The Sirens of representation: 15M before the seduction of elections

… all power is derived from the people, they possess it only on the days of their elections.  After this it is the property of their rulers.

Benjamin Rush

… we are confronted even in the midst of the French Revolution with the conflict between the modern party system and the new revolutionary organs of self-government.  These two systems, so utterly unlike and even contradictory to each other, were born at the same moment.  The spectacular success of the party system and the no less spectacular failure of the council system were both due to the rise of the nation-state, which elevated the one and crushed the other … We have become so used to thinking of domestic politics in terms of party politics that we are inclined to forget that the conflict between the two systems has actually been a conflict between parliament, the source and the seat of power of the party system, and the people; for no matter how successfully a party may ally itself with the masses in the street and turn against the parliamentary system, once it has decided to seize power … it can never deny that its origin lies in the fractional strife of parliament, and that it therefore remains a body whose approach to the people is from without and from above.

Hannah Arendt

… what is at issue in the revolutionary transformation of the world is not whose power but the very existence of power.  What is at issue is not who exercises power, but how to create a world based on mutual recognition of human dignity, on the formation of social relations which are not power relations.

John Holloway 

Spain’s 15M was born out of the refusal of representation; political representation, first and foremost, but also economic and social.  “15-M arose with the proud vocation to defend the perspective of self-management and of the assembly from below, in complete independence from any external institution”. (Carlos Taibo 08/09/2013)  In other words, it condemned all mediation that reduces communities to passivity and inevitably domination, as regards their fate.  “¡Que no, que no, que no nos representan!” has been the slogan sung at every gathering, every demonstration; a cry of indignation at arbitrary and unchecked rule.

That those involved, or active, within 15M have understood this refusal in different ways is undeniable.  There has never been a centralized organization or uniform ideology that has bound the movement together.  But then the very nature of the movement, or more correctly, of the movements which compose it, that is, a horizontal, open, assembly based collective of organisations, render impossible such cohesion.  This has been 15M’s strength, but in the minds of some, its weakness.  And as the euphoria and passions unleashed by its appearance cool in the daily activity of building the other worlds desired, voices emerge from within 15M for the need to gain political form, political institutionalization.

Talk of creating a 15M political organisation or party, or creating alliances with already existing parties, has surfaced in the past, but has gained a certain momentum or legitimacy after the second anniversary of 15M’s appearance in 2011.  And the examples of such efforts are now many (e.g. Red Ciudadana-Partido X, Assemblea Ciudadana Sevilla, Confluencia, Frente Amplio IU-CM, etc.), motivated in part by the electoral calendar of European parliamentary elections, to be held in May of next year.

However many individuals or collectives within the movement are tempted by this possibility, it is sure that it will not sway everyone.  15M may have diluted itself in a multiplicity of groups, assemblies, actions, thus apparently weakening it as a political subject.  Yet what 15M proposed, in its refusal of representation, was precisely a rethinking and remaking, if not the abandonment, of the very idea of a political subject.  What 15M has contributed to is the creation of a non-representational and a non-sovereign form of politics which seeks to construct self-organised, self-managed and autonomous forms of life opposed to and at the margins/or in the cracks, of capitalism.

For 15M then to now throw itself into constitutionalism (something much defended by the madrilonia collective, as well as by 25S) and parliamentarianism, would be not only to forget that parliaments have “their own highly sophisticated dynamics to impede de facto and de jure radical political action within them”, (Periódico Diagonal 09/10/2013) but also that parliaments, state institutions, are inevitably institutions of rule, and not of participation, not of democracy as the free and equal making of our lives.

This is not to re-enact the historical debate between reform and revolution, because capitalism is not susceptible to reform and to speak of revolution is to speak of democracy.  “Democracy today is not made in parliaments but is practised among the people who surround them”, (Periódico Diagonal 09/10/2013) those who fill the streets and squares of chile, egypt, greece, spain, turkey, brazil, romania …; those who create autonomous ways of living. 

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