Right-wing Partido Popular wins Madrid elections – a warning to the working class

Madrid's election losers, Iglesias and Sanchez (Photo: RTVE/Wikimedia Commons)

Following a highly polarized and bitter election campaign, the right-wing party, Partido Popular (PP), has emerged victorious in the elections in Madrid.

Led by the far-right figure, Isabel Ayuso, the PP emerged as the winners, taking seats and votes from the right-wing populist Cuidadanos. The PP increased its number of seats to 35 and increased its vote by 864,000 – mainly coming from Cuidadanos. The even further right-wing, fascistic party, VOX, increased its vote by 35,000, and the number of seats in the parliament by one to 13. This is clearly a setback and blow for the working class in the Spanish state and for the left.

This was despite strong criticism of Ayuso over her handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and the high rate of deaths in Madrid. Residents in care homes, which she had privatized, were simply left to die. However, Ayuso was able to appeal on a populist basis to café and bar owners and small businesses, demanding they remain open because of the devastation they faced.

The biggest loser was the ‘socialist’ (social democratic) party, PSOE, which scored its worst-ever result in an election in Madrid. In 2019, PSOE received the highest number of votes and seats in the autonomous region of Madrid. This time it fell to third place, and saw the number of seats fall from 37 to24. UP – PODEMOS – slightly increased the number of seats from 7 to 10 while the right-wing split from it, Más Madrid, became the second-largest party, taking many of PSOE’s votes.

This result is a clear warning for the working class in the Spanish state and throughout Europe, of the threat of the far-right. The failure of PSOE in government, in coalition with UP, to transform society, and instead to operate within the boundaries of capitalism instead, has created a vacuum that the right and far-right can step into on a populist basis. PODEMOS, by going into government with PSOE, allowed itself to be imprisoned and failed to offer a radical socialist alternative and isolated itself from the social struggles being conducted by workers and youth.

This has crucial lessons for the left throughout Europe – especially the so-called “new” left forces, like PODEMOS. A failure to advocate a combative socialist alternative programme and strategy for the struggles of the working class and youth gives the opportunity for the right to step in. Seeking a compromise with the so-called “moderate left” leads to the “left” being weakened and/or defeated. The failure of the Corbynistas in Britain to confront the right-wing in the Labour Party led to the counter-revolution being carried through by Keir Starmer, which they have failed to effectively fight against.

The depth of the crisis of capitalism and its social consequences has exposed the political weakness of the “new left” to an even greater extent. The polarized situation which exists in many countries has found them wanting and floundering, not offering an independent class alternative.  This was reflected in the elections in Madrid and afterwards. In these elections, Pablo Iglesias headed the PODEMOS campaign after resigned his position as vice-president of the federal government.

PODEMOS mistakes

It was a big mistake for PODEMOS to enter the government with PSOE. This has important lessons for the socialist left in Spain and internationally. It should have voted in parliament to allow PSOE to form a government but remain outside, voting on each piece of legislation on a case by case basis – supporting any proposal benefiting workers and youth, and opposing anything which attacks the interests of the working class. This would have allowed it to maintain its independence and a socialist programme. It is now paying the price for this wrong position.

The right conducted a highly polarized campaign. Ayuso tweeted the election was “communism or freedom”. The polarized nature of the campaign was illustrated by the death threats against Iglesias. Bullets were sent through the post to him, and his family was threatened. PODEMOS offices were attacked. These threats probably were undertaken by fascistic forces around VOX. Ayuso has not excluded governing jointly with VOX, such is the right-wing character of the PP.

Iglesias, tainted by being in the government rather than leading a mass campaign with radical socialist demands, at the beginning of the campaign initially proposed a joint platform with Más Madrid, the right-wing split from PODEMOS, which they refused.

Stunned by the election victory of the rightwing, Iglesias, rather than draw the lessons of this defeat, announced that he is resigning all his political positions and will withdraw from politics.

The need for a mass party of the working class with a bold revolutionary socialist programme is an urgent necessity to offer an alternative to and combat the populist right and the threat that it poses.

The elections are a warning. New struggles of the working class and youth in the Spanish state will develop in the coming months. Youth unemployment officially stands at 40%. The economic and social crisis will trigger new struggles of the working class and the youth. To take these forward, the building of a new mass party of the working class with a revolutionary socialist programme, is an urgent necessity.

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May 2021