To be many and suffer little

This is a translation of an article by sociologist and essayist César Rendueles, which was published on the Podemos site.

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To be many and suffer little (or, confessions of an abstentionist who has supported the Podemos candidacy)

I recall a conference by Agustín García Calvo in the Madrid Atheneum. During the time for questions a man criticised the obscurity of his argument. “I didn’t understand a thing..” he began to say. García Calvo didn’t let him go on. “You understood me perfectly!”, he shouted. I liked that a lot because I think people on the left must say something like that. But not to others but to ourselves: they understand us perfectly!

The left has become a political tradition for moral and intellectual heroes. We think that what people who get excited about the Sunday match or a David Bisbal concert need is a good slap and an intensive schooling in Toni Negri. We have to break with this poisoned legacy. Because it is precisely the opposite. Rosa Díez said that millions of Spanish people support UPyD [a right-wing populist party with a marked anti-political slant – R] but don’t know it. She is right. But there are also millions who are anticapitalists and do not yet know it. In fact, they are the same people. We are living at a strange moment in which one can be on the verge of becoming anti-capitalist or UPyD. The direction the balance gets tipped depends on us. Because today the aspirations of most people are deeply subversive. Setting up a home, looking after our family and our friends, acquiring a trade, being respected by our peers, learning and growing as free citizens…all of this means transforming the world we know from top to bottom. Mere common sense means we have to confront the suited maniacs who from the parliaments and boards of directors are attempting to destroy our lives.

A few days ago, my dentist explained to me that he was going to give me a kind of filling that is no longer used much but which she considered preferable in my case. She told me that pharmaceutical firms constantly bring out new products whose efficacy is arguable. The majority offer aesthetic improvements, though they tend to be worse from a medical point of view. Industry takes advantage of our need to appear immune to the passage of time, our rejection of our own fragility, she said in a reflective tone. We are laying hens, she concluded, the only thing that matters is that we keep on producing for one more day, as if nothing were happening. Lying there, dazed by the sound of the drill and by the anaesthetic, I thought that if the left is unable to convince someone like my dentist that our political project is also theirs, then we do not deserve the opportunity to change things.

Rafael Barrett, an anarchist writer at the turn of the 20th century, recalled thus the monarch who reigned whilst the French Revolution was underway: “Louis XVI from adolescence on had the habit of writing down daily events in a little notebook. There could be nothing more suggestive of the mental emptiness of this wretch, who never learned of what was happening in his country. The King’s favourite occupation was hunting. According to the statistics that he himself collected, Louis XVI over 13 years killed 189,251 specimens and felled 1,274 deer; on the 28th of June 1784 he killed 200 swallows. He writes in his diary of the 43 baths that were prescribed for him in 26 years, two bouts of indigestion, various colds and attacks of haemmoroids. When there is neither hunting nor audiences nor illness, he was happy enough to write: Nothing. The convulsions in France did not reach him. On every famous date from 1789 and 1791 one reads in the notebook the everlasting word: Nothing”.

For three decades we have been letting politicians, businessmen and mass media outlets write “nothing” in our diaries. In every debate, in every editorial, in every TV news bulletin it’s the same thing: “nothing”. We have ended up believing it ourselves and we say it to ourselves: nothing, nothing, nothing…but, what if it had already happened? What if the Bastille had already been taken and we simply needed to believe it? We nearly always forget how things were scarcely four years ago. We now speak and think in a different way. My baker knows what an escrache is, my retired neighbours hate bankers, in the children’s playground there is talk of strikes…

We need this energy to flood the institutions. It is true, we could hardly find ourselves in a worse situation for it. The poet Antonio Gamoneda spoke to me once, in a very ironic tone, about his participation in an anti-Francoist groupuscle in 1950s León. “There were few of us, but we did a lot of suffering”, he said laughing. It is an excellent summary of the recent history of the left.

It says a lot about the state of our democracy that our best option should be the candidacy of the debate panellist with the pony tail. I don’t need anyone to remind me of this. I am an abstentionist, I have never voted except against the European Constitution. So I have a whole load of cynical arguments against Podemos. In reality, I have only one motive to be in favour, though it is an incredibly powerful one: it is working.

Yes, it’s working. In a way that is disordered, abrupt, contradictory, ugly, like every important political process. It is enough for me. It is not just fear, but enthusiasm, that needs to switch sides. We need to be many and suffer little.

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