This is a translation of an article by John Brown, evaluating the effects of 15M, originally published on his blog on the 14th May.
The 15M and Occam’s star
Anyone who reads the press of the Spanish regime these days will notice that on the whole it reports a diminished presence of the 15M on the streets. Some speak of a ‘better organisation’, others fear a ‘radicalisation’, but all are agreed upon its diminished presence as a movement in public space, however much the Puerta del Sol was filled with people once again on the 12th of May 2013 for the celebration of the second anniversary. Indeed, if the 15M had been a movement, that is, a group of persons with a precise political or social objective, those who celebrate or lament its demise would not be wrong, but the 15M is something else, or perhaps not even a thing, but an event. First of all, its name being that of a date ought to alert us of this fact. No-one is in doubt that the 15th of May 2011 something important happened in the Spanish State, first in the big cities, and subsequently in the whole of the country. For the first time, a multitude outside the control of the State, the parties and the unions took over en masse the centres of numerous major cities, demanding a refounding of democracy, clamouring against corruption and against the effects of the crisis on a youth population already plagued by mass unemployment. It was a matter of redefining the rules of the game so that it was no longer the same people -the social majority- who lost out. The 15M went on for a month in the Puerta del Sol and turned into the real parliament, the one in which the problems of the population are dealt with, and the citizens themselves intervene freely and directly in the framework of an open assembly. First it was to reconquer democracy as a space for the word and responsibility of each person before everyone else. It was not merely a matter of demonstrating that the rebellious multitude of the 15M existed: this happened in the first weeks during which the contact between very diverse social, ideological and aesthetic realities created a general climate of trust and friendship. Beyond this, it was also a matter -unwittingly- of recovering one of the proofs upon which the ancient city was based, in which, as Aristotle said, “citizens are friends.” Political passion in democracy produces friendship. Antagonism too.
The crisis brought the content for the debates and moblisations. The wave of cuts to wages and in essential public services such as health, education, the massive loss of rights belonging to workers, old people, people dependent on care and their families, and the hundreds of thousands of evictions became urgent themes of moblisation. Commissions were set up, entities that brought their findings to the assemblies on all of these themes. above all, the people who woke up to politics and real citizenship that the 15M took part in a multitude of concrete activities of demanding common goods and rights, of an end to evictions. On all these fronts, power has proved deaf and blind, but the mobilisation has continued to move forward. The different mareas (tides) of public services that draw together workers, users and citizens in general remain active and engaged in struggle, despite the lack of a response from power.
The permanent clash with power as an obstacle lends the reigning pacifism an antagonistic tone to its demands. It is no longer simply a matter of formulating petitions addressed to power, but explicitly, to bring down what is already openly named as ‘the Regime’. This results in a series of social movements whose trajectory depends less and less on the reaction of power and which maintains its demands in an autonomous fashion. In the same way, the Mortgage Victims’ Platform has already reaped important successes: the presentation of the ILP (popular legislative initiative) backed by a million and a half signatures, the verdict of the European Court of Justice against the Spanish mortgage law, and various judges declaring occupations to be legitimate. All this is not the 15M, but it does constitute a reality contaminated by the 15M virus, something that could not have existed on this scale without that initial event.
The independence of the movements, and their perseverance in their goals against a backdrop of general impoverishment of a society on the part of a ‘democratic’ government that is a debt collection agency in the service of finance capital, are causing a wobble in the foundations of the regime. If Francoism maintained itself thanks to the myth of the ‘two Spains’, since 15M there are another two Spains, but distributed in a very different proportion: that of the 1% and that of the 99%. As a result, surveys show an enormous percentage of support for the 15M, for the PAH, for the mareas, a percentage that far surpasses the results of the two major parties put together. The 15M enjoys the support of 75% of the population and the PAH almost 90%. The institutions and the consensuses of the Transition are losing legitimacy at high speed, whilst the movements are gaining it. Perhaps this is the famous constituent process: the progressive unfolding of a potency of the social majority that wishes to give itself another form of political life and another social organisation that allows for something so normal -but so impossible for many people nowadays- as to live with dignity.
One can surround the parliament from time to time, one can interpellate power via escraches: all of this has its use, since it delegitimises the existing order. However, the essential thing is the admirable perserverance of the social movements, their ability to converge with other movements, their ability to create hegemony. Nowadays, as a friend from Madrid said recently “people talk about politics in the doctor’s waiting room” and at the queues in the markets. In a country whose current regime was founded by a man, Francisco Franco, whose main objective was that “no-one should talk about politics” and in which the truncated “party-based” democracy that currently reins serves to achieve the designs of the “Caudillo” through somewhat less brutal means, this is a colossal victory for democracy.
We know there are dead stars that keep on sending their light millenia after they have gone out. In a certain way, a cause that has ceased to exist continues to produce effects. William of Occam made this hypothesis -before this astronomical phenomenon was known- to illustrate his thesis according to which cause and effect are connected via divine will, which could also dissociate them. The image of a dead star that continues to cast light on us is a sad image for us to use in reference to the 15M, since the 15M remains alive- but it goes on living through its effects. The 15M, like every true event that changes history, has become an absent cause, but by contrast with Occam’s star, an absent cause continues to act, it is its effects, which are fused with the cause itself. It will take a while for us to appreciate them fully in terms of changes in our own political subjectivity, of affirmation of our singular and collective potency, since the effects of the 15M go on taking place within us and counteracting the sad passions induced by power. We were sleeping, and we awoke.