Spain: Which way Left?

For a time, I was writing about political and social developments in Spain almost weekly, as my way of getting to know this country better. But then, the collapse of coherence in the Socialist Party (PSOE, Partido Socialista Obrero Español) in the months leading to the 2011 elections, permitting the easy victory of Party of Privilege (PP) and the disastrous policies that followed so discouraged me that I preferred to write about almost anything else. But things are moving again here, political currents that are at least rocking the boat and may even manage to force a change of course.

Actually, the PP refers to itself as the "Popular Party," implying both that it is well liked (it isn't) and that it represents the common people (it doesn't). It was elected on promises of bringing up employment, protecting benefits in health and education and generally preserving the welfare state much better than the PSOE. What it did was slash employment (with "reforms" making it easier and cheaper to fire workers), cut funding for hospitals and schools (and trying to privatize both, by selling them to their associates to turn them into for-profit corporations), cut budgets of regional and local governments, and do everything it could to bring down already low wages. And try to set back abortion law to the restrictive policies of the Franco era. The only people it has been helping have been the bankers (huge bailouts), corporations, and their own party officials, by doing everything possible to prevent judges from bringing them to justice for the huge corruption scandals. The latest has caused practically the entire PP government of Santiago de Compostela to resign — sometimes the scandals are just too blatant to hide.

What to do? As Lenin asked in 1902 (What is to be done?) Same question, but too late to give the same answer. Times have changed, the suffering masses now have Internet or at least What'sApp, and nobody is going to tolerate a vanguard party dedicated to enlightening the rest of us without a lot of debate.  Which doesn't mean that nobody will try — veteran leftists find it hard to break old habits — only that it's not going to work. And more and more of those veteran leftists, and newcomers to politics mobilized sometimes by personal crises, know that we have to try other ways.

The Right, with its absolute majority of the Party of Privilege now in power, has proven itself to be an absolute disaster, incapable of fulfilling even its own aims of guaranteed enrichment of the upper classes, strengthening the repressive authority it hopes to share with the Catholic Church, or winning elections. In fact, both major parties — PP and PSOE — saw their votes plummet in the May 25 European elections. So more and more people are ready to turn left.

But which way is that?
The big, unexpected success of Podemos in the May 25 elections — a brand new party with almost no funding that elected its whole slate of 5 to the European parliament (see last week's note here) is a big hint that openness to the voices and candidacies of all supporters, and a radically democratic process for arriving at political decisions and choosing candidates, are strategies that have enormous appeal. Will Podemos succeed in turning itself into a stable, organized party? And if it does, will it lose that old spontaneity and mass appeal by institutionalizing itself? Now that they've had such electoral success, so many people with different agendas are flocking to join and creating such internal tumult — just like every other new, radical group in history, since the Jacobins and on through the Mensheviks-vs.-Bolsheviks before 1917, or Occupy Wall Street more recently — that we can't say what will happen. 

But they've jolted the whole, broad family of the Left in Spain. Even the Socialist Party is now trying to shake itself free of old bureaucratic habits and promises to hold primaries. The principle enemy of the Left in Spain, as in Italy and many other countries, has always been the Left. In Spain, the party calling itself (optimistically) Izquierda Unida, a coalition run mainly by the small Communist Party, against the Socialist Party, regional left parties like Catalonia's ERC against both, and a multiplicity of smaller outfits — Izquierda Abierta, a breakoff from the Communists, and more narrowly focused groups like the anti-eviction PAH — all bickering, all rivals.

But that is changing. Amazingly, after years of bitter antagonism, PSOE and Izquierda Unida have even joined to form a regional government in Spain's biggest region, Andalusia. And all of them are learning from experiences such as the mass mobilizations of 15M (May 15, 2011) and from those of one of 15M's offspring, Podemos. We may not know for sure which way is Left — where to look for the solutions to our multiple economic crises and social inequality — but we know that we're going to have to find the direction together, without all-knowing vanguards, but lots of tumultuous democracy.

1 comment:

Dirk van Nouhuys said...

Well rolled,