"This is a protest they will never understand" said one youth, as he, along with around 2,000 other young people, camped out in Puerta del Sol square in Madrid, defying a ban on demonstrations in the days before municipal and regional elections on Sunday 22 May.
Bourgeois democracy in Spain is less brittle than the Mubarak dictatorship in Egypt, and can "deal with" movements such as these youth demonstrations even if it can’t understand them. But the inspiration from Tahrir Square is obvious.
The Establishment sees free-market capitalism as sitting at the end of a visible thread running through every epoch of human history. When a mass of people appear who do not share in this grand utopian project, the Establishment’s response is total bewilderment. What could these people possibly be rebelling against? Protests against this or that government measure they can understand. A radical rejection of the whole system they cannot.
The protests began on 15 May.The police initially tried to disperse demonstrators, but since then the sheer numbers have forced the authorities to take a softer approach.
One of the most popular slogans has been "Genuine Democracy Now", and stalls have been set-up urging people not to vote for the two major political parties — both of whom are planning harsh austerity measures.
Another chant was "violence is earning 600 euros", refreshingly counteracting predictable bourgeois sentimentality about broken windows whenever protests spill over the usual limits.
Spain currently has an unemployment rate of 21.3% — the highest in the EU — and a youth unemployment rate around 45%. Some Spaniards who do have jobs are going months without pay, with their employers hanging the threat of unemployment over their heads.
The demonstrators in Madrid and other cities have declared their determination to continue the occupations of public squares and spaces for another week following the 22 May local and regional elections, which saw defeats for the ruling Socialist Party.
Some of the demonstrators say that the movement is "post-democratic", "not political", and "beyond left or right". But, as George Orwell put it, "There is no such thing as ‘keeping out of politics’”.
If radicals try to keep out, that does not abolish politics, but leaves it to the conservatives (and so the right-wing People’s Party gained in the 22 May elections, and on an as-high-as-usual poll). The radicals also leave themselves vulnerable to demagogy.
Most encouraging is the fact that, outside of the mainstream narrative that ordinary people should bear the burden of the follies of European financial and political elites, large numbers of young people in Spain are demanding an altogether different course, even if the details are at present sketchy.