Spain: Left government on the horizon in June elections

Establishment parties panic as Podemos and United Left agree joint election challenge

The panorama of Spain’s June re-run general election in June was dramatically changed two weeks ago, when Podemos and the United Left (IU) agreed to stand a united list. The Spanish capitalist elite, for whom these elections were seen as an opportunity to re-assert the lost dominance of the two-party system, entered panic mode.

The ruling right-wing PP, and ex-social democratic POSE, had been hoping to spend the election bickering over the little that separates their policies, pushing Podemos and the Left into the background. Suddenly, leaders from both parties united in shrill warnings of the threat of “communism”! Opinion polls in the last weeks soon showed the basis for this fear and panic. “Unidos Podemos” (together we can) has surpassed PSOE in opinion polls and is in a position to fight these elections to win.

Socialismo Revolucionario (CWI in the Spanish state) has consistently called and fought for a united front of struggle, and an electoral alliance of the Left, workers’ and social movements to bring the idea of a Left government, with a socialist programme to end austerity, within reach. The basis and need for such an alliance was shown in last year’s municipal elections, when united left lists won mayorships in Barcelona, Madrid and other key cities.

Step forward on Left Unity following December election deadlock

In December’s general election the combined votes of Podemos-backed lists and the IU list already exceeded the votes won by PSOE. Such an outcome – with the PP way off a majority – would already have posed the possibility of the Left leading a new government. However, such an alliance was not forged at that stage.

Pablo Iglesias and other leaders of Podemos had the position of veoting a state-wide alliance with IU, insisting on the effective dissolution of the IU into its own electoral lists, as a condition for an alliance. Also from the other side, sections of the IU leadership defended a sectarian stance against unity, for fear that they would be “relegated” to a lesser position, and that their positions of influence, institutional representation and political careers, would be put in jeopardy.

However, following December’s election deadlock, various factors started to shift in the direction of unity. Podemos entered a brief period of crisis, with its leadership divided amidst pressure to do a coalition deal with PSOE and right populist Ciudadanos. These internal divisions, added to the steady process of “moderation” of Podemos discourse and programme, saw the formation’s support begin to decline again to levels similar to before its pre-election surge in December.

On the other hand, under its new more combative left wing leader, Alberto Garzon, the IU (which had won almost one million votes despite not standing in all regions in December) underwent an impressive recovery in polls. The balance of forces between the two formations – previously so heavily weighted in favour of Podemos and Iglesias – had changed, and Iglesias had both more to gain from unity, and potentially more to fear from competing with Garzon and IU.

In this context, Iglesias’ approach radically changed, with last year’s conditions for unity fading away. An agreement was made to stand a joint list on an all-Spain basis, with both Podemos and IU represented as organisations.

Volatile and unpredictable campaign

Unidos Podemos is currently in second place in the polls, about 5% behind the PP and 3% ahead of PSOE. However, the election campaign could prove extremely volatile. PSOE in particular, has reason to be worried. Despite its dramatic decline in recent years, it has generally still hung on to the mantle of “main opposition party”, which is why coming in second place in December was so important for it. However, with the Left ahead of it in polls going into the campaign, even its leadership’s most effective argument – that of the “useful vote” to stop the PP, will be less and less effective.

The PP is also a party teetering on the brink, held together only by the power it exercises in government. It is hit by one corruption scandal after another. Only a few weeks ago, the Minister for Industry, Jose Manuel Soria, was forced to resign over links with the Panama papers, and lies he told about it. Ciudadanos, the right-wing populist equivalent of Podemos which combines right wing pro-boss policies with a clean and fresh-faced anti-corruption image, though momentarily pushed back, is waiting in the wings and already eating into the PP’s support.

For unity in struggle, democratically forged from below

We welcome the formation of Unidos Podemos as a new instrument which can bring a Left government to power, and open a new phase of the class struggle in Spain. However, it must go beyond a mere arrangement between closed leadership circles, and become a real united front of social and political struggle against austerity and capitalism. United assemblies, of activists and supporters of all Left parties, unions and social movements, should be formed to discuss and decide on the alliance’s strategy, programme, and electoral lists.

The IU has an important role to play in the alliance. Garzon has shifted the balance towards in Left in the IU programme and rhetoric, criticising Podemos from the Left and defending key socialist demands such as the nationalisation of strategic companies. Following the betrayal of Syriza and Tsipras in Greece, he has also begun to defend the need to at least “prepare for the possibility” of breaking with the capitalist Euro and EU. It would be a terrible mistake for Garzon and others to park this discourse for the duration of the campaign and stop criticising the rightward drift of Podemos leaders.

Workers’ government

The unending chain of crises which has beset Spanish capitalism points ever more clearly to the need for system change. The experience of struggle over the last years against austerity, for democratic national rights in Catalonia, against evictions etc etc, has shown more and more clearly how the post-Transition capitalist regime erects itself as a barrier to the realisation of even the most elemental rights and recuperation of living standards. The experience of Syriza’s betrayal in Greece is a case in point for all.

The fight for an anti-capitalist socialist programme within Unidos Podemos, which links the fight against austerity to the need to transform property relations, and bring the key sectors of the economy and sources of wealth into socialist, democratic public ownership and control – a workers’ government of the economy and society – is the key task of the moment. This includes arguing for a strong independent stance for the left, against austerity coalition deals following the elections, and for the working class to base itself on its own forces and mobilisation to achieve its demands. The rallying call of the revolutionary Left must be:

No to a Spanish Tsipras! For a real united front of the Left with a socialist programme to end capitalism! For a workers’ government!

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May 2016