Firstly, I’ve made some changes to the site CSS. It looked rubbish on mobile browsers, I wanted something which was more readable, so here we are. None of it is generated when the site is built either, I’m editing the CSS directly.
I haven’t touched the navigation page yet, it looks a bit too blue. That’s going to change.
Over the Easter break, I went to Madrid to attend the congress of a left-wing Spanish youth organisation. Since then I’ve come back to Oxford to finish off and submit four essays, all in the space of a week. Now I finally have a day to relax, read, and write up the Madrid trip.
I arrived at Birmingham airport early and had about an hour to wait in the windowless departure lounge/shopping complex. I bought a tube of toothpaste, did a few tours of WHSmiths, before sitting down in a seat to while away the time on my phone. I was browsing the F-Droid repo and found Firefox Lite (or Rocket) is on there, and that’s one for people who are into quirky firefox spin-offs.
On arrival in Madrid we went to get some food at the Vicálvaro municipal sports centre. There was a large group of people milling around near a stall with bread and some lentil broth. I was hungry enough, and the broth was delicious.
After eating, we went to Madrid city centre to visit some central areas. We visited an international brigades memorial, and went past the city council building, formerly used by the falange police as a prison/torture chamber.
We also visited the site of the Atocha masacre. Here’s the memorial to the people who were killed.
There’s also a plaque outside the actual site of the massacre.
There’s a film about the massacre called siete días de enero (seven days in january).
We wandered around the old city and writer’s quarter for a while. Saw these elaborate tiled shopfronts.
The next day we went to address the congress, I made a brief speech.
Here’s the emptied congress hall.
After that we went to a local PCE office in Vicálvaro for an international seminar on fascism and the far-right. Here’s me in front of the office, wearing about four layers of t-shirts to keep warm.
I gave an unrehearsed presentation on the situation in Britain, concluding on the importance of paying attention to the ‘invisible problem’ of the state. Each organisation repeated their statements, and after a few hours we had a break for lunch. I took the opportunity to wander around the neighbourhood in search of a newsagents.
Everything was shut for easter, and the weather was bitterly cold. I got as far as the station before turning back. The area was extremely quiet, even if the shops were closed I’d have expected at least to see some people in the streets, instead the whole place was like a ghost town. Just queues of empty buses rolling slowly around the station. Some of the buildings have a hasty, half-finished look about them. Walls made out of open breeze blocks - perfect for summer, but when it’s cold the wind just blows right through the building.
Given the focus on deep integration with the community, I asked some of the Spanish activists about their approach to election campaigning. They said they don’t run phone banks or door-to-door canvassing, they just put up posters everywhere, and organise mass rallies.
Beyond that, they also suggested that the election period is not itself an exception to their normal work; they carry on organising as usual, and the result is a general reflection of their continuous track record up until polling day. Again, a different attitude to the model I’m used to - where a party is effectively mobilised, and demobilised, around the electoral calendar.
There were some interesting things to note about the party office itself. It was on the ground floor of an apartment block, and it contained a cheap bar where local people could come and socialise. We went past another party office later on and I noticed that it followed the same characteristics: built into the ground floor of a housing development, containing a bar. Even the central Madrid office looks like this: set on street level, has a bar open to the public.
There’s clearly been some careful thought put into how the party is (physically) organised in sympathetic communities, and it goes beyond the cheap bar…
After this a few of us went out to Madrid again. I looked for a post office, and found one hidden on the top floor of a department store. For future reference, the word for Post Office is Correos. It was more of a postal package depot and they seemed surprised that this tourist had found his way up there. I asked for postcards (postales) - they went to rummage around in their storeroom and emerged a few minutes later with three cards. Unfortunately they didn’t have any with stamps for Britain.
I would have stayed longer in the city centre, but it was freezing cold and raining, and I needed to get back to the others and go home.
The following day the weather was better, and a much more political itinerary.
Firstly we went to Almudena cemetery. Here is the PCE general secretary Enrique Santiago with the grave of Dolores Ibárruri.
There was some republican graffiti on the walls.
After this we went to the PCE’s central Madrid office, ate some paella, and had a meeting with Enrique Santiago.
From my notes, Santiago spoke about how the EU cannot be regained for workers within its current structures, but he couldn’t defend a solidary break. Instead he proposed a ‘process of alternative construction’ which revolves around deepening co-operation among progressive movements in southern Europe. Perhaps with a future hope of addressing the unhealthy dynamics which have emerged as a result of crisis.
Secondly, he spoke about sectoralism and the reorientation of the party towards a ‘more relevant presence in the social movements.’ This is expressed practically through the dismantling of ‘abstract’ territorial branches and their replacement by workplace cells. He recognised that Podemos had appeared out of the social movements, but it was not as ‘deeply rooted’ as the PCE. He mentioned the elections, and commented that whatever parliamentary calculus arises would not necessarily indicate a shift in political conditions on the ground.
Here is how the election result was reported on the BBC.
He briefly alluded to the Eurocommunist period, and the aftermath. Someone asked a question asking for more clarification, he explained it as an (failed) attempt to come to some accomodation with NATO, or at least the conditions of US domination in Europe.
I think I now have a slightly better understanding of eurocommunism - or at least the conditions in which it came about. I didn’t know that Santiago Carillo split from the PCE, and his split went on to merge with PSOE.
After this a group of us went off to Atocha, I walked through the garden inside the station building.
There was a party that night in the stadium, someone had hooked up their phone to a huge amp, blasting out music, but there was no dancing. I chatted a lot with the delegate from Israel. I also picked up a cool t-shirt.
The last day was the closing ceremony of the congress, there were speeches, accompanied by enthusiastic flag-waving.
Elections to the new leadership were announced, some people joined the PCE, and the whole thing was finished off by several rounds of singing.
I went from there straight to the airport. The security staff were on strike and I had some difficulties with my bag, though everything was fine in the end.