We are living in an exceptional time that demands brave, creative initiatives. If we are able to imagine a different city, we will have the power to transform it.”
“There was a belief in the revolution and the future, a feeling of having suddenly emerged into an era of equality and freedom. Human beings were trying to behave as human beings and not as cogs in the capitalist machine.” This is how George Orwell described the city of Barcelona during the anarchist revolution of 1936 in his classic Homage to Catalonia. A short-lived dream that was soon to be crushed by Franco’s fascist regime.
Almost 80 years later, the City Hall of Barcelona sells a very different dream to the world. An over-developed, highly commercialized Barcelona that has become a theme park for tourists, who blissfully wander the streets of the charming metropolis, unaware of the harsh difficulties many of its citizens are actually going through. The clash between those two Barcelonas is becoming increasingly intolerable, as seen in the recent struggles over the eviction of self-organized community squat/centers such as Can Vies, among others.
However, that spirit Orwell once sensed in Barcelona never really died. The Spanish revolutionaries of today may not be fighting fascism with weapons, but they are fighting neoliberalism with real democracy. That’s what the 15-M movement is all about, a movement that is now evolving into various efforts to take people’s assemblies from the streets to the political institutions. At a national level, the most relevant are Movimiento por la Democracia, Partido X and Podemos, whose front man Pablo Iglesias was chosen by the Confederal Group of the United Left (GUE) as a candidate for the Presidency of the European Parliament, no less! Catalonia also has its own bottom-up political organizations, such as Procés Constituent (with its charismatic leader, Teresa Forcades) and CUP, which already has three representatives in the Catalan Parliament.
And now comes a new call for a democratic revolution from Barcelona itself, by way of a platform named Guanyem Barcelona [Let’s Win Barcelona], launched by a group of the city’s intellectuals, cultural workers and activists. Among the latter is Ada Colau, who is well known in Spain as the spokeswoman for PAH, a countrywide movement that aids victims of home evictions by banks. Even though Guanyem Barcelona’s aim is to win the next municipal elections, set for May 2015, it is not a political party as such. Rather, it’s an invitation to existing social movements and political organizations as well as regular citizens to converge around four fundamental objectives:
1. To guarantee basic rights and a decent life for all.
2. To foster an economy that prioritizes social and environmental justice.
3. To democratize institutions and allow people to decide what kind of city they want to live in.
4. To meet an ethical commitment towards citizens.
Here is our English translation of the inspiring Let’s Win Barcelona manifesto (also shown on the Guanyem Barcelona website):
We are living in a time of deep changes. Taking advantage of the economic crisis, the financial powers have launched an open offensive against the social rights and conquests of the majority of the population. However, the longing for real democracy is becoming stronger and stronger in the streets, in town squares, online and also in the ballot boxes.
Over the past few years, numerous citizen movements and initiatives have denounced the scam we are being subjected to and have demonstrated the inability of old-school politics to respond to people’s needs. But these initiatives have often come up against the arrogance of the elites, who feel immune, who won’t correct their mistakes, and who now want to impose a second Transición so that nothing changes.
We cannot afford another institutional blockade from above that leaves us without a future. We need to strengthen, more than ever, the social fabric and the spaces for citizens to self-organize. But the time has also come to take back the institutions and put them to work for the majority and the common well-being.
In order to prove that we can do things differently, we need to proceed step by step. And the first step is to begin with that which is closest to us: the municipal sphere, our city, our neighbourhoods.
Barcelona is a decisive place to promote this much-needed democratic rebellion. First of all, because it already has an associative and activist network that is capable of carrying out ambitious projects for change. And secondly, because a democratic rebellion in Barcelona would not just be a merely local phenomenon. It would connect with many other related grassroots efforts to break away from the current political and financial system. In Catalonia, in Spain as a whole, and in Europe.
Because we believe in the right to choose, we want to choose, here and now, what the Barcelona we need and yearn for should look like.
We want a city that fosters the honesty of those who govern it and prevents a mafia-like collusion between politics and money. We must end the accumulation of political positions, limit salaries and terms, advance transparent agendas, and establish efficient mechanisms to control public officials. We want a new ethical contract between citizens and representatives.
We need to find a way to stop and reverse the insulting inequalities that have developed in recent years. We want a city without home evictions or malnutrition, where people aren’t condemned to live in darkness or to put up with abusive increases in the price of public transport. Access to housing, education, healthcare and a basic income should be guaranteed rights for all, not privileges that only a few can afford.
We want a genuine metropolitan democracy, which obligates political representatives to lead while obeying. A decentralized democracy with direct elections of each district’s councilmen and -women, with social oversight of its budgets, where citizens help to make joint, legitimated decisions through proposals and binding referendums.
We need a Barcelona that is welcoming but also willing to stand up to powerful lobbies from the financial, real estate and tourism sectors. We need institutions that promote a social economy and the creation of sustainable jobs. Public contracts must meet social justice and environmental criteria.
We do not want a city that sells its urban heritage to the highest bidder. We want institutions that recover the democratic control over its water supply, that implement fiscal measures and city planning that put an end to land speculation and promote environmentally sustainable energy and transport policies.
Many of these initiatives are supported, and have been for some time, by social, neighbourhood and union movements as well as by various political organizations. But we won’t be able to carry them out without the involvement of broad sectors of society.
Rescuing democracy from the powers that have kidnapped it is a difficult and ambitious, yet thrilling, challenge. It requires creating new tools for social coordination and political intervention, where organized citizens and those who are beginning to mobilize can meet. Both people who have been fighting for some time and those who feel cheated but are longing to become excited about a common project.
That is why we are launching this civic platform. To build a joint candidacy that represents the majority, with the aim to win. A candidacy that inspires enthusiasm, that is present in neighbourhoods, at workplaces, in the cultural community, and that allows us to transform institutions to serve the people.
We don’t want a coalition or a mere combination of political parties. We want to stay away from the old party logic and build new realms that, while respecting each organization’s identity, transcend the arithmetic sum of the parts involved. We believe that our city meets the necessary conditions to make it possible.
There is no magic formula to solve the difficulties we will come up against on the way. We will have to ask questions as we move forward, and we shouldn’t be afraid to do so. Our most successful experiences show us that, if we organize around specific objectives and practices, we can reach goals that may have seemed impossible.
Despite the harshness of the financial crisis, a historic opportunity has cracked open, which we cannot and will not fail to seize. We are living in an exceptional time that demands brave, creative initiatives. If we are able to imagine a different city, we will have the power to transform it.
We invite you to discuss this together on June 26th. For us, for those who tried before us and for those who are yet to come. It’s time to prove that it is possible to build a different city. It’s time to win Barcelona.
The much anticipated June 26th meeting was in fact a resounding success. About 2000 people of all ages and walks of life attended, overflowing both the main hall and the overflow area with hope and enthusiasm. Representatives of the above-mentioned social movements and political parties were also present. And not just those from Catalonia. Even top members of Podemos travelled from Madrid to Barcelona for the occasion, a sign that this initiative may well encourage other Spanish towns and cities to follow a similar path for their own upcoming local elections .
One of the most applauded lines in Ada Colau’s empowering speech was her vision of converting Barcelona’s beautiful concert hall El Palau de la Música (a symbol of modernist architecture that has, sadly, become a symbol of the “mafia-like collusion between politics and money” as well) into a people’s self-organized cultural center. An image reminiscent of when the Barcelona Ritz Hotel restaurant was converted into a communal dining room back in Orwell’s day (see minute 5 of this video).
The term Orwellian has become synonymous with the totalitarian, centralized government the author envisioned in his later novel Nineteen Eighty-Four. But Orwell not only had nightmares. He had dreams, dreams of “equality and freedom”. Don’t we all?
Note:  Since this article was written, several Spanish cities have already started their own “let’s win” initiatives, including Ganemos Madrid, Ganemos Sevilla, Ganemos Málaga, Ganemos Valladolid, Ganemos Las Palmas, Ganemos Almería, and Ganemos Toledo.
Original article and translation by Arianne Sved – Guerrilla Translation!
Images: Linocut (inspired by Gaudí sculptures on the roof of La Pedrera, Barcelona) by Michael Paragon. Photo by an anonymous member of Guanyem.
This translation has also been published in Occupy.com
Whatever happened to the 15-M Movement? Where did Occupy go? Three years after the groundbreaking revolutionary ruptures of 2011, violent repression and media invisibility have relegated these thriving movements to a grey area. The perception seems to shift between mainstream derision and niche-group interest. Occupy’s roots have spread out and sprouted a multitude of initiatives, though perhaps the source inspiration is not always publicly recognized. But in Spain, the popular experience of austerity – the murderous palliative prescribed as a cure for the crisis – and the resulting political movements in reaction have been giving the lie to the mainstream narrative that 15-M is a “has been”.
The movement undeniably lives. Its form has been mutated, re-imagined, distributed, and coalesced into a swarm of activity and hacks to the system. We live here, we see it every day. These initiatives are not as easily seen, defined – or, for that matter, targeted – as a physical occupation may be; yet they permeate the hegemony, creating new possibilities and spaces. You need only look at the recent EU Parliamentary election results to see how Spanish voters have reacted to austerity and debt – and how that reaction contrasted strongly with that of some other European nations. One of the most important evolutions of 15-M is undoubtedly the “Movimiento por la Democracia” (Movement for Democracy).
Unsurprisingly, the Movement is hard to define. It clearly targets the political arena without desiring to become a political party itself. Their “Charter for Democracy” is an inspiring, thorough text on what politics should be. It proposes a politics for the people: squarely grounded in environmental realities and social justice, based on the Commons, defended from corporate interests and neo-liberal dictates. The Charter was written collectively through nearly 30 different workshops throughout Spain held over the span of a year, with the collaboration of some 200 individuals.
As Movimiento por la Democracia expresses, “It isn’t finished. We don’t want it to be finished; we want it to be a living document, in a constant state of discussion and production. We think it’s a good summary of the main demands the citizenry has put on the table over the last few years – our needs and desires. Now we need your help. The Charter can only make sense when shared widely, so it can stir extensive debate. If you find it interesting, we ask you to share it on Social Media, send it by email or get it into people’s hands in a thousand different ways. We ask you to comment on it, debate it, refute and if you like it, make it yours”.
To that end, we’re proud to present the Charter for Democracy in English for the first time, complete with its beautiful original illustrations by Clismón. Our role in this translation was something like post-production. We took the time to bring it together, polish and clarify it, to do service to the volunteer labor that went into the translation (see below for full credits). It’s serious reading, and essential reading for anyone passionate about true democracy and commons-based governance. As they say, please read it and, if you want to, make it yours.
A CHARTER FOR DEMOCRACY
This Charter was born of a deep malaise: lack of prospects, mass unemployment, cuts in social rights and benefits, evictions, political and financial corruption, dismantling of public services. It was drafted in reaction to the social majority’s growing lack of confidence in the promises of a political system devoid of legitimacy and the ability to listen.
The two-party system, widespread corruption, the financial dictatorship imposed by austerity policies and the destruction of public goods have dealt the final blow to a democracy long suffering from its own limits. These limits were already present in the 1978 Constitution. They can be summarized as a political framework that neither protects society from the concentration of power in the hands of the financial groups, nor from the consolidation of a non-representative political class. This political framework has established a system which is hardly open to citizen participation, and unable to construct a new system of collective rights for our protection and common development. This is evident in the fact that, despite some very significant public demonstrations, the demands of the vast majority of the population have repeatedly been ignored.
Faced with this institutional stonewalling and the growing separation between the rulers and the ruled, it seems there’s only one way out: a deep expansion of democracy based on citizen control over political and economic power. Surely, since what’s left of democracy is constantly shrinking and attempts at internal reform would only mean repeating the same mistakes, we must take a chance on changing the rules of the game – a democratic change, geared toward returning to society the effective decision-making ability over all which concerns it.
Chaos and dictatorship are not the only alternatives to the current democracy. A democracy created among all people is possible – a democracy not reduced to merely voting, but founded on participation, citizen control and equal rights.
This Charter emerged from the desire to contribute to this process of democratization. In this sense, it contributes from a place of joy, from the energy of citizen mobilizations, from politics happening outside political parties, speaking in first person plural and trying to build a life worth living for everyone. No doubt the impetus is democracy itself. People have the ability to invent other forms of governing themselves and living together. This text was created with the assurance that today’s struggles are the basis of the coming democracy.
As this is a proposal of democratization, this Charter is presented as an unfinished, long-term construction project, openly inviting anyone to participate. This charter isn’t meant to be a political program or an exhaustive catalogue of rights, nor does it pretend to be a static State model. Given our investment in democratization, it simply points towards the basic, necessary elements needed to reconstruct a new institutional model that is open to the collective needs, proposals and capacity for self-governance that has recently found its voice throughout streets, squares and networks. Seen this way, the participative, deliberative process we yearn for matters as much as its content, which should always be a faithful reflection of the proposals and aspirations of the citizenry.
In essence, this Charter calls for opening a new process of debate, leading to a political and economic restructuring to guarantee life, dignity and democracy. It’s presented here as a contribution towards establishing a new social contract, a process of democratic reform in which the people — the “anyones”— are the true protagonists.
It’s time for the citizens to appropriate public institutions and resources, in order to ensure their defense, control and fair distribution. In the public squares and networks, we’ve learned something simple and conclusive which will forever change our way of being in the world. We’ve learned that yes, we can.
Rights and Guarantees
A democracy worthy of the name requires universal recognition of a wide constellation of rights related to all areas of public life and social reproduction. The decline in access to benefits and social services, the plundering by the financial dictatorship, and the dismantling of public welfare systems by austerity policies in recent decades have all significantly undermined the means of effectively exercising these rights. Similarly, access to many of these rights is conditional upon nationality and employment status, which has ended up producing major exclusion. Moreover, the subordinate nature of social rights in the current Constitution has not allowed sufficient development of certain fundamental issues such as housing, employment and income.
In short, both the inherent limits of the current system and the impotence of the Spanish political regime in protecting the most basic of rights are strong enough reasons for the creation of a new institutional system of rights and guarantees that enable caring, the development of our lives, and access to political life.
This Charter puts forward a common starting point for defining a new system of rights. Today, these rights have arisen from the demands and struggles of society itself, and expressed through its multiple forms of organization and participation; as such they are the highest expression of the act of democracy.
These rights redefine social relations, the production and distribution of wealth, and relations between nation-states according to a concept of the human being as a subject with the right to autonomy, but still in deep interdependence with the common space s/he inhabits. To this extent, these rights oppose being characterized as merely individual attributions. These rights must be recognized from both a universal as well as a singular dimension.
In order to guarantee these rights, we require an institutional framework that recognizes and promotes access to an active and democratic political life, and the recognition of the right to collective and direct participation as a real opportunity for the expression of the citizens’ desire to decide on everything which significantly affects the community. This framework should also be fully inclusive; one that accepts that we live in a global world, and acknowledges people’s right to migrate and/or settle where they see fit, in order to live life fully. A framework that could safeguard a life – our own – which, being interdependent, requires protection. This would comprise institutions specifically designed to ensure social reproduction, while neither delegating care labor to particular social groups nor permitting the privatization of that labor. A framework which also guarantees and extends all the rights already recognized in existing frameworks, constitutions and declarations of human rights, and which also recognizes the environment wherein life takes place as a rights-holder that should be carefully defended. This framework must, in the end, recognize society as a source of rights, therefore it must be considered open and under constant construction.
The basic principles which inspire a new, robust Bill of Rights with a guarantee of institutional means are:
- Universality. All residents will have the same consideration and access to resources that guarantee the effective exercise of their rights.
- Singularity: Recognizing that there are realities, forms of organization and a diversity of needs, different types of rights must be taken into account, including specific forms of recognition as well as human resources and economic requirements, to the extent that we must preserve such diversity.
- No regression. Public authorities are not entitled, once these rights are recognized, to interpret them restrictively or to reduce them.
- Equality. Given that all rights — civil, political and social — are fundamental to the development of people’s lives, the relationship among them must be protected and cared for with the same constitutional and legal guarantees.
- Multi-institutional and democratic guarantee. Rights should not only be guaranteed by jurisdictional means but also through citizen participation and extra‑institutional organisms created by the persons entitled to the rights themselves. The social participation in the recognition, extension and guarantee of rights through the institutions of direct election and citizen intervention procedures must be explicitly admitted.
- Financial sufficiency. The development of these rights must be ensured with the necessary economic means. These means will be provided by fiscal reform measures established in the following paragraphs of this Charter.
Finally, it is understood that a subject of rights is also a subject of responsibilities, insofar as she or he is part of a community built around a common project. These responsibilities extend to the environment we inhabit, and include accepting the responsibility to care for it, protect it and enable its reproduction, and in doing so, our own. Such responsibility involves all citizens, but is distributed according to the differences of wealth and ability.
The crisis has shown that the decisions of the political class are increasingly controlled by financial interests, and therefore, that democratic Government is conditioned by private enterprise. This situation has lasting repercussions, having provoked a major crisis of legitimacy and representation, aggravated by a state of continued corruption and underscoring the serious lack of existing democratic control.
In any case, the limits of the political system are not recent; rather, they’re structural. These problems can be summed up as: bipartisanship; one-party government in most autonomous communities; difficulty creating new political options; media monopolies; and, especially, the enormous legal difficulties in reforming a Constitution which, moreover, has never been approved by most of the current population.
This is compounded by the fact that political parties – the major players in political life – have turned into a self-serving class, primarily geared towards its own propagation. Without a doubt, institutional obstacles to direct participation hamper the imagination and formation of a political framework founded upon the direct involvement of ordinary people in public affairs..
The decline of the current democracy manifests itself in neglecting the demands of different sectors of society, thus magnifying the distance between legislated policies and what the people say they need. This growing gap between the rulers and the ruled results in the democratic deficit of a system that has prioritized governability over representation and respect for minorities.
The limits of the current democratic system cannot be resolved from the same position from which they arose. Therefore, in order to establish a true democracy, an overhaul is needed.
This Charter advocates a form of democracy capable of returning decision-making power concerning the fundamental aspects of life back to the population. A democracy based on participation in social and political life, one which enables joint decisions on how we want to live. It is, therefore, a wager on a new political agreement built in an open way and with the active participation of citizens. A new agreement based on the recognition of society’s capacity to organize, create institutions, and self-govern.
The construction of this democracy requires a series of agile, effective, and transparent mechanisms articulated on different levels and geared towards both deepening direct participation and the control of delegation, via representation, as deemed appropriate.
Some actions that could give shape to a new democratic political system are as follows:
1. Democratization of public authorities
- Control of representation. Revocable mandates by a social majority and absolute transparency both in public accounts and the actions of the various organs of Government. Tightening of controls and penalties related to corruption, and the development of independent supervisory authorities with competence over different public institutions. Economic and temporal limits on political appointments: salary caps; an incompatibility regime before, during and after the appointment; and effective limits on the duration of the mandate.
- Democratization of the internal functioning of the parties. Transparency in party financing, clearly democratic internal statutes, and autonomy of the vote of representatives to ensure the internal plurality of organizations.
- Reform of the electoral representation system. Removing privileges accorded to parties in the assignation of representatives; modification of lists system; eliminating minimum quota of proportionality; mechanisms of recognition and respect of minorities, as well as balance between the different territories.
- These mechanisms for democratization, openness and citizen control will be extended to other areas of collective representation, such as social and labor organizations, as well as the media, given their relevance in public life.
2. Recognition and extension of the ways of participation and direct democracy
- Recognition and expansion of direct democracy tools, such as popular legislative initiatives, referendums and virtual tools of participation.
- Recognition of citizen control instruments in all areas of the main branches of government, as well as on public accounts. The recognition of such instruments requires transparency laws and the development of flexible mechanisms for public hearing. Recognition of other social organizations acting as control mechanisms or political representatives.
- Developing mechanisms for collective deliberation: Favoring the development of methodologies for democratic deliberation, both virtual and analog, that promote shared decision making. These mechanisms will be essential in the development of new legislations and their budgets.
- Extension of the mechanisms enabling direct participation at all administrative levels, and management of public goods and common assets such as school boards, health councils, labor councils as well as local, regional and inter-regional councils.
3. Recognition of popular constituent power as the ultimate source of the constitution and the powers of the State
- Promotion of a model of open constitutionalism which allows reformation of constitutional standards from below, prevents foreseeable constitutional stonewalling, enables citizen reform initiatives and promotes permanent deliberation.
- The autonomous, independent forging of institutions for the self-regulation and development of rights generated by the social structure itself will be recognized and favored.
A mature political democracy will not only allow for the real and effective separation of the different powers of the state, but also for direct citizen control of the latter. According to this charter, the judiciary, state police, and security forces will also be subject to the same requisites of transparency, democratization and citizen control. Its ranking heads shall not be chosen by political representatives but directly by the citizenry itself.
A democratic society cannot be conceived without the guarantee of the necessary material support for the development of a dignified and politically active life. A democratic society without a fairer distribution of wealth cannot be conceived.
The high unemployment figures, the widespread insecurity, the spiral of evictions, the debt slavery condemning a large part of the population, the privatization of public services, the enormous concentration of wealth and the subordination of public economies to banking interests all point in the opposite direction: inequality and economic subordination of the many (99%) to a few (1%).
The current democracy as well as the constitutional guarantees on which it is based have been completely ineffective in avoiding this situation. None of the mechanisms set out in the Constitution of 1978 – social rights, labor rights, public initiatives in the economic sphere and the subordination of the wealth to the social interest, among others – have been able to protect society from economic and financial interests. Neo-liberal policies have prevailed above any other criteria, including the common good. This despoilment is most evident now, in the midst of the crisis.
This Charter intends to recover the social resources which have been privatized and concentrated into a few hands, in order to make them available for a real democratic process. Thus, the framework proposed by austerity politics will not be accepted. Never before has there been so much wealth, but rarely has this been distributed so poorly and under such undemocratic and unfair criteria. Therefore, a full review of the functions of economic policies is required, in order to prioritize of the welfare of the population over private, financial and corporate profit. A real, and not just formal, recognition that the laws of the market must always be subsumed to the social functions of the economy is essential.
With the aim of promoting economic democracy, this charter considers five basic pillars:
1. Financial democracy
Financial wealth will be considered as a common resource, upon which the citizenship must have the capacity and ability to influence. “Who regulates are the people, not the market” is the maxim that inspired this point. To do so, procedures will be established for democratic decision making on the debt contracted during recent years, as well as on financial and real estate assets in public hands derived from the restructuring of financial markets and the banking sector. To this end, the following measures are proposed:
- Citizen Debt Audit. This proposal allows distinction between those debts which are legitimate and those which are not. This audit will be articulated as a social process of democratic and financial education, whereby citizens may acquire greater capacity for decision making and control over the financial economy.
- Creation of public utility institutions, with financial and real estate assets resulting from successive restructuring. These institutions, under strict democratic control, will serve the promotion of economic equality and social development.
2. Tax reform
The object of the reform entails the promotion of a broad redistribution of expenditures and benefits, so that a formal equality is also a guaranteed real material equitability with access to common and public goods.
- Major proposals: the restoration of the principles of proportionality and escalation for both labor income and corporate profits; the implementation of new taxes on financial transactions and higher taxes on capital income; the decrease of indirect and consumption taxes, and prosecution of tax fraud. Tax reform will be based on a criteria of equality and equal tax treatment, as well as territorial solidarity.
3. Common and public goods
Privatization processes have shown that public administrations have not protected public resources against attempts at appropriation by private interests. The social recovery of these goods, as well as the democratization of their management, must guarantee their accessibility by the population as a whole.
- All goods and basic infrastructure needed for the reproduction of life, political participation and the normal function of the economy will have the status of public-common goods. These public-common goods shall include: education, health, housing, security, transportation, information, and justice; important natural resources including water, atmosphere, soil, oceans, coasts, rivers and riverbanks, forests and natural areas of ecological and aesthetic importance; and major roads, highways, interchanges, railway infrastructure, ports, and the like.
- Strategic resources and sectors of the economy, such as communications, energy, or mineral resources, will be reverted to a condition of public–common resources. The administration of those resources will be subject to a strict public and democratic control. This will effectively reverse the tendency towards privatization that has been promoted in the last decades.
- Public-common assets shall neither be alienated nor sold by public administrations. Being public-common property, they are considered the property of all persons residing in the Spanish State.
- Public-common assets shall be managed in a democratic way, regulated and governed both by mechanisms of citizen participation and expert communities required for each case.
4. Promotion of the Social Economy and Democracy in Economic Relations
This Charter promotes citizen participation in business-related decision-making processes, especially in matters which could be crucial to the common interest. In addition, economic activity will be subordinated to criteria of integral profitability, i.e. social, environmental and economic.
- It encourages the development of a new business model based on the principles of the social economy, cooperativism, and respect for the environment.
- All companies should progressively organize around the following principles: equity, respect for the environment, transparency, and sustainable development. Equally, controls over wage distribution in companies will be observed, forestalling the present model of speculative accumulation and extravagant salaries, while rigorously vetoing the increase of precarious labor.
- The fundamental principles of labor rights will be observed: the right to work freely or in exchange for just compensation; the protection of workers in situations of dependence; the right to rest and to retire; the right to autonomy and to dignified lives independent of wage labor, along with the right to strike, to form unions and to freely associate and assemble.
5. The expansion of social protection, the recognition of common resources, and the right to a dignified life
Our current system of Social Security is principally funded by income tax contributions and is only inclusive according to criteria of national legal identity. In a globalised context, where employment is scarce and non-remunerated work is seen as essential to the production of wealth, migration has become an elemental necessity for an impoverished population. As such, the prior bases of our system of social protection have proven to be increasingly inefficient and less inclusive.
An expansion of the pension system to comply with just and sufficient standards is required. Another requirement is an expansion of the support mechanisms and infrastructures for collective caretaking, which presently falls almost exclusively on families (particularly, women). Child-rearing duties are a collective responsibility with the following two requirements: the necessary budgetary development and allocation, and the creation of common infrastructures.
The production of non-GDP quantified wealth (in areas such as research, study, cultural, informational or communicative production) shall also be acknowledged through mechanisms for the recognition of all such non-remunerated wealth (such as a Basic Income), along with the creation of all the necessary infrastructures for the development of such mechanisms.
This new system of guarantees will be financed by the proposed measures for fiscal reform, especially through the taxation of financial profit and its circulation, while also reducing the proportion of income tax.
The current financial and economic crisis has shown the weakening of democracy at every level, as well as the fragility of territorial wealth-sharing mechanisms. The dictates of financial governance through austerity policies have established an extraordinary geography of inequality, plunging some countries and regions into the economic and social abyss.
The result is an important territorial split opening up both at the European level and in the Spanish state. In Europe, the absence of democratic intervention mechanisms and the crisis of sovereign debt have created a growing rift between a protected center and an increasingly impoverished periphery. In the Spanish state, the heavy indebtedness of municipalities and regions is leading to the dismantling of social protection systems and the sale of many public goods.
Both cases show a growing loss of territorial solidarity and the legitimacy of government institutions. This threatens a collapse that can only be addressed through a complete institutional reorganization based on democracy and territorial stewardship.
This charter invites discussion for a new territorial agreement at all levels, based on a radically democratic model. It is based on the assumption that decisions about the management of resources and services should be developed at the minimum level of the territorial unit, and forms of the distribution of wealth must be organized within the larger Commons to ensure equity between the territories.
In this way, it is intended to minimize the inequalities between them, compensating for the inequalities generated by models of territorial jurisdiction.
The new territorial agreement model shall be the result of democratic consultation and cooperation among the various territorial units. It should acknowledge the widest possible plurality, and build itself up from its residents’ right to democratically decide on their belonging or not to the different territorial units.
Territorial Democracy will be based on the following principles.
- Joint responsibility and equality. Membership in the political association involves the acceptance of certain rules and communal constitutions, as well as the acceptance of a taxation system and a communal budget sufficient to correct social and territorial inequality. The new tax system shall be based on progressiveness and fiscal equity.
- Subsidiarity. The management of resources and services as well as decisions on matters of public interest must be reduced to the minimum territorial unit in which it is most accessible to those residents responsible for such management or decisions. All services that can be better managed at smaller territorial scales will be managed at this level.
- Financial autonomy and sufficiency. Each territorial unit must have an appropriate budget for the provision of those services for which it is responsible. This budget will be autonomously administered by the democratically managed citizen organisms established for this purpose. Moreover, this budget will not only be guaranteed by its binding resources, but additionally by territorial compensation mechanisms established at different territorial scales. Autonomy in the management of said budget does not exempt those territorial units from the provision of certain services and fiscal obligations to the supra-territorial treasury.
The institutional development of the different territorial scales will be carried out starting from the following principles:
1. Deepening of political democracy: self-government
- To reclaim and develop all areas of participation and decision at every scale, building on the aforementioned formulas: the democratization of public powers and the extension of citizen participation and direct democracy mechanisms.
- In accordance with the subsidiarity principle there shall be an inclination, whenever the scale of the processes and resources involved allows, toward developing local and direct democracy at a scale closest to the people, i.e., local governments and towns.
- The democratic re-founding process is proposed not only at the Spanish State level, but also for the rest of the territorial scales.
2. Acknowledgement of the different scales and territorial realities and solidarity among them
- The forms of political union which may result from these democratization processes shall take as their aim the rejection of the current forms of territorial competition, as well as wealth redistribution at all levels; from the supra state levels, to those which are immediate to people, such as townships.
- European Union. The establishment of real fiscal, budgetary and banking cohesion directed at the practical elimination of the growing economic and social inequalities between countries, as well as of the controlling interests of the financial sector.
- The Spanish State, the current autonomous communities and whichever territorial entities that shall arise from the territorial constitution processes. The principle of fiscal equity shall be accepted, the existence of a joint budget, and the wealth redistribution according to the equitable methods of the territorial distribution.
- Municipalities. Financing and budgets, besides being subject to strict citizen control, will be guaranteed by distributive mechanisms accorded at the highest scales (regional, state-level and European Union) so as not to be dependent on property and land speculation.
3. The European scale of the process
- In the European sphere, a new constitution shall guarantee all the fundamental rights for every part of the Union, the political participation possibilities, the share-out conditions and the distribution of wealth, and a thoroughly democratic political structure.
- In the case that these minimums would not be guaranteed by the European Union, the various comprising territories could develop new territorial alliances from their own constituent political processes, in order to guarantee the previously mentioned principles and therefore their own collective survival.
- Translated by Jaron Rowan, Jaime Palomera, Lucía Lara, Lotta, Diego and Stacco Troncoso, edited by Jane Loes Lipton – Guerrilla Translation!
- Images by Clismón
- Original text, published at MovimientoDemocracia.net
This translation has also been republished in:
- David Bollier’s blog (with a special intro article)
- The P2P Foundation Blog
Guerrilla Translation/Related:Overcoming the Shock Doctrine/ Soy PúblicaIntegral Revolution/ Enric DuranPhyles and the new communalism/ David de Ugarte & Carla Boserman
Here’s our translation of Bernardo Gutiérrez’s love letter to his home city, a place that’s still surprisingly alive and vibrant in the midst of the austerity meltdown affecting southern Europe.
Amidst the nebulous boomerang of history, the 20s live on as a red postcard of a burlesque cabaret in Dadaist Berlin. The 40s bring back an echo of immigrant tango dancers in the suburbs of Buenos Aires. The 80s’ vinyl soundtrack is filled with screaming punks from #post-industrial London. And the 2010s will be remembered for its occupied squares, vibrant streets and political-cultural creativity. It will be symbolised by Madrid. In a few years’ time, some will recall the tumultuous political situation, the police brutality or the unemployment, but the image that will go down in history is a vigorous, intensely social city with an open, cross-cutting, oblique, politicized public space connected to the world. The 2010s will be synonymous with a city that was self-governed by its citizens, driven by a gust of social innovation and unparalleled dynamism. The postcard, scattered with raised hands, will read: La Comuna de Madrid.
Madrid’s Commune—more spread out, diverse and cosmopolitan than the Paris Commune of 1871—will be remembered as the birthplace of communication-action, action-thought, thought-prototype. Madrid as effervescence in the streets and on the web. Madrid as a territorial collective imagination and breeding ground for techno-political projects, processes and actions. Madrid as a glocal people’s lab that looks to the world while including it at the same time. But it’s not all assemblies, actions and protests at the Madrid Commune. This city, whose network weaves across the whole of Spain, is also hatching a body of theory around these new practices. A bastard, remixed, promiscuous theory. A practice theory. “The commons has become an area of exchange, where the traditional commons meet free culture,” says researcher Adolfo Estalella, contextualizing his text in Madrid. And herein lies a little secret.
Since the late 90s, the Madrid free culture movement has become intertwined with social movements at squat centres such as El Laboratorio. While Berlin squatters remain rooted in punk aesthetics and conventional anti-fascism, the thirty-odd squat social centres in Madrid (Centros Sociales Ocupados) are creating a new horizontal, aggregate, online world. A new world imbued with hacker ethics that distorts the frontiers between off- and on-line, blurring the borders between countries and nation states.
These social centres are different. They are extensions of the occupied squares of spring 2011. Centres that merge the notions of inside and outside. Centres whose actions reach every urban space. Sure, Madrid had never had so many squat social centres, but the quantity isn’t what makes this new era in the city unique. What does La Comuna de Madrid taste like? What does it sound like? What does it smell like?
On the one hand, some of these venues transcend the definition of a squat social centre. They are more than that. They’re something different. The most paradigmatic example is La Tabacalera, an old factory handed over by the government to social movements in the multicultural neighbourhood of Lavapiés. La Tabacalera, which defines itself as a self-managed social centre, is a space that would fit into the partner state theory developed by Michel Bauwens, founder of the P2P Foundation. The Esta es una plaza [This is a square] process, a self-managed park supported by a collective blog, has also had the consent of public authorities for many years. The partner state puts the governance of its spaces at society’s disposal. A networked, peer-to-peer, person-to-person society that self-organizes outside official institutions, but without rejecting them. This is what is happening at the Madrid Commune.
On the other hand, the spirit of the 15-M movement is creating a new kaleidoscope that is erasing the conventional squat from our collective imagination. From Patio Maravillas to La Morada in the neighbourhood of Chamberí, or the socio-cultural, liberated, self-governed centre El Eko in the area of Carabanchel, Madrid’s new social spaces are aggregate, diverse, plural, hybrid. And they don’t revolve around the old epicentre of “anti-system” antagonism. They are inventing and prototyping new worlds without having to frontally destroy today’s world. They build things, connections, processes, without antagonism. And the participation is much more intergenerational than it used to be some years ago. Madrid’s so-called Yayoflautas—the elderly of the 15-M movement—rehearse theatre plays at La Tabacalera, for example. The relation to technology has become far more intense as well.
In all these spaces, we see glimpses of the new world written in jargon and acronyms. An interesting text by Vivero de Iniciativas Ciudadanas [Breeding Ground for Citizens’ Initiatives] in Madrid uses terms like DIY (Do it Yourself), CO-, #, WIKI, MIDDLE-OUT, PRO-, P2P, DIWO (Do it with Others), SLOW-, CROWD-, DIT, @, OPEN, NET- or BOTTOM-UP to describe the new realm that is emerging in the city. Jargon and acronyms are commonly used in digital culture in an attempt to define horizontal, cross-cutting, networked, collaborative practices. So, what does the Madrid (P2P) Commune taste, sound and smell like?
An imperfect definition of a P2P (peer-to-peer) city would go something like this: a city whose nodes (streets, squares, parks) can be interconnected without passing through the centre. Person2Person. Square2Square. Park2Park. At the Madrid P2P Commune, the nodes/neighbourhoods have been reconnected using a logic distinct from that of city centre vs. outskirts. One of the great innovations of the Madrid P2P Commune lies in its open-air spaces. The 15-M movement’s early TomaLosBarrios initiative, which moved the Puerta del Sol encampment to neighbourhood assemblies, strengthened the already existing Comuna.
Ever since the late 90s, the skin-shedding has been gradual. All the 15-M movement has done is multiply and speed up the process. The Madrid P2P Commune began to take shape with the urban recycling/redefining of Basurama, ZooHaus, Left Hand Rotation or Boa Mistura. And with Zuloarks’s free license, low cost, temporary process-furniture such as the superbench or #Savethedinosaur. And with urban interventions by Todo por la Praxis, with their guide to Self-governed Urban Voids and their physical hacks such as the Guerrilla Bank. And with neighbourhood fabric regenerations by Paisaje Transversal. And with post-it galleries on walls and bus stops by La Galería de Magdalena.
The 15-M movement—the unavoidably common screensaver—invigorates the squares with political thought and action. A hundred political assemblies are held at Madrid’s P2P Commune today. The street, according to Adolfo Estalella, is not just the place where politics is exercised but also the political method itself. Henry Lefebvre’s “right to the city” is reborn day after day in Madrid, constantly mutating and recycling itself in the streets and online.
The above mentioned project Esta es una plaza paved the way to the hybrid city (digital networks + physical spaces). The Twittómetro, which took Acampada Sol assemblies from Puerta del Sol to the Internet, or the real time map of #Voces25S, created that digitalogical, physital, cybrid watercolour painting. Madrid’s P2P Commune is a city made of atoms and bytes, both virtual and analogical. Madrhybrid, as in a profusion of citizens’ streamings on PeopleWitness (a project born in Barcelona), or people wandering the city streets as they communicate with WhatsApp groups in real time, or a ThinkCommons.org session, where a virtual gathering of people from around the world is screened at a physical location.
The living city dreamt up by American Jane Jacobs, an icon of the humanization of urban planning, inhabits the hybrid P2P Commune of Madrid or the hashtag-action #BarriosDespiertos [awoken neighbourhoods], or initiatives such as El paseo de Jane [Jane’s walk], an urban walk-movement aimed at weaving together human networks in neighbourhoods. Madrid’s P2P Commune is a lively, bastard, interracial, profound, poetic, sexy postcard. University professors occupy the public space with 500 classrooms in just one day, including streaming and online coverage. And strangers meet in parks, squares or blogs at Desayunos ciudadanos [the people’s breakfasts].
So, what does Madrid’s P2P Commune taste-sound-smell like? Like the social life at El Campo de Cebada, recently granted the Golden Nica award by Ars Electrónica in the ‘digital communities’ category, El Campo de Cebada is an outdoor space, transversely and horizontally governed by its neighbours, where permaculture, beta architecture and free culture blend with an inspiring intergenerational-racial-cultural coexistence. At Madrid’s P2P Commune, the question isn’t so much what to do but how to do it. That’s why the city-world is devoted to the new concept of how-toism: the crux of the matter lies in the transversal, inclusive, interdisciplinary, heterogeneous processes and methodologies used.
Madrid’s P2P Commune is copyleft (free to copy). Its squares are copyleft. Anybody can sit down and talk, film it, share it with the world. Film your square. Copy it. Upload it to the MediaTeletipos cloud. The self is reborn in the we. Much to the annoyance of fanatical neoliberal individualism, this P2P Commune is DIWO: a Do it With Others, collaborative city. Fundación Robo isn’t a person. There are no leaders, no faces. It’s just us. The songs are collective. They are tranferable. In DIWO Madrid, the classic Bici crítica—a collective bike ride with no particular destination—transmutes into the Plano de Calles Tranquilas [map of quiet streets] or into a bar and co-working space called La Bicicleta, which began as a crowdfunding project. You can’t do it alone. You can with friends.
In the Madrid of the 80s narrated by singer-songwriter Joaquín Sabina, “the sun was a butane gas heater” and there were “syringes in the lavatory”. Unemployment. Junkies. Beer-drinking rock. At the Madrid Commune, there is unemployment, but the trans-, the co-, the inter-, the plural take precedence. So does the RAM Culture, a new cultural paradigm based on exchange and relationships rather than accumulation. Do it with others. Share books at Bookcamping.cc. Exchange your time at the NOCKIN bank. Share an Internet connection with your neighbour at WIFIS.org. Drink free knowledge at the Traficantes de Sueños bookshop/publisher. Lose yourself on a hacker sightseeing tour at the Loginmadrid project, where each local person functions as a password that allows the visitor to explore different neighbourhoods. Madrid’s P2P Commune tastes-smells-sounds like serendipity, random encounters, open culture, cross-over innovations.
In the early 90s, Madrid was still that “sea of tar, domain of the state” that the heavy metal band Barón Rojo ranted about. A #PostMetropolis divided into a centre filled with institutions and a working-class periphery emotionally disconnected from the heart of the city. Today, Madrid’s P2P Commune is a maze of interconnected public spaces that grows and mutates on the margins of governments and institutions. It shares ideas, it co-creates. It doesn’t rely on the Establishment, but doesn’t antagonize it either.
The city is simply reborn without asking for permission to occupy its inert or vacant spaces. At the San Fernando market in Lavapiés, for example, books are sold by the kilo at La Casqueria and vegetables coexist with free software. The city reconfigures itself crosswise, cross-border, asymmetrically. At open seminars such as Hack the Academy Studio, where academia tears down its walls and allows citizens to participate. At La Mesa Ciudadana [The Citizens’ Table], experts, amateurs, architects, artists, multidisciplinary networkers and city hall technicians get together to cook-think.
Madrid’s P2P Commune is the birthplace of the concept Extitución [Extitution]. If institutions are organizational systems based on an inside-outside framework, extitutions are designed as areas where a multitude of agents can spontaneously assemble. Liquid, flexible, inclusive, itinerant, post-it extitutions. Extitutions such as Intermediae, forged with free software and transversal participation, which sometimes holds its meetings-debates at the Matadero, but also at various other urban locations. Extitutions such as MediaLab Prado, which offers its body to communities, cooks open science, yawns multiple prototypes, transforms citizens into sensors (see Data Citizen Driven City) or its façade into a shared, recoverable, playable screen.
Spanish poet Antonio Machado once described Madrid as the breakwater of every Spain. In the 2010s, Madrid is a revamped breakwater of every square, continent, language and network. Toma la plaza. Take the square. Nationality is irrelevant. La Comuna’s area of debate is the world. Within the hyperlocal there is a global beat. People protect immigrants from the police. In common spaces—whether it’s La Tabacalera, El Campo de Cebada or MediaLab Prado—multiculturalism is the rule. And a growing galaxy of intercultural projects based in the city, such as Lab Latino, Inteligencias Colectivas, Red Trans Ibérica or Curator’s Network, connect affect networks throughout the planet by developing projects in other countries.
If this ungovernable city of layers—multicultural puzzle; national, micro-macro-cry—were governed by bright politicians, they would have already turned such effervescence into the “Madrid brand”. Madrid would be reliving La Movida all over again, a cooler Movida than that of Almodóvar. Or a Movida 2.0, designed to attract tourists, which would end up watering down the initiatives.
All the better if nobody takes over the narrative. Let it be a volcanic co-creation with no name. An almost invisible, choral, subterranean river. Let Madrid’s P2P Commune be a soft, yet constant, breeze; let it be rhizome; an ocean where glocal affect navigates amidst the macroeconomic storm. Let La Comuna P2P de Madrid be at least barely understood a few decades from now. Let it go down in history as the first stone, the prototype that—square by square, word by word, concept by concept—gradually replaced the old world without anyone even noticing.
Article translated by Arianne Sved, edited by Susa Oñate – Guerrilla Translation!
This translation has also been republished on:
- Translated by Stacco Troncoso, edited by Jane Loes Lipton – Guerrilla Translation!
- Image by ABCNT
- Original article, published at Soy Pública
Lately, we’ve been talking about the techniques of manipulation used by the government and mass media, regarding the privatization of public education, and all public benefits.
In these first months of legislature, the better part of this manipulation has been aimed at rendering us into a state of shock, after which, intimidated and paralyzed, we would not react against the losses of rights brutally imposed on us. The measures, announcements and declarations of the autonomic and central governments are meted out to us day by day, gradually, like a poisonous drip of constant anxiety. Relentlessly, the media – in some cases, better to say “propagandists” – continues their tireless preaching, like a disheartening echo of bad news from on high (from the council of ministers or the rating agencies).
Naomi Klein explains in her book, “The Shock Doctrine”, how neo-liberalism, unable to convince people by means of argument (since these neo-liberal measures are essentially anti-people), has only been able to impose itself via coups d’etat, declarations of war, situations of catastrophic natural disaster, or other traumatic phenomena, leaving the public in the grip of anxiety and fear.
And what, if not fear, are they trying to inoculate us with in this country? Fear of losing our jobs, for example, or of never again being able to find work, or of being offered nothing more than exploitation, plain and simple; fear of losing the right to healthcare,l or being unable to provide adequate education for children; fear of ending up foreclosure victims, sleeping on the street; fear, finally, of being unjustly arrested for peacefully protesting at a demonstration.
In this article, we examine how the shock doctrine takes effect on us under the name “learned helplessness”. But also, how we can escape this state of despondency if we learn to correctly attribute the causes of our malaise.
Learned Helplessness, a weapon of mass destruction
It’s true enough that the powers that be treat us like dogs, or at least like the dogs in Seligman’s experiment.
At the end of the Sixties, psychologist Martin Seligman carried out the following experiment. Inside a lab cage, a dog was exposed to a series of unavoidable electric shocks. Meanwhile, in a different cage, another dog would be able to interrupt these shocks by pressing a lever. Later, both dogs would be situated over an electrified surface from which they could escape by simply jumping over a barrier. The dog that had been able to control the electric shocks would jump the barrier, while the other dog, instead of looking for a successful exit from an adverse situation, stayed, passively bearing the shocks. This dog had “learned” his helplessness. Why waste the energy trying to escape from the negative stimuli when you know (really, more like believe) that you can’t?
Learned helplessness leads to depression. Not doing anything, because you think it’s all useless.
In the following video, we see a teacher inducing learned helplessness on a group of students through a simple activity.
From this we can infer that, given the current power of media propaganda, it’s feasible to induce a state of depression in large sectors of the population. Thanks to this video, it’s easier to understand why the victims of Nazi Germany accepted their deaths with little resistance, in much the same way that abused women often accept their fate with resignation:
To activate English subtitles, press captions button at the lower right
It’s terrible, isn’t it? But not as terrible as realizing that this inoculation by way of learned helplessness is, precisely, what’s being done to us. Right now. They’re trying to convince us to passively accept the loss of our rights and the privatization of public services with no resistance or protest. The slogan is: it’s useless no matter what we do.
We, like the dogs in Seligman’s experiments, are submitted to shocks, better known by their euphemisms “adjustments” or “cuts”. These shocks are apparently unavoidable, no matter how many times we go on strike, take part in informative actions or protests. Furthermore, many protesters become victims of unjustified arrests and preemptive prison sentences, hardly compatible with fundamental human rights.
Greece, which has suffered this commons-stripping for far longer, has seen depression spread like wildfire among the people. The suicide rate has skyrocketed. In his article entitled “¿Y si no hiciésemos nada?” (And what if we didn’t do anything?), philosopher Amador Fernández-Savater echoes this desperation that has taken hold of the Greeks.
More than 10 general strikes in Greece, but has anything been achieved? Alexandra-Odette Kypriotaki has taken part in the movement since 2008, only to move to London with that very question in mind. “In my country, you can’t even find a job as a waitress”, she told me. I met her in a meeting organised by thinker-activist Franco Berardi (Bifo) in Barcelona. Her presentation there was as evocative as it was challenging.
Reflecting on the underlying logic of conflict and protest, both impotent in preventing social devastation, repression and destruction, Alexandra proposed a new start from a different angle. “Neither fighting nor confronting, but deserting; neither demanding nor pleading, but unfolding, here and now, the world we want to live in. Neither taking action nor mobilising, but giving ourselves over to abandon. Turning our weakness into strength.”
Capitalism demands from us a constant disposition towards desire, contact, production. Where time is permanently occupied and under pressure to deliver results. Nowadays, being happy, optimistic and positive is obligatory. We must constantly project the image of knowing what’s up, that everything is going fine, it’s all under control, and we’re strong. But, doesn’t political activism often demand the same? Struggle, results, a ready answer for everything, constant high morale, rejection of the meek, doubtful and melancholic…
Couldn’t we muster up an army of the weak, the clumsy, the ignorant? The rallying cry could be, “Yes, we’re depressed, so what?” The program: “I don’t know”. The strike, doing absolutely nothing, not even mobilising ourselves. Do nothing day… Wednesday, then Thursday and so on.”
The figure of the helpless punisher
Arbitrary electric shocks, administered at regular intervals and beyond our control. Shocks, or the looting they call “cuts” or “deficit control”. Psychological abuse, bordering on the limits of, what just a few months ago, would have seemed like dystopian fiction: “IMF Requests That Pensions be Lowered Because of “The Risk That People Will Live Longer Than Expected”.
Rating agencies, international organisms (IMF, WB, OECD, WTO) in service to the financial elite, the European commission and the ECB… they all subject us to a series of demands and adjustments, gradual though inexorable. Of course, we are assured there is nothing we can do. On the other hand, cases like Iceland are silenced in the mass media.
What is the role of our leaders in this situation? Simply, to be efficient executors of this pillage ordered “from above”. “We have to do what we have to do”; “The European Union demands it from us”; “We must increase confidence in the markets”, etc.
There’s no point labelling the politicians who carry out these tasks as “evil” or “sadistic”, although it’s often tempting, given some of their statements. In her book Eichmann in Jerusalem, Hannah Arendt expressed her concept of the banality of evil: a mediocre Nazi civil servant like Adolf Eichmann was perfectly able to perform mass murders, not out of cruelty, but simply because he acted from within the rules of the system he belonged to, without reflecting on his acts. What Eichmann did was expertly carry out orders given from superiors, just as politicians in government do with the mandates of those representing the interests of financial capital. And they are unable to question the rules they follow, having been blinded by the tenets of the dominant ideology, neo-liberalism, which additionally legitimises the fact that these same leaders – or their friends and family – profit from it in ways which we would consider immoral, thanks to the loss of social rights of the citizenry and the privatization of the public sector.
Adding insult to injury, the government can even present itself to public opinion as mere victims of learned helplessness. This is typified by phrases like “I’d like to do something else, but I can’t do anything; the orders come from above. If I acted differently, the consequences would be much worse”. These selfsame heads of state become public models for learned helplessness. And, as we well know, the best way to lead is by example. This was the case when former Spanish president José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero was called by Barack Obama. But now, with our current president, Mariano Rajoy, this phenomenon has been so exacerbated that he himself has become a living example of helplessness and weakness, with his cheat sheets at public appearances, his absences, his gestures and actions. Here we see him in the Senate, running away from journalists eager to ask him about the latest budget cuts in education and healthcare:
In conclusion, what these politicians are showing us by “playing helpless” is that our country is no longer sovereign, but subject to the orders of those truly in charge: the famous “markets”. So why not be honest and consistent, and simply resign, and let Spain become a protectorate of financial capital just like Italy and Greece? Perhaps our role within the shock doctrine has not yet been totally fulfilled. We’re still not fully subject to learned helplessness. But how can we prevent it from defeating us completely?
Better living through attribution
To fend off learned helplessness, Seligman applies Fritz Heider’s attribution theory. In Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life, he studies three dimensions or characteristics of the attributional style, also called causal attribution:
- Personalisation: whereby internal or external causes are attributed to good or bad events. Either I feel guilty when I do something wrong “because that’s the way I am”, or I’m able to externalise the problem and hold myself responsible for making changes. This dimension is related to self-esteem. Attributing bad events to external causes increases immunity to learned helplessness.
- Permanence: the duration, stability or instability in time which we attribute the causes underlying good or bad events. Extreme examples are expressed through discourse in the always – never poles. Thinking that the causes behind bad events are stable, permanent or even definitive, makes us more vulnerable to learned helplessness.
- Penetration: how many areas in our lives are affected by our good or bad luck, whether these causes affect us globally or specifically. Expressed through discourse in the all-nothing extremes.
On the other hand, in their paper on learned helplessness and its immunisation in human subjects, José Ramón Yela Bernabé and José Luis Marcos Malmierca also refer to the importance of our controllability of events.
1) Depersonalisation: the problem lies in the situation, not within us
Another strategy used by the powers that be to trigger learned helplessness is encouraging us to blame ourselves for what is happening. We’re told that we’ve “lived beyond our means”, when in reality, the means allowed to those at the bottom were well below the standards of a decent life, as evidenced by low wages and the lack of basic resources such as housing.
Geographer David Harvey offers his systemic explanation for what is happening. According to him, we’re living through a process of accumulation by dispossession. With the fall in wages since the 70s, increases in profits are being absorbed by the capitalist class due to the privatization of common goods, the financialization of the economy, the management and manipulation of the crisis, and the uneven redistribution of resources. The author gives an overview of the current crisis in the following video:
Authors such as Vicenç Navarro have pointed out that the lack of resources amongst popular classes has provoked rising debt levels, and not the other way around. Had we enjoyed a public policy defending universal access to decent housing, people wouldn’t have gone into such levels of debt, and the housing and credit bubbles that led to the crisis never would have occurred.
So, we shouldn’t fall into the trap of thinking that the blame for this “crisis” (accumulation by dispossession) is ours. We must get beyond the mass media information overload, and analyse the underlying causes of the current social, economic and cultural model so we can help mitigate the harmful effects, and even propose new and different alternative models.
2) The crisis is also a crisis of the dominant economic paradigm
Regarding the stability of the source of our problem, we must ask ourselves: can this accumulation by dispossession go on forever? Are we now at the endpoint of history? Far from it. Many have pointed out that we are living through a global crisis in capitalism owing to ecological limits which impede the model of infinite accumulation and growth. The late Spanish ecologist Ramón Fernández Durán has, like many others, indicated that the predictable depletion of fossil fuels will lead to the collapse of our civilisation.
The documentary “The Story of Stuff” does a fine job of describing the human and ecological limits of the current mode of production:
So, instead of worrying about what’s happening, shouldn’t we be looking for alternatives already?
3) Opportunities for emancipation
Regarding the penetration of the problem; is our entire being negatively affected by this pillaging of the Commons?
While the crisis/scam is undoubtedly affecting a good portion of our lives, due to unemployment, ever worsening public services and the loss of human rights, it’s also worth remembering that there is life – a lot of life – beyond the crisis.
Now is the time to explore new ways of relating to ourselves, to others and to our environment. The time to look for new modes of life.
This economic model, even at its peak, was still the cause of dissatisfaction. Beneath the surface of consumerism, mutated into a pyramid scheme thanks to the abundance of easy credit, lurked a modern version of King Midas. Everything touched by the model was converted into goods, right down to our lives and the most intimate corners of our minds.
Alienation has never reached such extremes. While in the times of Fordism and mass production, the worker was alienated during his or her work time; nowadays, capital extracts profits from the totality of our lives.
The Commons, that which we all share, is what’s being “expropriated” by some, the 1% of the population, to keep on accumulating capital. Advertising appropriates our common culture to invade our brains with consumer programming. We relate to others under the criteria informed by rentability, and we ourselves become merchandise to be sold off in the labour market or when we try to draw benefits in our personal lives.
The part of our lives affected by the crisis is, therefore, miniscule compared with everything that this crisis of the system can offer us:
The best way to increase happiness is through interpersonal relationships. Fostering cooperative relationships instead of those based on competition. All that’s given shall not be lost.
Not allowing cognitive creation (our thoughts, arts, and knowledge) to be expropriated from the common intellect by means of so-called intellectual property; an illegitimate appropriation that answers to the interests of big corporations dedicated to the production and distribution of cultural and technological products.
The promotion of commons-based economy, where instead of rentability, value resides in a model of cooperative enterprises dedicated to improving both society and the environment.
Ending the predominance of financial economy over productive economy. Overcoming the scam that is the private issue of money as debt which enslaves persons and peoples through its mechanisms.
Rallying for initiatives such as basic income, so that people may work freely, and not be forced to work for subsistence. Natural resources are a common good.
And, to complement this basic income, why not propose — as F.D. Roosevelt did in his day — a wage ceiling, to be taxed at a rate of 100% once surpassed? As J.J Rousseau wrote in The Social Contract, “…in respect of riches, no citizen shall ever be wealthy enough to buy another, and none poor enough to be forced to sell himself.”
Value ecological proposals such as degrowth: consuming less, manufacturing less, designing totally recyclable objects and using less energy. Developing local economies.
Constructing autonomous distribution channels independent from the large-scale distributors that control practically all commercial activity, from production to retail.
Reconstruct the public sphere in a truly democratic manner, with the participation of everyone and as equals.
The future is, partly, in our hands
Finally, what is our capacity for control of our situation? In the previously cited article, Yela Bernabé and José Luis Marcos Malmierca argue that, in order to immunize ourselves from learned helplessness, the best thing is to have encountered neither success nor failure exclusively. Be conscious that there are things which we can control, and things which we cannot. As Epicurus remarked: “We must remember that the future is neither wholly ours nor wholly not ours, so that neither must we count upon it as quite certain to come nor despair of it as quite certain not to come.”
There are many examples of resistance to accumulation by dispossession that have triumphed in the world, such as the water in Bolivia or the insurrection in Chiapas. Never forget that history is mostly written by those above, who are happy to remind us only of the defeats suffered by those who struggled for emancipation.
Here in Spain, despite the clumsy first steps of a child learning to walk, the 15 M movement has obtained some notable successes as well as international projection. It has raised awareness about the root of our problems among a large sector of the population, it has put together very diverse social movements and it represents an excellent starting point for the development of cooperatives and solidarity networks.
Of course, we will make mistakes, but errors are what make us wiser.
Acting to open possibilities
In summary, faced with the fear that surrounds us, we must always remember that what is happening is not our fault, that the crisis is a crisis of the current economic model – which is not stable, it is anything but stable – and that this change can be an opportunity for a new, more humane world, free from the tyranny of money and other goods.
And, above all, let us never forget Alain Badiou’s teaching: we must act. Our actions do not have to fall within what’s possible; instead, the action itself can open up a new space of possibility. “A subject is a point of conversion of the possible into the possible. The fundamental operation of the subject is to be at the point where something impossible becomes a possibility”.
The following article, written by our good friend Bernardo Gutiérrez, looks at MediaLab Prado, a very special hybrid space in our hometown, Madrid. This translation features additional original content by the author (not originally published in the Spanish media article), citing MediaLab as one of the spaces where the initial gestalt of the early 15M movement was collaboratively created. It has subsequently been republished in Shareable magazine, and the website for The 2013 Economics and the Commons Conference.Image adapted from an original at Nómada Blog
It seems that “lab” is the word making the rounds amongst innovation buffs these days . Maybe the term “laboratory” isn’t the most appropriate analog, given that its dictionary definition, “a facility that provides controlled conditions in which scientific research, experiments, and measurement may be performed”, falls short in describing the present day use of “lab”, and what these spaces are about.
This divergence of terms originated with the foundation of the first Media Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), in 1985, a space characterized by its convergence of technology, multimedia art and design. However, in recent years, MIT’s model seems obsolete and at a standstill, especially when compared to a newer and more relevant generations of labs. Madrid’s MediaLab Prado, currently celebrating its tenth anniversary at a new location -la Serrería Belga– stands out as the premier reference points for labs worldwide.
So, what is a lab, exactly? A technical laboratory? A multidisciplinary space open to the public? Rather than nailing down one definition, it may be better to observe some of these labs worldwide, and notice the local idiosyncrasies. Any city eager to reinvent itself and adapt to the networked society invests in an urban lab, such as the Laboratorio Procomún in Rosario, Argentina. Cultural centers like, for example, Ljudmila Media Lab (Liubliana, Slovenia) are currently mutating into places where the artistic paradigm goes beyond art objects. Digital art spaces, such as the prestigious Eyebeam in New York, are recycling themselves following collaborative models. All of the above share a common source of inspiration: Medialab Prado Madrid.
This could likely be said about many other institutions, labs, universities and cultural centres around the world. Any city would be proud to host something like a Medialab Prado. What is it about this media lab’s DNA that makes it so desirable in areas as diverse as technological innovation, culture and civic participation?
The key to MediaLab Prado’s success may be held in a definition first proposed by José Luis de Vicente: “it’s a community incubator”. In fact, both words, “community” and “incubator”, have been the trend amongst Silicon Valley circles and community managers alike. It’s also worth noting that, as terms, they are seldom seen together. And, as Juan Freire and Antoni Gutiérrez Rubí express in their book “Manifiesto Crowd”, in the age of networks, innovation walks a different path. “The factories that were churning out companies in the 20th century are dead. The 21st century is witness to the birth of spaces for collective innovation”. An incubator lacking a community will never be enough. This is the reason why a lab – both in its physical and digital realms – needs to be an open platform. And that is precisely why MediaLab Prado has become such a a relevant space for coexistence, innovation and mutual co-creation.
MediaLab Prado is both a physical and a digital platform. Physically, it’s a space where anyone can walk in, while online it functions as a laboratory for connecting ideas. MediaLab Prado is an interdisciplinary workspace for creation and innovation. And here’s an important detail: its strength doesn’t reside in its own programming, put together by stewards and specialists. It lies instead in the various working groups, projects and encounters collectively cooked up by the citizen communities who frequent Medialab’s headquarters, or participate in its digital channels. Every Friday, for example, there’s an open lab where anyone can collaborate with anyone else in the creation of new projects.
Another defining feature is its focus on prototyping – another digital culture and IT term. Prototyping culture doesn’t seek definitive or finished products; instead, it prefers to function in a transparent and collective manner, employing open projects in a constant, citizen-fueled process of improvement. All in all, MediaLab Prado has become a catalyst for culture, technology, networks, science, education, and innovation.
Evidently, MediaLab Prado’s official areas of competence are both necessary and relevant. Interactivos? (a laboratory for creative and educative technological applications) Visualizar (data and citizenship visualization) or its Commons Lab (transversal investigation centered on the Commons) are clear international reference points. Additionally, self managed working groups, such as “Funcionamientos: Diseños abiertos y remezcla social” (Functioning: Open design and social remixes) or “Género y Tecnología” (Genre and Tech) are just as influential. MediaLab Prado cannot simply be described as a “Cultural Centre”, as it is so much more than a building populated with works of art or technological infrastructures. It’s a connector, a hub, a platform for the collective intelligence that is transforming industry, economics, technology, education and art throughout the whole planet.
In fact, it’s been one of the citizen hubs where civic activism slowly forged the 15-M/ Indignado movement that heralded Occupy Wall Street and the global revolution. To give an example, in early 2011, while Spanish mass-media ignored collectives such as Democracia Real Ya or Juventud sin Futuro, the Redada Encounters in MediaLab Prado transformed an incumbent and collective -as opposed to hierarchical- form of web activism into a palpable phenomenon. Open code practices, now essential to modern activism, have always been central to MediaLab Prado.
The challenges in this new chapter in MediaLab Prado’s history are undoubtedly many. One of the most important will be channeling corporate innovation and navigating new economic paradigms. At a time in which The Economist, no less, dedicates its front page to the sharing economy, MediaLab Prado is in a better position than many. By developing its own trajectory, it could well become a great catalyst for the future networks of innovation, open culture and citizen intelligence that will soon be needed in Europe. In fact, connections established within MediaLab Prado in these last few years have given rise to projects and citizen start-ups such as MLP, Play the Magic, Open Materials, Hackteria, Lummo, Muimota, Máster DIWO, Ultralab and Data Citizen Driven City, amongst many others. Certain working groups, like IoT Madrid (Internet de las Cosas) or exhibitory projects such as Impresoras 3D: Makerbot y Reprap clearly lead the way to the future.
Living at a time when most of the world’s population is concentrated in cities, urban innovation may well be MediaLab Prado’s greatest challenge. It’s no coincidence that some of the most influential labs in the world, such as CityLab in Cornellà, Barcelona or the BMW Guggenheimlab in New York, are focusing their efforts on urban innovation. This is the reason why Medialab Prado’s new location at the heart of historic Madrid is so essential. Its urban vocation is most evident in working groups such as Ciudad y Procomún, the new Ciencia Ciudadana (Citizen Science) station or projects like Hacer barrio or Quality Eggs.
The history of Barrio de las Letras -or “writer’s district”- where Medialab Prado is currently located, is another key facet. The scientific institutions of the 18th Century were responsible for the first major developmental push in Madrid, which then led to the expansion of Barrio de las Letras. During this time, the city witnessed the construction of the Botanical Garden, the Astronomical Observatory, the Academy of the Sciences (which now houses the Prado Museum) and the General Hospital (currently housing the Reina Sofía Museum) and the “Gabinet de Máquinas” a demolished Industrial Engineering museum from that era and situated quite close to the old Army Museum. All of this frantic building activity took place in less than 3 decades. MediaLab Prado´s new location in the Serrería Belga, an old abandoned industrial building, is another telling metaphor of an industrial era that left so many urban carcasses in its wake.
In summary, the conversion of an old, abandoned, industrial space into an citizen innovation lab in the same area where literature and science flourished in centuries past, is a promising metaphor indeed. MediaLab Prado is one of the closest examples of the new Partner State proposed by Michel Bauwens, founder of the P2P Foundation. A State which guarantees the necessary space and resources to activate a P2P society’s collective intelligence for the improvement of the Commons.