True Democracy Now in Cork: Some questions and comments from a sympathetic observer

Kenn Nakata Steffensen

I have followed in the news media what is happening in Spain and the support it has engendered around the world, including here in Cork. It is interesting and potentially politically transformative. It is inspiring to see people peacefully protesting against injustices. Hopefully, something better than what has existed until now will come out of it. However, the text on “global revolution” you have uploaded strikes me as not quite in the spirit of the True Democracy Now Manifesto, and I suspect that it may work against rather than for the movement. Having read the two texts, it looks to me like True Democracy Now Cork may be going in a different and less productive direction than the Spanish True Democracy Now movement.

These comments and questions are from the perspective of a sympathetic observer watching your movement unfold from the sidelines and wishing you success. One reason why I can only remain an observer and not a participant is the doubts raised by the text you uploaded to I do not have as direct a stake in the political development of Spain as most of you, but I hope the search for alternative democratic forms of organisation will have some success there and inspire change in other countries.

You write that

 Today May 21th, all the anonimous children and grandchildren of those who lived in such a dark period of history, have not forgotten the dark shadow that were their lives. They have raised and educated a generation that can see the light, a generation based on solidarity and equality.

Which dark period of history are you referring to? The global economic crisis of recent years? The Spanish Civil War? The Franco dictatorship? It is not clear. It seems that certain historical memories have been transmitted to the “anonymous children and grandchildren” of previous generations, but I cannot work out which “dark period” is being remembered.

I also do not understand what it means for a generation to be “based on solidarity and equality.” If so, when did this apparently momentous social change take place? And how? Was there no solidarity at some point in the recent past? Was equality not a key political value since quite some time before the French Revolution? I think you mean that young people today value solidarity and equality higher than their parents and grandparents. I am not convinced. These values can be found throughout history and across generations.

You also seem to be claiming that May 2011 is somehow like May 1968 in Paris, i.e. primarily a student/youth rebellion. When you speak of “a generation that can see the light” you also seem to imply that one generation has particular insights that older generations lack. I believe this is both factually wrong and a tactical mistake. While it may be true that the movement in Spain is mostly made up of young people, who have suffered relatively more hardship as a result of the economic crisis than other age groups, I do not believe that this is a generational struggle. If it is, it has little prospects of success, especially in a country with the demographic structure that Spain has. Like most of Western Europe, Spain has a rapidly ageing population, and if any movement wants to succeed it should not claim only or primarily to represent young people or appeal exclusively to them. They are already on your side, as are many older people whom you should (1) Take care not to alienate and (2) Mobilise more of. The conflict is really one between political and economic elites and masses who feel that the political system fails to represent their interests adequately and that they are picking up the bill for the excesses of the business, particularly financial, elite. You should therefore not turn it into a conflict between generations, especially because you need middle-aged and elderly people on your side for the simple reasons that there are numerically more of them and they have more power than younger people. Defining the struggle as one between generations does not help the cause.

The sentence “Each one of us have a new world within ourselves and in our hearts, and there is enough anger and happiness to make a real change” may sound good as a piece of rhetoric, but does it work as politics? While emotions like anger and happiness may ultimately be what spurs people to political action, there is little hard political substance to such statements. The point is to channel those emotions and go beyond feeling indignation to effecting real change. That cannot be achieved just by “keeping going”. Activism for its own sake is like a headless chicken, and it leads nowhere. There must be specific and realistic objectives, and dismantling “the capitalist system” is too vague and romantic. It is an abstraction and distraction from more attainable goals. Keep it more modest, please. Global capitalism is a reality your movement has to deal with, and it won’t go away that easily. Apart from being analytically naïve, using rhetoric like that of dismantling capitalism is sure to alienate the majority of people who are on your side and it will win you few supporters, and certainly not the type you need to have maximum impact. It is therefore a major tactical blunder. Besides, the contradictions of capitalism are not between generations but between classes, if you are attempting some form of Marxian analysis. Young people belong to all socio-economic classes and a generation can therefore, in a Marxian sense, not be a revolutionary subject. I think you should avoid sounding Marxist, but if you do, make sure it makes analytical sense.

As I have understood it, the objectives of the Spanish movement and your local offshoot are still somewhat vague and fuelled by a sense of distance between the ordinary citizen and the main channels of representation in the Spanish political system: Elected assemblies, political parties, trade unions and the like. The grievances being voiced by the movement are, as far as I am aware, to do with corruption, a two-party dominant electoral system, mass unemployment among young people in particular but also across generations, and socially unjust austerity measures. These are the issues you should be addressing. If you speak in flowery terms about representing an especially enlightened generation that demands and wants “it all and wants it now” and claim that this dwindling demographic is on the verge of overturning capitalism on a global scale, you will be seriously disappointed. If, on the other hand, you can keep the momentum going and more tangible and realistic objectives come out of the process, you have a chance making a real difference in Spain and beyond. As I understand the Manifesto, it is a call for a substantive democracy rather than a merely procedural one.

The first objective should be to try broaden the coalition of social forces behind the movement. Real democracy now should not mean “angry young people against capitalism” but something more like “the people against corruption and for social justice.” You should choose your words much more wisely than you have done in this text. The more specific demands should aggregate and channel the sense of dissatisfaction mentioned above, i.e. the introduction of more effective measures against corruption, electoral reform to more accurately represent the views of the voting population, policy measures to generate employment opportunities for younger Spanish workers in particular, and social welfare measures like adequate pensions and unemployment benefits, a moratorium on mortgage and utility bill arrears etc.

Revolutions are turbulent and unpredictable, and only history will tell if this is a truly revolutionary upheaval like the great 18th, 19th and 20th century revolutions. I think there are also cautionary lessons to be learnt from the history of revolutions. They have often degenerated into terror, been manipulated by small but disciplined groups, and frustrated the hopes of the initial revolutionaries.

There is an opportunity to make history and improve things for the better, but only if you are more inclusive, more modest and realistic.


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