Amador Fernández-Savater: 15M in the spanish labyrinth

A reflection on spain’s 15M, a reflection whose resonances extend beyond the limits of that country. (Lobo suelto! – 14/05/2021)

I see no point in remembering 15M if it is not to try to prolong its energy, its power of scandal and disorder. Where is it located today? In a point of view. 15M is an untimely historical break that offers us a perspective to think about Spanish politics; a perspective, a space to see and hear, which opens with the following cry: “they call it democracy and it is not”. That statement first asks us a question: if it is not democracy, then what is it? And where does it come from?

Spanish democracy, configured in the transition process, is a closed political game: the capacity for action and decision on the commons is restricted to political parties, the limits of what is possible crystallise entrenched privileges of political and economic oligarchies, and above everything weighs a threat: “it is this or chaos.” Restricted, limited and dissuasive democracy: 15M does not remain tangled in denunciation or criticism, nor does it mirror what it challenges, but instead opens up spaces to experiment with other modes of organisation and other human relationships, spaces to live a democracia real ya [real democracy now].

Against politics restricted to parties, 15M proposes the activation of the common people, of anyone, without titles to govern. While the polarisation of the political game tempts us to see the world from the perspective of predetermined terms selected by which side we choose – the PP or the PSOE, left or right, government or opposition -, 15M invents a place from which to feel, think and act with autonomy, a space that does not sell promises or solutions, that does not ask for adherence, but rather invites anyone to elaborate questions about and take actions with regard to life in common.

Against the taking over of public life by political and economic oligarchies, 15M questions the lack of demos of restricted democracy. Political alienation renders sacred what are only moments and tools: the Constitution, institutions, laws. It denies and represses instituting potentiality/power – new problems, new uses, new freedoms – in the name of what has been instituted. It transforms the people into spectators and voters. In the real democracy now, practiced by 15M in squares and mareas, the norms that regulate life in common should always be susceptible to revision and modification by the commons, by the demos.

Against the permanent threat of chaos, 15M presents conflict as a democratic engine. It is conflicts, when animated by an egalitarian perspective (workers’, women’s, minority movements), which have always brought more justice to the world. But our democracy fears them like the devil and assimilates any tumult to catastrophe. The right agitates fear (separatism, Bolivarian communism) and the left the fear of fear (fascism, the extreme right). Both however conceive of democracy as something finished and as something that can only be preserved. 15M proposes a democracy in movement and always in the making, capable of responding creatively to social conflicts.

“Democracy or fascism” is a false alternative. The democratic consensus has been defined since the transition as the overcoming of the “state of war” among Spaniards, while always threatening us with it if we challenge what is established. Vox is not “the other” of the Spanish consensual culture, but the radicalisation of the threat. A rearguard Francoism always ready to secure the questioned limits. From terror to deterrence (and back): fear remains at the center of collective life. It is the loop of the Spanish labyrinth.

The force of 15M – the politics of anyone, instituting potentiality/power, egalitarian conflict – was lost in the the subsequent passage to representation. With the “institutional translation” of 15M by Podemos, we return to the code of conventional politics: the hierarchy of those who know, the production of spectacles and spectators, the distancing of territories from life, the subordination to the moment, to the rhetoric and to the verticality of politics as represented by the media.

A bad translator is the one who only listens to the sign (to what is said) and loses sight of the rhythm (of what is done when speaking). Institutional translation took up some of the demands of 15M, but completely erased its own energy and vibration. 15M thus became an object of reference and no longer a way of doing and thinking, one more rhetorical element in the “production of the story” of which politics to the left and right consists today. Will the departure of Pablo Iglesias be an occasion to rethink political action or simply to readjust the story?

The labyrinth of Spanish politics claims us alternately as “soldiers” and as “victims.” Soldiers: cannon fodder that can be manipulated at will in power disputes between parties. Victims: a fearful mass that resigns itself to the state of affairs or which mobilises itself through hatred and resentment. Neither soldiers nor victims, but people capable of feeling with their own heart and thinking with their own mind, without delegating to any central committee (political or media), capable of jointly taking charge of the commons and of an affirmative politics: it is the always actual proposal of 15M: another people for another democracy, based neither on the fear of the people, nor on the people in fear.

15M Puerta Del Sol, Madrid. Demonstration and interventions by Carlos Taibo and José Luis Sampedro

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