Podemos in Crisis.
Left Socialist Blog
Iglesias lo ha ganado todo: la secretaría general, la dirección y los cuatro documentos que se votaban: político, organizativo, ético y de igualdad. Como secretario general, ha sido refrendado por el 89% de los votos (128.700 sufragios) frente a los 15.700 del diputado autonómico andaluz Juan Moreno Yagüe (10,9%)
Iglesias has won everything…General secretary, the party leadership, and the vote on 4 party documents: on policies organisation, ethics and equality. As General Secreary he has been elected with 89% of the vote (128,700) faced with the 15,700 of his opponents, the Andalusian regional deputy, Jaun Moreno Yagüe who got 10,9%.
Pleading for “unity”, thousands of Podemos supporters gathered Saturday at a decisive two-day meeting in Madrid that could unseat the charismatic leader of one of Europe’s leading far-left parties.
Born in 2014 out of the Indignados anti-austerity protest movement that swept Spain during a severe economic crisis, the party has found itself riven by in-fighting after a meteoric rise to national-level politics.
But on Saturday, party leaders attempted to put these bitter divisions behind them as they took to the stage in a congress centre bathed in purple flags and banners, the colour of Podemos, in an electric atmosphere.
“We have committed many mistakes,” Pablo Iglesias, the party’s charismatic leader and co-founder, said while standing on stage behind huge block letters spelling out “Podemos”.
To wild applause, the 38-year-old added the weekend’s congress should be “an example of fraternity, unity and intelligence”.
Deutsche Welle reported,
The core internal party dispute is whether to stick to a hard-line leftist position, as advocated by Iglesias, or take a more moderate stance and move the party in the direction of the leftist political mainstream, a policy pushed by Errejon.
Iglesias wants to maintain Podemos’ anti-establishment roots and take to the streets again to challenge traditional parties.
Errejon seeks to find a middle ground with the Socialists (PSOE), the second-largest party, in order to influence policy from within the system and broaden Podemos’ appeal to moderate leftist voters.
A three-way coalition of Podemos, PSOE and the liberal Ciudadanos that could have challenged Mariano Rajoy’s ruling conservative People’s Party failed to materialize last year after two inconclusive elections.
A different perspective, which comes directly from a Tendency within Podemos, the Anticapitalistas (connected to the Fourth International), sees three currents within Podemos.
Iglesias, Errejón, and the Road Not Taken. Josep María Antentas. (International Viewpoint 2017).
“The three factions within Podemos are represented by Pablo Iglesias, Íñigo Errejón, and the Anticapitalistas.”
These three currents all have radically different political projects. We can define Iglesias’s as pragmatic-instrumental populism mixed with impatient Eurocommunism, which differs in form from the original iteration by embracing the prospect of electoral victory. His combination of rebellious rhetoric with a moderate governmental horizon takes the Italian Communist Party’s Berlinguer era “historic compromise” with the Christian Democrats as its primary model — the policy of the historical compromise. Indeed, Iglesias uncritically embraces this legacy, failing to critically assess Syriza’s experience in this context.
We might summarize Iglesias’s proposal as belligerence in opposition, raison d’etat in government. In this sense, he maintains his orientation toward moderation but has realized that Podemos’s strength lies in its appearance as an anti-establishment force. As such, if the party were tamed, it would lose its social base, which Iglesias mainly anchors in the working and popular classes.
Iglesias’s proposal prioritizes electoral and institutional activity. In contrast to his position at Vistalegre, however, social struggle now at least plays a role in the strategy. His fiery discourse and praise for social struggle have created a better environment for radical and movement-oriented ideas within the party. Suddenly, those who had called for something other than the triad of “communication–campaigns–institutions” recognize that the general secretary had been partially converted. No doubt, this is a valuable change of atmosphere.
On the other hand, Íñigo Errejón’s political project is built on constructivist populism and aims to normalize Podemos. It calls for a peaceful transition in which the exhausted traditional parties are replaced with something new, exchanging elites, and very little else. Errejón wants to connect with the generational aspirations of young and middle-aged people, who are frustrated and broken by the crisis.
Errejón and his supporters’ call for “transversality” has swung between a serious discussion about building a new political majority and an excuse to smooth over all traces of radicalism. Behind this core idea lies a project mainly aimed at the middle classes, using post-class rhetoric to emphasize meritocracy and to call for a smooth transition toward a better future. It is focused at an amorphous political center that has become the imagined center of gravity for the people.
The rationale is to attract “the missing ones,” meaning to win over the voters who are not yet convinced that Podemos is trustworthy enough to run the Spanish state. As a result, it takes for granted that current Podemos voters will always remain loyal. However, they are likely to demobilize if the party forgets about them in its quest for respectability.
Podemos has at least one other important current: the Anticapitalistas, which has sponsored the Podemos en Movimiento list at the upcoming congress. A key player since the beginning, Anticapitalistas’s strategy has always been to create a party built on the political potential that emerged up after 15-M, not only in terms of the electoral opportunity that had opened but also in terms of the new possibility for radical political and social change. The Anticapitalistas project attempts to synthesize radicalism’s ambition with building a majority.
Anticapitalistas has served as a movement party within Podemos. As such, it opposed the Vistalegre model that tried to transform 15-M’s legacy into electoral victory. It is organized around internal democracy and rank-and-file empowerment, focusing on external campaigns rather than internal quarrels. Its strategic perspective sees victory as a dialectical combination of self-organization, mobilization, elections, and institutional work — something deeper than just winning elections. To build this, Anticapitalistas has emphasized program discussions, which would allow the party to present serious alternative policies. Questions like debt and the banking system have centered these debates, trying to learn from Syriza’s fiasco — something Podemos’s leadership has always refused to do.
Working against the party’s main current since the beginning, this political wing has been central to Podemos’s trajectory, despite its small institutional power which has only weakened after Podemos’s expansion after the 2014 European election when Iglesias and Errejón were on the rise.
The Iglesias’ Triumph leaves a number of problems unresolved.
As Jamie Pastor notes (Etat espagnol. Podemos et le Congrès de Vistalegre II : se refonder sans se dénaturer from the Ensemble site, translated from Viento Sur, linked to the Anticapitalistas) the underlying ‘populist’ strategy of Podemos rests on “constructing a people” facing the ‘elites’ (the famous ‘casta’). Yet in reality they have moved in the direction of giving priority to opposing the Right (the ruling PP and Ciudadanos).
Their alliance with the left bloc, Izquierda Unida, Unidos Podemos known as Podemos–IU, for the 2016 General Election, underpins a strategy that aims to assemble the Spanish left, that is focused on electoral majorities, rather than, some critics allege, the famous “transversality”.
This concept may be explained in this way,
Transversality can be understood as the act of building majorities. Not electoral majorities per se, but social majorities made up of identities based on common goals; building inclusive identities adapted to today’s society. An example is that of the identity of “working class”, which was a necessary identity when they were organizing to overcome their class conditions 50 years ago, but which is not appropriate to the modern world.
Podemos’ approach (strongly influenced by the political theorist, the academic Ernesto Laclau) to ‘constructing the people’ has been over and above this stand, a constant As Pastor states it has become an interchangeable concept with the people (lower case), the nation, and the ‘citizens’ and has tended to give priority to the middle class as a point of reference. (“une idée du « peuple » a été maintenue de manière interchangeable avec « les gens », « la patrie » ou « les citoyens ». Une conception qui a eu comme tendance de privilégier la classe moyenne comme référence).
By treating the ‘working class’ as an identity, this approach draws on a simplified version of Laclau and Chantal Mouffe’s Hegemony and Socialist Strategy (1985). For those who follow this stand, left politics, in a ‘post-Marxist’ age, is about bringing together a variety of democratic struggles (arising from social contradictions), articulated in a hegemonic project. In more recent times this has come to mean that ‘constructing the People’ takes in a variety of groups antagonistic to the dominant power bloc (la casta…), in a common figure. This is a – hegemony building process of assembling them around a new content in the ’empty signifier’ of democracy, and taking ‘floating signifiers’, such as the People itself) into a movement. One can see that this way of doing politics easily avoids structural issues of class (not necessarily registered as ‘identities’), and lends itself to the worst aspects of Populism, that is, identifying one group (us) as the People, and the ‘others’ as the non or anti-People with no democratic legitimacy.
Or as Pastor argues, drawing on a contradictory set of constituencies and list of demands to win support for a catch-all party. Some allege that the power of the grassroots, in the celebrated “Círculos” (local assemblies) has been weakened by a leadership which holds controls in a vertical structure presided over by leading ‘strategists’.
In dealing with Spain’s diverse national groups, they have come up with a concept of “plurinationalité ” but, despite affirmations of the equality between national identities and groups, this “patriotisme plurinational” runs into obvious contradictions.
Above all, we are left, after the aspiration to govern has failed (agreement with the Spanish Socialists, the PSOE has proved impossible, and undesirable) with the problem of unity around Iglesias’ “charismatic leadership“
Will a ‘populist’ party leader with this overwhelming mandate be in a mood to tolerate pluralism within Podemos?
How to Get On-Line Democracy Growling!
Jeremy Corbyn says,
We must not let internal debate distract from our work that has to be done to help Labour win elections… …Momentum needs to be an organisation fit for purpose – not copying the FAILED MODELS OF THE PAST but bringing fresh ideas to campaigning and organising in communities, helping members be active in the Labour Party and helping secure a Labour government to rebuild and transform Britain. That’s why the Momentum team has drawn up a survey to give EVERY MEMBER a DIRECT SAY in its future.”
All is not well in Podemos, as their Number 2, Íñigo Errejón, ponders the future of the Populist Party.
El miedo a discrepar es un método de selección de la mediocridad El País 20.12.16.
The fear of disagreeing is a method of selecting mediocrity.
Amongst many amiable things Errejón, now the Leader Iglesias’ critic, announced his intention of defending Podemos’ original ideas, against the party becoming stuck in a posture of protest. He also ominously notes, ” Nosotros no somos militantes de un partido político, sino del cambio político. Y por tanto militaremos en el partido mientras siga siendo un instrumento útil.” We are not activists for a political party, but for political change. For that we will be active in the party while it remains a useful tool.”
But all is not lost.
To encourage participation in their internal on-line voting for a Congress in which disputes with the above are predicted to reach boiling point, Pablo Iglesias has just released this charming video.
El perro de Pablo Iglesias está harto de su dueño y de Podemos. (Pablo Iglesias’s doggy is tired of its Master and Podemos) El Pais .
Can you cheer him up?
If this good enough?
Now look below…..and be prepared to be moved……
Momentum take note!
Get your cats and pooches out and make for YouTube to get people completing the membership survey!
People’s Front (British Left Training Manuel).
Before I begin this I note the following:
It is, these points in mind, hardly out of the blue that the present crisis has happened.
Comrade Owen begins,
These are the things I want to write about, not the internal woes of the left. The left has had something of a reputation for turning infighting into an art form, immortalised by that People’s Front of Judea sketch in Monty Python’s Life of Brian. But an emergent crisis in Britain’s left is so serious that, sadly, it cannot be ignored.
Momentum – the grassroots movement set up in the aftermath of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership victory – is currently facing a takeover bid by Trotskyist sectarians. If they succeed, Momentum will be destroyed. The most prominent sectarian figures are embittered veterans of struggles from the 1970s and 80s, people who have only experienced defeat, and who won’t let an unexpected opportunity afforded by the seismic political developments of the last two years slip through their fingers. This is their last chance.
They jump from organisation to organisation, and are adept at manipulating internal structures for their own advantage: sitting out long boring meetings, coordinating interventions, playing victim when it suits. They’re not interested in say, door-to-door campaigning, but rather in debating their obscure pet issues with long-winded interventions at meetings on a Thursday evening.
The only point that really strikes home is the lack of ‘door-to-door campaigning’.
But this is not a fault unique to the ‘sectarians’.
One could argue that setting up a parallel organisation to normal Labour bodies is bound to divert energy away from this kind of grass-roots work.
Owen strays into perhaps excessive prose in the following,
Their opponents are younger, idealistic, campaign-oriented and pluralistic, lacking Machiavellian strategic ability – all of which the sectarians exploit. The sectarians smear their opponents as rightwingers, Stalinists, bureaucrats, as having ulterior and sinister motives (this article will be dismissed as the work of a rightwing establishment careerist in the service of a Guardian conspiracy to destroy the left). Everything goes wrong, they believe, not because of their own almost farcical strategic ineptitude, but because of the betrayal of others. Momentum offers hope to young people who have long been demoralised by politics. Those wrecking Momentum – if they succeed – could destroy that hope, and that is unforgivable.
It is wrong to call these forces “Trotskyist sectarians” as if there is a common unity amongst them.
This is not classic ‘entryism’: there are very diverse groups. Some of them work well with other people on particular objectives – such as promoting a social Europe, or, say defending secular democratic demands in Iran. It is true, in a very general sense, that many of them refer to the Russian Revolution and Lenin (something I personally cannot empathise with). Others – I am thinking of former members of Left Unity – have more in common with 1970s New Left radical groups than with the kind of moribund organisations at present hanging on as the Socialist Party and Socialist Workers Party. Some of the opponents of the Momentum leadership have their own personal agenda, which appears to derive more from identity politics than the left, sectarian or not.
These are small groups, groupuscles if you will, or just alliances of affinity. There is no common unity – just cite the words Israel and Zionism, and, hey, see! – except on organisational issues within Momentum.
It is therefore not just false but highly speculative to claim that,
the sectarians are highly disciplined, highly organised, and highly experienced. The interests of their own sects are far more important than any movement. Only their sect, they believe, has the correct politics: everybody else’s are fatally flawed. They have no faith in the Labour party. Momentum, for them, is an embryonic political party. The prize is Momentum’s contact data, containing the details of tens of thousands of people. At an opportune time, they will walk away from Labour and found a new party, which will get 300 votes in a byelection. They will triumphantly hail these as 300 votes for socialism.
The ‘new party’ line, which is the decrepit Socialist Party’s objective, is too marginal even to bother with.
Having said this I must say that the following struck home:
Take the barrister Nick Wrack, one of the sectarian leaders. Last year he stood for the catchily named Trade Union and Socialist Coalition in Camberwell and Peckham, and secured 0.6% of the vote. There’s no life for the left in the Labour party, he told me in 2014.“Time for [a] new party that stands for socialism,” he lectured me before the general election. I was right to call for more working-class representation, he tells me, “but it won’t come from Labour,” he tells me, after Labour’s defeat.
Owen forgets: membership of the SWP, Respect, the Socialist Alliance, the Independent Socialist Network, and a host of other groups……
And, “Nick worked as a journalist for the socialist newspaper Militant. He became its editor in 1994.”
But surely these are sectarian points?
And is this a fair summary of the other side?
The younger Momentum protagonists aligned to Lansman – who himself has gone on a political journey away from top-down structures – are known as “movementists”: those who dislike hierarchies and who are attracted by social movements.
There are problems, which Owen chose to ignore in his introduction to this book, about ‘movementist’ democracy. In Podemos: In the Name of the People’ by Chantal Mouffe and Íñigo Errejón (foreword by Owen Jones) Jones celebrated this party’s success. But its own “democracy on-line” has worked to consolidate the party leadership. Critics, whom we have covered at length on this Blog, have asserted that Podemos is now organised on a “Pyramidal” “vertical” basis. It is said to have led to the withering away of the “circles” at the base of Podemos. It has, to put it simply, not been able to create structures – to many critics – that are markedly better than the old system. Podemos is now undergoing its own internal ‘factional battles, though one has to recognise that it’s on a healthy basis, that is, with real policy alternatives at stake.
I am not a member of Momentum, to the reasons I outlined at the start. Some elderly local people may be.
But it would seem that some kind of synthesis between these systems could be devised.
This would surely be preferable to this call for Armageddon:
….Jeremy Corbyn. An intervention by him would stop Momentum being taken over, allowing its rebirth as an open, campaign-focused movement. Without that, the sectarians will win. They must be stopped in their tracks. So much hope, so much optimism. We can’t let it end in rancour and betrayal.
Reports on Saturday 3d December Momentum Meeting Round-Up – Clarion.
This weekend Spain will finally have a government, after inconclusive elections have led to months of failure to vote one in.
Spain’s 10 months without a government should end on Saturday when parliament is set to grudgingly grant conservative Mariano Rajoy a second term as prime minister.
But political instability may persist as Rajoy’s weak minority government struggles to build support to pass legislation in a hostile parliament.
After two inconclusive elections and months of fruitless attempts at coalition-building, a controversial decision by the opposition Socialists to abstain should allow Rajoy to be confirmed as prime minister in a parliamentary confidence vote set for 7.45 p.m. (1745 GMT) on Saturday.
El país says today, “Rajoy será elegido hoy presidente con la abstención y el desgarro del PSOE.” Rajoy will be elected with the – painful – abstention of the POSE (Spain’s Socialist Party). (1)
Called to protest at the ‘coup d’état’ this demonstration is backed by groups of the far left and left nationalists, “Alternativa Republicana, Anticapitalistas, Asamblea Popular de la Elipa, Desborda Madrid, Distrito 14, Izquierda Castellana, Izquierda Unida, PAH Ciempozuelos, Partido Multicultural por la Justicia Social, PCE, Sindicato de Estudiantes, No Somos Delito, y Frente Cívico Somos Mayoría.” The plan to “surround” the Parliament (Rodea el Congreso).
El País says it is backed by Unidos Podemos. The daily states that it questions the legitimacy of the democratic system, and the validity of the process which will led to Rajoy’s investiture on Saturday in the lower chamber, of the country’s Parliament (“y a la que apoya Unidos Podemos—, cuestiona el régimen democrático y la legitimidad del presidente que saldrá investido en la cámara baja.) The centre-left paper describes material for the march. It talks of the “system” uniting the leader of the Partito Popolare , the King, and the socialist PSOE , talks of them as a “mafia”. It notes that it just at the limits of legal expression. It underlines that Spain underwent a real attempt at a coup in 1982.
Íñigo Errejón, official spokesperson for Podemos, has warned of the possibility of violent incidents.
This video, by the Izquierda Anticapitalista (a Tendency within Podemos, more Wikipedia, English), calling for the demonstration and for ‘popular power’ (Poder populaire) certainly has strong revolutionary echoes. This is not without precedent, the Anticapitalistas, it is alleged, have compared the Podemos “circulos” (base groupings) to…..Soviets (Hay quienes ya asemejan los ‘círculos’ de Podemos a los ‘soviets’: Quién es quién en Izquierda Anticapitalista, el partido que mueve los hilos dentro de Podemos. Vozpopuli)
(1) PSOE leader Pedro Sánchez was ousted in an acrimonious uprising that has torn the party apart. Sánchez had dismissed pleas from parts of the PSOE to allow the PP back into government, insisting that the latter was too deeply mired in a series of corruption scandals to be allowed to retake office. He stood down as leader this month after losing a vote that would have allowed grassroots party members to back or sack him in a leadership contest. The PSOE’s caretaker leadership has abandoned Sánchez’s position and decided to abstain in Saturday’s investiture vote, thereby allowing Rajoy to form a minority government. (Guardian)
Having failed to turn grassroots support into seats at June’s general election, the anti-austerity party faces a struggle over its response to the country’s power vacuum.
Sam Jones (Observer. Today.)
The party’s poor performance led to weeks of introspection that have further revealed the ideological tensions at its core. Most visible has been the rivalry between Iglesias and Podemos’s policy chief and number two, Iñigo Errejón. If Errejón has pushed for a more pragmatic approach to the PSOE, with a view to sharing power after December’s election, then Iglesias has gone out of his way to antagonise the Socialists, once memorably reminding parliament of the anti-Eta death squads that operated under the government of former PSOE leader Felipe González.
Now the growing tensions are coming to a head in Madrid, where competing factions are vying for control of Podemos’s birthplace and its future. On one side is Tania Sánchez, a former IU MP (Note: that is not from Podemos, but from the Communist-Green left bloc, Izquierda Unida) , who, along with Madrid councillor Rita Maestre, hopes to make the local party a more “friendly, female and decentralised” outfit.
Opposite them are the Iglesias loyalists, such as the party’s general secretary in the capital, Luis Alegre, who has long had a troubled relationship with the Errejónista faction.
To complicate things further, Sánchez, who is standing to be the party’s new leader in Madrid, is a former girlfriend of Iglesias, while Maestre used to go out with Errejón. In an attempt to head off the inevitable innuendo, both women put out a statement: “We are not girlfriends or ex-girlfriends, we are human beings who make our own decisions. We don’t need a man to help us or lead us … We’re protagonists who defend a Podemos for everyone.”
The Madrid story broke on the 15th of September in El País.
El eurodiputado Miguel Urbán y 300 firmantes impulsan una alternativa a las de Mestre y Espinar.
En la disputa por el liderazgo de Podemos en la Comunidad de Madrid se perfilan al menos tres grandes opciones. El eurodiputado de la formación Miguel Urbán, que fue uno de los dirigentes determinantes en los inicios de Podemos, y 300 firmantes de la organización Anticapitalistas, activistas y militantes del partido quieren lanzar una candidatura para competir con las iniciativas promovidas por la portavoz del Ayuntamiento, Rita Maestre, y el del Senado, Ramón Espinar. Entre los impulsores de este proyecto, que llama a repensar Podemos, reconstruirlo desde las bases y reconectar con las calles se encuentran la abogada y diputada autonómica Lorena Ruiz-Huerta, el actor Alberto San Juan, los concejales de Ahora Madrid Pablo Carmona y Rommy Arce, Isabel Serra, que también es diputada regional y formó parte de la dirección autonómica ahora disuelta.
The essential is to know that the 300 signatories in the Madrid region, are led by the ‘anticapitalistas’, that is the group (linked with the Fourth International, and groups such as the Nouveau Parti anticapitaliste (NPA) and Ensemble in France and which has long criticised Podemos for its “vertical” hierarchy. They are challenging the Madrid leadership on the basis that the party structure needs reforming in order to connect with the ‘street’ (las calles) in place of “marketing, de los políticos profesionales y de las estructuras orgánicas del partido.”
More details on the anticapitalista supporting site Viento Sur: Un Podemos para las y los que faltan. (The Podemos we need). Isabel Serra – Miguel Urbán
Long-standing criticisms such as this: Podemos: A Monolithic, Vertical, and Hierarchical Party? Tendance Coatesy. (December 2014)
Reply from a supporter:
What do you think of the criticisms from the Left saying that even though Podemos has repositioned itself on the Left by hitching itself to Izquierda Unida, it remains too vertical and centralised?
I think these criticisms are unfair, particularly because they are often based on local experiences in Barcelona and Madrid, and you can’t just map the local terrain onto a national scale. Podemos has had to face four elections, and electoral campaigns don’t lend themselves to internal discussions. But they are very conscious that the “circles” must preserve their important role in the party’s functioning, and they are trying to reinvigorate them. That was notable during the recent campaign. And I am still struck by their extraordinary creativity. In presenting their programme in the form of an Ikea catalogue they not only achieved a media coup but managed to get the electorate who didn’t read party manifestos any more to pick them up again.
A salutary shock?: Chantal Mouffe on Brexit and the Spanish elections. By Chantal Mouffe / 27 June 2016.
These are issues specific to Podemos though this is probably a very particular interpretation of their prospects, as is this (from left critics).
The latest is not the first internal dispute in the party.
Earlier this year Podemos’ leaders summarily removed their Number 3, Sergio Pascual.
Madrid had been the focus of disputes for some time – La crisis interna de Podemos en Madrid obliga a convocar un congreso regional. (El País. 14th of June)
Following the always readable El País we find a more widespread judgement on Spain’s political crisis: that the country’s politicians are unable to share power with other parties or to make compromises beyond their immediate short-term interests.
Or, to put it more simply, like the UK, the country has no tradition of coalitions (the issue in dispute: agreement with the PSOE by Podemos).
The merits of this are, naturally, for the Spanish left to judge.
Meanwhile there is also this: prosperous Catalonia wishes to break with Spain’s poorer regions. (11th of September)
Tens of thousands of Catalans gathered to demand their region speed up its drive to break away from Spain
See also: Podemos site (latest stories).
On the anticapitalista tendency: Les anticapitalistes au sein de Podemos (August 2016).
This is a review of Coll, Andreu; Brais Fernández & Joseba Fernández (ed.) (2016), Anticapitalistasen Podemos, Construyendo poder popular. Barcelona, Sylone, 153 pag.
Spain in Our Hearts. Americans in the Spanish Civil War. 1936 – 1939. Adam Hochschild. Macmillan. 2016.
Arthur Koestler wrote in 1937 of Spain’s civil war, “Other wars consist of a succession of battles; this one is a succession of tragedies.” (Spanish Tragedy) As a Soviet agent, a correspondent with the Republican Army who had been captured and then freed from Franco’s gaols, the author of Darkness at Noon (1940) embodied the sadness of twentieth century history. In that record the Spanish conflict was exceptional. Spain in Our Heart opens by noting that the Caudillo launched the “fiercest conflict in Europe since the First World War marked by a vindictive savagery not seen even then.” (P xiv).
Hochschild is the author the landmark Bury the Chains: Prophets and Rebels in the Fight to Free an Empire’s Slaves (2005). It put centre stage the activism of Thomas Clarkson, the radical Quaker and admirer of the French Revolution in the British campaign against slavery. The present work explores the lives of American (and three Englishmen) involved in Spain, International Brigade volunteers and reporters, Hochschild manages the difficult task of honouring those who fought for the Spanish Republic without losing sight of the broader catastrophe in which they had become involved.
2,800 Americans fought in Spain’s battles, with an estimated 750 dying during these crucial years in the country’s history. About three quarters of the US volunteers were members of the Communist Party, or its youth league. With the Nazi seizure of power in 1933, the Great Depression sweeping the world, the Soviet Union “became a place into which millions of people projected their hopes.” (Page 11)
Some had not stay at a distance building dreams of the Soviet Union. In 1935 the Merriman couple moved from Berkley to Moscow, as Robert, Bob studied the newly collectivised farming joined by his wife, Marion. But fired up in 1936 by the defence of the elected Popular Front government against far-right military rebellion the couple, despite her misgivings, left for the Iberian Peninsula. As they arrived in 1937 the drama of the desperate combats, socialist, anarchist and republican democrats facing the anti-Semite, feudal and arch-Catholic Franco-led military rebellion with its reactionary social support, was already unfolding.
As a an officer in the US Army reserve, with ROTC training (Reserve Officers’ Training Corps) fresh from Moscow (with an exaggerated ‘year’ at a Communist Academy’), Merriman was appointed by that harshest of task-masters André Marty, the American Lincoln Brigade’s second-in-command. He joined the Spanish Communist Party. The volunteers, few of whom “had ever been under military discipline”, were flung into the battle to defend the Madrid-Valencia road. It did not help that their arms, from the only country willing to supply them the Soviet Union, initially were as antiquated and obsolete as to be “barely usable”. The Spaniards called one set of artillery pieces “the battery of Catherine the Great” (Page 118)
Wounded under fire, his wife Marion accompanied Bob, and joined up to work in International Brigades Headquarters in Albacete. He was a committed supporter of the Soviet Union. Above all, “Physically fearless, he inspired such loyalty that at least two Lincoln veterans would name children after him.” (Page 289) Spain in our Hearts does not lose sight of this brave couple, right to the final confirmation, in 1987, of how Bob Merriman died under Nationalist fire in Gadensa.
Hochschild traces the stories of many others engaged in the fight to defend the Republic, including those who perished in the increasingly difficult journey to Spain. There is the Briton Pat Gurney, Oliver Law, the black CP organiser appointed Captain, the machine-gunner David McKelvy White, and Toby Neugass of the mobile American medical team. There was also Vincent Usera, who resurfaced in the US Navel Academy in 1939 lecturing on the war. With a full US military career during the Second World War, he ended in military intelligence. One of his last posts was “as a military adviser in Vietnam” (Page 233).
The US ‘Moral Embargo’.
Could America have been brought to support the Republic? A propaganda and information war was fought out in the American press. In the New York Times there was an “indirect duel” between the reporter on the republican side, Herbert Matthews, and the very pro-Franco William P. Carney.
A film, directed by Communist fellow-traveller Joris Ivens, The Spanish Earth, which involved Hemingway, which many expected would powerfully influence American opinion in favour of the elected government, failed to change Franklin Roosevelt’s decision to back a “Moral embargo” on weapon sales – while Nazi Germany and Mussolini’s Italy showered military support on Franco The official arms ban was accompanied by turning a blind eye to Texaco boss, and dictator admirer, Torkild Rieber’s gift to Franco of an “unstinting stream” of oil, on credit. (Page 248) When, in 1938, there was an apparent move toward lifting of the embargo, it never materialised.
Spain in our Hearts both brings to life individual lives, through memoirs, books, letters, through events, grief and passion, and to make cautious points about the battles going on inside the Republican camp. It lends support to the view that winning the war had to be a priority over social revolution. He asks if the moral economy of the collectivised enterprises in Catalonia and elsewhere would have long survived in their initial, pure, non-capitalist co-operative form. In the event the Spanish Communists and Socialists were determined in an attempt to win middle class support and international respectability, to restore market norms and crush the anarchists and independent Marxists of the POUM (Partido Obrero de Unificación Marxista. Partit Obrer d’Unificació Marxista) along with this spontaneous socialisation. Was it also possible to run an army democratically? Some would agree that it was equally right to end this experiment. Ernest Hemingway said, “I like Communists when they’re soldiers. When they’re priests I hate them” (Page 290)
Could the Communist military commissars escape the paranoia and distorted morality of the Stalin priesthood? Not everybody was a hero of the stamp of Bob Merriman. Louis Fisher, who appears in the present volume as the quartermaster of the International Brigade, wrote that “André Marty, French Communist leader and the chief commissar of the Brigade “loved power and abused it, in the GPU way, through nocturnal arrest sand similar outrages.” (In The God That Failed. 1950)
Perhaps this is the final judgement of this deeply researched, insightful, and moving work. Portraying the devastation wrought to secure Franco’s victory and its aftermath, Hochschild states, “If the Republic had won, Spaniards would not have had to endure 36 years of Franco’s ruthless dictatorship.”(P 353)
Pro-European Radical Left Surges Ahead in Spain.
The leftist coalition has the support of voters tired of the austerity measures employed and supported by the PSOEand the PP at all levels of government.
Spain’s leftist alliance Unidos Podemos (Together We Can) has made significant gains ahead of the June 26 general election and is now ahead of the Socialist Party (PSOE) with 25.6 percent and 20.2 percent of the vote respectively, latest polls show.
According to a Metroscopia poll, the conservative PP is ahead in first place with 28.5 percent of the vote, while Unidos Podemos has 25.6 percent and the PSOE is trailing with 20.2 percent.
Should acting Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s ruling PP party maintain its lead, the victory would come without a majority in Congress, a huge and historic blow to the nation’s two-party system that has dominated the country since the end of Francisco Franco’s dictatorship in 1978.
The June 26 vote follows the king of Spain’s decision to dissolve parliament and trigger new elections after no single party won enough seats to form a government in the December vote. Since then a caretaker government led by Rajoy has administered the country.
More, in Spanish,
The predicted success of Unidos Podemos (the alliance of Podemos with the left bloc, Izquidra Undia) is not so surprising, nor the decline of the PP (right) and PSOE (Socialist Party).
Not only does the Spanish election concern everybody in Europe but the advance of Podemos is important to the internationalist left campaigning for a Remain vote in this week’s UK referendum.
The problem with the EU is a structural one, and this is why reclaiming Europe becomes a revolutionary slogan. It can be done from a variety of spaces and on multiple levels, winning over institutions within member countries and weaving multilevel alliances for the defence of European values on welfare and human rights.Podemos assumes a clearly pro-European stance: Europe is a space for political and economic construction, where even the OECD admits the stability pact needs to be amended, and steps towards federalisation need to be sped up with policies that put people before finance.
The Podemos delegate for International Relations has spent the weekend to support a series of events arranged by the stay campaign.
The delegate concerned is Pablo Bustinduy and on Saturday he participated in an act in Manchester, ‘against the exit of the United Kingdom from the European common zone and for a new more egalitarian and social Europe’, with Clive Lewis a labour MP, among others.
Since its inception, Podemos has opened federations of the party in the United Kingdom and his trip gave him the opportunity to see these federations first hand and to inform them on the progress of Unidos Podemos in the Spanish general election.
Under the slogan ‘Another Europe is possible’, this collective has emerged as a leftwing pro Europe group which is calling on the British public to vote to stay. ‘We have a different vision of Europe focussed on the interests of the majority. We have to unite with other similar movements in the EU. It is not easy, but things can change’ noted Owen Jones in an interview with the Spanish paper El Español.
El País today notes,
En la campaña sobre el papel de los británicos en la UE tienen más éxito quienes apelan a las emociones, el miedo o la bandera. La muerte de la diputada Cox es un ejemplo.
The campaign on the role of the British in the EU has been based on successful appeals to emotions, to fear and flag waving. The murder of Jo Cox MP is an example.
Podemos is a counter-example.
People are standing up to the forces of hate.
Voices on the left and in the labour movement who seek to divide workers and back Brexit are fading, as those calling, like Podemos, for the demands of Another Europe Is Possible, are gaining ground.”
Whether Podemos’ stratgey of ” building a transnational network of rebel cities” is possible has, nevertheless, yet to be seen.