Barcelona’s mayor proposes a network of refugee-cities

[Proposal announced by the mayor of Barcelona Ada Colau’s in her Facebook on 28th August 2015. Below you can find a translation of her message into English, by Rafaela Apel & Richard McAleavey.]

Enlace permanente de imagen incrustada

The day before yesterday 50 people died by suffocation in the hold of a ship. Yesterday more than 70 people were found dead inside a lorry. Today we wake up with two shipwrecks: perhaps more than a hundred dead. We have a sea full of dead people. Borders full of wires, spikes, blades… and dead people.

Men, women, boys and girls, dead.

And a part of Europe weeps, cries out, a part wishes them to be saved, to not die but… but does not want them to come over. They should go away, they should disappear, they shouldn’t exist and we shouldn’t have to see them on TV, let alone on our streets, with their blankets, in the subway or on the steps of our homes.

Some irresponsibly promote fear of “the other”, “the illegal”, “those who come to sell without a permit”, “to use our healthcare”, “to take our school places”, “to scrounge”, “to beg”, “to commit crime”…

But fear is just that: fear. Our fear to live in a bit worse conditions against their fear to not be able to survive. Our fear of having to share a small part of our welfare against their fear of hunger and death, which is so acute that it gave them the strength to risk it all in order to come over without any baggage other than their own fear.

Fear against fear. And theirs is stronger. So, Europe, Europeans: open your eyes. There will not be enough walls and wires nor teargas nor rubber bullets to stop this. We either approach a human tragedy starting from our ability to love that makes us human or we are all going to end up dehumanized. And there will be more deaths, many more. This is not a struggle to protect us from “the others”. Right now it is a war against life.

Governments have to stop threatening with the “call effect”. What Europe urgently needs is an “affect call”, a call for empathy. They could be our children, our sisters or mothers. It could be us, just like many of our grandparents were forced into exile.

Even though it is a matter of State and European competence, from Barcelona we will do all we can to participate in a network of refugee-cities. We want cities that are committed to human rights and to life, cities of which we can be proud.

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Andalusia: first sign of the two party system’s recovery? – Emmanuel Rodríguez & Isidro López

[Article written by Emmanuel Rodríguez (@emmanuelrog) and Isidro López (@LumumbaJr), published originally in Público on 23 March 2015, right after the regional elections in Andalusia, Spain. Translation by David Ferreira (@igualitarista)]

One of the peculiarities of Spain is that the country has been built from north to south. That history has been written in this direction is shown by the use of highly charged ideological terms like the reconquista, by which the conquest of the south of the peninsula by the christian kingdoms of the north is “naturalized”. It is one of those key paradoxes in the historical construction of Spain, at least if you consider that the Valley Guadalquivir and the Mediterranean coast [roughly the borders of Andalucia] have been the center of civilization in the Iberian Peninsula since prehistoric times, or if you take into account that Andalusia has been, for a long time, the richest region throughout modern time until the nineteenth century.

Do the Andalusian elections show a “reconquest” by the actors of the regime of ’78 of territory lost since the emergence of 15M? Not so much nor so obvious, it must be said. Certainty, the two party system has lost territory, having fallen from 80% to 62% of the vote. The two political actors of the latest generation, Podemos and Ciudadanos, have accumulated nearly 25%. Teresa Rodriguez of Podemos has achieved a hard won space against the “very Andalusian, leftist” Susana Diaz of PSOE. For his part, the candidate from Ciudadanos (Juan Marin), unknown till recently, has won a little more than 9%. A clear success for a party that declares itself “of and for” the middle classes, in territory in which the middle classes are so weak they nearly approach irrelevance.

However, for PSOE the results are practically the same : a little less than a million and a half votes and the same number of MPs as in 2012. Nor has the abstention been significantly mobilized. It has only increased from 60% to little more than 63%. The losses have been centered on the regional opposition party, the Popular Party, that went from 40% to 27%, and the partners of the socialists, United Left, that fell from 12% to 7%. For PSOE it has been enough to have a candidate able to play the cards of an incoherent and empty leftism, enhanced by the infinite repetition of “Andalusians & Andalusia”, in addition to the imposing image of a pregnancy that is show as often on television as at large political rallies, to achieve this “historic victory” that Susana claims for herself.

In any case, can these results be extrapolated to the rest of the country? It is here where all the interests lies in the Andalusian test case, especially for the only force calling openly for the rupture with the regime of ’78, Podemos. There’s little doubt that the party system has distinct time and resistance in the southern half of the Spanish state than in the rest of its territory. Nor is Andalusia a mere exception, but a piece just as unique as the others within a complex peninsular puzzle. Put another way, and considering the material of available opinion polls, it is doubtful that in Madrid or Valencia the Popular Party will be beaten as the number one force, as much as its 50% may be taken down into the 30s. just like the “historic” Susana Diaz, the regional organizations of the Popular Party are aware of the absence or low density of the organization of Podemos and Ciudadanos at the regional and local level; and that in this territory they can count on the strength of civil society, that is, of their clientele networks long and generously fed by the public budget. In the same line, but with different colors, the results in the Basque Country and Catalonia may show similar results with the affirmation, as well, of the parties in government: The Basque Nationalist Party (PNV), and a reinvented Convergence and Union (CiU).

It’s also necessary to recognize that Ciudadanos is a viable electoral reality and has managed to consolidate itself in territory that was less advantageous. Their 9% may double in the traditional voting areas of the Popular Party, fragmenting that “centrality of the spectrum” that the strategists of Podemos have envisioned. At the national level, the confirmation of a quadripartite -4 parties between 15% and 30% of the vote- opens a scenario of complex pacts in which the prospect of a constitutional rupture would end up delayed indefinitely. In this terrain, the possibility of a progressive government (PSOE, IU, Podemos) would be the worst option, in fact.
Ultimately, the always preliminary conclusions of the Andalusian election results may be, in the first place, that the political cycle is long, not short. In other words, that the election results may not conclusively show disillusionment with political change. It opens an uncertain period and with obvious problems of governance, but in which the position most probable -and most interesting- is articulating a consistent opposition that shapes the opportunities for rupture in the medium term. In second place, we confirm what we already knew: the political reality of the country is complex and responds to social and geographic diversity that makes inviable the populist hypothesis, at least in its academic version extracted from quick lessons of progressive governments in Latin America. The emergence of Ciudadanos, as the party of regeneration of the segments most neatly identified as the “middle class” and the diversity of the electoral results in the three regions that make up more than half the population (Andalusia, Madrid, and Catalonia) should serve as sufficient counter-proof. And lastly, and perhaps what’s most important: Many of the elements disregarded until now, mainly the need to build an organization territorially established, with competent structures and a solvent project (beyond the repetition of the memes of corruption and the “casta”) take at this juncture a relevance of strategic importance. For it to happen it requires a turn, in some aspects, that is a 180 degrees.

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The metamorphosis of Podemos

[Originally published in on 3rd March 2015 and kindly translated by Richard McAleavey ]

The metamorphosis of Podemos

Podemos General Secretary Pablo Iglesias in the Puerta del Sol, Madrid, on the March for Change, 31st January 2015 (source:\Marta Jara)

When the monster awoke one morning following a torrid dream of elections, it lay on its bed, transformed into one more party of rule. There it was with its hierarchies, its internal posts, and its phony rhetoric. It was now a party for cynics, destined to contain the democratic tide, rather than be washed over by it.

Such is the party-driven nightmare that many of us participating in Podemos have sought to highlight from the beginning, when we set our desire on electoral victory as the immediate political horizon. If Podemos must be a party in order to break the locks on the institutions, let it at least be a party different to all those it seeks to evict, both in the way it functions and in the things it proposes. The journey of representation means taking on baggage that may prove uncomfortable, but some of it can be an unnecessary burden that we would do well to avoid.

Obviously, we must keep in mind the limitations and the peculiarities of the sphere of political representation, as I wrote nearly a year ago. It is as illusory to pour scorn on the breaches that can be opened up from within the existing institutions, for which we have to adapt to the rules of a game that we ourselves have not defined, as it is to think that it is exclusively the Party or the State that brings about democratic change – least of all in one country, as Syriza is very well aware. Moving within the frame of what is possible, winning elections, which took Syriza a decade, does indeed require an electoral ‘war machine[i].

What is less clear, however, continuing this war metaphor, is whether this machine works better in the manner of national armies of old, or whether it should be understood based on the innovations and lessons that networked insurgencies have provided. What is even less clear is whether such a machine would then serve to develop good government (the “what for” that ought to complement the “winning”). To win seats in parliament requires a competitive logic; a good democratic government requires a logic of co-operation.

Since Podemos unveiled itself in January 2014 as a ‘method for participation open to the entire public’[ii], the initiative has evolved to the point that it has formalised as a political party. This constitutive process finalised on the 14th of February passed following the election of the different internal posts on a national level. However, with regards to the process of organisation, and in an electoral context where prospects are good, the debate frequently took the form of a war waged in personalised and binary terms, between fans and trolls. This internal rancour was fed in part by the establishment of a system of internal lists and voting that did not correct the existing inequalities in terms of access to media resources, but rather took advantage of these inequalities, albeit without acknowledging this openly. But it is not as simple as this.

The preoccupation with ‘internal democracy’, or to put it another way, with forms of internal-external interaction and communication that do not merely go in one direction, is not the product of the fear of winning or the inability to win, and it is not liberal scruples that take no account of the particulars of what we are building or of what is at stake in strategic terms. This preoccupation is legitimate because it emerges from what we have learned about the party-form after a long historical experience, not from self-serving theoretical abstractions. It is legitimate, moreover, because it is faithful to the ultimate objective that moves all of us who have set out on this adventure in good faith: contributing to a real democratic rupture. The way in which we organise ourselves and treat each other within the Podemos environment prefigures in many respects the way in which a Podemos government will be organised and how it will relate to the public.

In many ways, Podemos is currently more democratic than other parties, but it is also true that there has been a consolidation of a mode of operating in which the decisions tend to come from the centre so as to be rubber-stamped by what had initially been nodes that had a degree of meaningful autonomy. This tendency has not been consolidated completely, due to territorial diversity, due to the margin allowed by the gaps in internal regulations, and to the informality that still characterises a good deal of relations inside the party, as a consequence of its particular origin and its initial development.

What is true is that until summer of 2014, or perhaps until the citizen assembly in Vistalegre, Podemos was overflowing at every level, with different constitutive and militant elements (television spokespersons, Anticapitalist Left, circles, sympathetic activists etc.) interacting with a social ecosystem influenced in large part (but not completely) by television. As we know, the electoral success of the 25th of May placed the media focus definitively on Podemos, and, in the context of an accelerated political decomposition of the regime, Podemos began to occupy centre stage. It forced all the other parties to use its terms and its methods, albeit in a purely rhetorical manner. This being the case, the main preoccupation, in organisational terms, of the group that developed around the leadership of Pablo Iglesias, consisted of controlling this overflow, out of fear (reasonable in some cases, excessive in others) of entryism and the ‘appropriation’ of the brand -on a local level, for example- for different ends to those declared by the main leaders. The problem is that this intent on control, along with the way in which it has been practised, can end up mystifying the possibilities for empowerment and effective participation, thereby limiting the very effectiveness of the political strategy that has been set out.

One fear, already present since the beginnings of this project, is ‘if the project is presented in terms of representation, presupposing the homogeneity and the unity of the body it must head up, it will cancel out its own conditions of possibility[iii]. Well, this risk appears to be materialising before our eyes. A glance at the evolution over time of all surveys (see the interesting graphic below that is regularly updated on Wikipedia) shows how growth was vertiginous in the run-up to the European elections, less so but still very significant during the September-November process of constitution, only to stagnate since then, even following the successful mobilisation of the 31st of January.

15-day trendline showing average ratings from various surveys between November 2011 and mid-February 2015. Podemos in purple. Source: Wikipedia

Should things continue like this, even were Podemos to win the next general elections, it may not do so with the resounding victory needed to kick off a constituent dynamic driven from below. Even victory at the elections itself is open to question, despite decent surveys, given that the Spanish electoral system, when it comes to parties at State level, rewards parties that win over 25% and punishes those below this level. Podemos currently oscillates in and around this percentage, which is relative and a function of the degree of growth or collapse of other forces. Hence it is worrying to encounter the self-satisfied reading according to which the surveys ‘unanimously show an upward trend, at a vertiginous speed, and if we manage to maintain this ascent we will be in a position to govern, possibly with an absolute majority[iv]‘. As we can see for ourselves, this assessment is incorrect, as is also the insinuation that the rapid upward growth is exclusively down to a small team.

That is, from the citizen assembly onward we have witnessed a slowing of the growth of Podemos, though for the moment it is still benefiting from the deterioration of the PP, PSOE and IU. Another symptom is the diminishing participation in internal electoral processes, despite the rise in the number of people signed up (this may also indicate that those participating are the most recent arrivals, whereas many of those who took part initially are now abstaining). This slowing down coincides, moreover, with a decided withdrawal, as a consequence, on the one hand, of internal electoral processes, and, on the other, the growing subordination to the agenda of television stations that are currently sympathetic but whose fundamental task consists of normalising the phenomenon. Firms such as Atresmedia and Mediaset have their own interests, in accordance with which, for example, they frame the content of what must be the object of public debate. The current promotion of Ciudadanos in these media outlets also goes in the direction of preventing a broad majority for Podemos and filing off its rupturist edges.

Undoubtedly it is dizzying to think how far Podemos has gone in such a short period of time. Today the betting favours Podemos because it has positioned itself as the new winning horse, because it is the only option in the running that seeks a rupture with the regime of 78 and has possibilities of governing at State level and in various regional governments. And even were the least favourable results in the polls to become reality, they would still amount to an unprecedented historical event. It is logical to try and preserve positions that have been won and to avoid false steps now that a distorting microscope looms over Podemos and complicated decisions are on the way following the next regional elections. But to be satisfied with this is a dangerous invitation to lead the opposition. Once the novelty has worn off, might it not be the very fact that Podemos is finally recognisable and predictable, that is, less monstrous, what now makes it more vulnerable? Is it reasonable to tone down proposals for the electoral programme, or cast aside as marginal ideas that are feasible and at the same time innovative -constituent- as is the case with those that bring a transformative quality and those that would oblige other forces to make a move? Does respectability entail looking more like what you are criticising, or does it rather mean taking this criticism to its ultimate consequences?

These observations do not deny that the electoral fray is still wide open. They merely express cautiously that the political task that confronts us is enormous. It is for this reason that it is worth asking the new state-wide Citizen Council, whilst recognising the great deal of good it has achieved until now, that it conduct a serious reflection on the shortcomings of the present strategy and on what can be improved, not only with a view to winning the elections but also to anticipate the future actions of government in the European framework. In order for Podemos to gather together a broad social (and hence electoral) majority the party will need to avoid closing in on itself, and to seek formulas that lead to new overflows, new viral effects. This representative majority will not be achieved merely by attracting old voters or activists from the PP or the PSOE or IU, but also all the various abstentionists who when taken as a whole constitute the main ‘political force’ in the country. It will mean winning over but above all listening to and incorporating not only those who see themselves as middle class despite their precarious position but also the poorest of the popular classes, those with the least education, for whom abstention is structural. It would not be a bad thing to have more plebs and less party aristocracy. It is possible to involve people in the formulation of proposals for substantial change that they can treat as their own and not as measures desired exclusively behind their backs by an elite. After that the details of how it gets set up and its practical application will always be technical and the work of people with the necessary training; a great deal of work has already been done here, both in the university and in the movements. It is not enough, then, to denounce corruption on TV and avoid committing errors.

Podemos has not finished its metamorphosis. The tale can be different to what those who are satisfied by the current state of things are hoping for.

When the party awoke one morning following a torrid dream of elections, it lay on its bed, transformed into a monstruous tool for democracy….

[i] Link to remarks by party strategist Íñigo Errejón in October 2014. Errejón is now Political Secretary of Podemos

[ii] Link to initial Público report on Podemos launch, January 2014

[iii] Link to January 2014 article by Pablo Bustinduy, currently member of Podemos Citizen Council

[iv] Link to remarks by Luis Alegre, current Secretary General of Podemos in Madrid region, 10th February 2015, during campaign for Secretary General post.


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Gaza: European premises and conclusions


Conclusions of the Council of the European Union, 22 July 2014

Last week, while the Israeli army bombed Gaza and the macabre body count increased, the twenty eight Foreign Affairs Ministers of the European Union met at the Council and adopted Conclusions about the situation in the strip. They didn’t mention Gaza in the title, though. They rather talked about the non-existent ‘Middle East Process’.

Point number 1 develops the premises on which the European governments’political position is based. These premises make the rest of the declaration -which refers to the so-called “peace negotiations”- a farce. The difference between the tone used to qualify the actions of the Israeli army and those of the Palestinian groups -considered terrorists- is huge and clarifying.

First of all, “the EU strongly condemns the indiscriminate firing of rockets into Israel by Hamas and other militant groups in the Gaza strop, directly harming civilians. These are criminal and unjustifiable acts.” The document also replicates Israeli propaganda on human shields.

However, the EU only “condemns the loss of hundres of civilian lives, including many women and children“, without mentioning the responsible for such deaths, which is no other than the Israeli State itself. Furthermore, the EU Ministers recognize “Israel’s legitimate right to defend itself against any attacks“, reaffirming the idea that the ultimate responsible for the deaths of the Palestinians are the Palestinians themselves. Our governments only ask that the military operation should be  “proportionate and in line with international humanitarian law (sic)”. That is, the acts committed by the Israeli army are not “criminal and unjustifiable“, contrary to those of the Palestinian resistance. The world upside down.

Of course, such support was warmly welcomed by the Israeli government. Not only that. In an official statement the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ spokesperson goes so far as to insinuate that the Council conclusions were previously negotiated with Israel, as if it were another EU member state. According to the statement, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the far-right Avigdor Liberman, “who has been in contact with his colleagues, foreign ministers across Europe, prior to the meeting [of the Council] declared that the statement of the EU ministers illustrate that the free world is united against Hamas terrorism and that Israel has the full right to protect itself. FM Liberman also thanked the Foreign Ministry staff for their effective efforts in bringing about these results.

No further comments are needed.

 Comunicado IL

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Speech by Pablo Iglesias after Podemos’s success in the European elections

This is a translation by Richard Mac Duinnsleibhe of the speech made in the video below by Pablo Iglesias after Podemos (‘We can’) burst onto the political scene last night with over a million votes and 5 seats in the European Parliament. 


“There is magic. There is magic tonight. 

It’s as though you could touch the hope and excitement [ilusión]

That hope and excitement that has always been the motor of change.

Bona nit [Catalan], gabon [Basque], boas noites [Galician], buenas noches [Castillian].

Few expected a result such as this for us. But allow me to make a call for lament, and to remain on high guard.

The parties of the caste have had one of the worst results in their history.

But I must say that for now we have not achieved our objective of overcoming them.

Tomorrow there will still be six million unemployed, and they will go on evicting families in our country.

Tomorrow they will go on privatising hospitals. There will still be people working under appalling conditions.

There will still be young people forced to go into exile. There will still be a quarter of citizens living in poverty.

There will still be migrant workers who are treated like animals. There will still be unpunished bankers at large. There will still be corrupt bankers climbing into official cars.

Tomorrow, Merkel and the financial powers will go on making decisions against us and against ordinary people [la gente].

We have made a lot of progress, and we have surprised the caste. But the task we are confronted with from tomorrow on is enormous. That is why I want to ask everyone committed to the defence of democracy to be on high guard. Podemos was not born to play a token role. We were born to go out and get them all, and we are going to go out and get them.

(Crowd chants “Sí se puede!”)

Maybe for many people this result is a success. But I want to say that we are not satisfied. From tomorrow on we will start work so that as soon as possible we can celebrate that our country has a decent government, and we will get rid of the caste.

We are going to work for the union of the peoples of the south of Europe, in defence of sovereignty, and of a decent and democratic Europe. A Europe in which no financial power is above the interests and will of ordinary people [la gente].”

(Crowd chants “The people united will never be defeated!”)

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Nelson Mandela: Before prisoner, beyond president

Nelson Mandela: Before Prisoner, Beyond President

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Close encounters of the shameful kind

[Post originally posted in Spanish in Quilombo]
Spanish Civil Guard evicted inmigrants by force from Isla de Tierra (Earth Island, part of the Alhucemas Islands archipelago) to the Moroccan shore. Early morning of Tuesday 4th of September. Photography: Uly Martín, El País.

Military, police, lights and cameras were looking forward to the arrival of the aliens, who had previously landed in the wrong planet. François Truffaut, rest in peace, was not there. He would have tried to communicate with those strangers: who were they?, what did they want?, what were their dreams?, how can we help?. The aliens believed they had reached an hospitable planet, but instead they found a game preserve. No melody was sung. Perhaps they didn’t know John Williams’ music. Or maybe it is because they arrived handcuffed, exhausted and terrified. The armed nasty threatened them with their flags. And then someone, somewhere, felt ashamed to be human.

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