Manuel Castells on social movements, political parties, SYRIZA, Podemos, outrage and hope

This is a translated excerpt of an intervention by Manuel Castells, on the event of a revised edition of his Networks of Outrage of Hope. Also participating was Pablo Iglesias, Secretary General of Podemos, and Manuel Campo Vidal, journalist and TV presenter. Castells’s remarks are in response to contributions by the others (I may add Pablo Iglesias’s intervention, which was interesting in its own right, if I get the time).

(Translated excerpt from 28m to 45m.)

Manuel Castells

Manuel Castells

We are faced with a new historical form of social movements. Because when the same concrete forms, in terms of networks, in terms of collective leadership, in terms of proposals for rupture from a system, but not in a political sense but rather in a cultural and mental sense, when this gets repeated, time and again, in absolutely different contexts, whether in a crisis or not, in dictatorship or democracy, in Latin America or China, in Europe or anywhere else… not all countries have these movements. But in those that do have them, they are like this.

So this needs to make us reflect upon the new forms, let us call them networked movements (movimientos en red), which are those that correspond, from the point of view of the communicative, cultural and organisational structure, to the domination, the pre-eminence, of networks in our society.

This does not mean that these movements are made by the internet. This is something stupid that no-one has ever written. But without the internet they would be other movements, not these ones. And the thing is, if we do not have these ones, we have no others. That is what is happening in the world.

The other matter that I would like to address, in general terms, before going on to the more interesting part, which is our exchange here, rather than juxtaposed speeches, is that in the widest perspective of what I have tried to develop over many years, there are two basic elements.

One: social movements, throughout history, and not only nowadays, but always, are the agents of transformation, of cutures, of societies, and of institutions. If there are no social movements, there can be no transformation. There can be no transformation. As such, the institutions have to be changed from outside the institutions. That is the fundamental question that I have been setting forth in line with a long tradition of thought that highlights that implementation within institutions is absolutely necessary to change people’s lives. But without the fuel of social movements, this does not happen. And here I am in agreement with what was previously said, that the experience of history shows that when movements become locked in, when what remains of movements, the actors that emerge from movements, become locked within the institutions, the transformation comes to an end. Not only does the movement come to an end. The transformation comes to an end.

Movements always come to an end. Movements always die. Whether through repression, or they are co-opted, or through integration. But the important thing is: how do they die? And what do they die for? And how can they be reproduced again? If their death is fertile, and if new forms of living are born through new institutional forms, new cultural forms, then they have played their role of transformation. And if not, it is simply a great heroic collective attempt to change lives that is defeated, and history is full of defeats and victories. But whenever there are transformative victories, they are always through social movements. There is not a single case where transformation has come out of institutions. This is a very serious thing. Because it means that if things really must be changed, this cannot be expected of political parties. As simple as that. Traditional political parties rooted in the institutions of the State. When these political parties are no longer inspired by ideological projects that are utopian, social, based on popular demands, they go on to become machines of that State, and that State reproduces; it does not produce.

Now, at the same time, the relation outlined here, and I’m moving on now to concrete matters, between party and movement, is complex, and fundamental. Why? Because transformation -and here we agree- is not produced merely through narrowly political action. The transformation is cultural, it is mental. It is people’s minds. Deep down, the way in which we think, the way in which we act. And that way of thinking is not eternal. It is constantly modelled and modulated. And it is for this reason that communication is the space of power. For that very reason. Because the ability of any given project -be it of transformation or repression or domination- depends on conquering people’s minds, be it through adherence, or through resignation, which is what is generally happening. Be it out of enthusiasm that things can be changed, or for fear of changing. At this point of time, for example, in Europe, the big battle is the conservative offensive aimed at inciting fear. And what is more they are trying to do this through one paradigmatic example: Syriza. We have to make people afraid with Syriza. If you support Syriza, the same thing will happen to you. You will have no money. You will have nothing to eat. You won’t be able to open your banks. Fear.

Image from Pablo Iglesias's Twitter avatar, 17th July

Alexis Tsipras and Pablo Iglesias

Against fear, which is the most basic of human emotions, there are only two reactions. This has been studied empirically. There are only two antidotes. One: outrage (indignación). I am so outraged that I cannot bear more of this humiliation, this injustice, I cannot bear any longer to have no dignity, that I explode regardless of the consequences. That is what happened with the referendum in Greece. But the other matter is hope. That’s why I called my book Networks of Outrage and Hope. Because after outrage, there must be a positive emotion that says, beyond this, we have to hope for something. What? And here we have the difference between party and movement. Movements are simply emotional. All movements are emotional. They have no programme. Throughout history, they have no programme. Or they have a programme that includes everything. Everything at once. Occupy Wall Street had 375 concrete demands, very concrete ones, like the end of US military bases across the whole planet. Well, programmes of that kind, ok, but these are utopias, desires, positive emotions for change.

This then has to be processed by the institutions, and therefore by political actors. But which political actors? That is the question. Political actors that are constitutively capable of processing that kind of emotion, this kind of hope. To spell it out: it is not the same thing to propose, to traditional political parties that form part of professional politics, a series of demands that these parties then put in an electoral manifesto in order go on just the same as before or make small reforms, as it is to be a political instrument for social and cultural transformation. That is, ultimately, a transformation in how we live, and what we live for. That is something completely different. That is why I do not just talk about parties and movements but of transformative parties or parties that reproduce the social order on the whole.

Going back to a few of the things you have said. The 15M was an explosion of outrage towards what was happening. It had no programme. It had no real leadership. There were calls made, but this is not leadership. It was spontaneous. And it was built simultaneously on social networks and in the street. I agree with Pablo [Iglesias] that the street, provides, above all, the visibility that those who are not on social networks cannot have. It also appeared on TV, but badly, and this is something that Manuel and I have been arguing over for a long time: I think that traditional media outlets are essential, provided they cease to be traditional. Because these media outlets are the property of governments or the property of companies that have not the slightest interest in social change. And the only thing that redeems them are the journalists. I am not being a demagogue here: because there are professional journalists who risk their position, who do not allow themselves to be manipulated, but who do not always win, and many times they lose. They lose, that is to say, they are sacked, or they have to shut up, and we have many instances of this.

So, it is not true that traditional media outlets are the engine of change. But what is true is that if there is no presence, in some way, in traditional media outlets, then the message is limited in terms of the spheres it can reach. Let us take a very clear example here: how does one then get this message across? One, through professional journalists who resist. Two, by creating events on such a scale that they cannot be treated with disdain. And that was in large part what the social movements did. Social movements create a situation that one can try to manipulate, but only to a certain extent. Or, the penetration of this space controlled and manipulated by government or capitalist firms…this the specific case of Spain – this is an example, it is not always like this- there is a movement. This movement is built on social networks. The networks go on existing. The networks never stop. This is why these movements are different from others. They go on working, constantly.


To give an example from the United States, when everyone said Occupy Wall Street has died: well, as a movement yes, because there never was an articulated movement. And after six months occupying more than a thousand American cities, there were no further occupations of that kind. But the people (emphasis) who were there remain, and the networks remain. And so what happens? Suddenly there is another flaring up of outrage, the serial killings of black people in the United States, and Ferguson bursts forth, as do demonstrations throughout the country, white and black people, and the whole present movement, Black Lives Matter, that emerges from these same networks that were there. Any thing that occurs in society, now, there will no longer be any silence about it. Every time there is an injustice, it now emerges in every society.

Now, it emerges where it emerges. That is, this does not guarantee positive or negative effects in normative terms. And here is where organised, conscious, reflective political action has an essential role. As such, the movement is the source of social change. The new type of party that can emerge from those movements is the form of articulation without which it is difficult to go on to change institutions.

So. If the parties that emerge from these movements, of Podemos’s type, after a while become parties that are the same as the others, that is, a new left, this becomes part of the same caste. It becomes professional politics. It becomes -to be frank- like Izquierda Unida (United Left). The only purpose they serve is to accompany the system.

So, the big question is how, whilst being a political actor inside the institutions, with constitutional obligations etc etc, this fire of transformation, and this material connection with what is happening in society, can be maintained.

Ada Colau

Ada Colau

Only one example comes to mind, but one that I am witnessing: in Barcelona, Ada Colau and the whole team of Barcelona en Comú are trying to run the city, they are carrying out projects, but the neighbourhoods are more active than ever. The social networks are more active than ever. And you know what? These municipal coalitions, or in the future, a Podemos with national responsibilities, have a small problem. They can only be good. If they get perverted, they cease to exist, because they live on the basis of the trust they have generated. If this trust is betrayed, and they become another PSOE with a purple tint, this will disappear or be absorbed by the PSOE, or it becomes the PSOE, which is something else. It will go on to carry out the same role of reproducing the system with other hues. That is the big difference between the attempts to regenerate the left and the attempts to change society. The majority of people voting for these coalitions, and for Podemos, think they are changing society. There is data to support this – Jaime Miquel, the best electoral analyst in Spain, who I am grateful to have here today, has been convincing me of this.

Now, even in these conditions..even..for me things are very simple: a transformative party is not the same as a traditional political party. And this party of transformation is defined by its connection to what continues to exist in terms of desire for change on social networks, in society, in neighbourhood organisations, in labour organisations etc.

The final fundamental question for the final two, three minutes I have. The space of political action that is national, and global powers that are global. This exists, this is what the movement for a just globalisation sought to tackle, and in that sense it was a great social movement that laid out how social transformation could be achieved in this world. And in fact, the only things we are seeing is that from local governments, such as the current municipal coalitions we now have in Spain…there has been a real municipal revolution, and the world has discovered this but here it appears not. But there has been a municipal revolution. This municipal revolution is scalable on networks of municipal change that exist throughout the world. As such the old idea of scaling to the global level through linking up the local is one of the ways. The other is that the capacity of national states where there is a transformative process, to articulate systems of reciprocal defence against global powers is the potential horizon. This is what has happened in Latin America. In Latin America, states that have been transformed by new kinds of social movements, whatever you think of this state or that, but there has been a movement of support with regard to international relations. Relying upon other economic powers, for example China. Well, it is not that I believe Podemos’s salvation lies in an alliance with China, but I wish to point out that the world is a bit wider. And, ultimately, we really have to believe the idea of the internet as a global network of wills, projects, and debate. Because if deep down the ultimate transformation is a cultural and mental transformation, of people throughout the world, then beyond political institutions, beyond alliances between states or city councils or parties, there is the constant and permanent connection of minds throughout the world, who coincide on the point that we can no longer put up with this, and that the question is how to overcome fear.


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2 responses to “Manuel Castells on social movements, political parties, SYRIZA, Podemos, outrage and hope

  1. Bogman's Cannon

    Reblogged this on The Bogman's Cannon.

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