Can Europe Make It?

Glimpse of a key debate : deciding the future of Podemos, Day 1

On what basis should Podemos approach the new post-electoral, political cycle? Podemos’ relation to the ’78 regime. Español

Germán Cano Isabel Serra Pedro A. Honrubia Hurtado
7 February 2017

Political posters from the 1970s in an exhibition celebrating 20 years of the Spanish Constitution of 1978. Wikicommons. 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.

Podemos’ challenges

By Germán Cano

1. In an international context of aggressive neoliberal counter-attack and the corrective context of the ‘78 regime, with its weakened return to a seeming normality (an impression created by the humiliating abdication of PSOE in favour of it maintaining an order that can no longer seduce or mobilise with a vision of the future), the Podemos that comes out of Vistalegre II must be able to lead a new historical bloc and assume a culturally leading role.

2. Given this challenge, presenting the debate as a contrast between a pusillanimous kindness, reconciled with the injustices of the present, on the one hand, and an authentic hardness, on the other, seems to me to be a step backward. First of all, because such a vision seems to misunderstand the emergence of Podemos and present it exclusively in terms of a solution emerging exceptionally in response to crisis and one that can solely bring about change through a political discourse that addresses its unquestionable social ailments. From this perspective, not only would we abandon the terrain of indignant normality – a victim of increasing social inequalities and a key space for critical values ​​and decisive forces for change – and thus give priority only to the most mobilized and militant sectors in our society, but we would be taking on even greater risks. If we proceeded in this way, we would also run the risk that the excellent ideological work that we have developed since our beginnings, oriented towards politicising the crisis and giving a critical account of it, gives way to a political practice exclusively focused on a pedagogy of conflict and to a party closed in on itself.

3. Leaving behind the form of the electoral war machine built in Vistalegre I, or moving from a stage of “siege” to one of “fencing up” and “shoring up”, requires not as much self-affirmation as flexibility and permeability, that is, it requires us to be able to lead all the forces for change and find a way to open up to wider social realities, much beyond direct conflict and the search for limit social conditions. This is what is required if we are looking to build a new “historical block”. One can only claim such a leadership position by providing answers to the problems that cannot be solved by other political formations, given their inherent contradictions, and by extending the social base through a discourse with which all the forces for change can identify themselves and with which to try to extend the antagonisms currently existing in civil society. The disaggregation of the previous historical block should not be confronted with the type of return to a politics of authentication or identitarian segregation that is so common to the Left.

4. It would be a great mistake if the debates within Podemos limited themselves to aiming to provide a pale rerun of the historical debates internal to the Spanish Left.

5. Podemos requires a less vertical, more decentralized, and more feminized structure in all its spheres of action.

This means going beyond the militant logic of “cadres” and a model of electoral battle which raises the risk of bureaucratization and politicism, leading to the technical hypertrophy of the work of political intermediation. This is a party sensitive to the transformations of the social composition of labour and its segmentation, one that can see with the eyes of those who are on one side of the growing inequality, and one that can move with the muscle of a robust but flexible organization. It is one that can hear with its ears a social reality in motion, which cannot be confused with the set snapshot of a given correlations of forces, and has the lungs to breathe democratically with an effective committee of guarantors not working at the service of any fraction. This requires a democratic organization internally that, in short, can critically and patiently work on the slow acquisition of influence and prestige within the media and civil society and permeate everyday political practices against the arrogant culture which nowadays seems, unfortunately, to be imposing itself globally and geopolitically.


To oppose the regime or to simply oppose the Partido Popular?

By Pedro A. Honrubia Hurtado

There are two ideological and strategic elements in Podemos that are shared by the totality of those who belong to the party: that we are the only viable alternative of government to the two traditional parties (the parties of bipartisanship), and that, due to its ideological nature, Partido Popular (PP) is our main political adversary. Once this is established, these two elements can find expression in the day-to-day running of the party in two possible ways: one comes under the “populist” formula of “us against them” (people vs. the elite or “la casta”), and the other under the formula of an institutional opposition, “All against the PP”.

In the first variant, we assume our role of alternative not only against the government, but against a whole political model identified with the regime of ’78 and its “associated” parties. In the second variant, we assume our role as government opposition to a single and central enemy represented by the PP and its current administration. One of these strategies, therefore, moves squarely on the “top-down” axis that helped Podemos develop and grow, while the other oscillates between the “change-continuity” and the “left-right” axes (thus forcing one to accept PSOE as a necessary “ally”).

The first strategy would be faithful to what Podemos has been about since its inception, and what aroused the illusion for genuine change among its millions of supporters, that is, that Podemos came not only to remove the PP from the government but, moreover, to propose a wide-scale transformation allowing us to think of the possibility of a radical change of the political and institutional system in Spain. This is a strategy within which both PSOE (after its abstention to facilitate the formation of the current PP government), as well as PP and Ciudadanos (Cs), can be seen as part of the same “restoration block” that needs to be confronted. The second strategy, focused mainly on highlighting our capacity to exert influence in institutional spaces and provide permanent opposition to the PP from within the Parliament, can serve instead as a measure to “clean up the face” of PSOE and Cs and to de facto “dis-connect” them from the co-responsibility they share with the current PP administration (allowing PSOE and Ciudadanos to hope to profit from the wear and tear of this government in the future, while having this be seen as the result of their work). On the other hand, this strategy can also serve to help build the “victimizing” image of PP as the enemy of all (the other parties). But, above all, it can serve to break the clear dynamic of blocks “them” vs. “us”, “those from the bottom” vs. “those on the top”, that are so necessary in order to build in the collective imagination and our daily political practice an alternative, not only to the existing government, but also an alternative to the outdated regime of ‘78. Doing away with this necessary dynamic of blocks would be to enact the opposite of what Podemos came here to do.

When invoking the false dilemma – the “street” or the “institutions” – a dilemma which no one really contemplates in Podemos, what they refer to in reality is a choice between these two previously described strategies. Now it is time to decide which to adopt. I support the first one as this would have us be the opposition to the regime of ’78 in its entirety, and not a mere institutional opposition to the PP in its struggle with PSOE, and would entail exposing those who for such a long time now have ruled for the privileged few and abandoned the people in every possible way; it would mean restoring “the dignity of ordinary people”. This strategy would have us build transversality from our “opposition to the regime (of ’78)”, and not simply from a mere “opposition to the PP”.


A hypothesis for a new cycle

By Isabel Serra

Despite the uncertainty of the current moment, we have some elements that allow us to raise our strategic hypothesis for the political cycle that opens up. What seems clear is that what is at play in the coming months and years is the question of the autonomy of Podemos.  

The objective of the economic elites and their political, social, and media institutions, has been a double and apparently contradictory one, which, one the one hand, attempts to assimilate, co-opt and convert us into a “party like all the others” while, on the other, presents us as a radical force linked to violent and outdated experiences of the past, that only serve to produce fear in the electorate. But most of all they have attempted to paint us as a party that does not respond to the necessities of the moment.

The current situation, following the internal coup within PSOE, and its subsequent abstention to the PP formed government, closes the blockade created by the political regime of ‘78. This moment of post-electoral impasse, which has implied a certain social demobilization, gives the false impression that we are “stuck”, when we come to think of the high capacity for dynamism and mobilisation of the previous stages.

In spite of this apparent calm, the population’s material conditions have neither improved nor recovered, with the fundamental reality being that wages continue to lose their purchasing power and that the threat of more EU-imposed austerity and fiscal control policies looms large. The task is that of articulating the alternative within the institutions, but from a position of autonomy with respect to the regime of ‘78, something entirely precluded in the scenario of a “great coalition”, and to continue to build a tool that, once the electoral cycle is over, can be a useful instrument for a social majority. The strategic debate is, therefore, about how to guarantee the autonomy of the project and its usefulness as a movement while, at the same time, making it into a tool with the ability to challenge the government and garner the support of a majority.

One of the elements that we took from 15-M, and that today we continue to represent, is the ability to avoid that this (’78) regime is the one to label or constrain us; rather, it is us who are able to build our project and our future. Now it is time to resume this dynamic phase of 15-M, the one that managed to transform diffuse desires into political proposals, acceptable to the common sense of the majority, it is time for the popular classes to be the ones that reflect what are the alternatives that we need to build.

The possibility of going forward depends on understanding that Podemos cannot offer an isolated response, but it needs, instead, to look to articulate it within a social and political alternative alongside other social forces, all over the state, and be able to generate a dynamic cycle of social demands and mobilisations. This step will undoubtedly go through the institutions – these institutions that are known to be not neutral — where the goal should be that of changing these and using them as platforms from where to build our positions in such a way as to allow us to give voice to those who do not have it and continue to promote the self-organisation of social majorities necessary for the opening of such a new dynamic cycle.

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