Spain: European elections redefine political map

‘Podemos’ capitalises on failures of IU bureaucratic leadership

The European election results constituted a political earthquake in Spain. These elections have confirmed blow by blow the warnings of Socialismo Revolucionario (SR – CWI in Spain) related to the bureaucratic right-wing leaders of IU, whose political response both to the elections and the dramatic crisis of Spanish capitalism itself, can spell disaster for the movement. On Sunday night, Willy Meyer, head of the IU list for the European elections drew up a glowing balance sheet of IU’s results, which saw the formation win 1 million new votes and go from 2 to 6 MEPs. However, the eruption of Podemos, a force which in less than 4 months has won 1.2 million votes and 5 MEPs, not only minimised the potential growth of IU in these elections, but has changed the whole political equilibrium, threatening an end to IU’s position as main left reference point in the Spanish state. And what is more, Podemos has developed a momentum which could even see it overtake the IU in terms of electoral support in the next period. These elections have been a turning point and open up a new panorama which socialists must respond to.

These elections have shown how damaging the policies of the bureaucratic right-wing IU leadership can be for the formation itself. This policy, which is shared by the main trade union leaders, is one which instead of basing itself on the rising tide of struggle and radicalisation of this new period, seeks to contain it, and rests on a perspective to enter government in a coalition with PSOE following the general elections.

Podemos shakes up the panorama of the Left

The mainstream analysis of Podemos focusses exclusively on the strength of its campaign, in “selling a fresh product” and capitalising to the max on the high media profile of its main spokesperson, Pablo Iglesias. But this is over simplistic. Many media personalities have stood in elections in Spain before and made little impact. Iglesias and Podemos were able to cause a political earthquake by presenting itself as radically different to everything else, with a discourse that emphasised the need for the people to become protagonists in political change, beyond the dated institutional politics of the main parties. Unfortunately, it is precisely the latter (the old bureaucratic way of doing politics) which Willy Meyer represents in the eyes of many of the most radical workers and young people.

From this point of view, the eruption of Podemos as a force is very welcome. It is a breath of fresh air, and blast of oxygen for the alternative left, and it weakens the bureaucracy which has held back the struggle for so long. However, we also must recognise the current weaknesses of Podemos, which is not without its own contradictions.

IU leadership damages its growth

To build a mass movement of the suffering masses to change society, it is not sufficient to appear daily on TV or in social networks. This must be combined with an intervention which carries a clear message, explaining the nature of the capitalist crisis, its causes and the necessary way out. The leadership of IU has failed precisely in this. It is impossible to credibly attack the two party system, but then to use ones position to save it, in the name of maintaining “governability” – as the IU leadership does governing with PSOE in Andalucía and propping up the PP in Extremadura. What is more, the majority of IU leaders want to repeat this mistake on a state-wide level following the general elections. In reality, a section of the IU leaders, are more interested in ministerial positions than in the struggle to end the capitalist regime of 1978. They have thus become a part of the “political caste” which so many rage against.

In the same way, one cannot in words oppose the “dictatorship of the markets and the troika” while at the same time putting forward a concrete programme which does not go beyond touching up this dictatorship/system. Such are demands to “democratise the ECB”, demand cheaper loans from the Troika etc , to which many IU leaders confine themselves. However, in this respect Podemos does not represent an improvement. Beyond ambiguous statements of opposition to the rule of capital and the markets, Iglesias’ concrete proposals are to “limit privatizations”, promote “public participation in private companies”, democratise the ECB etc. In both IU and Podemos, a struggle is necessary for a programme which responds to the reality of the crisis and situation which can only be dealt with on the basis of a movement to break with capitalism with socialist policies, of the repudiation of the debt, nationalisation under democratic control of the key sectors of the economy.

To this lack of political credibility, another factor must be added. Within the organisation, the leadership has maintained a veto on any meaningful organisational refoundation, along the lines of what we have proposed. IU itself was the product of a valiant process of convergence led by Julio Anguita in the 1990s, following the mass movement against NATO, to open up a space on the left outside of the reach of what was then the Communist Party. Following the 15 May “Indignados” movement in 2011 which led to a new wave of politicisation, IU had an opportunity to take a further step in this process and open the organisation up to the new mass of fighter against the system, who are sick of merely protesting again and again without anyone listening and are beginning to understand that political power must also be fought for. However, within the IU leadership this was unfortunately subordinated to the fear of losing control of the situation. The enormous mobilisations of the last thus did not translate into an exponential growth in the active membership of IU. While IU members played a crucial role in building the mass mobilisation of 22 March 2014, this was not followed up on by the leadership and has thus far been the exception rather than the rule. This failure to seize the opportunities present opened up ground which Podemos has partially occupied.

For a united front of the left and social movements

Following the elections, all have suddenly “seen the light” and call for a coming together of the left, even those who until now have opposed any opening up to others. Socialismo Revolucionario renews its long standing call for a united front of the left (IU, Podemos, and left-nationalist forces which combined won over 20% of the vote) together with the workers’ and social movements. However, the convergence we need cannot be based merely on agreements between the tops of the different organisations. We must unite based on an open and democratic process in which activists from all organisations and social movements can meet to discuss on equal terms and decide from below the necessary next steps, and draw up a credible plan to take power for the working people and youth. Our hopes for the future rest on the shoulders of an entire new generation of political activists and cadres being matured by events, and the mass movements of this period.

However, is would also be a mistake to believe that the bureaucratic dangers and brakes on the situation come only from the leadership of IU. The circle of media figures who lead Podemos have also been shown to manoeuvre and make key decisions over the heads of those whom they represent. Despite basing themselves on speeches stressing the importance of the power of the “circles” (branches/assemblies of Podemos), this power of the circles has yet to materialise in reality. The next months will be key in determining how Podemos is organized on the ground and whether a democratic rank and file structure develops to control the personalised approach of Iglesias & co.

Iglesias and other leaders of Podemos base themselves on the example of Chavez and Venezuela. However, the CWI has explained repeatedly that in the Bolivarian process the personalised emphasis on one figure, while it can initially attract electoral support, can in fact endanger the building of a mass movement which is based on radial internal democracy and mechanisms of control and correction from below.

We call once again on all those who voted for the alternative left to help to initiate united assemblies in neighbourhoods and workplaces involving all the left organisations and social movements. These assemblies should form the basis of the united front which the situation demands in order to unite our forces in struggle for a political alternative of the 99%.

However, this struggle must have its epicentre first and foremost on the streets, which is the best school of joint social and political action. On 22 March, up to 2 million flooded the streets. All of these and more have now voted for the alternative left. The Marches of Dignity, despite the criminalisation and repression of the regime, have made their mark on the electoral process and arrived to deal a vengeful blow to the bosses’ two-party system. This process will be the key to the process of unity and struggle which is necessary in the short term. From the struggles of workers, the poor and youth must arise the alliances and leaderships capable of bringing about the profound change that the working class aspires to, only possible based on a break with the capitalist system and on a workers’ government which implements socialist policies.

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June 2014