While the media has been full of Obama’s ‘triumphant’ visit to Europe, or the scandal about Dominique Strauss-Khan, they have not told us much about the real earthquake hitting Europe: a vast social movement which is centred in Spain but which is having an immediate echo in Greece and threatens to break out in other countries as well.
The events in Spain have been unfolding since 15 May with the occupation of the Puerto del Sol Square in Madrid by a human wave made up mainly of young people rebelling against unemployment, the Zapatero government’s austerity measures, and the corruption of politicians. The movement spread like wildfire to all the main cities in the country - to Barcelona, Valencia, Grenada, Seville, Malaga, Leon – making use of social media like Facebook and Twitter, and videos uploaded onto Youtube; and that’s largely how we have got information about the movement outside of Spain, because the bourgeois media have pretty much imposed a black-out on the events. If they would far rather have us thinking about Obama, or Dominique Strauss Kahn, or the travails of Cheryl Cole, it’s because this movement represents a very important step in the development of social struggles and of the combat of the world working class faced with the dead-end that is capitalism.
The premises of the movement
The movement of the ‘indignos’, the ‘indignant’, in Spain has been fermenting since the general strike of 29 September 2010 against the planned reform of pensions. This general strike ended in a defeat mainly because the trade unions sat down with the government and accepted its proposed changes (which involves workers who have been active for 40-45 years getting 20% less when they retire than they had expected). This defeat gave rise to considerable bitterness within the working class. But it also provoked a profound anger among the young people who played an active part in the strike movement, in particular by expressing their solidarity with the workers’ pickets.
From the beginning of 2011 the anger began to take shape in the universities. In March, in Portugal, a call-out to a demonstration by the group ‘Precarious Youth’ mustered 250,000 people in Lisbon. This example had an immediate impact in the Spanish universities, especially in Madrid. The great majority of students and young people under 30 have to live on 600 euros a month by taking on part-time jobs. It was in this context that a hundred or so students formed the group ‘Jovenes sin Futuro’ (Young People with no Future). These impecunious students, who come mainly from the working class, called for a demonstration on 7 April. The success of this initial mobilisation, which brought around 5000 people together, incited the Jovenes sin Futuro group to plan another demo for 15 May. In the meantime the collective Democracia Real Ya (Real Democracy Now) appeared in Madrid. Its platform denounces unemployment and the “dictatorship of the market”, but claims to be “apolitical” - neither left nor right. Democracia Real Ya also launched an appeal to demonstrate on 15 May in other towns. But it was in Madrid that the procession had the greatest success, with about 250,000 demonstrators. It was meant to be a well-behaved march that would end tranquilly in Puerto del Sol.
The anger of the ‘no future’ youth spreads to the whole population
The demonstrations of 15 May called by Democracia Real Ya were a spectacular success: they expressed a general discontent, especially among young people faced with the problem of unemployment at the end of their studies. Everything was due to end there, but at the end of the demonstrations in Madrid and Grenada some incidents provoked by small ‘Black Bloc’ groups led to a police charge and about 20 arrests. Those arrested were treated brutally in the police stations, and afterwards they formed a collective which issued a communiqué denouncing the police violence. The publication of this communiqué immediately provoked an indignant reaction and widespread solidarity against the forces of order. Thirty totally unknown and unorganised people decided to set up a camp on Puerto del Sol. This initiative immediately won popular sympathy and the example spread to Barcelona, Grenada and Valencia. A second round of police repression lit the touch paper and since then increasingly massive gatherings in central squares have been taking place in over 70 towns.
On the afternoon of Tuesday 17 May, the organisers of the ’15 May movement’ had envisaged holding silent protests or various dramatic performances, but the crowd that had come together in the squares shouted loudly for the holding of assemblies. At 8 in the evening, assemblies began to take place in Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia and other cities. From Wednesday 18th, these assemblies became a real avalanche. Everywhere gatherings took the form of open general assemblies in public spaces.
In the face of police repression and given the prospect of municipal and regional elections, the Democracia Real Ya collective launched a debate around the theme of the “democratic regeneration” of the Spanish state. It called for a reform of the electoral reform in order to put an end to the two-party system monopolised by the Socialist Party (PSOE) and the right-wing Popular Party, calling for a “real democracy” after 34 years of “incomplete democracy” since the fall of the Franco regime.
But the movement of the ‘indignos’ to a great extent went beyond the democratic and reformist platform of Democracia Real Ya. It did not restrict itself to the revolt of the “600 euro generation”. In the demonstrations and the occupied squares of Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia, Malaga, Seville etc, on the placards and banners you could read slogans like “Democracy without capital!”, “PSOE and PP, the same shit!”, “If you won’t let us dream, we won’t let you sleep!”, “All power to the assemblies!”, “The problem is not democracy, the problem is capitalism!”, “Without work, without a home, without fear!”, “Workers awake!”, “600 euros a month, now that’s violence!”.
In Valencia a group of women shouted “They tricked the grand-parents, they tricked their children too – the grandchildren must not allow themselves to be tricked as well!”
Mass assemblies, a “weapon loaded with the future”
In the face of bourgeois democracy which reduces “political participation” to every four years “choosing” between politicians who never keep their election promises and who just get on with implementing the austerity plans required by the remorseless deepening of the economic crisis, the movement of the ‘indignos’ in Spain has spontaneously re-appropriated a working class fighting weapon: the open general assemblies. Everywhere massive urban assemblies have sprung up, regrouping tens of thousands of people from all the generations and all the non-exploiting layers of society. In these assemblies, everyone can speak up, express their anger, hold debates on different questions, and make proposals. In this atmosphere of general ferment, tongues are set free; all aspects of social life are examined (political, cultural, economic...). The squares have been inundated by a gigantic collective wave of ideas that are discussed in a climate of solidarity and mutual respect. In some towns “ideas boxes” have been set up, containers where anyone can write down their ideas on a piece of paper. The movement organises itself with a great deal of intelligence. Commissions on all sorts of questions are set up, and care is taken to avoid disorganised clashes with the forces of order. Violence within the assemblies is forbidden and drunkenness banned with the slogan “La revolucion no es botellón” (rough translation: “the revolution is not a piss up”). Each day, clean-up teams are organised. Public canteens serve meals, volunteers set up nursing centres and crèches for children. Libraries are put in place as well as a “time bank”, where talks are given on all sorts of questions – scientific, cultural, artistic, political, and economic. “Days of reflection” are planned. Everyone brings along their knowledge and skills.
On the surface, this torrent of thought seems to lead nowhere. There are few concrete proposals or immediately realisable demands. But what appears clearly is first and foremost a huge sentiment of being fed up with poverty, with austerity plans, with the present social order; and at the same time a collective will to break out of social atomisation, to get together to discuss and reflect. In spite of the many illusions and confusions, in what people say as well as on the placards and banners, the word “revolution” has re-appeared and people are not afraid of it.
In the assemblies, the debates have raised the most fundamental questions:
- should we limit ourselves to “democratic regeneration”? Don’t the problems have their origin in capitalism, a system which can’t be reformed and which has to be destroyed from top to bottom?
- Should the movement end on 22 May, after the elections, or should it continue and develop into a massive struggle against the attacks on living conditions, unemployment, casualisation, evictions?
- Should we not extend the assemblies to the workplaces, to the neighbourhoods, to the employment offices, to the high schools, to the universities? Should we root the movement among the employed workers who have the strength to lead a generalised struggle?
In the debates in the assemblies, two tendencies have appeared very clearly:
- a conservative one, animated by non-proletarian social strata, which sows the illusion that it is possible to reform the capitalist system through a “democratic citizens’ revolution”;
- the other, a proletarian tendency, which highlights the necessity to do away with capitalism
The assemblies that were held on Sunday 22 May, the day of the elections, decided to continue the movement. Numerous speakers declared: “we are not here because of the elections, even if they were the detonator”. The proletarian tendency affirmed itself most clearly in the proposals to “go towards the working class” by putting forward demands against unemployment, casualisation, social attacks. At Puerta del Sol, the decision was taken to organise “popular assemblies” in the neighbourhoods. Proposals were made to do the same thing in the workplaces, the universities, the employment offices. In Malaga, Barcelona and Valencia, the assemblies posed the question of organising demonstrations against reductions in the social wage, proposing a new general strike: “a real one this time” as one of the speakers put it.
It was in Barcelona, the industrial capital of the country, that the central assembly at Catalonia Square seemed to be the most radical, the most infused by the proletarian tendency and the most distant from the illusion of “democratic regeneration”. Thus, the workers from the Telefonica, the hospitals, the fire-fighters, the students battling social cuts joined up with Barcelona assembly and began to give it a different tonality. On 25 May, the Catalonia Square assembly decided to give active support to the hospital workers’ strike, while the assembly at Puerta del Sol in Madrid decided to decentralise the movement by convoking “popular assemblies” in the neighbourhoods in order to put a participatory, “horizontal” democracy into practice. In Valencia, demonstrating bus workers got together with a demonstration of local residents against cuts in the schools budget. In Zaragoza, bus drivers joined the assemblies with the same enthusiasm.
In Barcelona, the “indignos” decided to maintain their camp and to continue the occupation of Catalonia Square until June 15.
The future is in the hands of the young generation of the working class
Whatever direction the movement goes in, whatever its outcome, it is clear that this revolt, initiated by a young generation confronted with unemployment (in Spain 45% of the population aged between 20 and 25 is out of work) is definitely part of the struggle of the working class. Its contribution to the international movement of the class is undeniable.
It is a generalised movement which has drawn in all the non-exploiting social strata, and all the generations of the working class. Even if the class has been part of a wave of “popular” anger and has not affirmed itself through massive strikes and specific economic demands, this movement still expresses a real maturation of consciousness within the only class that can change the world: the proletariat. It reveals clearly that, in front of the increasingly evident bankruptcy of capitalism, significant masses of people are beginning to rise up in the “democratic” countries of Western Europe, opening the way towards the politicisation of the proletarian struggle.
But, above all, this movement has shown that the young people, the great majority of them casual workers or unemployed, have been able to appropriate the weapons of the working class struggle: massive and open general assemblies, which have allowed them to affirm their solidarity and take control of the movement outside the political parties and trade unions.
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”.
Even though today people are still fearful of the word “communism” (owing to the weight of the bourgeois campaigns after the fall of the Stalinist regimes of the old eastern bloc), the word “revolution” doesn’t scare anyone, on the contrary.
But this movement is in no way a “Spanish Revolution” as the Democracia Real Ya collective presents it. Unemployment, casualisation, the high cost of living and the constant deterioration of living conditions for the exploited are not at all a Spanish specificity! The sinister face of unemployment, especially among the young, has made its appearance in Madrid as in Cairo, in London as in Paris, in Athens as in Buenos Aires. We are all together in this downward spiral. We are all facing the decomposition of capitalist society, which expresses itself not only in poverty and unemployment, but also in the multiplication of disasters and wars, in the dislocation of social relations and a growing moral barbarity (which expresses itself, among other things, in the growth of sexual aggression and violence against women both in the “Third World” and the “advanced” countries.
The movement of the “indignos” is not a revolution. It is only a new step in the development of the working class struggle on global scale – the only struggle that can open up a perspective for the youth “with no future” and for humanity as a whole.
Despite all the illusions about the “Independent Republic of Puerta del Sol”, this movement is evidence that the horizon of a new society is taking shape in the entrails of the old. The “Spanish earthquake” shows that the new generations of the working class, who have nothing to lose, are already becoming actors on the stage of history. They are precursors of even greater storms that will clear the road to the emancipation of humanity.
Through the use of the internet, of social networks and mobile phones, this young generation has shown that it can break through the black-out of the bourgeoisie and its media, laying the basis for solidarity across national borders.
This new generation emerged on the international social scene around 2003, first in the protests against the military interventions of the Bush administration, then with the first demonstrations in France against the reform of pensions in 2003. It reappeared in the same country in 2006 with the massive movement of university and high school students against the CPE. In Greece, Italy, Portugal, Britain, young people in education made their voices heard in response to the future of absolute poverty and unemployment that capitalism is offering them.
The tidal wave of this “no future” generation recently struck Tunisia and Egypt, resulting in a gigantic social revolt which toppled Ben Ali and Mubarak. But it should not be forgotten that the decisive element which forced the bourgeoisie in the main “democratic” countries (especially Barack Obama) to dump Ben Ali and Mubarak was the emergence of workers’ strikes and the danger of a general strike movement.
Since then, Tahrir Square has become an emblem, an encouragement to struggle for the younger generation of proletarians in many countries. This was the model the “indignos” in Spain followed when they set up their camp in Puerta del Sol, occupied the main squares of over 70 towns and drew all the oppressed social layers into the assemblies (in Barcelona, the “indignos” even renamed Catalonia Square “Plaza Tahrir”).
The movement in Spain is, in reality, much more profound than the spectacular revolt which was crystallised in Tahrir Square in Cairo. It has broken out in the main country of the Iberian Peninsula, a bridge between the two continents. The fact that it is unfolding in a “democratic” state in Western Europe (and - what’s more - one led by a “socialist” government!) can only help to undermine the democratic mystifications deployed by the media since the “Jasmine revolution” in Tunisia.
Furthermore, although Democracia Real Ya describes this movement as a “Spanish revolution”, hardly any Spanish flags have been flown, whereas Tahrir Square was awash with national flags.
Despite the inevitable confusions accompanying this movement, it is a very important link in the chain of today’s social struggles. With the aggravation of the world crisis of capitalism, these social movements will more and more converge with the proletarian class struggle and contribute to its development.
The courage, determination and deep sense of solidarity displayed by this “indignant” generation shows that another world is possible: communism, the unification of the world human community. But for this old dream of humanity to become a reality, the working class, the class which produces the essentials of all the wealth of society, has to rediscover its class identity by developing massive struggles against all the attacks of capitalism.
The movement of the “indignos” has once again started to pose the question of the revolution. It is up to the world proletariat to resolve the question by giving the movement a clear class direction, aimed at the overthrow of capitalism. It is only on the ruins of this system of exploitation based on commodity production and profit that the new generations can build a new society, achieve a really universal “democracy” and restore dignity to the human species.
 On the contrary, we have even seen slogans calling for a “global revolution” and for the “extension” of the movement across national frontiers. An “international commission” has been created in all the assemblies. In all the big cities in Europe and America, and even in Tokyo, Pnomh Pen and Hanoi, we have seen solidarity demonstrations by Spanish expatriates.