Can Europe Make It?

Glimpse of a key debate : deciding the future of Podemos, Day 4

What comes after the “electoral war machine”? Communication strategies for the post electoral cycle. Español

Guillermo Fernández Vázquez Miguel Álvarez-Peralta José Luis Villacañas
10 February 2017

Pablo Iglesias, leader of Unidos Podemos party, after the results of the national elections at plaza Reina Sofia, Madrid, Spain, June 26, 2016. Jimenez Rodrigo/Press Association. All rights reserved.

In the post-electoral cycle, Podemos is faced with the challenge of finding the right structure, leadership and strategy to successfully articulate a new role for itself. This week, between 4-11 February, almost 500,000 party members have been asked to read, debate and cast their vote on the various proposals, a collective decision of pivotal importance in determining the future of the party, maybe for years to come. Through a series of short personal statements, this special series contextualises the vote and the upcoming party congress in terms of competing visions for social and political change, articulating the conflicting ideas, strategies and organizational models that underpin the main proposals.

“The Nobodies” in Podemos

By Guillermo Fernández Vázquez

There have been a lot of references in Podemos lately to “the nobodies”, “the abandoned”, “the dispossessed”, to the point that these categories have the potential to become one of the key axes over which the future proposal for the party’s identity may come to pivot.

This is a discursive category with an undeniable mobilizing potential in that it allows, on the one hand, a multitude of people who feel “forgotten”, “marginalized”, “left out”, or, at the very least, “disregarded” to coalesce around a name, while, on the other, it politicizes a feeling of abandonment, a pain, a sense of withdrawal or exclusion. To be the party of “the nobodies” entails proposing itself as the party of “the outsiders”, as opposed to “the insiders”. It is not surprising that those who defend this position base themselves in other international experiences. This is the case for Donald Trump and UKIP. It is also the case for the National Front of Marine Le Pen in France who, as advised by Florian Philippot, has made out of a signifier like “the forgotten” at once a space for the interpellation of different social categories within the French society and a new configuration of sense. Here “the forgotten” functions as a meeting point in which political subjectivities of very different origins are at once both recognized and moulded.

Nevertheless, the success of this discursive strategy in other European parties does not have as much to do with the name used nor with the context in which it is enunciated, but essentially, with its relation to the general narrative that such parties propose, that is, its function within a system of meaning. For “the forgotten” or “the nobodies” to be able to address and interpellate (or appeal to) a heterogeneous multitude, it is not enough for such a signifier to name it, but, rather, this must be inscribed in statements that express a proposal for an open identity that makes the “neither right, nor left” a credible reality. It is only in this way that it could aspire to appropriate the winning signifiers which govern the discursive life of a political community and which, at the same time, articulate one of the political sentiments, that for example Spinoza considers to be the political sentiment par excellence: hope.


Podemos and the regulation of media

By Miguel Álvarez-Peralta

Many of our friends abroad are asking us with interest about the type of media policies that we are proposing for the reorganization and democratization of the media space in Spain. Some ask how we are planning to dismantle the television duopoly or intend to deal with a press system that has grown too close to the political and economic establishment, this establishment that has made of Spain probably the most corrupt country in Europe and which has fed the explosion of the 15-M movement and later the birth of Podemos. These are the exact same questions that the right-wing and pro-status quo media ask us when they come to interview us. This is precisely the terrain on which the forces opposed to change in our country want to us to be; this is precisely the topic they want us to be talking about.

Although it is definitely undemocratic, it would have been a mistake for us to directly confront the private media oligopoly. They are already painting us in this light, even though we have never gone that way. Of course we know all about the political economy of media, that is, not only about the process of financialisation and globalisation of media’s economic structure (now in the hands of banks through debt, advertising and direct ownership), and the consequent precariousness of journalists, but also about the tremendous influence of economic powers on the social construction of the political and its complex and contradictory discursive strategies in this symbolic battlefield. That is precisely why it is not appropriate for us to confront this media, but confront things in the media. We do not look at the media only as a weapon in the hands of large corporations, but also as the arena where the meanings, connotations, metaphors and social narratives are disputed and established.

With respect to the topic of the regulation of media, our program has focused on five aspects: 1) A reform aimed at bringing independence, transparency, pluralism and social participation to the public media system (there are many international complaints about the political control of the media by the Partido Popular); (2) Specific measures designed to protect the professional rights of journalists and to empower them in the face of internal pressures from their own companies; 3) The recognition of and support for the third sector (non-profit community media); 4) The support of cooperative based projects where journalists and readers are the main owners of the medium, a measure which guarantees independence and promotes pluralism; 5) The adoption of objective, pluralistic and transparent criteria for the allocation of institutional advertising and audiovisual licenses, which have been extensively used to skew the media spectrum in our recent past.

To conclude, we all know that contemporary politics is mediated by the mass media, and yet it is vital to attempt to synchronize the diverse dynamics between the players in this semiotic game, even if the field is slanted and uneven. For us, the experts, the debate is how to work to generate a more balanced field and more just rules for the rest of the game.


Podemos’ future

By José Luis Villacañas

Any reflection on the evolution of Podemos will depend on the position adopted with regards to the interpretation of the electoral loss that took place in the second general election of last year, on June 26, and which constituted a stark disappointment in the effectiveness of the electoral machine and the “blitzkrieg” that led to the conquest of positions with a firm strategy. An electoral loss forces a rethinking of strategies, but, above all, it requires a diagnosis of the main failures. There are two ways of reading these.

The first reading says that the electoral loss came mainly as a consequence of the moderation of the message of the electoral campaign and, therefore, the campaign director is to blame for not knowing how to attract the left electorate. The key to this charge is that, with this moderation of message, Podemos’ pact with Izquierda Unida was deactivated and the supporters of this confluence of forces consequently failed to pledge their vote for Unidos Podemos (“United-We can”). This story would have the effect of recommending the recovery of this lost electorate via a radicalization of discourse.

The second reading says that the errors originated with the Secretary General of Podemos. These consisted of his public declaration of the intention (to PSOE in March 2016) of entering a possible government with demands for specific portfolios, where the main centres of decision-making would be in the hands of Podemos. As this offer was designed to be rejected, the rejection was staged with manifestations of sonorous hostility to PSOE. However, on seeing that these actions led to a drop in the polls, an attempt was made to correct this error by facilitating an agreement with Izquierda Unida, since the whole strategy implied the aspiration to overcome PSOE in subsequent elections. This instrumental use of Izquierda Unida was encountered with a massive disaffection in a large part of its electorate and militancy, and this was further increased by the abstention of former Podemos voters who did not support such strong unity with Izquierda Unida. The prognosis of this second reading says that, if we continue along this path, Podemos will come to be seen as a new Izquierda Unida and, thus, condemned to occupy the same marginal space in Spain’s political system.

What is not clearly seen, and thus not really contemplated, is the possibility of an integrative and unitary diagnosis, a combination of these two readings into one narrative. As a consequence, the future of Podemos in terms of the potential for political unity seems to be completely compromised.

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