Spanish protesters occupying many of the central squares across the country have voted to close down the camps which have occupied central squares over the last month. The protesters have voted instead to decentralize the movement, forming and promoting neighbourhood assemblies instead of the large and overbearing central assemblies in town squares.

This move signals some of the discontent within the movement, and tensions between more traditional and reformist elements with others who prefer a more radical and revolutionary route. Struggling over the meaning and nature of terms like democracy, real, direct, representative or otherwise, the protesters are learning quickly about the perils of repeating the same mistakes and creating a new set of politicians, bureaucrats and powerbrokers. Nevertheless, the fact that they’re moving to a more decentralized approach which is based more in local communities shows that they’re evolving quickly.

Anarchists have been deeply involved so far in many cities, especially Barcelona, though movement leadership has done what it can in others (like Madrid) to exclude them. They’ve questioned the central, monopolistic role of the assemblies so far, the impossibility of real discussion in crowds of thousands or more, and the rights of minorities when confronted with majorities. The decision to move toward neighbourhood assemblies was pushed by anarchists and others, who felt the social democrats, opposition politicians and Trotskyists organizing and running the central assemblies were gaining too much power.

Recent anarchist analysis from the front lines:
Crimethinc’s recent feature on the #Spanish Revolution
Spanish Revolution at a Crossroads – Peter Gelderloos at Counterpunch.

These issues remind us that that “real direct democracy” isn’t always as easy to achieve or define as it is to chant about. The fact that these discussions are taking place, though, is a huge leap forward in terms of public debate. The fact that people are gathering and assembling in the first place shows an enormous desire for change and greater participation in society’s decisions. As the Spanish experiment and learn, the world will learn with them, and out of this will likely come many tools and lessons which can be applied to protests and movements elsewhere.