Spain: A Year of Change Postponed?

Published on ZNet (first in Jacobin Magazine), by Luke Stobart, Dec 20, 2015.

At the time of writing, Podemos is making an inspiring late comeback in the Spanish general-election campaign, but few expect that 2015 will be the “year of change” that Pablo Iglesias promised when Podemos was leading in the polls last year. Mass participation in the new party and a lightning rise in popular support in its first year gave way to limited grassroots activity and an electoral slide until this October … //

… The Window Is Cracked:

The difficulties that emerged in 2015 must be analyzed all the same. These cannot be explained by changes in the Spanish economic and political situation. Although some growth and job creation has finally occurred, it has been accompanied by squeezed and stagnant wages, widespread use of insecure work contracts, the removal of bargaining rights, and slashed welfare provisions.

The continuing drive for Catalan independence and the growth of Ciudadanos — aided by its populist denunciation of the existing “partidocracy” — suggest that the “regime crisis” of recent years continues. The two parties that have dominated Spanish politics for decades have lost more than half their support in the last seven years … //

… People vs. the Caste:

To understand the evolution of Podemos it is necessary to examine the ideologies and analyses that have molded the party. Much of the commentary on its rise (for example by party strategist Iñigo Errejón and international supporter Owen Jones) centered on its “theoretical-communicative practice,” which Errejón has identified as an effort to translate “complex analysis and diagnostics into discursive narratives and direct stories.” Particularly celebrated is the replacement of the traditional political dichotomy of “left vs. right” with “people vs. the caste,” supposedly appealing to a “transversal constituency” beyond that of the traditional left.

Unusually for progressives, Podemos regularly uses traditional bourgeois-liberal conceptualizations while defending social-democratic demands: “sovereignty” against the troika, “legality” to chase tax fraud, “progressive patriotism” to defend a pluri-national (but unified) Spanish state … //

… Progressive-Populism in Practice: … //
… Failing on Its Own Terms: … //
… The Two Souls of Podemos: … //
… We Still Can: … //

… Confronted by a range of extra-parliamentary forces before and after reaching office, the need to gain and retain popularity can act as a lever to reverse the democratic revolution, and so far left-wing city halls appear to have delivered limited change beyond symbolic acts. The PAH has publicy criticized its old comrades now running Barcelona for not doing enough to stop evictions.

The radical left has also failed to adequately theorize institutional politics and the difficulties of participating in it. Anticapitalistas MPs have sometimes acted as a much-needed echo chamber for social struggle within the institutions, but over time they have often adapted to the ways and means of Podemos reformism: for example performing backroom negotiations over candidates and excusing Iglesias’s handpicking of a pro-NATO field marshal as future defense secretary. This has led to splits and expulsions of revolutionaries from the Trotskyist grouping.

Another weakness at all levels of the new parties has been a tendency to neglect debate over policy. Anticapitalistas’ Josep Maria Antentas has written of the urgent need to develop an alternative program to the failed hope of “concessions from the troika” practiced by Syriza and defended by Podemos, calling for the development of a strategy that is (paraphrasing Lenin) “as radical as reality itself.” Yet there is little evidence that the Podemos grassroots is having this discussion.

Whatever the result of the elections, the progressive turn that began in May 2011 will likely continue. But as Emmanuel Rodríguez has pointed out, there is still a need to develop the kind of mass social movement that helped end the dictatorship in the 1970s. Activists inside and outside the new left should consider how to help raise the uneven level of protest in workplaces, a shift that may require developing new strategies to outflank the paralyzing union bureaucracies.

The Spanish movement has already has shown its capacity to mutate. However its future script must be written collectively through mass self-organization; not by Laclau, Mouffe, or any other enlightened individual.

(full long text, hyperlinks).


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