Reflections on Podemos and Izquiera Unida in Spain

Photo by Daniel López García: preparation for a trip to Spain, I decided to read up on the left there.

I was most anxious to check out Podemos, since both they and Syriza, have made big splashes on the world scene and would seem to have lessons for us here in the U.S.  One of the most informative articles was on the Verso blog site, “An Izquierda Unida MP: ‘Podemos have literally copied us” by Mike Watson.

It appears that the Spanish Left is as sectarian and divided as the left here and in other countries. The main national players are Podemos and Izquierda Unida (Left Unity) which is a green-Marxist  alliance anchored by the Communist Party of Spain and predates Podemos by decades,  Some analysts also include the PSOE (Socialist Party) as part of the left, but I see them as akin to the Labor party in Britain, PASOK in Greece, and the Democratic Party here in the States.  Not really leftist at all. Left disunity in Spain is amplified by the fact that like many modern European nation-states, Spain is the product of many centuries of monarchical intermarriage, through which various oppressed nationalities and ethnicities were welded into a large nation, today’s Spain.  These forces still seek autonomy and self- determination and have parties pushing for that. If successful, today’s Spain would be a whole bunch of much smaller countries.

There are a lot of things to like about Podemos, but I have been hesitant to go all out in supporting them for several reasons:

1. Podemos has its origins in the militant indignados social movements that took the streets in many Spanish cities in the wake of the 2008 crisis.

The indignados movement also influenced Syriza in Greece and Occupy in the US. But Podemos, unlike Syriza (and more like Occupy), seems very vague at times in terms of its actual political program and inconsistent in its response to the neoliberal austerity driven down the people’s throats by both the Partido Popular (right wing party close to the Catholic church)and the PSOE.

2. It’s one thing to be critical of the traditional Left parties like those that make up Izquierda Unida, which has  had its share of mis-steps (including caving in to the PSOE at critical times and charges of corruption against individual elected officials). But it’s another thing to openly disdain them and politically posture that you’re not like them and that you are neither Left nor Right.  This last claim especially, in my opinion, is either just self-absorbed, self-righteousness, and/or a ploy to win more votes in this year’s local and parliamentary elections.

3. While Podemos has taken a stand in support the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela against pro-imperialist motions and measures being advanced against that country within the European Parliament, their continued support for the freedom of coup-plotting “political prisoners” in Venezuela is troubling.

Does Podemos they really believe in what they are saying and doing?  Is it possible that they so determined to prove to the Spanish bourgeois media, ruling classes and voting public that they are not Chávistas, that they are willing to sacrifice the principal of anti-imperialist international solidarity in exchange for favorable publicity and a few more votes?

There are no easy answers to this situation and to these contradictions among the Left in Spain. Certainly Izquierda Unida, the 30 year old coalition led by the Spanish CP, has been discredited among much of the Spanish public due to a combination of willingness to horse trade/wheel & deal with the sellout PSOE, internal bickering and fractiousness, and some of its own elected officials being caught up in recent corruption scandals. Ideally, saner heads would prevail and there would be a meeting of the minds among the leaders and base activists of both Podemos and Izquierda Unida.

For its part Izquierda Unida has been changing in recent years. Is this only the result of Podemos’ popularity? Izquierda Unida has adopted the “refoundation” slogan extensively in recent years, but in practice it seems to be more about uniting the existing Party Lefts in Spain, with some attempts to coordinate with the social movement Lefts. Firm coordination among those forces under the Izquierda Unida umbrella is not going to happen any time soon. Nor does a working/alliance between Podemos and Izquierda Unida seem to be on the near horizon. The Spanish left does not seem to be any more successful than we in cohering the left.

Why should we care? Because despite the many differences between the objective conditions in Spain and those in the US, there are many commonalities, including and especially with regard to the past, present and future of the Left. As much as possible, we should try to follow these developments as they may hold some lessons for our own attempts to build both socialist organization and the broader Left here.

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