The Spanish Revolt: defying the crisis from below

5. Conclusions and commonalities: Europe in question, Europe as conflict

During the Teaching the crisis meeting we found many commonalities between the Spanish situation and the social conjunctures presented by the other working groups: it is clear that we are not only in the same cycle of economic and social crisis, but in an interesting moment for constructing political alternatives across Europe. Beyond this general diagnosis, there is an obvious unequal development of the crisis and the social antagonisms against the politics of austerity. We can sketch this unequal development in terms of center-periphery relations, that is to say, between the strong capitalist economies of the north and the precarious and indebted economies of the south.

1) The “Center” countries: we’ve seen common patterns between Switzerland, Germany, Finland and also Austria in the way they “represent” the narrative of the crisis. The crisis has nothing to do with “internal causes” or inherent problems of the economic structure of the “center” countries (or the EU), the strategy is to create a foreign enemy (the southern people) constructed through cultural stereotypes (for instance, the image of the “lazy” Spanish, the “lazy” Greek). This cultural image allows the governments to throw the problem outside its territory; they create a “scapegoat” to justify their actions (cuts, compression of rent, de-regulation of workers’ rights, etc.) through a “postmodern national unity”. This new type of nationalism represents the capitalist crisis as a “national identity crisis”, sublimating the material contradictions and the political responsibilities into a question of “culture affirmation”. The problem is not “us” but “them”: the “other”, racialized, stigmatized and localized (in the south) as a source of social and economic instability. This separation between “Us – the other” re-creates latent dualities that have always coexisted in Europe, understanding them as oppositions: developed – undeveloped, civilized – non civilized, industrious – lazy, white – black/southern, etc. This sort of colonial dualism has implemented in certain countries, for example Switzerland or Austria, a strong institutional racism (a shared feature, as we’ll see, with some southern countries).Obviously, as we’ve said above, this polarization is rooted in the different position of the countries inside the capitalist hegemony in Europe. Neoliberalism “resurrects” racism, authoritarianism and segregation by class –due the destruction of rights– as tools of repression and individualization of the collective conflicts.

2) The “Periphery” countries: it is interesting to point out that Portugal, Greece, Italy and Spain have many features in common: they are the European frontier with the north of Africa, they have sub-developed (though in different degree) Welfare models and most of them (the exception here is Italy) share a “recent past” with dictatorial governments (with similar periods of transition to democracy: Spain, “La transición”, Greece, “Metapolitefsi”, Portugal, “Processo Revolucionário em Curso”; this “transitions” are denounced nowadays as insufficient democratic processes[26]). The debt-crisis seems to have many commonalities between the Mediterranean countries in terms of history, culture and economy, but we can’t underestimate the similarities of these countries with Turkey or Slovenia (and even Albania).For instance, social movements as the 15M (Spain), 15O (Slovenia), Taksim Square/Gezi Park (Turkey) and Que se lixe a Troika (Portugal), represent a counter-attack against this cycle of crisis, the reactivation of the socio-political antagonism. In the same way that we have talked about an unequal development of the crisis, we can talk about an unequal empowerment of the social movements in the cartography of the crisis (including north and south). First of all, the movements are more developed in the countries of the south, and they share common patterns in their critiques of democracy and capitalism: a) critiques towards liberal democracy (with different degrees of radicalism) b) Opposition to the traditional party system (which includes autonomous organization against the “State-form” and/or a partial reactivation of the civil associativism: associations, new radical parties) c) The construction of a culture of protest which includes new social agents and, at the same time, a great amount of people without previous militant experience (youth) d) Anti-capitalism (or, at least, a radical social-democratic approach). Though it is clear that the political context of Turkey, with a charismatic governor (Erdogan) and a strong religious ideology, is different from the context of Greece, where there is a radical questioning of the legitimacy of the governors (ND, Pasok, DIMAR) in electoral terms and the protest is very active (the rise of Syriza, the struggles on the streets), the “administration of the crisis” tries to achieve similar aims in the south: 1) To apply neoliberal measures in the Welfare State (Cuts, Privatization of the public services) 2) Deregulation of the Labor Market (Destruction of labor rights, Precarization of work, Ideology of entrepreneurism) 3) Authoritarianism of the governments (Fascist Penal Reforms, Penal State (Wacquant), Rising of police action, Destruction of the rights of protest and freedom expression, Institutional Racism[27]) 4) The payment of the odious debt at all costs (especially in Portugal, Greece, Spain and Italy).

3) The “15M” in the conjuncture: the 15M shares many features with the 15O, Que se lixe a troika and Gezi Park/Taksim Square. The Spanish Indignados movement lasts for almost three years, and during this time we have seen many changes in the composition of the movement and in its objectives. Though the political of the first days maintains its force, the tendencies/ideologies inside the movement have created different tools to implement the general objectives of the 15M. On the one hand, the leftist social-democrats involved in the 15M are now militants of IU (Left United) and IA (Anti-capitalist Left, more radical) or, on the other hand, many activists have created their own “parties” like AdA (Alternatives From Below), EnRed or the X Party. The idea of many activists is to create an “assembly” (open-horizontal) inside a party, using it as a tool but no as the definitive answer of their demands. But there are also people who don’t want to participate in the electoral logic (though they see these “party-projects” as positive) and try to implement a hybridization of the institutions with the movement through social pressure (something risky but sometimes effective). Schematically, we can say there is a tendency –more electoral– that assumes “taking the power” as their main objective, and there is other (non-focused on electioneering, but not anti-electoral) that thinks in the creation of a new institutionalization. What seems obvious, we think, is that these two tendencies will be “condemned to understanding”, because the transformation of society requires the construction of hegemony; that is to say, not only the destitutional process that delegitimizes the government, capitalism and the State as we know it, but a constituent process that is in need of new powers (electoral transformations) and counter-powers (new institutions, radical democracy). But can we introduce the logic of the movement into the institutions? Can we transform the economic relations without constructing productive alternatives? Can we link the electoral processes with new candidatures and social antagonisms? The 15M has many questions to resolve (the commons, participatory democracy) and many challenges to overcome (abandon liberal, traditional bureaucratic tendencies, courage to construct new forms of organization and candidatures), but we are on the road.


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