Translation of an article originally published on Pour la Fin du Temps, 28th May 2014.
By Germán Cano, Jorge Lago, Eduardo Maura, Pablo Bustinduy and Jorge Moruno
There is a narrative thread that connects two improbable points. On election night in 2004, thousands of young people gathered outside the Socialist Party headquarters in Ferraz, waving republican flags and chanting “Don’t let us down” at Zapatero, who was out on the balcony. Seven years later, the squares in all of Spain exploded with a shared and unquestionable diagnosis: “They don’t represent us”. Between one moment and the other, there occurred a clear rupture in the political logic of representation that has systematicaly served as a mechanism for expropriating citizens of their political powers.
There has been a great deal of discussion since then about the unrepresentable character of the 15M, about this clamour for democracy and equality that meant the beginning of the end of the regime of 78, about the forms and practices with which one might transform this powerful yearning into a sustained affirmation of a different life. Within the frame of this discussion, we believe that the spectacular irruption of Podemos poses a series of essential questions. On election night of 25M, for example, the thousands of people gathered to celebrate this victory in the Reina Sofia square received the candidates amid spontaneous shouts of “They do represent us”. Does this mean that this rupture of the representative contract has been undone by Podemos? That we are confronted with a receding of this radical logic of democratisation from below, which expressed itself so clearly just over three years ago?
We do not believe so. The result obtained by Podemos does not certify a return to representation, but rather its opposite: the staging of a new political relation between the public and its spokespersons in the institutions. Podemos has laid out from the start that its approach is based on a method, materialised in a series of fundamental processes: open citizen primaries, the constitution and proliferation of the circles, the editing and approval of a participative programme, collective funding, transparent accounting, agreement on the revocability of roles, the limitation of mandates and salaries of representatives. And in light of the election result, we believe that this method has allowed for at least three things that prevent it from being read in the frame of the old representative logic.
First, this method has shown that the argument that tends to disdain the abilities and possibilities of young people and citizens to go out and practise politics (“they have no training”, “they don’t have the means”, “they don’t know what they’re doing”, “they’re not fit for this”) is not only antidemocratic, but is, moreover, radically false. The 15M showed it and the Podemos campaign has shown it: the association of singularities, the democracy of abilities, is perfectly capable of generating both ilusión and effectiveness and of overcoming barriers that were supposedly impassable. It has been necessary to go everywhere, to combine social networks and motorway miles, word of mouth and local and sectoral work, in order to make the mix contagious. And it has been.
Secondly, the Podemos method has given expression to a common sense that has been hegemonic in this country for some time, but which political representation and electoral arithmetic have however systematically prevented from making a reality. The central themes of Podemos’s programme and campaign (the fight against corruption, the audit of debt, the sharing of work and wealth, the defence of social rights and public services) expresses clearly, precisely and resoundingly a common sense of the majority that does not fit within the institutions. And these matters have not been defined and articulated from above, but through the active work and participation of ordinary people.
The third point has to do specifically with the form of this expression. In Podemos there has been a two-way communication established between the people most mobilised (in the circles and campaign teams) and a large sector of the public that for some time has desired a profound political change and as such is in a potential position for democratic rupture. This communication has allowed for the basic axes of classical representation to be overflowed: the party form; the culture of militancy; the left/right axis; the intransitive conception of the relation between representatives and the represented; and an idea of political identity that depends upon the definition of a subject that is more or less given. Podemos has managed to play beyond each one of these axes, laying the basis for a triangular relation between citizen participation, social struggles and the expression of demands in institutions, which goes beyond representative democracy and allows for a profound transformation of political, economic and social life.
The surveys in 2011 revealed that almost 80% of the population was in agreement with what was happening in the squares during the 15M. Since then many of us have been asking ourselves how we can transform that outrage into political change. By overflowing traditional representation, the Podemos tool has set out a viable option for connecting these two realities: articulating this social majority as a political majority, and opening up a new cycle that democratises the collective life of the country from its foundations.