Poster of the 15-M movement in Cordoba (Spain). It says: "If you do not let us dream, we will not let you sleep." Toni Castillo Quero/FLickr. Some rights reserved.
Francesc Badia: The book you've just published, " The day after tomorrow. Journey to the Spain of Change", proposes to see the 15M as a framework, as a background on which political change develops. Why is this a new perspective?
Bernardo Gutiérrez: The 15M had been explained as a diagnosis, as a movement, as a challenge to the political system, as a set of practices, as a set of participation methodologies. But now, with the benefit of time and study, we've been able to see that it was a network of people linked by new ways of doing things, of organising themselves in a network. With distance we can see it as a common ground, as a framework that frames the new policy, the new ways of doing politics in Spain, and possibly in the world, because elsewhere there have been similar hatchings.
In my book I see the 15M as a watershed that has produced a before and an after. There had been a way of doing things, in politics, in culture, in citizen participation and in technology, and the 15M was a great innovation in terms of the collective intelligence of networks, affections, self-managed spaces, multiple and transversal activism. It is a great political-social framework, from which we can understand much of what is happening now.
The 15M had been explained as a diagnosis, as a movement, as a challenge to the political system, as a set of practices, as a set of participation methodologies.
Francesc: You talk about a new universe of practices: citizen practices, political practices, thinking practices. Does this novelty imply innovation? Or are they simply evolutions of a pre-existing stream, which is being perfected, and from which, with the use of technologies and this new cultural dynamic, hatches a new political movement?
Bernardo: In political practice, in the history of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, there were almost always a few prior theoretical paradigms, or there was a political hypothesis, and then a citizenry, a political movement, party, or union, or support bases which transformed a set of ideas into an ideology. Think of socialism, liberalism, or liberal democracy. Yet, in the last decade and, in many cases, linked to the networked world, the practice precedes the political hypothesis, or the set of elements that constitute an ideology. The practice of the open, or the free, the collaborative, seen in the day-to-day, in its practice of modulating the city, transforming neighborhoods, generating cultural projects, building tools for participation, creates an ecosystem of those practices, which ends up landing at a series of values that give meaning to that specific way of doing things, and possibly also to something that could be described as an ideology.
In any case, it is not a linear process, nor is it that the practice precedes the ideology, or vice versa. It is very difficult to explain the 15M in a linear way, as something that comes from something, since it comes from many places. And what resulted from the 15M also led away to many places. In this sense, there is innovation, politics, and citizenship, and these innovations have evolved at other scales.
There had been a way of doing things, in politics, in culture, in citizen participation and in technology, and the 15M was a great innovation in terms of the collective intelligence of networks, affections, self-managed spaces, multiple and transversal activism
Possibly it was a lot of micro-innovations, at the city level, at the level of very concrete groups of people, and there has been a leap to the macro scale. We are seeing macro policy innovation in representative policy. There is a new flow and way of relating between representative and unrepresentative politics, and it is difficult to imagine what it was like before the 15M. It sounds so old… but very recently these were very tight compartments, which did not relate fluidly to each other.
Francesc: Your book is built on diverse materials, based on the plural voices of the many interviewees. There is an interesting dynamic between the voices of so many different experiences and a framework of common values. Is it a question of values, of visions, of generations? Or it is more a matter of social urgencies against a background of preexisting classic values such as solidarity, belonging, the aspiration for a better world for all....
Bernardo: The book aims to create a dialogue between different views of the current situation, which is sometimes a bit suffocating, especially because of media-political upheaval or the tensions of representative politics, which end up exaggerating this climate of discomfort. This is coupled with a very strong neoliberal crisis and a loss of purchasing power, especially on the part of the middle classes. The book aims to look forward a bit, emphasising and making visible political practices, ideas, values, that are already underway.
The book situates them in a new world, or within a medium-term horizon, that "day after tomorrow" which, in some way, helps us to look towards where we can go. The voices are very plural and diverse, and the fact that they are combined in thematic axes has helped us a lot in getting a look at (and understanding) the power of what is going on and, at the same time, envisaging a possible, almost immediate, arrival point, the next decade, let's say.
The book aims to look forward a bit, emphasising and making visible political practices, ideas, values, that are already underway.
I think that the whole array of an ideology is being undone. If we understand the left as: 1) a set of values; 2) ways of organizing that tended to be vertical due to its organization in its party-format; and 3) symbologies, narratives, imaginaries. If we understand this whole array of ideology with these three pillars, it is very clear that the eruption of the first anti-globalization movement, the new heterodox lefts, new forms of citizenship and social struggles, and then the great hatching of 2011 world-wide, are two factors that leave the symbologies and the narratives of the traditional left (and, note, also the traditional right) very sidelined. But they also sideline ways, hierarchical party-political modes, top-down government modes, of political organisation.
Values persist. There are values that are historically ascribed to the left political framework and the right political framework. But what is happening in the renewal of both camps, and especially of the left in the Spanish case, is the persistence of the historical values of progressivism and social democracy, communism, or of the multiple lefts, but with a skill to reform them, bringing in new forms of organisation, of participation. That party-format is now party-movement, party-network. Of course there is something important for me, since they were formerly symbolic camps or closed ideological camps. That is, justice was a field on the left, and freedom a field on the right. What the 15M says is: "Excuse me: It's not just that this left-right axis misrepresents me, it's also that I’m interested in the bottom-up one too, and I don't just want justice, I also want freedom."
That is, from civil society, the two traditional political sides are also being questioned. It is very disruptive. This ability to organize in concrete things, in concrete votes, next to these citizen devices, this collective intelligence of citizen groups that are united in new parties, in movements (both the more traditional ones and the more hacker ones, more fluid, more multiple identities), this is the great innovation that disorientates both political camps, left and right.
Values persist. There are values that are historically ascribed to the left political framework and the right political framework. But what is happening is the renewal of both camps.
Francesc: And all this is also happening in a country like Spain, a very decentralized State, which on the one hand generates many spaces for self-management, collaboration, self-assertion and specificity in its connection with the territory, the neighborhood, the social movements. But on the other hand it is also a source of dispersion, of centrifugal forces, and that is where tension arises. How do you see, in the Spanish case, the ability to articulate a joint movement at a national level to account for this tension?
Bernardo: It was a bit miraculous, since the 15M eruption was a virtuous spiral in the creation of a new imaginary that, in a certain sense, had no memory. A place where, after the initial shock, the traditional and popular movements felt comfortable, speaking a new language and with new imaginaries still to be built, in this multiple and soft identity. Due to the 15M way of organizing itself, its replicability, there was a very powerful connection that lasted two, or even three years.
Then this led to the tides, the "green tide”, health, with a new way of organizing with fewer hierarchies, with party supporters, unions, but also completely independent people, doctors and patients together... We'd not seen that before! But then there was an extreme dispersion, a disconnection of the macro level, and then very powerful narratives erupting in the form of new political parties.
Above all came Podemos, its confluences, and municipalism, which is closer to the territory and with a DNA that goes beyond just the 15M. And in Catalonia, the "procés", which in some way appropriates that malaise and that desire for "real democracy now", and channels it to another place. There was a brutal fragmentation of different territories. The global union around new imagery, simple and aggregate, disappeared. And today, this global political subject, of the plazas and the networks, has not yet reconnected.
Making a starting point from common identities is super complex. That is why municipalism, which solved concrete problems and connected civic practices to solve related issues, is a bit more efficient than the macro level when it comes to connecting this dispersion. In the macro there is always a great dispute between the great media power, the great political-economic establishment that does not want things to change. They invent new narrative devices and parties to confuse and, in the end, try to prevent change.
The global union around new imagery, simple and aggregate, disappeared. And today, this global political subject, of the plazas and the networks, has not yet reconnected.
Perhaps at the Spanish level there are some very powerful escape routes and processes, but at the global level, I don't see it so much.
Francesc: This links up with the last question I wanted to ask you about the spirit of your book, because it exudes optimism and the desire to change things. I see activism, optimism, positive energy, but sometimes one wonders just how real this is, or if it instead responds to something aspirational.
Bernardo: I think we have to learn to look at everything with longer, more relaxed cycles of time. That is, I do not understand the current cycle of change. global revolts and political-social outbursts without seeing the previous 2000-2003 wave of antiglobalization, altermundismo, especially the Social Forum of Porto Alegre. Possibly we would not understand it either if we did not see the deep disruption that the birth and the extension of the Internet and the Web represents. And seeing now that the Web was registered with open licenses, in the public domain, and that it could have registered with copyright, is interesting, because it could have been an invention of the multinationals and the elites, and it is not.
In the book I often quote the work of Benkler, who states that after the eruption of a powerful technology, like the printing press or the radio, the cycle of paradigm shift lasts 25 years. In 1990 or 1991 HTML/ the Web is born, and today, 25 years later, we are at that cycle point.
In the case of Spain, it is obvious that there are reasons to be pessimistic, but when you are going around the world (and I have been living many years of my life outside the country, and recently in Brazil) and start comparing, you realize that there is a very strong movement here. From civil society, there are issues that are being put on the agenda that even conservative parties have adopted, from citizen practices, from new political formats. The municipal confluences are governing Madrid, Barcelona ... a lot of cities in Spain are governed by other political and social logics and narratives. We also see the emergence of new State parties that have left bipartisanship quite "affected", even ideologically.
There are many things that are going on, that are visible, tangible, and then there is a horizon that is announced in the book and in the different axes and chapters through the interviewees, where I have tried to thin this ecosystem of visions to announce this emerging world. Because going back is impossible. Neither social democracy nor savage capitalism nor communism worked: there is no possible return. We have to take advantage of elements that work from social democracy, free market elements, elements that have worked in communism and Latin American statism, loose pieces that work in the free ecosystem and hacker world.
Neither social-democracy nor savage capitalism nor communism worked: there is no possible way back.
If we put all these pieces to dialogue we have a puzzle of a world that is announcing itself, still fragmented, still to be built, without the certainties they had in the twentieth century, when there were closed horizons, be they the market, communism or de-colonialism. What we are seeing in small, medium practices, is a world that is underway.
In the book I cite examples in the rest of the world, which in some ways are ahead of us. The city of Naples has a very powerful policy aimed at the common good, with a legal framework for it. There is also a lot of interest in the energy policy linked to renewables and consumer cooperatives in Germany, and this new Internet of energy and energy exchange, which is on its way. That is to say, there is a great change, but, note, one thing is that this great change comes to an end, and that the people, the citizens benefit, instead of the elites or a small group of the establishment that makes it available for their own interests, in tax havens or in Switzerland.
It may be that the great energy transition comes, but it may be that only a few will take advantage. Now is a time for the great change to come. Some states may arise, some regional or local governments that realize that they have to intervene, not as they used to do before, but to empower the common and the citizens. Faced with an inefficient energy company, that costs us three times more money than in the Netherlands, they would intervene, but not as before, that is, nationalizing it, but through a new kind of intervention, regulation, setting up a proper legal framework, and possibly what a new public-private enterprise has to do is to encourage self-provision, distributed networks of free energy, solar panels, energy exchange between citizens, to ensure that that neutral network, that infrastructure, actually works.
The power of the neoliberal narrative has come to an end, it no longer convinces. In the recent past, it did, it had a great story. They will keep trying, through irregularities or even illegalities, but they no longer convince, they dropped the narrative, they dropped the mask. Then, in that vacuum is where all this shared experience, experience of transparency, participation, open democracy, sustainability, must arise. Otherwise, the monsters, that is, the, Trumps, the Le Pens, fascism, exaggerated and exclusionary nationalisms, can arise instead.
The power of the neoliberal narrative has come to an end, it no longer convinces. In the recent past, it did, it had a great story.
Let's see where all this goes. I am a militant optimist, and I think that it is going to go towards an interesting, citizen-oriented and more self-managing direction, and that we will see the State format reformed, as something more manageable, decentralized, closer to the citizens.