The ruling class shoots itself in the foot
Pedro Sánchez won a landslide victory in the PSOE (Social Democracy) primaries. With a historic turnout (80% of members voted) Sanchez won 50%, against the candidate of the right-wing coup leadership, Susana Díaz who was left with 40%, and Patxi Lopez who won 10%. Sanchez victory is good news for all those who struggle against the right-wing PP government and fight to bring it down as soon as possible.
His victory is the biggest internal defeat ever for the bureaucratic leadership dominated by Felipe Gonzalez and the caste of regional PSOE “barons”, who carried out a coup against Sanchez. Above all however, it is a blow by the PSOE membership against the strategy of the bourgeoisie to guarantee governmental stability in the Spanish state.
The abstention of PSOE MPs in parliament was decisive for the formation of the Rajoy government, and installed a de facto grand coalition. This strategy has been repudiated by the members of the party. After such an unexpected result, the question is being posed among the ruling class: what to do? Many will be opting for a split in PSOE already.
A humiliating defeat for the leadership and the bourgeoisie
The results of the vote are a humiliating defeat for the bureaucracy which has attacked Sanchez so bitterly over the last months. Sanchez won in all regions apart from Andalucia where Diaz won, and Gipuzkoa and Biscaya where Lopez won most votes.
Sanchez beat Diaz by 10% and 15,000 votes, despite the fact that Diaz had won 6,500 more nominations than him. She won 1,000 less votes than nominations, while Sanchez won more than 20,000 more votes than nominations! Sanchez won in 36 provinces while Diaz only won in all 12 Andalucian provinces, along with Ávila, Badajoz, Cuenca and Huesca. Sanchez won 82,4% in Catalonia, 71% in Baleares, 70,5% in Cantabria and 70% in Navarra. He also won 65% in Galicia, 63% in Valencia and 49.5% in Madrid.
Even in the regions led by “barons” hostile to Sanchez, he won clear victories. It is also significant that Diaz suffered her worst defeat in Catalonia, the Basque country and Galicia, the Spanish state’s historic nationalities. Her Spanish nationalist campaign was strongly rejected.
The success of Sanchez is a big blow to the party apparatus which could not convince the membership, despite so much pressure and coercion. Felipe Gonzalez, José Luís Rodríguez Zapatero – all the historic leaders of the party who have led it into such a deep crisis have not stopped with their insults and attacks on Sanchez. They called him the “cancer of PSOE”, “the Podemos submarine” “the separatist against the unity of Spain”, etc etc insults which were carried across the mainstream media. But it backfired on them like a boomerang.
Just as happened in the Podemos congress last February, the attempts of the bourgeoisie and their media spokespeople was met with a decisive response. If the defeat of Iñigo Errejón in Podemos was a blow to the attempt to domesticate Podemos, and make it servile to capitalist interests, the defeat of Susana Diaz in PSOE is an even greater blow.
PSOE has been a pillar of the capitalist “regime of 78”, leading governments which oversaw the transformation of the Spanish productive economy in the interests of big capital. Felipe González became a trusted servant of the ruling class, backing all of its imperialist adventures, putting in place labour reforms, pension reforms, and education reforms which laid the basis for what the PP has done in recent years. Gonzalez destroyed the public industrial base, privatised companies and strategic sectors to make money for the oligarchy, and destroyed hundreds of thousands of dignified quality jobs.
He was a pioneer in the introduction of precariousness and low wages. He resorted to state terrorism to crush ETA and passed repressive legislation to fight against democratic rights and national aspirations of the Basque people, laying the basis for Spanish nationalism. He developed various political and private links with the elite, promoted corruption and the installation of PSOE politicians in the leading bodies of bit multinationals. Above all, he fought against the more consequent elements of the socialist rank and file, carrying out a wave of expulsions against dissent. He was the undisputed father of the rightward turn of PSOE in line with Blair and the rest of international Social Democracy.
The defeat of Susana Diaz is therefore much more than an annoyance to this arrogant, corrupt apparatus. The bourgeoisie had invested much hope in their control of PSOE and its links to the agenda of cuts and austerity. Even if the price to be paid was a big split in the party, they thought they would win and get rid of their internal opponents represented by Sanchez. In the end all their plans were foiled. By trying to re-enact Social Democracy’s policy in France and Greece, they provoked a rebellion of the rank and file which can only be compared to the growth of the socialist left led by Francisco Largo Caballero in October 1934.
Lessons from history
This analogy has been used as a threat by various right wing PSOE leaders, to warn of the consequences of Sanchez being elected. They warned that the instability in the system could become even greater. This historical comparison, with all the caution necessary due to the fact that the Spanish class struggle has still not reached a pre-revolutionary scenario, does offer some common elements which should be considered.
The crisis of Spanish social democracy is part of a general international process, caused by its fusion with the ruling class and acceptance of the neoliberal measures it applied during the boom period. The decline of Social democracy in all Western countries and in Latin America was accelerated by the great recession in 2008.
The decomposition of the European social democracy in the 1930s was in general, caused by similar factors: the economic collapse which began with the crash of 1929, a crisis of legitimacy of bourgeois democracy, an impoverishment of the middle classes and a political and social polarisation which saw a big shift to the left by millions of workers and youth, but also the growth of fascist organisations which occupied an important part of the traditional base of the right.
In the Spanish state today, the polarisation, crisis of bourgeois democracy, explosion of a corruption crisis in the main bourgeois party, sharpening of the national question etc etc, shows some elements of the situation which followed the proclamation of the Second Republic in the 1930s. Of course there are differences, important ones, but the important thing is to understand the fundamental dynamic of events. The evolution of the main political protagonists also shows similarities.
Largo Caballero had a reputation as leader of the most right wing reformist faction in PSOE. Educated in the last period of Pablo Iglesias leadership – when the founder of Spanish socialism had firmly turned towards class collaboration and “gradual” change – he occupied many positions in PSOE and the UGT union, collaborating closely with Julián Besteiro and actively opposing the integration of PSOE into the Third International. His reformism even led him to participate in the Council of State under the Primo de Rivera dictatorship at a time when the main union federation in the country, the CNT, was being brutally persecuted and repressed and the young forces of the Communist party were forced into clandestinity.
The same Caballero, who was Minister for Empoyment in the republican-socialist coalition government following 14 April 1931, lived through the disaster of Social Democratic policy. It had tried to square the circle: pass progressive reforms without breaking with the logic of capitalism, which in reality meant implementing the same capitalist policies as always and clash with its social base. It was the leftward radicalisation of the socialist rank and file, sick and tired of scams and fraudulent rhetoric which changed nothing, and alarmed by the advance of reaction and fascism which convinced Largo Caballero to re-discover consequent socialist, even Marxist, politics.
Caballero failed in his attempt to transform PSOE into a mass Marxist party. However his role and especially that of his followers was decisive to avoiding a victory almost without resistance of fascism, as had taken place in Germany and Italy. Discrediting the figure of Largo Caballero, as well-known leaders and followers of the PSOE bureaucracy have done today, shows the type of party which these elements want to maintain.
The role of the individual in history is important and has never been neglected by Marxists. Many political leaders reflected different class forces in ascent or in retreat, or events which represented deep changes in the situation. Felipe González, Blair, Crasi, Papandreu and a legion more like them, expressed the defeats of the working class and youth in the great battles of the 1970s, the boom in the economy and the collapse of Stalinism. All of these factors are the basis for the violent turn to the right of the traditional working class organisations, the social democratic and many communist (Stalinist) parties, without mentioning the trade unions. It was a world phenomenon with its roots in a defeat of the working class which led to a strong ideological retreat of the left, with all sorts of right-wing market ideas penetrating its ranks.
But the mole of history did not stop burrowing. What seemed like a triumph for capitalism soon became its opposite. The earthquake in the system brought on by the economic crisis turned everything upside down. As in the 1930s, it provoked political instability which affects all traditional forms of bourgeois rule and puts the organisations which political stability was based on into crisis.
In Spain the fall of the two-party system is the consequence of the great economic recession and the suffering of millions of unemployed, the social fracture, spread of precarious conditions and impoverishment. But the fundamental thing is to understand that the balance of forces has changed and millions of workers, youth and sections of the middle classes have turned to the left looking for a solution to this intolerable situation.
These changes in the objective situation and changes in consciousness of the oppressed, is what explains the crisis of social democracy and the eruption of formations like Podemos, France Insoumise, Jeremy Corbyn in the British Labour Party, or Syriza. It is also key to understanding the victory of Sanchez.
We do not want to dismiss what has taken place. Pedro Sanchez’s actions represent a break from his most recent past. He went from puppet of the apparatus to resist the attacks of Gonzalez and all the arrogant territorial chiefs whose only talents are to serve the powerful. He resigned, forced by brutal circumstances, but remained firm in his opposition to handing power to Rajoy. He did not abandon but waged a battle, facing serious obstacles and media opposition which did everything possible to finish him. He made a call to the membership and based himself on them, mobilising around a clear idea: to reclaim PSOE as a left party independent from the PP. It paid off. Now, Sanchez has an authority among the membership of the party, and its voters, far greater than any other party leader, and has won the sympathy of many workers and youth who have voted for Podemos.
Pedro Sanchez must drive a real shift to the Left and form a united front with Unidos Podemos
The editorial from El Pais on 22 May defines the perspective of the ruling class and right wing of PSOE in the face of Sanchez victory: war, war, war. We quote from this “proclamation” to be clear:
“The victory of Pedro Sanchez in the primaries of PSOE puts the party in one of the most difficult conjunctures in its long history. The return to General Secretary of a leader with a history so marked by electoral defeat, internal division and ideological zig-zags can only cause great worry… The programmatic and organisational proposals of Sanchez sum up well other experiences, from Brexit to the Colombian referendum, to the victory of Trump, where emotion and indignation have overcome reason, arguments and facts. Spain has suffered its own populist moment. And it has suffered it within a party which is so essential to the governability of our country. The same thing as happened in the last months to French socialism, which is on the verge of disappearing under the radical Benoît Hamon. A similar disaster is approaching in the British Labour party led by the populist, Jeremy Corbyn. It would be an illusion to think that PSOE is not facing a similar risk. In all these cases, demagoguery – seen with Podemos and Trump – which speaks of “the bottom against the top” has overcome truth, merits and reason… Unfortunately the project o Sanchez, which has the support of noone representing the legacy of 22 years of PSOE governments or of any significant territorial power, has the party destined for a deepening of an already grave internal crisis…”
Pedro Sanchez has entered into the realm of public enemy number one for El Pais. Through the techniques of lies and infamy, he is situated in the same ground as Trump, Brexit, Pablo Iglesias and Podemos – populism! It remains shocking that the veteran editors of this paper insist on saying such nonsense regularly, but it reflects their desperation following times when they did what they liked with absolute power. Faced with a situation which goes against their predictions constantly, and opposed by the people – in this case socialist militants “separated from truth, merit and reason” – the columns of El Pais begin to spout the same desperation and class hatred as their overlords in bug business.
There are few doubts that the holy alliance of the capitalists, the right wing apparatus and the system’s media will jump at any opportunity to destroy Pedro Sanchez. Exactly as they have tried to do with Pablo Iglesias, and as they are doing to Jeremy Corbyn and whoever else challenges them. For this reason, the strategy which Sanchez now follows is so important.
The advantages of reaching “unity” with the right wing apparatus only apply if Sanchez wishes to commit suicide and throw away all he has achieved. There is no possibility of reconciliation with the “barons” if he wants to apply a real Left policy, break with cuts and kick the PP out of government. Sanchez should clarify that he will not make any agreement or make any minimal concession to these sectors. Any gesture to them is like putting a rope around his own neck. The sector of Patxi Lopez is nothing more than a Trojan horse of the apparatus to neutralise Sanchez, and as Sanchez explained in the primaries campaign, he was part of the same project as the apparatus.
Sanchez must base himself on the power of the membership, and on the enthusiasm which he has generated inside and outside the party, to clearly define his programme. This can only be of complete opposition to the cuts and attacks on our democratic rights, and the formation of a political alliance with Unidos Podemos (electoral coalition of Podemos, the United Left and others) to get the PP out of power as soon as possible.
The attitude of Susana Diaz and the territorial barons towards the no confidence motion put forward by Unidos Podemos has been shameful. They have put themselves clearly on the same side of the barricades as the PP, making clear their willingness to prop up the government of corruption and brutal attacks on the working class. It is therefore very important that Sanchez shows willingness to support the initiative of Unidos Podemos, correcting his position, or at least be willing to negotiate a new no-confidence motion as Pablo Echenique from Podemos proposed. This is what the membership and the whole of the Left expects and hopes for.
The great mobilisation by Unidos Podemos on 20 may with tens of thousands in the Puerta del Sol (Madrid’s main square), was the best proof that the conditions to bring down the PP are in the streets not in the parliament. It is necessary to generate the same atmosphere of social rebellion which existed between 2011 and 2014, recovering the spirit of the “indignados”, and mass mobilisations including a general strike to force the resignation of Rajoy.
Sanchez must understand that they will not give him one minute of breathing space. If he wants to fulfil his promises he must build a firm base of support in all party branches, breaking with the political culture which has made PSOE a pillar of capitalist stability. He must re-discover the programme of socialism, which can only be Marxist. It remains to be seen whether he will be capable of taking this road and confronting the apparatus which will do everything to try and defeat him again, even at the cost of splitting the party. The first test will be the Federal Congress of PSOE in June.
Whatever the case, what has taken place in PSOE, just as in the Puerta del Sol makes clear that we can change things. We can and must build a strong revolutionary left organisation to transform society.