Today, there was a demonstration in Liverpool City Centre in support of the uprising in Spain. The brainchild of Spanish students, the event had been organised at the last minute and not widely publicised. After finding out about it on Twitter last night, I decided to check it out.
When I arrived in Williamson Square, I discovered a small group of people gathered between the Liverpool FC shop and the water fountain. Some were busy sticking flags and home-made signs to steel railings. Others constructed or wrote on more signs, and very quickly a few messages became a wall of solidarity for Spain - and also for Greece and Italy, as their flags hung alongside Spain's whilst students from those countries distributed leaflets detailing what has inspired the spreading wave of protests across Europe.
I spoke to a man whose girlfriend was a Spanish student. He explained to me how she and others had come up with the idea for the event on Friday, inspired by the plans for similar events in London and around Britain. As we talked, a crowd grew and before long there were upwards of fifty people present, not too shabby for a demo organised on two days' notice.
It was also noteworthy that almost all of those involved were Spanish, and certainly not recognisable as any of the same faces you see at every protest and demo in the city. In fact, the only people there who could be described as "regulars" in activism were two of us from Liverpool Solidarity Federation and a small bunch of teenagers involved in UK Uncut. Anarcho-syndicalists and youth with no particular deference to the traditional hierarchies of the left arguably fitting into the event with far more ease than a stall staffed by old Trots living on well-worn formulas for theory and action ever could.
This may be reflective of the greater level of anti-authoritarianism in Spanish culture, and the ¡Democracia Real Ya! movement's rejection of collaboration from political parties or labour unions. A statement by the Spanish CNT backs this position up by noting that "these groups are even more afraid than the government of losing the small amount of legitimacy that they have left in the minds of some citizens."
Of course, this doesn't mean that there aren't things to be critical of in the current wave of protests. The CNT have noted the contradictions within the movement, many of which were evident today.
For example, a leaflet given out in Liverpool quotes ¡Democracia Real Ya!'s "manifesto." This contains, alongside a number of radical and even revolutionary sentiments, ideas that are calling for little more than a tweaking of the status quo. For example, the idea that "politicians should be bringing our voice to the institutions, facilitating the political participation of citizens" or talk of "consumer rights." As the CNT point out, "overcoming the two-party system and gaining a modification to the Electoral Law will not make us freer, nor will it favour individual sovereignty." For that, we must go further and recognise that "the politicians do not represent us, nor do we need them."
Similar contradictions are evident in the much more fledgling radical movement in Britain. Actions are far more radical than the words that back them up, whilst revolutionary sentiments are tempered by the illusion that, somewhat modified, the current system can serve our needs.
That said, such contradictions and the process of overcoming them are to be expected as political consciousness and a culture of resistance grows. We learn by practice, talking and arguing out our ideas, engaging in action, and seeing how far we can go. There is no formula or blueprint for revolution and even the theory is something to be engaged with rather than confined to dusty books.
The main focus of today's demonstration was a circle of people sitting on the ground, sharing their ideas and their reasons for being there. In a significant sense, there was no real knowledge or expectation of how the event would pan out. Signs were held up and masks worn, but there were only brief periods of chanting which quickly gave way to groups of people talking among themselves. At the end, the circle didn't so much break up as gradually disintegrate. Fortunately, before this happened there was an exchange of emails and contact details as well as some discussion on where to go next.
This is the important point. For all the contradictions and inexperience that may be evident, we are seeing the birth (or rebirth) of mass movements across the globe. In times of crisis and austerity, people are pulling together and learning once more how to act on their own behalf. That, alone, is worth celebrating.