The spectre of "real democracy"

A spectre is haunting Europe —and it's scaring the bejezus out of all the older parties. Lessee, what should we call it? Syriza? Podemos? Die Linke? Populism? Maybe we can call it "democracy", that is, rule by the common people. And "solidarity" where people join in groups and collectively try to help each other and take decisions for the whole commonwealth. Or maybe we should just call it "communism", because that's what the word still meant — rule by the common people and solidarity — back in 1848, when Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels popularized it in a manifesto.

But we have to be careful today with that word — the word "communism" has been sullied by the many horrid acts committed in its name. Gulags, purges, inquisitions, restrictions of all types. Like Christianity. Nowadays "populism" has become a popular insult. It's a fear word, with no precise meaning. It just represents that terrifying spectre, the end of the hegemony of "the markets" and the political parties that do their bidding.

Nobody who knows history expects Syriza to fulfill all the expectations of its supporters, or Podemos either. But each in its own way (obviously, conditions in Greece and Spain and the potential alliances in each are vastly different) is shaking to pieces the older Tweedledee and Tweedledum two-party systems. Which have more and more come to look like two faces of a single party, the one subservient to the big financial interests. And that has been a system that produces increasing inequality at such a rate that it is destroying itself, driving its own opposition.

How could a tiny coalition of leftist parties like Syriza triumph over the long-established Pasok and the newer, but well financed, New Democracy? How could Podemos rise from nothing to a real power contender in Spain in the course of just a few months? Not by the brilliance or charisma of its leaders, though those have helped, but by the mass support for change, structural change. What was called "Real democracy now!" (Democracia Real Ya, or DRY) in Spain's famous 15M movement, that began 15 May 2011 and took over public spaces in all the major cities. An impulse shared by masses of people in Turkey (Gezi Square), Egypt (Tahrir), Hong Kong, but which here in Europe may actually succeed. Or at least present a formidable challenge to the Bundesbank, the IMF and all their associated interests, and work to rebuild a society where inequalities are reduced and public wealth goes to public uses.