I’ve come across quite a few Spanish language pieces this last few days reflecting on the 15-M mobilisations of last year in light of the grim early days of the new Partido Popular government. This one, by Pablo Bustinduy, a doctoral student in philosophy at the New School for Social Research, published the other day in Público, strikes an optimistic note, in the depths of winter with very little going on, about what the movement has achieved thus far.
In Praise of Optimism
The elections came, that far off dance, and some voices are wondering what that whole commotion in the squares was about. they look for concrete facts, transformed realities, immediate horizons to get one’s bearings in the economic and social state of exception that is on the way. What they find is not enough for them, and it is practically impossible to get rid of the suspicion that, once again, all has been for nothing or almost nothing. But there are many reasons for silencing this fear and for giving things their proper perspective. Firstly: one always thinks better amid the shadows, in the dark landscapes and the time-outs.
The days in May were something beyond measure. There was no cause to explain the effect, nor story capable of interpreting its meaning once and for all. On the inside, this indefiniteness was lived with euphoria, as a diffuse place in which one could reposition, give a new name to problems, and to go back to thinking things anew. From the outside it was lived with anguish. Sol placed a mirror in front of a society and a State that have lost the capacity to imagine their own future and which concentrate on covering the leaks so that the boat stays afloat without having the slightest idea about what direction to take, about where they want to go. This is why those who did not understand what was happening repeated the same questions like automatons, who are they, what do they want, what are they proposing: these were not questions, but ways of confessing that there are no answers. In a similar way, the voices that now try to measure 15-M based on its results (what has been achieved, what has been changed) run the risk of reproducing this same logic. They look at the finger instead of the empty space that surrounds it.
Of course, this does not mean that taking stock, the evaluation of errors and successes, thought and criticism are not necessary: they are more indispensable than ever. But when it comes to thinking about where we are and where we need to go, it is worthwhile to bear in mind two factors that usually drop out of sight with the obsession with the here and the now. The first is simply a question of scale, of extension in space (because the wave that broke in Sol took shape in Africa, crossed the Atlantic and, with designs on Russia, is making its way to Europe once more) and in time (because the wave can burst banks again anywhere and at any moment). 2001 broke the deathly silence of the crisis to sow the whole planet with popular risings, with democratic experiments, with realities and possibilities that were unimaginable only seconds previous and that, now, like an ingovernable monster, reveal themselves in a manner that is assymetric, symbiotic, near catastrophic. If the 15-M showed anything, with its unprecedented irruption and its capacity to flood and overwhelm reality, it is that this new politics is not linear, it moves to chaotic rhythms and it expands from one place to another in an unpredictable and fortuitous manner. This is why it makes sense not to lose perspective: May was only a connecting flight in a return journey that has and will have ever more reference points, more accumulated knowledge, more records and tools at its disposal. No one expected the magnitude of the storm, but no one will be surprised when it breaks once again with even greater force in the future.
The second factor is that here, despite the stubborn magnitude of the problems and the avalanche of obstacles and pieces of bad news that never stop coming (including the threat that hangs over the very existence of this newspaper, another diverse and necessary place that is worth defending), part of the work is already done here. In this country there are already millions of people who are not only sensitised to the social drama that lies in wait for us, but conscious that people have enough force, at the very least, to demand much more, and at best, to take control of reality and give it new forms and directions. The ’emotionality’ of the 15-M was nothing other than the incontestable joy of opening a crack in this dull and sombre present that has been given up as lost, of widening it and piercing it, of sensing within it new and radically different horizons and possibilities. The political euphoria of the squares was nothing other than that certainty of knowing themselves capable of much more, of breaking those corsets that continue to tighten each day with greater force. They are convictions and knowledge that awoke in May and are still there, more or less latent, waiting to be reactivated in a fraction of a demons when the storm breaks once again over our heads and events call for us to step forward. The challenges then will be much more complex and demanding, but there will also be a greater dose of reality and more capacities and experiences on which to rely.
Until then, we will live a fascinating moment in all its harshness, which echoes what poet Réné Char said to define the experience of the French Resistance: our inheritance is not preceded by a testament. The squares of the country already hold their own memory, vocabulary and conviction, but they are not bound by any testament. Their political future is open, it is neither branded nor codified: they will make of themselves what they will and can be. As always, this freedom can be a source of weakness or wealth, of desperation or pure strength. On the other side, we know what there is: the enemy and the challenges to be confronted are undoubtedly colossal. For this, everything remains to be done. To act and think as if the future were going to go in our direction is the best way of being prepared to seize it fully.