSOE, and other left parties who will try to maintain their grip over the movement.

Furthermore, the next mobilisations will not be able to avoid a hand to hand struggle with these forces to avoid being trapped on the electoral terrain. The next demands of the struggle will have to be posed directly on the social terrain faced with the gravity of the crisis and the enormous cuts.

Spread the 15M to the workers: towards a struggle for social transformation

There were tentative efforts to bring the workers into the struggle of the assemblies and the 15M movement, particularly in Barcelona, where the local government’s attacks have ignited the public sector[4]. But they were faced with the false dilemma of “if you want to struggle against the cuts, join the union struggle”, because the 15M was a struggle for “electoral reform”. This division of the “political” and “wage” struggles is a knife pointed at the heart of the movement.

This can be avoided by taking further what happened in Catalonia: uniting the workers’ struggles and the 15M assemblies.

In fact there cannot be any more 15M without seeing its content, its forms of struggle and its demands as part of the struggle of the working class,

The cancer of skepticism dominates ideology today and infects the proletariat and its own revolutionary minorities. As stated above, the proletariat has missed all of the appointments that history has given it during the course of a century of capitalist decadence, and this has resulted in an agonising doubt in its own ranks about its identity and its capacities as a class, to the point where even in displays of militancy some reject the term “working class”.[5] This skepticism is made even stronger because it is fed by the decomposition of capitalism;[6] despair, the lack of concrete plans for the future foster disbelief and distrust of any perspective of collective action.

The movements in Spain, Greece and Israel – despite all the weaknesses they contain – have begun to provide an effective remedy against the cancer of scepticism, as much by their very existence and what they mean for the continuity of struggles and the conscious efforts made by the world proletariat since 2003. They are not a storm that suddenly burst out of a clear blue sky but the result of a slow accumulation over the last eight years of small clouds, drizzle and timid lightning that has grown until it acquires a new quality.” (International Review 147 ‘Movement of the Indignant in Spain, Greece and Israel: From indignation to the preparation of class struggles’).  

Hic Rhodus 21/01/12

[1]    This movement that began on the 15th May with huge demonstrations in Madrid and other cities in Spain has been known since as the 15M. On the meaning of the 15M see Also see the discussion on the 15M Movement on our Spanish forum

[2]    This assembly/collective was formed by young people who had been arrested during police violence at the end of the  15th May demonstration in Madrid and were beaten up by the police in police stations. The assembly/collective issued a communiqué denouncing their treatment. This stimulated the occupation of the Plaza del Sol in Madrid and of public squares in other cities in Spain.

[3]    A university educated young man who could not find employment but earned a living through selling fruit on the street burned himself alive after the police destroyed his stall. This event was the detonator of the massive movements.

[4] Delegations of transport and health workers have joined up with the assemblies, as have the unemployed.

[5] We cannot deal here with why the working class is the revolutionary class of society and why its struggle represents the future for all other non-exploiting strata, a burning question as we have seen in the movement of the indignant. The reader can find more material on this question in two articles published in International Review  73 and 74, ‘Who can change the world?: the proletariat is still the revolutionary class’:

[6] See ‘Theses on Decomposition’ International Review No 62