Can Europe Make It?

Podemos: the machine is still under construction

The new institutions don't need to integrate the constituent demands to their representation, but to be in themselves constituent – constitute through their actions and organizational structures the autogovernance of the many.

Lotta Tenhunen Adrià Rodriguez
6 June 2014

As an analysis of the very recently by-gone European elections, and as a closure of this series of texts, we would like to provide some notes on the unquestionable success of Podemos in Spain. This electoral formation – let's not call it a party, in the traditional sense, prematurely – gained five seats in the European Parliament after a seemingly short period of four months of electoral work. As participants of social movements looking to produce a radically democratic regeneration or a constituent process, if you will, the situation urges us to ask ourselves one fundamental thing.

How does one create another formula of politics than that of representative parties? 

In the battlefield of Spanish representative politics, Podemos has, in its first test of strength, already accomplished something great. It has contributed to breaking down the Spanish two-party-system rooted to the political culture of the transition from the Franco dictatorship. In the European elections of 2009 the bipartidism of Partido Popular and centre-left PSOE obtained 82% of the votes. This time they reached only to 49%.


Podemos has already shown itself capable of fulfilling one of the desires expressed within 15M - the end of the two-party-system -formulated as a chant: "¡PSOE y PP, la misma mierda es!", ("PSOE and PP are the same shit!"). It has been able to channel the indignation into votes capable of breaking this double act down for a mix of reasons, some more dubious than others.

Four months ago Podemos started to exist by launching a call to create "Circles", self-organized groups, in all cities and towns of Spain. These Circles were a promise of the continuity of horizontal self-organization and action on the grass-roots level, and we think it is a great mistake to underestimate the effect the Circles have as a form of asambleary (I.e. consensual methods of decision-making), horizontal, 15M-ish way of participation. On the subjective level the Circles are the key to Podemos' success.

The widespread, multiple participant base of the Circles is a mix of participation from leftist groups such as Izuierda Anticapitalista, and a heterogenous composition befitting a 99% type of class. The leftist approach and discourse of the visible heads of Podemos might well be a glass ceiling in achieving big majorities and changing the composition of the parliament. Podemos needs to disseminate its discourse, but not at the cost of more populism. It needs to, as well, diversify it by reducing the already looming personality cult around it's first MEP, Pablo Iglesias.

Not everyone who voted for Podemos participated in the Circles. A great deal depended on the TV, and the many minutes Podemos' newly-made MEP Pablo Iglesias has shown his face in various programmes, some of which are run by himself, others belonging to the traditional media. A strong mediatic plan and wise use of the possibilities offered to try to affect even hostile mass media companies such as La Sexta Noche are undoubtedly tools that can and should be found in the tool kit of any movement aiming for a constituent process with strategies of "mainstreaming" political contents elaborated in social movements and, obviously, keeping these same movements open for participation.

The TV dimension of Podemos is almost fully monopolized by Iglesias, which brings up another important issue: that of charismatic populism. Let's just say it is well worth comparing the use Iglesias has made of the possibilities of appearance in the TV with the one the spokesperson of La PAH Ada Colau has made of them. Where the latter has been always prudent enough with the logic of TV and leadership to advertise that she is just transmitting a message many share and desire to see realized, the former has done the opposite.

Charismatic leadership is probably the worst element that Podemos brings from the South American revolutions. That mixed with the implementation of what in South America is subversive nationalism turns into the very populist leftist patriotism brought to Spain, a country that, for those who need a reminder, colonized instead of being colonized.

As a friend said when the first rumours of coalition negotiations between Podemos and Izquierda Unida came through: a democratic front cannot be n parties agreeing upon presenting themselves together for the elections. If Podemos is to be a device in the constituent process announced by 15M, it needs two things. Firstly it needs an organizational structure that guarantees that the top management of Podemos – Iglesias, Monedero, Errejón, Bescansa – is in the service of the Circles, and not the other way around. Secondly, it needs political content beyond voting to be able to build a strategy that goes beyond the whims and personal aspirations of the top four. We reckon humbly that social syndicalism could be one possibility for the delivery system for such content.

What is at stake with Podemos is whether it will close down into the traditional party form, or if it can become a device for real democracy in the long electoral cycle that the Europeans opened in Spain, with two hot points in 2015: the municipal elections of the spring and the general legislative elections of the autumn. Given the high goal of "system change" that 15M set three years ago having put aside its insurrectionist dreams, hacking the electoral spaces – until the code can be changed – is what there is to work with. 

The question is how to translate the power and organization of the constituent movements into a new constitutional structure, one that remains open to change and capable of supporting the agenda of the struggles of citizens towards a more democratic governance – towards selfgovernance. All possible doubts revised and counted, Podemos is in the place from where this could be done. 

So let us work with what we have got. But it is not a game for a famous four, nor a game for a charismatic presidency a l'a Morales. The new institutions don't need to integrate the constituent demands to their representation, but to be in themselves constituent – constitute through their actions and organizational structures the autogovernance of the many.

We speak in the plural, because Podemos cannot be one. We need to see other radically democratic initiatives like Partido X recognising the constituent process that could be opened up with and through Podemos, each of these initiatives according to its particular competency: in the case of Partido X the role of an 'operating system' of the multiple particles wouldn't be bad at all. To this end, Podemos needs an organizational structure that permits heterogeneity and collaboration between different individuals, groups and institutions of the common and puts this collaboration and its results before the decisions of a few wise men.

As a destituent, as well as a constituent war machine, Podemos is still under construction.

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