Tick tock, tick tock,” chanted 100,000 in the streets of Madrid on Saturday, January 31, counting down the time left with the old established parties in power facing municipal, regional and national elections. Following the victory of Syriza in Greece, the activists for workers´ interests and against austerity all across Europe feel empowered. Podemos called for this demonstration to show the support for its call for fundamental change. We publish here an article on Podemos, first published in our paper, “Socialist Alternative.”
Podemos Is on the Rise to Challenge the Political “Caste”
Out of the economic and social crisis, a new star is born: Podemos (“We Can” in Spanish). Created in the aftermath of the ”Indignados” movement, the Spanish predecessor of the Occupy movement, the rise of this party reflects the huge anger built up in society over endless austerity and attacks.
Spain has been hit especially hard by the global recession, which has thrown the nation into disarray. Unemployment in Spain is at 25%; among young people, it is over 50% – despite a wave of emigration to other EU countries. As a result of the current capitalist crisis, the two-party system, the ceremonial monarchy presiding over the state, and even the borders and territorial makeup of the state have all been brought into question and discredited.
With a program to end austerity and implement improvements for working people and the poor, Podemos won eight percent (1.2 million votes) in the 2014 European Parliament elections – only four months after its launch. Since then, it has gone from strength to strength. In less than a year, it has come “from nowhere” to be the biggest party in opinion polls (around 30 percent).
Possible snap elections in Catalonia or the nationwide round of local elections in May will show its strength, while the general election looms in December 2015.
Taxing the Rich, 35-Hour Week
In its economic program, Podemos demands higher taxes on capital and top incomes, a minimum income guaranteed for those without work, a 35-hour workweek, and more spending on education and social services. Podemos wants to restructure Spain´s debt and renegotiate it.
After years of austerity since the recession – under both the government led by the liberal Partido Socialista Obrero Español (PSOE) and then the conservative Partido Popular (PP) – these demands have inspired millions.
This shows just how quickly a new political movement can grow to challenge the established two-party system when the circumstances allow and it has its finger on the pulse of events.
Challenges to Podemos
Podemos came from the failure of the traditional left organizations and the trade union movement to lead a struggle for a fundamental alternative to the imposed cutbacks and attacks on workers´ rights. These organizations confined themselves to symbolic mobilizations, even general strikes, without a sustained plan of mass action to win victories. Instead of launching a militant struggle to stop the vicious austerity of the right-wing PP government and implement pro-worker policies, they made deals with the capitalist parties, agreeing on a softer form of austerity where possible.
For example, the main left party, Izquierda Unida (United Left), despite a vicious internal battle, has entered regional coalition governments with the PSOE party, implementing its own version of austerity.
Podemos seems to offer a break with this failed way of doing politics. Based on the popularity of its main leader and well-known left media icon, Pablo Iglesias, it highlights the control of the “political caste” of corrupt politicians.
The idea of a Podemos government has energized much of Spanish society. However, as with Syriza in Greece, when an alternative left force approaches power, the establishment goes into overdrive to try and domesticate it. Unfortunately, the approach of the leaders of both Syriza and Podemos is to give in to this pressure and moderate their positions. They try to present themselves as responsible parties for capitalism.
Podemos leaders have quickly dropped many of their more radical demands, such as the nonpayment of Spain’s illegitimate national debt, which costs the Spanish people €100 million ($115 million) a day in interest payments alone.
Socialismo Revolucionario (CWI in Spain) insists on the need for a struggle against the domestication of Podemos and the other genuine left parties. It calls for a rank-and-file struggle from below to stop its shift to the right and the adoption of a genuine socialist program for the nonpayment of the debt and taking the banks and major companies into public democratic ownership to launch a real recovery for the workers and youth. This would have to be part of an international offensive against the Troika and vulture bondholders and of a struggle for a socialist Europe.