General elections in the Spanish state in December brought increasing political instability, with the biggest gains made by the left.
Widespread corruption and vicious austerity have seriously undermined the political setup in place since the end of the Franco dictatorship in 1977.
The conservative People’s Party (PP) came first with 29 per cent of the vote, but lost nearly four million votes since the last election in 2011.
With 22 per cent, the Labor-type Socialist Party (PSOE) had its worst result since 1977.
The two parties’ combined vote fell to just 51 per cent, down from 73 per cent in the last elections in 2011 and 84 per cent in 2008. This meant the end of the two party system.
And new right wing populist party Citizens (Ciudadanos) did much worse than widely predicted.
The real victor is radical left party Podemos. After barely two years of existence it won 21 per cent and over five million votes—just 400,000 fewer than the PSOE.
Podemos and its allies won in Catalonia and the Basque Country. It came second to the PP in Madrid, Valencia, Galicia, the Balearic Islands and Navarra. Most importantly its vote was strongest in urban working class areas.
Podemos has undoubtedly moderated its politics over the last year. It has consciously adopted a “social democratic” programme and included in its lists high profile candidates such as the former Nato general Julio Rodriguez.
However, its spectacular eruption onto the election scene is still a victory for the left. In Catalonia, Valencia and Galicia, all areas where it did particularly well, it stood in coalitions with forces to its left.
The mood at Podemos’s massive electoral rallies showed that its supporters expect real change. The left must welcome its victory, but remain critical while looking for the broadest possible unity in struggle.
The proportional electoral system means smaller parties get parliamentary representation.
The PP now has 123 MPs, the PSOE 90, Podemos 69 and Ciudadanos 40. Parliamentary arithmetic makes any stable coalition government unlikely. Even if Ciudadanos joins the PP the right cannot get a majority. But neither is there a clear left majority.
Podemos has repeatedly ruled out joining a government headed by the PSOE, though it does not rule out some form of collaboration. This would be on the basis of an agreement on constitutional reform including a new electoral law and protection of social rights.
National movements, particularly in Catalonia, are another key divide.
In Catalonia there is now mass support for independence, but the PP government in Madrid blocked a referendum. Now Podemos’ defence of a referendum makes an agreement with the rabidly Spanish nationalist PSOE difficult. And while the main parties refuse to contemplate anything that could undermine the “unity of Spain”, Catalan nationalist MPs could be decisive in any agreement.
Even if some form of minority government can be patched together, the situation remains very open.
Podemos continues to capture much of the spirit of the Indignados movement and working class opposition to austerity.
The central question is whether this spirit of resistance can be deepened rather than subordinated to the machinations of institutional politics.
By Andy Durgan, member of En Lluita in Barcelona
Podemos’ left reformism means compromise with the political system
The earthquakes in Spanish politics are a product of resistance to the economic crisis. Unemployment is still around 21 per cent, and 47.5 per cent among young people. Podemos has captured much of the spirit of the Indignados movement of 2011, which saw occupations of city squares across the country.
But Podemos’ leadership sees elections as the sole way to bring change. It says that its aim is to win government and radically reform the Spanish political system. Like Syriza in Greece and new British Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn it is one of a series of new left reformist parties focused on parliamentary change.
But as the experience of the Syriza government in Greece has shown, this strategy creates immense pressure to capitulate to the existing capitalist institutions.
Podemos has watered down its program as its popularity has grown in an effort to chase electoral victory. It has dropped earlier promises of widespread nationalisation, retirement at 60 and a universal wage for all citizens. Like Syriza it also promises to renegotiate Spain’s debt with Europe’s financial institutions, but opposes breaking with the EU. Defying these institutions and the capitalist ruling class requires mobilising the power of the working class outside parliament.
By James Supple