On Sunday major Spanish cities were the scene of demonstrations called in the wake of a pamphlet published by the French writer Stéphane Hessel, Indignez-vous! The gathering in Madrid alone, 20,000 strong according to the municipal police force, ended in violent disturbances created by a minority. The march organizers themselves condemned the violence, distancing the entirely peaceful intention of the march from the unacceptable behavior of some radical groups. In the rest of Spain no incidents took place.
Convoked at the mid-point of an electoral campaign seemingly incapable of rousing public interest, the demonstrations reflect the existence of a sector of society whose demands are not being addressed by the political parties. Given that the promoters of the marches wish to maintain these events as a form of ongoing protest, without demanding votes for any party or creating a new one, it is hard to gauge just to what extent the slogans they chanted represent the feelings of a majority, or even the influence they may end up having on official politics. It would probably be as wrong to exaggerate the significance of these demonstrations as to write them off.
Independently of the numbers of people who came out in the street, the fact is that a feeling is spreading, in Spain and beyond, that official politics is not providing an adequate response to some of the principal problems created by the economic crisis, chiefly among young people and the disadvantaged.
Yet it would be one thing to say that official politics is failing to produce an adequate response because the parliamentary and constitutional system is inherently incapable of doing so, and quite another to consider that the political parties and their leaders are failing to make effective use of the existing system.
There is a disturbing ambiguity here, since it might suggest a questioning of the whole system, without clearly identifying the alternative- unless the latter harks back to utopias that ended in tragedy. The problem lies not so much in being inside or outside the system, as in keeping it in mind that contempt for the parliamentary and constitutional system may serve just and noble causes, but also abject ones inimical to liberty.
To substitute political debate with mere advertising; to endorse corruption in one's own party and denounce it in another; to make the public interest a mere pretext to legitimize the ambitions of a faction; and seeing the struggle for power as an end in itself, independently of any specified program, are errors that are undermining the democratic system. The old underground mentality that used to invoke the Marxist utopia is not now coming from outside the parliamentary and constitutional system; it is being irresponsibly engendered within it.