Can Europe Make It?

Podemos in the debate of the ‘Left(s)’: elections and aspirations for change at the ‘End of History’

Podemos has not given up on being part of the left, it has simply renounced being part of this left that can be content with losing, time after time. Español.

Pedro A. Honrubia Hurtado
18 December 2015
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Thousands celebrate the second anniversary of the 15-M, Madrid, May 2013. Demotix/Betsabe Donoso. All rights reserved.Despite the fact that all of us militants in traditional left organisations did not like it, the truth is that when 15-M exploded in May 2011, public squares were full of people while revolutionary organisations remained empty of activists. Capitalism had done its job of ideological indoctrination, defending its interests; with social majorities perceiving the traditional left more as an enemy than as an ally.

Capitalism had done its job of ideological indoctrination, defending its interests; with social majorities perceiving the traditional left more as an enemy than as an ally.

The scenario has not changed much since then; revolutionary organisations remain empty and people look towards other options for change, from the left to right, options that do not walk along traditional ideological avenues.

In the context of a liberal-bourgeois regime that puts its rule to the test of democratic elections, a people can advance its own aspirations for social change to the extent that it wants and it is allowed to do this through elections, but no further. The limitations for creating a project for social majorities able to win elections from within the classical lines of the traditional left are by now obvious. We can be certain that this ideological defeat of the left is not the fault of Podemos.

In effect, since 1989 the left had tried to struggle without much success from within its classical conceptual schemas, against the denial of class struggle imposed by the new hegemonic neo-liberal ideology and against the majoritarian vision of an ‘end of history’, to recall Francis Fukuyama’s term, as par excellence the myth of capitalism.

It has attempted this time after time, in multiple forms, with similar results: increasingly empty political organisations with negligible real impact on society and no ability to influence political life. Simultaneously, the popular discomfort already manifest in the streets, produced as a direct and unavoidable consequence of the neoliberal dynamic, was slowly and gradually shifting towards ‘new’ political scenarios, looking for alternatives to the big utopias that had historically been associated with the traditional left. Political postmodernity at its purest.

The defeat of the traditional left is not the fault of Podemos; this has been the situation over recent decades and we continue to experience it today. It is the case, however, that Podemos is a direct outcome of this dynamic: a new political actor born in these circumstances, as a current actor ‘of the present moment’, and a descendendant of both the left’s own fraught history and its political evolution in our society. The defeat of the traditional left is not the fault of Podemos; this has been the situation over recent decades and we continue to experience it today.

As its own leaders have repeatedly stated, Podemos was not born to bear witness, but to win, and this entails being able to adapt to both the historical context and to the ‘common sense’ of the epoch from which the big social majorities draw their understanding of the world.

Changing the minds of majorities

To escape the situation of weakness in which we (the popular forces) find ourselves, from this unfair system that causes us so much harm, neither our good wishes nor our good intentions will be sufficient; instead, this will require our capacity to generate a consciousness for change in social majorities. And as history teaches us, this is something that comes with the evolution of the material and ideological struggles that we manage to effect, with its own victories and defeats, its own advances and roll-backs, its projects that are born and die.

To demand from Podemos to be able by itself to overcome the limitations that characterise our times – that the neoliberal hegemony has so ably been imposing as socially dominant throughout its communicative machine – is to demand the impossible; or rather, it would be asking Podemos to forget about winning elections in order to become a residual force.

We live in the world that we live in, we have the societies that we have; the constraints before us are manifold, before any prospect of reaching a winning scenario. Podemos has not given up on being part of the left, it has simply renounced being part of this left that can be content with losing, time after time. While this is not a guarantee for success, it is at least guarantee for a fight for victory with real hopes of winning.

Against immobility

Podemos managed to reanimate this hope of victory within the Spanish state, and this is already an important ideological victory. The simple fact of being able to think that it is possible to defeat the regime’s long-established parties in one election, from a leftist national, popular perspective, is a victory in itself, against the traditional immobility of Spanish politics.

It is also, we will have to admit, a victory against the immobilism of this left, defeated by history. While Podemos stands a chance, it is absolutely impossible for the traditional left to win, at least in the current circumstances. Let’s accept this fact. Let’s not transform the left into a blind faith, a religious sect that remains content with just being faithful to its own dogmas, time after time, despite its absolute incapacity for reaching its goals.

Let’s play with the rules imposed by our ‘adversary’ – we have no other option; let’s play on their boards, their tables and battlefields, but let’s not play a game we have lost before we even started; ‘Gramsci-Lenin-Gramsci’, as Garcia Linera would say.

Let’s assume that ‘common sense’ belongs to the ‘enemy’, and let’s struggle in order to transform it. Let’s assume that ‘common sense’ belongs to the ‘enemy’, and let’s struggle in order to transform it, or least to advance it in favour of our political interests as much as we can by transforming the ‘political-ideological’ battles into electoral power, in order to hit the ‘enemy’ hard, till we can defeat it by kicking it out of power at the ballot box. Only after this will we be able to  move from this scenario to construct a cultural hegemony that would permit us to revive precisely what such an enemy destroyed in the past: the traditional values of the left and its relevance for people’s lives, that is, the big utopias.

We need to develop the tactical capacity to analyse the present situation and plan our future movements with our eyes set not on the next move, but rather on the whole game, in order to detect the living contradictions in the opponent, in order to weaken and defeat it.

We must be able to strike hard when necessary but, above all, we must be able to devise a strategy capable of maximising our political gains, given the knowledge we have about the political strategies used by our political opponents and the ones they might use in the future. This is the model to be followed, the model used in Latin America, from the ‘Caracazo’ onwards: a sum of chess, boxing and games theory. The political dynamics specific to the Spanish state were not born with Podemos, neither will they end with the coming general election.

The long game

From our current position of weakness and lack of extensive social support, we will not be able to strike this criminal political system, unless we move our pieces on the board in a manner that positions them strategically, with future political and ideological battles in mind.

It is not worth developing good short-term movements if they prove of little use in hitting the enemy later, due to our lack of a long-term strategy. Whether we like it or not, the system plays the card of the ‘defeat of the left’, that is to say, the system lives in the awareness that most people locate anything related to the classical revolutionary left as beyond the confines of ‘democratic normalcy’.

In this knowledge, let’s give our riposte, and anticipate their next movement in order to decipher the plan for future moves, ahead of their implementation. Podemos discovered the formula for doing this, and it can serve as a great lesson for a whole set of the forces on the (Spanish and European) left, regardless of its most immediate electoral result. 

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