Signs of Revolutionary Spring in Europe

Will the people's rebellion go continental?

La Puerta del Sol, Madrid – May 17, 2011Julio Albarrán

Audio version read by George Atherton – Right-click to download

In the United Kingdom, an increasingly lenient judiciary is emboldening climate change protesters. Two recent cases have shown that judges are now receptive to the “lawful excuse,” also known as the “necessity defense” in the US, the legal argument that it is not a crime to act illegally if it is done to prevent a larger harm such as global warming. At a recent sentencing, one judge even praised protesters who had intended to shut down a coal power plant as “decent men and women with a genuine concern for others” and said, “I have no doubt that each of you acted with the highest possible motives.” Activists are now planning even bolder actions.

In France, the last few years have seen the publication of major anticapitalist works. Alain Badiou, in his The Communist Hypothesis, argues that the only path forward is to reembrace the principle of radical egalitarianism underlying the abstract concept of communism. Also worth mentioning is Badiou’s ongoing intellectual collaboration with Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek, whose most recent books, First as Tragedy, Then as Farce and Living in the End Times, represent a compelling outline for radical politics based on an “eschatological apocalyptism” that strives to “interrupt” the contemporary course of history. Then there is the anonymously authored The Coming Insurrection, an anarchist manifesto that calls for the formation of autonomous communes from which to launch sabotage campaigns: “Jam everything – this will be the first reflex of all those who rebel against the present order … to block circulation is to block production as well.” Stéphane Hessel’s Indignez-vous! (Cry out!) is the most recent barometer of popular rage. In it Hessel, a 93-year-old veteran of the World War II Resistance against Nazism, exhorts today’s youth to wage a war of resistance against capitalism in the same way clandestine networks fought the fascists. The pamphlet has sold 600,000 copies so far.

And the entire continent has seen a cascade of passionate protests. In October, the prime minister of Iceland was pelted with eggs; a man drove a cement truck into the gates of the Irish Parliament to protest bank bailouts; and three million people in France participated in eight days of rebellion, blockading oil refineries and fuel depots until gas stations ran dry. In the following months, students in London smashed up the headquarters of Britain’s Conservative Party, and Greece was shut down by its seventh general strike of the year as protesters carried signs that read, “Let us not live as slaves!”

Now, inspired by the Arab people's revolutionary spring, there are signs that the European continent is set to erupt. On May 15, tens of thousands of precarious workers, students and the unemployed marched in fifty cities in Spain before occupying Puerta del Sol, the central square in Madrid. The lesson of Tahrir was clearly on the minds of protestors. One organizer promised that if police try to "remove us we will sit down, everything will be peaceful, and if we are eventually dispersed we will come back tomorrow."

—Micah White