From the new July-August 2011 issue of News & Letters:
by Gerry Emmett
The Arab Spring has galvanized resistance to European governments’ aim of resolving capitalism’s crisis on the backs of the working class. Revolutionary ideas communicate across greater barriers than the Mediterranean Sea. Across southern Europe, resistance to austerity has begun to express itself in terms learned from Tahrir Square.
On May 15 a mass movement of Indignados (angry ones) began in Spain with the occupation of the Puerta del Sol in Madrid. (See “Greece, democracy and the economic crisis“) As in Tahrir Square the movement was marked by self-organization. One participant echoed the youth of Egypt:
“We believe the best way forward is to be active participants, rather than simply restricted to listening and not acting. This movement is led by popular means, by assemblies, through consensus. It’s the people who decide where this is going; it’s not one person who drags all the others with him–that’s exactly what we want to avoid.”
After a month in which this movement spread to over 50 cities and towns, the Spanish squares are now emptying, as the movement attempts to find its next step.
On May 25, inspired by the Indignados, the movement again sprang up (via a Facebook call) in Athens, Greece’s Syntagma Square. Tens of thousands continue to occupy this square outside the Greek Parliament. Similar occupations have sprung up in cities around the country, becoming known as “the democracy of the squares.”
This new movement is planning to come together with labor in a two-day general strike against austerity on June 27-28. The Greek union bureaucracy won’t call for an open-ended general strike. The ruling class remains bone-terrified by the prospect.
In both Spain and Greece, workers, women, youth, LGBTQ people have participated as part of the People’s Assemblies debating how things could change, and what kind of society they want to live in.
There’s a similarity here to the way the Civil Rights Movement influenced other freedom movements in the U.S. For example, the Free Speech Movement, which sprang up in Berkeley at the University of California in 1964, was directly inspired by the non-violent civil disobedience learned from the Black freedom struggle. Many Berkeley students participated in the Mississippi Freedom Summer.
Similarly, a delegation of Egyptian workers was heartily cheered in Syntagma Square.
There has also been a presence in the squares of the Right, in both Spain and Greece, attempting to capitalize on the mass disillusion with established political parties. In any genuine mass movement this will happen. The Young Republicans were also participants in the Free Speech Movement, at the very moment when the Barry Goldwater and George Wallace presidential campaigns were introducing a whole new level of retrogression into U.S. politics–what later became a reactionary onslaught that the world is still fighting today.
To wit: it isn’t enough for revolutionaries to focus only on what we are against. The movement of the squares searches for a positive vision of freedom.