Large anti-austerity protest movements have been growing in Europe following revolutions in several Arab states. What brought about the current movement, and how can a united Left play a role in the future?
This year, we have observed the unthinkable in many Arab and North African states. Massive protests and demonstrations – often yielding revolutions or insurrections – had begun to flower and spread across the region. Movements for change and democracy began in Tunisia, spreading across Egypt and Yemen and has since moved to Libya, Syria and still other nations. The rulers of the Arab world have been handed a clear message from their people: We are no longer willing to face economic hardship to line your pockets, political oppression to keep you in power, or social injustice to create the illusion of uniformity. This message was received loud and clear in places like Tunisia and Egypt, where dictators who have ruled for decades have been shown the door. The “Arab Spring” uprisings have been the most successful revolutionary actions in decades, bringing a real chance for democracy to people in the region.
Fast-forward to the events of the past few weeks. Societies around the world are currently fighting the strong grip of a severe economic depression, driven by globalized capitalist greed and prolonged by sheer governmental failure across the board. In the wake of bailouts of financial industries, lax regulatory environments and political capitulation, the current “debt crisis” continues to stagnate in countries across the Eurozone. Suggested measures to deal with this crisis, implemented in the form of “austerity measures,” are slowly suffocating the people of Europe and unfairly punishing them for problems created by the reckless elite. Rather than casting an eye toward those responsible for the crisis or even attempting to address falling tax rates for the upper class to support revenue, these austerity measures chip away at social safety nets in each country and encourage large-scale privatization of state industries. With unemployment at record highs and government income at perilous lows, it seems that attacking the working class and importing a dangerous neoliberal agenda has become fashionable for economic and political elites alike. The preachers of austerity in government and the financial sector alike have told us that we must pay for their mistakes, that we must continue to support their unconscionable bonuses, and that we must be made to suffer in their stead. These actions are the vanguard for an even greater transfer of wealth to the private sector, masked in the sell-off of publicly owned assets like parks, power plants and even water systems. These actions risk further price gouging and could shut the poor out entirely from essential services.
Nowhere is this ridiculous doctrine of austerity and economic liberalization more present than in Spain, where people have been suffering through the financial crisis for quite some time. A previous housing bubble, exacerbated by foolish government programs promoting home ownership and subprime loans, continues to resonate across the country. This has created a prolonged recession and has contributed to the country’s 21% unemployment rate, effectively a staggering 45% among young people. Now that the modern “debt crisis” seeks to tighten the screws further with austerity programs, the Spanish people have quite clearly had enough of the nonsense. Encouraged by the successful people-power movements in the Arab states, and heartened by the anti-austerity victories of their comrades in Iceland, Spaniards have coalesced around the so-called 15th of May Movement. The 15th of May Movement includes supporters from across the political spectrum and focuses the power of protest towards a list of common grievances. They have brought tens of thousands of people to the streets and public squares with a message of change. Their manifesto, cobbled together at the Puerta del Sol square in Madrid, demands an end to austerity measures, the reaffirmation of the fundamental truths of democracy, and the end of political collusion with economic elites. Their demonstrations have already dealt a big blow to the ruling social-democratic party, the PSOE, for colluding with the elites and supporting the dangerous push for austerity. While this movement has had little coverage in the mainstream corporate media (unsuprisingly), outlets like Reflections on A Revolution (http://www.roarmag.org/) have done a great job in bringing the news to us.
Make no mistake, the Spanish dissidents are not alone in their struggle. Staying true to the catalyzing Arab Spring movement, the demonstrations appear to be spreading to cities across Europe. Groups are staging protests in the same spirit, taking public squares in France, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and elsewhere. These groups are coalitions of people-power movements with different purposes but common goals. In Spain, the 15th of May Movement was formed by anti-mortgage groups joining forces with the youth and unemployed to create “Real Democracy Now.” In France, the spreading protests have been aided by the popular alter-globalist “Association for the Taxation of Financial Transactions and Help to Citizens” (ATTAC), which is now supporting anti-G8 protests ahead of global meetings in Le Havre.
A united Left coalition’s role in these modern day movements cannot be understated. The organizations mentioned above have done a great job at including their respective constituents and focusing them on a real and focused course of action. Their anger is part of a large-scale rejection of the more inhumane tenets of capitalism. Greed, power and control of the upper class is being challenged in the basic movements, which seek to restore power and dignity to the people. Whether we are anarchists, socialists, communists or anything else, it is now up to all of us to support these movements and continue to provide real alternatives to the predatory system. Our common goals include an end to wage slavery and corporate control of society; as such, the formation of a new coalition of the Left can be vital to supporting and sustaining anti-capitalist and anti-globalist actions, no matter where they occur.
Arab spring, global summer?