Spain: Youth in revolt?

Many people who live in Spain, as well as lots of observers outside the country, have been asking the same question for the last few months: where are the young people?

With youth unemployment as high as 46% and the PSOE (‘Socialist’) government using the economic crisis as an excuse to force through radical changes to the country’s social framework, why weren’t Spanish youths protesting on the street? The clues to the answer lay in the failure of September’s general strike. Young people weren’t interested. This lack of interest in officially organised and accepted methods of protest (the strike was organised by major trade unions, generally seen to be partners of the PSOE) wasn’t the same as apathy, though it did initially appear similar.

The events of the last couple of days in Madrid, then, are heartening. Thousands of young people, using Facebook and Twitter to organise followers there bought them here, converged on the capital’s iconic Puerta del Sol square and protested against the lack of real democracy, the spending cuts, the incredibly high youth unemployment (higher than in many of the north African countries where revolutions were fuelled by similar complaints), new copyright laws, and much more. Hundreds have also camped out in Barcelona’s Plaça de Catalunya, mingling with bemused tourists and surrounded by itchy-looking Mossos d’Esquadra (Catalan police with a reputation for enjoying beating-up students and anarchists). The protest camps are organised: popular commissions have been established to distribute information, food, blankets, legal advice.

The Spanish political establishment, focused only on this weekend’s municipal elections, was taken by surprise. Its response has been telling: Barcelona city hall switched-off the city’s webcam of Plaça Catalunya. Then the Junta Electoral, Spain’s elections commission, noted that the protest camps would have to be cleared because they are in breach of Spain’s electoral law. The PSOE (PSC in Catalonia) has tried to make it sound like they sympathise with the protestors, Barcelona’s mayor bemoaning “international speculators and the damage they do” (the same speculators he sees it has his job to entice into our city). In Madrid, the police have moved to close access to the protest camp apparently in preparation to fulfill the Junta Electoral’s controversial and unpopular judgement.

What will happen over the weekend remains unclear. It is likely that the police will attempt to clear both camps. If they only clear Madrid’s, then Barcelona’s might grow. Whatever happens, it would be wrong to continue to ask why Spain’s youth has done nothing to oppose the country’s corrupt politics. The kids are on the streets. And they want radical change.

13 thoughts on “Spain: Youth in revolt?

  1. A bit late, but as I said on Twitter I wanted to give you my views about this, specifically the “youth” remarks (will try to prevent political talk as it’s the 21st already!).

    I do think it’s not just the youth who are fed up with our current politics, but everyone to a degree. Is that not true?

    So why do you (and others) say the young ones should lead? Why? The adults put us all in a big mess and we’re supposed to take everyone out from it? That’s quite unfair, don’t you think? Everybody has to take responsability, for everybody can help to change things with their vote.

    But no, it’s very easy to sit down and think someone else will come later and fix everything for you.

    There’s just one problem, though. We are what we see. And we see an older generation that hasn’t fought for their rights since so long. That are too busy worried about their own problems to care about anyone else or the state as a whole. Too busy with silly fights that distract us from the real problems, the corruption, the high unemployment, the cuts, the economic situation, the role of Spain in the globalisation model…

    This is what we see everyday, this is what I’ve seen since I was a kid. I have a mother that is a real fighter, but she’s just one person and even she has had to give up some causes because the rest wouldn’t move a finger for their own good and would even criticise her for doing so! Is it worth fighting for someone who doesn’t want to fight or doesn’t care? Isn’t it best to move on and leave them to rot on the misery they’ve created for themselves? I’ve wondered that for so many years.

    But as I was saying, that’s what the youth has been exposed to for a long time. People who only care about themselves and frustrated world savers. And we are supposed to be any different? With such a role model? It doesn’t make sense to ask someone who hasn’t been taught to fight to stand for everybody else.

    There will always be people who revolt, though, fortunately not everyone is asleep. But these are usually hippies, “perroflautas”, okupas, and other social groups that generally aren’t well-regarded by the society and their demands are dismissed just because of who they are or how they look like. When young people revolt, it’s just the same. “The kids are protesting again? They are too young to know what they want”. Maybe they are right as the ESO is dumbing down the future generations a great deal, but the point stands. Noone listens to the youth, just because of that, they are youth.

    And that’s what these politicians and media have been saying all week. “Oh the youth are at it again, they don’t like being unemployed, poor them”. Pat in the back and some politician says “don’t worry, you’ll be betteer in 30 years”. Riiiight. On the other side, the average Spanish adult or elder goes “oh, they should get a job instead of cluttering the streets and being lazy”. I’m not exaggerating, this was said by an old woman interviewed on the street near Sol.

    You see, they don’t care enough to check what the real status of Spain is, what monster they have helped create by not paying attention. They think “youth -> troublemaker” and that’s it. The real words and good intentions will be dismissed without a glance and the same vote will go to the same party out of inertia (not even reading their program nor revising what they have done so far, I bet), no matter how badly injured Spain is. “With the PP it would be worse, I’ll stick to PSOE!”, “if we leave the PSOE 4 more years they’ll keep stealing, I’ll counter with PP!”. It’s just repeating the same old “my people vs their people” we’re stuck in. We’re not voting for ideals and a better future anymore, we’re voting so the other party doesn’t get elected. That’s sad.

    But I digress and I said I wouldn’t talk about politics, my bad.

    Some things that irk me about all this movement:
    – Too few people. We’ve got like maybe 150-200.000 total in Spain revolting, more or less? Is that enough to provoke an outstanding change?
    – Disagreements. I would actually be surprised if the whole Spain agreed on something, but still it’s divide and conquer, bad for us.
    – Manifestos. I’ve seen a few different ones, no idea which one is the official. The proposals are a bit vague and don’t offer good alternatives.
    – Manipulation. Everyone is trying to get close to the movement and make others think they stirred it, to discredit.

    Also, I must say I find really, really stupid and annoying that one of the movements attached to all this is “No les votes”. Something that came up because some minister doesn’t want us to download songs. Really Spain, really? Is downloading a stupid song more important than your job rights? Because I didn’t see as much support on that general strike from last year.

    In a way, I’m glad I’m not living in Spain anymore.

  2. Alberto Villaneuva, an activist at the site said last week:

    “There is no ‘we are.’ There is a ‘doing’ or a verb….What we have here: It’s not that they are students. I am not a student. It’s not workers, it’s not revolutionaries. It is something; it’s debate, it’s [social] movements and in that way it’s interesting. But it’s a verb. An action.”

    From a short video by Zoë Valls and Marc Folch . Link at :

  3. This article from the World Socialist Web Site
    about the vacuousness of the protests, I very much agree with it. I know a lot of otherwise intelligent people who were very enthusiastic about this camping business, for reasons that they were never able to explain to me in clear terms, while I remained sceptical at first and became increasingly annoyed soon after when the students made me miss an appointment with a beautiful girl. In the end, it looks I was right. There has been no revolution, no change, the right stormed to victory in the elections, and the campers have been unable to come up with a single practical idea to get the country out of the crisis. All in all, it has been a total failure and a complete waste of time.

  4. Let me throw in a few thoughts. To think that “the masses” cannot achieve anything without being led by an elite is Stalinist, but not only. The attitude is shared by many: the bourgeoisie, the nobility, fascists… all of who have in common that they don’t care neither for the masses nor for the individual.

    What could have been achieved? What were we to expect? I have no answers to either question. I can see, however, that discontent has been voiced, which is much better than the usual conformist silence. The protests haven’t brought the election turnout down, that would have been interesting, but it means nothing that they did not. They didn’t bring the government down. Big deal. We’d have had another, equally inept government instead.

    Or did anybody really expect a revolution? Aren’t we all pretty aware, at this stage of History, that revolutions are a thing of the past and that coup d’états are reserved for the Third World?

    People got together and debated, that’s evolution. Evolution is slow, but it’s usually effective. And the advantage is that those who do not adapt die out, instead of dying in the streets.

    Maybe there was no fight to be fought and won or lost. Maybe the protests were another step in a long process. I’m afraid Schumpeter will always be right, but a change in general conscience cannot be discarded. And maybe we’re all too used to being impatient.

  5. Primo, abolishing fractional reserve banking and introducing the gold-standard is a very good idea. As a revolutionary socialist I wholeheartedly endorse your proposals, given that the terminal crisis of capitalism would follow such a change within about a fortnight.

      1. Stopped clocks being right twice a day. Nothing will come of the protests, with the exception of a general sense that something is very wrong in Spanish society. Some people from the protests will move on to things that might be more significant in 5 years, but they are basically just an expanded version of the “no vas a tener a casa en la puta vida” brigade.

        They want to change the world, but only so it’s 1993 again.

          1. In my crystal ball I see: a backlash against all things free market starting in about 3 years, probably leading to massive restructuring of the European finance systems, and action to stop credit bubbles. This will likely be on the back of Greek default, but people comparing the state of Ireland and Iceland might be enough.

            We’ll see rent controls and social housing (in Spain!) and much greater state intervention to direct economic development in sensible diections. We’re due a few hot years, which will put environmentalism back on the map. Catalan nationalism will implode as the real battles that matter will split the CiU and La Puta’s mob from the leftist nationalists, who will realise that there are much worse things than Spain.

          2. You’re a great optimist, which is not calling your views greatly optimistic. I hope it plays out like you say.

            Would be interesting if you elaborated on your ideas.

            PS: I think it’s not LaPuta anymore. He’s gone solo and is now only left with LaPolla.

  6. I’d like to say, without insulting anybody, that the WSWS article is entirely ideological in its criticism of the acampada. Briefly, the Workers Revolutionary Party (which publishes WSWS) hates En Lucha, the SWP and International Socialist Tendency more than it hates anything else. This is mainly because the IST has had some success at building support via multiple platforms (look who’s being ideological now!) whereas the WRP has absolutely no support whatsoever, anywhere.

    The WRP’s analysis of the acampadas is, therefore, hate-fuelled.

    Its central argument seems to be that because the acampadas have no central steering committee (ideally selected from the ‘ranks’ of WRP supporters, no doubt), they are inherently undemocratic. And that because those protesting are so timid that they haven’t yet decided upon actual revolution, they are somehow not to be trusted.

    This movement has only just started. It was never going to prevent right wing victories in the municipal elections of a few weeks ago. It actively promoted abstaining from the vote because it rejects Spain’s corrupt political system.

    Currently, El Primo is right: this movement has yet to achieve any change. But as I’ve pointed out several times, I really feel that this is just the beginning. There are, in fact, a range of policy ideas being proposed by the indignats, and they are focused on political reform. The question is: will the indignats realise that reform alone will not solve the problem of capitalism? I think they will, but this will necessitate the movement becoming actively revolutionary in character… something it has thus far resisted.

    1. I’m happy to see you in good shape again. I agree on all points but one. Even though my guts have wanted a revolution many times, I’m not sure that it’s really necessary. I think the protests achieved no change, but they were an achievement by themselves.

      It’s possible that I’m getting too old for all this.

    2. I agree entirely about the WRP, but isn’t becoming the steering commitee the IST’s goal in every movement it ever gets involved with? It’s kind of the point of Trotskyism after all.

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