Can Europe Make It?

“Our situation is Quixotic and Machiavellian”: an interview with Podemos’ Jorge Moruno

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It takes a lot to get very little, but there is no other option… we must open a new way, without the means to do so. We are in the belly of the whale.

Carlos Delclós Jorge Moruno
15 December 2015
Ada Colau and Pablo Iglesias in Madrid Caja Magica, December 13, 2015.

Ada Colau and Pablo Iglesias in Madrid Caja Magica, December 13, 2015. Demotix/jorge gonzalez.All rights reserved.When I first met Jorge Moruno, he had the most presentable white-dude dreadlocks I’d ever seen. We were having a coffee with our friend Raimundo Viejo after a protest organised by the indignados movement in the spring of 2011. Those thick, red tufts falling far past his waist made for a curious contrast with the labyrinthine Italian Marxist theory he delivered in a thick, radio-ready voice.

The conversation jumped from co-lamenting the micro-political miseries of lefty factional in-fighting to a spirited debate about rap and reggae. Jorge thought of these as a sort of music of the multitude. Raimundo thought this was truer of free jazz, questioning rap’s reliance on the machine-time of MPCs. I didn’t believe in a music of the multitude, preferring instead to think of it as a glorious noise. But I found the conversation fascinating, and it wouldn’t be the first time we discussed the topic over the next few years.

As the occupation of the squares gave way to Spain’s post-2011 socio-political climate, our debates continued on the social networks, thanks in large part to the community that had formed around a plucky local-access debate show filmed in a dark basement in the working class neighbourhood of Vallecas in Madrid. That show was called La Tuerka, or ‘The Screw’. Its host was a ponytailed, precariously employed college professor named Pablo Iglesias. Today, as the leader of the Podemos party, he is running for President of Spain. Moruno, minus the dreadlocks, is one of his main speechwriters.

I recently interviewed Jorge for an e-Book I’ve published with Zed Books, called Hope is a Promise: From the Indignados to the Rise of Podemos in Spain. What follows is an edited transcript, in which we discuss La Tuerka, Podemos and the fascinating ideas he writes about in his own book, currently available only in Spanish, called La Fábrica del Emprendedor: Trabajo y política en la empresa-mundo (The Entrepreneur’s Factory: work and politics in the world enterprise).

Carlos Delclós (CD): How did La Tuerka come about?

The indignados demonstrated the importance of political communication, as well as the synergy between the streets, television and social networks, a trident generating ideas.

Jorge Moruno (JM): La Tuerka began as a result of a problem we’d been perceiving for some time. The Left had renounced political incorrectness, seeking refuge in the warmth of its own codes and spaces and opting out of the battle over discourse. At the same time, we felt that there was a glaring gap when it came to audiovisual forms of socialization. So it was in the field of communication that we felt it was necessary to fight political battles.

CD: The show really began to take off after May 15, 2011, when the indignados movement occupied squares all over Spain calling for Real Democracy Now!. How would you describe the relationship between La Tuerka and the indignados or 15M movement?

JM: La Tuerka began in 2010, well before May 2011. I’d say that, for La Tuerka, the indignados movement had a multiplying effect for two main reasons. The first is that 15M was a politicization of society, where new questions burst onto the scene, ones that hadn’t been answered before. Politics is inaugurated with the claiming of a name by those who were previously invisible, by those who decide to relinquish their anonymity and raise their voice, the voice of the nobodies.

It had been far too long since that had happened. Those of us who did not experience the transition from Franco’s dictatorship in the 1970s cannot recall a comparable moment, when we saw the emergence of the popular, and public discussion had impact on such a tremendous scale. It was a whirlwind of ideas, of paths opening up and trails being blazed. Debates, contradictions, protests, discussions. These set the agenda of our public debate, and it did that from the point of view of those who’d previously had no voice. They made it so evictions were collective problems and not individual faults.

This collective hunger for knowledge, understanding and new questions found a watering hole in La Tuerka, and an arsenal of new approaches. Meanwhile, the indignados demonstrated the importance of political communication, as well as the synergy between the streets, television and social networks, a trident generating ideas. La Tuerka is an audiovisual project that is largely driven by the social networks. So in this new context, their rise has done a lot to spread and normalize the show as a standard-bearer, and a major source of information for many people.

CD: But the indignados movement and many of its sympathizers took a firm stance against political representation. In 2015, it seems that most of Spains public debate hinges on elections, with relatively little resistance from many of the voices associated with that movement. What do you think of this shift?

JM: First of all, I think of the indignados as an example of a society-in-movement, so there isn’t such a thing as a single definition of 15M. Perhaps the main success of the indignados was to propose different discourses and explanations of a crisis that, until that moment, had only been explained in a closed, immovable, official way. They made it so evictions were collective problems and not individual faults. Precariousness gained a social explanation and the crisis was no longer some meteorological phenomenon. Precariousness gained a social explanation and the crisis was no longer some meteorological phenomenon. They took a shot at the dominant morality and provoked a regime crisis by eroding from the bottom what anyone could see was rotting at the top. And they put the social problems suffered by a majority of the population at the centre.

Regarding representation, there are a lot of issues here that are not necessarily mutually exclusive. We are not represented by those who are actually governing. But at the same time, anyone who does want to represent must update and democratize the forms of representation and not limit them to voting every four years.

No one can represent all of society and the social movements. This is precisely why that tension produces improvements and more democratic, transparent forms of representation. Or what amounts to basically the same: less representation and more popular, citizen protagonism. They took a shot at the dominant morality and provoked a regime crisis by eroding from the bottom what anyone could see was rotting at the top.

I view this as a dialectic that is exempt from synthesis. The more social institutions we have, the more autonomy society will have as opposed to the heteronomy of the market, and the more impact it will have in the democratization of decisions. But it is also necessary and critical to exercise power from state institutions in order to have broader resources at our disposal. At the end of the day, it is society’s demands that must become law after conflict. And that is where the potential for change resides: in who ultimately names what and converts words into constituted things.

CD: That explains the rationale that guided the jump from La Tuerka and Pablos success as a prime-time pundit to Podemos. The political scientist José Fernández Albertos has written a lot about how support for the party has evolved since the European elections of 2014. He claims that Podemos has gone from being a party with a clearly activist profile to one more defined by social class, with support largely coming from young people who have been affected by Spains economic crisis. Do you think this change is reflected in the evolution of Podemoss discourse? Was it the result of a deliberate attempt to attract those profiles?

JM: Podemos was born with a very clear intention: to become a political instrument in the hands of a social majority that was severely hurt by the economic crisis. And this was done in order to make the institutions serve the people again. That has been the driving force all along. And they put the social problems suffered by a majority of the population at the centre.

To make that social majority a political majority, it was necessary to escape the debates and postures designed exclusively for the initiated, for very small circles of people. I believe the work of any activist should focus on that result. For that to happen, we have to go beyond the margins and limits of leftist language. The task is clear: there is a set of socially accepted ideas that sustains a common sense which, because of the oligarchical offensive we have suffered, is presented to us as a radical defense. If we have both feet in the air, we will fall. If we dig our heels into the ground, we don’t move. So we must maintain a balance, If we have both feet in the air, we will fall. If we dig our heels into the ground, we don’t move. So we must maintain a balance. between the words people use and our push for a social and political transformation in our country and Europe.

CD: As that balance is maintained, though, it appears that Podemos depends less and less on its activist roots. Do you think Podemos should maintain a relationship with social movements and political actions that work beyond the electoral field?

JM: When Podemos was born, it generated a whole new set of activists with no “pedigree”. That is excellent news; it is what any activist is trying to do. And it implies working with people who are very different and have very different backgrounds. But Podemos has never stopped being in touch with the social movements. They were, after all, the ones who put the problems and narratives that were missing from the debate on the official agenda.

That said, I think citizen movements should have their own autonomy. Relationships with them should not be organic, but ones of support and tension, so that they act as a counter-power. Relationships with citizen movements should not be organic, but ones of support and tension, so that they act as a counter-power. We direly need new institutions that arise from the social field, and a communal fabric anchored in specific local realities. This should not be an appendage of Podemos, but a citizen and democratic guarantee. The electoral field, with its tempos and rules, is not the space from which such a thing is born. It can help with public policies that open the playing field, but these are clearly two different paths we are talking about.

CD: What are your thoughts on the internal debates and criticisms expressed by such currents as Occupy Podemos, Abriendo Podemos (Opening Podemos) or Ahora en Común (Now in Common)? They often claim that Podemos is too top-down in its organisational structure, and that since the partys constituent assembly at Vistalegre, it has become a traditional party

JM: I think that an open and transparent debate has always been one of Podemos’s aspirations. So any initiative or idea is welcome, whether or not I agree with what they’re proposing. It’s healthy for there to be different opinions. I don’t really see them as internal discrepancies, though. Everything becomes public quite quickly, and for us the boundary between inside and outside is hard to point to. Anything that strengthens public debate is good.

In my opinion, the herculean task before us is to seduce and convince. In my opinion, the herculean task before us is to seduce and convince.To expand narratives and practices to include the part of the population that is still missing. People who do not come from the social movements, who have never been to a protest, who voted for the Popular Party or have never voted at all. People who think politics is something politicians do. That is where victories are forged, where great changes come from. That is where winning becomes possible.

The left is too used to listening only to itself, to being in love with itself.  To leave the small-but-safe refuge, to enter the woods and blaze a new path, to venture into the unknown and be exposed to the wolves: that is what we’ve come to do.The left is too used to listening only to itself, to being in love with itself. 

CD: Lets talk a little bit about the woods that new path is being blazed in, beyond the electoral world. You recently published a book in Spain, The Entrepreneur’s Factory (‘La Fábrica del emprendedor’), about how work has changed in recent years and how this is reflected in dominant discourses and ideologies. How would you describe these changes, broadly? 

JM: I think that we are facing a civilizational change, but I don’t mean this as an umpteenth prophecy announcing the end of capitalism. What I mean is that there are certain mutations taking place in the fields of production, communication and culture that affect every aspect of our lives. No one can represent all of society and the social movements.

The main change has to do with the decline of the employment society, which we had naturalized as the only way of thinking about the regulation of the social organism. As employment loses its centrality, the social apparatus that defined economic expansion after World War II—through investment, production, demand, employment, consumption and rights—falls apart. Work understood as life-long employment will never return. In historical terms, it hasn’t been around very long, anyway. Work understood as life-long employment will never return. In historical terms, it hasn’t been around very long, anyway.

So we’re at a historic crossroads. On the one hand, the current crisis is accelerating the oligarchical counter-revolution that began in the 1970s. On the other, the crisis of salaried work is not limited to one possible outcome. It contains different possibilities, some of which favor well-being and social or individual autonomy. The totalitarianism of the financial oligarchy seeks to submit everything to market logic, signalling that the days of accessing security through employment are over. Meanwhile, employment continues to be imposed as the way through which we access the means to live.

So we are rethinking work beyond employment. As the volume of work overwhelms our ability to create employment, wealth seeps through the hinges of the twentieth century labor market. What we see now, following André Gorz, are two competing designs of society in a dispute for power over time. One proposes that we carry out an array of activities that are submitted to the market’s moods and a life of precarity. The other proposes that we carry out multiple activities during the time we have for life liberated from the constraints of capital. This would mean that everyone works, works less, in different ways, innovating more and living better. Thus, a basic income would be one of the possible pillars of welfare in the 21st century, as the reverse of the debt economy. So we are rethinking work beyond employment. 

CD: A great deal of your critique focuses on a figure that is idealised in the English-speaking world as the embodiment of the creative impulse. So I have to ask: what is wrong with being an entrepreneur?

We have to be precise here, and separate the particular from the general. As Marx once said, a black person is not a slave. A black person is a black person, and it is only under certain social relationships that he or she is forced into slavery. Similarly, the labor force’s ability to work is only a commodity under capitalist social relations.

What do I mean by this? I mean that what is intrinsic to human beings, like production, is naturalized and interpreted according to very particular ways of understanding our conditions. There’s nothing wrong with a lot of the ideas that structure entrepreneurial rhetoric, like innovation, cooperation, autonomy or creating. My critique has more to do with the particular way in which those aspects are articulated under neoliberalism.

To borrow a term from Ernesto Laclau, many of these concepts are what he would call “floating signifiers”, concepts whose meanings are being disputed. If we focus on the pamphlets and posters of the 1960s, or from Italy in the 70s, we could change the word “communism” to “enterprise” or “entrepreneurial initiative” or any other term the management world likes, and we’d get a slogan quite similar to what you’ll read in HR Magazine.

The neoliberal version of the “entrepreneur” reinterprets a desert of precariousness, competition and uncertainty as an opportunity to improve your personal development and capture what the market offers for yourself. But my critique is not some nostalgic appeal to the disciplinary factory of yesterday, which is neither possible nor desirable. It is specifically a critique of the neoliberal interpretation of the social composition of work today, and of the production of a new subject that updates and internalizes capitalist desire as his or her own.

Creative, autonomous work and the desire to leave the disciplined factory were the starting point of the proletarian struggles that precede us. The problem lies in the conditions we’ve arrived at after the capitalist counter-revolution. The problem lies in the conditions we’ve arrived at after the capitalist counter-revolution. And the question that we must ask now is how we think about democracy based on our present reality.

CD: One of the key ideas in your book is the World Enterprise. What is this exactly?

JM: It is the intensive spatial, temporal and oneiric culmination of the economic totalisation of society under capitalism. It is Facebook asking you, “What’s on your mind?” We have become batteries that produce data, sharecroppers of information and demand, consumption’s day laborers.

The World Enterprise is defined by the fusion of capital and life and the negation of the conflict between them. There are no longer two different terrains. When the desire for a better life is linked with capitalism’s desire to maintain itself, there is no capitalist Other different from one’s self. As people, we are told to be shareholders of our own labor power. We work like stock options, vying for a place in the market and trying not to become toxic assets. We work like stock options, vying for a place in the market and trying not to become toxic assets.

This is not an ideological veil that keeps us from seeing a supposedly pure and perfect reality behind it. The World Enterprise is our daily reality. We are in the belly of the whale. There is no exit and we can only struggle against its domination and liberate what already exists. As Rosa Luxembourg said, we will only triumph if we do not forget to learn.

CD: Theres no escape from the belly of the World Enterprise whale?

JM: You have to dissolve it from the inside. There is no exit, no outside for us to seek refuge in. When we try to change life, our cynicism takes over. It sounds like a joke, or a figure in a museum. We’ve lost the ability to project a movement of life that can look towards what it wants to do, rather than simply maintain what exists. We are left with a conservative demand, scared, asking for mercy, so that everything stays as it is.

Storming the heavens involves jumping into the abyss, Storming the heavens involves jumping into the abyss.into the possibility of building a society that is conscious of its power, a society with autonomous subjects capable of instituting themselves. How long has it been since we’ve been on the offensive, and not simply reacting to their attacks?

Today, work and life are integrated, they don’t even bother to reconcile. Capitalist social relations are collapsing our social arteries with that cholesterol called merchandise. Our daily lives, our private time, our biographies are all shadowed by our ability to develop a commercial spirit, to become our own brands. You are free because there are lots of television channels. You can dream of having the latest Apple product. You can consume whatever you can think of as long as you can pay for it. You can desire all the women you see in advertisements, with all the patriarchy underlying that.

But who rules, and from where? No one knows for sure. Since the spatial revolution inaugurated by globalization, we have not been capable of defining the enemy. Never before has this been so at hand, just as we feel it slipping through our fingers. I could say that the key is to work our neighborhoods or to exercise power from the State. All of this is necessary, for sure. All of Antigone’s gestures are fundamental. But power slips through our hands like soap.

First, lets stop the hemorrhaging. Only then can we operate. Let’s go back to the zero-point of politics. There is no instruction manual. We need a new Renaissance that casts doubt on the sacred words and liberates thought from the cloisters. We need a certain madness to reclaim our sanity. If we focus on the shortfall between our desires for great changes and their real impact on daily life, we will fall into frustration.

We should not be foolish. If we take a step back and look at our time, at first it seems that everything remains the same. But, Eppur Si Muoveand still it moves. There you have 15M, Occupy, Gezi and so on. It takes a lot to get very little, but there is no other option. Our situation is Quixotic and Machiavellian: we must open a new way, without the means do so.

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