Spain: PSOE leadership hands power to the PP

A new phase in the class struggle

Below – as part of a continuing process of discussion, collaboration and exchange between our organisations – we publish an editorial article published by Izquierda Revolucionaria, in the Spanish state, analysing the new phase in the situation there.  

A new government has been formed. It will be of a very different type to its predecessors. Mariano Rajoy has again been elected as Prime Minister, but this time only thanks to the abstention of 68 PSOE MPs, who have carried out an unspeakable betrayal of the party’s members, electoral and social base. The new PP government, weak and questioned from all sides, faces an extremely complicated task. The developments around the government’s formation confirm the depth of the crisis of the Spanish capitalist regime. A new phase of class struggle has opened up, which will be marked by the return of mass social mobilisation.  

Convulsion in PSOE

The fact that the vast majority of PSOE members, through hundreds of emergency assemblies, supported a NO to Rajoy vote, and the opposition of over 70% of PSOE voters in the end counted for nothing. The party’s Federal Committee played deaf and decided to hand power to the PP, opening the door to more brutal cuts and austerity. It will go down in history as one of Spanish social democracy’s greatest betrayals.

The “coup plotter” leadership of PSOE, led by the regional party “barons” and Felipe Gonzalez – but directed in reality by the big bourgeoisie and its media mouthpieces – acted with the utmost cynicism, denying the membership the right to decide democratically on such a major issue. Then they demanded total discipline from the parliamentary group. However, despite the threats, 15 PSOE MPs, including all of the PSC (Catalan franchise of PSOE) MPs, voted NO to Rajoy. Pedro Sanchez (the former leaders deposed by the coup) resigned as an MP, in defiance of the right-wing leadership.

Pedro Sanchez decision to resign is questionable, as he could have played a role in parliament in fighting against the pro-capitalist wing of PSOE and organising the forces of what could be a future left wing. However, despite this his declarations in parliament in the hours before PSOE’s betrayal, rejecting the leadership’s policy demanding an immediate party congress are significant. He called for the “refounding of PSOE, distanced from the PP”, and for “giving the rank and file their voice back”. These declarations have had a big impact in the membership.

Pedro Sanchez has committed himself to touring around the local branches of PSOE to gather forces and prepare to stand for the position of General Secretary again. However, Felipe Gonzales, Suzana Diaz and co have not come this far in order to meekly let Sanchez back into the General Secretary position via a vote of the membership. There will be a long and hard battle within the party, which will be an important factor in the perspectives for the near future.

A historic capitulation

The mask has fallen, and all the demagogic declarations of the PSOE leaders have been consigned to the past. The truth is concrete. This betrayal is a political programme in itself. It represents a strategic decision with huge consequences and shows the extent of the fusion of the PSOE leaders with the ruling class. In practice, it means a form of “triple coalition” between the PP, PSOE and Ciudadanos, as Pablo Iglesias (Podemos leader) correctly said.

This abstention will not lead to a “reformist agenda”, as PSOE leaders like Juan Ramón Jáuregui, pathetically claimed. In fact, it will perpetuate the PP’s austerity and continue to inflict suffering on millions of people. If the PSOE leaders were incapable of breaking with the austerity diktats of the banks and EU when they were in government, are they going to do it now, by handing power to the PP?

The bourgeoisie thought very carefully about taking this step, but they finally decided to ruin PSOE and accelerate its “pasokisation”, instead of sacrificing the PP and causing an internal crisis to explode within it (for which all the conditions are present). This is the most grave of the consequences of the current events for the ruling class – the PSOE leadership has played a crucial role in guaranteeing capitalist stability in Spain in the last decades.

It is important to remember that Felipe González and the PSOE leadership benefitted in the last decades from the enormous social reserves which PSOE had built up, based on the historical memory of millions of men and women who suffered the long night of the Franco dictatorship, but also on the economic growth of the post-Transition period. They were also assisted by the fact that the traditional right-wing oozed with Francoism from all sides.

However, more than three decades in defence of capitalist interests, in Spain and internationally, made their mark. Mass privatisations, the entry into NATO and the EU, the dirty war and brutal repression in the Basque country, the intervention in imperialist wars, and attacks on democratic rights… The loss of political credibility by PSOE has developed further in the last 10 years and accelerated in the heat of the economic crisis.

There is no point in blaming one or other leader for this process. The fundamental cause of the current crisis in PSOE is political: an epoch of organic decline of capitalism. Social reforms are eliminated and austerity and cuts dominate, which the social democratic leaders submit to with all the consequences attached. We have seen it in France with Hollande, in Germany with the SPD , Greece with PASOK and in Britain with the Blairites. In Spain, the dynamic was the same: cuts, constitutional reforms to assist the banks, support for rancid Spanish nationalism (which led PSOE into a marginal position in the Basque country and Catalonia), not to mention an arrogant championing of capitalist “governability”. All of this clearly situated PSOE on the right hand side of the photo. However, the fundamental reason for the current explosion of the crisis in PSOE can be found in the class struggle and its impact on the consciousness of millions.

Reformism or revolution?

The shift to the left within the youth and working class is the most important factor in the crisis of Spanish capitalism. It has blown up the two party system and broken with the hegemony of Spanish nationalism. This is a shift to the left which was born of the extraordinary social mobilisation of the last years, the scale of which has not been seen since the great struggles against the Franco dictatorship in the 1970s. In the 15M ‘indignados’ movement, the general strikes, the “marches for dignity”, the health and education movements, student struggles and mass demonstrations for the right to self-determination in Catalonia… millions of workers, youth and of the impoverished middle layers turned their backs on PSOE, and on the main trade union bureaucracies.

These movements reflected important changes in mass consciousness. One of the main factors present was their deep radicalism and hostility towards the bureaucratic apparatuses of the Social Democracy and big trade unions, which have maintained their strategy of social peace, which gives oxygen to the PP’s attacks. This was what created the space for the irruption of Podemos, which became an alternative to the officialdom of Social Democracy. The explosive growth of Pablo Iglesias’ formation can only be explained by this great social explosion and the tendency towards rupture with the system which these mobilisations reflected.

Podemos winning half of PSOE’s electoral base showed the depth of the social democracy’s crisis. However, the evolution of the situation has posed more interesting questions, which have to be analysed.

The Podemos leadership – following their meteoric rise – proceeded to abandon the struggle on the streets. They sought to occupy the space of the traditional social democracy. However, this did not achieve the desired results. Far from bringing electoral success, this turn towards “institutionalism” – which included governing in many big cities without breaking with privatisations and capitalist logic, as well as abandoning more advanced aspects of its programme – led to an undermining of Podemos’ base among sections of workers and youth.

The crisis in PSOE, and that which is developing within Podemos reflects the fundamental debate which has always been present in the workers movement – reformism or revolution. For the social democracy, and for many of the leaders of the new Left formations, there is nothing outside of the parliamentary and institutional charade. They reject Marxism, and say it is incapable of responding to the new “political challenges” of the 21st century, but when they get into power they rapidly capitulate before the pressure and demands of the capitalists. Tsipras in Greece is a case in point.

The old dilemmas of the movement are back on the agenda, because the old problems have still not been resolved. In this epoch of world recession,  even any small reform to benefit the population requires major class struggle. Parliamentary speeches are useless, and negotiations and a spirit of “consensus” is incapable of forcing the hand of the capitalists. Successfully defeating capital’s attacks requires a socialist programme, based on mass mobilisation. These things are a taboo for official social democracy and for many of the Left leaders who want to occupy its space.

Build mass mobilisation against the right wing

Rajoy’s election, with the votes of PSOE MPs gives this government a fraudulent and illegitimate character from day one. The bourgeoisie, in setting off the crisis within PSOE, was seeking stability to implement its agenda of cuts. However, the end result has not been what they desired.

This government will be extremely weak, and will have to go through the torturous burden of having to make deals with Ciudadanos and PSOE on the fundamental aspects of its programme. It will be dealing with a PSOE which is in deep crisis, under furious attack by its base of members and voters, and the challenge by Pedro Sanchez. Ultimately, it is the opposite of the stability which they desired. The sombre economic perspectives add to this.

To make things even more complicated, the situation in Podemos is boiling over. The change in the discourse of Pablo Iglesias in the last weeks has been remarkable, but it is no surprise. Ultimately, it reflects the processes underway in the class struggle and its impact in an unstable formation like Podemos. Iglesias accepted for a long time the strategy of demobilisation – it is enough to remember his words after the 26 June elections when he underlined that parliamentary work was to be the axis of Podemos’ strategy. However, it has been proved that this line only favours the right wing, both inside and outside Podemos.

Refusing to confront the PP’s policies in the streets weakens Podemos, and in consequence, weakens Iglesias, strengthening Iñigo Errejón who has been more than happy to lead the turn towards social-democratic “moderation”, and would be more than happy to replace Iglesias in the leadership. From here stem Iglesias’ words questioning the “comfort” of parliamentarism, calling for a return to struggle on the streets as the axis of Podemos’ action, defending a general strike, and making a certain self-criticism about the last period. These words indicate the enormous pressure from the masses and the fear of the steps forward taken by the right wing of Podemos. At the same time, these declarations encourage social mobilisation and highlight the massive difficulties Rajoy will have to apply his policies.

The main task at the moment is to shift the action of the Left back towards mobilisation and struggle. The student and education general strike of 26 October, organised by the Sindicato de Estudiantes (Students Union), in which the Marxists of Izquierda Revolucionaria played a very active role, was a decisive event. More than 2 million students participated in the strike and 200,000 filled the streets in over 70 demonstrations. This show of strength shows the atmosphere among the masses, their willingness to struggle and fight. It was the biggest mobilisation in years, specifically since the “Marches for Dignity” on 22 March 2014, and it reflected the change in the situation. Three days later, the demonstration titled “surround the congress” brought over 100,000 onto the streets of Madrid, showing the need to further develop the mass movement.

The experience of the last few years has had an impact on the consciousness of millions. The PP and the PSOE coup plotters do not have nearly enough credibility to force us to swallow another round of attacks on our living standards. Their room for manoeuvre has been severely reduced, as has the room for manoeuvre which the UGT and CCOO leaders’ policy of social peace provides them with. Unidos Podemos has an historic opportunity to emerge as the dominant force on the Left in the next period. But possibilities do not only exist, they have to be seized, as Pablo Iglesias well knows.

If Unidos Podemos takes the path of struggle, and of calling a spade a spade, the situation could be rapidly transformed in favour of the oppressed. However, it is not enough to make abstract appeals to the Declaration of Human Rights, or to (capitalist) “democracy”, or govern big cities within the confines of the system while frustrating the hopes of millions. Unidos Podemos should also make a clear shift to the Left in programme, putting forward a socialist programme capable of facing up to the capitalist crisis. This requires the nationalisation of the strategic sectors of the economy (including the banks), the defence of public health and education, the right to retire at 60, the end to precarious work, the banning of evictions, defence of democratic rights and the right to self-determination of the Basque country, Catalonia and Galicia. This programme would completely transform the political landscape.

The class struggle in Spain has entered a new phase, much more turbulent than the previous one. The crisis in PSOE and within Podemos, the illegitimacy of the new government and the frustration of the electoral and parliamentary hopes of the masses, are a great political school for the working class. This school, and the great events to come both in Spain and internationally, will offer enormous opportunities to build a strong organisation armed with Marxist ideas

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November 2016