Pablo Iglesias Backs Jeremy Corbyn, but Podemos is less and less a model for the Left.
On Downward Slide in Opinion Polls.
Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias held a press conference on Monday to mark the end of the summer holidays, as Podemos supporters launched a campaign to make #PabloIglesiasToMoncloa the top trending topic on Spanish Twitter, in reference to Moncloa Palace, the Spanish Prime Minister’s official residence.
“We are out to win the election”, he said.
A poll published earlier on Monday showed Podemos in line for 11.94% of the vote or 30-34 seats in the 350-seat Congress, in third place behind the Popular Party (PP) and the Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE).
Mr. Iglesias rejected the idea of a coalition deal between the Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE) and Podemos after the general election as “absolutely unlikely”, although he did not rule out “decentralised dialogue processes” with new alternative left platforms such as Ahora en Común.
He added that Podemos now believed the general election in Spain would take place “in December”.
Regarding the early regional elections in Catalonia, which will take place on September 27, he said he believed the Podemos option there, “Catalonia Yes We Can” (Catalunya Si Que Es Pot) was the “only option” that had a chance of beating the First Minister’s joint pro-secession electoral list: “Our main aim is to beat Artur Mas”.
He also said the rise of Jeremy Corbyn was “very important” in the race to lead the Labour Party in the United Kingdom, helping it to remember its roots.
“What is happening in the United Kingdom, I insist, is very important. A different Labour Party, that gets its party origins back as a representative of the popular classes is, I believe, very important”, suggesting Angela Merkel now represented “the past” and that alternative left parties were the future.
One of Mr. Iglesias’s European parliamentary assistants later tweeted that Podemos supports Jeremy Corbyn “because we understand he is an ally in changing the constitutional architecture of Europe”.
While Iglisias’ backing for Corbyn is generous, we sincerely hope that people on the British left would stop comparing themselves with Podemos.
The leadership of Iglesias has been most recently in trouble over his attitude to the rest of the Spanish left (indeed over whether the party should be ‘left’ at all) followed by disputes over Podemos’ stand on Catalan independence.
Their downward spiral was described yesterday in El Mundo by Casimiro García-Abadillo ¿Por qué se desinfla Podemos?
Naturally we would not credit this daily, or its journalists, with any sympathy for the Spanish left, but some points made are important.
García-Abadillo begins by noting a higher figure for Podemos than Spain Report, 15,7%. But the most significant aspect is the drop from 23,9% in January (and, we could add, around 30% at points last year).
He argues that Podemos is in trouble because (in our, not the article’s order):
- The shift to pragmatism (the “leftist populism,” Iglesias represents), conducted with the aim of disputing the hegemony of the PSOE left, disappointed some of its electorate, linked to 15-M (that is, the original Indignados). These has created internal strife, led by figures such Teresa Rodríguez and Pablo Echenique. This ideological tension thas demobilised many of his followers, as highlighted by the low turnout in the primaries (something we have noted on this Blog).
- The ideological uncertainty extends to issues such as the independence of Catalonia. This generated confusion among potential voters. Essentially, Podemos has failed to stand for a genuine leftist movement that has nothing to do with nationalism. The compromise position adopted on secession has created tensions within the party in Catalonia and has likely discouraged many citizens from other regions who reject granting privileges to the richest part of the country (Catalonia) for sealing off its privileges in autonomy, if not independence.
- The experience of coalition government in municipalities and communities following the elections of 24th of May has been somewhat disappointing. The case of Madrid is well known and covered on this Blog.
- The debate on electoral alliances. El Mundo blames the “opportunism” Podemos has shown. We by contrast would blame the “new age sectarianism” of the “post-left” that thinks it can dismiss the Marxist forces of the Izquirada Unida and the Greens of Equo.
- The effect of the failure of Syriza in Greece, or more simply its defeat faced with the power of Finance – which are too obvious to dwell on.
Podemos had a strategy which many people on the left across the world admired.
The “Spanish regime is facing a crisis of legitimacy and there exists an opportunity for the emergence of a party with progressive politics and popular appeal that can challenge the political establishment and reassert the collective power of the people against corporate capital.”
To mobilise this strength Podemos claimed that it needed an approach that was “beyond” the left/right division.
That is, according to Eduardo Madura,
The traditional ideology and language of the left is unfit for purpose in that it does not adequately correspond to people’s everyday experiences. ‘For the majority of people the language of the left does not signify what it does for those within the movement,’ he says. ‘People’s traditions and experiences are so different.’
Words that apparently move “beyond right and left” and connect with real experience focus on the key element in Podemos’s public discourse: mobilisation against the ‘casta’ – the political ‘caste’ or elite.
In On Populist Reason (Verso, 2005) Ernesto Laclau described the shifting way the “popular” is constructed. A populist party is, he argued, built around “empty signifiers” – that is symbolic points around which the conflict between the “people” and the “elite” is created.
Podemos is so famous for having woven its discourse around opposition to the “casta (caste)” -the political ruling class – that the, having fixed it, quilted it, wrapped itself around with it, it would, at some point, fray.
It was perhaps predictable that once it became identified – symbolically and in reality – with those who rule, that is take office – it would face problems.
These are exacerbated by the creation of a Podemos of the right, Cuidamos,
Ciudadanos deprives Podemos of its novelty effect and, above all, its appearance as the only contender to the throne that bipartisanship has already semi-abandoned, around which a heterogeneous social majority could be built, attracted to Podemos by the real possibility that it was the vehicle for political change. It is a vicious circle, because as a victory for Podemos seems less possible, the less support it will receive. And, on the contrary, the more credible the victory of an alternative, the more instrumental support it will receive. Although both parties are vying for only a layer of votes and their major potential voters come from counter-posed sites, Ciudadanos blocks the growth of Podemos in the less politicized and more conservative sectors and fires a torpedo at the waterline of its project of a transversal party which aspires to quickly accumulate a social majority that goes beyond the traditional confines of the “people of the left”.
Podemos has also moved rightwards, dropping, notably, plans for a universal ‘Citizen’s income and tempering its anti-austerity plans with a degree of realism – such as proposing that debtors and creditors negotiate mortgage payments, instead of advocating the suspension of all such foreclosures as it did previously.
These difficulties have been worsened by the existence of another ‘populist’ element, a charismatic leader who holds the party together and takes the decisions.
How Iglesias has been insulated from political difficulties – opposition – is indicated by Podemos’s adoption of an inner party structure that gives “winner takes all” power to the leadership. That is despite claims that it is “horizontal” and based on intimate “circles real decision-making is made by one circle; the Leader’s.
His dislike of the ‘old’ left is unfortunate in that every political ideology becomes – pretty rapidly with today’s communication systems – ‘old’, old enough to remind people of earlier attempts to move “beyond” left and right, with their mixed results.
There are few signs that Iglesias or his Courtiers has found a way out of the problems posed by ‘populism’ – a shifting social base, a drift with the tide of opinion, and the ‘charismatic’ tendency to ignore the advice of others.
Subscribe to comments with RSS.