Can Europe Make It?

Glimpse of a key debate : deciding the future of Podemos, Day 3

How to expand Podemos' social base? Español

Kiko Garrido Emilia Sanchez-Pantoja Marco Arafat Garrido Eloy Medina Martín
9 February 2017

Il Festival del Sol y las Mareas, 2013. Wikicommons/Fernando imenez Brix. Some 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 future of Podemos

By Emilia Sanchez-Pantoja

The 15-M (or Indignados) movement brought people into the squares to demand decency from those who govern as well as ask for more democracy. This was a movement that did not set out to exclude anyone, except for the corrupt, and stood up against violence, racism and sexism. It was a transversal, grassroots movement that counted with the sympathy of more than 70% of the population in Spain. Podemos knew how to read this social indignation and take advantage of the rift opened up in the system dominated by traditional parties, turning the political chessboard upside down, making “those from the bottom” come face-to-face with an often-corrupt and unscrutinised “casta” (“those from above”).

Relying on a new, modern and distinctive proposal – one that speaks of the future, compared to those that represent the past – in only two years, Podemos has come to count on the support of 20% of the population. Counterbalancing this rapid development, Podemos is, at the same time, the party with the highest rate of disapproval among the rest of the electorate (52% according to the Social Research Centre, CIS). Podemos struggles the most with gaining the trust of the mothers and the elderly. In order to continue to grow, Podemos faces two key challenges:

The first is to find a way to seduce those who are still missing, without losing the ones that are already there. Podemos cannot give up on the confrontation with the elites, given that this is such a fundamental aspect of its identity. The forcefulness of its denunciations of the ills of corruption and austerity cannot be allowed, however, to convert into aggressiveness: forcefulness does not equate with violence (or aggressiveness). Fortunately for our democracy, Podemos represents the opposite of what Trump does. When faced with “machismo”, racism, xenophobia or any other type of social exclusion, its goal is to weave an alliance of forces “from below” which can act as a safety net to guarantee that no one gets left behind.

The second challenge is to better represent diversity. The leaders of Podemos accurately represent the youth of the Indignados, with their clearly articulated profile – young, male, educated, activist, abusing the bellicose language in his political discourse – a profile that can however work to alienate the new voters without whom the promised change will not be possible. Women such as Manuela Carmena, Monica Oltra, or Ada Colau do currently govern in the main institutions in Spain, and Podemos counts on the support of highly and widely regarded figures, such as Judge Yllanes or Julio Rodriguez, but these are not among its most mediatised top leadership. Only a more diverse, inter-generational, decentralized, transversal, and feminised Podemos – a Podemos that starts to look more like Spanish society itself – will be one capable of overcoming the fear and rejection necessary for it to succeed. The challenge is now for it to represent this majority.


“No one takes western democracies seriously any more”

By Kiko Garrido

“No one takes western democracies seriously any more” said Tariq Ali in an interview only a year ago. Today, with Trump in the White House, the question we must ask ourselves is whether our rulers take citizenship seriously. The political doctrine of “extreme centrism” has emerged as an instrument for large transnational corporations to make their business interests more profitable, and this reality has made parties to the right and left of this amalgam mushroom throughout Europe. Since 2011, the resistance against this extreme political doctrine of the centre in Spain took the form of 15-M and the social movements that emerged from the squares in defense of the public and of a “real democracy”. Podemos is the fruit of that indignation and has acquired many of the historical demands of these social movements.

Now, Unidos Podemos (“Together we can”) has a presence in the institutions and serves as an instrument to bring these demands to the parliaments and municipalities. This process, however, is not an end in itself; it cannot be, since this would entail the institutionalisation of the movements themselves. For social and political change to arrive, it is necessary that both social movements and Podemos are headed in the same direction whilst maintaining the necessary independence which gives legitimacy to both, understanding that they occupy different, but complementary, spaces.

Only from within the government will we be able to open institutions to citizen control as an antidote to corruption, and establish transversal mechanisms of participation to achieve an open and real democracy. We must form a social majority capable of challenging the old system and its elites, a social majority without labels, one capable of bringing together the struggles of all.

As a representative of Podemos in a small autonomous community, I see that rural areas will be key in the development of the party and necessary in order to win over institutions. We are confronted here with areas devastated by the “cacique” practices of trading favors, worrying about and doing what no one else does: ask what it is they want and what it is they need, putting this tool that is Podemos at their service.


Vistalegre II, or on the need for prudent boldness

By Marco Arafat Garrido 

We need to know where we come from in order to decide where we are going. Podemos has three main internal currents, that can be characterized according to their ideological (left-right) and class (down-up) positions. The “anti-capitalists” constitutes the most left leaning of these currents, positioning itself radically with the working classes. The more conservative of these currents, the “sector errejonista”, offers an open transversality to a plurality of ideological sensibilities. The “sector pablista” comes to play an integrating and intermediary role between the two, strategically oscillating, according to the context, from the conservative turn of the “electoral war machine” (adopted in Vistalegre I) to the turn to the left, following the 20 December 2015 general elections.

Only two of these currents, however, do currently have the strength to impose their thesis. Errejón’s “constructivist-transversal populism” emphasizes the institutional aspect through a rhetoric of normalisation of Podemos as the “party of change” within the political system. This position reveals an “idealist” conception of social conflict, interpellating citizens with a political communication and electoral strategy of building a common patriotic identity through discursive communication. Its more moderate and plural style attracts the middle classes, seduced by a notion of democratic change without any dramatic jumps.

Pablo’s “populism of the left” emphasizes the need to augment and support the electoral and institutional path with a struggle within civil society, through the use of anti-establishment rhetorics that comes to challenge the regime. This more political vision of social conflict seeks to build an alternative government with the more sustained support of social movements. Its more radical style connects better with the working and popular classes, the ones most punished by the crisis and with the greatest hopes for a more radical change of socio-economic model.

Seen in this way, the errejonista strategy of moderation presents some comparative disadvantages. Political fear is not a spontaneous perception emerging within the public, but the effect of hegemonic narratives, constructed by the conservative, regime media with the aim of disciplining Podemos. The red lines between the acceptable (normal) and the unacceptable (dangerous) are drawn by the media following the interests of elites, thus presenting as dangerous any project that questions the interests of those “at the top”.

Given that we cannot match the communicative resources and media channels that the regime has at its disposal, we must articulate the media-electoral strategy alongside a struggle within civil society in order to build strategic alliances with social movements. This would extend our social base while working on creating awareness. In this way we could reach social majorities and then let the activists be those who socially normalize the project of Podemos. Causing “fear” cannot be avoided by moderating one’s discourse, but by relying on the social movements capable of socially normalizing a new radically democratic politics.

It is crucial that we maintain an internal balance of forces with a progressive orientation while, at the same time, expanding our base of social support. An excessive radicalization at the outset could scare off the middle classes – historically known to be susceptible to great oscillation when it comes to the democratic processes defining their interest. Excessive moderation could make the working and popular classes – with a historic role in supporting democratic leadership – impatient, so much so that they could seek protection from other organizations that better channel their aspirations for socio-economic democratization.

Although no one is essential, there are some leaderships that are more expendable than others. Today, the least expendable of leaderships in Podemos is that of Pablo, as a political-ideological bridge between the errejonista and anti-capitalist sectors and as guarantor of diversity from within unity. This would create a cohesive Podemos that could aspire to build a popular unity capable of deepening democracy. It would create a strategic alliance for an integrative social majority, between the middle classes and the working classes in defense of their common interests against the elites: “those from the bottom” against “those from the top”. While moments of normality usually require prudence, exceptional moments require audacity. Let us be “prudently bold” because only united can we achieve change.


A Podemos in movement

By Eloy Medina Martín

In no way can we ever forget why we here and who should we be defending. This is why one of the tasks that Podemos has to keep present in mind is maintaining a constant struggle within the institutions as well as remember where we have come from: the squares and the streets.

In the political document of Podemos in Movement we want first of all to keep this struggle alive, with the help of a clear analysis of our challenges, how to approach them and what are the possible solutions specific to the different political spaces in which we exist. It is only in this way that the project can keep the power of articulation in the hands of the people, resisting the unnecessary focus on the visible faces. 

The current international and statewide political situation has been both the cause and effect of existing and growing political challenges. Like a dying chimera, capitalism and its elites have made it their mission to defend a system created and working for them, where the many work to support the lifestyle of a few. This is why they used all the means at their disposal to make the crisis (of 2008) an opportunity for selling even more lies to the people, abysmally increasing the gap between the social classes.

In Podemos in Movement we have it clear that we must act as counterpower and social opposition capable of assuming an alternative of government. A political vacuum has emerged in the place where the counterbalance to the establishment should be due to the compromise of the political alternatives presented by those who should have played this role and should have fought for the people. Instead they all ensured that they finally became part of the established power. However, this position does not apply to the base whose interests are often poorly reflected and only minimally represented by those in leadership. A new and genuine opposition, in need of creation, can only be nurtured through open popular units, based on a project of real change of the system, one capable of solving the multiplying problems of the citizenry. When relying on the force of its bases, Podemos is without a doubt a tool capable of doing this and much more.

In this way, we push for a Podemos that is autonomous from the regime and its institutions, a Podemos that is alternative, courageous, prepared to confront without fear both the bipartisan dynamics and the economic elites. This is a radically democratic, feminist and ecologist Podemos, one nurturing itself from the social movements, the tides that came out of 15-M (las Mareas), and other civil society organizations. This would help create an inclusive Podemos, one able to facilitate the formation of alliances in its different spaces of intervention, and to form a sufficiently broad social block. We want, as it were, a Podemos in Movement.

Get weekly updates on Europe A thoughtful weekly email of economic, political, social and cultural developments from the storm-tossed continent. Join the conversation: get our weekly email


We encourage anyone to comment, please consult the oD commenting guidelines if you have any questions.
Audio available Bookmark Check Language Close Comments Download Facebook Link Email Newsletter Newsletter Play Print Share Twitter Youtube Search Instagram WhatsApp yourData