Spain: Public Outrage or Political Consciousness?

Recently, and especially in the days leading up to the municipal and regional elections in Spain held on Sunday, May 22nd, there has been much talk about the outrage of youth—and certain adults—a conversation thrown into sharp relief by the encampments set up in the central plazas of various Spanish cities.

The ‘talk’, in most cases, has been good; in some cases, very good. ‘Professional’ politicians, in the worst sense of the term, have been sweet talking the protests first and foremost because the proximity of elections gave them no other choice, at least if they didn’t want to put their own interests in danger. Who would have been brave enough to send the police in to vacate the encampments by force, once the protesters’ declarations and placards were plastered all over most dailies and newspapers in the world?

A student encampment is as good an occasion as any for those who have been down on their luck, sleeping for years on nothing but a mattress and a box spring, to chance a dream. High-level decision makers in the PSOE [the ruling Socialist Workers Party] have another dream of the people as a stupid bunch, announcing with their infinite arrogance on TV that they ‘understand’ the people’s outrage, hoping to lay the crisis to rest just like that—a crisis which, we might add, miraculously does not affect politicians or their banker friends. We could say that while it is one thing to preach democracy in the Libyan desert or in the mountains of Afghanistan, it is an entirely different matter to actually try to build it up in the streets of Spain.

The PP, [Popular Party, conservative opposition] for its part, dreams of an even stupider populace which has finally come to appreciate the many virtues of its leaders and the strength of its political program—supposedly this would lead the party to victory in the elections with little else but promises of a good, sound future for all. It’s as if they can’t even wait for the PSOE to finish doing their dirty work (Zapatero just announced that the plan is to continue using the same exact measures to combat the crisis as before) or for it to sink even deeper before they start shouting about the upcoming general elections.

The only thing that would make the PP’s politics slightly different when the PSOE does eventually go down the tubes would be appointing a bishop to the head of the Ministry of Education and a general to the Ministry of Defense.

On the other side of the spectrum, true leftists dream and hope that the Arab Spring is being translated into the European context and that Spain will spearhead the movement.

But this remains to be seen. At the moment, the ‘outrage’ has not had any short-term results, or rather, it has not brought votes towards the left, or even towards a massive abstention. Nor does it seem as if it is going to have long-term effects for various reasons; one in particular is the most fundamental that we can place our hopes in: the victory of Bildu. ((Bildu is a recently formed leftist-nationalist [Basque] coalition, which the Spanish state has been investigating for some time now for potential links with the terrorist organization ETA. Of course, during its formation, the party urged all of its candidates on its roster to put in writing their rejection of violence as a political tool. It has garnered a number of votes in the May 22nd municipal elections, and managed to achieve a majority in the government of San Sebastián – Donostia.))

The votes of the ‘indignados’ were cast for the PP, or as blank votes, which brings one to ask oneself once again if it is possible to transform a political situation without political consciousness or political action, instead basing everything on indignation alone.

Of course folks are outraged (even the PSOE admits that). But that is not even close to enough to make those responsible for a situation that benefits themselves to change it so that it benefits everyone else, no matter how clearly or collectively this outrage is expressed in the encampments or the protests. The PP adores the ‘indignados’, and so on the night of the elections Rajoy gave “his thanks to everyone, especially to PSOE voters who’ve now placed their faith in the PP”.

Aside from this lover’s spat between the PP and PSOE, the Bildu movement—older than that of the ‘indignados’, although it does not show this off in its political activity—has truly taught us a lesson in how to transform that fundamental reality that causes indignation in the first place: with political consciousness and, consequently, organized action.

There are other examples, also with a long and storied histories, that have had success in their respective environments and have something to show for themselves, such as Marinaleda. ((Marinaleda is a municipality in the Seville province which has a long history of worker’s struggle. Read Marinaleda (Seville, Spain): a step ahead on the road to Utopia.))

It seems that certain young people, and others who aren’t so young, have a certain aversion (maybe even fear) of organized politics. That they feel burned by ‘traditional’ political parties—fed up with their corruption, nepotism, simony—is nothing strange, it’s natural. But without much more than this, the encampments can only plant the seeds for something else. They cannot by themselves be a solution. They would best be served by studying these other examples of people who fight constantly and with passion for change, each with different means.

In terms of concrete action, in the kinds of dictatorships that are (at least on the surface) entrenched in Arab countries, the mere occupation of public plazas in various cities itself constitutes a challenge to political power, because it is a direct attack on the ability to control people. But in (what is at least on the surface) a democracy, power doesn’t tremble when people limit themselves to pouring out into the streets for a few hours without something a little more to push it.

Moreover, if power can negotiate the situation skillfully, as it has in the Puerta del Sol and other plazas (except at the beginning of it all, when it slipped up by trying to repress the crowds), the situation will exhaust itself on its own. It seems that one must come face to face with non-dictatorial power by other means, with actions that make it truly pay a high price.

Indignation, at first a positive thing, isn’t of itself a political attitude, much less a program. It is simply a human response to abuse, which is not going to end without more ‘work’—and certainly more sacrifice—from the ‘indignados’.

Once again, Bildu is an example. In the wake of the persecution it faced it has managed to come out victorious. Certainly something of a surprise for most, most important in this is that it still overcame everything in its path.

Fortunately, here one does not need to put one’s life in such danger as has been the case in the Arab world, but that doesn’t mean power (whether it be the PSOE’s or the PP’s) will concede to anything that doesn’t suit it nicely. Each one is so absorbed in their own melodrama—one in how not to lose more votes and the other how to gain more—that they are barely even paying attention to the indignados.

For the good of democracy, justice, liberty, and socialism, let us hope that this is the indignados’ hour to shine. But it won’t be so by their indignation alone, or by their youth, or even their mere unemployment, but by an increased awareness of their lot and by working to change it in their favor, alongside all of those who suffer under the heel of the political-corporate democratic alliance.

  • Translation into English by Alex Cachinero-Gorman.
  • Agustín Velloso is an academic (retired) who tired of Western Imperialism and its foolish supporters, most of them being also victims. Read other articles by Agustín.