On the occasion of the 5th anniversary of spain’s 15th of May movement, we publish a series of reflections on its significance within the context of spain, but also more broadly, for the understanding of revolutionary politics today. This series will compliment our effort to share ongoing reflections on Nuit Debout in france as well as the series being published by Crimethinc, under the title the anarchist critique of democracy. Not all of the texts share the same vision of 15M, but they serve to engage a necessary debate.
The following essay by Enric Duran, one of the more active voices associated with the movement of integral cooperatives in spain, was originally published in la Directa (09/09/2015) and translated into english and published by x-pressed (26/09/2015), under the title “Spain: Enric Duran on social movements and the institutional path”.
It’s been a few years that I do not actively participating in protest movements and that I have focused on self organisation, post-state, and post capitalist social movements. Perhaps my last participation in the realm of, let’s say, mass social movements -it is always easier to protest than construct- was in the Square Movement (15M) and the new circle of social struggles that was born during that period.
It then seemed that the strengthening of social movements was there to stay. It seemed that there were many brains -bright and committed- that could represent the social life of the streets and of the media as nothing similar in decades.
The important aspect of this movement was not only the reason of the protest, “against politicians and bankers…”, but also the way it was organising itself in the squares, exercising civil disobedience and self organisation. It didn’t seem to be any form of cooptation by the system of political parties and, therefore, it lasted for a long time.
In 2011, 2012, in Greece, there were also demonstrations in the squares that were questioning everything. But they rapidly shrunk, because there was a radical left coalition party that was seen as a potential election winner and that would become hegemonic in the illusions of the biggest part of the newcomers to the movement.
This cycle of parliamentary hope emerged shortly before 2011 and ended abruptly on July 3rd, after signing the 3rd austerity plan. What happened this summer in Greece is illustrative of the issue that I want to raise. I am not referring to the drama of the lack of plans concerning the new European left or the uncertainty of the plan B to exit the Euro.
What has not been discussed much, and is the key to what concerns us, is the time lost by this parliamentarian illusion, which left the social movements in hard times for over 2 years. This is what made a plan C impossible, a plan C in the sense of an overwhelming and, at the same time, constructive response of the people to Troika’s blackmail.
Instead of the people’s power, there is disarray and despair in today’s Greece.
This is not only a disaster for the movements that should be avoided, but also for those who still believe that occupying institutions is an essential step for the radical transformation of society. Ladies and gentlemen, what we saw in Greece is that no government of an EU state can confront the troika and neoliberal capitalism without having the people of the streets on its side. If Syriza was powerless now, it is because its strategy in relation to the social movements in its country has been disastrous since its creation: absorption, cooptation, demobilisation, integration…
What makes me write these lines is that this social demobilisation has started taking place in Catalonia and Spain. Again, there are political parties that pretend to be with the people but generate false expectations about what they might do if they govern, either because of their excessive euphoria or because of their electoral strategy.
This situation has worsened with the passing of a large number of experienced and recognised activists to parliamentary and institutional politics, something that has weakened the street struggles and their autonomy and has generated divisions in the neighbourhoods.
From an individual perspective, everyone is obviously free to choose the path they want to follow. However, envisioning the collective subject, the construction of another Europe cannot be achieved through the sacrifice of social movements for the sake of governing.
I do not primarily refer to the municipalities, where there are some examples of more participative and open to social needs local governments, despite the fact that they have to obey –like all public authorities– to unjust laws that they cannot change. Nevertheless, what happens at the municipal level is another element of the scene that has been constructed for social movements, without being the main one.
A party is synonymous to division and parliamentary politics provokes divisions when it comes to taking to the streets, if we don’t prevent it seriously and with as much dedication as needed to create new coalitions that will run for elections. Especially bearing in mind that the softening of the discourse that is usually used to win votes is demobilising and decoupling from the most ground-breaking elements of the movements… or from the party itself.
Like Syriza has shown, winning the government is not seizing the power. And I add that we can only recover it by empowering ourselves from the streets, from the villages and cities of this continent disobeying capitalism every time that it is necessary.
Supporting protest movements with a just cause is always positive, but we have to keep in mind that in the end they revert to state culture that reinforces the rulers’ authority.
In order to generate an emancipatory potential, we have to recognise and to push forward the movements that reconstruct community life; those that extend self organisation; those that show that solutions can come from below, from the people building networks.
We have to recover the tools that create a sense of solidarity and community, through which we can feel safe without having to resort to the state. A feeling accompanied by examples that liberate us from the fear of threats of ending the pensions or blocking bank money, like the ones that the Greek people experienced and that made its government surrender despite the OXI’s victory in the referendum.
The discourse of fear that broke Tsipras is triumphing, due to the lack of alternatives for moving to the margin of the troika and the prevailing system of power. So, dear friends, even if you opt for a state, you would better opt for those initiatives that part from ground-breaking social movements and that seek people’s self organisation until they are subject to the new post-capitalist society. Only with the successful demonstration of these practices of self organisation can we overcome the fear of losing the social rights that emanate from the state and, therefore, can we confront the status quo.
In front of the enemy’s power, it would be prudent to think that the victory can only come by creating people’s unity which will bring together the people from the parties and from disruptive to capitalism social movements. Now, there are many things that need to be changed in order to establish a successful collaboration between parties and anti-state social movements.
Even from the distance, I get comments of confusion from people who do not want to enter party dynamics, who do not know with which social movement to get involved in order to feel that they really participate in the unity of the people. Being unable to feel it closely, as I would prefer, I understand that this is a disrupted relationship and that there is a lack of sufficiently empowered, cross-cutting, and united processes that can meet the challenge of breaking with the current system.
The focus on elections from many activists from different fields and sectors has had some non-positive consequences to different social movements.
One example is the media sphere:
It seems that some activists who finally achieved media presence, after so many personal and collective efforts and could put on the table the burning issues of the streets, were converted into politicians making electoral promises or criticising other parties.
And what is the presence nowadays of social movements in the media? Where is the collective imaginary, the practice of politics outside the institutions?
We have to keep in mind that the current system rewards participation in institutions, whereas it impedes social and popular struggles as much as it can.
Social movement activists are not lucky enough to have the media following every thing we do or say.
We can only reach people after some time, through hard work and, as it usually happens with mass media, deviating from the issues that we really want to talk about.
We do not have public money to finance our or our comrades’ political activity, neither the time to do our outermost for constructing the movement.
We can also be constrained by the danger that the weakness of our environment and the saturation of all fronts will leave us in obscurity.
All this means that self organisation should be handled with care, similar to what is used to form new political parties. And if this hasn’t happened this way recently, then we are too late to correct it.
How can we succeed in making social movements predominantly critical of parliamentarism collaborate with those that are part of it in a process of uniting the people?
Maybe the first thing that movements antagonistic to political parties should see is the necessity to come together in the streets. There will surely be some that will never understand this necessity, but there will be others that can consider it necessary for various reasons, like the exceptionality of the historic conjuncture and the lack of capacity for constructing solid alternatives in the margin of capitalism if it does not join wider movements.
So, personally, in order to unite the people, I could cooperate with those who believe in the institutional path, as long as we collaborate as equals, respecting each other’s differences.
This can be done if we all join our efforts and we don’t cross some red lines (now that they are so fashionable)
- Mutual respect. I respect that you want to use the parliamentary path, if you respect that I do not. I respect that you want to have a state, if you respect that I did not. For example, respecting means taking into consideration the existence and legitimacy of self organisation practices outside the state, when carrying out a constitutional process.
- No cooptation or any non-consensual use of the actions of social movements by political parties. This also implies respecting and encouraging social struggles to have their own voice and not taken advantage by the media that are mainly projecting the parties.
- Recognition of the autonomy of the processes of self organisation and its double aspect: dismissive and institutive. The institutive aspect includes the right of non-participation in the social contract with the state, regardless of what it is, and of constructing new social contracts from self organisation.
- When acting in the parliamentary sphere and like political spokespersons, one must be consistent with the collaboration sought in the street and take into consideration the needs of ground-breaking social movements.
Here, the problem that occurs is that the politicians’ parliamentary and communication strategies are focused on reaching new voters or on maintaining the voters that they already have. This way they tend to silence social movements that not to vote for them.
We must understand cooperation in relation to the coherence of what is being said. So, it is difficult to imagine the parties really supporting the “yes, we can” or “changing everything”, without considering essential for the construction of a movement a popular subject able to disobey on an everyday basis; no matter how many blackmails and attacks they are faced with. We cannot seriously think of winning a comprehensive sovereignty over our lives without being prepared to disobey Spain, the troika, the banks or the corporations. Now and every time it is necessary.
Given the tendency at this point in time and the danger of margninalising the fundamental role of social movements through the parliamentarisation of public life, we must act.
Keeping all this in mind, I have decided to resume the participation in debates with political and social entities that opt for the statist path to defend that, without disobedient social movements, we will not move away from capitalism or from the various tyrannies we suffer from. I hope I will be able to combine the long path of constructing self organised practices in the margin of the state, something that has been in my mind during these past years -including the past three years I have spent in hiding that prevent me from being in the streets with you.
Entering this new phase, I decided to participate in the debate around the 27S and the probable independence of Catalonia, proposing some strategic themes that I am missing and that I consider important for generating the respect and cooperation with some ground-breaking and disobedient social movements that are able to confront capitalism.
I think it is worth relying on these social movements because only when breaking with the actual system will it be possible to confront the economic, social, and ecological imbalances that we are living. I also believe that it may be a good opportunity for these social movements because a new respectful state with the sovereignties that decide to govern themselves from the bottom could be an important example for the world.
The clash that is imminent with these elections has made many talk about disobedience, but it looks like this important word is situated in the collective imaginary like something that depends only on the new state’s institutions. We could foresee that the full-fledged ideological diversity that could form a majority in the new state takes a disobedient institutional action in the case of independence; but it seems less probable that it would use it in order to break also with the EU’s neoliberal politics. Which brings us again to the example of Tsipras’ capitulation… It would not have been more reasonable and realist to assume that the rupture with capitalism is also prepared by the rebelliousness of self organisation in a way that, if politicians get scared, they will be pushed by self organised people expressing the popular will.
In order to defend this vision and to put it under debate, I will campaign in favour of the 27S [September 27, 2015, date of the elections to the catalan parliament] and as many times as it is necessary.