Can Europe Make It?

On the decaffeination of Podemos as an anti-Establishment force

There is no way of concealing the increasingly open contradiction that exists between Podemos’s ‘upper echelons’ with their statist policies, and the citizens that propel the party from below. Español.

Sonia Martínez Emmanuel Rodríguez
18 December 2015
Martinez and Rodriguez article_ Shutterstock_84493189.jpeg

Photo used with permission of author.Europe’s crisis is only getting deeper. The middle class as we know it is rapidly vanishing due to the imperious force of neoliberalism and the social polarization that comes along with it. Change is in the air, but the scale is not necessarily tilted towards the positive side of democratic freedoms. New forms of authoritarianism are gliding over the continent. And it is not about, or not just about, the advance of far right parties and the national populism that vents its rage at migrants.

The 13 November attacks in Paris, and all their subsequent effects, have opened the spigot of a form of governance that puts the logic of security and the ‘fight against terror’ directly at its core. From the worst economic depression since the postwar period, pointing an accusing finger at Europe’s financial capital, we have now moved on to the rituals of state reinforcement and warmongering as a way to regulate social issues.

Faced with this so-called ‘outside threat’ (even though it lives in every major metropolis, driven by social abandonment and the rejection of transnational migrants), the ‘centre’ is no longer an articulated realm. Dominant discourses have become increasingly belligerent on both sides of the imaginary wall that separates the defence of human rights from the implementation of the ‘shock doctrine’, pure and simple. Today’s unpopular reforms will not merely involve ‘social pillaging’ but also conveniently administered fear.

What forces can still put up resistance to this new form of combined neoliberalism and authoritarianism? We must indeed look to the south of Europe, the northern vanguard of the neoliberal plundering of the South. Since the movement that occupied public squares in 2011, this is where destabilizations, electoral experiments, and new political parties capable of taking over institutional power have been building up. Podemos belongs to this ecosystem and, after Syriza, is probably the most important of them all.

There is no way of concealing the increasingly open contradiction that exists between Podemos’s ‘upper echelons’ and their state policies (always too statist), and the tide of citizens that still propel the party from below. Podemos’s shift to the centre has recently been rounded off with its celebration of anything that smells like high politics: the attempt to appear like ‘statesmen’, the lukewarm criticism of the authoritarian turn Europe has imposed in the wake of 13 November, giving up on the idea of initiating a constituent process in Spain, referring to the Transición (the political transition after Franco’s dictatorship) as ‘state agreements’ rather than as a mere transaction. This shift has blurred and absorbed Podemos as a possible alternative. It is hardly surprising that, for many, the December 20 elections pose the dilemma of whether to cast a ballot for the lesser of four evils or simply not turn up at the polling station.

Nonetheless, it has to be said that the absence of Podemos is more frightening than its presence, which, although growingly passive and opportunistic, is still indebted to all that which impelled it. Since other left-wing parties have been wiped out (due to their own inadequacies), the political prospects for this Christmas season seem inevitably polarized between the Troika and the new neoliberal-authoritarian governance (represented, in different versions, by PP, Ciudadanos and PSOE), and Podemos’s promised ‘storming of the heavens’ now reduced to no more than a hurdle jump.

It looks like the attempt should still be made. One can’t lose the game before one plays it. The impulse of a long wave of protest movements needs to find its nexus in the institutions in order to make up for lost time and push towards building real anti-establishment forces. Despite the bad decisions, the blindness and the arrogant pose that have dominated the Podemos’s media commando for the past few months, we cannot forget that Podemos also carries--albeit stunted, and distorted--its original 15-M spirit.

Once the elections have passed, it will probably be hard to reset and return to the starting point of this political cycle that began with so much hope, freshness and determination. What seems clear is that, faced with the elections, we find ourselves in one of Cortázar’s typical aporias, such as that of Johnny, the leading character of The Persecutor: ‘How can one think a quarter of an hour in a minute and a half?’

However, after December 20, the only question will be: And now what?

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