Can Europe Make It?

Glimpse of a key debate : deciding the future of Podemos, Day 2

Can the party be democratized at the upcoming party congress (Vistalegre II)? If so, how? Español

José Enrique Ema Emmanuel Rodríguez Mario Espinoza
8 February 2017

Podemos circulos.

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 revolutionary thing is winning normality

By José Enrique Ema

The 15-M movement has taught us that we begin to win not only when rage and uneasiness is growing within the margins (of the society), but also when the desire for change conquers the core of normality, within its centre. Hence, the key decision for Podemos is not to choose between the sharp radicalism of “the against” and the friendly transversality of the “in favour”, but that of re-establishing its strong point, that is, the gamble of uniting both lines and recognising and committing itself to the existing situation in order to create a place for viable and durable change.

Podemos cannot solely count on the people who already think that socialism is the same thing as social justice, but also on those who, without suspecting it, know how to recognize injustices in the day-to-day. It cannot simply rely on those who want for capitalism to end soon, but also on those who today find that the market’s greed cannot be what delivers. It cannot simply count on those who want more politics on the streets, but also those who expect to see in their elected representatives people whom they can trust. Equally, it cannot simply demand the support of those who consider that without feminism there is no worthwhile life, but also of those who while they do not recognize themselves as feminists, they do reject any discrimination based on gender or sexual orientation. Not only rely on the support of those who want to hear in Parliament the truths that have never been uttered there before, but also of those who want it to work to effectively improve the situation for the people “over here”.

We have not come this far by simply scaring the powerful and the elites, but also by mobilising the joy and hope of those who are neither. We have not reached this place by simply appealing to those who would recognize themselves as part of a political tradition of rupture, but by inviting anyone, coming from where they may, to share in a common project for a better society for all, one that leaves nobody behind, and one that places the defence of the rights of the most disadvantaged in the society as its common priority.

It is thus not a question of resembling the other parties, nor of what others will have already tried before, but of doing better, continuing to make a different politics possible. This would be a project that pays close attention to what the 15-M movement brought to everyone’s attention: the revolutionary thing is winning normality, not simply the margins of society.


Podemos and the municipalist agenda

By Mario Espinoza

To put it schematically, today the dividing line between those who advocate simple governance or management and those in favor of self-government seems clear enough. On the one hand, we have a new political elite – autonomized from its own social environments – that promotes an agenda of management, with a neutral conception of the institution, and proposes only low intensity, yet newsworthy, changes. This agenda is seasoned with typical euphemisms of “professional politics” (“political responsibility”), or even more so-called progressive slogans like “the government for all”. On the other hand, as if a complete counter-image of this first option, self-government pushes on and demands a deepening of local democracy, a project that requires assuming existing social conflicts and building a municipalist movement intended as pillars in the service of a real social transformation. Governing for everyone? No, this is much rather ruling on one side, on the side of the common, of social justice and a series of processes that began one May 15 (2011).

If the political directions of Podemos end up fully assimilated into the moderate inertia of the governance/management agenda at the municipal (local council) level, we will soon enough witness a process of even greater political bureaucratization and a democratic pseudo-regeneration that will prove completely ineffectual when it comes to opposing the neoliberal agenda. A more transformative political program would need to take charge of the more ambitious contents of the programs of a municipalist agenda and support the policies that emerge from local councils and their assemblies, which is to say, to achieve something that has never been put into practice in Podemos, aside from mere declarations: a program that begins to favor processes of decision-making from below and to operate as an instrument capable of expanding the political agency of municipalities and social movements, one breaking with the dirigiste logics.

Re-municipalizing privatized local services, citizens’ run debt audits, the creation of new social centers, and the construction of solid links with the social movements are all key aspects of a municipalist agenda that can help guide a project for social change. In the absence of a solid and organic counter-power operating at all levels, there will be no genuine change. In this sense, it is essential to abandon the policies of gestures and the sweetened messages of “kindness and seduction”. Our cities – hard working, mestizas, and increasingly deeply affected by many challenges – require policies capable of empowering the social majority, something that goes well beyond the political target Podemos set for itself in the last elections: the declining middle classes to which it alludes, day in day out, with the crushing slogan of “those who are still missing”. A social majority less in the form of a fictitious citizenry, imagined by some to be “transversal” as much as it is white, in favour of a real citizenry, of gender, class and color, which is a world away – a real world, the one we need to transform.


Can we democratise Podemos?

By Emmanuel Rodríguez

Once the “electoral” phase was exhausted, the revision of the organisational arrangement settled at the first party congress (the so-called Vistalegre I, 18 October 2014) was put on the table, and accepted as necessary even by those who were some of its strongest advocates. Fetishizing phrases that came to suggest this mood, like “popular movement”, “democratise Podemos”, “decentralization”, began to circulate freely within the party and can now be heard including from those who demonstrated the strongest adherence to the Jacobinist-Carrillist line of the early days. With similar good intentions, we have also seen attempts to resurrect old hypotheses, like that of the party-movement which has been the alternative option from before Vistalegre I. But the question remains: is there still an opportunity to generate a “non-party” party experiment? Are we still in time to turn back the political clock? 

The problem, after all, is an old one: it is the question of the party, the question of organization. The answer is, however, timebound: it can only begin to build from existing organizational practices. Perhaps it is no longer necessary to clarify one last point: the question of the organization cannot be resolved with theoretical proposals or with laboratory models. If what is wanted is something other than a party-state, dependent on public subsidies, public offices and the competitive struggle between conflicting bureaucracies, the only other remaining option to guide us rests with forms of self-organization that structure our day to day social fabric, and this is not necessarily within the framework of Podemos.

This is why, in order to try to answer the question of what Podemos can become, we should consider first what Podemos is today, in other words, to see what it is not and what it has never become. Starting from Vistalegre I, the main motivation for people and the main reason for internal conflict was the need to “be someone” within the party: a councillor, a secretary, or a public official. The modality of organization adopted was thus contrary to maintaining an internal democratic practice. The climate of internal violence, verticalising logics and the discursive changes of direction determined many people to leave the organization. For some time now, the anticipation that a new party congress (Vistalegre II) could offer the opportunity for revisiting the foundations of this organisation  has been circulating widely. Two quick points with respect to this possibility:

1. Reversing the process of Vistalegre I is no longer in the hands of Podemos. Simply the best part of what was once its “base” is no longer in the party and it looks like that, for the moment, they will not be coming back. Creating a new political culture based on cooperation, autonomy and distributed intelligence would mean creating a Podemos-movement, and not a Podemos-party, and that would require long years of sustained effort. This would only be feasible on the condition of liquidating all the bureaucratic structures of the party’s organization: secretaries, circles and secretariats. At the same time, we would have to incorporate everything that can produce a healthy political fabric, capable of cooperation and of avoiding the internal wars that almost always plague the top leadership. An organization can only start from the practices immanent within the social fabric, from the dynamics of self-organization, and this is what was efficiently destroyed at Vistalegre I. To attempt to regenerate these, or at least to make space for existing dynamics of self-organization within the institutional form of Podemos, is a challenge that can only be assumed in the medium term.

2. To democratize today the organization has, therefore, less to do with giving power to the circles, and with generating a network of internal participation, and has much more to do with pluralising and diversifying the leadership, opening it up to realities completely foreign to Podemos. This means eliminating the legacy of Vistalegre I, but in a more radical sense of the term: that is, it means getting rid of the very concept and reality of “political leadership” that is so persistently present within the purple party. There can be no useful organization if this is constantly affected by power struggles and a permanent game of position taking (of capital-power and capital-prestige). 

As far as the party councils are concerned, it would be a question of turning them into social roundtables, with representative participation from organisations with knowledge of some the most relevant social issues in each territory: social movements, trade unions, sectoral associations, etc. All this in the framework of political organs, which, precisely because they would lack any more power than that emanating from the authority of their recommendations and their level of social penetration, could not become a territory of dispute between diverging bureaucratic factions.

Needless to say, these proposals entail the complete dismissal of Podemos’ political class as a political class.

Article re-published and translated from:

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