At the End of the End of History
by Eli S. Evans
Joseba Elola’s long, scraggly hair, dark beard, and mottled features give him the look of the kind of guy you might find smoking hash in a plaza or drinking first coffee and then beer all day long inside a smoke-filled restaurant in the fashionably run-down Madrid neighborhood of Lavapíes, epicenter of the city’s anarchist subculture. In fact, he is a rising star at Spain’s leading newspaper, El País, an organization that, as the face of the massive multinational media conglomerate Grupo Prisa, could not be much less anarchist, which might be exactly why it needs somebody like Elola hanging around. Elola got his first big break at the paper when he scored an exclusive interview with Wikileaks founder Julian Assange. Last spring, he played the part of El País’ man on the inside of the powerful protest and occupation movement that erupted in Spain on the 15th of May. In full gonzo mode, Elola spent a week in Madrid’s Puerta del Sol, living amongst the protesters in their makeshift tent city in order to later chronicle the experience, from an overtly sympathetic perspective, in a lengthy piece entitled “El 15-M sacude el sistema,” or “15-M Shakes Up the System.” Since the beginning of the #OccupyWallStreet Movement, however, Elola has taken on a new role at El País: champion of Spain’s claim to ownership over indignation and anti-system sentiment worldwide.
On October 16th, following a weekend of protests and “occupations” across the globe, all directly or indirectly related to the Wall Street movement, Elola published “Sol ilumina medio mundo,” an article dedicated above all to asserting the Spanish provenance of those actions. In the article’s opening paragraph, Elola first named some of the splashiest cities (Tokyo, Sydney, Buenos Aires, Los Ángeles with an accent) to which Spain had succeeded in, as he put it, “exporting” its indignation, and then providing a tally (951 cities in 82 countries) of the same. A few paragraphs further on, he would describe the events of the weekend as a successful “internationalization” of the 15-M movement, and in a companion piece of more analytic nature, “Cómo el 15-M se exportó al mundo, or “How 15-M exported itself to the world,” trace the roots of the global protests of the weekend to a small meeting in June in Madrid’s Plaza del Carmen in which a group that included “a French person, a Greek person, a young woman from Los Angeles (California), a Colombian, an Argentine, a Spaniard living in Russia, several Italians…and a twenty-seven year old Israeli girl, Aya, who had been in residence for several months at Toledo’s International Peace Center,” discussed possibilities for precisely such an internationalization.
At a glance, all of this seems a bit strange. To begin with, while there can be little doubt that Spain’s 15-M was and remains a part of the same spirit of frustration and revolt that erupted with unexpected force on the streets of lower Manhattan now more than a month ago, that it can claim any kind of ownership over that spirit seems dubious at best. What about Tahrir Square and the so-called “Arab Spring,” in that case? Or the hundreds of thousands who converged, in frigid late winter cold, on the state capital in Madison, Wisconsin last March, after the state’s governor acted (successfully, in the end) to revoke all but the most nominal bargaining rights for public employees’ unions? Perhaps no less inscrutable is the fact that El País’ in-house rebel would find the purportedly Spanish heritage of a weekend of international protest – even granting the reality of such a heritage – its most newsworthy characteristic. On the other hand if, playing armchair psychoanalyst, one reads Elola’s vaguely compulsive insistence on that heritage as paradoxically articulating an anxiety regarding the possibility of precisely the opposite – namely, that Spain’s 15-M movement is in fact not cut from the same cloth as the wave of occupations flowing from Wall Street – it is difficult not to be reminded of the uneasiness that so troubled the consciousness of Spain’s public intellectual throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries: that regarding Spain’s modernity or, more to the point, its persistent lack thereof.
But decades into postmodernity, and all too well versed in the various travesties and atrocities in which modernity as we remember it effectively liquidated itself during the course of Eric Hobsbawm’s “short twentieth century,” can we really imagine that this same modernity is what is at stake in the twitterized tumult of the present? Such a proposition, if counter-intuitive, is perhaps not so far-fetched. In a recent column for Cnn.com, Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri – benevolently descending from the more rarefied critical spaces in which they more frequently circulate – describe the current protest movements as, in both their explicit demands and the horizontal forms of organization they employ, “powerfully expressing the aspiration for a ‘real democracy’” – a kind of popular echo, in that sense, of their claim, in their 2004 epic of accessible theory Multitude, “that democracy, even when it appears distant, is necessary in our world, that it is the only answer to the vexing questions of our day, and that it is the only way out of our state of perpetual conflict and war.” In the same book, Hardt and Negri suggest that “[o]ne can read the history of modern revolutions as a halting and uneven but nonetheless real progression toward the realization of the absolute concept of democracy,” a reading that, if accurate, suggests that a certain return to, or resuscitation of, the spirit of modernity may in fact be exactly what is at stake in this moment in which hundreds of thousands have taken to the streets of cities and towns across the world not just demanding the realization of this “absolute concept of democracy” – a “Democracia Real Ya,” to borrow one of the popular slogans of the 15-M movement – but working actively to create it.
If there is something regressive in this, so be it. To anyone who has been paying attention it should be all too clear that the “end of history” has failed and that, in the face of that failure, there can be no hope for a world beyond the brutalities of the present, without a revival, as a concrete principle for individual and collective action, of the kind of emancipatory aspirations that informed, and formed, the modern project. But thusly recognizing that such a revival means, to borrow a turn of phrase from the late Spanish novelist and social critic Manuel Vázquez Montalbán, “climbing once more aboard the train of modernity,” should serve as a reminder to – before we start branding those aspirations with the insignia of this people or that, locking them into the exclusionary logic of the nation-state – heed the warning issued by the bloodletting in which, not so many years ago, that train’s journey ended once already.
About the Author:
Eli S. Evans is a writer and a doctoral candidate in Comparative Literature at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He writes regularly for magazines such as N+1, in the United States, and Quimera, in Spain, and has work forthcoming from Zg Press and in a collection of essays about the late writer and social theorist Monique Wittig. His academic research focuses on the intersections of modernity and postmodernity in twentieth century Spanish literature and philosophy.