Can Europe Make It?

From the 'working class' to 'the people' - how 15M is changing the discourse in Spain

"The fetishisation of the 'working class' or the hammer and sickle is an exercise of idealism," according to Jorge Moruno, head of discourse in Podemos. Español

Eduardo Muriel
26 May 2016

Signs of 15M. youtube. CC.The 15M politicized a generation and in many ways, broke the consensus which constituted the ground of the so-called ‘78 Regime that emerged from the transition to democracy.

It widened the frame of the discussion and forced the traditional parties and institutions to make concessions regarding internal democracy and transparency, while at the same time they were forced to transform their discourse.

However, the 15M also had an impact on the left. The traditional concepts of that political sector have been nuanced, and in today’s electoral campaign there are more appeals to the “people” or “those below”, for example, than appeals to the “working class”, and the remembrance of the 15M or the mareas is prioritized over the republican struggle, among other changes.

According to Jaime Aja, who belongs to Izquierda Unida (IU, “United Left”) communication team, the 15M slogans –and he quotes the motto “We are not merchandises in the hands of politicians and bankers”- “did not water down the left discourse in terms of class, but they refreshed it”.

Aja considers that when the movement was born, IU was living a period of “lack of credibility.” This need of putting together discourse and practice was, in his opinion, the biggest lesson that the party learned. “Recovering the credibility –and I think that we are doing it- needs a lot of work and time, and addressing these changes can generate conflicts, such as the one that we have faced in Madrid”, he continues.

In this way, the subject of the social struggle in 15M is “the people”, an actor “with who it is easier to feel represented”, points Aja, who recognises that Alberto Garzón and other IU candidates’ discourses were “harder” ten years ago. Nevertheless, he affirms that in the current discourses the social conflict is still very present: “The ingredients of the discourse are not lighter, on the contrary; what has changed is the recipes and the cooks”, he points out.

The important thing, to sum up, would be to succeed in expressing the same level of conflict but making more people feel represented. “Saying ‘we are those below against those on top’ - a discourse that was collectively built - implies the fact that there are exploitation and privileges, it implies reintroducing the class analysis.”

Aja points out two dangers related with this change in the rhetoric. On the one hand, the danger of assimilating the discourse of the dominant class, which could lead to “assuming its postulates”, and, on the other hand, “falling into any form of elitism, either disregarding the people because they don’t understand you or to stop talking about social conflicts because “people won’t understand you”.

“We need to be deeply secular”

While IU suffered an adaptation of its discourse due to the emergence of the 15M, Podemos was born once the “game board” and the frames of discussion had changed. In that sense, Jorge Moruno, the party’s head of discourse, says that the 15M “took the whole left by surprise, from the establishment left to the social movements,” and it put on the table “a series of solutions that are not only defined from the classic perspective of the left”.

According to this sociologist, the 15M implies the moment of “fissure” which shows “a long-term process, which was influenced by mobilisations such as the housing movement, against the Bolonia Plan or Juventud Sin Futuro (“Youth Without Future”), which represents a new generation of militants who did not think about themselves within the classical limits of the left.”

According to Moruno, when the 15M emerged, the crisis of the left “became obvious”; the left “thought, in a mechanical way, that in a time of inequality of indignation, there would be communicating vessels that would pull the left up by default, which is not true”. In that sense, the 15M would have been a “vaccine” against the far right which is rising in other European countries.

Regarding the abandonment of some concepts of the twentieth century left, Moruno believes that when doing politics “it is necessary to be deeply secular”. “There is a historical movement for autonomy that appears in ancient Greece, in the French, English and American revolutions, in the workers’ movement… an eternal tension between those who obey and those who command”, he says.

That is why he defends that the precise way in which that struggle is embodied in a specific historical context is the ‘dependant’ variable. “First we need to study the specific situation and then draw conclusions. The fetishisation of the name “working class” or the hammer and sickle is an exercise of idealism”, he says. “One can go over the Marxist classics and understand that you must not impose identity in society but you need to think about the society in order to determine which symbolic elements we can use”, he adds.

In the last days, Podemos and IU have received criticism from the PAH (the anti-evictions platform) and the group #15MpaRato (an anti-corruption group born out of 15M). Moruno believes that Podemos is not “an extension or an appendix” of the 15M, not even that it will represent it.

“It is obvious that Podemos would not exist without the 15M but, who is the 15M? The people who were in the square? The online discussions? A living social tissue? It’s something that doesn’t have a name”, he theorizes.

And he vindicates the role of the “moving society” in order to generate a counter-power that acts as a guarantee regarding political instruments such as Podemos.

Originally published in Spanish here.

Translated by Pablo Castaño Tierno.

Get weekly updates on Europe A thoughtful weekly email of economic, political, social and cultural developments from the storm-tossed continent. Join the conversation: get our weekly email


We encourage anyone to comment, please consult the oD commenting guidelines if you have any questions.
Audio available Bookmark Check Language Close Comments Download Facebook Link Email Newsletter Newsletter Play Print Share Twitter Youtube Search Instagram WhatsApp yourData