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PAC 45 – The Sociopolitical Structuring of Indignation The Transnational Movement of Indignants

By Clément Paule

Translation: Davina Durgana

Passage au crible n°45

Announced as the National Day of Mobilization, June 19th, 2011 represents a new success for the 15-M Movement (Movement of May 15th). In fact, many dozens of millions of people are marching throughout all of Spain, reaffirming their indignation in facing the socio-economic situation of the country and denouncing the indifference – that is to say, the corruption – of the political scene. Thus, if this new actor of citizen protest seems to be reinforced locally, it must be stated that other initiatives launched in many European States, do not always see the same magnitude of effect.

Historical background
Theoretical framework

Historical background

In the first place, it is important to evoke the impact of the financial global crisis which, since Fall of 2008, has lead to many considerable repercussions. As evidenced by the number – frequently cited – of unemployment in Spain, it is estimated at over 20% of the active population and at almost half of the youth under 25 years of age. In a more general manner, the social consequences of these financial disorders are found to be amplified by the austerity plans of different governments, under the impetus of the IFIs (International Financial Institutions). These rigorous measures, aiming to reduce the public deficit, have provoked strong criticism that they are accompanied by substantial plans to save the banking sector, according sometimes without large compensation or obligations. Citing for example, the strong mobilization in Iceland towards the end of 2008, which provoked the fall of the government five months later. Mentioning also the manifestations of the Geração à Rasca – or the desperate generation – which has attracted several hundred thousand people to Portugal since March 2011. This opposition to drastic public policies, seen as socially unjust, is expressed most recently in the United Kingdom since the March for an Alternative assembled in London on March 26th, 2011, which had between 250,000 and 500,000 participants. Finally, it is convenient to mention the strong protest in Greece, which began with the National Strike of May 2010.

Note that this transnational wave may have nourished the success of the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions. In fact, these last movements were able to beat down, by popular pressure, authoritarian and repressive regimes. It is in this context of social and political struggles that the 15-M Movement appeared in Spain, and the indignants. In this instance, on May 15th, 2011, the protestors have assumed a historical place in Madrid, La Puerta del Sol, so that the country could hold a few days of municipal elections.

Theoretical framework

In the absence of sociological data on the composition of the 15-M Movement and its followers, a simple ideological analysis would prove to be less productive. In return, the methods of organization and the action of the protestors seem to demonstrate pertinent indicators.

1. Rationalization of a repertoire of innovative action. It is helpful to evoke the specifics of the strategy of the 15-M Movement, founded in the first place on a conquest of the public space supported by a total refusal of cooperation with the political field. In this respect, one must emphasize the establishment of sophisticated processes of direct democracy, associated with self-management and a rejection of all leadership, a rejection guaranteed by the obligatory rotation of responsibilities.
2. International circulation of the protest. In this logic, it is necessary to observe the diffusion, that is to say the externalization of these social fights, towards other States, begun by Greece, France or Italy. Nonetheless, their magnitude, variable according to each country, is explained by the structure of political opportunities, each for their own.


One of the salient characteristics of the movement resides in its resolutely anti-partisan orientation. As evidenced by the shelving of Cayo Lara, the Coordinator General of the Izquierda Unida – a Left political formation – when he appeared with members of 15-M during a sit-in. Since then, it is important to open a certain amount of discourse taken by the Movement and to convey the preconceptions which hinder their comprehension. Thus, certain commentators have believe that they can prove the proximity which exists between the apolitical disposition of the protestors – translated concretely by a refusal to associate themselves with political parties or unions – and the Populism of the far-right. Recall also that this type of strategy of demarcation is routinely defended by political personnel, begun by many alterglobalists. Now that the recuperation is seen as illegitimate, it does not seem necessarily associated with Populism. Finally, this position claimed by the Indignants, the same as their resistance towards all hierarchal organizations or all identifying markers – the movement presents itself as simply citizen-based – founded on the values of direct democracy opposed to repressive government. In other words, the rationalization of their repertoire of action has all at once a pacification of types of action and notably a refusal of violence which the forces of order may impose. In this regard, it must also be considered as a cognitive transformation of social movements, to become reflexive actors.

In fact, the transnationalization of these types of citizen protests does not constitute a recent phenomenon, as can be seen in the studies of the case of fighting in favor of the abolition of slavery or even in the native cause. In return, the process seems for now trivialized with the growing role played by non-state actors – NGOs, civil society, etc. – in the international space, a role well-documented thanks to the work of altergobalists. Then, one of the most remarkable traits of the movement of Indignants resides in the transnational circulation of ideas, practices, even the actors themselves. On this point, we cite the work of Stéphane Hessel, Indignez-Vous! where the title was also adopted by protestors. Since its publication in October 2010, this pamphlet has seen major success. Translated today in many languages, this short essay has rapidly sold millions of copies throughout the world. In Spain, it was prefaced by the intellectual José Luis Sampedro, and was then sold again, in large quantities.

This overall sharing of ideas, importation, but also externalization – stimulated by the lowering of costs of access and transmission of information – reveals the progressive insertion these mobilizations in a transnational space with more and more anonymity. From now on, indignation will take various forms and will be diffused throughout countries. It has taken a sociopolitical form which the governments of States can no longer rightfully ignore in the global dimension.


Della Porta Donatella, Tarrow Sidney (Éds.), Transnational Protest and Global Activism, New York, Rowman & Littlefield, 2005.
Nez Héloïse, « “No es un botellón, es la revolutión !” Le mouvement des indignés à Puerta del Sol, Madrid », Mouvements, 7 juin 2011, consulté sur le site de la revue :
http://www.mouvements.info [20 juin 2011]
Pina Fernández Adrián, « La prise de la Puerta del Sol à Madrid : chronique du mouvement social du 15 mai », consulté sur le site de Métropolitiques : http://www.metropolitiques.eu [21 juin 2011]
Site Internet du quotidien El Pais : http://www.elpais.com