Madrid echoes the spirit of Tahrir Square
The Real Democracy Now movement that has sprung up across Spain, with a main square in Madrid under occupation since Sunday, is a key moment in the developing global struggle against the failure of the political and economic status quo.
Drawing their inspiration from Tahrir Square in Cairo – where the Egyptian revolution began – thousands have organised themselves into a people’s assembly in Puerta del Sol to discuss a way forward. The movement, which is independent of political parties and the trade unions, used social networking sites to mobilise for the occupation.
A pamphlet distributed by organisers said they "do not represent any political party” and that "we want a new society that prioritises life over economic and political interests. We advocate a change in society and social consciousness." Fabio Gándara, the spokesman for Democracia Real Ya, a 26-year-old unemployed lawyer who is studying to be a civil servant, said: "What we're denouncing is the lack of real democracy and the tendency toward a two-party system where corruption at all levels is simply scandalous.”
With tents, mattresses, a kitchen, a workshop and even a pharmacy, protesters have refused to budge, defying the decision of regional election officials that they should leave the square. They have also organised their own security teams to keep order in the square. There are at least 57 so-called "Sol campsites" that have popped up across the country in solidarity. Spaniards living abroad have also set up camps outside Spain's embassies in Berlin and London, and in Amsterdam's Dam Square.
In Spain – just as it was in Tunisia and Egypt, where the Arab spring began at the start of the year – the movement is driven by the “lost generation” of educated but unemployed young people. An estimated 45% of them are without work while average unemployment at over 20% is the highest in Europe.
They are the victims of a global capitalist recession which has devastated Spain’s economy which floundered when a gigantic property bubble burst in 2008. And they are casualties of the post-Franco dictatorship politics too.
The fascist regime was replaced by los señores Tweedledum and Tweedledee – aka the Socialist Party (PSOE) and the right-wing People’s Party (PP). Only fewer and fewer Spaniards can tell the difference between them. Both parties are endemically corrupt and have shared the role of integrating Spain into the global market-driven capitalist economy.
One result is that Spain is close to following Ireland, Portugal and Greece in seeking a bail-out from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund. That would spell not only the collapse of the eurozone but trigger a new global financial collapse.
That is why Real Democracy Now is saying “Don’t vote for them” – the PSOE and PP – in Sunday’s regional and local elections because neither represents the interests of ordinary people. This is an astonishing indictment of a parliamentary democracy that was only established in 1977 after Franco’s death two years earlier.
This, naturally, poses the question of if not this “democracy”, then what type of political system should replace it? The protests in Madrid, Barcelona, Seville and other cities, popularly known as M-15 as they began on May 15, have started that debate. In Sol Square there is a “democracy wall” where people have stuck hundreds of notes with their thoughts on them, declarations and statements.
In Egypt, the dictatorship was overthrown but power remains out of reach, resting in the hands of an army that owns a large chunk of the economy. In Spain, a 35-year-old parliamentary democracy leaves real power in the hands of the corporations and banks who use politicians as a front.
For a “real” democracy to work, it must involve the transfer of economic and financial resources into the hands of ordinary working people, alongside the replacing of the capitalist state by forms of popular power. Many took up the fight against Franco’s fascists in the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s with that aim in mind. The revolution was cruelly betrayed by Stalinism and then defeated. Puerta del Sol signals a chance to put history back on course.
20 May 2011