X-net‘s Simona Levi reflects on the recent results of the Spanish Municipal Elections and seeks to correct some popular misconceptions resulting from international press coverage on the role of Podemos.
The propaganda has spread far and wide, and we are concerned to note how many analysts, particularly foreign media outlets without local correspondents, are giving Podemos undue centrality.
This text seeks to clarify the current state of the unfolding Spanish r-evolution, so that its major contribution to global change will not be lost among obsolete, simplistic models.
On May 24, civil society won a magnificent victory in Spain.
It was an intelligent, thoughtful, constructive victory in the true style of the indignados.
The definitions of what the indignados movement is are as numerous as the people who participated in it; and there have also been some deliberate misinterpretations of what it is.
For us, the spirit that allowed the indignados movement to be born and grow can be summed up in its own words: “Some of us see ourselves as more progressive, others more conservative…” leaving no doubt that 15M would be a pragmatic rather than an ideological movement. This is the key to its success. The left had been calling for rebellion for years, with few results. So whether we like it or not, the indignados achieved what the left couldn’t, precisely because it was not foundationally ideological.
The great political innovation of the indignados was forged on the basis of this transversality and pragmatism, in the first month and a half in the squares (stage one of the indignados). The movement was politicised but not ideological, constructive, not limited to protest. It was a movement that identified some minimum criteria on which to build a ‘real democracy’ (the famous ‘minimum criteria’ documents were drawn up in the first month).
During that first month we learnt to organise as citizens, to trust in our shared capacities and competencies rather than dogma, to accept responsibility and to assess results based on facts rather than rhetoric.
And the indignados movement has continued on this basis, in the second stage, in everything we have done and are doing, splitting into dozens of citizen devices and chalking up successes such as the PAH (platform to support victims of mortgage scams and of evictions), 15MpaRato (a citizen initiative that led to the arrest and trial of the former director of the IMF Rodrigo Rato and 100 other politicians and bankers for the banking swindle), the Citizen Debt Audit Network, the ‘White Tide’ (movement for universal healthcare and against privatisation) and all the other ‘tides’, Legal Sol (legal defense of basic rights, freedom of expression, and demonstrators)…The second phase of the indignados movement
The indignados movement is what we have kept doing ever since.
Back then, on 15 May 2011 – and not now or in 2014 with the rise of Podemos – we declared that part of our plan was to bring down the two-party system.
And since then, we’ve made progress in this regard: Aritmetica20N (2011);Partido X (2013); Podemos (2014); Barcelona en Comú (2015); AhoraMadrid(2015); Marea Atlántica (2015); Compostela Aberta (2015); Terrassa en Comú(2015); Capgirem (2015); … it isn’t the names that matter, but the patience and tenacity to keep going, adapting methods in order to achieve our collective goals on this and other regards.
This is why we are concerned by recent declarations in which Pablo Iglesias takes credit for a collective victory on behalf of Podemos.
Manuela Carmena and most of the citizens behind the electoral platform Ahora Madrid are not members of Podemos; Manuela barely held any rallies with Podemos, and many of the members of Ahora Madrid are indignados or activists in general and don’t have anything to do with Podemos. They are there to participate in designing a new city.
Likewise, Barcelona En Comú is not Podemos, nor is Ada Colau. Ada has fought side by side with activists in innumerable struggles in Barcelona over the past 15 years. The first thing she said to the people who had gathered to celebrate the victory of Barcelona En Comú is that it would not have been possible without the struggles that came before; she emphasised that a new kind of politics will not be possible without a strong, organised civil society, independent of any electoral platform, that will hold city councils and other public institutions to account. She called for us to be autonomous and vigilant, rather than merging with her.
The attitude of these new electoral platforms is worlds away from the attitude of Podemos so far towards civil society groups, which it has repeatedly called to join its ranks and dissolve into it.
The Podemos leadership style seems to repeatedly turn to a tactic destined to confuse involving a reinterpretation and claiming authorship of collective struggles. Some other thoroughly collective and distributed struggles of the past, such as the response to the 2004 train bombings in Madrid, and the struggle against evictions under the slogan ‘Yes we can’, which Podemos also used as its slogan for its founding assembly, are examples of this among many.New Politics
We don’t believe that these are simply superficial details.
We are convinced that it will be impossible to make progress and continue on our common path if we limit options rather than harnessing this great opportunity to expand them.
Our history has seen fratricidal situations; in 1936-37 for example. They were much more tragic, but resonate in terms of political praxis. It would be criminal to repeat the same mistakes. To homogenise the diversity on this side of the trenches won’t improve our chances of success: it will destroy them.
We want a world in which, at last, organised and diverse civil society is as relevant as political parties, if not even more so.
In this context, it is important that Podemos resists the temptation to impose itself as hegemonic in a much broader r-evolution.
The indignados movement calls for relationships of mutual support. Theindignados hasn’t started from scratch, it works jointly with what civil society has already achieved. We don’t have enough spare energy or resources to allow us the luxury of starting over again as if nothing ever came before.
We have to increase our competencies and the fronts we’re fighting on, not implode into a single brand.
Podemos alone cannot and should not represent Everything. To continue to try to do so could be the end of them, as Isaac Rosa explains in this article “Sí se puede, pero solos no Podemos” (“For example: in Madrid, 285,000 people voted for Podemos in the autonomous community elections, while 519,000 voted for Ahora Madrid. In other words, almost half of Ahora Madrid voters did not vote for Podemos at the other level of governments (note: the elections were on the same day and in the same place).”
Podemos was not in the indignados movement.
We need Podemos. It is another comrade in our struggle.
Podemos, whose founders have hardly been involved in the 15M, and which doesn’t share its founding ideas, has intelligently harnessed the energy generated by the indignados to give rise to an electoral platform that had been brewing for years in the media.Podemos has contributed what it can to the expanding indignados movement: media power, the potential to reach millions of viewers.
We believe that if Podemos truly wants to be an instrument of popular will, of the spirit of the indignados, it should also celebrate the success of others. A hegemonic discourse that claims that organised civil society is only useful if it is inside the party brand, and that everything outside of it could threaten its leadership, can no longer stand up, luckily, amongst an empowered citizenry that is conscious of its responsibilities, the citizenry we have built with theIndignados.
Nor is it desirable for such a discourse to work. We do not want a passive civil society, like the society that the PSOE tamed in the eighties, absorbing the most highly profiled (not always the best) citizen activists into the party, as has been repeated by Izquierda Unida more recently.
Podemos is an important device for the change we want, and we hope that it will thrive among equals. The millions of organised citizens who are writing the future of 15M are ready to give and receive support based on mutual trust, because our goals can only be achieved if all of us who got down to work on 15 May 2011, and in subsequent years, keep on working.
For the r-evolution that began that day, the squares were important in 2011; diverse citizen devices in 2012-13; Podemos in 2014; and in 2015, municipal electoral platforms. In 2016, we’ll adopt whatever means are necessary to continue our work. With pragmatism and generosity.
Many opportunists climbed aboard Podemos after its success in 2014. It seems like treacherous terrain now. But there are also many valued, generous comrades who are using the opportunity that Podemos has provided to work towards the shared commitments of the indignados, just as Podemos has used the opportunity that the indignados movement opened up for them.
It is a luxury to work with these valuable people, and we know that organised citizens can rely on their support, just as they can rely on ours.
It is vital that this give and take of activism and cooperation should proliferate inside and beyond electoral platforms. The victory on 24 May has shown that we are on the right track, and that the last 4 years have only been the first stage in this era that is full of hope.
Thanks to Kate Shea Baird and Nuria Rodríguez for the translation.