Podemos and the Left in Spain

Syriza and Podemos have enjoyed significant success as two new anti-austerity and antine­oliberal political parties in Europe. Syriza has governed in Greece since January 2015 with Alex Tsipras as prime minister. Led by General Secretary Pablo Iglesias, Podemos stunned Spain’s establishment with strong showings in the European Union election of May 2014 and in the Spanish municipal and regional elections of May 2015. While their origins are different—Syriza started from a coalition of radical left parties already in existence, while Podemos grew out of the social movements—they are often compared and seen as natural allies. A slogan chanted last spring, in Athens as well as in Barcelona and Madrid, was “¡Syriza, Podemos! ¡Juntos venceremos!” (“Syriza, Podemos! Together we will win!”).

The capitulation of Syriza’s Tsipras leadership to the tyranny of European financial institutions and US-dominated NATO interests raises fundamental questions about the present and future direction of Podemos under Iglesias. These include: Podemos’s program and goals, its internal organization, and its potential for serving as a vehicle for building “popular power.” Tsipras’s surrender highlights in bold the need for revolutionary socialists to maintain and to strengthen an organized presence in the Spanish state. This is true even as anticapitalists work within progressive political formations like Podemos to achieve common goals and significant reforms.1

Why “anti-politics”?
As is well-known, Podemos bans organized political parties from its leadership ranks. Specifically, individuals who belong to other political parties cannot hold party office (for example, general secretary) or stand for election as Podemos candidates (for example, congressional deputy). Individuals can belong to other political parties at the same time as they are members of Podemos. However, while they have the right to distribute their own party literature and to announce their own party activities, they are discouraged from operating within Podemos in ways that aim to recruit or to build their outside parties.

The ban from leadership imposed on other parties’ members is a legacy of the horizontalist “anti-politics” of the 15-M Movement (May 15, 2011) out of which Podemos emerged in 2014. 15-M’ers, as well as their successors in the mareas (a wave of protests 2011–2013), expressed deep disillusionment with Spain’s political system. Their scorn fell not only on the two mainstream parties—the Socialist Party (PSOE) and the Popular Party (PP)—but also on the traditional “far-left” parties (Eurocommunist, Stalinist, and Maoist) that had failed to provide an alternative during almost forty years of post-dictatorship governments.

The Socialist Party introduced neoliberalism into Spain. It is responsible for much of the devastation caused to ordinary Spaniards by the Great Recession. The Popular Party matched the Socialist Party in wreaking economic mayhem. It negotiated the austerity agreement imposed on the Spanish state by Europe’s “troika” (the European Commission, the European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund).

Both parties are profoundly tainted by corruption. They colluded first in fattening up and later in bailing out Spanish banks and the rich at the expense of workers’ interests. The PSOE and the PP—like their counterparts in Portugal and Greece—treated Spain’s public patrimony as the occasion to hold a gigantic garage sale. Together they relentlessly privatized state enterprises in the energy, transportation, and communication sectors. Sadly, the traditional left parties proved incapable of organizing resistance to the neoliberal onslaught. In a number of cases, they simply acquiesced to both neoliberalism and austerity.

The ugly record of “Transition” (post-dictatorship) political life explains why 15-M’ers—even as they engaged vigorously in street politics—defined their movement as an example of anti-politics. Their main slogans were “Real democracy now” and “No one represents us.” These cries indicted not only the mainstream (center-right and center-left) but also the “far-left” parties. “Party politics” were rejected in favor of “radical participatory democracy” as the means to organize the 15-M movement and, later, the political formation it spawned: Podemos.

What is Podemos today?
When formed in early 2014, Podemos still looked basically like a social movement. Its success in electing five of its members to the European Parliament in May 2014, however, accentuated tendencies within Podemos toward privileging electoral campaigning over direct action.

Before May 2014, the experience of the radical Left in Spain had been to suffer defeat after defeat—from the end of the civil war in 1939, through forty years of Francoist repression, and on through the almost forty years of two-party neoliberalism known as the transition. Podemos’s success in the 2014 EU elections led its general secretary, Pablo Iglesias, to emphatically declare: “We want to win.” Along with chief strategist and “número dos,” Iñigo Errejón, Iglesias proposed a “blitzkrieg”—a lightning war—on the May 2015 municipal and regional elections. Candidates from Podemos-backed coalitions won the mayor’s office in Madrid, Barcelona, and Cádiz, as well as seats on city councils and in regional governments throughout Spain. In Madrid, Podemos-backed candidates took twenty-one seats on the city council, while the ruling PP received twenty and the PSOE managed only nine.

A similar high-intensity, “shock and awe” electoral strategy is being pursued by Podemos for the presidential and national congressional elections in November. This time Podemos intends to run exclusively on its own ticket—not in left coalitions—with Iglesias standing for president. As the electoral orientation of Podemos has redoubled, the party has clearly moderated some of its political positions. Iglesias denies that an opening to the center means a taming of policies and expectations, but the facts suggest otherwise.

Between the 2014 EU elections and the May 2015 municipal and regional elections, basic elements of Podemos’s platform changed. It dropped its program to guarantee a “universal basic income” (that is, a living wage) in favor of promoting greater public assistance and restored social services. It backed off its call for a retirement age of sixty in favor of a “flexible sixty-five.”

Perhaps most significantly, it removed all reference to its earlier demand for a “citizens’ audit to determine ‘illegitimate debt.’” Today there is no mention of illegitimate debt and, consequently, not even a hint that Podemos would consider refusing to repay the troika and the financial gangsters who have plundered southern Europe.

Abandoning radical democracy
Transforming Podemos from a social movement into what Iglesias himself has called an electoral machine is requiring a strong push toward centralization led by the core of party leaders around Iglesias. 

Centralization, of course, is not automatically a negative phenomenon. The alleged absence of authority in grassroots movements such as the 15-M or Occupy—so prized by anarchists and many horizontalists—is always illusory. The key is to create and to sustain a genuinely democratic form of centralization, as Lenin discovered more than a hundred years ago. This means plenty of pluralism in discussion and debate, decisions taken by majority vote, unity in action, and honesty in assessing results. But the drive toward centralization that Iglesias and his inner circle are leading is different. Rules and procedures favor top-down control and ensure that the leadership gets its way.

For example, at Podemos’s October 2014 Citizens’ Assembly, where the leadership lobbied for trimming back some of its pre-EU election positions, only up-or-down votes on more than 200 documents were permitted. No amendments, and no new documents based on combining sections of other documents, were allowed. Voting took place electronically, providing for no face-to-face discussion and debate. 2 Participation was reduced to the equivalent of clicking a “like” or “dislike” box on a Facebook page. In such a context, it came as no surprise that the Iglesias-Errejón faction and its tamer direction won out.

Following the Citizens’ Assembly, Iglesias publicly presented last November what he called Podemos’s official economic program. The “Programa Navarro/Torres” (PNT) had been drafted by two “experts” (economists Vinçent Navarro and Juan Torres) and was originally intended as a “discussion document.”3 Iglesias decided to skip any democratic discussion and simply proclaimed the PNT from his pulpit.  Unfortunately, while key aspects are decidedly antineoliberal, the document as a whole is not anticapitalist. It resonates more with the neo-Keynesian ideas of Thomas Picketty, Joseph Stiglitz, and Paul Krugman.4

In June 2015, Iglesias, Errejón, and their inner circle sought further to tighten their top-down control over Podemos. Following the municipal and regional elections, prominent Podemos figures such as Pablo Echenique and Teresa Rodríguez criticized Podemos’s system of conducting primary elections. Podemos’s electoral slates had been handpicked for the May 2015 election by Iglesias himself and then submitted for ratification to the membership at large. The dissenters argued for a more open system. Iglesias and Errejón, however, proposed maintaining the old system at least through the upcoming November national elections. They handpicked a slate of sixty-five and, although alternative slates were on the ballot, further stipulated that voting would be only by slate, with no option to choose or to mix individuals from among different slates.

Faced with the intransigence of Iglesias and his inner circle, the Echenique-Rodríguez dissidents had responded by launching a membership petition to change Podemos’s primary system. Five elected regional steering committees of Podemos, and some 1,000 rank and filers signed it. But it wasn’t enough, and the old system remained intact. When the primary results were announced July 24, the victory of Iglesias’s handpicked slate surprised no one.

Dissidents had warned that primaries held in the old way would demoralize the base of Podemos. And they were proven right. Only 15 percent of Podemos’s 375,000 members voted as part of this exercise in so-called participatory democracy. Acknowledging the low turnout, Iglesias and Errejón blamed it on “the summer.” But along with the cultish character of the primary, two other factors better explain what happened.

Three weeks before its primary, Podemos announced that it would not enter into a coalition with Izquierda Unida (IU; United Left) for the November election. IU—itself a coalition originally formed and led by a rump of the old Spanish Communist Party (both the PCE, first, and now IU, have been electorally decimated)—is a group with which Podemos had worked successfully in certain geographic areas during May’s municipal and regional elections. The scornful tone of Iglesias’s rejection of IU stuck in the craw of many progressives—some of whom, like Echenique, thought that a radical coalition would lead to a stronger showing in November.

The betrayal of the Greek referendum by Alex Tsipras and by the right and center factions of Syriza also dampened the enthusiasm many radicals felt for Podemos. Indeed, it provoked the suspicion that Podemos might prove unwilling to “walk the walk”—even though it “talked the talk”—of anti-austerity and national-popular sovereignty. Iglesias gave Podemos’s rank and file every reason to entertain this fear:

Iglesias supported the decision of Prime Minister Tsipras because the alternative would have been an exit from the euro. “Alex’s principles are very clear, but the world and politics have to be seen in light of the relation of forces. . . . What the Greek government did is, sadly, the only thing it could have done . . . ,” the general secretary of Podemos said at a book launching of the sociologist Manuel Castells.5

When added to the growing awareness of limitations to the so-called radical participatory democracy within Podemos, as well as to the anxiety over Podemos’s disdain toward IU, the specter of cowardice and irresponsibility raised by the betrayal of the Greek majority by Tsipras and Syriza’s leadership stimulated new, uneasy feelings of potential disillusionment (desencanto) with Podemos.

Will history repeat itself?
The great virtue of Podemos has been its hard break with European social democracy. In Spain, this means its refusal to compromise and, with one exception, to collaborate with the Socialist Party. This refusal is based in part on the commitment of rank-and-file militants to the legacy of the 15-M. But for the leadership it is something else. It represents precisely an electoral calculation.

Podemos is a reformist party. It opposes austerity and defends national sovereignty, but it does not oppose capitalism and would never consider abandoning the euro. It is wrong to think of Podemos as an anticapitalist political formation—despite the rhetoric its leaders occasionally employ. The problem for Podemos is that Spain already has—nominally at least—a reform party: the Socialist Party. For progressives, the Socialist Party plays the role of lesser evil to the Popular Party’s greater evil. If Podemos is to contend for the position of number one or number two, and hence if it is to have a chance at achieving state power electorally, it believes that it first must displace the social-democratic Socialists at the ballot box.

Podemos’s electoral ambition explains why it distances itself from traditionally left goals and values like socialism and the need for revolution (not just sporadic, piecemeal reform). In editorial statements such as “The Left,” Iglesias has argued that Podemos must instead conform to the present electoral arena.

The socioeconomic reality of our period, . . . the cultural weight of the mass media and the international conjuncture make clear not only the impossibility of revolution and socialism but further the huge limits of that left [the revolutionary left] enjoying any electoral success. . . . In the symbolic terrain of left-and-right, those of us who defend human rights, sovereignty, social rights and policies to redistribute wealth have no chance of winning electorally.

When our opponents, whether it is the Popular Party or the Socialist Party, call us the radical left and identify us with their symbols, they place us on a terrain where their victory is easier and more assured.6

Discursive practicality—avoiding the word “socialism” and censoring the clenched fist—is not the only consequence of Podemos’s dominant electoralism. As we have already seen, it has meant backing off from a serious confrontation with the merchants of debt. Recently, moreover, it also has meant an opening of Podemos—not toward genuine anticapitalists or toward more traditionally left parties or groups (for example, Izquierda Unida [IU], Izquierda Anticapitalista [IA], En Lucha/En Lluit [EL])—but rather to professionals and other sectors of Spain’s middle classes who have, like workers in the Spanish state, been pummeled by recession and squeezed by continuing austerity.

The political danger here is not the effort to gain adherents among the professional middle classes. Rather, the danger arises from trying to gain such adherents, not through convincing argument, but by watering down policies and principles to the point where they become more respectable in the eyes of those who rule over socioeconomic reality and who control the mass media.

In this light, it is suggestive to recall the trajectory of the Spanish Socialist Party at the time of the Transition (1976–1982). Of course, Podemos is highly critical of the so-called Transition political parties (PSOE and PP), and rightly so. But, in the early years of the Transition, the PSOE embodied many Spaniards’ hopes and dreams for a better life—just as Podemos does today. Podemos’s present course toward moderation, moreover, repeats some of the basic moves of the Socialist Party in its run-up to the October 1982 general election.

In 1977, the Socialist Party (along with the Communist Party) supported the policy of economic austerity known as the Moncloa Pact. The reinforcement given by the Socialist Party to then Prime Minister Adolfo Suárez of the Democratic Center Union (UCD) took the form of helping the center-right government to quell the wave of strikes and demonstrations that had threatened to destabilize Spain throughout 1976–1977. Its support of the Moncloa Pact also assured the Socialist Party of “electoral respectability.”

It would be unfair to suggest that Podemos is currently acting to curtail strikes and protests (in fact Podemos was born when the last cycle of mass resistance waned on its own in 2013). It is fair, however, to point out that Podemos’s almost single-minded dedication to electioneering assigns direct action a greatly diminished priority. Local branches are not encouraged to organize actions if doing so drains resources away from campaigning. Furthermore, Iglesias’s statement that Tsipras and Syriza had no choice but to accept the troika’s diktat poses the question of what Podemos would do in a similar situation. Faced with a choice between swallowing more austerity and honoring a majority vote indicative of a nation’s willingness to break with the euro, would the leadership of Podemos also acquiesce to a troika ultimatum that inflicted more misery on the Spanish state?

In 1979, the Socialist Party voted to jettison its self-definition as a “Marxist” and “working class” party. It did so in order to enhance its electoral prospects. From its beginnings, of course, Podemos rejected all descriptors and symbols of the revolutionary Left, and it did so for a similar reason.

 Throughout the Transition, up to and including today, the PSOE never found its way toward supporting the right to self-determination for the minority nations within the Spanish state. In fact, Pedro Sánchez, PSOE’s candidate for president this November, accepted his party’s nomination in June using a gigantic projected image of the Spanish flag as his background. (The jingoistic symbolism was not lost on Catalans or on anyone else.)

Podemos formally supports the right to self-determination, but only abstractly. It waffles in practice, saying that the reigning (Transition) Constitution of 1978 must first be changed. For example, rather than unconditionally endorsing Cataluña’s right to draft its own national constitution, submit it to a Catalan referendum, and implement it if it wins majority approval, Podemos disingenuously reflects this question into a funhouse hall of mirrors. For however long as the Spanish Constitution remains unchanged—and this presently feels like infinity because there is no way the two ruling neoliberal parties (PP and PSOE) are going to allow any amendment that recognizes the right to national self-determination within the Spanish state—Podemos can have its cake and eat it, too. It gets to appease nationalists and progressives by offering formal support of the principle, but, by not taking a stand on concrete measures, they avoid alienating those who oppose self-determination.7

There are important differences between the Socialist Party of 1979 and Podemos in 2015. The PSOE’s rise was financed by the German Social Democratic Party, which was an ally of the United States, a pillar of NATO, and a major player in the European Economic Community (EEC, the European Common Market). Podemos’s rise is not financed by European social democracy and results instead from Spanish anger toward decades of neoliberalism and years of punishing austerity.

Podemos declares that it will withdraw Spain from NATO. In 1985, of course, the Socialist Party abandoned its electoral promise to withdraw Spain from NATO as the price it paid for Spain’s entry into the EEC. (Note, however, that the EEC later evolved into the Eurozone. So one might wonder: What would be the fate of Podemos’s pledge to leave NATO if Spain’s withdrawal imperiled its membership in the Eurozone? How much economic pressure could Podemos withstand or would it judge, as Iglesias believes Tsipras did, that the “relation of forces” would leave no choice but to renege on its campaign promise?)

A final difference is that the Socialists became the party that installed neoliberalism in Spain. Later, the PSOE sealed the deal of selling its soul when it joined in as one of the two major parties of austerity. To date, of course, Podemos remains genuinely antineoliberal and antiausterity.

Keeping Podemos steadfastly antineoliberal—and restraining the extent to which it might prove amenable to compromises with capitalism—will be a challenge. The pull of electoralism will continue to exercise a powerful moderating influence. When your goal is to play the game of becoming the new “lesser evil,” by unseating the Socialist Party in elections in which your credibility is measured by your degree of adaptation to prevailing socioeconomic reality and to the dominant values of the mass media, then you will also become a “lesser evil.”

Podemos and revolutionary “double militancy”
Podemos’s impulse toward moderation is likely to intensify in the aftermath of the mid-July primary. As already discussed, rank-and-file participation in the primary was lower because of Iglesias’s top-down procedure of slate nomination, the arrogant manner in which Podemos rejected IU’s offer of forming a November coalition, and the inference on the basis of Iglesias’s justification of Tsipras’s betrayal that neither would Podemos ultimately defy the troika.

Post-primary polling also shows a decline in Podemos’s overall profile vis à vis the November election. On July 20–21 it received 18.1 percent support among likely voters. This was three percent less than in June and ten points less than in January. The same poll showed the Socialist Party rebounding from its April low and its disappointing performance in May’s municipals. The PSOE’s uptick inversely parallels the gradual but real slippage of Podemos.8

In order to compete successfully with the Socialist Party, Podemos will thus be tempted to moderate aspects of its program even more. (Conversely, in light of continued erosion of public support, Podemos could reconsider its refusal to form a left-wing coalition with IU and other groups. This seems unlikely at present. Nevertheless, IU’s leader, Alberto Garzón, expects that a strong showing for left-wing coalitions in the Catalan parliamentary election on September 27 will force Iglesias to revise his stance.)

Because Podemos is not an anticapitalist party, and because its electoral ambition will likely lead it to further dilute its radicalism, it is crucial for revolutionary socialists as well as other anticapitalists to continue to work within Podemos. Every effort should be made to mobilize the rank and file of Podemos to remain committed to the radical ideas of the 15-M and the social movements that were present at Podemos’s formation. The Iglesias-Errejón leadership’s drift toward the center can and should be resisted.

But, again, precisely because Podemos is not an anticapitalist party, and because its electoral ambitions are likely to lead it to dilute its radicalism, revolutionary socialist parties in Spain should not liquidate themselves in order to comply with Podemos’s (politically immature) leadership ban on organized parties—a policy that in practice affects only the Left. Revolutionary parties are necessary within Podemos precisely for strengthening anticapitalist consciousness and for building the organized power of our side in the “relation of forces.”

How, then, should revolutionary socialists engage with Podemos? It is crucial—indispensable—for revolutionaries to join Podemos and to work energetically to build it. Within Podemos, revolutionary socialists fight to win the reforms that compose Podemos’s demand for an end to austerity and neoliberalism. They simultaneously seek to convince other Podemos rank and filers of the limitations of reform and of the need for a revolution against capitalism. Indeed, anti-neoliberal successes will always remain vulnerable to reversal for as long as they are not firmly secured by a successful anticapitalist—which, for me, means socialist—revolution. Arguing in this way for an understanding of reforms as steps on the way toward profound social change, rather than as ends in themselves, also and inevitably means at every turn challenging the Podemos leadership’s electoral drift.

There is a name—“double militancy”—for the mode of engagement just outlined. Double militancy refers to individuals who are members of two political organizations at the same time. In specific conjunctures, this mode of engagement can prove helpful and contribute to achieving successes.9  In the case of a double militancy involving Podemos, however, there is a twist that makes following this practice potentially problematic, and seriously so. As noted in the opening paragraphs of this article, any individual who is simultaneously a member of Podemos and another political party is banned from holding a leadership position in Podemos.

Let’s consider the concrete case of Izquierda Anticapitalista (IA). Formerly, Espacio Alternativo, and today known as Anticapitalistas, IA represents the Fourth International in the Spanish state and can boast impressive achievements. As Manuel Garí explained in the last issue of the ISR (Issue 97), IA voted in January 2015 to liquidate itself and to become a social movement.10 

At its January 2015 congress, IA voted to turn itself from a political party into a movement organization renamed Anticapitalistas (Anticapitalists). This was a response, in part, to the October 2014 resolution passed in the Podemos’s Citizens’ Assembly barring Podemos leaders from being members of other political parties. This resolution was one of a number of initiatives supported by the Pablo Iglesias leadership team that diluted the grassroots democracy on which Podemos built its initial support. Members of Anticapitalistas are active in “circles,” the local units of organization in Podemos around [Spain].11

Garí’s account, while not inaccurate, omits important dimensions of the history of relations between IA and Podemos. In fact, IA was centrally involved in Podemos’s creation: “The Podemos plan was cemented over a dinner in August 2013, during the four-day ‘summer university’ of a tiny, radical party called Izquierda Anticapitalista (IA). Iglesias and IA heavyweight Miguel Urbán, then a 33-year-old veteran of multiple protest movements agreed to work together, creating the strange and tense marriage between a single, charismatic leader— Iglesias—and an organization that hates hierarchy.”12

According to The Guardian, IA’s double militant Urbán commented that “Pablo [Iglesias] had political and media prestige, but that was not enough. We [Podemos] needed an organizational base that stretched across the country, and that was IA.”13 That may explain why the Podemos manifesto “Mover ficha: Convertir la indignación en cambio político” [“Making a move: Turning outrage into political change”]—the document which announced Podemos to the Spanish public14—was authored in collaboration with IA and first appeared (almost verbatim) as a central committee document in IA’s internal bulletin (Enlace, Número 82).15 Not only the rationale for, but also the timing and stages of, Podemos’s electoral campaign for the EU elections were laid out in it.

But if the embryonic Podemos obtained a nationwide organizational base out of its collaboration with IA, what was in it for IA? The nature of the trade-off was made clear in the first reason given by the central committee to convince IA members to vote in favor of liquidation: (1) “The presence of a series of media personalities as the public face of the project [will] open for us the possibility of connecting with sectors of the left-leaning population who are dissatisfied with the traditional organizations, who are searching for new, transversal political points of reference removed from the identities that divide the different left currents.” 16 Although Iglesias’s name was not mentioned in the document, his TV charisma was and is legendary.

Other reasons offered in support of IA’s liquidation included: (2) the Left’s impasse in the upcoming EU election (then scheduled for May 2015), an impasse which suggested and opened the possibility of tactical alliances; (3) the impossibility of the social movements achieving any victories in the near-term, owing to institutional deadlock; (4) the rise of “defensive reformism,” epitomized by IU, which was succumbing to the temptation to form a coalition government with the neoliberal PSOE; and (5) the chance to expand IA’s membership and national influence through interactions with sectors of the population with whom it normally did not engage.

The question that jumps to the fore in all of this is: Was liquidation really necessary as a condition for pursuing these goals (1–5)? And here the answer is a resounding “no.” The only thing prevented by the Podemos ban is the holding of Podemos office by members of other political parties. Members of other political parties are not barred from trying to make use of media personalities; they are not stopped from joining and supporting tactical electoral coalitions; they are not held back from helping the social movements break institutional deadlock; they aren’t being seduced by the PSOE; and they are free to work in their own parties to build their specific weight and influence. And, in fact, if they choose, they are free to sell their other party’s literature and to build their other party’s activities at Podemos meetings and events. They may take some occasional flak for doing so, but En Lucha/En lluit, to take one example, happily distributes its paper, while IA (now Anticapitalistas) keeps a lower profile.17

In truth, the only reason to comply with Podemos’s ban and to liquidate as a revolutionary party is if the primary aim and task are seen to be that of occupying leadership positions in Podemos. Is becoming general secretary or a deputy in the European or Andalusian parliament worth the price of liquidation when IA already can accomplish within Podemos all of the work necessary to fight for reforms, to try to win people to socialist revolution, and to grow its own revolutionary socialist organization without having to shape-shift into a movement? IA’s decision to shape-shift for the reasons it has offered symptomizes a skewed perception of reality—one that measures success not on the basis of the quality and numbers of new revolutionaries that have been recruited but on the number of organizational titles that have been scrounged.

The not-so-subtle irony here, of course, is that, if Miguel Urbán and the IA central committee thought they could leapfrog toward a greater social implantation through making use of media-friendly personalities, then they must be having second thoughts today. The central committee candidly stated at the time it argued for liquidation that “we are conscious of the need to verify these hypotheses in practice.”18 What verification have they received?

Following the first big success—the EU election in May 2014 that sent off two IA members to Brussels as MEPs—the Iglesias leadership at its October 2014 Citizens’ Assembly tamed Podemos’s platform and passed the ban that excluded members of other parties from holding Podemos leadership positions. After the second big success—the municipal and regional elections of May 2015—the Iglesias leadership moved to tighten its top-down control over Podemos by rebuffing the effort by Echenique and Rodríguez (IA) to make the primary election process more democratic. This was a send-off of a different kind, one which was widely interpreted as an invitation from Iglesias for the dissident leaders to leave Podemos. Iglesias, Inc. then proceeded to appoint and to have ratified a primary slate for November that resulted in the total exclusion of former IA members from being elected this year to the Spanish congress or senate.

It is most likely that IA always anticipated that there would come a time when it would have to revert to, and continue, its series of shape-shifts and name changes—next time, from movement back to a political party. A careful reading of its Enlace statement, moreover, suggests that IA’s leadership always saw Podemos as a means to an end. There is nothing wrong in this. After all, Iglesias thought Podemos could use IA as a “prefab” national edifice, and Urbán saw in Podemos an opportunity to project IA’s influence. But step-by-step the anticapitalists in Podemos are being marginalized.

What in fact is quite wrong with IA’s decision to liquidate in acquiescence to Podemos’s ban is that it gave up so much for so little. In the end, IA has failed to obtain the leadership positions within Podemos that it desperately sought. Rather, it has instead given credence to the worst prejudices of “anti-politics”: namely, the idea that organized revolutionary parties are diseased and irrelevant. This is a high price to pay for a group of remarkable revolutionaries who are all too familiar with the difficulties of building a revolutionary socialist organization.

Individuals won to revolutionary perspectives need their own organizations as spaces within which to deepen their understanding of the myriad ways in which ordinary working people are exploited and oppressed. They need spaces in which to learn the history of past struggles—both successful and unsuccessful—a history which is rarely taught in the schools or by the mass media. And they need spaces within which to develop current perspectives and to organize their activities alongside comrades who are similarly dedicated to deep social transformation.

Very little of this will happen through canvassing for votes for Podemos. A great deal can result from public meetings, internal discussions, and militant actions organized under openly revolutionary socialist sponsorship. There will be no enduring anticapitalist revolution without the contributions of organized revolutionary socialists.

  1. I am grateful to Lance Selfa, Sam Robson, Patrick Gallagher, and Darrin Hoop for comments and insights that helped me to develop this article.
  2. See Luke Stobart, “Understanding Podemos (2/3): Radical Populism,” http://left-flank.org/2014/11/14/understanding-podemos-23-radical-populism  for a narrative account of the Citizens’ Assembly.  For Stobart’s full analysis and his overall perspective on Podemos, see also “Understanding Podemos (1/3): 15M and Counterpolitics,” http://left-flank.org/2014/11/05/explain... and “Understanding Podemos (3/3): ‘Commonsense’ Policy,” http://left-flank.org/2015/01/02/underst....
  3. Stobart discusses the PNT in “Understanding Podemos (3/3): ‘Commonsense’ policy.” Excellent analyses can also be found in Jaime Pastor, “Despotismo oligárquico, Grecia y Podemos,” http://www.anticapitalistas.org; and in Nikos Loudos, “Miedo a  la ruptura  no es el realismo: la propuesta económica de Torres y Navarro,” http://enlucha.org/articulos/miedo-a-la-.... ” See also Ramón Tamames, ¿Podemos?: Un viaje de la nada hacia el poder (Madrid: Kailas, 2015), 159–175.
  4. See Note 3.
  5. El País [Spain]: July 16, 2015,  http://elpais.com/elpais/portada_america....
  6. Pablo Iglesias, “Izquierda.” El País. June 28, 2015, http://politica.elpais.com/politica/2015...
  7. For a discussion of the revolutionary socialist position on the right to self-determination, see Tom Lewis, “Marxism and Nationalism,” ISR 13, part 1 (August–September 2000), http://isreview.org/issues/13/marxism_na... . “Marxism and Nationalism,” part 2,  ISR 14 (October-November 2000), http://isreview.org/issues/14/marxism_na.... 
  8. “Sondeo de Metrosopia.” El País, July 25, 2015, http://elpais.com/elpais/portada_america....
  9. In the 1960s and 1970s the term “double militancy”  represented a way for an individual to work in separate organizations that had different political focuses—for example, one devoted to struggle over wages and unionization, and one fighting for women’s rights. Today the aims of economic and gender equality are intimately related, as they should be, in the structure and goals of most revolutionary socialist organizations. I have referred to the concept and strategy of “double militancy” here, and not to the concept and strategy of the “united front,” because “double militancy” pertains to individuals and their individual party relations, as opposed to relations of tactical alliance between two or more formally distinct parties. IA’s relation to Podemos is not that of a united front: “march separately, strike together.” IA—at present reduced to being the “Anticapitalista” tendency within Podemos—does not “march separately.” Nonetheless, much in the theory and practice of the “united front” is useful to recall when trying to understand how organized revolutionaries can best relate to political formations such as Podemos.
  10. Legally, this entailed changing its official designation in the official state registry from that of “political party” to that of “association.” Quite interesting, as an aside, is the fact that En Lucha/En Lluit, which is the representative of the International Socialist Tendency in Spain, has always been registered in this capacity and was an association, like IA became, at the time it sought to join Podemos. EL’s overture was rejected, even though, from the perspective of legal technicalities, they were no different from IA in its new status. Miguel Urbán, an IA leader and co-founder of Podemos, was instrumental in keeping EL out of Podemos. Among the reasons given was that EL sold its newspaper “too aggressively.” Today EL members participate actively in Podemos circles, where they meet other activists, engage in discussions and arguments, sell their literature, and advertise their events. They are, of course, banned from holding Podemos party positions—but this seems not to impede their work.
  11. Manuel Garí, ¨Spain’s Podemos: A New Left Rising?” ISR 97 (Summer 2015): 72–83.
  12. Giles Tremlett, “The Podemos Revolution: How a Small Group of Radicals Changed European Politics,”  Guardian, March 31, 2015, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/ma....
  13. Ibid.
  14. The text of “Mover ficha” can be found at http://tratarde.org/wp-content/uploads/2....
  15. The text of IA’s “Resolución de la Secretaría General” on Podemos can be found at http://www.eldiario.es/politica/nacimien....
  16. Enlace 82. See URL listed in Note 15. 
  17. According to one eyewitness report, for example, IA members run Podemos in Cádiz. But an IA/”Anticapitalistas” public identity and presence is nowhere to be seen. IA members’ time is exhausted in building Podemos, and little is left over for building “Anticapitalistas,” much less a reinstated IA.
  18. Enlace 82. See Note 15.

    Issue #103

    Winter 2016-17

    "A sense of hope and the possibility for solidarity"

    Interview with Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz
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