The Spanish Revolt: defying the crisis from below

The general failure of Spain’s financial and banking structure was obscured and almost negated during the first months of the panic, and the reaction of the PSOE was slow and inefficient. The government started to implement an economic policy to “save the banks” instead the economy of the indebted households. The sovereign debt ratio began its irreversible rise, and in 2008 the austerity economic measures arrived: cuts in social services, racist migration laws, quick and massive evictions to guarantee bank real estate assets, labor reforms with the aim of deregulate the labor force market, give more power to the employers and destroy the rights of the workers, etc.

The social and economic pressures generated by these measures provoked the great demonstration of the 15 of May of 2011. From its beginning, the 15M denounced all the responsible actors of the crisis: the banks, the government, the traditional parties and trade unions. The basis of the Spanish liberal democracy –the so-called democratic regime of 1978[5]– was also questioned by the movement. The 17 of May, after a Facebook and Twitter collective call, the Sun square went occupied by a multitude. The concentration acquired the form of a general assembly, and quickly divided itself into different assemblies, commissions and work groups, organized in democratic and horizontal ways. The result of this organization was Acampada Sol (Sun encampment), a collective occupation of the center of the city that lasted for one month. After this, the encampment disappeared from the center of Madrid, transforming itself into a web of interconnected assemblies disseminated throughout the Spanish geography: local assemblies in the municipalities (rural or semi-rural environments), district assemblies in the cities (urban environments).

2.15M – The Indignados revolt: dynamics of a non-institutional antagonism

            We can talk about the 15-M as a leftist non-institutional social movement, organized in terms of horizontal and participatory –direct– democracy (de-centralized assemblies). The movement has opened a new wave or cycle of social struggles in Spain against austerity, generating –at the same time– a profound innovation in the articulation of antagonism. Let us summarize briefly the innovations of the movement: 1) Autonomous production of critical knowledge and information by multiple agents; 2) The common use of the Internet, Facebook, Twitter and the Blogosphere as a tool for organization (we will deal with this important issue in the third section); 3) The defense of the right to the city[6]: defense of public transport, public spaces, public services for all (healthcare, education, social services); 4)A radical critique of political representation, liberal democracy and capitalism with the aim to transcend the classic forms of public/private institutions (State, parties, trade-unions); 5) The common production of a new protest culture, with a singular vocabulary and new political grammar (new repertoires of protest/organization; we will deal with this in the fourth section)[7].

Going beyond this summary, it’s essential to point two central elements of the movement: its composition, articulation and its inclusive logic. These three features have given birth to new social agents.

a) Composition: the 15M it’s an intergenerational and interclassist movement. We can find people from different generations working in the collective protests or projects. This interesting feature has been fundamental in the construction of militant historical memory: from the anti-fascist opposition to Franco’s dictatorship and the first steps of Spanish democracy, to the radical criticism of neoliberalism. While the elders -and not so old- have supported the 15M with their knowledge and militant know-how, the young people have constructed an infrastructure of communications and new antagonisms difficult to imagine years ago. The 15M is also an interclassist movement. One of the main militant networks of the movement belongs to the “precariat” (young people with high or medium education, without employment or victim of the precariousness) but inside the movement there are many different strata of the traditional working class (medium classes, working classes). Though there are barely workers from agriculture or industry, the 15M is full of workers of the services sector (this sector produces the 71’3 % of the Spanish PIB).

b) Articulation: The horizontal articulation of the movement and its radical critic to “political representation” prevent us to frame it with classic terms like “homogeneous class consciousness” or “vanguard”: these two concepts are in need of a third, “the political party” and the classical mediation of “political representation”. We have to change the classical perspectives to enter the proposals of the indignados. Opposite to a homogeneous and/or hierarchical “class consciousness” we can talk about “common production of class/political consciousness”, instead of “vanguard” we have to think in terms of “plural and horizontal leadership” and instead of party we have to put “Assembly”. The concept that substitutes “representation” is “participation”. Although this is a schematic presentation, it is a good point of departure to understand the internal structure of the movement in global terms.

c) Inclusive logic: due to the inclusive logic of the 15M, the movement has become a kind of catalyst of social conflict, a force that has the power to link together many antagonisms and movements of social discontent (Feminists, LGTB groups, Migrant associations, leftist minor parties, precariat, okupas, young students, etc.). This open political grammar has affected the discourse of sectorial protests and has also contributed to the creation of new political agents like the Mareas (Tides): a hybridization of public workers of different sectors, the 15M, trade unions and citizens that fight in defense of public rights and services. The organizational dynamics of the Tides are very similar to the 15M, the main difference is that they are focused in specific problems (for example: Green Tide – Education, White Tide – Healthcare, Violet – Women rights, and so on). This new social agents have shown great force in the streets, and thanks to their pressure the public services have been defended of many attacks (privatizations/externalizations).

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