The youth protests — going under the banner of “Real Democracy” — which began during May as a public outcry denouncing political corruption and unemployment have swept across Spain. In the last week of May French youth have also taken to the streets.
With no end to the economic crisis and with the government forging ahead with its cuts programme, this protest has the potential for this to be the start of something much bigger.
Spain has a 21.3% unemployment rate — the highest in the EU — rising to 45% among youth. Some Spaniards who do have jobs are going for months without pay as the bosses threaten them with unemployment. This is the main drive behind the demonstrations.
But protesters have also come together against what they see as an outrageous carve-up between bankers and politicians, who are making ordinary people pay for the financial crisis of the rich.
The ruling social democratic party, the PSOE of José Luis Rodrîguez Zapatero, has suffered one of its worst election results in recent history at municipal and regional elections. The PSOE lost around two million votes while the conservative People’s Party gained.
While the protesters say they wish to see radical changes to Spanish politics, their lack of concrete demands is a weakness. Ignacio Molina, a professor at the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid, believes that the movement is too limited and narrow in focus.
“... protesters are naive enough to think that changing the political model on institutional issues such as the republican form of government, participatory democracy or the proportional electoral system can help resolve the crisis and improve the life prospects of young people or the unemployed,” he said.
Be-all-and-end-all adherence to “autonomy” and “spontaneity” is becoming an obstacle to working out an alternative programme. Consequently movements across Europe are struggling to win the majority over to ideas that can successfully challenge the status quo. For example the manifesto of the protesters fails to make any concrete proposals on the Spanish economy. Yet that is the root cause of much of the disenfranchisement felt by ordinary people.
When the protesters do return to their homes, whether in the next few days or several weeks from now, there are no organisational structures in place nor mobilising demands, nor longer term political project for people to take home with them. As we saw on a smaller scale in the British student protests, when this happens a movement can quickly lose much of its momentum and force. And perhaps worse.
As one Spanish commentator remarked, “the saddest thing about the Spanish revolts is that, in the end, most of these youngsters’ parents and elders turned out to vote for the People’s Party instead of joining the protesters.”
What is required is a bridging of the gap between undirected discontent and ideas about a different sort of society, a society where people would exercise genuine democratic control over their economic lives.
What is needed from the protesters is forceful arguments for socialism.
Protests spread to France
Thousands of people in France, mainly working-class and including many young people, have demonstrated in support of the Spanish movement and against their own government’s austerity programme.
Sunday 29 May saw thousands crowd into Place de la Bastille and other major city centres. Protest camps were set up in Toulouse and Bayonne. The soft-left Parti de Gauche has been prominent in the protests; French revolutionary socialists must struggle to give the movement a working-class political perspective to match its working-class composition.