Archive for the ‘Spain’ Category
Lions Led By Jackals. Stalinism in the International Brigades. Dale Street. Alliance for Workers’ Liberty. 2016.
During Franco’s dictatorship “the defeated in Spain has no public right to historical memory..” observed Paul Preston in The Spanish Holocaust (2012). The movement to recover these memories, beginning in the new millennium, continues to expose this past. The defeated side in the Spanish civil war, and those who fell during and after the Caudillo’s victory in the 1939, are honoured across the world as fighters against fascism. As Preston states, Franco’s war against the “Jewish-Bolshevik-Masonic’ Republic brought the murder of hundreds of thousands in its wake.
Those who escaped prison, death or slave labour faced systematic persecution well into the 1950s. Many exiles passed by Bayonne to France, some joining the French army to fight the German invasion. Amongst the refugees were those who ended up in the invaders’ hands, portrayed in Spanish exile Jorge Semprum’s Le Grand Voyage (1963). Spanish republicans perished in the extermination camps. Around 60% of these died in Mauthausen.
Dale Street is concerned with one of the saddest aspects of the Spanish tragedy: the role of Stalin’s Comintern in the International Brigades. Lions led by Jackals underlines the political and organisational hold of this body that took the decision to form the Brigades in September 1935. André Marty, the leader of the ‘Back Sea Mutiny’, and Communist on his release from prison in 1923, Secretary of the Comintern in the 1030s, he became their effective ‘commander in chief’.
Marty emphasised on the ‘popular front; politics of the Spanish government – the democratic authority the International Brigade had been formed to offer military support against the Franco-army rebellion. Street states that many volunteers “found the idea of Popular Frontism incomprehensible. From their point of view, they were in Spain not just to ‘fight fascism’ but also to fight for socialism and working-class revolution.” The Stalinists, he writes, confused such people with this talk of a “bourgeois democratic revolution”. As he points out, had they – and no doubt those Spaniards who elected the Popular Front and fought for it – if they’d read Trotsky they would have known that this was “Menshevism” and “utter disregard for the ABC of Leninism.”
Socialists will be familiar with George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia (1938) and Ken Loach’s film Land and Freedom. (1995). Orwell inspires his readers with his account of Spain’s “foretaste of socialism” where one “had breathed the air of equality.” Loach puts these moments on screen.
Orwell was to experience first hand the other side of Comintern influence: its war on ‘Franco’s Fifth Column” – the ‘Trotskyist traitors’. The POUM, (Partido Obrero de Unifición Marxista), a fusion between two small anti-Stalin groups, backed the Popular Front and their leader, Andreu Nin (who had indeed originally been close to Trotsky), entered the Catalan government. They believed that socialist objectives tallied with the front against fascism, war and revolution went together. Trotsky himself accused Nin of having rallied to the defence of property. He advocated that the small group should be opposed to all other Popular Front parties, and teach radical forces, notably within the powerful anarchists and syndicalists of the FAI and CNT, to form soviets.
Trotsky’s strategy barely belongs even to the realm of historical might-have-beens. Nin was drawn into practical politics, in a Spain where it is hard to see how a sharp ‘Bolshevik’ vanguard party could be made out of disparate republican, socialist, and anarchist movements, left alone supplanting a Communist Party funded by the only international power offering the Republic serious military aid. Along with that help went a propaganda campaign against the POUM, its banning, and the dissolution of its militia. After the 1937 Barcelona May Days of anarchist and POEM resistance it was tracked down and ‘liquidated’ On Russian orders, and with NKVD direct participation, their leaders were arrested. Nin was taken from his house and shot. Fabricated documents pointed to POUM co-operation with Franco’s Falange.
Lions led by Jackals, describes the way into which those in charge of the International Brigades were infected by this Moscow-driven hunt for ‘Trotskyists’, ‘wreckers’ and ‘saboteurs’. Their training material included the instruction that “As in all other counties, so too here in Spain, the Trotskyists are the conscious enemies of the freedom of the people”. To Marty Trotskyists formed just one part of “multiple networks”, “the Gestapo, OVRA (Italian secret police), the Polish police, the Caballero group, anarchist, socialist and above all the Deuxieme Bureau (French secret service.” Articles intended for Brigaders asserted “the POUM was working in favour of Fascism”. The Independent Labour Party, linked to the POUM through the International Revolutionary Marxist Centre (the non-Trotskyist anti-Stalinist left international grouping, founded in 1932, known as the London Bureau), and whose own volunteers took part in their militia, was singled out. Any dissent, which could include the most minor disagreements, was noted with suspicion.
Street breaks new ground by indicating the details of these politics, and, more strikingly, in the endless, petty and spiteful reports on all Brigaders by the Political Commissars. Real issues of national frictions, personal problems and tensions, are overshadowed by the documents known as “Characterisations”. Often exaggerated concerns about possible infiltration by enemy agents and discipline aside, “thumbnail assessments” range from people’s sexuality, drinking habits, and temperament. Categories, such as Cadre, Very Good, Fair, Bad and Very Bad, were used.
With this licence to the small-minded it is not surprising that along with allegation about somebody’s alleged Trotskyist” or “criticisms of the Soviet Union”, that the sexual activity of some women volunteers is noted.
Stalinism, Street conclude, had “absolute political and organisational control”. On the most prominent Comintern representative, André Marty, Lions Led by Jackals, states that his “paranoid incompetence and general buffoonery guaranteed his failure, even in his own terms, as commander-in-chief of the Intentional Brigades.”
The paranoiac and murderous cadres who exported the purges and efforts to duplicate the Moscow trials to Spain, should nevertheless not be allowed to diminish the courage and sacrifice of the Brigaders, including Communists.
As for Marty he was portrayed under that name in Ernest Hemingway’s novel For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940), as a suspicious thug with a “mania for shooting people”. These killings earned him the sobriquet of the Butcher of Albacete. 1943 found him the representative of the French Communists in the de Gaulle led Resistance based in Algiers. There was an ascension to become the ‘Number 3’ in the Parti Communiste Français (PCF). Following the Marty-Tillon ‘Affair’ in which included accusations that Marty was a Police agent, he was expelled from the Party in 1952.
Lions led by Jackals is available from here: Stalinism in the International Brigades
On Lâche Rien!
Several thousand people launched an occupation of the place de la République, Paris, at the end of Thursday’s demonstration against the new labour law. The group, Convergences des luttes (converge of struggles) was behind the initiative. Up to 4,000 people were present at the height of the protest.
The left weekly, Politis, says it’s the birth of a new, unprecedented, movement (Nuit debout», acte de naissance d’un mouvement inédit).#
A statement read to the crowd from the philosopher and economist Frédéric Lordon observes,
Il est possible que l’on soit en train de faire quelque chose. Le pouvoir tolère nos luttes lorsqu’elles sont locales, sectorielles, dispersées et revendicatives. Pas de bol pour lui, aujourd’hui nous changeons les règles du jeu. En donnant au capital des marges de manœuvre sans précédent, cette loi est génératrice de la violence néolibérale qui frappe désormais indistinctement toutes les catégories du salariat et, par là, les pousse à redécouvrir ce qu’elles ont en commun : la condition salariale même.
It’s possible that we are in the middle of doing something. Those in power tolerate our struggles when they are local, by a particular social or employee group, separated, around specific demands. Today they have run out of luck: we are changing the rules of the game. Giving capital unprecedented freedom, this (labour) law creates neo-liberal violence which will henceforth hit every type of employees, and for that reason, pushes workers to discover the thing they have in common: the condition of being a wage-earner.
Le Monde asks if this is the first step towards a movement, which many compare to the Spanish ‘indignados’ (the indignant) which gave rise to Podemos, that the supporters dream will sweep the country.
The occupiers took decisions on the basis of a 80% majority of support for motions (that is, not “consensus” model that bedevilled the Occupy movement).
A key proposal is to draw up, cahiers de doléances, the lists of grievances that preceded the French Revolution. They hope to spread the movement across France.
This morning the CRS removed 500 occupiers from the Square.
Est-ce l’amorce d’un mouvement qu’ils rêveraient « lame de fond » ou peut-être « déferlante » ? Est-ce l’annonce d’un « sursaut citoyen » qui mettrait dans la rue des Français de toutes conditions avides de protester et débattre, en criant leur défiance abyssale envers leurs élus et envers un système ? Est-ce le prélude d’un processus dit « révolutionnaire » ?
Whether they carry the “wind of revolution”, as one participant stated, remains to be seen.
The Tendance’s favourite recent French left group, HK et les Saltimbanques, sang.
We wish the young comrades well!
This music really sums up the wrongs of the world and how to fight back.
More here: «Nuit debout» : expulsés à l’aube.
Le 31 nous ne sommes pas rentrés chez nous après la manifestation.
Au plus fort de la nuit, nous étions plus de 4 000 Place de la République.
Concerts, débats citoyens et projections ont ponctué cette nuit qui s’est déroulée sous les hospices de la bienveillance et de la fraternité.
Mais à 5h45, la police a encerclé notre rassemblement pacifique, et maîtrisé jusqu’au bout, avant de nous contraindre à quitter les lieux manu militari et sans explication.
Nous nous insurgeons contre cette violence injustifiée étant donné la légalité absolue de notre occupation de la Place.
Nous appelons dès aujourd’hui, toutes les forces progressistes à rejoindre et amplifier ce mouvement en nous rassemblant à nouveau Place de La République dès maintenant ce 1er avril et jusqu’à dimanche soir au moins.
Une assemblée générale est prévue vers 17h. Et ce soir des débats et de la musique encore…
Vendredi 1er avril depuis la Place de la République
L’ère du peuple: The era of the People.
At the sommet pour un Plan B en Europe in Paris over the Weekend in Paris Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who scored 11.05% of the vote in the first round of the French 2012 Presidential elections, is reported to be already gearing up for the 2016 contest.
Le Monde reports,
On Wednesday, on his blog, he explained that “the European Union remains harmful, hostile to democracy and social justice”. He developed these remarks in a small room of the Maison de la Chimie (7 th district of Paris), where he expounded the view that “in the context of the European fiscal treaty, no progressive policies are possible” and called for “break” within the framework of the current treaties. In passing, he denounced the EU’s “rhetoric” of “Europe that protects” noting the “failures” of the EU in the refugee crisis.
The meeting brought together academics, researchers – largely from other European countries, and a few not very well-known representatives of other left-wing parties such as Podemos, Izquierda Unida, the Greek Popular Unity group, The Danish Red-Green Party, Die Linke, including the respected figure of Oskar Lafontaine,
You can watch and hear Mélenchon’s concluding speech here:
A notable absence was that of Yanis Varoufakis. The former Greek Finance Minister was, it was claimed, unable to attend because of diary problems.
Varoufakis is engaged in a much broader pan-European movement against austerity , a ‘Plan C’. This will be launched in Berlin in February: Democracy in Europe Movement 2025, or DiEM 25, Plan C.
Here is a full list of participants (in English) and more details: Internationalist Summit for a Plan B in Europe.
The people addressing the session entitled, Win back our economic sovereignty included Morvan Burel who backs a return to ‘Popular sovereignty’ in place of the European Union.
Last April Burel wrote this on the Front National’s demands: La reconquête de la souveraineté des peuples doit devenir le cœur battant de la gauche
…sortie immédiate de l’euro, rupture avec l’UE, rétablissement des frontières nationales, retour du protectionnisme, etc.
Il est capital pour la gauche radicale de ne pas refuser de s’emparer de ces revendications précisément parce que le Front national les a intégrées à son discours.
,,immediately leaving the Euro, breaking with the European Union, reestablishment of national borders, a return to protectionism. It is essential that the radical left does not refuse these demands simply because the Front National has woven them into its discourse. “
French speakers included members of Mélenchon’s own Parti de Gauche and Cédric Durand, an economist and part of Ensemble, the ‘third’ component of the Front de Gauche.
The French Communist Party (Parti communiste français. PCF) did not participate in the rally.
On Saturday Le Monde published a report on negotiations for the French 2017 Presidential campaign between forces to the left of the Parti Socialiste (Mélenchon peaufine sa candidature pour 2017 – full article read in print edition). While noting that Mélenchon continued to score well in opinion polls (over 15% favourable opinions, January 2015), his populism, calls for a ‘democratic revolution’, hostility to the European Union that focuses on German power, and many of his personal traits are not universally popular amongst his partners on the left.
Mélenchon, a fluent Spanish speaker, has close links with the Latin American left and with Spain’s Podemos. Like the latter he has sought inspiration in left populism. In these respects his discussions with Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe are of great interest Populisme et hégémonies culturelles : débat Laclau-Mouffe-Mélenchon (2012).
During the round table debate with the academic theorists of the “radical democratic imaginary” the Parti de gauche’s use of national symbols, including the French Flag, and references to the French Revolution which dot his appeals to a new democratic Revolution featured prominently (See also: L’ère du peuple. 2014). How far this populism can go is not always clear. In 2015 his book, Le Hareng de Bismarck, le poison allemand, which attacked German ‘arrogance’ was strongly criticised for nationalism (L’Allemagne n’est pas notre ennemie).
The Communists note that one ‘anti-system’ Populist candidate, Marine Le Pen, already exists. There is little space for another.
There is continued talk of a break up of the Front de gauche alliance between the PCF and Mélenchon.
Le Parti de gauche veut Jean-Luc Mélenchon comme candidat puis élaborer un programme, le parti communiste veut faire naître un projet d’une réflexion collective avant toute désignation: leurs stratégies pour 2017 semblent à ce stade irréconciliables.
The Parti de gauche wants Jean-Luc Mélenchon as a (Presidential) candidate, and then they will work out a programme. The Communist Party want a project born out of a collective process of careful consideration before any candidate is chosen: their strategies ap[pear at this point irreconcilable.
Libération. 23rd of January.
You can read more of Mélenchon’s ideas here, on his blog modestly titled, L’ère du peuple: The era of the People.
Is it also the Moment for Momentum?
The radical left party, Podemos, won 21,3% (69 seats) in Sunday’s Spanish General election, just behind the socialist PSOE, at 21,7% (90) With Rajoy’s conservative PP party at 28,7% (123) and the centrist Cuididanos (Citizens) at 14,9 % (40) negotiations for coalition are underway involving smaller regional and other parties (Wikipedia).
Both Podemos and Cuididanos were present in this contest for the first time. Their entry into the Cortes Generales is a political earthquake with Europe-wide implications. Podemos draws on the Indignados movement that began as protests against the political class “la casta”, their corruption, budget cuts and mass unemployment (at the time up to 21%). Cuidadonos’ name also echoes that period, the march dubbed Mareas Cuidadanas – citizens’ tide).
Owen Jones, has expressed the view that the Labour Party is represented in Parliament by a British counterpart of the Spanish Socialist Party, the PSOE, while supporters attracted to Jeremy Corbyn were more akin to the radical left party, Podemos. Jones, whose pre-election visit to lend support to Podemos’ campaign was reported on the state broadcasters, is one amongst many on the European left who admire its left populist anti-austerity politics. In this view the change in Labour’s leadership (allowed through emulation of the ‘primary’ party elections of the French Parti Socialiste and Italian Partido Democratia, open to all for a modest fee, rather than the structures of Podemos) had brought our politics closer to Spain’s. It suggested that a form of ‘new politics’ has emerged in the United Kingdom, inside the traditional left and now given expression in the open forums of Momentum.
Podemos leader Juliá Iglesias’ entry into Parliament is joined, nobody has failed to notice, by the ‘centre’ group, Ciudadanos. Jones seems to have found a centrist counterpart in Peter Hyman. The former speech-writer and strategist for Tony Blair argued in the Observer that Labour is becoming the “Ukip of the left”, a party of protest and not power, with the prospect of capturing at best 28% of the vote (Observer. 20.12.15). This means that the party “mainstream” will look elsewhere. Corbyn, head of a left wing party, “appealing to mix of metropolitan elites, students and some trade unionists”, a popular constituency in “tribal Labour loyalty”, relying on “big state solutions” will carry on. They will keep trying to win arguments but have no prospect of coming to power. One could note that the British electoral system, unlike Spain’s proportional one, remains an effective bloc to the kind of shake up Hispanic politics has undergone.
Hyman attacks Ed Miliband for opening the door to the left – although it was the modernisers who promoted the idea of One Member One Vote in a ‘primary’ election form. He states that with the “wrong” result, – Corbyn’s victory – there is a “gaping hole in the centre and centre-left of British politics.” It would not take much to extend this to say that against the Podemos road Hayman advocates a British Ciudadanos. This would be an alliance of the centre and the centre-left, “modern progressive values-driven party” with a “commitment to social mobility”. A new ‘project’ would aim for a “leaner, more agile empowering state” that backs “social entrepreneurs” to build “diverse and democratic communities”. This formula, Peter Hayman believes, his appetite no doubt wetted, would have a “fighting chance of winning an election”.
It would be mistake on the left to take the take the analogy with Podemos and the POSOE to heart. Spain has suffered several decades of corruption scandals, affecting the established left, as well as a prolonged ‘dirty war’ against the armed wing of the Basque independence movement, in which Socialist governments were deeply compromised. These scandals continued under the conservative PP, from the 2013 Bárcenas affair, a slush fund to pay party members, and others too numerous to list, including one involving the than leader of the Catalan nationalist leader Jordi Pujol, whose party is now demanding independence.
There has been nothing in Britain to parallel the mass movement of the Indignados, the cradle of Podemos. It is estimated that between 6 and 8 million people participated in these street activities. Those protests made the US Occupy Wall Street look trivial, not to mention the smaller British initiations of the American demonstrations and occupations. A much more successful UK initiative, the anti-austerity People’s Assembly, has mobilised hundreds of thousands and set up large groups all over the country. It was, and is, however closely linked the existing mechanisms of the labour movement. There was none of the loathing for all “politicians” that the Spanish masses expressed. France, where the Podemos breakthrough has been heralded by Jean-Luc Mélenchon, and the home of the (deceased) writer Stéphane Hessel, whose book Indignez-Vous! gave the Indignados their name – saw, and has seen, practically no movement at all apart from trade union protests.
The comparison with Podemos also runs into obstacles when one considers it more broadly. Its strategic line is said to draw on the writings of Ernesto Laclau. Laclau and Mouffe’s Hegemony and Socialist Strategy (1988) offered a critique of traditional Marxism and a freeing of political and social contradictions from rigid class categories. It was widely regarded on the British left as dense theoretical fog for a shift from class politics to the nebulous democratic alliances of ‘new times’. In subsequent writings, generally languishing in academic obscurity, Laclau developed an approach to the specificity of politics. His interest in a left strategy that focused on the discursive articulations of popular democratic struggles and fights for left hegemony broadened into approaches to the – still predominantly ‘discursive’ – mechanisms of politics. Interest in the figure of the ‘People’ against the elite, linked Laclau to some of his earliest writings on Populism, with special reference to Latin America.
In On Populist Reason (2005) Laclau retained an emphasis on the specificity of democratic movements outside and against formal political power. Laclau stated, “populism requires the dichromatic division of society into two camps – one presenting itself as a part which claims to be the whole; that this dichotomy involves the antagonistic division of the social field, and that the popular camp presupposes as a conditions of its constitution the constriction of a globalised entity out of the equivalence of a plurality of social demands.” Put simply populism means pitting the people against an array of forces solidified into a simple enemy – an observation which did not wait for Laclau to be discovered. Interviewed this year in New Left Review Iglesias acknowledged his theoretical attraction to almost Marxist ‘Gramscian’ earlier writings, but that the later work offers a “useful tool” for explaining the “autonomy of politics”. Or, again, to put it directly, it gives legitimacy to a way of constructing politics in terms of friend and foe (Carl Schmitt) using a galaxy of propaganda forms to give this shape. It is widely claimed that Podemos’ consciously utilises this instrument in their strategy: the People are mobilised against the ‘Casta’, the ruling caste. (1)
These ideas, whose abstraction and infinite extension, leftwards and rightwards, critics have not failed to note, should not hide the difficulties of creating a different type of politics. Paul Mason’s post-election claim that the pro-business SNP is part of the same ” radical, populist and nationalist left” only reinforces this impression. (Guardian 21.12.15.)
The more modest and attractive aspect of Podemos has apparently been its openness, its willingness to dissolve traditional political organisational forms into new ones, connected to social media and other ways of vertical communication. But when it comes to decision-making problems arise. US and British experience of cumbersome conformity and construction of new elites inside the ‘structurelessness’ of vertical communication and “consensus decision-making” emerged in the wake of the Occupy movement. Inside Podemos there are widely shared complaints about a very visible “vertical” and top-down leadership. This has not been without its faults, as few members participated in voting on the Podemos electoral programme or candidate selection. By contrast Íñigo Errejón, a defender of their strategy, has talked of leading from in front, and the key role of the charismatic Julias Iglesias, as welcome features of Podemos’ efforts to break the mould of traditional left-right politics, indeed to surpass this “old” division. It is a “fundamental element in building hegemony.” (2)
Labour: a ‘Synthesis’.
The Labour Party is, to say the least, not a ‘new’ party. It is a coalition, or better, a ‘bloc’ of disparate forces. Unlike a true coalition it has not always reached full agreement on a detailed programme of political action. There have always been substantial differences on major issues – the present leader is the best example of this extending to Parliamentary votes. But as a “bloc”, that is to say a common front for elections, it has brought together ‘sociological’ forces – the unions – the Party – the NEC, the Parliamentary Party, professional politicians, an army of local councillors, and small more ideological groups or networks, from Progress to the Labour Representation Committee. In more sociological terms this is often portrayed in terms of a marriage between the radical intelligentsia, middle class social reformers, hard-headed trade unionists, and, it has to be said, patriotic ‘national’ Labour of all classes. It is electoral activity that holds these all together. But the signs are, as Haynes indicates, that as more ideological forces enter the field, from Labour First to and Momentum, disagreements are becoming sharper. Divorce, some say, is the only answer.
This break up may be desirable for some on the left and the right. But Hyman is right to suggest that winning elections is not a trivial affair. For those who want to see a Labour government a split is a disaster. The electoral system is not going to change – with boundary changes it is going to become more difficult for the party to elect MPs. In these conditions the principal problem for an old, not a new party, is not to extend its debates outwards. It is to reach some kind of equilibrium within Labour that holds the apparatus together. In some of the more ideological European socialist parties the idea of a “synthesis” between the different parts of these organisations in the process of presenting an electoral platform is a way to resolve these differences. Jean Jaurès, the towering figure of the 20th century French left, advocated a strongly democratic form of socialism (republicanism), human rights, reforms, social ownership and Marxist principles of class struggle. In short, he combined “evolution” and a revolutionary transformation of capitalism into socialism. The notion of drawing ideas together rather than setting them up for stage battles has, for those who wish to see a Labour Prime Minster elected with a party in support, is surely preferable to a prolonged civil war. (3)
What relevance does Podemos have in this context? Their tertulias (open debating forums) may perhaps inform some of those involved in Momentum. But there the analogy breaks down. There is nothing resembling the common sense of deep social angst and purpose that animated the 15-M Movement. Momentum is recruited around support for the new Labour leadership. Already the operations of small socialist organisations, using the Corbyn’s supporters’ network to promote their own agenda of party building and throwing discredit on Labour MPs and councils, have weakened claims about “new politics”. It seems that one objective, of these bodies, to hector councillors to set illegal anti-cuts budgets, has already met with Jeremy Corbyn’s disapproval. It is doubtful if these people care. These groups believe in making a new left-wing party, of contestable democratic credentials, whether the bulk of Labour Party members and supporters want it or not. The activities of the People’s Assembly, directed at the real enemy, the Conservative government, with the clear backing of the trade unions, engaged in a fruitful and respectful dialogue with sections of the Labour Party, appear to have run out of steam.
If we pick our way through the debates inside and outside the Labour Party there are grounds to imagine that a new ‘synthesis’ or at least co-existence of different strands of thought could come about. The modern Labour Party can make space for social democratic proposals for reform, universal principles of rights and justice, with our modern understanding of racial, sexual and gender equality, and expanded renewed welfare provision, Green issues, and more radical ideas on democratic nationalisation, economic transformation, internationalism, and the promotion of working class interests. Hay
Ideas of greater social mobility, “social entrepreneurs” and “progressive” alliances will look pretty tired faced with proposals for genuine equality, liberty and social solidarity. A rich vein of radical literature, from Pierre Rosanvallon’s studies of equality, Thomas Picketty’s critique of rentier capital, to David Harvey’s undogmatic Marxist approach to capitalism – to cite only a handful of new resources for change – could help debate. Some of the able Labour leaders’ advisers can surely expand this list of ‘tool boxes’ for democratic socialist change. In this sense Labour could present a challenge not to a broadly defined ‘casta’ but to the right-wing business and oligarchies and their hangers profiteering from the privatising-state not to mention their political representatives who are our real opponents.
Activists and Policy.
New Labour was marked by separation between policy and activism, between those who decided and those who carried out the leadership’s decision. This drove people away in crowds. If Podemos teaches us something it is that their brand of leftist populism has clearly reached an audience. It also, unfortunately, indicates that there is more than one way to institutionalise an inability to influence policy.
If Labour wishes to reach outwards it needs more open policy-making. Meetings that count, and not simple get-togethers, or tertulias, stand a better long-term chance of mobilising those new to politics. Nothing can prevent those who wish to grandstand, or find a pretext for criticising the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, coming along. Democracy always means minorities that disagree. But when the stakes, the possibility of making a difference to how a party works and what it is aiming at, are there, the potential for agreement also exists. Drawing a new audience into Labour and not outside it, the feeling that the public is not separated from ‘them’ inside the party, is not easy. But one suspects that it is preferable to a ‘populism’ whose final destination remains unclear.
(1) Page 83 Ernesto Laclau. On Populist Reason. Verso. 2005. Pablo Iglesias. Understanding Podemos. Interview. New Left Review. No 93. 2015. Populisme, Itinéraire d’un mot voyager. Gérard Mauger. Le Monde Diplomatique. July 2015.
(2) Podemos and its Critics. Bécquer Seguín. Radical Philosophy 193. 2015.
(3) Jaurés et le Réformisme Révolutionnaire. Jean-Paul Scot. Seuil. 2014.
Anybody following Podemos knows that la casta, the political ‘caste’ is one of their key words.
It is not a novel concept. It was used in the twentieth century, but has now regained prominence. Both in Italy , where Beppe Grillo’s Movement Five Stars (Movimento Cinque Stelle) uses it often, as in Spain where Podemos has practically patented it since it’s erupted on the political scene, caste is defined simplistically and in Carl Schmitt’s terms, designates the enemy , which can be bankers, the old parties, the market or all at once. (Adapted from here).
The critical tone of this definition may well be true.
But nobody can deny that it refers to a reality, which will have a bearing on the debate in the lead up to the December General Elections in Spain.
The Catalan nationalists are portrayed sympathetically in Britain, above all by their friends in the ‘centre-left’ Scottish Nationalist Party, but even by some on the left, as hard-done-by freedom fighters against the Spanish ‘state’.
In fact the below indicates that they are one of the worst examples of the Spanish “political caste”- which amply justifies Podemos’ hostility to them.
We doubt if this trait is confined to Pujol’s Convergència Democrática de Catalunya (CDC)
Police search properties of Catalan ex-premier Pujol and three of his sons. 27th October. El Paìs.
Raid is related to money-laundering and fraud investigation into eldest son of the family.
The Spanish National Police on Tuesday raided the homes of former Catalan premier Jordi Pujol and three of his seven children in connection with a criminal investigation into tax fraud and money laundering.
Officers searched the personal residences of Pujol and of his sons Jordi Pujol Ferrusola (Junior), Josep and Pere after securing a warrant from High Court judge José de la Mata, sources familiar with the investigation told EL PAÍS. Several business premises are also being searched.
The raids are part of an investigation into the former premier’s eldest son, Jordi Pujol Ferrusola, also known as Junior, who is believed to have benefited from his father’s position of power through lucrative contracts from the regional government.
The reason officers raided Pujol senior’s home on Tuesday was that his eldest son is temporarily living there to recover from a recent surgery, explained the same sources, adding that only the son’s bedroom is being searched.
But this Madrid-led investigation is tied to another ongoing probe into the origin of the Pujol family fortune.
In January, the Pujol patriarch testified in a Barcelona court and told the judge that the millions of euros his family kept in Andorra and Switzerland were an inheritance received from his own father, Florenci.
Political corruption is the origin of the fortune amassed over the years by the eldest son of long-serving former Catalan regional premier Jordi Pujol, according to the police.
Jordi Pujol Ferrusola has been targeted by investigators for over a yearafter a former girlfriend told the police that he often travelled to Andorra and returned with bags full of €500 notes.
The new report links Pujol Ferrusola’s highly successful business ventures to “political initiatives by people within his most intimate circle,” an apparent reference to his father, Jordi Pujol.
Pujol senior, 84, was in power for 23 years, and was head of the nationalist party Convergència Democrática de Catalunya (CDC), one half of the CiU bloc that rules the region. He was Catalonia’s most renowned leader and is considered a father of Catalan nationalism.
Pujol Ferrusola reportedly received lucrative contracts from the regional government of Catalonia
But on Saturday, the legend sustained a severe blow when Pujol admitted in a letter that he has kept a fortune in tax havens for 34 years, and has only recently settled his dues with the Tax Agency.
Critics say that Pujol has now confessed in an attempt to take the heat away from his seven children, two of whom have been investigated for questionable business practices. In the letter, Pujol claimed that it was his own father, Florenci Pujol, who made a fortune and passed it on to his grandchildren in 1980. This, then, would explain the large amounts of money handled by Pujol Ferrusola.
But the police are working with a different hypothesis, and their conclusion is that the eldest son’s fortune “cannot be explained by income from the legal economy.” The report says that Ferrulosa “benefited indirectly” from an environment that “generated a network of influences” that reached all the way to “regional agencies.”
Pujol Ferrusola reportedly received lucrative contracts from the regional government. In 1991, Natural Stone, a firm specializing in quarry rock, won a €600,000 contract to supply marble for the floors at Barcelona’s El Prat airport. Pujol Ferrusola and his then wife Mercè Gironés were, respectively, vice-president and administrator at an affiliate, Natural Stone Marketing Centre.
And then there is Active Translation, a translation company-turned-real estate administrator. In 2004, Pujol’s brother-in-law Ramon Gironès became the sole manager of the firm. A short time later, Active Translation sold its shares in another company, Gestió i Recuperació de Serveis, for nearly €5.3 million. The sale is suspect because Gestió’s assets were worth only €350,000 in 2002. Investigators believe the case may be linked to a public bid for a contract that was won by Gestió in 2002, when Pujol Ferrusola was still a shareholder.
In another case, Pujo Ferrusola and his wife bought two countryside properties in 2002 for €217,000, and sold them four years later for €4.8 million. A month later, the land was rezoned by the city of Palamós to allow residential building.
Meanwhile, his brother Oriol Pujol has also been investigated for bid fixing for ITV vehicle inspection stations in Catalonia.
The Catalan version has a whole section, Diners a paradisos fiscals – money in tax havens.
The Tendance is fond of the expression “paradis fiscal” (the French version) – fiscal paradise.
One suspects that Catalan nationalism likes to think it’s in political paradise these days.
Let’s hope this latest episode in a long saga halts their ambition to cut off subsidies to the ‘lazy’ Southern Spanish people, and let the most prosperous section of Spain keep all its ‘own’ money.
We can’t, not yet….
This morning the Spanish radio was full of the fall-out, and the ‘fractures’, resulting from the results of the Catalan elections.
- The pro-independence front loses the referendum. The anti-independence forces account for 52 percent, compared to the secessionist bloc’s 47 percent. It’s inconceivable that with these results, once the the cava wine bubbles evaporate, any serious politician (in Catalonia) will propose a unilateral declaration of independence. That would be undemocratic. But it’s the first time that the option to secede takes such flight: more than 1.9 million votes is a cry that no serious politician (in Madrid) can ignore.
- In the polls, Ciudadanos breaks the roof: it tripled the results of the previous elections and, with 25 seats, stole the spotlight. The Sorpasso (overtaking) of the People’s Party (PP) in Catalonia is a warning: will this happen again in the general elections in December? We will never know what result Albert Rivera would have achieved if he had been the candidate of the Generalitat, the Catalan government; but being the second force in Catalonia gives wings to his aspirations to get to the Moncloa Palace.
- The PP is increasingly irrelevant in Catalonia: it lost 10 seats, including Badalona — where Xavier García Albiol was mayor — which went to Junts pel Sí. It’s a real slap in the face for the party and its campaign strategy. Today, there is a cold wind in Moncloa and Genoa street: Rajoy is proving to be incapable of facing the challenges in Catalonia.
- After a spectacular gain (from 3 to 10 seats), CUP now has the key to governance in Catalonia. If it fulfills its promise of not voting for Artur Mas as president, Junts pel Sí will be forced to come to an agreement on another candidate… and internal battle is guaranteed.
- Podemos loses momentum: ICV alone got more seats (13) than the new coalition. The 10 deputies Podemos got in the parliament is very far from what it had hoped for. Does it mean that its success in the past municipal elections — Barcelona, Madrid, Cadiz, Zaragoza — was the zenith of its political career? (NOTE: it went up to 11)
- The socialists are still alive. Maintaining almost the same numbe
- When 77 percent of Catalan citizens vote, the message is strong and clear. The pro-independence front, which brings together Junts pel Sí (Together for Yes) and the CUP (Popular Unity Candidacy) party, earned a clear majority in the Catalan parliament, winning 72 seats. It now has the legitimacy and strength, said Artur Mas, to keep pursuing its dream of secession.
- r of votes as in the last Catalan elections — after the internal bleeding and the appearance of new parties that contest their ideological territory — justifies Miquel Iceta’s sigh of relief, despite having lost four seats. And those half a million Catalan votes are worth their weight in gold in Pedro Sanchez’s race toward the Moncloa Palace.
Together for Yes (JxSí)[b][c] 1,620,973 39.54 Increase3.11 62 Increase4
Citizens-Party of the Citizenry (C’s) 734,910 17.93 Increase10.36 25 Increase16
Socialists’ Party of Catalonia (PSC-PSOE) 522,209 12.74 Decrease1.69 16 Decrease4
Catalonia Yes we Can (CSQEP)[d] 366,494 8.94 Decrease0.96 11 Decrease2
People’s Party of Catalonia (PPC) 348,444 8.50 Decrease4.48 11 Decrease8
Popular Unity Candidacy (CUP) 336,375 8.20 Increase4.72 10 Increase7
Democratic Union of Catalonia (UDC)[c] 102,870 2.51 Decrease5.47 0 Decrease13
Animalist Party Against Mistreatment of Animals (PACMA) 29,785 0.73 Increase0.16 0 ±0
Zero Cuts-The Greens (Recortes Cero-Els Verds) 14,390 0.35 Increase0.28 0 ±0
Let’s Win Catalonia (Ganemos) 1,158 0.03 New 0 ±0
Pirates of Catalonia-To Decide Everything (Pirata.cat/XDT) 326 0.01 Decrease0.49 0 ±0
El País commented,
Pablo Iglesias ha construido alrededor de Podemos una épica de partido ganador que ayer, tras lograr en las elecciones catalanas un resultado que sus propios dirigentes consideran decepcionante, sufrió el mayor revés desde su nacimiento.
Pablo Iglesias has built around Podemos an epic in which they are the winning party. But yesterday, after the results of the Catalan elections, which their own leaders considered disappointing , the party suffered the biggest setback since its birth.
We should observe that Podemos (link to their site here) did not go it alone this time. Inside Catalunya Sí que es Pot (CSQEP) they were allied with Iniciativa per Catalunya Verds (Red Greens), and Esquerra Unida i Alternativa, (the more directly linked to the left bloc, Izquirda Unida).
This in itself is a step forward for a group that appeared to wish to ‘go it alone’ to the extent of organising, its own demonstrations against austerity rather than create united fronts.
What are the consequences of this poor result – not to mention their eclipse by a right-of-centre populist party, Ciudadanos ? *
Iglesias has announced today (Iglesias ofrece un referéndum catalán en el que pediría el ‘no’) that if Podemos wins the nation-wide general election he will offer a proper referendum to the Catalans, in which his party will campaign against the separatists and for a multinational and pluralist Spain.
Inside Podemos some have criticised the alliances that they made in Catalan with left-wing and Green forces, declaring that people did not understand the “alphabet soup” (CSQEP) that resulted on the ballot paper.
It will be interesting to follow further developments.
“..populism requires the division of society into two camps – one presenting itself as a part which claims to be the whole; that this dichotomy involves the antagonistic division of the social field, and that the popular camp presupposes as a conditions of its constitution the constriction of a globalised entity out of the equivalence of a plurality of social demands.” (Page 83. On Populist Reason. Ernesto Laclau. 2005)
Enthusiasm for Podemos on the European Left, including Britain, was until recently widespread. It was accepted that the party had managed the difficult feat of giving a political voice to the indignados movement. That it has built a ‘populist’ constituency through language and demands that welded together the 99% against the 1%. That it used the (in Laclau’s words) ‘floating signifiers’ of the ‘people’ (crushing majority) against the Spanish ‘casta’ and had created a democratic organisation capable of challenging the rule of finance and the dominance of economic austerity. It is new, it uses the Net, it encourages direct communication not tired old bureaucratic structures, or divisions between the historical left and right.
This could be tied into the argument offered by Paul Mason in Postcapitalism ( 2015). That, “By creating, millions of networked people, finally exploited but with the whole of human intelligence one thumb-swipe away, info-capitalism has created a new agent of change in history: the educated and connected human beings.”
Mason also asserts that, “In Europe, repressing policing and a untied front of all parties in favour of austerity beat the indignados into a sullen silence. But the results showed that revolution in a highly complex, information-driven society would look very different from the revolutions of the twentieth century. Without a strong, organised working class to push social issues rapidly to the fore, the revolts often stall. But order is never fully restored.” (Page xviii)
But in general enthusiasm for new groups like Podemos, with no visible links to the workers’ movement, is widespread. There is a constant search for new political agencies to replace the ‘old’ left and labour movement. In Mason’s case, despite his own above warning, this went so far as to make this extraordinary claim, “Scotland, “presented with the opportunity to break with a neoliberal state and start afresh, millions of young people said, ‘Yes’ “(Page xix)
There is little doubt that there is a great deal of political fluidity in Europe today. Movements to break up existing states, often from the wealthiest regions of a country (as in Catalonia or in Italy with the Lega Nord) tired of paying for poor and apparently lazy ‘southerners’ , appear part of this process. The strong showing of the Catalan sovereigntists was welcomed by forces from the Scottish National Party, promoting the interests of their ‘ain folk’ against ‘Westminster, the hard-right Nieuw-Vlaamse Alliantie (Belgium), who dislike the former industrial French speaking and Socialist voting Walloon, and some leftists – the latter apparently convinced that Barcelona tax-payers are right not to want to subsidise their feckless compatriots.
Podemos may, or may not, be capable of offering what Mason (in the most significant part of Postcapitalism) calls “revolutionary reformism”. Mason’s list of ideas, a third managerial revolution, switching off the neoliberal privatisation machine, suppressing or socialising monopolies is attractive. But everything depends on a political vehicle to implement them in a recognisably effective form.
That is, the need a political forces capable of reaching and transforming existing political institutions. They have to connect ‘giving voice’ to protests, social interests (not least the labour movement) and being capable of administering solutions. They need parties.
In the case of Podemos this, which Ernesto Laclau called the “moment of articulation” – that is the details of how political parties operate – is becoming unstuck. No doubt the ripple effect of the defeat of Syriza’s anti-austerity programme counts for much in their present impasse. They may have woven ‘floating signifiers’ together, but what anchors them?
Podemos’ vaunted horizontal democracy (apparently giving shape to Mason’s ‘networks’) is paralleled by an internal structure, built as a pyramid around a leader. This is deeply problematic and pretty much casts its claims to novelty to the dustbin. Iglesias has as El País indicates, a self-defined “epic” in which he will valiantly take on the Spanish ‘casta’. Like a figure in the Game of Thrones (a box set of which he generously donated to the Spanish King Felipe VI) he is surrounded by intrigue. He finds it hard to work collaboratively. Forced to accept alliances with other forces, like the Green Equo and the long-standing Izquirda Unida, he has the ill-grace to refuse to take any joint responsibility, in the political battles.
Now that it is clear that Podemos has not the remotest chance of forming a future government in the Cortes Generales it will be of interest to see how his authority is maintained.
* Ideologically, C’s describes itself as a progressive, secular, constitutionalist, European federalist and postnationalist party. In addition, Albert Rivera has said that C’s defends autonomism. According to its declared identity signs, C’s advocates four basic lines of action: Defence of individual rights. Defence of social rights as well as the welfare state. Uphold the State of Autonomies and Europe’s unity. Regeneration of democracy and of political life. Wikipedia.