This is a translation of an article by Juan Domingo Sánchez Estop, a participant in Podemos, originally published on his site, Iohannes Maurus,
Occupy representation: Podemos and the politics of truth
“Affectus nec coerceri nec tolli potest nisi per affectum contrarium et fortiorem affectu coercendo.”
(An emotion can only be controlled or destroyed by another emotion contrary thereto, and with more power for controlling emotion.)
Spinoza, Ethics Part IV, prop 7.
1. The left, especially of the Marxist tradition, has usually conceived of political action as the application of a theoretical truth, and only considers it possible to act through forms of representation crystallised in the party form, or in the State as general representation of society. Against this current, anarchism has usually stood for a moral truth and a more immediate organisation of workers, such as the trade union or the assembly, and by showing disdain for representation. With rare exceptions, this has led anarchists and the radical democrat sections of the left to ignore electoral participation of every kind. Despite their opposition, these two stances are articulated around the same axis: the ‘truth-representation’ relation. This relation, for both anarchism and political Marxisms, has been at the centre of political theory and practice, Whereas some maintained that representation in the party or the State constituted the truth of the (universal) class, or of society, others maintained that the truth had to be sought in the immediacy of social life, by staying clear of the misleading appearances of parties and States.
2. The 15M largely shared the perspective of anarchism, at least if it were to be interpreted in terms of the strong sense of the central slogan of the movement of the squares: “they do not represent us”. This phrase can, in fact, be read according to two senses: in a weak sense, as the aspiration to a good representation, “these people do not represent us, but there are others who will do it better”. Or, in a strong sense, as a rejection based on the ontological impossibility of all intervention: “they do not represent us, because we are not representable”. Among the attempts to intervene within the co-ordinates of representation based on the principles of 15M, political experiments such as Partido X are the bearers of the weak sense of this slogan: through their networked practices and their virtual democracy, they seek a “good representation”, whereas other sectors have interpreted the impossibility of representation as the need to hermetically seal themselves off from this sphere. These strong versions of the “they do not represent us” -leaving to one side the proposal of returning to the old forms of representation on the part of veteran organisations such as Izquierda Unida- reached their limit: it was not enough for democracy and anticapitalism to live for a few days or weeks in the squares. There was a need for them to spread and to endure. Against the spreading and enduring of these liberated spaces, what became manifest, and what continues to manifest itself day to day, is “the full force of the State”, the entire weight of the apparatus of representation. The free squares maintained themselves as an ethically impeccable particularity, but with their effectiveness frustrated by repression, police baton charges, fines and so on, and delegitimised by both the public and private propaganda apparatuses of the regime: parties, press, institutions.
3. To unblock the situation it was essential to find something else, a change of element. There was a need to assume a paradox: to represent the unrepresentable or, better still, to bring the unrepresentable into the sphere of representation. This posed, and continues to pose, a major challenge. It consists, no more and no less, of ejecting the neoliberal misgovernment from power by the only means possible today: the ballot box. However, it is not a matter of suturing the space of power through a new form of representation seen as “the good representation”, but rather, by emulating the 15M or the Occupy movement, to occupy that space from and for social movements, thereby neutralising the action of the State against them, and even through taking effective governmental measures in favour of the demands of movements such as the Mortgage Holders’ Platform, the Mareas, feminism, the labour movement, and so on. It consists of a formula initially tried out by the popular governments of Latin America, but which in European conditions must by necessity adopt other features.
4. It was not enough to stand for elections at a conjuncture that demanded the action of social movements in the space of political representation; one had to also “be” the kind of organisation able to join the horns of the dilemma that is the representation of the unrepresentable. On the one hand, there was a need to play the card of representation very forcefully, including even the use of media figureheads. But on the other hand, and with the same strength, there was a need to use forms of direct and horizontal democracy. Podemos has been the beginning of the solution to this dilemma. With its media side, its campaign apparatus and its devices for communicative intervention, online and in all available public spaces, Podemos set about opening up a breach in the space of representation, in the discourse production machines that are television, radio, and social networks. Pablo Iglesias, before heading up the Podemos lists, had, along with the rest of the La Tuerka team, occupied a place that seemed impossible in the space where common sense is defined, in favour of the common sense of the social movements, and, according to the surveys, of that 80% of the population that supports the 15M and the Mortgage Holders’ Platform. There was a need to make an entry into that breach in the representative space, but what had to be brought in was not just anything, but an organisation of a new kind that would be able to keep a permanent open interface with the social movements and ordinary people.
5. The organisation and spreading of the circles, which was largely supported by the complete dedication of a small militant party, Anticapitalist Left, to the new organisation, was the second ingredient of the paradoxical formula of Podemos. The circles, authentic open assemblies, were the space in which the electoral lists and the programme were developed, but beyond the electoral periods they go on existing as organs of participation and social action. Each one of the 400 circles is equivalent to a local 15M assembly, but with the peculiarity that this time the social movement creates its means of irrupting into the sphere of representation, of occupying it. The five brilliant Podemos MEPs are the beginning of a necessary long march through the institutions marked by prolonged occupations: there are still the municipal, legislative and regional elections. In each one of these spaces, the popular movement must have a presence, not to replace the social and political action of the majority of society, but rather to give it potency, to free it of repression and to promote its goals.
6. All this would have been, and will be totally impossible with a classic party of the left. The party, as an institutional form, is strictly an ideological state apparatus and a political state apparatus (Althusser). Even when it exercises functions of representation for the exploited and oppressed sectors of society, a party remains part of a “political game” that reproduces existing social relations and legitimises them. To avoid this and to generate an authentic process of occupying the institutions, and of representation in general by social movements and the common citizenry, it is necessary for the ‘representatives’ not to represent, but to act within the institutions as appendices of the social majority that is resisting. The articulation of circles and ideologico-representative apparatuses in competition with those of the State and the dominant social sectors permits the effective neutralisation of the repressive and reproductive functions of the social order exercised by representation.
7. The construction of Podemos as a new type of social and political movement is not only based on the subversion of classic organisational forms, but also an audacious crossing into the dominant ideological space. In contrast to classic Marxist organisations that believed themselves to be endowed with a truth, an ‘algebra of revolution’ upon which they based their political activity, Podemos starts off with the existing common sense and intervenes upon it. It is not a matter of imposing upon the body of society a particular model based upon a supposed truth possessed by certain subjects, the leaders, who are supposed to be the ones who know, but rather of starting from the imagination, the ideology and the very space of our submissive and passive existence, in order to reach a series of common notions that are capable of configuring a new common sense that is within the grasp of everyone, to produce within us the subjects an effective process of liberation. Hegemony is not won through the imposition of a supposed truth, but rather through a work of intervening in the world of really existing human beings, that is, a world dominated by ideology. As Spinoza and Freud taught us, as well as Marx at his most lucid and, of course Antonio Gramsci or my dear teacher Louis Althusser, ideology is not an “error” but rather the world in which we live, and from which no-one will leave, however much they are taught “the truth” or one tries to impose it on them. The tragedy of the Marxist left has always consisted of its failure to carry out a revolution and its permanent cult of revolutions carried out by others, by those whose Marxism was heterodox. Not in Cuba, nor in Venezuela, nor in China, nor even in Russia itself was there a revolution through the application of the truth of Marxism. Very much on the contrary: as Gramsci said in a famous article, the revolution in Russia -and in every other country- was made “against Capital”. In general, a politics is not based nor can it be based on the truth, since the constitution of political subjectivities is not the result of a scientific process, but rather an ideological transformation, a transformation of the space for imagination. To attempt to practise politics in the name of a truth leads, when one possesses a State apparatus, to terror (Stalinism), or, when one does not possess one, to the proliferation of chapels each possessing “the truth”, and thus, to the ineffectiveness that historically characterised many sectors of the left, both Trotskyist and Maoist.
8. The greatness of Podemos consists of having been able to get out of the dual historical trap in which the left has found itself and remains prisoner: the party form and the truth politics inherited from ‘scientific socialism’. Podemos thus moves beyond the mold of the left in order to constitute an effective hegemony of social majorities and social movements. Its plain language, at once accesible and truthful, uses imagination and ideology to constitute the common notions of a constituent process underway. The identity of the left, an imaginary identity that leads into impotence, has been displaced by a potent work of configuration of hegemony in really existing society, which is neither left-wing nor much less takes part in supposed “marxist” truths, but which opposes evictions, the consequences of illegitimate debt, plunder, impoverishment, the political-economic caste and which demands democracy. Much remains to be done so that Podemos can be our required war machine against the caste, but the foundations have been laid: we need to develop and consolidate the structure.