Indignados

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Discussion

Mayo Fuster Morell in Dialogue

"Q: Taxis Metaxis asks, what contributed to the perception that the Indignados movement was unable to come together around a coherent political message? Do you think it was that they came from multiple movement networks?

Mayo: I beleive it's characteristic of social movements to not have a single voice, and to not be willing to be represented in a single voice within the mass media. Perhaps the message is this: society has changed. We no longer have one type of family, one type of institution, one type of party. Society has changed, and we cannot expect that the movement was transmit a single discourse as in the industrial era. We have a more complex society, which needs to be able to handle diverse groups and needs. One of the elements of crisis of the political institutions is the failure to engage with new forms of complexity and diversity. Another interpretation is, if a journalist or politician understands that the movement is not only there to ask for something from the State, but that people are present in order to construct concrete alternatives. There are points of entry for those who are interested in actually participating. The State becoming more authoritarian means that it is not willing to listen to the voices of the mass mobilization. No political party in the recent Spanish elections talked about reform of the electoral system.

Jeff Juris: this is the same discussion around the Occupy movement. There's a tension between the traditional logics and the new networked logics. To what extent is it possible to build on the collaborative base to generate demands that can be recognized by the traditional political system? Is that always a tension? Can we transcend that tension and translate processes?

Mayo: there is an element of the Free Culture movement that does participate in campaigning. The emergence of the #15M created a split inside the Free Culture movement. Previously, we had seen the emergence of the Free Culture forum in Barcelona. In previous years, all of the various strategies I mentioned were used together. This year, the forum converged with the demonstration of the Indignants. For example, I organized a debate about the Commons in the Plaza de Catalunya square, and invited Wikipedians. But, Wikipedians said, we don't have to go there. We don't want to be associated with intervention in politics in the classical sense. This generated tension between groups in the Free Culture movement who wanted to campaign and lobby, and those that wanted to just build things. My understanding is that they are a different type of people. There is a split of strategies. But I believe they can be done together. The possibility of combining different strategies is key to stopping the emergence of the authoritarian state. Resistance must be combined with building.

Mako: the free software movement has been helped a lot by the participation of capitalists. IBM, HP, big companies have been instrumental in the creation of free software as both a movement and a process that is now taken much more seriously. They have a very different set of logics, but have raised the visibility of the free software movement. How do you see this tension? There's a whole other group of people using the same tools AND logics, in order to further a very different form of economic organization.

Mayo: I think the element of adopting political ambivalence for framing free software, not as leftist or right wing, has been very much present. It has been an intelligent decision, in the sense that it has allowed free software to expand. It has achieved the adoption of collaborative modes, free licensing, some of its goals. From an analytical perspective, there's a tension in the free software movement around the role of the corporations and to what degree they are gaining control over the software process. Commons organization has great limitations. The natural commons, like the work of Ostrom, and the digital commons, depending on the case, also reproduce inequalities from broader society like gender, class, and so on. Openness reproduces existing inequalities in society. So we don't have to think commons will solve all of our problems; it helps to solve some elements. For example, Ostrom has highlighted that gender inequality is reporduced there; this is the case in Wikipedia where only 10% of contributors are women. There are limitations. Some things need to be solved from a centralized position. Some elements find the best solution in the market. The organizational logic of the commons achieves some things but not others. I'm referring to a social economy market, not the kind of market we have now, where a company dominates a domain. I'm referring to a free market, not a monopolistic or concentrated position. We should be open to different forms.


Q: what about tensions between existing networks and newly politicized activists?

Mayo tells an anecdote about Plaza Catalunya. It was organized by different commissions. There was food, IT, etc. There was an attempt to develop a document to summarize all the demands and agreements. At some point, this commission decided to question the need for its own existence. I was involved in previous mobilization waves. When I went to the discussion of the Points of Unity, I knew most of the people there. Actonivists from a previous network congregated. Most of the people who were doing the concrete work (cleaning the square, cooking the food, etc) were new people. This opened a debate about how activists with experience could reformulate to learn from new people. When I went to the 17S mobilization in NYC, I also saw many people that I knew. So the initial stages included many people from previous movement networks. Beyond these anecdotes, I perceive a risk: the old social movements take the energy. We can see the Indignants as a new wave that has learned from previous movement networks. There's a risk that older networks will dominate the new process. The shift from 'activists' to 'the 99%' is an important shift in framing. Older activists have lots of knowledge, including techniques, coordinating an assembly of 5000 people, and so on. They provide many knowledge resources, but also carry older frames with them.

It's true, there are tensions between older activists and new citizens. There are tensions between self organization and impacting public policies. There are many tensions. But would we expect that there are not? These tensions are very creative. Coming together between different people is a great opportunity. Perhaps these tensions are a sign of energy." (http://civic.mit.edu/blog/schock/the-spanish-revolution-the-internet-from-free-culture-to-meta-politics)

History

"Only a year ago, Spain seemed an unlikely candidate to spark European action against austerity. Not that Spain didn't have its problems. With unemployment on the wrong side of 20 per cent of the work force, and youth unemployment at about 45 per cent, Spain is in a deep social crisis. But parliamentary opposition to the measures was and remains weak. Trade unions have not been able to mount much resistance since a one day general strike in September 2010. But then on the 15thof May 2011, a week before regional and municipal elections, a demonstration spearheaded by Democracia Real Ya! was joined by tens of thousands of people, mostly young, to denounce the lack of democracy in Spain, the self-centred behaviour of the elite, the politicians' inability to see the warning signs, and their disregard for people's welfare.

The demonstrations in May were followed by mass actions. Starting in Sol, the central square in Madrid, the movement occupied ;squares, inspired by events at the Tahrir Square in Cairo that led to the downfall of President Mubarak in Egypt. Soon after people occupied squares in Barcelona, Valencia and other cities. The police made a number of attempts to remove them, and became notorious for using indiscriminate violence, but were unsuccessful. In fact, it had the reverse effect. In Madrid the square was originally occupied by approximately 1,000 people. After several police attacks, 25,000 filled the area.

Only shortly after, on the 19th of June, a new wave of demonstrations swept through Spain's major cities, this time against the infamous Euro Pact, the agreement signed by 24 of 28 EU member states, which obliges them to attack wages in the name of competitiveness, and to cut social expenditure in the name of ‘sound public finances’. The demonstrations drew hundreds of thousands to the streets in what was the biggest sign of public opposition to the emerging neoliberal model of ‘economic governance’ in the European Union. Far more than the numbers reached by the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) at their demonstrations against austerity and attacks on wages." (http://www.corporateeurope.org/publications/march-brussels)