A Madrid October: 15M is dead. Long live 15M!


It would be difficult to think of 15M in the form of a movement.  If that is, as a movement which has an origin, a goal, some objectives and a trajectory … Nevertheless, an event is but a timid call at the door of fortune; a lapsus where the unconscious and/or nature … flowers, changing thereby the game and giving forth a chance.

Amanda Núnez Garcia, “La fortuna y la muerte llaman a nuestra puerta …”, 15M: La revolución como una de las bellas artes

Everyone seemed to speak of the demonstration announced for the 19th of October.  The ambitions were again, as they had been two years earlier, on the 15th of October, global.  All were to unite around the rejection of politically dictated austerity and an aspiration for something else, vaguely presented as citizens’ empowerment, in the Madrid manifesto for the event.

The skies were grey, heavily armed national police were in dark blue, and those with colour were too few in number.  Twice prevented from moving by the police, with random identity checks, the demonstrators made their way to Sol in a game of blackmail: stop us, and we will block a street; let us continue to Sol, and the good citizens may circulate freely.  And then the rain would wash out the planned agoras, the places where the future was to be imagined and created.

An impromptu assembly is held in Sol to decide a date for a future rendezvous with revolution.  A few eulogies of the movement are interspersed with calls for more and greater militancy.  Only the beauty of the music of Solfónica reminded the few hundred present of more glorious moments in their so recent past.

Demonstrations are politically ambiguous.  They may serve to display sentiments, desires, hopes on a grand scale.  But they may also and always risk being trapped by a logic of spectacle.  They state publically that not all sleep before domination.  And if large enough, they may move governments or private companies to act.  Yet they must not turn “violent”, it is said, for then their saturation in the corporate media will be for the wrong reasons. 

The demonstrators are protestors, but also beggars, if their goal is solely to call upon the powerful for changes in policy.  And their success or failure will be measured by how much they succeed in this task.  To then judge 15M by this measure, in light of the 19th of October protest, would be to judge the movement as a failure and effectively finished.

Protest however cannot and should not be judged by such confining criteria.  And no radical social movement is reducible to such protest.

15M was in fact never a movement, or at least not a movement if by this is meant a thing, as “something that can be defined, whose boundaries can be clearly mapped, and which stands outside and against something else”. (The Free Association, Moments of Excess, p. 13)

From its inception, 15M was an anonymous plurality, known only by a date, and represented once in drawing by a white flag; a flag not of surrender, but of the absence of identity.  It was a confluence, an explosive one, of individuals and collectives that reinforced these very same agents, as well as giving life to a multiplicity of others.  Should the name “15M” disappear, what the “movement” created will not.  And what was and remains are an extraordinary array of collectives, from neighbourhood assemblies to cooperatives, from working groups addressing all manner of social/political/economic issues to the occupation and creation of social centres and social housing, from free shops to alternative economies, from alternative media to education projects.  And the list is far from exhausted.  If revolution “concerns commonality in all its dimensions” (Gustav Landauer, Revolution and Other Writings, p. 112), then in the wake of 15M, a revolution is occurring.

Rather an event, than a movement, 15M’s future will perhaps be judged no differently from any other revolution.  It may be compromised by reformism, lose itself in isolated enclosures of purity, or simply dissipate and disappear.  When Deleuze described May of 68 as something that never happened, it was in the sense that the event of 68 failed to find expression in forms that would sustain and multiply it.  This may come to be the fate of 15M, however much the archipelagos of autonomous communities that have so far emerged continue.  But even if it should pass, it in fact will not die as long as there are those who continue to live its past in the present, as the “time of the now”, in what Benjamin called the “Messianic cessation of happening”. (Theses on the Philosophy of History)

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