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.
Owen: Labour and the left teeter on the brink of disaster.
In Praise of Owen Jones.
“The story recounted in this book suggests that the route to socialism does not lie through transforming the Labour Party”
The End of Parliamentary Socialism. Leo Panitch & Colin Leys. 1997.
“The period of New Labour may be seen in the future as a short deviation from the historical flow of Labour Party as a developing socialist party or it may be identified as the period in which Labour as an aspiring party of radical socialist advance was destroyed.”
John McDonnell. Introduction. 100 Years of Labour. Graham Bash and Andrew Fisher. 2006.
Until Jeremy Corbyn’s election as Labour leader last year most socialists in Britain would have concluded that the second of John McDonnell’s options had come true. Labour was not in any sense a vehicle of “radical socialist advance”. Others who believed that Labour was never a radical socialist party as such but contained currents that promoted democratic socialist policies that could see the light of day, saw their hopes of influence blocked. Labour, was, in short, not a party the left had any hope in.
Blair and Brown, the Third Way, or social liberalism, Blue Labour, a variety of distinctly non-socialist approaches dominated not just its Parliamentary representatives, but local government, intellectuals of any practical influence and the network of civil society associations that sustain the party. For a period modernisers, promoting ‘social partnership’, dominated even the trade unionism, although this began to unravel in the first years of the new century. Left groups and journals, such Labour Briefing and Chartist (both of which I am associated with), were marginalised. The Labour Representation Committee (LRC) set up in 2004 and chaired by John McDonnell had little impact. While union leaders like UNITE’s Len McCluskey appeared to exert left influence, and the centre-left Grassroots Alliance maintained its presence on Labour’s National Executive Committee (NEC) nobody expected the election of Jeremy Corbyn in 2015.
Much of the socialist left, from the late 90s on, in diminishing numbers and with decreasing success, put their energies into trying to create new left parties and electoral alliances that stood independently of Labour. Many of these attempts ended not just in failure at the ballot box but also in demonstrated the difficulties of ploughing new political ground. Above all the experience of the Socialist Alliance (essentially from 1999 to 2003) demonstrated fundamental incompatibilities between democratic socialists and small ‘Leninist’ parties like the Socialist Workers Party, the bureaucratic ‘Trotskyist’ Socialist Party, and whatever label currently fits the personal vehicle for George Galloway, Respect.
If Corbyn’s 2015 victory was unexpected the groundswell in his favour this year has also been unprecedented. Left-wing individuals, including many from the democratic group, Left Unity (which stood out from the above organisations) had joined Labour to vote for him. At present the campaigning and protesting of unions, left groups, and individuals that has, most recently, been channelled into the alliance known as the People’s Assembly, has been overshadowed by rallies in support for Corbyn’s re-election. The campaign for the re-election of Jeremy Corbyn has shifted attention away from the kind of political negotiating that marks the Labour left. A body of opinion has emerged that believes Labour is, or can be, transformed into a “social movement” in its own right. That the vast majority of those now rallying to Corbyn are not part of any organised group has made it hard to funnel them into traditional directions, and the all-embracing nature of the terms “social” and “movement” can be interpreted in many ways.
Paul Mason expresses the view that Labour will come to office because neo-liberalism is “busted” and puts Labour as a social movement at the forefront of building an alternative.
In Labour: The Way Ahead he stated a couple of days ago,
“Labour will become the first mainstream party in a western democracy to ditch neoliberalism and then take power.”
Above all, victory is possible under Corbyn because Labour can become a social movement. Corbyn himself called for this at his leadership launch rally. The problem is that the Labour tradition has very little experience of social movements — especially the networked, anti-hierarchical forms of organisation associated with them since the late 1990s.
To call for Labour to become a social movement when it had 130,000 members and a bunch of moribund local committees would have sounded futile. With 600,000+ members, the majority pro-Corbyn and amid a summer of street rallies and overflowing mass meetings, it sounds highly possible.
Mason’s proposals for economic stimulus, the moblisation of the social movement aorund issues such the defence of mirgant workers, offering hope against the despair of UKIP, are attractive.
But is this part of a viable strategy?
If Corbyn wins on 24 September then, at the substantive and sovereign party conference that begins the next day, Labour MPs should be asked to register publicly their confidence in the new leader.
The party should also ask all MPs to sign a statement recognising that the leader elected on 24 September is the lawful leader of the legal entity known as “The Labour Party” and that he is legally entitled to run the two limited companies that own its assets (Labour Party Nominees Limited and Labour Party Properties Limited).
Those MPs who refuse to register their confidence in Corbyn, or to recognise his legal right to run The Labour Party, should be marked down for de-selection.
Mason clearly indicates that he considers a large section of the existing Parliamentary Labour Party a waste of space. No doubt he, and others, would wish to extend such a loyalty test to councillors and all officers of the Party. Or are local representatives allowed greater freedom to dissent?
One of Mason’s principal models, the Spanish party, Podemos, is a very different phenomenon. It grew from the Indignados, known as the 15-M Movement , protests at the staggering corruption of the country’s political life that involved several million people. Mason claims that the American Occupy movement was inspired by Stephane Hessel’s Indignez Vous! (Time for Outrage) but in fact it had its deepest impact in these Iberian protests. Podemos, while sometimes claiming to be “beyond” left and right, involves at least one left Marxist-Green current, the Izquierda anticapitalista.
From 9,8% of the vote in the European Podemos reached 21% in the December 2015. But, refusing any compromise with the Spanish Socialist Party PSOE) triggered fresh elections. This time, allied with the so-called ‘old left’ of the Izquierda Unida, and hopes of becoming the leading left force in the country it only reached 21,10% to the PSOE 22,66% . New elections may well be held, but even if its score improves Podemos can never hope to score a majority of the vote and can only govern in coalition – a prospect that Labour, with an electoral system that makes even this kind of representation difficult – would not relish.
Mason’s hostility to anybody disloyal to Corbyn is not at all helpful. The antagonism between the Corbyn side and those against him has ratcheted up in the fall out after the Brexit referendum vote. There are plenty of MPs who are willing to take the most extreme measures to destroy the existing Labour leadership. From a constant drip-by-drip of stories undermining the leader of the Opposition and its allies in the Shadow Cabinet we are now faced with the prospect of an alternative parliamentary group, and even – in some people’s view – a split in the party.
How does Mason’s alternative (not to mention those of others equally virulent against the Party’s centre and right-wing) offer a serious way forward? A social movement that moves in “waves and swarms and ” “a street movement” seeking “new forms of representation” a serious way of grappling with the problem of a Parliamentary party split in two and the mounting Tory lead in opinion polls. It would be pleasant indeed to believe that this might win labour elections, but we have only faith, belief in things unseen, to back the claim up.
Frenzied attacks on Corbyn backers, charged with wishing the Gulag for their opponents, have been met by screams of Blairite, and worse. It is as if both sides wish to conduct their disputes after the template of the pro-Nazi 20th century political philosopher Carl Schmitt: dividing the world into “friend and enemy” with a “fighting collectivity of people” confronting a similar collectivity. (1)
In this vein John Landsman asserts “the current leadership contest is like the Miners’ Strike – there are two clear sides, and while one might disagree with the way a political battle is being conducted, you still rally behind your side, because defeat and capitulation to the other side is still much worse.” “This is the battle being played out in the party right now, those are the stakes, those are the ‘sides’ that we are forced to pick.” (Picking sides’ – A short reply to Owen Jones). A victory of the Corbyn opponents, he argues, would lead to disaster. That;’s as may be. But to regard those who do not “pick sides” as part of the enemy camp is but a step from the original assertion.l This is not a way to conduct democratic politics inside the same party. It is a recipe for a split.
Some of the strongest supporters of this approach appear to be recent members of the Labour Party, and those, from the far-left outside, trying to bathe in the glory of Jeremy Corbyn’s re-election. It grates to hear people long-standing Labour people, many of whom have decided their lives to it and public office, from the centre, a variety of groups or none, as well as the genuine Labour right group, Progress. It is equally deeply offensive for opponents of Corbyn to scream that his backers are totalitarians, anti-Semites, and abusive thugs.
In the middle of this pandemonium Owen Jones has stood out as a rational voice. Owen first made his name with the book Chavs (2012), followed by the Establishment (2014). His columns, originally in the Independent and now in the Guardian, have great influence. Having worked in John McDonnell’s office he is more than familiar with the way the Left works and the people involved in the present Corbyn team. Owen had trudged around the country speaking to hundreds of left meetings. Above all he is a dedicated democratic socialist who has earned great respect on the left and amongst the wider public.
Owen’s approach in recent weeks gives expression to the deep concerns many of us have not just with those constantly undermining Corbyn but more deeply with the real problems that Labour faces – summed up in disastrous opinion polls – and what he feels are policy failures and difficulties with addressing the wider electorate. He also challenges an over-optimistic ‘social movement’ stand that many appear to be taking.
This is his latest contribution:
Labour and the left teeter on the brink of disaster. There, I said it. I’ll explain why. But first, it has become increasingly common in politics to reduce disagreements to bad faith. Rather than accepting somebody has a different perspective because, well, that’s what they think, you look for an ulterior motive instead. Everything from self-aggrandisement to careerism to financial corruption to the circles in which the other person moves: any explanation but an honest disagreement. It becomes a convenient means of avoiding talking about substance, of course. Because of this poisonous political atmosphere, the first chunk of this blog will be what many will consider rather self-indulgent (lots of ‘I’ and ‘me’, feel free to mock), but hopefully an explanation nonetheless of where I’m coming from. However long it is, it will be insufficient: I can guarantee the same charges will be levelled
The core of the article revolves around these point:
Comrade Owen ends by stating this,
Labour faces an existential crisis. There will be those who prefer me to just to say: all the problems that exist are the fault of the mainstream media and the Parliamentary Labour Party, and to be whipped up with the passions generated by mass rallies across the country. But these are the facts as I see them, and the questions that have to be answered. There are some who seem to believe seeking power is somehow ‘Blairite’. It is Blairite to seek power to introduce Blairite policies. It is socialist to seek power to introduce socialist policies. As things stand, all the evidence suggests that Labour — and the left as a whole — is on the cusp of a total disaster.
Guess what at least some of the responses to these carefully thought out questions has been?
Those attacking Owen are attacking the democratic socialists who back Corbyn, but with exactly the kind of independence of thought he represents.
We back Corbyn, we back McDonnell – a view strengthened in the last few days by the strong stand in favour of restoring Trade Union rights.
But these are indeed the questions which need to be looked at.
(1) The Concept of the Political. Carl Schmidt. University of Chicago. 2007.
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.