Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Spanish election: Viva la Revolución!

Podemos' Iglesias Celebrates Spanish Election Result
Spanish election: Viva la Revolución! Adiós, political stability! Hola, the far left!

Stephen Morgan, Brussels.

Sunday's general election results in Spain represent a sea-change in Spanish politics. The huge vote for the left-wing Podemos movement, and to a lesser extent that of Ciudadanos, has shattered Spain's traditional political paradigm. Spanish politics is now entering uncharted territory, which is likely to lead to an era of volatility and uncertainty, not seen since the Civil War in the 1930s.

Commentating on the results, Podemos leader, Pablo Iglesias said, “Spain is not going to be the same anymore”, his deputy leader, Inigo Errejon, adding, "The two-party system has ended."

In fact, Podemos narrowly missed becoming the second largest party in Spain, winning an impressive 20% of the vote, just behind PSOE (Socialist Party) with 22%. Ciudadanos won 14% of the vote, while the governing, right-wing PP (People's Party) scored just 29% of the vote, falling dramatically from 45% at the last election.

The PP and PSOE have dominated Spanish politics unchallenged for the last 40 years. Now, for the first time, both parties are incapable of forming a new administration without making alliances with the new parties which have suddenly taken center stage.

There are now four political parties commanding mass support in Spain, with Podemos and Ciudadanos biting massive chunks out of the traditional base of both the PP and PSOE . The meteoric rise of Podemos and Ciudadanos is an entirely new phenomenon unique to our epoch. It reflects the fact that the main capitalist parties and traditional workers' parties have become rigid outmoded structures, complacent and unresponsive to changes in society.

Consequently, the political bubble has been burst asunder by the growing anger at the economic crisis and the failures of the old political establishment, thus shooting two entirely new forces into the arena of Spanish politics.

The fact that a so-called, hard-left group can command the support of 1 in 5 voters is indicative of the radicalization taking place in society. Unemployment in Spain reached 27% in recent years, with more than 50% of the youth out of work.

The PP claims that significant improvements have taken place under its government, as a result of an economic recovery, with unemployment falling to 21% – as though 21% unemployment was something to brag about! However, much of the reason for this is that huge numbers of Spaniards have emigrated in the last few years, while millions without fixed jobs do not appear on the unemployment register.

A recent report in the Guardian newspaper pointed out that;

“Temporary workers now make up more than a quarter of the workforce in Spain. Far from just seasonal work, temporary contracts have become more common among hospital workers, teachers and other public servants. Statistics suggest that short-term work is the definitive feature of the new jobs being created, making up about 90% of the contracts signed this year so far in Spain, with about one in four lasting seven days or less.”

The paper gives an example of a computer scientist who constantly moves from one job to another, each only lasting two or three days at a time, such as cleaning out horse stables, setting up stages for concerts or working as a door-to-door salesman. “In the past two and a half years, I’ve probably had about 135 contracts,” he said.

At the same time, the IMF estimates that the gap between the rich and poor has increased faster in Spain than in any other country in Europe. The economic crisis has had quite different results for the rich and the poor. A quarter of the Spanish population was pushed below the poverty line, while the number number of millionaires rose by 40%!

However, Podemos and Ciudadanos are not the same thing, but separate expressions of discontent among different parts of the population. Ciudadanos' popularity has largely been the result of its strong criticisms of corruption, which riddles the Spanish political system and its judiciary.

Unlike Podemos, Ciudadanos is not a left-wing movement, but a center-right, pro-capitalist party, which has picked up support mostly among the disillusioned middle classes and small business people affected by the economic crisis. However, it can attract support from other sections of the wider population, because of its opposition to Catalan independence and its novel and liberal image, as well as its support for some unorthodox policies, such as advocating the legalization of prostitution, euthanasia and marijuana.

Podemos, on the other hand, has won massive support for its strident criticisms of capitalism, its denunciation of the financial sector and its calls for nationalization of the banks and public utilities such as transport, electricity and water supplies. Its anti-austerity stance and opposition to such things as repossessions of homes, has found a wide echo, at a time when PSOE betrayed the working class by supporting cuts in public spending.

PSOE's election result Sunday was its worst ever. It was previously the dominant force in Spanish politics, commanding an average vote of 43%, which allowed it to hold power uninterruptedly for 14 years between 1982 and 1996. Having presided over the harshest austerity measures while in government from 2008-11, its vote has been halved.

Now, rattled by the rise of Podemos, its leaders are being forced to adopt a more left-wing position to try to win back supporters. Just after the election results, Sunday, its Secretary General, Pedro Sanchez, was forced to admit that, "Spain wants a move to the left."

Podemos has struck a cord among the youth, in particular, who are alienated from traditional politics. Podemos appears to challenge the old Establishment and, for many, it seems like a party which could head a revolution against Spanish capitalism.

It grew out of the anti-capitalist Indignados movement of 2011, and only weeks after it was founded, its membership rocketed to 300,000, with more than 1,000 branches across the country.

In the following regional elections, it then took control of the city administrations of Spain's two main cities, Madrid, and Barcelona, as well as others such as Zaragoza and Cádiz – cities which had been strongholds of the conservative PP for 20 years.

In Sunday's elections, Podemos also won a very high showing in Catalonia and the Basque Country – two regions with powerful independence movements. The PP and PSOE oppose separatism and are making legal attempts to block any vote over independence for Catalonia. Podemos, on the other hand, has promised to support the right of the Catalans to hold a referendum on independence,  even though it argues against any break away.

Another reason why it had such a good result in Catalonia is that it picked up the 7.5% of the vote which the left-wing, Catalan nationalist party, the CUP, normally wins, since it decided not to stand in the national elections. Podemos also captured half of the Communist Party vote, who scored only 3.7% in the election, down from 7.5% previously.

Furthermore, the creation of the Socialist-Communist-Left Block government in neighboring Portugal will have helped Podemos and given strength to the idea that it could be a feasible vehicle for change. Put all together, these factors would tend to explain how Podemos has risen back from its low point of 14% in opinion polls in October.

The next few months promise to be a chaotic and volatile period. PSOE has ruled out a grand coalition with the PP, which would spell political suicide for the party. Instead, PSOE has promised to block any attempt by the PP to form a government by voting it down in the new parliament.

Both the PP and PSOE will need to make some pretty peculiar agreements with smaller parties, whose policies it opposes, if either is to form a government, and even then, it going to be difficult for them to get a clear majority and achieve some semblance of stability.

Therefore, in order to form a new government, the PP will need to have the support of Ciudadanos, who have so far said that they won't back them, as well as center-right nationalist parties from the regions, who support independence from Spain, to which the PP is vehemently opposed.

For PSOE to create a new administration, they would either have to establish an alliance with Ciudadanos and Podemos, or try to forge a coalition with Podemos and other smaller left-wing parties like the Republican Left of Catalonia and possibly even the small Communist party. 

Unfortunately, there are worrying signs that Podemos is preparing to ditch many of its left-wing policies in order to enter into a government coalition with PSOE. It has already began sliding to the right and one of its co-founders resigned earlier this year criticizing its movement away from radical policies. Immediately after the election results,  Pablo Iglesias stated that this is a time for “historical compromises.”

Nevertheless, the huge vote for Podemos is a symptom of the “Latin Americanization” of European society. The collapse of traditional politics in Spain is just part of a surge to the left among voters in many other countries, which is breaking up the old political mold.

The political consensus which dominated European politics for 50 years is disintegrating. One of the first elements necessary for the development of a revolutionary crisis is that the ruling class is no longer able to govern in its traditional ways. Developments in Spain are quite clearly the beginning of that process. The Spanish elections bears witness to the fact that the New Left has become a major force to be reckoned with in European politics.

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