Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Keep CounterPunch ad free. Support our annual fund drive today!

Spain’s Indignados Movement at the Crossroads


One of the great disappointments with – and indeed key weakness of – the indignados movement in Spain, which this May 15 celebrates its second birthday, has been its failure to pursue a strategy that turns power in the streets into the real power needed to change the world.

In the November 2011 general elections, six months after Spaniards occupied town squares across the country, including famously Madrid’s Plaza del Sol, the forces of reaction were projected into government.

The Socialists had been punished at the polls for imposing austerity on their core constituency – workers – even as the bankers – who were behind a property bubble that catastrophically burst – got off scott free.

But Spanish voters got something much worse. Even if Mariano Rajoy’s and his Popular Party did their best to mask their plans ahead of the vote, once in government they rapidly accelerated these same self-defeating policies, leading to today’s six million unemployed, collapsing public services, rising poverty and an authoritarian turn designed to crush opposition in the streets.

The radical United Left, on the other hand, while increasing its share of the vote, with 1.7 million votes, still trailed third by a long way. Despite, that is, standing on a platform that matched very closely the indignados’ objectives : social justice, jobs, affordable housing, tough action against the banksters and fundamental reforms to political system that would return power to ordinary people and their communities.

Well the good news today is that the United Left – thanks to its efforts, with just a handful of MPs, to project the angry voices in the streets into earshot of the neo-liberal fanatics commanding in the Cortes, and, via TV, into people’s homes – is now at 16.6% in the polls. That’s a gain for the communist-led formation of ten points since the general election. And, according to pollsters Metroscopia, it has closed much of the gap with the two main parties; the party led by Cayo Lara is now just under four points shy of the Socialists, and six points below the Popular Party.

Since they were booted from power, the Socialists’ fortunes have just gone from bad to worse. To blame is not only its legacy in power, but  a weak leadership that fears the rage of the rabble and cannot resist offering a bipartisan hand to the most right wing government Spain has seen since the days of dictator Franco. The Popular Party’s poll standing has collapsed even more radically, albeit from a higher point. Even Rajoy’s own core supporters are turning their backs on the party.  They are unforgiving about a string of broken promises, one of the most scandalous of which for the conservative constituency was not to increase taxes, which Rajoy then proceeded to impose on the majority of citizens, in order to plug the gaping hole in the public finances caused by austerity-induced recession, and to gain grace in foreign capitals for a 100 billion euro EU cheque for Spanish banks.

The sustained level of popular mobilisation against Rajoy is in itself an astonishing feat. Whether around the huge issue of home evictions (quarter of a million and counting), union-led protest ‘tides’ rising against cuts and privatisation in education and health, and campaigning in defence of women’s rights, or more fundamentally the demand for ‘real democracy’ – a parliament and politicians accountable to the people, not to billionaires, financiers or unelected officials Brussels or Berlin – the determination and tenacity of the protest movement is something the Spanish should be rightly proud of. But it is also not something to be counted on indefinitely.

What would really make for a real celebration this May 15 would be for a shift in gear, beyond opposition to a regime that, it is all too clear, will never be responsive to popular demands. It may be only two years old, but it is time that the indignados movement grew up, politically-speaking. And unlike many places in the world, this doesn’t have to involve painful compromises. Spain actually has a serious political party that’s on the side of the people, one with deep roots in the labour movement and a track record of openness to civil society and social movements. It is clearly capturing the public imagination. But United Left needs a resounding endorsement, shouted loud and clear from the streets, if radical change in Spain is to have a fighting chance.

Tom Gill blogs at


Tom Gill edits Revolting Europe.

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine


Weekend Edition
October 21, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Wight
Hillary Clinton and the Brutal Murder of Gaddafi
Diana Johnstone
Hillary Clinton’s Strategic Ambition in a Nutshell
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Trump’s Naked and Hillary’s Dead
John W. Whitehead
American Psycho: Sex, Lies and Politics Add Up to a Terrifying Election Season
Stephen Cooper
Hell on Earth in Alabama: Inside Holman Prison
Patrick Cockburn
13 Years of War: Mosul’s Frightening and Uncertain Future
Rob Urie
Name the Dangerous Candidate
Pepe Escobar
The Aleppo / Mosul Riddle
David Rosen
The War on Drugs is a Racket
Sami Siegelbaum
Once More, the Value of the Humanities
Cathy Breen
“Today Is One of the Heaviest Days of My Life”
Neve Gordon
Israel’s Boycott Hypocrisy
Mark Hand
Of Pipelines and Protest Pens: When the Press Loses Its Shield
Victor Wallis
On the Stealing of U.S. Elections
Michael Hudson
The Return of the Repressed Critique of Rentiers: Veblen in the 21st century Rentier Capitalism
Brian Cloughley
Drumbeats of Anti-Russia Confrontation From Washington to London
Howard Lisnoff
Still Licking Our Wounds and Hoping for Change
Brian Gruber
Iraq: There Is No State
Peter Lee
Trump: We Wish the Problem Was Fascism
Stanley L. Cohen
Equality and Justice for All, It Seems, But Palestinians
Steve Early
In Bay Area Refinery Town: Berniecrats & Clintonites Clash Over Rent Control
Kristine Mattis
All Solutions are Inadequate: Why It Doesn’t Matter If Politicians Mention Climate Change
Peter Linebaugh
Ron Suny and the Marxist Commune: a Note
Andre Vltchek
Sudan, Africa and the Mosaic of Horrors
Keith Binkly
The Russians Have Been Hacking Us For Years, Why Is It a Crisis Now?
Jonathan Cook
Adam Curtis: Another Manager of Perceptions
Ted Dace
The Fall
Sheldon Richman
Come and See the Anarchy Inherent in the System
Susana Hurlich
Hurricane Matthew: an Overview of the Damages in Cuba
Dave Lindorff
Screwing With and Screwing the Elderly and Disabled
Chandra Muzaffar
Cuba: Rejecting Sanctions, Sending a Message
Dennis Kucinich
War or Peace?
Joseph Natoli
Seething Anger in the Post-2016 Election Season
Jack Rasmus
Behind The 3rd US Presidential Debate—What’s Coming in 2017
Ron Jacobs
A Theory of Despair?
Gilbert Mercier
Globalist Clinton: Clear and Present Danger to World Peace
James A Haught
Many Struggles Won Religious Freedom
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Dear Fellow Gen Xers: Let’s Step Aside for the Millennials
Uri Avnery
The Peres Funeral Ruckus
Tom Clifford
Duterte’s Gambit: the Philippines’s Pivot to China
Reyes Mata III
Scaling Camelot’s Walls: an Essay Regarding Donald Trump
Raouf Halaby
Away from the Fray: From Election Frenzy to an Interlude in Paradise
James McEnteer
Art of the Feel
David Yearsley
Trump and Hitchcock in the Age of Conspiracies
Charles R. Larson
Review: Sjón’s “Moonstone: the Boy Who Never Was”