The logic of overflow: from the indignados to Podemos

  • December 18, 2015

Movement & Mobilization

We sat down with Francisco Jurado, 15M activist and currently a member of Podemos, to discuss the evolution of Spain’s radical democratic initiatives.

Over the last year, the rise of the Podemos party has made Spain an object of fascination for a growing number of international observers interested in innovative forms of 21st century politics. But the emergence of this party is just one aspect of a more profound, cultural change that began on May 15, 2011. On that day, surprisingly large protests filled the streets of 58 Spanish cities, responding to a call made by a comparatively small network of activists calling themselves Democracia Real Ya (Real Democracy Now). The rest, as they say, is history.

Francisco Jurado was an early member of Democracy Real Ya. As what became known as the 15M or indignados movement spawned dozens of autonomous platforms around a wide range of social issues, Jurado’s legal expertise and forward-thinking intellectual production aided some of the most cutting-edge political initiatives in post-2011 Spain. Perhaps the most notable of these was 15MpaRato, a crowdfunded campaign that brought Rodrigo Rato, a former Managing Director of the IMF and Spains Minister of the Economy from 1996 to 2004, to court for fraud, money laundering and concealment of assets.

Jurado was also a member of Partido X, a Pirate Party-style network of technopolitical practitioners who proposed a radically horizontal, net-centric approach to electoral politics. Today, however, he works for Podemos in the Parliament of the Andalusia region.

I recently interviewed Francisco for an e-Book Ive published with Zed Books, called Hope is a Promise: From the Indignados to the Rise of Podemos in Spain. During that interview, we discussed the indignados movement, Podemos, a concept he calls “de-representation” and the logic of overflow that characterizes moments of great social change.

Can you tell me a bit about how the Democracia Real Ya (DRY) platform came about? Who spearheaded it? And why did you pick May 15, 2011 to carry out the first mobilization?

Well, at the beginning it wasn’t called Democracia Real Ya. It began as a Facebook group around a manifesto with eight programmatic points. The group was called the Coordinating Platform for Groups in Favour of Citizen Mobilization, and people from different collectives started to join, as well as a few unaffiliated people. The only requirement was that you could not join as a liaison for any of the parties or labour unions, so we could avoid establishing competitive criteria from the beginning. That group produced several branches, both territorial (the DRY nodes) and thematic ones (design, content, communications, tech and international relations).

As for the date, I’m not sure why we picked May 15. I guess it was to take advantage of the political opportunity opened up by the municipal and regional elections the following Sunday.

Well, what happened after that protest, with the occupation of the squares, is history at this point. And what has taken place during the 2015 election cycle cannot be explained without taking that story into account. Yet, amazingly, some people still claim that the indignados didn’t achieve anything. Looking back, do you think DRY achieved its objectives?

I think DRY’s victory and defeat both lie in the degree to which it was overwhelmed, and how its objectives were exceeded. Its main victory was that a protest organized via social networks with practically no other means became an augmented event that had an enormous effect on Spanish politics over the years that followed. As a group constructed around a call for protest, a manifesto and eight very broad points, it was possible for us to bring lots of different people together. As we delved deeper into nuances, more problems arose. By nuances here, I’m referring to things such as an attempt to turn the platform into a formal association or NGO, or more specific issue-based initiatives.

In terms of its mentality and methodology, DRY was not prepared to mutate into something more stable that could stand the test of time. It completed its original mission by propping up the indignados movement, we used it throughout that year to organize a massive protest in June and an enormous global one in October, and then it stopped being useful.

You’ve participated in some of the most interesting initiatives to arise between the moment the indignados take the stage and the emergence of Podemos. For instance, you were one of the lawyers who put Rodrigo Rato on trial for the crimes he committed as the head of Bankia. That campaign got a lot of attention, but I want to ask you about two that are not quite as well-known: OpEuribor and Democracy 4.0. I feel like these did not receive enough support…

I think they did. They were quite reported in the media, and the stories lasted well beyond their launch. In OpEuribor’s case, it’s normal. It was part of a set of initiatives that were strongly linked to the economic and judicial circumstances at the time. It pops up whenever a related story comes out, whether that’s a sentence or a new case of sanctions or manipulation.

Could you describe what OpEuribor was?

OpEuribor came out of a specific lawsuit, in which the interest on a loan was astronomically high. When we followed that interest’s trail beyond the birth of the Euro and into the old Spanish interbank lending market, we found that, ever since the economic crisis began, there were many days during which there were no operations taking place between banks, which is a basic requirement if we’re going to consider something a market.

From that point on, we followed two lines of investigation. One of them examined European inter-banking operations, which led us to write the Bank of Spain, the European Union, the European Bank Federation and Thomson Reuters. Once we saw that we were unable to obtain operations from any of the actors, we threw ourselves into the juridical argumentation about why the absence of operations corrupted the contracts in question.

We can’t demonstrate it 100 percent, but we are pretty sure that our work was what spurred the European Commission into starting the investigations that led to multi-million dollar fines for a number of banks. Even so, our objective is still to go beyond the fines and force them to cancel the interest on thousands of mortgage contracts.

What about Democracy 4.0? Like I said, I think this idea was especially interesting…

Democracy 4.0 inserted new ideas into the public debate, like the possibility of telematic voting and eDemocracy in Spain. And it did so on a much greater scale than the Liquid Democracy of the Pirate Party, despite the fact that Liquid Democracy has been around longer and is better known internationally. We were surprised to see Democracy 4.0 groups popping up in places as different as Colombia or Germany. Not long ago, I found out they had named a congress on activism D4.0, in honour of our initiative.

I do think it’s true that this name has been surpassed, and that we have to give it a new name now that it is starting to enter the policy programs of different political parties—Partido X call it “real voting”, for instance—and different city governments, under the name “Local Demo”). In any case, what’s important is the essence, the way it works, not the name.

Why did you call it Democracy 4.0? Why not 2.0, 3.0, 5.1 Digital Surround…?

Well, as the guy who came up with the name, it was just a funny way to indicate that it was something way more advanced than what we have now. So we just skipped version 2.0 and 3.0. There’s not much more behind it.

What does it entail, exactly?

It was a juridical project based on a petition directed at the Spanish Congress which argued that, in keeping with our existing set of laws, people already have the right to vote on laws directly. So the petition asked Congress to implement the technical mechanism with which to do that. This juridical project, which was taken up by DRY at the time, led to the creation of a working group, several social network and media campaigns and a new current of critical thought based on an idea I call “political de-representation”.

The idea of political de-representation I find especially interesting. Could you elaborate on it a bit?

De-representation is what we’d naturally call direct participation. Why flip it around and express it from a negative concept, then? Simply put, we do this because in the present juridical order, the starting point of human beings is one of being represented. From the time we’re born to the day we die, we are represented in the political field. All we are allowed is to try to choose who will be in charge of representing us. In this sense, any initiative that consists of a person directly participating in politics, without intermediaries (as in Democracy 4.0, citizen legislation or truly participatory budgets), would entail breaking the general rule, the “natural” state of representation. We would thus be de-representing ourselves.

In addition to your activism, you’ve also been involved in two of the electoral options that emerged in the wake of the indignados movement: the technopolitical Partido X and Podemos. In fact, right now you work in the Andalusian Parliament, as part of Podemos. What do you do there and what led you to make the jump towards the institutions?

My “formal” occupation right now is secretary of the third vice-presidency of the Andalusian Parliament, which is held by Juan Moreno Yagüe, my comrade in many of the activist platforms we’ve described before. Beyond the work I do in that capacity, I also aid the parliamentary group by writing bills, legal reports and so on.

For me, the jump towards the institutions was motivated by the possibility of sneaking in and the knowledge that we would have a better shot at launching the types of initiatives we’d been working on in the social movements. After the high-intensity years of the indignados, one starts to think that, on the inside, there may be more chances of actually achieving victories. After a few months in here, you start to realize that this is all set up so that this doesn’t happen. Even so, I find it interesting to test the limits of the institutional legal framework and see the cracks and black holes we can use as a lever. We’ve just started doing this.

What was the Partido X experience like for you? Was it much different than Podemos?

In my opinion, Partido X had a clearer idea of what a “constituent” action was. When we were coming up with it, we thought of a tool that would change the rules of the game, as a step that was prior to changing political content and not procedural content. I still think this previous step is necessary, and that the campaigns and pedagogy of parties like Podemos should focus strongly on these procedural, systemic issues.

But Podemos was much better at using the indignados experience as a movement of overflow. Partied X tried to control its growth, even as it tried to maintain a certain anonymity, the sense that “we are no one”. This was why I left the project. I was convinced that we had to foment chaotic, overflowing, exponential growth, and that our anonymity had to stem from the fact that there were so many of us that we were impossible to identify.

Podemos understood and applied the logic of overflow, but it accompanied it with excessive representation in the figure of its leaders. Perhaps this makes sense at first, strategically. Leaders are more compatible with the media format. But in the long-term, it forces Podemos to suffer the fate of its leaders.

Why do you think there are so many critical currents inside of Podemos? Do you think the media exaggerates or amplifies these currents’ voices in a self-interested fashion?

In keeping with the dynamics that existed even prior to the indignados, with movements like #NoLesVotes, Juventud Sin Futuro, DRY and so on, the normal thing would have been for Podemos to go beyond itself without the need for conflict. The problem is that Podemos wanted to depart from a space and a set of experiences that were marked by a logic of overflow and mutation, but once they achieved a certain identity, they sought to maintain it against the inertia of the experiences it drank from. So that mutation was attempted from the outside with the media’s complicity, in a clear attempt to destabilize.

Are there any parties or electoral experiences in Spain that you feel have more internal democracy than Podemos?

I think Equo is the only party I’ve known that has more internal democracy than Podemos. Even so, Podemos is not much more democratic than the other parties. What it gains through its primaries, it loses in its internal structure. With its rules and regulations, for instance, which are completely discretional.

Sometimes, people talk about a pre-Vistalegre Podemos and a post-Vistalegre Podemos. What happened at Vistalegre?

The post-Vistalegre Podemos was conceived when the Technical Team that would direct the party’s foundational assembly was chosen. The way the lists were presented—with teams—was an indicator of what would later be Podemos’s modus operandi.

For me, the fundamental difference between the organization’s two phases is that one was built to work with collaborative methods while the other was based on internal competition. Obviously, in a party that houses many different sensibilities, the post-Vistalegre Podemos fomented and generated more visibility for those differences.

For me, the biggest difference between social movements and political parties is that the game social movements are playing are not necessarily competitive, while the one parties are playing is. Podemos could have been a “rare bird” in this sense by trying to change the dominant strategies, but it didn’t. I think this is because Podemos’s leaders have a background that is more related to how political parties think than the dynamics of social movements, especially those that emerged after 2011.

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Carlos Delclós

Carlos Delclós is a sociologist, researcher and editor for ROAR Magazine. His research interests include international migration, social stratification, fertility, urban sociology, social movements and cultural theory.

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