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The expulsion from office of Mariano Rajoy and the PP is good news.
It would have been better had they not been the biggest party at the last elections. It would have been better had they fallen as a direct result of mass mobilisation in the street, or a general strike (or a socialist revolution!). It didn’t happen like that, but the current political environment, influenced by different social struggles, was an essential factor in turning the court’s condemnation of the PP’s corruption into a no confidence motion. After all, the parliamentary arithmetic is the same as a year ago and the PP’s corruption is hardly a novelty.
The massive women’s mobilisations of recent months, the protests over pensions, the struggle for the right to decide in Catalonia, the strikes that continue to take place… have all contributed. The fall of Rajoy — Aznar’s Sancho Panza; the man who referred to the disastrous oil spill in Galicia as “little threads of plasticine”; the person responsible for the gag law, for the police brutality on 1 October, for corruption… — his fall is partly our victory and we must celebrate it.
However, different sectors of the movement insist, for different reasons, that nothing has changed, that there is nothing to celebrate. Let’s look at their arguments.
A significant part of the left has argued for some time that the PP and the PSOE are the same. Now this idea is more typical of the radical left (that beyond Podemos and IU) but it was the official position of IU at the time of Julio Anguita, with “the two river banks”: on one bank, IU; on the other, the other parties without distinction. At that time, this vision helped enable the PP to govern in different places, without an absolute majority. (We should note in passing that Ciudadanos also use the hashtag #PPSOE.)
It is true that in power, both the PP and the PSOE aim to maintain and manage the system; that is to say, both defend the interests of the bourgeoisie. It’s true that the PSOE supported the application of article 155, and before that was responsible for the Spanish state remaining in NATO, for the GAL death squads in the Basque country, etc. It’s true that the PSOE has many serious cases of corruption.
But there is a fundamental difference between the PSOE and the PP. The rank and file of the PSOE include many working people who (even now) expect something more. This is the only way we can understand the internal rebellion in the PSOE against the decision by its regional “barons” (instigated by the would-be leader, Susana Díaz) to oust Pedro Sánchez for refusing to support Rajoy’s presidency after the 2016 elections.
This is the only way to understand what has happened in the Labour Party under Corbyn. With Blair, Labour seemed to be even more to the right than the European Christian Democrat parties. Now Corbyn appears to be to the left of Podemos. In reality, both the Labour Party and the PSOE are full of internal contradictions.
This fact, added to the motives and circumstances of the motion of censure, means that Sanchez’s new government can not be identical to that of Rajoy.
It will be more fragile, and more susceptible to pressure from below… if that is applied.
Insisting that nothing has changed means there is no reason to try to pressurise them. But if we understand the contradictions of the situation, we can achieve changes. Not because Sanchez wants them, but because we can force him to concede things that we didn’t even try to get under Rajoy.
“Nothing good can come from Spain”
This vision exists in some sectors of the Catalan independence movement. It is understandable: the PP, Ciudadanos and the PSOE promoted or supported the repression of the referendum and the application of article 155, the coup that suspended Catalan self government. Even the leadership of Podemos, which had said it supported the right to self determination, changed its mind when faced with a real referendum, and effectively adopted the position of “neither with the repression, nor with those who suffer the repression”.
All this leads some people in the Catalan independence movement to expect nothing positive from the rest of the Spanish state.
But one thing is to criticise the Spanish left, another is being unable to see the differences between the PP and the PSOE, and between the PSOE and Podemos. (A similar problem is not being able to distinguish between bourgeois democracy and fascism.)
Another part of the same argument is that Catalonia has already become a republic, so the internal affairs of Spain don’t interest us. Some use the rhetoric of: “The country next door has changed its government? What’s that got to do with us? “
It is true that people voted for independence and a declaration was made, but it is obvious that in reality Catalonia is still part of the Spanish State. To change this situation we must win a political battle that we have not yet won.
For too long there has been a false dichotomy in Catalonia. On the one hand, there are people who want a rupture with the Spanish State (as well as social changes) who conclude that “we have nothing to talk about with the Spanish State”… which usually turns into a rejection of the search for alliances with people in the rest of Spain (except with other independentist groups). On the other, people who understand the need for these alliances… and conclude that this means that you can not and should not consider a rupture.
It is now more important than ever to make the effort to explain the democratic demands of Catalonia to activists from the rest of the state, and not from a narrow and nationalist vision. It is more important than ever to build support and alliances around the many social and democratic demands that the great majority of the Catalan independence movement shares with the social movements and the fighting left of the rest of the State. A more fraternal and stronger relationship is needed, based on recognising diversity, for sure, but also on mutual respect.
And as mentioned at the beginning of this section, although there are valid criticisms of the independence movement, even more criticisms can and should be made of the Spanish left that, with few exceptions, has not offered the solidarity it should have done in the face of state repression.
The Podemos strategy
Many on the radical left complained at Podemos having voted for the PSOE’s no confidence motion, contrasting this with indignados slogans. It must be said that the indignados movement wasn’t very strong on nuances or tactical vision. Whatever the criticisms that can be made of the PSOE, it is positive that the PP has been thrown out, and positive that Unidos Podemos, ERC and other leftist forces contributed to that.
The real issue is different: what should we do now?
The Podemos leadership has repeatedly declared its desire to join the Sanchez government. This would mean abandoning the principles of rupture with the regime. Izquierda Unida has shown many times, participating in coalition governments with the PSOE at different levels, that these only reinforce the policies of managing and maintaining the system that the PSOE always follows when in power.
Pablo Iglesias and co should know this very well.
Their problem is that they have always posed their strategy in terms of governing from the institutions. The bombastic phrases of “assaulting the heavens” meant no more than that. This orientation is that of politics from above, taking office and demonstrating that they can govern “as well” as the PP or the PSOE, proving that they are a respectable political option. Having got nowhere near an overall majority, they ended up making a desperate attempt to enter a government run by “the caste” (to use their favoured term that is infinitely flexible and therefore meaningless, generating only confusion).
With this they are trying to apply the logic of their work in town councils at a state level. But the problems with their municipal activities are already evident; here we can only mention a few examples. The logic of the system led both United Left and Podemos — including the Cádiz mayor, José María González, “Kichi”, of Anticapitalistas — to support the PSOE proposal to promote the sale of warships to Saudi Arabia. The Madrid city council of Manuela Carmena has had difficulties with the neo-Nazi centre, Hogar Social Madrid: their attempts to combine their rejection of fascism with attempts to carry out “proper” management of the town hall have led to confusion. In Barcelona, Ada Colau’s council has had problems controlling the actions of the Guardia Urbana against the mainly West African street sellers; the actions of her municipal police have raised serious accusations of brutality and racism.
The participation of Podemos in a Sanchez government would have caused many more, even deeper, contradictions. It seems that in the end this will not happen, but only because Sanchez has refused.
All the experience, of all social democratic administrations, in every country, shows that they let us down. Nothing leads us to believe that Sanchez will be any different. Everything indicates that — unless there is strong resistance — a PSOE government will not only betray the hopes for positive significant changes, but will actually promote more austerity, more attacks against working people, in the interests of the 1%. (This doesn’t exclude the possibility, in fact the probability, of symbolic reforms on some high profile issues, perhaps women’s and LGBT rights; but they will be superficial reforms that don’t even begin to address the roots of oppression, let alone wider structural problems).
The challenge is to ensure that the disappointment and discontent caused by a PSOE government does not strengthen the right (or worse, the far-right), but is instead channelled into opposition from the left and the building of an alternative. And this alternative can’t consist of suggestions about how to better manage the system. The experience of Syriza in Greece showed that there is very little space for reform within the system. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t demand reforms. Rather, the key battleground for achieving reforms, and real change, isn’t debates in parliament or on TV chat programs, and far less debates in the cabinet, but rather mobilisation in the streets and in the workplaces.
And here we have a problem. Podemos was meant to signify the renewal of the radical left, a new spirit inspired by the indignados movement and the struggles from the squares. But in record time it has become just one more part of the political establishment; another left party that feels more comfortable in parliament or in a TV studio than in grassroots struggles.
At a time when a revitalised left — combining the best elements of the communist tradition with the best of new social movements such as the indignados — could have played a key role in posing a left alternative to a social liberal government… it is clear that this does not exist. We will only have the leadership of “Unidos Podemos” making speeches, and its supporters having no real proposals to carry the struggle forwards.
The anti-capitalist left today
All this confirms what we already knew; that we need a stronger and more coherent revolutionary left.
On the no confidence motion, we need a left that is able to recognise the value of the fall of Rajoy and celebrate it, while understanding that everything still remains be done. We know and we must insist that it is not enough to change the names and the parties in government; we want fundamental change.
In immediate terms, we need social changes: responses to the demands of the women’s movements; real steps against racism such as full rights for migrants and the welcoming of refugees; the end of repression and real democracy, including Catalonia’s right to decide…
The revolutionary left is very small, but it can have an impact, if it knows how to work well. This means making coherent analyses, applying Marxist theory intelligently and flexibly to today’s world. It means offering constructive proposals for struggle and building the movement. It means gaining individuals to these perspectives while collaborating with other people and other political forces in united fronts.
But, to return to the starting point, we will never do big things if we don’t know how to promote and value small victories. The fall of Rajoy and the PP is one of them.