Cui bono

There is an election here in Spain on the 20th of November, which is the anniversary of Franco’s death. The most likely result will be a victory for the Partido Popular, the chief spiritual and material inheritors of Franco’s fascist dictatorship. The slightly odd thing is, according to a recent survey, 55% of Partido Popular voters view the 15-M movement in a positive light.

So how does one thing –parliamentary electoral politics where political power is concentrated in the hands of two neoliberal parties- relate to the other –radical democratic street activism and assembly? I was asked a few weeks back, when giving a talk on Dame Street about the 15-M movement and its relevance, and mentioning the matter of the likely election outcome, what the future held for the 15-M. I think the best part of my answer was the bit when I said “I don’t know”.


The translated article below,  by Jorge Moruno and Raimundo Viejo, may therefore shed a bit more light. And it may not appeal too much to those who hope for movements such as this one to incorporate themselves into recognisable historical sequences of emancipatory struggle.

(A note on translation: I have translated ‘común’ as ‘common’. The association between ‘común’ and ‘comunismo’ in Spanish is perhaps stronger than the association between ‘common’ and communism’ in English, but the roots in both cases are the same. Abbreviations: 15-M = 15th May, the day of the first Democracia Real Ya mobilisation. 15-O = 15th October, the global mobilisation that originated in Spain. 22-M = 22nd May, the day of the Spanish municipal elections this year, which provided much of the backdrop to the 15-M demonstrations. 20N = 20th November, the date of the upcoming Spanish general elections.)

Who benefits from the 15-M movement

The liberal-authoritarian conception of democratic politics makes us accustomed to interpret participation as a fleeting, periodic act, as if it were a matter of performing a favour. And so it is that participation in the res publica is limited, for an immense majority, to the vote every four years; that is, of course, if one votes.

Any other way of addressing common affairs is quickly accused of moving outside legal boundaries; of even being the germ for coups d’etat, as Esperanza Aguirre claimed about the 15-M. Fortunately, little by little, people are overcoming this constrictive conception of politics in which the only ones who can take part, beyond the plebiscitary consultations that we know as “elections”, are markets, politicians and communications media. The 15-O [the day of mobilisation of the “indignados”] has brought a liberation of that plural subjectivity, the multitude, which is defined by its irreducibility to a sole reading of its being; to a particular approach that admits representation and which, as such, cannot be easily put back in its place by the regime in power.

Everyone expected that with the 15-M there would be a sort of street mimesis, which historically has tended to play out with political struggles that end up incorporating the institutions of the regime: first a temporary uproar would give way to the structuring of the social body of the protest in some mass organisational mode (a party, a union, an NGO, or other). Thanks to this organisation it would be possible, in turn, to set about elminating the plurality of the social body (in the way that German constitutionalists of the 19th Century called reductio ad unum). Finally, the co-opting of a few leaders would be a bearable economic cost, and in consequence the protest would get diluted with the briefest of nods and with the incorporation of the symbolic apparatus generated by the mobilisation (in the way that, for example,  everyone today identifies with the symbols of feminism, pacifism, etc.).

Mass organisations

What the 15-M is about, however, is another way of practising politics, another logic that belongs to another agency; an agency completely removed from the forms with which mass organisations (parties, unions, etc) function. The 15-M means, primarily, a transformation with regard to the set of assumptions that until now have governed life, and it calls into question the liberal definition of democracy. In a time when this variant of democracy is entering a deep crisis, now that it has been verified that sovereignty no longer resides with votes but with markets and ratings agencies, contestation is not limited to a mimesis of organisational logics that have guided well-known historical processes (the sequence of emergence, organisation, elitisation, co-optation and dissolution of the movement). With the lessons of the past learned, today things go further, a progressive democracy is demanded, more in keeping with the material constitution of contemporary reality.

What the ‘indignados’ practise can be defined as movement politics and, as distinct from the politics of personality and party that in recent decades have de-democratised liberal democracies (demonstrating the democratic limitations of these entities), it is a political agency. An agency of democratisation that has no fear in breaking the present state of things through civil disobedience in order to propel itself beyond this state, towards a constituent horizon that brings forth the government of absolute democracy. The 15-M, the 15-O, the moments of rupture that will no doubt continue, are not mere mass demonstrations in the streets; they are not the first step in the aforementioned sequence. There will be no emergence, organisation, elitisation, co-optation and dissolution of the movement. It is in vain that left organisations try, opportunistically, to pick up “political capital”.

In the 15-M there is no political capital: there is a common. This is why the relationship of the 15-M with 22-M or that of 15-O and other evental moments of rupture to come with 20-N cannot be determined within the parameters of cause and effect. If we want to understand the relation between the movement and the elections of the representative government, we should adopt a different perspective that takes account beforehand the deep crisis in which the latter are mired, so as to be able to understand how the movement operates.

Mobilisation failure

And the case is, as shown by the 15M from 23M onward, and as the 15O will surely show after the 20N, the elections are contingent on the movement and not vice-versa. To put forward a reading of the results of 20N as a failure of the mobilisation of the left and a resounding triumph for the right is only something that acquires meaning within the interpretative frame of political grammar in which liberal democracy inscribes itself. This same democracy whose principal institutional mechanism (representative government) the citizens (the supposed sovereign, remember?) say no longer works (“they don’t represent us”) and that must be abolished (“we are going to replace this system”).

As happened with 22M, people looking forward to 20N wish to present collective action as a miscalculation, as the impossibility of achieving the only thing that one can achieve: to influence the electoral result. This is the first stage of every self-fulfilling prophecy, that is, of that mechanism that presents us a ‘false’ definition of the situation (the victory of the PP as the only perspective) that triggers a new behaviour (electoral behaviour).

This ensures that the false original conception of the situation becomes the ‘true’ one (that the eventual victory of the PP should be lived as the confirmation that going out onto the street was worth nothing since only the electoral stage ever existed). This is how media manipulation operates. But this is not new to the movement and this is why the representative trick of the self-fulfilling prophecy will not get very far. And what is more, after the 20N the crisis of the regime will be even greater and the horizon of the movement will remain open.

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