[Marxism] What Can We Expect from Podemos in Spain?

Celeste Murillo celeste.murillo at gmail.com
Tue Apr 21 09:53:25 MDT 2015

*A political outsider takes center stage*

Outside of Syriza in Greece, there is perhaps no European political party
in recent years that has experienced a rise in popularity quite as rapid as
that of Podemos in Spain. Like Syriza, Podemos was born out of the
widespread discontent with the social democratic, liberal, and conservative
parties of the European establishment who have held power for decades and
who have all embraced the policies of neoliberalism. However, also like
Syriza, Podemos has not offered political solutions that would break from
the capitalist status quo that has left millions in poverty and desperation
across the continent.

Without a doubt, Podemos is the first party [1
in recent history to mount a significant challenge to the two parties of
the Spanish ruling class—the social democratic Spanish Socialist Workers
Party (PSOE) and the conservative People’s Party (PP). According to an
April 9th poll, Podemos would win the general elections if they were held
today, with 22.1 percent of the vote, just ahead of the PSOE, which earned
21.9 percent support. In January, the party had its strongest show of
strength yet, when more than 100,000 people filled Puerta del Sol square in
Madrid, to show their support for Podemos and denounce the austerity
programs carried out by the PP and PSOE. With December’s elections fast
approaching, all eyes are on Podemos and its charismatic presidential
candidate, Pablo Iglesias.

*The origins of Podemos*
In the days and weeks following May 15, 2011, tens of thousands of young
people occupied the plazas throughout Spain, demanding jobs and an end to
austerity. The youth, who came to be known as the indignados (the
indignant), captured the attention of the world and would later inspire the
Occupy movement in the United States.

With an unemployment rate of nearly 25% in the country and austerity
programs which brought massive cuts to health care, education,
transportation, and other public services, the Spanish workers and
oppressed classes lost faith in the ability of the PSOE to provide
solutions to the crisis at hand. The fall from grace of both parties of the
Spanish political establishment has been hastened too by multiple
corruption scandals linked to both the PSOE and PP [2
This was the context in which the Podemos (We can) party arose. Within a
just few months of its founding, the party had won five seats in the
European parliament.

The origins of Podemos differ from those of the social democratic and
eurocommunist left of years past in that its roots are not in the trade
unions. Instead, the party was launched by university professors and public
intellectuals, among them the political science professor Pablo Iglesias,
who had become a popular television personality. Podemos was also joined by
the Izquierda Anticapitalista (Anticapitalist Left) party, a member of the
United Secretariat of the Fourth International.

*A Participatory Process?*
The founding manifesto of Podemos made connections to the indignados
movement and declared the need for an "open, participatory process" of
organization. Yet, despite its links to the youth movement, which had made
decisions by assembly and stressed "horizontalism", the leadership of
Podemos has increasingly adopted undemocratic and vertical methods of

In November 2014, following the party’s "Citizens’ Assembly", Podemos
carried out an online vote among its members on three documents which would
determine the party’s policies, methods of organization, and "ethics". The
voting system, which was organized by a "committee of experts" close to
Iglesias, only allowed for vote en bloc, whereby a vote for one faction’s
organizational document also meant a vote for their political and ethical
documents as well. In this system, it was inevitable that all the documents
of the Iglesias faction would win out. Furthermore, Iglesias, conscious of
the power of his charismatic figure, threatened to resign from the
leadership, if his documents were not voted upon. An important component of
the faction’s ethical document was a prohibition on "dual militancy" which
would prevent militants of other parties such as Izquierda Anticapitalista
(IA) from holding positions of responsibility within Podemos. This
restriction prevented Eurodeputy for Podemos, Teresa Rodríguez from holding
a position of leadership within Podemos because of her militancy within IA.

Two weeks after the "election of documents", the party held internal
elections for its leadership positions. Although the vote was technically
not restricted to blocs, the online voting system, thanks to the committee
of experts, was such that clicking on one list automatically selected all
of the candidates of that slate. In the end, Iglesias was voted General
Secretary and all 62 positions available went to the Iglesias faction.

*The Economic Platform of Podemos*
While described by much of the international bourgeois press as the
"far-left", Podemos, like Syriza in Greece, is in essence a new center left
party, with a social democratic economic program, and a populist rhetoric,
minus the historical links to the unions. In November 2014, the party
presented its economic program entitled "An Economic Platform for the
People". The program called for the reduction of the workweek to 35 hours,
although whether workers will experience a decrease in wages as occurred in
France in 2000 is still a question [3
The program does not include any additional measures which would prevent
such a decrease in wages. The platform also called for the creation of new
jobs along the lines of a Rooseveltian New Deal and guaranteed "access to
credit". It is notable also that Podemos scaled back nearly all of the
already moderate demands that had propelled the party’s popularity during
the European parliamentary elections. Podemos’ earlier demand for
nonpayment of the international debt was replaced by a call for the
"organized restructuring" of the debt and its demand for the minimum age of
retirement to be reduced to 60 from 65 was also jettisoned.

*The limits of an anti-austerity party*
The Podemos program contains various anti-austerity demands, but as a
whole, it represents an adaptation to capitalism, rather than a fundamental
challenge to it. This adaptation was taken even further recently by the
party’s Political Secretary Iñigo Errejón. Asked whether, if upon taking
office, Podemos would forgive the Greek debt to Spain, Errejón responded
"No, we would like to recover that money."

The example of Syriza in Greece has demonstrated that an anti-austerity
government, which does not challenge the institutions of capital, will be
incapable not only of confronting capitalism but even austerity itself. We
can expect that politics of Podemos become more and more moderate as they
gain positions in the state structure. Riding the outrage of the indignados
movement, the party has striven to divert the popular outrage through
institutional channels and electoral politics. Behind a radical rhetoric
and a charismatic leadership, the substance of Podemos’ political program
is to try to "fix" capitalism, not to destroy it.

This article was based on the following previously published articles from
La Izquierda Diario:




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