Constituent Movements in Spain

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José Luis Carretero Miramar on "Constituents”: A new republicanism? :

"Without a doubt, one of the most surprising phenomena from the wave of mobilizations sparked by 15-M has been the emergence of a whole new narrative, with an organizational and activity framework defined by the demand for the immediate opening of a “constituent process,” both at the national level and at the scale of concrete territories like Catalonia.

Constituted around cross-class alliances that are difficult to define and classify from the perspective of the previous transformative Left, the new “constituent movement” (which is not made up of one unified, concrete organization) has come to life in specific mobilizations (such as September 25, 2012, as an emblematic case of the several attempts to launch a peaceful “assault” on Congress) and in debate mechanisms and growing formal connections (such as the Constituent Days convened by the Coordinador 25-S).

Together with State structures (like the Coordinator created after the mobilizations of September 25, the Constituyentes organization, or, on a level defined in the media as the most radical, the Coordinadora En Pie), the perspective of transforming the Constitutional architecture has also permeated new independence initiatives, mainly in Catalonia, following the largest mobilizations for self-determination in that territory since the end of Francoism.

The ideological foundation of this world is tremendously varied. In this cross-class and often confrontational amalgam, narratives can be found in defense of assemblies, of the new Latin American constitutions, of wikigovernment and forms of electronic democracy, of Swiss-style participatory democracy, of single-member districts of Anglo-Saxon inspiration, and more. The common thread is the denunciation of the anti-democratic nature of a political architecture built on the mythologized Spanish “Transition.” This was an institutional construction based on consensus among elites, depoliticization of citizenship, an unrepresentative “partyocracy,” and tendency towards corruption and the defense of the most ancient imaginings of the earlier social conservatism (monarchy, privileges for the ecclesiastical hierarchy, etc.). Many of its “topics” unconsciously amount to a new version of the historical, pre-Franco “federal republicanism”; but its discourse and its people can be traced to enormously varied environments (some centralist parties with rightward leanings, certain libertarian tendencies, fans of Anonymous, several tendencies of the “autonomous” world, classic Marxists, “life-long” republicans, independents…).

All these movements presented so far are some of the knots in a more and more complex and multifaceted net. Encouraged by the parties and unions of the “classical” Left, the autonomous initiatives of the social movements of the previous decades, popular assemblies and various organizations derived from 15-M and the “Tides,” coordinators, platforms, and networks of all kinds, the social movement has reached a previously unknown magnitude and gained respect for its breadth, its ability to advocate, and, at the same time, its pluralism and organizational and thematic heterogeneity, in a scene that is complex, rich, and also, it must be said, often times enormously confusing.

In the middle of this boiling magma, resorting to the self-managed perspective and the revival of earlier experiences, or the building of new initiatives, around cooperativism, is more and more popular, being very topical at the moment.

Neighborhood assemblies, often times transmuted into “solidarity networks” or “precarious offices,” together with earlier organizations, like certain unions or autonomous social movements, have favored and promoted the building of cooperatives and other experiences (like bartering networks, time banks, social currencies and markets, or the occupation of houses and towns), as an essential tool to face the immediate effects of unemployment and impoverishment, and as instruments that can prefigure the new social design sought with the demonstrations, beyond the neoliberal model based on predation and looting.

They are varied and heterogeneous initiatives, whose common thread is often times a practical approach to obvious collective problems, like impoverishment, the scarcity of housing, the destruction of nature (ecology is a major focus of most of the experiences, both from the point of view of their environmentally responsible design and in the narrative built to try to legitimize them), the conformation of an experiential and axiological alternative to the capitalist world, or the creation of community and social density in the neighborhoods.

This new emergence of self-management has often times been based on the revitalization and expansion of earlier projects, like credit unions and organizations of ethical banking, like Coop57 or Fiare, or like the popularization of associative libraries and counterinformation media with deep social roots and a long history, for example, Traficantes de Sueños [Dream Traffickers] or the newspaper Diagonal.

A good example of this revival of what had already existed would be the expanded audience for the latest occupations of land by laborers of the SAT (Sindicato Andaluz de Trabajadores, or Andalucian Workers Union) to work it communally. While the experience carried out in the Sevillan town of Marinaleda since end of the ’70s has come back into the public eye with the action campaign in supermarkets carried out by this organization last summer, and has been criticized or praised by the mass media, what is certain is that the recent occupation of other farms like Somontes, in Palma del Río (Córdoba), has also gained widespread attention.

On this farm, which belongs to the Government of Andalusia and which was barren and abandoned land until its occupation the fourth of March, 2012, the landless workers of the SAT have already raised more than 55 hectares of organic wheat and 74 of other crops, installed a drip-irrigation system, bought numerous cows, and resisted various attempted evictions.

And together with the revitalized processes are the new creations. "Precarious offices" and mutual support offices, time banks, social currencies (such as the boniato [sweet potato], of the Social Market of Madrid), agrarian initiatives (like the Garaldea farm, near the town of Chinchon, in Madrid, where work is done cooperatively in an ecological setting by people in situations of social exclusion), Cooperativas Integrales (that are betting on creating a whole system parallel to capitalism, from a holistic perspective that means attempting to build a set of social services and health cooperatives), new networks, like Madrid’s Red de Colectivos Autogestionarios [Network of Self-managed Collectives] (which renounces public subsidies) or consumer and producer cooperatives. Right now, all this shows the vitality of a whole cluster of new initiatives, of enormous creativity, which enjoys an increased popularity since the wave of mobilization began the 15 of May, 2011.

We should mention the appearance, as a simple example, in the neighborhood of Palma-Palmilla of the Andalusian town of Málaga, of “Er Banco Güeno,” located in an occupied branch office of the financial institution Unicaja, abandoned more than seven years ago. This is a project that started after the General Strike of November 14, 2012, and after the attempted eviction of a neighbor in the District. It is made up of a soup kitchen (which is not financed by the government) for the unemployed and families with economic problems and offices of Social Rights and of People Affected by Mortgages. It is also the meeting place for the local chapter of 15-M, the Association for the Integration of the Gypsy Community of Palma-Palmilla, and Baladre (a network of activists against unemployment put together in the 90s). It has also become the center of neighborhood struggles for the right to water, which is of special importance in the town, because the Municipal Water Enterprise (EMASA) is now attempting to demand (in a time of cuts and massive unemployment) that many neighbors with flats that are not in the Property Registry make back payments for service since the beginning of the water supply, in 1976.

So, it is a plural and heterogeneous world. A bit confused and contradictory, as well. Numerous kinds of legitimizing narratives and various ideological constructions have been decanted into it, including classic or renewed anarchosyndicalism that has borne fruit in the form of initiatives like the Institute of Economic Sciences and Self-management (ICEA) and other union organizations (let us remember the enormous depth of the Spanish self-management revolution, during the Civil War of 1936-39); eco-feminism and the narrative about degrowth articulated by thinker-activists like Carlos Taibo or Yayo Herrero; the narrative of common goods and their defense, sectors linked to the so-called “area of autonomy” (a clear example is the “Foundation of the Commons,” which is close to other projects like the Dream Traffickers bookstore, the publisher of the “Manifesto of the Commons,” or the self-training space “Common Notions”); "reform" and eco-socialist Marxism, with an eye on Latin America and in their experiences of social entrepreneurialism (we should mention the publication of a number of books based on the magazine El Viejo Topo [The Old Mole]); the apologetics of “integral revolution,” linked to the Integral Cooperatives set in motion by the activist Enric Durán, consisting of a holistic structured position that encompasses the personal, and tries to build “an entire life on the margin of capitalism”… these narratives are sometimes contradictory and complex, which leads to a churning, at this very moment, of the perspectives in defense of self-management in the Spanish State.

The attitudes of, and responses from, what we might call the “classic Left” (parties and unions, and even earlier social movements) to the emergence of 15-M and of the current self-management tendencies, which are built ideological constructions that are often times confusing and ambiguous and have a large dose of heterogeneity, were, from the beginning, ambivalent and somewhat contradictory.

The institutional Left (principally the parliamentary party Izquierda Unida [United Left], which is closely linked to the Communist Party of Spain, though not exclusively) and the major unions first tried to act in accordance with their usual practices towards social movements: making use of them in the media, without too much attention to their background (which is profoundly anti-system, more than anti-government) and channeling collective practices into institutions. The plan, obviously, did not work. Cayo Lara (the maximum leader of IU) was shouted down by participants in the attempt to stop an eviction in Madrid, when he made the opportunist choice to start speaking with journalists, ignoring (based on his institutional position) equilibria and collective decisions. However, he did manage to show his intelligence by not making the matter into a reason to split with the movement, while his coalition incorporated figures belonging (or, at least close) to 15-M on their electoral lists, and the grassroots of his party participated actively in many popular assemblies. The attitude of the Socialist Party (PSOE), however (if the organization that began the process of social cuts can be describe as Left), has been just the opposite.

Its youth leaders and activists have shown an attitude that often times borders on aggressive and contemptuous, especially after the failure of several crude and insultingly brazen attempts at manipulation and appropriation of the movement in the media. Its social discredit is noteworthy and glaring, and its political inability is clearly shown in its tendency to burn bridges with social movements and, on specific occasions, like the escrache campaign of the PAH, even favor their criminalization.

As for the non-parliamentary Left, the large majority of the parties of the Marxist variety has participated, more or less decidedly, in popular assemblies and mobilizations. Some, in fact, have taken advantage of the movement’s momentum to strengthen links between them and to build unified platforms and alliances, which are still under construction and which may have electoral arms, like Alternativas desde Abajo [Alternatives from Below] (where sectors converge that range from militant ecologism to Trotskyism, plus citizen platforms, like Julio Anguita’s Frente Cívico [Civic Front]) or Unión Popular de Clases [Popular Class Unity]. Only the most decidedly Ultra-Orthodox and minority sectors (like the one represented by writers called “Marat”) distanced themselves actively from 15-M, even denouncing it as a right-wing plot, without actually providing a viable alternative and staying on the margin of the development of events.

Autonomous and libertarian initiatives, however, have also participated enthusiastically in the new dynamic, including the most “orthodox” sectors of anarchism, which, despite leveling occasionally ferocious criticism at the Movement (as “social-democratic”) have not avoided using their media collectives and their networks to try to expand its discourse. The criticisms have mainly come from sectors that are centered on “ruralist” perspectives and simplistically “anti-State,” with a narrative that often times borders on so-called “anarchocapitalism.”

The incipient danger, which did happen in the first days of the camp in Sol, of control of the Movement by initiatives that come from new talk on the Right (republican or “constituent”) focused only on the modification of the Electoral Law and on passing off as progressive various measures called for by business lobbies and conservative politicians (like the forcible recentralization of the State), was discerned clearly during the constitution of the neighborhood assemblies, where it became clear to see that there was a class essence to the rage about the budget-cutting measures of Spanish governments and the ideological hegemony of the Left (understood in an innovative sense, very broad and very plural) in a movement that naturally tended to have a narrative that was opposed to neoliberalism, if not directly anticapitalist, as well as seeking a deepening of democracy.

What has been creating (or created from the beginning) misunderstandings and dysfunction between the “classical” Left and the movement of the plazas was precisely the plural, heterogeneous, assembly-based and, even, interclass essence, of a dynamic that burst out of the ideological and organizational corsets of a “social left” settled in to collaboration with the regime or passivity and aimlessness fed by internecine sectarianism. The neighborhood assemblies, and other mobilizing dynamics like the struggles for public services or against evictions, made activists and non-activists, neighbors with different ideological and personal histories, all collaborate. That created (and creates, to be sure) great confusion and contradictions of all kinds, but it was the indispensable base of a horizontal reconstruction of the social fabric which has allowed it to legitimize narratives that, previously, were absolutely marginal.

The essential danger around the dynamics of the “classic Left” (a danger that increases just as the Movement ebbs, when the people in the grassroots stop meeting directly) is the return to the festival of internal confrontations and struggles for power and control that are so common in its world. It is a way of operating that excludes and scares many sectors that are often times very active in practical terms, but that are most depoliticized in ideological terms. The possibilities granted by the new reality of extending anti-capitalist narratives, or those that lead to social transformation, only can be made use of with respect for, and convergence with, the people in the street, and by making clear efforts to stop cuts and to constitute a new reality, and that means not turning common spaces into “internal battlegrounds” of the Left, but grounds for creativity and cooperation.

The moment requires an inclusive pact between all sectors affected by the brutal neoliberal offensive. The building of that large social alliance creates an ideological space to show off the practice and theory of self-management and resistance, and to give it a profound, transformative, democratizing, and social base. The confusion, however, is inevitable (and maybe creative). The process of raising the consciousness of a society dedicated to individuality and a consumerist frenzy (which Spain was five years ago) is plagued with dead ends and attempts that are, on occasion, outlandish or just plain wrong. But energizing the process, getting it under way, demands the convergence of the people and fraternal discussion, as well as organization and political pedagogy.

In this scenario, self-management and cooperativism begin to be seen as one of the essential parts of the new movement, as a practical alternative to impoverishment and misery, and as something to be built to affirm the new reality that is boiling up from the neighborhoods and the people, against the sad designs that the Troika wants to impose on us." (