Parliamentary elections in Spain: Podemos second only


General Election in Spain

Once the party was considered the left-wing hope. Today she threatens to adapt to Spain's policy – and falls into two camps.

Íñigo Errejón is on the phone and Pablo Iglesias looks annoyed, both sitting side by side on the bench

Between Íñigo Errejón (left) and Pablo Iglesias today many sheets of paper fit – here in Parliament Photo: imago-images / Agencia EFE

Five years ago, she wanted to conquer Spain and the skies: Podemos party (“we can”) promised a new way to talk politics and make politics. Today no one believes in the rapid breakthrough, and the party threatens to adapt to a policy operation that it once condemned in a bull's eye. Among other things, the general election on Sunday will be decisive for the future of the party.

When Podemos entered the political arena on January 17, 2014, the party wanted to carry on the call for “true democracy” that the “indignados” had heard in the country's main squares since May 15, 2011. This Movimiento 15-M had a broad range of slogans and ideas that had a common denominator: the questioning of the political and, less clearly, of the economic order that had emerged since the replacement of the Franco dictatorship by a liberal democracy ,

There were two major trends in 15-M: one wanted to renew the system, the other wanted more ambition and wanted a fundamental social change. Reform or Transformation: “The tension between these two options was also reflected in the discussions within the party,” said Brais Fernández, a journalist Viento Sur and member of the Trotskyist group Anticapitalistas, which was instrumental in the founding of Podemos.

The street demos and squats of the 15-M also articulated the frustration of a middle class who saw no way out after the 2008 financial crisis. The ruling Socialist Workers' Party (PSOE), which at the time of transición, The Transition to Democracy, the most important force in social progress in 1978, took a hard austerity course in the face of the crisis. In order to “guarantee fiscal stability,” in August 2011 it went so far as to establish the so-called debt brake in Article 135 of the Spanish Constitution.

In the elections of November 2011, the PSOE promptly received the receipt: it lost in comparison to the last election in March 2008, a third of its voters. Thus, the right-wing conservative Partido Popular (PP) under Mariano Rajoy could govern by an absolute majority. The fact that it also cut public spending further was additional proof to Indignados that democracy was no longer working in Spain.

From this dissatisfaction Podemons could beat political capital.(1) Under the leadership of political scientists Pablo Iglesias and Íñigo Errejón she became the most popular party of urban voters groups. Especially for people between the ages of 25 and 35, Podemos embodied, with young faces and irreverent style, exactly the new policy they wanted.

Populists against class fighters

For the second, more radical current of 15-m, the new spaces of politicization, the meetings, the tents in the occupied squares, and the new range of mobilization were the main points of departure for a more fundamental critique of Spain's political and economic system. The rejection of the political class resulted in the demand for a kind of direct democracy with the possibility of dismissing deputies. The establishment of city councils seemed to be a good way to implement these goals – and perhaps even to lay the foundations for a new society that would abolish the division between the political and economic spheres.

With sympathetic circles of this kind the party wanted to revive the elan of the indignant and the district assemblies, which had already exhausted itself in 2014 a little. However, the Podemos leadership saw with annoyance that these circles were infiltrated by the anticapitalistas. It began the process of concentration of power, at the end of which demanded the Iglesias demanded model of a centrally run party, in which the circles had little influence.

In order to mobilize for the parliamentary elections of 2015, a process of broad participation was initiated, especially online. Platforms like Appgree or Reddit allowed users to debate, vote and co-develop the party program. This model of media democracy was complemented by Pablo Iglesias' impressive television appearances with rising ratings.

On the line of left-wing populism, Podemos emphasized above all the contrast between the “small people” and the “caste” of the powerful, that is, the economic oligarchy and the professional politician

On the line of a left-wing populism(2) Above all, Podemos emphasized the contrast between the “little people” and the “caste” of the powerful, that is, the economic oligarchy and the professional politician. This was to break up the traditional right-left scheme. The financial crisis and the corruption of the establishment were their main argument in the fight against the “regime of 78”, with which the Podemos ideologues from the Transicion meant constitution.

However, it was only possible for a short time to dissolve the boundaries between right and left. In June 2014, the boss of Banco Sabadell, Josep Oliu, publicly wished “a kind of podemos of the Right”.(3) With the founding and rapid rise of the right-wing party Ciudadanos (“Citizens”), a new political spectrum emerged starting in 2015, in which two fronts overlap: left (PSOE / Podemos) vs. right (PP / Ciudadanos) and new policy ( Podemos / Ciudadanos) against old politics (PSOE / PP).

A type of Caesarism that stifled any discussion

The populist strategy designed by Errejón and supported by Iglesias for a while was well received by the population. Podemos also criticized the traditional left as ossified and unable to understand the 15-M movement. In the elections of November 2011, the candidate of the United Left (Izquierda Unida), to which the Communist Party of Spain (PCE) belongs, only 7 percent of the vote.

However, the Podemos leadership, with its populist fabric, made the big mistake of dismissing even left-wing activists as “elitist” and seeing their political experiences as a burden. This made it difficult to build a truly democratic organization in the sense of internal communication and will formation, in which the various currents must be represented.

The populist zeal nourished in practice a great mistrust of the active party base. The result was that experienced party cadres were pure executive organs, which had to implement only the decisions of a charismatic leadership. It developed a type of Caesarism that stifled any discussion by online polls.

The cooperation between party leader Iglesias and the number two Errejón worked until the elections in June 2016. Then Iglesias did despite the reservations of the party secretary with the Izquierda Unida to the new parliamentary block Unidos Podemos (“Together we can”)(4) together. This should replace the PSOE as the strongest left-hand force.

The new alliance was a reissue of the Euro-communist strategy that had pioneered PCI in Italy in the early 1970s. Alluding to the strategy of the former PCI Secretary-General Enrico Berlinguer, Iglesias repeatedly spoke of a “new historical compromise”.(5), Podemos was to influence the political program of the PSOE by offering the possibility of a coalition government while at the same time preparing to take power itself at the appropriate moment.

This article is taken from the current issue of Le Monde diplomatique. LMd is always included on the second Friday of the month of the taz and can be ordered individually in the taz-Shop: Printed or digital (including audio version). The complete table of contents of the current issue can be found at

In this way, Iglesias wanted to bring the logic of coalition politics and the deepening of the class perspective to a common denominator. Which brought him back to the idea of ​​a society split into classes with different interests. This new strategy assumed that the historic opportunity of 2011 would be over: the Spanish people would have got used to the economic crisis, and only a new recession would rekindle their anger. But then Podemos – as the bearer of social movements – would conquer the political space occupied today by Izquierda Unida. In line with this strategy, Podemos has included several United Left cadres and members of the Communist Youth (in which Iglesias also began his career), including Irene Montero, today's group leader of Unidos Podemos.

It is about the multinational identity of Spain

The class-struggle orientation of Iglesias means a break with the populist line Errejón represents. He believes that a retreat on classical left-wing positions could only weaken Podemo, if only because in today's society, class affiliation determines the voting behavior much less than in the past. That's why he does not care about trench warfare, which is all about defending ideological purity.

Errejón also believes that Podemos is not sufficiently anchored nationally to build a social base with its active party members. He seeks the debate more in the field of those political concepts around which the important debates revolve around concepts such as Fatherland and United Spain, which have been monopolized by the right and are widely rejected by the left because of their ideological roots in Franquism. Sociologist Jorge Moruno, founder of Podemos and follower of Errejón, is concerned with “creating and spreading another vision of our country, another base on which the peoples of Spain can meet.”

In other words, it is about the multinational identity of Spain. Errejón wants to reach very different groups of the population: the precarised part of the middle class, ie self-employed and freelancers; but also the proponents of a new “amiable” policy, the Iglesias deters with his “rough” positions and lean rather the liberal Ciudadanos. And he woos the disappointed supporters of the PSOE, which is still chosen by low-skilled workers and the unemployed.

However, we are no longer in 2014. At national level, the populist wave has subsided. The moment triggered by the movement 15-M is now partly fitting, partly taken by the reactionary direction, as the success of the Vox shows in the regional elections in Andalusia. In December 2018, this right-wing extremist party received 11 percent of the vote – with a program that wants to rehabilitate Francoism and combat “gender ideology”.

The populist strategy of the Podemos has another weak point: the lack of social anchoring. Errejón relies mainly on expert analysis and probably underestimates the role of social movements. In November 2014, he was asked by the journalist Pablo Rivas, “To what extent can the social movements support you in government?” His answer: “Honestly, very little. Because they are trapped in a culture of resistance, so they do not have to ask themselves what to do. “(6) Errejón seeks an alliance with entrepreneurs who also criticize the “economic oligarchy”. This raises the question of how far the party would get involved in such alliances, once it was in government.

In the regional elections in May 2019 Errejón is in the Madrid region. But not for Podemos, but for the newly founded platform Más Madrid. Also on the same list is the mayor of Madrid, Manuela Carmena, a former judge who has been working for the mayor's office since the 1970s.

The Catalonia question and the rise of the right

Errejón, with his candidacy for Más Madrid, has made the split of Podemos obvious. Since he no longer wanted to submit to party discipline, he opened the last round of the last three years of wing fighting. Ironically, Errejón was the victim of the pyramid-like party structure he was instrumental in setting up.

However, the division is not only the result of inner-party struggles, it also has a lot to do with domestic Spanish politics. The election success of Vox owes, among other things, the Catalonia question. A few days after the unconstitutional plebiscite on the independence of the country, which was to be prevented by brutal police operations, King Felipe VI held. a television speech. Blaming the Catalan independence movement for the domestic catastrophe alone, he sidelined the forces that had voted in favor of the referendum, including Podemos. Suddenly Spanish flags hung from the balconies in many cities, the idea of ​​a conservative change was in the air.

But then the right-wing government failed in its scandals. The PP is in the middle of a gigantic corruption scandal. In June 2018, Prime Minister Rajoy was forced to resign following a motion of censure by PSOE General Secretary Pedro Sánchez. The motion was approved by the Basque Nationalists (PNV), various Catalan parties and Podemos.

Since then, there has been a minority socialist government, tolerated by Unidos Podemos. However, Sánchez found no consensus on the Catalan issue. He was also buttoned up against the redistribution demands of Podemos, but increased the minimum wage by 22 percent.

At Podemos, the Iglesias and Errejón Groups now tried to link the multiple social issues and the national issue of the Catalan crisis, while the Conservatives (PP, Ciudadanos and Vox) tried to distinguish the two.

The alternative is clear: the class policy strategy emphasizes the common interests of the working class throughout Spain. By contrast, populist strategy propagates the identity of people, state, and nation. However, this could lead to a revision of the constitutional consensus of 1978, which – after all – against the opposition of the then conservatives – recognized the social rights of the population and prevented the relocation of important powers of the autonomous regions to the central state.

Since Podemos exists, not only Spain has changed, but also the world as a whole. That did not leave the party untouched, as the case of Venezuela shows. But even more momentous was the outcome of the conflict between Brussels and Athens in the summer of 2015. The Tsipras government's capitulation to the demands of its EU “partners” was a warning to Spain as well: the vision of a common southern European resistance to neoliberalism faded away ,

The Tsipras government's capitulation to the demands of its EU “partners” was also a warning to Spain: the vision of a common southern European resistance to neoliberalism faded away

The emergence of reactionary forces in Eastern Europe and the US also encouraged Spanish right-wing extremists, who had previously been barely visible. This was expressed in the founding of Vox and the radicalization of right-wing forces of the PP and the Ciudadanos. As a result, the political scope for Podemos and for a renewed start to a fundamental political change disappeared.

Since 2015, the party and its affiliated groups have been sitting in the city governments of Madrid, Barcelona, ​​Valencia, Cadiz, La Coruña and Zaragoza.(7) This is a double-edged affair: on the one hand, its representatives can gain important experience at this level; On the other hand, it can cause Podemos to become like the other parties. Those who rule in the city hall have influence, but that is not enough to curtail the privileges of the local elites.

The political forces to the left of the PSOE, namely Podemos, Izquierda Unida, En Comú Podem in Catalonia (an alliance of Podemos and other organizations) and Más Madrid, still have great popular support. The parliamentary elections on 28 April and the European, regional and local elections on 26 May will decide on the future of Podemos, ie whether the indignant demands of 2011 can be implemented in the medium term.

(1)See Renaud Lambert, “Spain's New Radicals. Podemos – from indignation to movement to the party “, LMd, February 2015.

(2)This political conception was developed mainly by Ernest Laclau and Chantal Mouffe.

(3)“Josep Oliu propone crear, una especie de podemos de derechas”, El Periódico, Barcelona, ​​June 25, 2014.

(4)Meanwhile Unidas Podemos with female ending.

(5)Pablo Iglesias, “Un nuevo compromiso histórico”, El País, Madrid, December 9, 2015.

(6)“Estamos orgullosos de que la oligarquía española tenga miedo”, Diagonal, Madrid, November 7, 2014.

(7)See Pauline Perrenot and Vladimir Slonska-Malvaud, “Departure from Below,” LMd, February 2017.

From the French by Sabine Jainski

(tagToTranslate) Spain (t) Podemos (t) Pablo Iglesias (t) Partido Popular (t) Mariano Rajoy (t) PSOE (t) Pedro Sánchez (t) Europe (t) Politics (t) taz (t) daily newspaper


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