Protests in Spain: A movement that heralds the future
The “15M” Movement in Spain – it takes its name from the date it was created, May 15th – is highly important because of its unique characteristics. This article will recount the significant episodes and at each point draw lessons and perspectives for the future.
Providing an account of what actually happened is necessary for an understanding of the unfolding dynamic of the international class struggle towards mass working class mobilisations that will help the class regain confidence and provide it with the means of posing an alternative to this moribund society.
Capitalism’s bleak future is what lies behind the 15M Movement
The word “crisis” has a dramatic connotation for millions of people who are consumed by a tide of poverty produced by worsening living conditions, going from permanent unemployment and insecure employment where planning from one day to the next is difficult, to even worse situations that can mean hunger and destitution.
But what is most distressing is the absence of any future. This was denounced by the Assembly of the Imprisoned in Madrid in a statement which, as we shall see, was the spark that lit the fuse to the movement: “We find ourselves looking ahead and see little hope on the horizon and no future that could allow us to live a quiet life and enjoy doing the things we want and like to do.” When the OECD tells us that it will take 15 years for Spain to return to the level of employment it had in 2007 – almost a whole generation deprived of work! – when similar figures can be extrapolated for the United States or Great Britain, we can see to what extent this society has fallen into a vortex of endless poverty, unemployment and barbarism.
The movement was at first directed against the bipartite political system predominant in Spain (the two parties, the Popular Party, PP, on the right and the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party, PSOE, on the left, receive 86% of the votes). This factor played a role, specifically in connection with the lack of any future, since in a country where the right plays on its deserved reputation of being authoritarian, arrogant and anti-working class, broad sectors of the population were concerned at how, with government attacks being carried out by its false friends – the PSOE –, its declared enemies – the PP –threatening to move back into power for a longer term, with no electoral alternative, this would amount to a general blockage of society.
This general feeling was reinforced by the unions’ involvement that began with them calling a “general strike” on September 29th, which had a demobilising affect, but ended with the signing of a social pact with the government in January 2011, which agreed to the brutal reform of pensions and closed the door to any possibility of mass mobilisations being called under the unions’ leadership.
To these factors was added a deep sense of outrage. One of the consequences of the crisis, as it was put in the assembly in Valencia, is that “the people who own a lot are fewer, but they own much more than they did, while those who own a little are numerically many more, but they own much less.” The capitalists and their political representatives have become more and more arrogant, greedy and corrupt. They have no hesitation accumulating great wealth, while poverty and desolation grow all around them. This provides stark evidence for the existence of social classes and clearly demonstrates that we are not all “equal citizens”.
Faced with this situation, some groups emerged towards the end of 2010, affirming the need to unite in the streets, to act independently of the political parties and trade unions, to organise assemblies... The old mole conjured up by Marx was giving rise to a subterranean maturation within society which would burst out into the open in the month of May! The mobilisation of “Youth with no Future” in the month of April brought together 5,000 young people in Madrid. Moreover, the success of the demonstrations of young people in Portugal – “Geração à Rasca” (a generation adrift) – which assembled more than 200,000 young people, and the very popular example of Tahrir Square in Egypt, gave an impetus to the movement.
The assemblies: a vision of the future
On May 15th, a coalition of more than 100 organisations – baptised Democracia Ya Real (DRY) – called some demonstrations in major provincial towns “against the politicians”, calling for “real democracy”.
Small groups of young people (unemployed, temporary workers and students), in disagreement with the organisers who wanted the movement to act as a valve for social discontent, tried to set up camps in the main squares in Madrid, in Granada and other cities in an attempt to continue the movement. DRY disowned them and let police squads unleash a brutal repression, perpetrated particularly in the police stations. However, those who were victims organised themselves into an Assembly of the Imprisoned in Madrid and quickly produced a statement clearly denouncing the degrading treatment dished out by the police. It made a big impression and encouraged many young people to join the camps.
On Tuesday, May 17th, while DRY was trying to confine the camps to a symbolic protest role, the huge mass of people that flowed into them imposed the holding of mass meetings. On the Wednesday and Thursday, these large assemblies spread to over 73 cities. They expressed their worthwhile reflections and made some sound proposals dealing with all aspects of social, economic, political and cultural life. Nothing human was alien to this immense improvised main square!
A protester in Madrid said: “The assemblies are the best thing there is, everyone can speak, people understand each other, you can think out loud, thousands of strangers can come to an agreement. Isn’t that wonderful?” The assemblies were a different world, in contrast to the sombre atmosphere of the polling booths and far removed from involvement in electoral campaigns: “Brotherly embraces, cries of delight and of enthusiasm, songs of freedom, merry laughter, humour and joy were seen and heard in the crowd of many thousands of persons which surged through the town from morning till evening. The mood was exalted: one could almost believe that a new and better life was beginning on the earth. A most solemn and at the same time an idyllic, moving spectacle.” Thousands of people were discussing passionately and listening attentively to each other in an atmosphere that was deeply respectful and surprisingly orderly. They shared the same outrage and concerns for the future but, more importantly, the desire to understand its causes; and out of this arose the effort to debate and to analyse a range of questions, the hundreds of meetings and the bookstalls... An effort with seemingly no concrete results, but which “blew everyone’s mind” and sowed the seeds of consciousness in the fields of the future.
Subjectively, the class struggle rests on two pillars: consciousness on the one hand and trust and solidarity on the other. Regarding the latter, the assemblies also contained the promise of the future: human ties, feelings of empathy flowing through the squares, widespread solidarity and unity; these were at least as important as making decisions or agreeing to demands. The furious politicians and press demanded, with the immediatism and utilitarianism characteristic of bourgeois ideology, that the movement condense its demands into a “protocol”, which DRY should try to convert into a “Ten Commandments” containing all the ridiculous and tame democratic measures like open lists, popular legislative initiatives and reform of the electoral law.
The fierce resistance of the movement to these hasty measures shows how it points the way forward for the class struggle. In Madrid, people were shouting: “We’re not going slowly, we just have a long way to go”. In an open letter to the assemblies, a group from Madrid said: “The challenge is to synthesise what we want the demonstrations to achieve. We are convinced that it is not insubstantial, as the self-interested politicians would have it or all those who want nothing to change, or rather want to change some details so that everything remains the same. It’s not by suddenly presenting a ‘Grenelle of demands’ that we will succeed in synthesising the reasons we are fighting; it’s not by creating a shopping list of demands that our revolt will express itself and strengthen itself.”
The effort to understand the causes of a dramatic situation and an uncertain future, and to find the way to struggle accordingly, is what constitutes the basis of the assemblies. This gives them their deliberative character that disorientates those looking for the struggle to be focused around precise demands. The work of reflecting on ethical, cultural, artistic and literary themes (there were interventions in the form of songs and poems), created a false sense of a petty-bourgeois movement of the “indignants”. We have to separate the wheat from the chaff. The latter is certainly present in the democratic and populist shell that has often enveloped these concerns. But the above things are wheat, because the revolutionary transformation of the world depends on and provides a stimulus for massive cultural and ethical change; “by changing the world and changing our lives we transform ourselves”is the revolutionary motto that Marx and Engels formulated in The German Ideology more than a century and a half ago: “...Both for the production on a mass scale of this communist consciousness, and for the success of the cause itself, the alteration of men on a mass scale is necessary, an alteration that can only take place in a practical movement, a revolution; this revolution is necessary therefore not only because the ruling class cannot be overthrown in any other way, but also because the class overthrowing it can only in a revolution succeed in ridding itself of all the muck of ages and become fitted to found society anew.”
The mass assemblies were a first attempt to respond to a general problem in society that we highlighted more than 20 years ago: the social decomposition of capitalism. In the “Theses on decomposition” that we wrote at that time, we pointed to the tendency for the decomposition of the ideology and the superstructures of capitalist society and, coupled with it, the increasing dislocation of the social relations both of the bourgeoisie and the petty bourgeoisie. The working class is not exempt from this because, among other things, it lives alongside the petty bourgeoisie. We give a warning in this text about the effects of this process: “1) solidarity and collective action are faced with the atomisation of ‘look after number one’; 2) the need for organisation confronts social decomposition, the disintegration of relationships which form the basis for all social life; 3) the proletariat’s confidence in the future and in its own strength is constantly sapped by the all-pervasive despair and nihilism within society; 4) consciousness, lucidity, coherent and unified thought, the taste for theory, have a hard time making headway in the midst of the flight into illusions, drugs, sects, mysticism, the rejection or destruction of thought which are characteristic of our epoch.”
However, what the massive assemblies in Spain show – as did those that appeared during the student movement in France in 2006 – is that the sectors most vulnerable to the effects of decomposition – the young and the unemployed, especially because of their lack of work experience – have been present at the forefront of the assemblies and in the effort to develop consciousness on the one hand and solidarity and empathy on the other.
For all these reasons, the mass assemblies provide a first indication of what lies ahead. This may not seem very much to those waiting for the proletariat to appear like a bolt from the blue and show that it is clearly and unequivocally the revolutionary class of society. However, from a historical point of view, and taking into account the enormous difficulties that lie in its path, this is a good start, since it has begun a rigorous preparation of the subjective terrain.
Paradoxically, these characteristics have also been the Achilles heel of the “15M” movement in the first stage of its development. Not having set out with any specific objective, fatigue, a difficulty in coping with the first set of problems posed, and an absence of conditions favourable to workplace struggles, plunged the movement into a sort of vacuum that could not be sustained for very long, and which the DRY has tried to fill with its own so-called “simple” and “feasible” objectives for “democratic reform” that are utopian and reactionary.
The traps that the movement has had to face
For almost two decades, the world proletariat has been in the wilderness and not participated in any large-scale struggles, and in particular has suffered a loss of confidence in itself and a loss of its own class identity. Even if this atmosphere has progressively changed since 2003, with the appearance of significant struggles in many countries and a new generation of revolutionary minorities, the stereotypical image of the working class as “unresponsive” and “inactive” continues to predominate.
The large numbers of people suddenly appearing on the social stage are hindered by the weight of the past, and by the increasing problem that the movement contains social strata in the process of proletarianisation that are more vulnerable to democratic ideology. In addition, due to the fact that the movement did not emerge from a struggle against a specific measure, it has produced a paradox, something not uncommon in history, as the two major classes of society – the proletariat and the bourgeoisie –appear to have avoided open combat, giving the impression of a peaceful movement enjoying “everyone’s support.”
But in reality, the confrontation between the classes was present in the early days. Didn’t the PSOE government retaliate immediately with brutal repression against a handful of young people? Wasn’t it the swift and passionate response of the Assembly of the Imprisoned in Madrid which unleashed the movement? Wasn’t it this denunciation that opened the eyes of many young people who subsequently chanted “they call it democracy, but it isn’t!”, an ambiguous slogan that was converted by a minority into “they call it a dictatorship and it is one!”?
For those who think the class struggle is a succession of “strong emotions”, the “dispassionate” approach adopted within the assemblies led them to believe that this was nothing more than an exercise in a “harmless constitutional legality”, and perhaps many participants even believed that their movement was limited to that.
However, the mass assemblies in the public squares, with the slogan “Seize the Square”, expressed a challenge to the democratic rule of order. What determines the social relations and legitimises the laws is that the exploited majority “minds its own business” and, if it wants to, “participates” in civic matters by using the voting system, and protests through the unions which atomise and individualise it even more. Uniting, building solidarity, discussing collectively, starting to act as an independent social force constitutes an overwhelming violence against bourgeois order.
The bourgeoisie has done its utmost to bring an end the assemblies. By all appearances, with its usual sickening hypocrisy, it had only praise and sympathy for the Indignants, but the facts – which are what really matter – betrayed this apparent complacency.
As the day of the election – Sunday, May 22nd – approached, the Central Electoral Commission decided to ban assemblies across the country on Saturday 21st, designated as a “day of reflection”. From the early hours of Saturday morning, a huge deployment of police surrounded the Puerta del Sol camp, but in turn it was encircled by a huge crowd which obliged the Interior Minister himself to order a withdrawal. More than 20,000 people then occupied the square in a mood of euphoria. We see here another episode of class confrontation, even if the explicit violence was restricted to only a few outbursts.
DRY proposed maintaining the camps while keeping silent to respect the “day of reflection”, so not holding the assemblies. But no one listened, and the assemblies on Saturday 21st, formally illegal, had the highest levels of support. In the assembly in Barcelona, signs, slogans repeated in chorus and placards sarcastically proclaimed in response to the Electoral Assembly: “We are reflecting!”
On Sunday 22nd, election day, instead of another attempt to end the assemblies, DRY proclaimed that “we’ve achieved our goals” and that the movement must be ended. The response was unanimous: “We are not here for the elections”. On Monday 23rd and Tuesday 24th, both in the number of participants and in the richness of the debates, the assemblies reached their peak. Interventions, slogans, placards proliferated demonstrating a deep reflection: “Where is the Left? It’s behind the Right”, “The polls ca not hold back our dreams”, “600 euros per month, that’s some violence”, “If you don’t let us dream, we will prevent you from sleeping!, “No work, no home, no fear”, “They deceived our grandparents, they deceived our children, they will not deceive our grandchildren”. They also show an awareness of the perspectives: “We are the future, capitalism is the past”, “All power to the assemblies”, “There is no evolution without revolution”, “The future starts now”, “Do you still believe this is a utopia?”...
From this high point, the assemblies went into decline. Partly because of fatigue, but also from the constant bombardment from DRY about adopting its “Democratic Decalogue”. The points in the Decalogue are far from neutral, they directly attack the assemblies. The most “radical” demand, the “popular legislative initiative”, in addition to entailing endless parliamentary procedures that would discourage the most ardent supporter, would above all replace open and widespread debate where everyone feels part of a collective body with some individual acts, ordinary citizenship, and protest confined to “my own four walls”.
This sabotage from the inside was combined with repressive attacks from the outside; thereby demonstrating how hypocritical the bourgeoisie is when it claims that the assemblies constitute “a constitutional right of assembly.” On Friday 27th, the Catalan government – in coordination with the central government – launched an attack: the “mossos de esquadra” (regional police forces) invaded Plaza Catalunya in Barcelona and savagely cracked down, inflicting many injuries and making numerous arrests. The Barcelona Assembly – until then the most oriented towards class positions – fell into the trap of classical democratic demands: petitions to demand the resignation of the Interior Minister, opposition to the “disproportionate” use of violence, calling for “democratic control of the police”. This volte-face was all the more obvious as it gave way to nationalist poison and included in its demands “the right to self-determination”.
The scenes of repression increased in the week of June 5th to 12th: Valencia, Saint-Jacques de Compostela, Salamanca ... The most brutal blow however was delivered on the 14th and 15th in Barcelona. The Catalan parliament was discussing a law known as Omnibus, which included brutal social cuts, especially in the education and health sectors (including 15,000 lay-offs in the latter). DRY, outside of any dynamic of discussion in the workers’ assemblies, called for a “peaceful demonstration” which was to surround the Parliament to “prevent the deputies passing an unjust law.” This typical, purely symbolic action, instead of waging a struggle against the law and the institutions that are behind it, appealed to the “conscience” of the deputies. For the demonstrators thus trapped, only a false choice remained: either the democratic terrain and the impotent and passive whining of the majority, or its counterpart, the “radical” violence of a minority.
The insults and jostling of a few deputies provided the opportunity for a hysterical campaign that criminalised those engaged in violence (lumping them together with those who defend class positions) and called for “defence of the democratic institutions that are at risk”. We have come full circle. DRY sports its pacifism and asks demonstrators to exercise violence against the “violent” elements, and goes even further in asking openly for the “violent” elements to be delivered to the police and for the demonstrators to applaud the latter for its “good and loyal service!”
The June 19th demonstrations and the extension to the working class
From the beginning, the movement had two cores: a wide democratic core, fuelled by confusion and doubt, which was socially heterogeneous with a tendency to avoid direct confrontation. But it also had a proletarian core, expressed by the assemblies and a constant tendency to “go to the working class.”
In the Barcelona assembly, workers from telecommunications, health, fire services as well as university students mobilised actively against the social attacks. They created a commission to spread the general strike, and the animated debates in this commission led to the organisation of a network of “the Indignants” of Barcelona which convened an assembly for Saturday June 11th for those workplaces involved in struggles, to be followed up with a meeting on Saturday July 3rd. On Friday June 3rd workers and unemployed demonstrated in Plaza Catalunya behind a banner with the words “Down with the union bureaucracy! General strike!” In Valencia, the assembly supported a demonstration by public transport workers and also a neighbourhood demonstration against cuts in education. In Zaragoza, public transport workers enthusiastically participated in the assembly. The assemblies decided to form neighbourhood assemblies.
The demonstration of June 19th saw a new surge from the proletarian core. The demonstration had been called by the assemblies of Barcelona, Valencia and Malaga against the social cuts. DRY tried to undermine it by proposing solely democratic slogans. That provoked a spontaneous reaction in Madrid to go and demonstrate at the Congress against the cuts to social spending, which saw more than 5000 people attend. Moreover a co-ordination of neighbourhood assemblies in the south of Madrid, born out of the fiasco of the September 29th strike (with a very similar orientation to that of the inter-professional general assemblies created in France in the heat of the events of autumn 2010) launched an appeal: “Let’s go to the Congress that cuts social spending without consulting us, the people and workers from the neighbourhoods of Madrid, and say: enough! [...] This initiative represents the view of a working class grass-roots assembly against those who take decisions behind workers' backs without their approval. The struggle will be long, so we encourage you to organise in neighbourhood assemblies, and at your places of work or study. “
The June 19th demonstrations were very successful, the reception was massive in more than 60 cities, but their content was even more important. It was a response to the brutal campaign against “the violent ones”. Expressing a maturation born out of the many discussions in the most active milieus, the slogan heard the most, for example in Bilbao, is “Violence is not being able to make ends meet each month!” and in Valladolid: “Violence is also unemployment and evictions”.
However, it was the demonstration in Madrid in particular that provided a new focus coming from June 19th on perspectives for the future. It was convened by an organisation coming from the working class and its most active minorities. The theme of this gathering was “March and unite against the crisis and against capital.” It declared: “No to wage cuts and pension cuts; against unemployment: workers' struggles; no to price rises, increase our wages, increase the taxes on those who earn the most, protect our public services, no to privatisation of health and education ... Long live working class unity.”
A collective in Alicante adopted the same Manifesto. In Valencia, the Autonomous and Anti-capitalist bloc composed of various groups very active in the assemblies distributed a manifesto that read: “We want an answer to unemployment. The unemployed, those in temporary employment, along with those working in the black economy have come together in the assemblies to collectively agree to demands and to press for their implementation. We want the withdrawal of the Law on Labour Reform, which authorises the reduction of redundancy payments to 20 days. We want the withdrawal of the Law on Pensions Reform since behind this is a life of privation and poverty and we do not want to sink any further into poverty and uncertainty. We demand an end to evictions. The need for people to be housed is more important than the blind laws of commerce and the profit motive. We say NO to the cuts in health and education, NO to the redundancies being prepared by the regional governments and in the town halls following the recent elections.”
The Madrid march was organised in several columns that started from seven different suburbs or neighbourhoods on the outskirts of the city; these separate columns attracted crowds of people as they moved along. These mass mobilisations are part of the working class tradition as in the 1972-1976 strikes of in Spain (and also the tradition of 1968 in France) where, starting from a big concentration of workers or from a factory that acts as a “beacon”, as happened at Standard in Madrid at that time,increasing numbers of workers, residents, unemployed and young people come out and join them, and this whole mass converges on the town centre. Evidence of this tradition was present in the struggles at Vigo in 2006 and 2009.
In Madrid, the Manifesto read out to the assembled crowd called for the holding of “Assemblies that will prepare a general strike” and was greeted with widespread cries of “Long live the working class”.
The need for a reflective enthusiasm
The demonstrations of June 19th gave rise to a sense of excitement; according to a demonstrator in Madrid: “The atmosphere was that of a real festival. All kinds of people and all ages: young people around 20 years old, the retired, families with children, and all kinds of other people too, walked together... and at the same time people came out onto their balconies to applaud us. I came home exhausted, but with a broad smile on my face. Not only had I the feeling of having been fighting for a just cause, but in addition, I had a really fantastic time.” Another said: “It's really important seeing all these people gathered in one place, talking politics and fighting for their rights. Don't you have the feeling that we're taking back the streets?”
After the initial explosions typical of assemblies seeking a way forward, the movement began to look at how to develop the struggle, began to see that solidarity, unity and building collective strength could be achieved.The idea began to spread around that “We can stand up to Capital and the State”, and that the key to this strength would be the working class renewing its struggle.In the assemblies in the neighbourhoods of Madrid, one topic of debate has been that of calling a general strike in October to “oppose the cuts in social spending.” There was an outcry from the CCOO and UGT unions saying that such a call would be “illegal” and they alone had the authority to do it, to which many sectors answered loud and clear by saying: “only the mass assemblies can take this decision.”
But we shouldn't let ourselves get carried away, because the process through which the working class revives its struggle will not be easy. There is a heavy burden of illusions and confusions about democracy, the ideology of “citizenship” and “reforms”, reinforced by the pressure of DRY, the politicians and the media who exploit doubts and immediatism (wanting to see “quick and tangible results”). There is also a lot of fear because there are so many unanswered questions. It is particularly important today to see how difficult it is for workers to mobilise in the workplace because there is a big risk of losing their jobs and finding themselves with no income, which for many would cross the line between a poor quality but bearable life and a life in extreme poverty.
In democratic and union terms, the struggle is a sum of individual decisions. Aren't you discontented? Don't you feel downtrodden? Yes, you are! So why aren't you rebelling? It would be so simple if it was a case of the worker choosing between being “brave” or “cowardly”, alone with his conscience, as in a polling station! The class struggle does not follow this kind of idealistic and phoney schema. It is the result of a collective strength and consciousness that comes not only from the discontent that has resulted in an untenable situation, but also from the perception that it is possible to fight together and that a sufficient degree of solidarity and determination exists to carry it through.
Such a situation is the product of a subterranean process that depends on three elements: organisation in open assemblies that provides an understanding of the forces available and the steps to take to increase them; consciousness in deciding what we want and how to get it; combativity faced with the sabotage of the trade unions and all the organs of mystification.
This process is under way, but it remains unclear when and how it will succeed. A comparison can possibly help us. During the great mass strike in May 68, there was a demonstration on May 13th in Paris in support of the students that was brutally repressed. The sense of power that it brought out was expressed the next day in the outbreak of a series of spontaneous strikes, like that at Renault in Cleon and then Paris. This did not happen after the big demonstrations on June 19th in Spain. Why is that?
In May 1968 the bourgeoisie was politically unprepared to confront the working class and the repression only threw oil on the fire; now it can rely in many countries on a super- sophisticated apparatus of unions and parties, and can use ideological campaigns specifically based around democracy, and which also provide for a very effective political use of selective repression. Today, the upsurge of struggle requires a much greater effort of consciousness and solidarity than was the case in the past.
In May 1968, the crisis was only just beginning; today it has clearly plunged capitalism into an impasse. The situation is so daunting that it makes going out on strike difficult even for as “simple” a reason as a wage increase. In such a serious situation strikes will break out from a feeling that “enough is enough”, but the conclusion must then follow that “the proletariat has only its chains to lose and a world to win.”
This movement has no frontiers
If the road seems longer and more painful than in May 1968, the foundations being laid are much more solid. One of these, which is critical, is the recognition of being part of an international movement. After a “trial period” with some massive movements (the student movement in France in 2006 and the revolt of the youth in Greece in 2008), we have now seen a succession of movements on a broader scale over the last nine months that has opened up the possibility of paralysing the barbaric hand of capitalism: France in the autumn of 2010, Britain in November and December 2010, Egypt, Tunisia, Spain and Greece in 2011.
The consciousness that the “15M” movement is part of this international chain has begun to develop in embryo. The slogan “This movement has no frontiers” was taken up by a demonstration in Valencia. Various camps have organised demonstrations “for a European Revolution”; on June 15th there were demonstrations in support of the struggle in Greece, and they were repeated the 29th. On the 19th, there were a small number of internationalist slogans: one sign saying “A happy world union” and another in English: “World Revolution”.
For years, what is called “economic globalisation” served as a pretext for the left wing of the bourgeoisie to arouse nationalist sentiments, favouring “national sovereignty” over “stateless markets.” It proposed nothing less than workers being more nationalistic than the bourgeoisie! With the development of the crisis, but also thanks to the popularity of the Internet and social networking, young workers began to turn these campaigns back against their promoters. The idea gained ground that “faced with economic globalisation, it was necessary to respond with the international globalisation of the struggles”, that faced with worldwide poverty the only possible response is a worldwide struggle.
The “15M” has had repercussions internationally. The mobilisations in Greece over two weeks followed the same “model” of mass assemblies in the main squares; they were consciously inspired by the events in Spain.
According Kaosenlared on June 19th, “this is the fourth consecutive Sunday that thousands of people of all ages have demonstrated in Syntagma Square in front of the Greek Parliament, in response to the call of the pan-European movement of the 'Indignants', to protest against the austerity measures.”
In France, Belgium, Mexico and Portugal regular assemblies on a smaller scale have expressed solidarity with the 'Indignants' and tried to stimulate discussion. In Portugal, “About 300 people, the majority of them young, marched on Sunday afternoon in central Lisbon in response to the call of Real Democracia Ya, inspired by the Spanish 'Indignants'. The Portuguese demonstrators marched calmly behind a banner which read: ‘Spain, Greece, Ireland, Portugal: our struggle is international.’”
The role of active minorities in preparing new struggles
The world debt crisis is demonstrating that capitalism has no way out. In Spain as in other countries, frontal attacks are raining down and there is no respite in sight, just further blows against our living conditions. The working class has to respond and this means taking off from the impetus given by the May assemblies and the demonstrations of 19th June.
To prepare this response, the working class gives rise to active minorities, comrades who seek to understand what’s going on, become politicised, animate debates, actions, meetings, assemblies, trying to convince those who still have doubts, bringing arguments to those who are looking for answers. As we saw at the beginning, these minorities contributed to the emergence of the 15M movement.
With its modest forces, the ICC has participated in the movement and tried to put forward orientations: “In any trial of strength between the classes, there are rapid, important fluctuations, and you have to know how to orientate yourself, to use your principles and analyses as a guide without getting swept away. You have to know how to join the flow of a movement, how to make the ‘general goals’ more concrete, how to respond to the real preoccupations of a struggle, how to be able to support and stimulate its positive tendencies.” We have written numerous articles trying to understand the phases that the movement has gone through while making concrete and realisable proposals: the emergence of assemblies and their vitality, the offensive against them by DRY, the trap of repression, the turning point of the 19 June demonstrations.
Since one of the necessities of the movement is debate, we opened a heading on our web page in Spanish ‘Debates del 15M’ where comrades with different analyses and positions could express themselves.
Working with other collectives and active minorities was one of our priorities. We took part in common initiatives with the Circulo Obrero de Debate in Barcelona, the Red de Solidaridad de Alicante and various assemblyist collectives in Valencia.
In the assemblies, our militants intervened on concrete points: defence of the assemblies, the need to orient the struggle towards the working class, the need for mass assemblies in workplaces and education centres, the rejection of democratic demands and the need to frame demands within the struggle against social attacks, the impossibility of reforming or democratising capitalism, the only realistic possibility being its destruction. As far as possible, we also participated actively in the neighbourhood assemblies.
Following the 15M, the minority favourable to a class orientation has got bigger and become more dynamic and influential. It needs now to keep itself together, to co-ordinate itself at a national and international level. Towards the working class as a whole, it needs to put forward positions which express its deepest needs and aspirations: against the democratic lie, showing what lies behind the slogan “All power to the assemblies!”; against the demands for democratic reform, showing the need to fight against the attacks on living conditions; against illusory “reforms” of capitalism, affirming the need for a tenacious, persevering struggle which has the perspective of destroying capitalism.
The important thing is that debate and struggle develops within this milieu. A debate around the many questions posed over the last few months: reform or revolution? Democracy or assemblies? Citizens’ movement or class movement? Democratic demands or demands against the social attacks? General strike or mass strike? Trade unions or assemblies? A struggle to push forward self-organisation and the independent struggle but above all to unmask and overcome the many traps that will certainly be put in our path.
C Mir July 2011
. See International Review n° 144, “France, Britain, Tunisia: The future lies in the development of the class struggle”,
. An official of Caritas, a church NGO in Spain that is concerned with poverty, reported that “we are now talking about 8 million people in the process of exclusion and 10 million under the poverty line.” That’s 18 million people, or one third of the population of Spain! This is obviously not a Spanish particularity; the standard of living of the Greeks has fallen 8% in one year.
. See further on in the text for more detail.
.Translated from our Spanish website.
. Two slogans were very popular: “PSOE-PP, it’s the same shit!” and “With roses or with seagulls, they take us for pancakes!”, based on the fact that the rose is the symbol of the PSOE and the gull that of the PP.
. To read about the movement and its methods, see our article “The citizens’ movement, ‘Democracia Real Ya!’ A dictatorship against the mass assemblies,” http://en.internationalism.org/icconline/2011/special-report-15M-spain/real-democracy-now
. This quotation of Rosa Luxemburg is from The Mass Strike, Party and Trade Unions (Chapter 3, p.28, Merlin Press). It refers to the great strike in southern Russia in 1903 and fits like a glove the exalted atmosphere of the assemblies a century later.
. Translated from our Spanish website. The phrase “Grenelle of demands” refers to the “Accords de Grenelle” (location of the French Ministry of Education) between the French government, workers and students at the end of the May ‘68 movement.
. See International Review n°s 62, 107 “Decomposition, the final phase of the decadence of capitalism”
. “Theses on the 2006 spring students’ movement in France” in International Review n°125,
. In our opinion, the root cause of these problems lies in the events of 1989 that swept away the state regimes falsely identified as “socialist” and allowed the bourgeoisie to develop a crushing campaign on the “end of communism”, “the end of the class struggle”, “the failure of communism”, etc., which brutally affected several generations of workers. See International Review n° 60, “Collapse of stalinism: new difficulties for the proletariat”
. Remember how, between February and June 1848 in France, this type of “celebration of all social classes” also took place, which ended with the June days when the armed Paris proletariat clashed with the Provisional Government. During the Russian Revolution of 1917 this same atmosphere of general union under the aegis of the “revolutionary democracy” also reigned between February and April.
. The exception to this is the extreme right who, driven by uncontrollable hatred of the working class, expresses out loud what other sections of the bourgeoisie only utter in private.
. The possibility for citizens to collect a certain number of signatures to propose and pass laws and reforms in Parliament.
. Democracy is based on the passivity and the atomisation of the vast majority reduced to a sum of individuals so vulnerable and defenceless that they think their “self” can be sovereign. By contrast, the assemblies are based on the opposite view: people are strong because they are supported by their “wealth of social relations” (Marx) by being integral to and part of a vast collective body.
. As if punishment could be “proportionate”!
. DRY asked the demonstrators to surround and publicly criticise the conduct of any element who was “violent” or “suspected of being violent” (sic).
. Their origins go far back to the district meetings during Paris Commune, but become clearer with the revolutionary movement in Russia in 1905 and since then, they have appeared in every great movement of the class in different guises and designations: Russia 1917, Germany 1918, Hungary 1919 and 1956, Poland in 1980... in Vigo in Spain in 1972, there was a general assembly in the town, followed by one in Pamplona in 1973 and in Vitoria in 1976 and again in Vigo in 2006. We have written many articles on the origins of these workers' assemblies. See in particular the series “What are workers' councils?” starting in International Review n°140
. In Cadiz, the general assembly held a debate on “Insecurity” which drew strong support. In Caceres a lack of information on the movement in Greece was criticised and in Almera a meeting was held to discuss “the state of the workers' movement”.
. These are actually double-edged swords: they contain positive aspects, such as extending the broader debate into the deeper layers of the working population and the possibility – as was the case – of giving an impetus to fighting unemployment and insecurity in the assemblies, breaking with the atomisation and the shame that plagues many unemployed workers, breaking with the situation of total vulnerability and insecurity in which the workers in small firms find themselves. The downside is that they are also used to disperse the movement, to draw it away from its broader concerns, to lead it off into a concern for “citizenship” fostered by the fact that the neighbourhood – an entity where workers mix with the petty bourgeoisie and with bosses, etc., - lends itself more to such things.
. In the Coordination of the assemblies of the neighbourhoods and southern suburbs of Madrid, we find what are essentially workers' assemblies from different sectors, even if some small radical unions are also involved. See http://asambleaautonomazonasur.blogspot.com/
. The privatisation of public services and savings banks is a response of capitalism to the worsening crisis and, more specifically, expresses the fact that the State, with its great burden of debt, is forced to cut its spending, even if it means harming unjustifiably the way essential services are provided. However, it is important to understand that the alternative to privatisation is not to fight for the services to be retained under state ownership. Firstly, because “privatised” services often continue to be controlled organically by the institutions of the state which outsource the work to the private companies. And second, because the state and state ownership are not at all “social” or concerned with “citizens' well-being”. The state is an organ exclusively serving the ruling class and state ownership is based on wage exploitation. This is an issue that has begun to be raised in some workers' circles, notably in an assembly in Valencia against unemployment and job insecurity. http://www.kaosenlared.net/noticia/cronica-libre-reunion-contra-paro-precariedad.
. This does not mean we underestimate the obstacles that capitalism by its intrinsic nature, based on deadly competition and everyone mistrusting everyone else, puts in the way of the unification process. It can only be achieved after a period of huge and complicated effort based on the united and massive struggle of the working class, a class which produces collectively and by way of associated labour the essential wealth of society and which, as such, contains within it the reconstruction of the social being of humanity.
. See the articles “May 68 and the revolutionary perspective” in International Review n°133 and "May 68 and the revolutionary perspective, Part 2: End of the counter-revolution and the historic return of the world proletatiat" in International Review 134.
. See International Review n° 125, “Theses on the spring 2006 students' movement in France”, and International Review n°136,”The youth revolts in Greece confirm the development of the class struggle”
. There has been complete censorship of the events in Greece and the mass movements unfolding there, which prevents us from including this in our analysis.
. “On the intervention of revolutionaries: reply to our critics”, International Review n° 20, http://en.internationalism.org/node/2748
. see the various articles marking each of these moments in our press
. This wasn’t something specific to the ICC: a rather popular slogan was “to be realistic, be anti-capitalist!”. One banner proclaimed “The system is inhuman, be anti-system!”