On Sunday 19th June there were massive demonstrations in more than 60 cities across Spain. According to some figures there were 140, 000 in Madrid, 100,000 in Barcelona, 60,000 in Valencia, 25,000 in Seville, 8000 in Vigo, 20,000 in Bilbao, another 20,000 in Zaragoza, 10,000 in Alicante and 15,000 in Malaga.
The strength of numbers is impressive enough, but even more important was the context. In the last two weeks, politicians and the media, with the help of Real Democracia Ya from within, have been putting pressure on the movement to come up with ‘concrete proposals’, with the aim of sucking it into the swindle of democratic reforms, but on Sunday the 19th the organisers had to give this mobilisation a ‘social content’ and the demonstrations themselves showed this tendency; in Bilbao the most used slogan was “violence is not being able to make it to the end of the month”. In Valencia the lead banner was “The future is ours”, while in Valladolid it was “Unemployment and evictions are also violence”. In Madrid the demonstration was called by the Assemblies of the Neighbourhoods and People of South Madrid - the area where unemployment is most concentrated. The banner was “All together against the crisis and Capital”, and its demands were “NO CUTS IN THE WORKFORCE, PENSIONS OR SOCIAL SPENDING; AGAINST UNEMPLOYMENT; WORKERS’ STRUGGLE; DOWN WITH PRICES, UP WITH SALARIES; INCREASE TAXES ON THOSE WHO GAIN THE MOST; DEFEND PUBLIC SERVICES, NO TO THE PRIVITISATION OF HEALTH, EDUCATION, SAVINGS BANKS AND OTHERS NO MATTER WHERE THEY ORIGINATE, LONG LIVE THE UNITY OF THE WORKING CLASS”
A collective in Alicante adopted the same manifesto. In Valencia the Autonomous and Anti-capitalist Bloc, composed of collectives active in the assemblies, defended a manifesto which said “We want an answer to unemployment. The unemployed, those in temporary employment along with those working in the black economy meeting in the assemblies give our collective agreement to the following demands and their implementation. We want the withdrawal of the Law on Labour Reform and the atrocious ERE and the reduction of redundancy payments to 20 days. We want the withdrawal of the Law on Pension Reforms since behind this is a life of privation and poverty and we do not want to be thrown into yet more poverty and uncertainty. We want the stopping of evictions. The human need for housing goes beyond the blind laws of business and the maximum profit. We say NO to cuts in education and health, to the new lay-offs which are being prepared in the regional and city administration following the recent elections”
The Madrid March was organised into various columns composed of the people from 7 towns or neighbourhoods on the periphery. It gathered up increasing numbers of people as they went along. These “snakes” took up the proletarian tradition of the strikes between 1972-76 (as well as in France in May 68) of starting out from proletarian concentrations – such as the “beacon” Standard factory in Madrid. The demonstrations would then draw in growing masses of workers, neighbours, the unemployed and young as they converged on the centre. This tradition re-emerged in the struggles in Vigo in 2006 and 2009.
In Madrid, a manifesto was read to the gathering calling for the “Assemblies to prepare for a general strike”, and was greeted with massive cries of “Long live the working class”.
A moment of transition
In the article ‘From Tahrir Square to the Puerta del Sol’, we said that “Although it has given itself a symbol, the so-called 15M movement, this mobilisation did not create the movement but rather simply give it its first shell. But this shell in reality contains a utopian illusion around the idea of the ‘democratic regeneration’ of the Spanish State”. Significant sectors of the movement have tried to break from this shell, and the demonstrations of the 19th June went in this direction. We have entered a new stage. We do not know how and when it is going to manifest itself concretely but it is orientating itself towards the development of the assemblies and struggle on a class terrain against spending cuts; towards the unity of all the exploited, breaking down barriers between sectors, firms, origins, social situation etc, an orientation that can only fully move forward within the perspective of the international struggle against capitalism.
It is not going to be easy to concretise this. Firstly, this is due to the illusions and confusions about democracy, about citizenship and ‘reforms’, which weigh heavily on many parts of the movement; and they are reinforced by the pressure of the DRY, politicians, and the media, who are taking advantage of the existing doubts, the immediatist search for ‘quick and real results’, the fear faced with the magnitude of events, in order to keep the movement imprisoned in ideas about ‘reforms’, ‘citizenship’, ‘democracy’; ideas about being able to gain a ‘certain improvement’, a ‘truce’, faced with the savage unleashing of the attacks hitting us all.
Secondly, the mobilisation of the workers in the workplace will be something heroic, given the level of fear, the fact that the loss of income can be the difference for many families between an acceptable life and one of poverty or even between eating or not. In these conditions, the struggle cannot be the fruit of ‘individual decisions’, as the unions and democratic ideology try to pose it. It has to come from the development of collective strength and consciousness which can see the role of the unions who at present appear to ‘disappear in the struggle’ only to be very much in evidence in the workplace spreading their corporatist poison, struggling to keep this or that sector or firm imprisoned, opposing any attempts at open struggle.
It is probable that we are already heading towards the explosion of more or less open struggles, which will be confronted with considerable obstacles. The best contribution we can make to this process is to try and draw up a balance sheet of the unfolding situation from the 15th May to the 19th June and to draw out some perspective for the future.
These are our strengths
In the last few years a much repeated phrase has been: how is it possible that nothing has happened given everything that has happened?
When the present crisis broke out we underlined that the first struggles “would probably, in an initial moment, be desperate and relatively isolated struggles, even if they may win real sympathy from other sectors of the working class. This is why, in the coming period, the fact that we do not see a widescale response from the working class to the attacks should not lead us to consider that it has given up the struggle for the defence of its interests. It is in a second period, when it is less vulnerable to the bourgeoisie’s blackmail, that workers will tend to turn to the idea that a united and solid struggle can push back the attacks of the ruling class, especially when the latter tries to make the whole working class pay for the huge budget deficits accumulating today with all the plans for saving the banks and stimulating the economy. This is when we are more likely to see the development of broad struggles by the workers. This does not mean that revolutionaries should be absent from the present struggles. They are part of the experiences which the proletariat has to go through in order to be able to take the next step in its combat against capitalism” (Resolution on the International Situation, 18th International Congress of the ICC).
This “second stage” is beginning to mature – not without difficulty – with a series of movements, such as those in France against Pension Reforms (October 2010), that of the youth in Britain against the increase in tuition fees (November/December 2010), the big movements in Egypt and Tunisia to which can be added the present struggles in Spain and Greece.
For more than a month, assemblies and demonstrations have shown that we can unite, that this is not some utopia but rather on the contrary is a great stimulus, an immense joy. A search on the internet has brought up the following eloquent testimonies about the 19th June: “The atmosphere is that of a real festival. We marched along together, people of every age: twenty somethings, retired, families with children, those that are not in those groups... and at the same time neighbours standing on their balconies applauding us. We return home with a smile from ear to ear. Not only having the sense of having taken part in something, but something that went very well indeed”.
Faced with the social earthquake that we have been living through we have read a lot that ‘the workers are not moving’ and this has even taken the extreme form of the radical idea that ‘humanity is evil by nature’, etc. Today we are seeing the birth of solidarity, unity, collective strength. This does not mean underestimating the serious obstacles that arise from the intrinsic nature of capitalism – life and death competition, a lack of confidence between everyone – and that work against unification. This development can only come about through enormous and complicated efforts based on the unitary and massive struggle of the working class, a class that is the collective and waged producer of society’s riches; a class which has within itself the ability to reconstruct humanity’s social being.
In contrast to the bitter sense of impotence that predominates, this living experience is forging the idea we can have the strength to face up to capital and its state. “With the collapse of the eastern bloc and the so-called ‘socialist’ regimes, the deafening campaigns about the ‘end of communism’, and even the ‘end of the class struggle’ dealt a severe blow to the consciousness and combativity of the working class. The proletariat suffered a profound retreat on these two levels, a retreat which lasted for over ten years...it (the bourgeoisie) managed to create a strong feeling of powerlessness within the working class because it was unable to wage any massive struggles” (Resolution on the International Situation, 18th International Congress).
As a demonstrator in Madrid said “It is very interesting to see the people in the square, discussing politics or struggling for their rights. Doesn’t this give the sensation that we are retaking the streets?” This retaking of the streets shows that a sense of collective strength is beginning to mature. The road is long and hard, but the bases for the explosion of the massive struggles of the working class are being laid. This will allow the working class to develop confidence in itself and an understanding that it is a social force capable of facing up to this system and building a new society.
The 15th May cannot be reduced to an explosion of indignation. It has provided the means for being able to understand the causes of the struggle and the way to organise of the struggles: the daily assemblies. A demonstrator on the 19th June said “the best is the assemblies, speaking is free, people understand, think at a high level, thousands of people who do not know each other come to common agreements. Isn’t that marvellous?”
The working class is not a disciplined army whose members can be very convinced but whose role is to follow orders from a great leader. This vision of the world must be placed in the museum of history as an old piece of junk! The working class has to be seen as a mass that thinks, discusses, acts, organises in a collective and fraternal manner, combining the best of each in a gigantic synthesis of common action. The concrete means of implementing this vision are the assemblies. “All power to the assemblies” – this was heard in Madrid and Valencia. “The slogan ‘all power to the assemblies’ which has emerged from within the movement, even if only among a minority, is a remake of the old slogan of the Russian revolution: ‘all power to the soviets’”.
In an even more embryonic way, the movement is posing the necessity of an international struggle. On the demonstration in Valencia there were shouts of “This movement has no frontiers”. Initiatives along these lines have appeared elsewhere, even though still timid and confused. Various camps have organised demonstrations “for a European revolution”; on the 15th June there were demonstrations in support of the struggle in Greece. On the 19th June there were internationalist slogans: a placard declaring “A happy world union”, and another in English “World Revolution”.
For years, the so-called ‘globalisation of the economy’ has been used by the left wing of the bourgeoisie to provoke nationalist sentiments, with its talk about ‘stateless markets’, ‘national sovereignty’, that is, calling on workers to be more nationalist than the bourgeoisie itself! With the development of the crisis but also with the growth of the use of the internet, social networks, etc, young workers have begun to question this. A sense that faced with the globalisation of the economy it is necessary to respond with an international globalisation of the struggles, faced with world poverty the only possible answer is a world struggle.
The movement has had wide repercussions. The demonstrations that have been developing over the last two months in Greece have followed the same ‘model’ of concentrations and mass assemblies in the main squares, which have been directly and consciously stimulated by the events in Spain. According to Kaosenlared on the 19th June “thousands of people of all ages have demonstrated this Sunday in Syntagma Square, in front of the Greek parliament, on consecutive Sundays in response to the so-called pan-European movement of the ‘indignant’ in order to protest against the austerity measures”.
In France, Belgium, Mexico, Portugal, there have been regular assemblies, though smaller in scale, which have expressed solidarity with the indignant and tried to stimulate discussion. “About 300 people, in the majority young, marched on Sunday evening to the centre of Lisbon called by the “Democracia Real Ya”, inspired by the Spanish ‘indignant’. The Portuguese marched calmly behind a banner which read ‘Europe arise’, ‘Spain, Greece, Ireland, Portugal: our struggle is international’; in France “The French police arrested about hundred “indignant” when they tried to demonstrate in front of Notre Dame, in Paris. In the evening, there was a spontaneous sit down demonstration in order to protest about what had happened along the lines of what happened in Spain”.
Faced with an unbearable situation prepare new struggles!
The sovereign debt crisis worsens by the moment. The supposed experts recognise that in place of the oft-announced ‘recovery’ the world economy could be undergoing a new collapse worse than October 2008. Greece is a bottomless pit: rescue plan leads to other rescue plans and still the state is on the edge of defaulting, a phenomenon that is not confined to Greece but even threatens the USA, the world’s main power.
The debt crisis shows the endless crisis of capitalism, which makes it necessary for the ruling class to impose savage austerity plans that mean unemployment, cuts in social spending, wages cuts, increases in exploitation, increase in taxes... all of which leads to a reduction in the solvent market, which means new austerity plans!
This spiral means that there is no other road to take than massive struggle. This struggle can and should be pushed forward by the intervention of the widespread minority in the assemblies which is distinguished by its defence of a class positions, the independence of the assemblies and the struggle against capitalism. The camps are breaking up; the central assemblies are not taking place; there is a contradictory network of neighbourhood assemblies. However, this minority cannot allow itself to become dispersed. It has to maintain its unity, coordinate itself nationally and if possible establish international contacts. The forms of these collectives are very varied: struggle assemblies, action committees, discussion groups.... The important thing is that they provide a means for the development of discussion and struggle. There is a need to discuss the numerous questions that have been raised in the last few months: reform or revolution? Democracy or assemblies? Citizens’ movement or class movement? Democratic demands or demands against cuts in social spending? Pacifism or class violence? Apoliticism or class politics? It’s a struggle to impulse the assemblies and self-organisation. It is necessary to develop the sense of strength and unity in order to respond to the brutal cuts that the regional governments are preparing in education and health, and the other ‘surprises’ that the government has hidden up its sleeve.
“The situation today is very different from the one that prevailed at the time of the historic resurgence of the class at the end of the 60s. At that time, the massive character of workers’ struggles, especially with the immense strike of May 68 in France and the Italian ‘hot autumn’ of 69, showed that the working class can constitute a major force in the life of society and that the idea it could one day overthrow capitalism was not an unrealisable dream. However, to the extent that the crisis of capitalism was only just beginning, a consciousness of the imperious necessity to overturn this system did not yet have the material base to spread among the workers. We can summarise this situation in the following way: at the end of the 1960s, the idea that the revolution was possible could be relatively widely accepted, but the idea that it was indispensable was far less easy to understand. Today, on the other hand, the idea that the revolution is necessary can meet with an echo that is not negligible, but the idea that it is possible is far less widespread.” (Resolution on the International Situation, 18th International Congress of the ICC).
In the assemblies there has been much talk of revolution, the destruction of this inhuman system. The word ‘revolution’ is no longer frightening. The road may be long, but the movement that developed from the 15th May to the 19th June has shown that it is possible to struggle, that it is possible to organise ourselves for the struggle and that this alone will enable us to grow into a force against capital and its state, while at the same time giving us joy, vitality, and allowing us to get out of the terrible hole of daily life under capitalism.
“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 which 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.”
In this sense, the movement we are living through is grist to the mill of this change of mentality and attitude. This great change, of society and ourselves, can only take place on a world scale. Through searching for solidarity and unity with the whole of the international proletariat, the proletariat in Spain can undoubtedly develop new struggles and take forward this perspective: the future is in our hands!