Spain: Pablo Iglesias wins clear victory in Podemos congress

Time to build the class struggle on the streets. 
The attempt to remove Pablo Iglesias from the leadership of Podemos (the left party formed out of the 2011 Indignados movement) has been a complete and utter failure. This was despite all of the resources poured into it, and the open support of the media for Errejon – leader of the “moderate” opposition to Iglesias.

There was a historic turnout of 155,000 members. Iglesias received almost 90% of the votes for the position of general secretary, more than 60% for his list of candidates for the ‘citizens’ council’ (main leading body of Podemos) and more than 50% for the documents which his team put forward.

To understand what this victory means, it is enough to read the capitalist press or listen to the establishment TV media following the congress. Their anger at this victory comes across in every sentence. This is no accident. The ruling class made an attempt to control Podemos, to assimilate it as a ‘classic’ social-democratic formation to strengthen social peace.

However, they came up against the will of tens of thousands of fighters. The defeat of Errejon is good news for all those who have been part of the huge social revolt of the last few years – in the Indignados’ movement, the general strikes, the education and health movements, student strikes, etc. These movements have laid the basis for the crisis of the ‘regime of 1978’ (post-Transition capitalist system following Francoism).

The motor of this political change has been the class struggle and the mass mobilisation of workers and youth. This is the key factor which those like Errejon, and his followers like Rita Maestre and Tania Sánchez, have been so quick to dismiss and denigrate in their attempt to derail Podemos towards parliamentary cretinism and class collaboration.

The struggle within Podemos is of great importance. The traditional capitalist party PP, the new illegitimate leadership of the ex-social democratic party PSOE, the right-wing, populist party Ciudadanos, and big business all know this very well.

Errejon is no mere ‘innocent’. He is very conscious of what he says and does. He and his followers want a Podemos which is outside of the alliance with Izquierda Unida (United Left), outside of the militant struggle of the Coca Cola and Movistar workers, and outside of the mass movements in defence of health, education and the right for national self-determination.

They want a Podemos which is closer to PSOE and to the programme of social democracy in crisis. They defend a process which in reality would make Podemos a mere clone of the establishment parties, happy with comfortable positions in parliamentary offices and well-paid committees and the ‘respectability’ of the institutions and the system.

Errejon had a lot of backing in his struggle. We cannot forget how El Pais, the main capitalist paper, repeated ad nauseum how Errejon defended “a more modern, democratic and open Podemos, different from the confusion generated by Iglesias around a strategy of ideological radicalisation and street mobilisation, the effect of which is to dilute the power and negotiating ability of the party in Parliament…”

The same could be said about PSOE’s illegitimate leadership, imposed by an internal coup last year, which described Iglesias’ victory as a defeat for democracy and a victory for “Pabloism-Leninism”. Could it be any clearer? These PSOE leaders – servants of the bourgeoisie who removed PSOE’s Pedro Sanchez and handed the government over to PP prime minister Rajoy on a plate – now consider themselves the “only opposition”. This despite their grand coalition with the right!

Marxists are not neutral.

In Izquierda Revolucionaria we have supported Pablo Iglesias in this struggle against Errejon and his social democratic model. We distributed 6,000 leaflets explaining our position and sold hundreds of papers at the Podemos congress, where we got a lot of support and congratulations from many Podemos members.

As well as supporting Iglesias, we also put forward some criticisms which we see as just and worthy of consideration. We sincerely believe that Pablo Iglesias’ mistakes and vacillations have also allowed Errejon to get as far as he has. The vision of political “change” as a mere electoral exercise in which the mass movement of the masses had already fulfilled its role was also defended by Iglesias, especially after the success of the local elections in May 2015 and the general elections in December 2015.

His public declarations justifying the betrayal of Tsipras in Greece; and distancing himself from the Venezuelan revolution, echoing the position of reactionary forces; his emphasis on ‘responsibility’ and governability; and his express desire to occupy the “social democratic space” were mistaken.

They also contradicted the real reasons for the powerful eruption of Podemos, and reinforced the right wing of the party. Even after losing more than one million votes in June 2016, Iglesias continued to insist that parliamentary and institutional work was the priority. Of course, this gave succour to his internal enemies who then decided to struggle to weaken and then finally remove him.

It is important to remember this when Errejon and others, who supposedly represent ‘anti-capitalism’ speak of the need to be “generous” and “integrate everybody”. Would Errejon have “integrated” all currents if he had won? What would El Pais and PSOE have said then? The answer is more than obvious.

In the last months, Iglesias has reacted to defend his leadership, and did so on the basis that his survival, and that of Podemos, depended on returning to his original position and basing himself on the sections of society which, through their struggle, had brought Podemos into being.

In the last few months, Iglesias has made fairly accurate reflections. He questioned publicly whether it had in fact been the image of ‘moderation’ which was behind the unexpected electoral defeat in June.

He said that trying to occupy the space of social democracy so as to not “frighten” a sector of voters was a mistake, and more recently insisted on the need to reclaim the streets and for the unions to call a general strike against the anti-social policies of the PP. “Transversality does not mean looking like our enemies, but looking like the anti-evictions movement”, he correctly stated. It is not an accident how Iglesias has constantly appeared in mobilisations of the Coca Cola workers, or the support that Irene Montero and other leaders close to Iglesias have given to the mobilisations organised by the Sindicato de Estudiantes (Students’ Union).

The conflict between Iglesias and Errejon reflects the pressure of opposing classes. Not taking this into account leads to confusion and unfortunate positions. Other tendencies, such as “Anticapitalistas” (USFI) adopted an opportunist and short-sighted position. Its most important leaders, such as Miguel Urban and Teresa Rodriguez, gave a false impression as to what was at stake and what the real causes of the crisis were. They emphasised the need to end so-called “personal confrontations” and “fights between macho alphas”, calling for “unity” and insisting that “we are all comrades” which instead of raising the level of discussion, lowered it. Their attitude of “equidistance” before this congress, refusing to join a united front with Pablo Iglesias, undermined their support in a very polarised vote. They won only 3.2% of the vote for the Citizen’s Council where they will have 2 members out of 60. However, the worst thing is not having received a low vote, but having been incapable of using the platforms at their disposal, which are many, to differentiate themselves politically and present themselves as a revolutionary and genuinely “anticapitalist” alternative.

Urban recognised in a number of interviews that they are not Marxists or Trotskyists. When they call for a “Podemos of struggle”, there is a big contradiction between their word and their deed. They control the position of mayor of Cadiz, hold the leadership of Podemos in Andalucia, and have MPs and councillors. How are they promoting social mobilisation, or implementing concrete measures in favour of the working class or disobeying capitalist laws – as they like to talk about – in the areas they lead or govern?

There is wide sympathy with the idea of “unity” but these leaders are experienced and know that “unity” is often a rhetorical trick of the right wing of the movement to tie the hands of the left. One thing is clear: for a considerable part of the leadership of Anticapitalistas the priority is still to win space in the apparatus of Podemos and win better positions in the lists for parliament and councils, renouncing serious and systematic work to transform Podemos into a Left alternative for social transformation.

Pablo Iglesias should now move into action: Enough social peace, mobilisation now!

The atmosphere at the Podemos congress among the thousands of members there was very significant. On the one hand, shouts in favour of unity reflected a very understandable sentiment, but in all the debates and discussions in the corridors the same idea was stressed again and again: it is time to return to the streets, to go back to what made Podemos strong!

This is a key strategic question. Even the capitalist media underline the importance of this idea. In its editorial on 13 February El Pais warned: “the more radical Podemos has won, which considers itself a populist movement basing itself on social mobilisation and the streets and aspires to challenge the established order”. It is difficult to be clearer.

All the capitalist media reacted with extreme disgust to Pablo Iglesias victory. What is the reason for this burning hatred? The internal clash in Podemos, openly encouraged by the bourgeoisie, was set to have an immediate impact, depending on the result. A victory for the Errejon followers would have strengthened social peace, which is very necessary to impose an agenda of cuts and austerity which has already been designed by the Rajoy government and agreed with PSOE. The possibility of a return to social mobilisation in such a scenario is the worst possible news for the right wing and the social democracy, as well as the trade union bureaucracy.

Errejon was very careful to reject the idea that there is a grand coalition (PP, PSOE, Ciudadanos) and instead of explaining that the leadership of PSOE is part of the problem insisted repeatedly that Podemos should join up with PSOE’s “initiatives”. How is it possible to argue that collaborating with the current leadership of PSOE will bring us closer to bringing down the Rajoy government? Is PSOE not a key part of the precarious majority which allows the PP to govern?

Right wing policies cannot be fought by embracing the social democracy, firmly under the control of the capitalists. To defeat the cuts there is only one option: fill the streets with massive and sustained mobilisation. The example of the strikes led by the Sindicato de Estudiantes, which brought down the Francoist “revalidation” exams, is useful. Precisely because we are under a weak government with a reduced social base, any strategy which leads to demobilisation is a marvellous gift to the right. Now is the time to put Rajoy on the ropes. This is not possible – as Errejon claimed – via a united front with the coup-plotting leadership of PSOE which has already chosen the PP and Ciudadanos as its allies.

The victory of Iglesias should not be understood in personal terms, even though the personality of leaders can be an important factor in the class struggle. To paraphrase Lenin, it has been the whip of the counter revolution which has motivated tens of thousands of workers and youth to put their feet down by voting for Iglesias. This blow, which has left Errejon and his followers very depressed, also leaves a clear implicit message: we must return to struggle and take the fight to the PP with mobilisation and a programme to break with capitalism.

Pablo Iglesias and his collaborators have a great responsibility. They must listen to the rank and file of Podemos. Unity cannot be built at the cost of abandoning principles and turning ones back on millions who are suffering the dramatic effects of a devastating crisis. Unity must be built with those who struggle, those who suffer, those who can make real change possible. That means calling immediately for mobilisation, to prepare now for a general strike against the increase in energy prices, the cuts to pensions, cuts to health and education and the antidemocratic laws against protesting, for decent housing, and for democratic rights including the right to national self-determination.

Nods towards the Left now and then are not enough. Reflections which have no practical consequences are not enough. The only way to be solidly linked with the masses, the real power of Podemos as a Left force for social transformation, is to defend a socialist alternative to the capitalist crisis, and be directly implicated in the day to day struggles of the workers’ and youth movement.  

Now Pablo Iglesias must live up to his word.


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