Spain: Disappointment for Left in re-run elections

Mass mobilisation and struggle necessary for real change

The results of the 26 June re-run general elections in Spain were without doubt very disappointing for many activists, and for broad layers of workers and youth. All opinion polls pointed to the much-coveted ‘sorpasso’ – ie the alternative left overtaking the ex-social democratic PSOE as the main opposition to the right-wing PP (People’s Party).

However, the results saw the Unidos Podemos left alliance (involving Podemos, United Left and others) lose over one million votes compared with the elections on 20 December 2015.

Despite this loss of votes, the alliance maintained its 71 seats in the parliament, and Unidos Podemos will have an important weight in opposition to the next government.

These results also consolidate the new political panorama following the last years of struggle, and the crisis of the two-party system. The PP and PSOE remain far from the dominant position they enjoyed before the crisis.

Many will have been puzzled by the growth of the vote for the PP, which won more than 600,000 extra votes compared with December 2015, despite a lower turnout.

The PP has been embroiled in corruption scandals. This includes the conversations of the interior minister, Fernández Díaz with the anti-fraud office, openly seeking to damage Catalan nationalist politicians, and also the implication of many PP politicians in the Panama Papers tax avoidance scandal.

However, the PP’s rise in votes can be explained by the polarised atmosphere in the election campaign, and the concentration of right-wing votes around the PP in response to the expectation that Unidos Podemos would make big gains.

For example, the right-wing populist Ciudadanos party lost over 400,000 voters, who surely will have ‘returned home’ (to the PP) for these elections. A certain perception of economic improvement – though weak with little impact on living standards – will also have partially benefitted the PP.

Though these elections were called in order to resolve the governability crisis produced by December’s elections, these results reproduce a situation of relative paralysis.

The PP, with its 137 seats, is still far from an overall majority (176 seats). Even to be elected in a ‘second round’ of voting in parliament (where the incoming President needs only to get more votes for than against, not including abstentions), the formation of a government is not guaranteed.

However, although new elections cannot be completely ruled out, it is far more likely that some variant of a ‘grand coalition’ arrangement is put together. This will probably be a minority government of the PP propped up by the abstention, or votes in favour, of PSOE and Ciudadanos.

As Socialismo Revolucionario has previously commented, the most important feature in this emerging situation will be the instability and weakness of the next government, whatever its composition.

It means a government much more vulnerable to the pressure and demands of ‘the street’ and mobilisations of the working class, than was the last majority PP government.

No matter how ‘reinforced’ the establishment may feel after these elections, it is clear that they will not be able to resolve the current crises. New tensions will emerge and become big headaches for the new government – from the imposition of cuts to the national tensions intensified by these election results.

In Catalonia and the Basque country, where the left alliance won the elections, the idea that ‘Spain’ cannot be reformed will be strengthened, boosting the pro-independence movements.

New struggles

After 2011 a new period of very significant struggle opened up in Spain – the Indignados’ ‘15M movement’, indefinite strikes in many workplaces, various general strikes, the massive ‘marches for dignity’, etc.

However, for more than two years now, there has been a lull in these struggles, coinciding with an electoral cycle, beginning with the European elections in 2014 and growth of the anti-austerity party Podemos.

However, a new weaker government opens the possibility not only of earlier elections if the PP is not allowed to complete its term, but also of a return to mobilisation in the streets against the new austerity policies which the government seeks to impose.

A mass campaign of mobilisation and struggle would still have been necessary, even if the left had won, in order to resist the pressure of the EU and the capitalist establishment, which would try to force austerity and stop any attempts to implement pro-worker policies.

There has been much speculation about the reasons for the fall in support for Unidos Podemos. Some have questioned the usefulness of the alliance, others the lack of clarity in the campaign’s discourse and programme. For others still the question of who the electorate ‘blamed’ for the repeat elections (among sections of the less politicised population some will have blamed Podemos), and also the campaign of fear launched against the left.

All of these factors will have played some role. However, Socialismo Revolucionario understands that the most important factor explaining the results of the elections is the near absence of struggle and mobilisations in recent years.

This is linked to the policy of the leadership of Podemos and the left – which prioritises institutional and electoral politics, linked to a political vision which sees change taking place through the governing institutions.

The reality of government, for example in the so-called “cities of change” (major cities such as Barcelona and Madrid where the left heads the local government) has shown the limits of such an approach. In Madrid, for example, the left lost over 100,000 votes compared with December’s elections. Instead of reformism there is a need for a political approach which challenges the limits of capitalism.

Another of the problems of the Unidos Podemos coalition, is that it was essentially formed as a pact between the leading circles of Podemos and United Left, instead of a united front democratically built from below, involving the rank and file.

The role of such rank and file structures is key in giving an impulse to activity and campaigning, and building the necessary struggles in the coming months. As is discussing and clarifying, democratically, the programme necessary to solve the country’s fundamental problems of poverty, inequality, mass unemployment, housing evictions, cuts and rising university tuition fees.

These themes were practically absent from the media-based campaign of Unidos Podemos, which was centred much more on how a new government would be formed and in the exchange of accusations between the different parties.

Building for a future election victory which brings a working class party to power in the Spanish state in order to really change things and improve living standards, needs to be based on the following pillars: more organisation from below to build a really democratic movement of those we aim to represent, a clear programme of rupture with capitalism and austerity, and mass mobilisations to defend our rights and reverse the attacks of the past. This means linking immediate reforms to the need for revolutionary socialist policies.

This must begin with a process of debate, in social movements, the trade unions and in the ranks of Unidos Podemos and the parties which make it up. The lack of a serious analysis and debate could bring people to the false conclusion that there is nothing that can be done.

Though the levels of disappointment is great due to the high expectations everyone on the left entertained, we cannot forget that more than five million people voted consciously for real progressive change. This is a significant base of accumulated support built up through the struggles of the last years, and the potential is still far greater.

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July 2016