In CHARTIST 272 Manuel Cortes and Mike Davis cast an interested eye over Podemos & examine the prospects for a revived left in Spain
Not all populist movements emerging across Europe are right-wing. Out of the revolt of the indignados, a people’s response to savage austerity policies from Spain’s right wing government, a new party has emerged. Podemos is now running neck and neck with the Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE) on a platform of bottom up democracy, an end to corrupt government, cuts in public spending and high unemployment.
Podemos (‘we can’) was only formed early in 2014 but from a standing start won five seats in the European elections. It is led by the youthful and charismatic writer, professor and talk-show host Pablo Iglesias. Podemos presents itself as a new broom, pro European Union and the euro, but wanting an end to neo-liberal austerity policies. Its rapid growth in popularity indicates the anger of the people, particularly youth of whom nearly 60% are unemployed, and a deep-seated hostility to politicians. They have mobilised many hundreds of thousands in Madrid, Barcelona and other cities in protest against government policies. Podemos has yet to adopt a formal programme although it is fast developing a party structure to enable it to fight elections more systematically.
Podemos completed its first congress on 15th November at which it adopted a tighter structure using a ‘closed list’ system to elect its new leadership. Some critics have seen this as leading to a replication of traditional parties with an even more extreme form of ‘caste’ rule. Iglesias and his team received 88% of the votes. It has also released an economic manifesto which indicates a rowing back from earlier pledges to cut the retirement age and default on the national debt. Restructuring is the new aim.
Will Podemos be able to sustain its early momentum until Spain’s scheduled elections in 2016? And what of the traditional left party of government? The Socialist Party is fighting a rearguard action to reclaim support from workers and trade unions. PSOE has removed its old leadership and sought to sweep away those tainted with political scandals. Pedro Sanchez, their new leader elected in July, opposes any grand coalition and is seeking to repair the links with the trade unions, particularly the UGT, broken in the 1990s.
Those tarnished with corruption scandals and the cajadeahoros (building societies set up by regional governments) are being replaced. There are renewed efforts to rebuild Spain’s manufacturing base with a break from the neo-liberal policies that have dominated Spanish politics for the last few years. This has helped stabilise PSOE’s support. Meanwhile the right wing governing People’s Party has seen opinion poll support haemorrhage fron 44% to 20%, indicating Podemos is picking up much disgruntled support from this quarter.
This article appears in the latest January/February issue of CHARTIST. Click on the subscribe button below, or tab on the menu above, to receive all six issues of the magazine a year and occasional pamphlets.