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During the 1930s, with fascism on the rise throughout Europe, international attention quickly came to focus on Spain. With the help of Hitler and Mussolini, “Generalissimo” Francisco Franco returned home from Morocco with his troops, intent on seizing power over the failing Spanish State. In response to this attempted coup d’etat, huge regions of the country, led by radical parties and unions like the CNT and FAI (anarchist) or UGT, PCE and PSUC (communist). For most of the next year, the Spanish Civil War (or “Spanish Revolution”, depending on who you ask), raged as anarchists, communists and fascists fought it out for control of the country. Spain became the crucible of the ideological battles beginning to rage across the continent at the time. Germany and Italy sent arms, aid and troops to Franco, Russia aided the communists and the Allied Powers, who quickly made it illegal to aid the “republicans” (anti-fascists) in any way, saw thousands quietly sneak toward Spain to sign up for the “International Brigades”, including famous names like Bethune, Orwell and Hemmingway.

Sadly, as the war wore on, the republican side did not fare well. Fearful of offending Allied Powers, Stalin sought to avoid a full-on revolution (either anarchist or communist). The UGT, PSUC and PCE turned on the CNT, FAI and POUM (radical Marxists), leading to shoot-outs, arrests and murders, then defeat for the the republican side. Franco ruled Spain (largely in thanks to American aid) until the 1970s.

One of the many who ventured to Spain in that era was Ethel MacDonald, a Scottish anarchist and activist who enthralled the English-speaking world with her radio broadcasts from the front. Her story, both as a journalist and advocate for anarchist prisoners put a human face on this whole ugly ordeal. Tonight’s movie, An Anarchist’s Story (BBC Scotland Documentary, 2006), is her tale.

Spanishcivilwarfilm.com


Right now, in what might be the largest coordinated actions yet, the people of Southern Europe are engaged in an international general strike against ongoing austerity measures. Action today centred on a near-total shut-down of the Iberian Peninsula (Spain and Portugal) along with several-hour national shut-downs in Greece and Italy. Workers in France, Belgium, Germany and others are also supporting and participating. Air travel, trains, industry and services have all been affected by actions, and massive demonstrations have taken to the streets of countless cities. Clashes with police have been reported in Spain (81 reported arrested in Madrid so far) and several Italian cities.

Guardian – Live Coverage
BBC Coverage
Democracy Now Coverage
Libcom – Live Updates
europeanstrike.org/

Since last year, Europe has been gripped by an enduring debt crisis. With southern nations like Spain and Greece failing to recover from the collapse of 2008, they’re requiring large bailouts to keep making their payments on national debt to wealthier (northern) nations. In exchange central bankers have demanded harsh spending cuts (“austerity”). Unfortunately, the cuts have only further devastated economies while bailout uncertainty during bargaining sessions has driven interest rates on their debt far higher, driving a cycle of more cuts, bailouts and recessions which has infuriated the continent.

In response, Europe has been witnessing some of the largest and most intense protests in a generation. Town squares were occupied, hundreds of thousands took to the streets and pitched battles were fought with riot police. There’s been several general strikes now in each of the nations afflicted by the crisis and a growing list of fallen governments. Last week’s two-day general strike in Greece, for instance, saw 80 000 in the streets of Athens and a particularly fierce battle outside the parliament, awaiting the latest austerity vote.

Today’s actions are a landmark for organizing across borders, and for the participation of large traditional labour groups like the European Trade Union Confederation who don’t usually get involved in such actions. An accurate number of participants isn’t available, but it’s likely to be in the millions. Today’s actions show a growing rejection of austerity which is beginning to connect across the continent.

This issue isn’t going away, and the protests are only getting larger.

Later this month, officials meet in Brussels to attempt (again) to sort out this mess. As the consensus grows, even in capitalist circles, that austerity has failed, Europe is starting to run out of options. Greece has been pushed the brink of total economic, social and political collapse, with Spain and Italy not far behind. More cuts, at this point, only invite disaster. Millions of people sent a message today, and unless it’s received soon, we’re going to witness a much larger, longer shut-down.

...and always bring a towel.

Good advice from a stencil on the Jackson Square rooftop, Hamilton, Ontario.

Once again, the European Union is spiraling toward oblivion. Not only are Greece’s re-elections a week away, but Spain is now in need of another bailout and Italy is beginning to sputter again. As the dangers involve swing once again from “quagmire” to “clusterfuck”, even the Toronto Stock Exchange is feeling the brunt of it. In response, one very clever graffiti artist has decorated the roof of Jackson Square with two choice words which would serve the EU’s leaders and bankers very well right now: “don’t panic”.

No, that’s not deja-vu you’re feeling, this really has been happening every couple of weeks for over a year now. At the core of the problem lies the way national debt is traded on bond markets, much like stocks or futures. Demand in these auctions and markets determines the interest rate on the debt, therefore fear of a debt-crisis-spiral (like seen in Greece) can easily drive a country’s interest rates through the roof (as they did to Spain and Italy today). The standard response is to cut debt and deficits (“austerity”), but since it’s far easier for interest rates to double than to cut a national debt in half, this usually does a lot more harm than good (as it has in Greece, Spain, Britain, and most of the Third World). Worst of all, the only thing really needed to kick off this cycle is to announce that you’re planning a bailout or austerity measures to send investors panicking, even if the national economy in question is relatively “healthy”.

They will, of course, panic, sooner or later. There is no way out of this crisis without a “correction” of some kind or another. Economies will topple like a row of dominos line up around the globe. When this happens, and it will, we’ll have one task that’s more important than any other: not panicking.

Good luck with that.

Yesterday, as an act of protest against austerity measures and the economic crisis, Dimitris Christoulas, a 77-year-old Greek pensioner, shot himself in the middle of Syntagma Square, outside the nation’s parliament. On him was found a suicide note encouraging Greeks to rise up. By the evening a crowd of thousands had grown in the park chanting “this was no suicide, it was a state-perpetrated murder”, with some battling riot cops. His action wasn’t unique, recent data shows a 18 percent increase in Greek suicides in 2010, and a 25 percent increase in Athens last year. Italy, too, has been witnessing this horrifying trend, with three high-profile suicides this week over personal financial nightmares, following two people who set themselves on fire last week.

These tragedies give a glimpse into the hellish personal conditions spawned by recent cuts, and the anger that’s brewing as a result. Youth unemployment has passed 50% in Spain and Greece, the highest numbers seen in over a decade. With welfare and other safety nets the axe, many are left with nowhere to turn.

Many have mused Mr. Christoulas’ death or one like it will have effects like that of Mohamed Bouazizi, a young Tunisian fruit-seller who set himself ablaze in front of government offices last January, sparking a revolution in Tunisia and arguably the Arab Spring itself. More protests are planned today in Syntagma Square.

Yesterday also marked a grim day of financial self-destruction as worldwide markets suffered their second-worst day this year so far, especially Europe. Since the lows of late last year most markets have been rebounding with a vengeance since then, with some gaining around 30% or more in value. This has had many analysts shaking their heads, arguing that nothing’s really changed underneath all the newly found enthusiasm and hype. Governments and central banks have been pumping the economy with printed money (“liquidity”, bailouts etc) for years now, and selloffs yesterday were sparked on both sides of the Atlantic when hints were dropped that they might not keep doing it. While it’s true that some economies (particularly on this side of the Atlantic) are seeing some signs of cautious improvement, there’s still a lot to be worried about in Europe and Asia, as well as again-rising oil prices, one of the main catalysts for the last collapse. Beneath all this are a few scary trends, like record-low volatility, a rise in insider-selling (corporate leaders selling their own stock) and the recent rapid fall of results vs. expectations (“the economic surprise index“). Of course predicting and analysing markets will always be a bit like astrology, but there are more than enough reasons to be concerned here. Another crash right now could spell disaster for many.

Austerity is only beginning, but it’s already proving to be a social and economic nightmare. It’s one thing to impose cuts on a populace which holds rallies and marches in opposition. It’s another to keep doing it when people start killing themselves in public squares as acts of protest. This is the worst crisis Southern Europe has suffered since the wake of WWII, and many elderly folks are now drawing parallels to the fascist dictatorships which they lived through in their youth. The region is a powder-keg, and if its rulers don’t change course it’s going to explode.

“The Tsolakoglou government has annihilated all traces for my survival, which was based on a very dignified pension that I alone paid for 35 years with no help from the state. And since my advanced age does not allow me a way of dynamically reacting (although if a fellow Greek were to grab a Kalashnikov, I would be right behind him), I see no other solution than this dignified end to my life, so I don’t find myself fishing through garbage cans for my sustenance. I believe that young people with no future, will one day take up arms and hang the traitors of this country at Syntagma square, just like the Italians did to Mussolini in 1945.”
Dimitris Christoulas’ Suicide Note

It’s budget time, and conflicts over “austerity” are continuing to rage across the western world. Canada’s budgets are out, Spain held a general strike Thursday and the situation in Italy and Portugal is continuing to worsen.

Greece and Italy
News from Europe just keeps getting more disturbing. Italy has now seen two men set themselves on fire to protest economic conditions. One did it outside a tax office, another outside the town hall over thousands in unpaid wages. Greece is taking an even scarier turn as the (unelected) government move on with plans to open 30 widely opposed “detention camps” for illegal immigrants, who they’re now attempting to scapegoat for their economic woes. This follows similar measures and proposals aimed at the Roma (“Gypsies”) in Italy and France.

These two nations are furthest along in “austerity” plans (especially Greece). They’ve both had their heads-of-state (Berlusconi and Papandreau) replaced by “technocrats”. Their economies are growing so toxic they threaten the EU itself, and austerity programs so have only worsened debt burdens by wrecking their economies. They’ve both seen enormous, riotous social unrest. Watching this from the relative security of a nation like Canada, it’s time to ask ourselves: is this is really the path we want to embark down?

Spain and Portugal
Spain yesterday saw a general strike grip the country, where (of course) some clashed with police setting tires and trash cans alight as barricades in the street. Yesterday, Spain announced their “austerity budget“, hoping to satisfy European Union creditors. It contains 27 billion in cuts, some of the worst cuts seen since the end of Franco’s dictatorship. Spanish unions and protest groups are pledging to keep fighting. Neighbouring Portugal held a similar general strike last week, and business analysts are again beginning to fear that either of the above (or Italy) may become “the next Greece”. EU Ministers met today to discuss raising the “firewall” bailout fund closer to a trillion dollars, fearing another debt-crisis and bailouts which could cripple the European banking system.

Canada
Thursday, Federal Minister of Finance Flaherty announced his “austerity” budget, as expected. During the speech a group of protesters raised a ruckus in the gallery and had to be “escorted out”. The day before, McGuinty released his, and the reality of the proposed cuts is beginning to sink in. Federally, over $5 billion in cuts have been announced, expected to directly result in about 19 000 public jobs lost over the next few years, raised eligibility ages for retirement benefits and gutted environmental oversight. The subject of new taxes was avoided, with the Conservatives hoping further investments in large resource-extraction projects like the Tar Sands and related pipelines will bring in more revenue. It’s being called the “least green budget in decades“, inflaming Environmental and First-Nations groups.

In Ontario, the main cost-cutting measure is a two-year public-sector wage freeze along with cuts to pensions. Over the next three years, cuts worth $17.7 billion are planned, with a third of it coming from wages. These measures follow a somewhat watered-down model provided by the Drummond Report, released earlier this year warning of dire financial consequences if Ontario didn’t deal with our deficits.

Canada isn’t Greece, Spain or Italy – we very clearly aren’t in the midst of a “debt crisis”. We aren’t even “sorta” grappling with one like France, Britain or America. We have the lowest debt-GDP ratio in the G7, our own currency and some of the world’s largest stocks of natural resources. Our economy was largely shielded from the shocks of the last five years for these reasons, and we needed a far smaller “bailout”. Our social programs aren’t all that lavish by European standards, and our economy is in far better shape. To say that Canada “needs” an austerity program is absolutely ludicrous, but that’s never stopped our politicians before.

Austerity Everywhere
The rapid spread of austerity programs, beyond borders and regardless of party in power, shows how widespread these problems really are. As much as I’d like to place the blame on Harper or McGuinty, they are only a few in the long list of politicians participating. Our new global economy has generated a global crisis, and it’s going to take a global movement to fight back.

Wages, pensions, social programs and other benefits have always been a battleground. They’re a part of the bargain we drive in exchange for our work and compliance with laws. Most of these rights and benefits were only gained at the end of long and hard-fought struggles. This bargaining session never ends – there’s always a mediation between us and those in power (bosses, the government, etc). There will always be efforts to peel back these gains and pay us less in one way or another. When this happens, people fight back. This is the subject of a very interesting paper now making the rounds online, Austerity and Anarchy: Budget Cuts and Social Unrest in Europe, 1919-2009 by Jacopo Ponticelli and Hans-Joachim Voth of the CEPR. From the ninety years they studied, they found “a clear positive correlation between fiscal retrenchment and instability”. These results were tested against all the usual explanations – recessions, democratic/autocratic governments and the amount of media coverage, among other variables, and none showed much effect (with the possible exception of limiting the powers of government’s executive branch…). The lesson here? If you begin to pay people less for their obedience, be prepared to expect less of it.

This fight is already underway. Big days to watch for include April 21st (Toronto), May 5th (Ottawa) and of course Mayday, May 1st (everywhere). There are already big conflicts underway in Quebec (students) and British Columbia (teachers, northerners), as well as many cities like Toronto and Halifax. With these budgets now on the table, Canada’s entry into this international conflict is now official. Austerity is everywhere and the effects are only beginning to be felt, but so is the backlash.

It sure is going to be an interesting spring.

They’re calling it “the winter that wasn’t” – another record-setting year of low snowfalls and warm temperatures which seems now to have jumped from our prolonged November right into June. Sure, Hamilton had it better than most – we didn’t see our rivers freeze solid or watch whole towns get lifted off the map by tornadoes, but a snowless Canadian winter is no less dramatic. Hamilton has already seen our first smog day before the end of our traditional snowstorm season. Whatever the cause or the consequences, it now seems official that winter is over.

At the end of last fall much of the Northern Hemisphere was in revolt, between the Occupy Movement in North America and the widespread austerity protests in Europe. Though coordinated police actions played a big role in shutting this down, one can’t avoid the conclusion that weather played just as large a role. Even marching in below-zero temperatures can be bone-chilling, and attempting to “occupy” a park can be downright dangerous. In weather like this, however, those actions can be downright enjoyable.

North America is now witnessing a re-awakening. Occupy Wall Street recently returned to Zucotti Park for their six-month anniversary, only to be evicted by police. A small group is now attempting to occupy Union Square. Occupy St. Louis saw mass arrests and truncheons when protesters tried to march away from a park eviction. Occupy Miami protesters staying at a local apartment building found themselves at the end of assault rifles held by foul-mouthed federal agents. Elsewhere, the Quebec student strike continues to rage, especially after one youth may have been blinded in one eye by a concussion grenade from police. Last week, of course, also saw Montreal’s yearly protest (riot) against police brutality, as riotous as ever in light of this tragedy. Montreal police also brought in the riot squad yesterday to clear picketing, laid off, Aveos workers. Canada has also seen widespread protests against the Harper government and his Robocall Scandal as well as the new proposed Northern Gateway Pipeline from the Tar Sands to the BC coast. Huge parts of Italy are in revolt, largely focusing on a proposed high-speed rail line running from Lyon to Turin. The NO-TAV Movement has spread to many cities and throughout the countryside, coming to represent the many frustrations of the Italian people with the EU and their own government on a wide array of issues. Even China is again seeing unrest over Tibet. Oh, and there are General Strikes planned for Portugal (tomorrow) and Spain (next week).

It isn’t over.

In the year since the Arab Spring, and it’s now clear that it’s not just the Arabs, and it wasn’t just that spring. Every act of defiance and repression has only galvanized others, spreading virally through the world’s new digital nerve centres. Traditional kinds of resistance many thought were long-dead have returned all over the globe. Squatting, occupations of public (and private) spaces, general strikes, massive street protests and even outright revolutions. Russia, China, the Americas, the Middle East and Africa have all been gripped, making this the largest wave of protests in generations. As springtime comes again, in a stunningly beautiful and frightening manner, we can only expect it to spread further.

“Sell-out”, depending on who you talk to, it’s a slur or a sin, but not something anybody wants to be called, especially in any kind of radical circles. The term “sell-out” is a nasty one, either a slur or a sin depending on who you ask, so it’s with a heavy heart that I use it here. The wikipedia entry on “selling out” states this perfectly for the context and makes perfectly clear why the term applies perfectly.

In various political movements (usually communists and anarchists), a “sellout” is a person or group pretending to adhere to a genuinely pro-working class ideology, only to follow these claims up with actions directly contradicting them, often (whether actually or implicitly) supporting capitalism. Equally it could be utilised by supporters of parties for persons that subsequently formed coalitions with those they seemed to oppose, such as the Liberal Democrats’ leader Nick Clegg’s coalition with the Conservative Party in the United Kingdom.
“Selling Out” – Wikipedia

Defining “socialism” isn’t quite as easy. It’s a subject I’ve dealt with before, and one I’m sure will come up again (I hope…). Broadly defined, socialism refers to various ideas which seek to collectivize capital in the hands of “the people” – an incredibly wide range of ideas spanning two centuries and many ideologies (communism, anarchism, social democracy, market socialism etc). More specifically, in common usage, “socialist” has come to suggest something more moderate than “Communism” but more radical than progressives and liberals, though there’s lots of overlap. It’s an incredibly charged term which means about as much as a $10 “Rolex” from a New York street vendor, but then, so are most in politics.

Which socialists am I talking about? The socialist parties. All of them.

This isn’t to point a finger at millions of well-meaning members and supporters, but it’s time to stop pulling punches when it comes to their “leaders”. Too long has the rest of the left “looked the other way” when it came to the failings of our own parliamentarians, perhaps out of a naive hope that we might one day be among them. Even a quick skim of the world news over the last week shows a few too many examples. This isn’t just an issue of making concessions in tough times, these are fundamental ideological shifts which betray a growing set of structural problems.

In Canada, this is of course most visible within the NDP, our official social-democrats. In the race to succeed the late Jack Layton who made unprecedented gains in the last election, one figure stands out more than most: Thomas Mulcair. Perhaps most notorious for his support of Israeli militarism, he’s a former Quebec Liberal and seems to be gaining the support of many of Canada’s richest financial elites. like Anthony Munk (Barrick Gold) and Gerald W. Schwartz (Canwest, Onex). Given the near-demise of the Liberal Party over the past few elections, this kind of attention was to be expected, but as Mulcair leads in some polls, this does not bode well for the party.

To the south, Latin America has been witness to a grand experiment over the past decade. Led by the likes of Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and Evo Morales of Bolivia, or Rafel Correa in Ecuador, this “Bolivarian revolution” has now swept several countries. Chavez in particular has been extremely vocal in his opposition to American imperialism abroad and determined in his reforms at home. Looking closer, though, cracks have appeared. Indigenous regions in Bolivia have been rapidly losing faith after battling plans for a new highway cutting through their lands. In Ecuador, indigenous movements have lost patience over similar moves in favour of oil and mining development. Chavez himself has a much better reputation when it comes to the rights of poor and indigenous peoples, though this comes as a result of the gifts given by his “petroleum socialism”, which has in recent years nationalized oil companies and begun work on Venezuela’s colossal heavy oil (tar sands and oil shale) deposits and corresponding pipelines

Then there’s Europe, for years the shining example of prosperous and successful “Euro-Socialism”. Today, they lead the world more in embarrassing “Socialist” failures. There was the defeat of Spain’s Socialists last year, abandoned by a nationwide radical movement opposed to the austerity programs it attempted to impose. Then there’s Greece, still being torn apart by austerity programs pushed by the ruling PASOK (social-democrats) and paramilitary support from the KKE (parliamentary Communists) and PAME (militant communist unions) against raging protesters. This week in France, Socialists sided with Sarkozy’s plans for Roma (“gypsy”) internment camps, perhaps the single most terrifying example here. Across the continent the ETUC (European Trade Union Confederation) is catching heat for their complicity in the austerity programs. And what can be said of Britain? As the above-quoted Wikipedia entry states, Nick Clegg has pretty much come to define “sell-out”.

I could list other regions, or examples from these. China’s communists would be an obvious choice, Nepal’s (former) Maoists or Cuba’s post-Castro reforms. America, of course, doesn’t really have a socialist movement (at least, not one in any position to “sell out”) and there’s really never been anything “socialist” about Obama (no matter how much he might have sold out).

There is an undeniable pattern here. It isn’t just a trend toward making concessions on economic issues in “tough times” – the social aspects of these trends, especially against Roma, indigenous or Palestinian people are utterly atrocious. The environmental implications are terrifying (particularly from Mulcair or the “Bolivarians”). In this context, the international drive toward austerity measures certainly isn’t surprising (though disappointing), it fits perfectly. While these leftist parties might have been the last line in defense against this international agenda, it’s fairly clear that they’re far more interested in their status as political parties than any alleged “leftist” beliefs.

I write this not to lament the death of the parliamentary socialist movement, but to issue a warning to those just beginning. As those involved with the Occupy movement and others like it debate whether to get involved in parliamentary parties or start their own, it’s important to take a look decades, even centuries down the road. Problems like these can’t arise without a tremendous amount of support and success. To sell out, you must have something worth buying, and that takes time to build. The size and clout of parties like the NDP set a tempting example for those groups and movements just starting out, and it’s only human to assume that one’s noble ideas or nature will prevent the same mistakes.

Political parties are traditionally viewed as an “evolution” of movements and struggles, out of the precarious world or direct action and grassroots organizing. Examples like these call into question whether that’s really the case. Can “change” really happen because a new group of leaders implement a new set of policies? Or are the those who attempt it more likely, in the end, to be changed themselves?

The word “socialist” is getting a lot of press these days. This past weekend, it captured national attention after a big debate at the NDP’s national convention in Vancouver. It seems many wanted to remove the term from the party’s official constitution, to give the party a more moderate image and hope to attract voters. The convention voted otherwise, and so for now, they’re still “socialists”. Since the NDP’s stunning win of over a hundred seats in the recent Federal Election, this was probably inevitable, but it does raise a lot of questions.

As long as I can remember, the moderate left has been possessed with a kind of paranoia about not being seen as “moderate enough”. This kind of fear kept the NDP in the shadow of the Liberals for years, as they simply copied out all the best parts of the NDP’s (watered down) platform. This gave the NDP the illusion of being next to useless – why vote for them when the Liberals are promising all the same things, and might actually win? The NDP’s recent success has as much to do with the implosion of the Liberals as it does with the (very real) leftward shift of Canadian opinion, and Layton knows it.

This is a big part of the reason I haven’t worked with the NDP in a very long time. Not only is this strategy self-defeating, it borders on outright dishonesty. And the ultimate result, either way, is that nobody on the “organized left” is willing to actually argue a “leftist” position. When this happens, centrists and “right-wingers” win by default, and the population at large is left without any radical alternative.

The next part of the story comes from Europe, where established “Socialist” parties are taking a beating. In Spain and Portugal, ruling Socialists have lost recent elections over the outright disgust of Spanish society over their handling of austerity measures, whom either voted Conservative (Spain) and Centrist (Protugal) or refused to vote and took to the streets and squares instead.

What does “Socialism” mean when a ruling Socialist party is willing to push austerity cuts on the population on the behalf of EU and IMF? Not a whole lot. And despite the very clear dislike of capitalism present in the new wave of European radicalism (particularly in Spain), not a whole lot of it is using the “S-word”.

The final part of this story comes from our neighbours to the south, the Americans. We’re all familiar with the culture of red-baiting, and absolutely over-use of terms like “socialist” (eg. “Obama is a socialist”). In spite of all this, a recent poll of Americans showed that even if you use the dreaded s-word, a surprising number are all for it. Only 53% of Americans believe capitalism is “the best system”, about half that are unsure, and about 20% said socialism. Among young people, it’s nearly even, with 37% saying capitalism, 33% socialist and 30% undecided. Pretty startling numbers if you believe Fox and CNN reflect “America”.

Since Reagan, Republicans and others have repeatedly attacked many parts of “the government” – schools, public services, health care etc – as essentially “socialist”. Unfortunately for them, those are the parts of the government that people actually like and tend to rely on. The predictable backlash has been that people really aren’t all that scared of the idea anymore, especially if the alternative is Reagan-style “big government” (more cops, prisons, armies and corporations).

Like so many other terms in modern politics, “socialism” has been used and abused to the point of meaning almost nothing. The 20th century left socialists with a legacy of failure in nearly every arena of statecraft – from the autocrats of China and Russia to moderates of the west. And while there’s clearly a demand for an alternative to capitalism, socialism in general seems far less clearly defined than it did a century ago.

If there’s a future for socialism, it’s going to have to be a lot more grassroots. The dream of a workers’ state has proved absolutely unworkable in nearly every form. With all the general strikes and popular uprisings in the last year, there hasn’t been much in the way of a “party” rising to lead, especially a socialist one. Perhaps, though, with the death of the (dreadful) notion of a governing party which can make all our dreams come true, the actual issue of workers controlling production can be discussed.

If the word “socialism” won’t do, how about syndicalism? Or mutualism? “Economic democracy”? Open-source? Autonomist Marxism? Or (gasp) anarchism? What does it take to get a serious discussion of an economy that isn’t run by government bureaucracies or investors and profiteers? We’ll probably never again be able to use the term “Soviet” (worker’s council), and if many corporations get their way the term “co-operative” will become just as tainted. Whatever words we use, it’s that idea that matters.

Liberty without socialism is privilege, injustice; socialism without liberty is slavery and brutality.” – Mikhail Bakunin (Marx’s famous anarchist adversary)

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.

Over the past few days, there have been a number of developments in Spain. First, on Friday, police attacked demonstrator in several cities, clearing them from the Barcelona square and injuring over a hundred and twenty people. These crackdowns came under the pretense of a Saturday soccer game in London which authorities feared would inflame the crowds.Protesters have held their ground or since returned, and at a series of large assemblies yesterday night decided to stay on “indefinitely”.

Protests have also begun to spread across Europe, expressing solidarity with the Spanish M-15 movement, and calling for “real democracy” across Europe.. Around a thousand demonstrators gathered in Paris’ Bastille square, only to be later disbursed by police last night. In Athens, 20 000 gathered at Syntagma Square.

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