Spain: Death knells of “Transition” regime

Catalonia; ’Podemos’, and the left

In Spain, the crisis was always bound to sweep away the pre-existing social, and political status quo. Spain is not a country with an age-old seemingly unshakeable political regime and institutions, but one in which revolution and upheaval has regularly and repeatedly set the tone for change over the last centuries. The current Spanish consitution, territorial arrangement, political party system and Monarchy are products of the 1970s "Transition", a botched up and panicked process to end the Franco regime, whilst staving off the threat of revolution. What we are seeing now is the beginning of the inevitable decomposition of this "Transition" regime – often called the "regime of 78" (in reference to the 1978 constitution).

On almost every front, the credibility of the "regime of 78" lies in tatters. Its main two parties fail to muster up 50% support between them, as parties calling for a "rupture" with the regime – especially Podemos – make steady gains. Its Monarchy is in crisis, as seen by Juan Carlos’ panicked abdication and replacement by Philip VI – christened "Philip the brief" by leading IU MP, Alberto Garzon. The Catalan people clamour for an independence referendum, with a majority in the polls in favour of separation.

None of these fundamental contradictions – which have always plagued Spanish capitalism – were resolved by the "Transition". They were merely papered over only unravel again before our eyes. The current crisis offers yet another oppportunity for the working class and the oppressed to do what they tried and tragically failed to do during both the 1930s and 1970s – permanently overcome these contradictions by bringing about revolutionary change.

Catalonia: Plebescite banned, then called off

Following the narrow victory of ’No’ in the Scottish independence referendum, leading PP government figures admitted their relief. Scottish workers and youth came close to setting a dangerous precedent, which the Catalans, and Basques would be only too ready to follow. Rajoy and his cronies – supported unconditionally by the ex-social democratic PSOE – reassured themselves that the Catalans would not get a chance to cause such a fuss. There was to be no talk of them getting to vote. Just as well, as millions of Catalans have taken to the streets over 3 consecutive years in favour of independence, most recently on 11 September.

Things came to a head at the end of September. Over 80% of MPs in the Catalan parliament passed a law allowing for the calling of a Catalan plebescite (not even a binding referendum) on independence. The Catalan President, Artur Mas, then signed the decree calling it, for 9 November. Rajoy and his cabinet called an emergency meeting and predictably called on the Spanish Constitutional Tribunal to ban the plebescite, which they did within hours.

The banning of the plebescite by the central government was no surprise to anyone, and was in reality announced many months in advance. The 1978 Constitution was designed to rule out the right of self determination. The key question for those determined to exercise the right to decide (in reality the right to self-determination) in Catalonia is: how can a movement capable of breaking the "legal" limits of the regime of 78 be built?

Demonstration in favour of the independence of Catalonia on 11 September

No trust for capitalist parties in struggle for self-determination

The actions of the Catalan government of Artur Mas (CiU party) in the last days has partially answered this question, in the sense that it is now chrystal clear that this party will never buld or lead such a movement. In the same way that the PP’s banning of the plebescite was bound to happen, so too was CiU’s eventual capitulation and cancellation. Socialismo Revolucionario (SR – CWI in Spanish state) has clearly spelt this out repeatedly since the plan for the plebescite was announced.

It seems like the Catalan government will now try to save face, replacing the planned plebescite with an "unofficial" plebescite organised by volunteers, which will not be binding. This is widely seen as a sell-out.

CiU – itself a coalition of two parties, one of which is openly against independence – is the traditional party of the nationalist Catalan business class. Before it’s turn towards the pro-independence movement it was the poster-boy of austerity governments in Spain, and engaged in numerous pacts with the PP to support cuts to services and rights. Is it any wonder that such a party is not willing to go to the end and disobey the legality of the 1978 regime? After all their predecessors were among those who drew up and agreed the very Spanish constitution that bans referenda.

ERC (Republican Left, a social-democratic pro-independence party) on the other hand, puts forward a seemingly more combative position and now leads CiU in the polls. They call in the abstract for "disobedience", even for the unilateral declaration of independence by the Catalan parliament. However, they have proposed no concrete steps to translate the rhetoric into action. In practice, they have not gone beyond the timid proposals of CiU and Artur Mas, whose minority government they maintain in power. ERC is also no stranger to austerity and a relative newcomer to a ’radical’ pro-independence position.

The tendency for pro-capitalist parties to refuse to struggle consequently against Spanish capitalism is not merely a question of determination or moral fibre; it reflects class contradictions. Catalan big business and the rich see no viable future beyond the limits of Spanish capitalism, into which they are integrated. Only the working class majority – and the devastated middle layers of Catalan society – has an interest in fighting for full democratic and national rights. Therefore, the working class must take the leadership of the struggle.

Working class must take the lead

As an SR declaration following the cancellation stated: "a declaration of independence from parliament sounds very radical and militant, but if not accompanied by a process of mass mobilisation by workers and the poor to make it a reality, it would merely represent more phrase-mongering. In this process, we have seen many radical parliamentary declarations, but little in the way of real change."

"If we want to stand up to the Constitutional Tribunal and the PP, we can only base ourselves on our own power, the power of the working class, of the 99% mobilised and organised. The workers’ organisations, social movements, EUiA (Catalan IU), CUP (left nationalists), Podemos and trade unions should form a united front and begin a campaign of mobilisations – on the streets and the workplaces – to disobey the Constitutional Tribunal."

"The idea of a united "national" front with parties of capitalist austerity should be immediately ruled out by the left. What is needed is a united front of the 99%, armed with a political alternative, and a plan to struggle to implement it. The key ally of Catalan working people in this struggle cannot be Catalan capital, but the working people of the rest of the Spanish state, united in struggle for a socialist internationalist solution to the misery of capitalist crisis".

The only genuine solution to this question requires a united movement of workers and youth throughout the Spanish state, with the struggle fo self-determination and socialism emblazened on its banner, as part of an international struggle for a new society.

Two-party system in crisis

The decomposition of the regime of 78 is also reflected in the historic crisis of its two-party system. During the years of boom and stability, the PP and ex-social democratic PSOE enjoyed a combined support of over 80%. In May’s European elections, they did not reach 50% between them. Opinion polls since then have even situated their combined support in the low 40s. This is possibly the most worrying of the crises currently facing capitalism.

The alternation in power of these two parties was a key tool of the ruling class to maintain its political domination during the historical period since the 1970s. No matter how hated one of its parties became, the other would step in. However, this stability is a thing of the past. If elections were held tomorrow, neither one of these parties would come close to forming a government on its own – they might even have to rule together in a "grand coalition". This new uncertainty and threat to capitalist political hegemony is why ’Podemos’, the new party launched just before the European elections, represents such a headache for the ruling class today.

Where did ’Podemos’ come from?

The massive disconnect between the masses and the two-party system was first expressed in an explosive way in May 2011, with the "Indignados’" movement. Four years later, Podemos has now exploded onto the scene, as a political expression of this disconnect. It combines a programme similar to that of the United Left, with a fiery denunciation of "la casta", the political "caste" which dominates all the main parties, all serving the same interests. But how did Podemos grow so quickly, taking into account the existence and until now, promising growth of IU?

With the new period opened up by the Indignados’ movement, the alternative left parties, especially IU, had a golden opportunity to translate this into the building of a mass revolutionary political alternative. The CWI and SR repeatedly stressed that this would only be possible on the basis of a "refoundation", breaking with the past practices which have associated IU with the regime of 78 in the eyes of millions.

This meant opening up its structures, implementing the assembly-based democracy of the Indignados and social movements – which in reality reflect the best traditions of the Spanish workers’ and communist movement. It also meant breaking from a coalitionist policy, and standing for an independent left challenge to the political establishment and system.

However, despite a growing internal struggle for such a turn, in which SR has played a role – the old methods have largely remained. Coalitions with pro-cuts parties continue. IU representatives’ shameful role in a current corruption scandal surrounding the collapsed Bank, ’Bankia’ is yet another example the corrupt bureaucracy which unfortunately continues to hold the reigns of much of the Spanish workers’ movement. That this hold must be broken is now a question of life or death.

While not having a programme to the left of IU, Podemos has none of its "baggage". While not growing organically from the Indignados’ movement, Podemos speaks its language, and has given it a political expression, which in itself represents a step forward from the "anti-party" mood which marked those protests. It is organised on the basis of "circles" and a "citizens’ assembly", which chimes with the demands for more direct democratic participation, present in all the most important struggles of the last years in Spain.

Podemos’ founding meeting

Debate on democratic structures

However, the Podemos leadership’s proposals on how to organise do not fulfill this demand for real democratic structures, and have provoked important debates and differences. Three of Podemos’ five MEPs have supported an alternative proposal to that of Pablo Iglesias, main Podemos founder and leader, on its structures. His proposal contains the direct election of a General Secretary every 3 years, who personally appoints an executive, which the assembly only ratifies or rubber stamps. It gives no concrete role to Podemos’ "circles" (Podemos’ assemblies/branches) in decision making, with online referenda as a substitute.

This proposal smacks more of "top-down" than of the "from below" discourse which attracts the masses to Podemos. The key to a really democratic "from below" Podemos, is the building of a mass active membership, and the role of democratic "circles" which function as a democratic check on an elected and recallable collective leadership.

Even more worryingly, Iglesias and his leading circle propose to ban members of other political organisations and parties from positions of responsibility within Podemos. While members of the bosses’ parties cannot be allowed to participate, those involved in Podemos who belong to parties or tendencies involved in the struggle against austerity and the two-party system must be allowed the democratic right to organise, and participate within Podemos, defending their own point of view.

"Neither Left nor Right"? The need for a revolutionary socialist programme

Podemos’ audacious ’we are in this to win’ approach, is also a breath of fresh air for those sick to the teeth of the lack of ambition displayed by those leaders of IU whose life ambition is to serve as minority partners in PSOE governments. The question of how a movement can be built which really can win, changing the government and the system, is the key question to be debated both in Podemos, IU and elsewhere.

The perspective of a Podemos-led government is something that is gaining momentum in Spanish society. Podemos has reached over 20% in numerous polls, threatening both the PP and PSOE. The combined support of Podemos, IU and other left forces in polls is up to 30%. This is an extremely important development, putting within the reach of the working class and youth the prospect of a government to turn the situation around.

However – in a similar way to Syriza in Greece -as Podemos has risen in the polls, an inevitable pressure to "moderate" its perspectives and policy has been brought to bear upon it, which its leaders have unfortunately conceded to. They have assured media that their intention is "not to break with capitalism" in government, and explained that the movement is "not left or right wing". The leaders’ previously radical tone on the payment of the debt has been toned down, and replaced with a "responsible" message, that the debt has to be paid, but first "audited and re-negotiated" with the Troika. The vulture creditors’ new looting of Argentina – over 10 years after its ’model’ debt "restructuring" – shows the limits of this policy, and its disastrous consequences.

Podemos’ programme, along with that of IU and other left forces, includes key demands and policies such as a ban on evictions, and the guaranteed right to an income, which revolutionary socialists support and fight for without hesitation. However, in the context of the current crisis, and EU-imposed austerity recipies, a government elected on such a programme would be given no margin of manouvre to implement it, in the context of the Troika austerity straightjacket. It would be forced to choose between these policies and its eurozone membership, and threatened with armageddon, the flight of capital etc.

Only on the basis of a revolutionary socialist policy can this blackmail effectively be answered. The nationalisation under democratic control of the banks, and the imposition of a state monopoly on foreign trade could prevent the flight of capital, and allow for the non-payment of the debt to invest tens of billions in funding a real recovery of jobs and living standards. The imposition of a plan of production based on democratic public ownership of the main industries could bring millions back to work on decent pay and conditions. This would be a beacon which workers throughout Europe – especially in the South and in Ireland – would quickly move into struggle to emulate, laying the basis for an alternative, socialist confederation in Europe.

The spreading of such revolutionary ideas throughout the left, social movements and workers’ movement in Spain is the fundamental task of revolutionaries today. Socialismo Revolucionario (CWI in Spain) fights to fulfill this task, in IU, Podemos, and beyond. A united front of these organisations, organised in democratic assemblies in workplaces and communities, armed with a socialist programme, could open the way for a struggle for a workers’ government. This would lay the foundations of a new, socialist democracy, to emerge from the ashes of the rotten regime of 78. If this course is adopted, then nothing can stop the Spanish revolution.

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October 2014