The elections on 20 December registered a fundamental change in the political situation and composition of the parliament. This change has been building, through mass mobilisations and social movements over the past years, and was also reflected in the local elections in May, when “popular unity” candidates won in Barcelona, Madrid etc.
The most important aspect of this change reflected in these elections is the breaking of the two-party system, which lost over 5 million votes between the PP and ex-social democratic PSOE. While the PP lost over 3.6 million votes, PSOE also had its lowest vote since the end of the dictatorship. On the other hand, two new parties erupted into parliament, including the right-wing populist Ciudadanos but especially Podemos which won over 20% of the vote and will have 69 seats, together with allies, in the parliament. Despite its recent turn towards “moderation”, Podemos stood as an anti-austerity force based on an “anti-system” argument.
Of course it cannot be ignored that the PP, which won 123 seats, still emerged as the biggest party, with a margin of 1.7 million votes over second-placed PSOE. This is despite the strong decline which the PP has suffered during its term in government, due to the savage cuts in health and education, the mass long-term unemployment and precarious labour reforms, growing poverty and inequality, etc. The recent anaemic growth – not felt by the majority – as well as the fact that unemployment is no longer growing (though new jobs are miserably precarious) may have served to boost their result somewhat. However, the PP’s overall result is still disastrous. They have lost their overall majority, not even coming close.
PSOE got its worst ever vote in the post-Franco era. However, given the predictions which have circulated in the last period which warned it could be relegated to third or even fourth place, its showing is seen as a relative success inside the party.
Ciudadanos made a strong entry to the parliament for a new national party but achieved well below its expectations as reflected in the polls. It damaged itself by political blunders – crucially promising to support the formation of a PP government - in the last stages of the campaign. Its prospects to not look too bright, as it is becoming more openly associated with austerity policies.
Podemos’ “comeback” - but a lost opportunity for the left
The most important change in the political situation is of course the entry of Podemos into the national parliament, with over 5 million votes in its first general election. This partially confirmed the “comeback” which Pablo Iglesias predicted, as polls had shown a marked decline of Podemos in recent months – sometimes as low as 10%. Iglesias’s skilful performance in TV debates, as well as the strong intervention of key social movement leaders, still immensely popular throughout the Spanish state – especially Ada Colau, leader of the PAH, the anti-evictions movement – all contributed to this. In the end, Podemos came very close to PSOE, which was only about 340,000 votes ahead of it in second place.
In Catalonia, the list supported by Podemos – as well as the United Left and others – “Podem en Comu” was the biggest party, in an historic victory. This comes only 3 months after the Podemos-backed list won poor results in the Catalan elections. Podemos was also the most voted party in the Basque country, and came in second place in Galicia and Valencia – both traditional fortresses of the PP - where it also stood in alliance with other Left forces, Anova in Galicia and Compromis in Valencia.
However, the lessons must be learned from these results. Most importantly, the results show that Podemos won its best results in lists where a genuine uniting of forces, including the Left and workers’ organisations, took place, such as in Catalonia, Galicia and Valencia. This underlines the point that Socialismo Revolucionario (CWI) has consistently made: that a united candidature, based on the social movements and including all real left forces – including the United Left, which stood as “Popular Unity” and won almost a million votes – could really have fought to win the elections. This was also the experience of the May’s local and regional elections. Building such unity now, in the struggle against austerity, and democratically from below, ditching sectarian power games, is an urgent need of the hour.
The United Left / Unidad Popular (IU - UP)result was also quite significant, winning almost one million votes despite the rise of Podemos and the fact that it did not stand in a number of regions due to alliances with Podemos. Alberto Garzon, its left-wing leader, carried out a very good campaign and will have generated a lot of support and political capital going far beyond those who voted for the IU-UP list. It was the campaign which was most based on a solidly left-wing programme, which while not revolutionary, included key demands to undermine the economic power of the elite, such as the nationalisation of bailed-out banks, renationalisation of the energy companies to end fuel poverty and invest in renewable energies etc.
In general, the elections showed a shift to the Left in society, reflecting the class struggle in the last period. This must now be built on, building unity in struggle against the austerity of whatever new government is formed.
What will the next government be?
The perspectives for the next government are very open, given the volatility of the situation. It is not certain who will form a government and cannot be ruled out that new elections will be called if no candidate wins a vote in parliament. In whatever case, it is likely that any government will be a minority government and will be inherently unstable with less chance of completing its term.
This situation must be taken advantage of by the Left and working class movement to increase the level of struggle and mobilisation against the new government, not only in defensive but also offensive struggles to win back rights and living standards which have been lost in the last years.
It will probably be weeks before a new government is formed, but the general climate is of strong opposition to a repetition of the outgoing PP government seen as corrupt and brutal in its agenda against workers, women, students and the poor.
Despite the pressure – including internally - which PSOE is coming under to support, or at least not oppose, a new PP government even at the cost of losing more support, it is more probably that PSOE will try to form an alternative government, with the support of Podemos and others.
It is important that the Left does not forget the capitalist, pro-austerity (though less severe and brutal than that of the PP) character that a new PSOE government will have. Thus, while Podemos and other Left forces may be correct to support the formation of an alternative government to kick out the PP, they must retain political independence and demand real concrete concessions in return for doing so. These demands must go beyond abstract promises to reform the constitution – Pablo Iglesias’ current position, and which are likely to be blocked by the PP majority in the Senate anyway – and include the satisfaction of concrete demands of the workers and poor. It is crucial that any potential support within parliament for the formation of a PSOE government does not go beyond the government’s formation. Such a move must not become any form of coalition because the PSOE leadership are firmly pro-capitalist. The forces of the Left and working class cannot give any such government a blank cheque and must retain their independence to fight for our demands and against any austerity government.
A programme for a real Left government would start with the cancellation of the anti-worker labour reforms of the PP and PSOE, the reversal of the cuts to the public sector, scrapping of anti-democratic laws, reversal of privatisations and an end to austerity measures. However, these measures, though limited are not compatible with the current capitalist crisis and the dictatorship of the markets and bosses. Additional measures would be necessary to change the fundamental orientation of the economy out of their hands, such as the nationalisation of the banks under democratic control, to direct funds towards the creation of jobs and investment in social housing and services, and the taking of the key sectors of the economy into public, democratic ownership. A Left government would also enshrine the right to self-determination of all nations in the Spanish state, and guarantee an immediate, free and legally binding referendum on Catalan independence.
The most important way to get concessions from a minority government – be it PSOE or PP – is in struggle on the streets and in workplaces. As we have explained, such governments are much less stable and easier to pressure, or ultimately bring down though mobilisations, then has been the case with the PP overall majority government.
The experience of Greece and of some local governments in Spain has shown the limits for a reformist government to act within the capitalist system if it is not willing to take bold socialist measures to break with the capitalist austerity agenda.
It is therefore necessary to prepare the working class and Left for taking power into the hands of the majority, through new democratic organisations armed with a programme of democratic public ownership to plan the economy in the interests of society rather than the big companies and fortunes, and of respect for the rights of all peoples. This must include organisations such as Podemos and United Left, as well as social movements and trade unionists, and must be based on real democracy from below, in the formulation of programme as well as the election of leaders and candidates.