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The Arab spring spreads to Spain

Young people occupying the main square of the capital rejecting the ruling elite and demanding jobs and justice, democracy and decency. No, this is not Egypt, but Spain in the last week.

On 15 May 150,000 demonstrators marched across Spain demanding real democracy now (Democracia Real Ya). After massive attacks on jobs, living standards and pubic services from the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (the PSOE, equivalent of the Labor Party) and a trade union movement which aided and abetted the attacks, they want a better life; they want real change.

They have bypassed the institutionalised agents of respectable change, the reformists in the PSOE who are sacking them, closing down hospitals and schools and cutting their pay and pensions or, in the case of the lackey trade unions, doing nothing to resist these attacks.

In a mixture of despair and hope the demonstrators were crying out: We are not commodities in the hands of bankers and politicians.

Their inspiring banners and slogans include “We will not pay for this crisis”, “This will not finish with the elections” and “Where is the left? Essentially on the right.” One demonstrator, echoing Monty Python, had a sign saying ‘No-one expects the Spanish revolution.’ Very true, and the hope for the revolutionary left must be that it now deepens and matures.

Technically it is illegal to demonstrate in the run up to elections in Spain and local and regional elections re on today (Sunday 22 May).

After the demonstration in Madrid, a few thousand protestors, inspired by Tahrir Square, occupied the Plaza del Sol in the capital. The police tried to drive them out.

This attempt to shut down the protest only inspired 25,000 more people to join the occupation.

The demonstrations have spread across the country, with reports of 65 centres now being occupied. The demonstrators are driven by anger at the neoliberal agenda that is making them pay for the crisis of capitalism and despair at the lack of a future many young Spaniards have. Unemployment in Spain is 21.3 percent and among young people it is 45 percent.

In its response to the crisis – attacking jobs, wages and public services, the PSOE is ruling for the bankers and other big business. It is thoroughly discredited and will suffer big losses in the elections today and the general election due in March next year.

This is a campaign for real democracy, for jobs and for the defence of living standards; it is also a protest against the whole political class – the conservatives and the reformists. 

The crisis of capitalism is global. The solution is global. Those fighting back in Egypt and Spain have much more in common with each other than they do with their ruling classes.

If the Spanish resistance deepens it can send a message to others fighting back in Europe and North Africa and the Middle East of the way forward – a reinforcing and strengthening message of struggle and hope that echoes around the world and is echoed back.

There are great debates going on among the occupiers about the way forward.  The democratic embryo needs to be nurtured and grow. The key question is whether workers as workers will not only join the protests but stop work and cut the flow of profits to the economic elite for whom the PSOE rules and the Conservatives want to rule and from there begin to organise in their workplaces under their own rule.

The complete bankruptcy of reformism in Spain is plain to see for many many workers. Without the dead hand of the union bureaucracy to crush their dreams and demands the spread of the fightback against neoliberalism into the workplaces is possible. 

The Arab spring has spread to Spain and opened up the possibility of the Spanish working class entering on to the stage of history.


Here is a manifesto of the protestors:

Manifesto of the “Democracy real Ya” movement in English

We are ordinary people. We are like you: people, who get up every morning to study, work or find a job, people who have family and friends. People, who work hard every day to provide a better future for those around us

Some of us consider ourselves progressive, others conservative. Some of us are believers, some not. Some of us have clearly defined ideologies, others are apolitical, but we are all concerned and angry about the political, economic, and social outlook which we see around us: corruption among politicians, businessmen, bankers, leaving us helpless, without a voice.

This situation has become normal, a daily suffering, without hope. But if we join forces, we can change it. It’s time to change things, time to build a better society together. Therefore, we strongly argue that:

* The priorities of any advanced society must be equality, progress, solidarity, freedom of culture, sustainability and development, welfare and people’s happiness.
* These are inalienable truths that we should abide by in our society: the right to housing, employment, culture, health, education, political participation, free personal development, and consumer rights for a healthy and happy life.
* The current status of our government and economic system does not take care of these rights, and in many ways is an obstacle to human progress.
* Democracy belongs to the people (demos = people, krátos = government) which means that government is made of every one of us. However, in Spain most of the political class does not even listen to us. Politicians should be bringing our voice to the institutions, facilitating the political participation of citizens through direct channels that provide the greatest benefit to the wider society, not to get rich and prosper at our expense, attending only to the dictatorship of major economic powers and holding them in power through a bipartidism headed by the immovable acronym PP & PSOE.
* Lust for power and its accumulation in only a few; create inequality, tension and injustice, which leads to violence, which we reject. The obsolete and unnatural economic model fuels the social machinery in a growing spiral that consumes itself by enriching a few and sends into poverty the rest. Until the collapse.
* The will and purpose of the current system is the accumulation of money, not regarding efficiency and the welfare of society. Wasting resources, destroying the planet, creating unemployment and unhappy consumers.
* Citizens are the gears of a machine designed to enrich a minority which does not regard our needs. We are anonymous, but without us none of this would exist, because we move the world.
* If as a society we learn to not trust our future to an abstract economy, which never returns benefits for the most, we can eliminate the abuse that we are all suffering.
* We need an ethical revolution. Instead of placing money above human beings, we shall put it back to our service. We are people, not products. I am not a product of what I buy, why I buy and who I buy from.

For all of the above, I am outraged.
I think I can change it.
I think I can help.
I know that together we can.I think I can help.

I know that together we can.



Comment from Arthur
Time May 23, 2011 at 12:23 am

They used to call it ‘the Domino Effect’.

After the first fell they’d all go down to communism in a string – one falling after the next.

So this string of latter day dominoes has rattled down across the southern Mediterranean and now they are falling across the North.

And the USofA has run out of bluff, bluster and bastardry to prevent it happening.
They can’t blame communism this time.
A bit difficult for them to pin any extremist label on what’s happening this time.

Can’t exactly stomp down on popular, spontaneous, pro-democracy movements, can they?
Not without looking completely addled – or revealing what they truly stand for.

Next they’ll start getting REALLY desperate.

Mark these words of the bloke who told you about armour making tracks over the Libyan Desert once again.
From here on in the slightest mistake will have it on for young and old.

But the last thing they will ever admit is that is their version of flawed capitalism, their divisive policy, that has caused the grief.

Comment from tim
Time May 23, 2011 at 5:49 am

Spain’s biggest single structural problem is a seriously over-regulated labor market, which locks young people out of jobs.

Comment from John
Time May 23, 2011 at 7:33 am

Ah yes, it is all the fault of workers and their wage levels and desire for adequate living standards. If we only drove down their living standards profit rates would OK and we would live in capitalist nirvana; you know, much like the US. Maybe the problem is capitalism and the tendency of the rate of profit to fall.

Comment from Baruch
Time May 23, 2011 at 11:18 am

In Spain we say “Democracia” John, the title is “Democracia Real Ya”. Either all in Spanish. or all in English. Please.

Comment from Baruch
Time May 23, 2011 at 11:54 am

Oh dear John. The report in El Pais today says that El Partido Popular (our Libs) has beaten the PSOE in “all Spain”. With the possible exception of Extremadura the PSOE (or anyone further left) will not be able to form a government.
How sad.

Comment from Dave
Time May 23, 2011 at 1:21 pm

I don’t know if I am just being impatient here John for a more genuinely proletarian movement and although the events in Spain are exciting and inspiring on closer inspection the 10 % lead of the conservative’s over the Spanish labourites in the election is more than slightly deflating. Add to that the 66% voter turnout, which is apparently quite high and a rejection of of demands from the movement for abstention.
In a country such as Spain, with its history of brutal fascist dictatorship, it may have been a mistake to call for voting abstention, as many older workers may see the ability to vote as an important liberty to be defended against the right, even is there is, in a sense, no one worth voting for.
Perhaps this is just the sort of mistake that a movement in its infancy might make. Let’s hope it keeps growing and sinking roots into the class!

Comment from John
Time May 23, 2011 at 2:18 pm

True. But that presupposes the election is the be all and end all of the struggle. The protestors themselves think not, although that may change with the results. Let’s see. It does of course raise the wider question – reformism that attacks its base lays the groundwork for the Conservatives. Unless there is an alternative way forward on offer – struggle.

Comment from John
Time May 23, 2011 at 2:27 pm


Comment from Magpie
Time May 23, 2011 at 3:32 pm

Hey, John, you’re having an international following!

To honour your bilingual readership, let’s make a bilingual comment.

I could try a little gallego, catalá and portugués, but I dare not: it appears that language purity is a big concern with international readers.

“With the possible exception of Extremadura the PSOE (or anyone further left) will not be able to form a government.”

Dos puntos:

Primero. El movimiento 15M no apoya a ningún partido. Lee el manifiesto y te darás cuenta. El cambio PSOE/PP no sólo era inevitable, dadas las encuestas pre-electorales que apuntaban a una derrota histórica del PSOE, sino irrelevante: ¿qué diferencia hay entre las políticas de ambos partidos?

Segundo. Estas fueron elecciones provinciales y municipales. Pareces creer que Rodríguez Zapatero y el PSOE no serán capaces de formar gobierno… No tienen que ser capaces de formar nada: permanecen en poder hasta el 2012. Y si quieren permanecer en poder, mejor hacen algo bien y rápido.

Two points:

First. The 15M movement does not support any party. Read the manifesto and you’ll realize it. The change PSOE/PP was not just inevitable, given the pre-election polls that pointed to a historical defeat for the PSOE, but also irrelevant: what difference is there between the policies of both parties?

Second. These were provincial and municipal elections. You seem to believe Rodríguez Zapatero and the PSOE will not be able to form a government… They don’t need to be able to form anything: they remain in power until 2012. And if they want to remain in power, better do something right and quick.

Lastly and in Spanglish: if language purity is that important que nos vamos a poner con gilipolladas, don’t forget to write País (con acento sobre la i, coño) and not Pais, and don’t write El Partido Popular but el Partido Popular (artículo en minuscula, porque no es parte del nombre oficial).

Comment from John
Time May 23, 2011 at 7:40 pm

Magpie, I appreciated Baruch’s point. If I got something so obvious wrong like that how can anyone trust my commentary? And his political point about the swing to the Conservatives and his sadness about that was valid. I replied.

Comment from Arthur
Time May 23, 2011 at 8:01 pm

Hey, that’s great Magpie.
I understand every word.
But what does ‘man’ana’ mean?
And how about ‘regular’ – with a rolled rrrr?

Putting that differently how about thinking of Spain this way –
Remember the struggle, back in the late 19thirties ?
That was a all a bit of a WOFTAM (waste of ——- time and money), wasn’t it.
Any of you people have Catalan relatives?
What was the truth about Guernica?
Questions like that come to my tiny mind.

With all respect can’t you people see the old game being set up for another spin?

Sorry. I can’t work it out.
You seem unable to speak about what is happening in Australia right now.
Yet when you trot off overseas you start talking provincial as all get out.

What about the geopolitical picture?

Comment from juanR
Time May 23, 2011 at 8:20 pm

Here we are, witnessing the unraveling of the EU (Europe’s last bit of social cohesion and concern for the individual, the village, the nation) compliments of the US of A and its many subversive agencies and we keep focusing on poor little Spain’s troubles. Once before that country carried the burden of fighting for democracy in Europe (and the rest of the world for that matter) and was abandoned by the great democracies! Lets not allow that to happen again. If Greece, Ireland, Portugal and now Spain fall, you can kiss your ass goodbye to “social Europe”. America will reign supreme. This is what its really going on right now in Europe. This is the real drama being played in Spain. The “workers”, as John like to refer to normal wage earners (i.e. you and me, everyday people) have not yet waken up to the tragedy. They sit around Puerta del Sol asking for “Democracia Real Ya” whilst the fascists consolidate their power in Spain and the US continues to destroy country after country that does not submit to its all powerfull whim.
The worst thing that happened to Spain was Isabel y Fernando. We need another Al Manzur. I feel sad for Al Andalus (my land) but it will recover and we will throw those yankis out of our land (be that Spain or Oz). People of the world, people of good faith unite against American imperialism, lets throw them back to where they belong: Wall St and their grubby Time Square! Long live PEACE!

Comment from Calligula
Time May 23, 2011 at 8:43 pm

Now that’s the stuff JuanR

Comment from Magpie
Time May 24, 2011 at 8:53 pm

“Magpie, I appreciated Baruch’s point. If I got something so obvious wrong like that how can anyone trust my commentary? And his political point about the swing to the Conservatives and his sadness about that was valid. I replied.”

Then maybe I misunderstood, for which I apologize.

However, I think we all need to keep something in mind: this movement, which is largely spontaneous and uncoordinated, isn’t aligned to any party and it has no clearly defined ideology.

Having said that, it has many interesting characteristics and, given time, it could take a more revolutionary turn.

(And in this, btw, I believe it’s no different from the Arab uprisings, about which I already warned that it wasn’t clear the role and importance of islamist elements in them).

That the 15M takes a more revolutionary stance depends largely on what Rodríguez Zapatero does next.

If he doesn’t do shit, as it’s possible and even likely, then next year the PSOE will be wiped out from Parliament (and I for one, would not shed a single tear for that), the PP will take power and will do essentially the same thing the PSOE would have done.

In this scenario, the frustration that exists today will still be there, awaiting for Rajoy.

Comment from John
Time May 24, 2011 at 10:03 pm

One of my comrades is in Spain at the moment. he says that the swing to the PP was 1.5%. There was also a swing to nationalist and leftist groups in Catalan and the Basque country. The fascists also increased their vote. That looks possibly like the start of polarisation. it is true the protesters eschew politics – because the only politics they see is the class collaboration of the PSOE and the trade unions. They need to build their own politics of resistance. They are doing that in practice by occupying the Squares and having the debates about the way forward. Some may draw the conclusion it is workers who hold the key. We shall see.