SocialismToday           Socialist Party magazine

Issue 199 June 2016

Spanish establishment panic before left unity

The panorama of Spain’s rerun general election on 26 June dramatically changed when Podemos and the United Left (IU – Izquierda Unida) agreed to stand a united list. The Spanish capitalist elite, who saw these elections as an opportunity to reassert the lost dominance of the two-party system, entered panic mode.

The ruling right-wing Partido Popular (PP), and ex-social democratic PSOE, had been hoping to spend the election bickering over the little that separates their policies, pushing Podemos and the left into the background. Suddenly, the leaders from both establishment parties united in shrill warnings of ‘the communist threat’! Opinion polls in recent weeks have shown the basis for this fear. 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, including an electoral alliance of the left and with workers’ and social movements, in order to raise the idea of a left government, with a socialist programme to end austerity, within reach. The basis and need for such an alliance was proven in last year’s municipal elections, when united left lists won the mayors’ positions in Barcelona, Madrid and other key cities.

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 vetoing a state-wide alliance with IU, insisting on the effective dissolution of the IU into the Podemos electoral lists, as a condition for an alliance. Meanwhile, 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.

Following December’s election deadlock, however, 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 the right-populist Ciudadanos (Citizens) party. These internal divisions, along with the steady move to the right in Podemos’s discourse and programme, saw the formation’s support begin to decline – to levels similar to those before its pre-election surge.

On the other hand, under its new, more combative left-wing leader, Alberto Garzón, the IU – which had won almost a million votes in December, despite not standing in all regions – underwent an impressive recovery in opinion polls. The balance of forces between the two formations – previously, heavily weighted in favour of Podemos and Iglesias – had changed. Iglesias had more to gain from unity, and potentially more to fear from competing with Garzón and the IU. In this context, Iglesias’s approach shifted radically. An agreement was made to stand a joint list on an all-Spain basis, with both Podemos and IU represented as organisations.

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 hung on to the mantle of ‘main opposition party’, which is why coming second in the general election was so important for it. However, with Unidos Podemos ahead of PSOE in polls going into the final weeks of the campaign, even its leadership’s best argument – that of being the ‘useful vote’ to stop the PP – is becoming 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 being hit by one corruption scandal after another. Only a few weeks ago, the industry minister, José Manuel Soria, was forced to resign over links with the Panama papers, and the lies he told about them. Ciudadanos, the right-wing populist equivalent of Podemos – combining pro-boss policies with a fresh-faced anti-corruption image – though momentarily pushed back, is waiting in the wings and already eating into the PP’s support.

Socialismo Revolucionario welcomes the formation of Unidos Podemos as a new instrument which can bring a left government to power, and open up 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, trade 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. Garzón has shifted the balance towards the left in the IU’s programme and rhetoric. He has criticised Podemos from the left and defended key socialist demands, such as the nationalisation of strategic companies. Following the betrayal of Syriza and Alexis 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 Garzón and others to park this discourse for the duration of the campaign and stop criticising the rightward drift of Podemos leaders.

The unending chain of crises which has beset Spanish capitalism points ever more clearly to the need for system change. The post-transition capitalist regimes – following the death of the dictator Franco in 1975 – have been exposed ever more clearly to be a barrier to the realisation of even the most basic rights and improved living standards. That is illustrated graphically in the experience of struggle over recent years against austerity, for democratic national rights in Catalonia, against evictions, etc. And the example of Syriza’s betrayal in Greece is a case in point for all.

The fight for an anti-capitalist and socialist programme within Unidos Podemos is the key task of the moment. This needs to link the fight against austerity to the need to transform property relations, and bring the main sectors of the economy and sources of wealth into democratic public ownership and control – a workers’ government of the economy and society. This includes arguing for a strong independent stance for the left, against pro-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!

Danny Byrne

Home About Us | Back Issues | Reviews | Links | Contact Us | Subscribe | Search | Top of page