Saturday, 31 January 2015

Podemos: it's not what you think, British left

After the electoral success of Syriza in Greece, comes a massive demonstration in favour of Podemos in Madrid's Plaza del Sol. The British left has been quick to see Syriza as the start of something. Surely there is about to be an Iberian repeat of that anti-austerity win, which will kill the Euro-zone's austerity policies off for good?

Hmm, not necessarily. Things are still a little more stable in Spain, despite some serious economic challenges, such as having one in four people unemployed. And the movements aren't really the same, either.

As usual with these things, there is an easy narrative: in this case, to class both movements as popular uprisings of the left against capitalism. But whereas Syriza really is essentially an unreconstructed party of the radical left, more the equivalent of Respect in the UK, Podemos is a more anti-politics-as-usual force, not so clearly aligned and mostly supported by Spaniards of all stripes who are genuinely disgusted with traditional parties.

Ok, you say, that's nothing new. We have protest votes in the UK, for UKIP, the Greens or the SNP. But that is because the current crop of British politicians is uninspiring. Not because they are largely corrupt and hopeless, which is the opinion that a large majority of Spaniards have of their own.

This despair is not without good reason. 

For example, the trial of the ruling PP's former party treasurer, Luis Bárcenas, who has alleged, with pretty strong evidence, that most of the Cabinet (including the current prime minister) were on the payroll of construction companies. None of these politicians will go to jail (before you complain about British MPs, remember how Chris Huhne was - rightly - imprisoned for lying about a traffic offence, for heavens' sake).

Or how, extraordinarily, Francisco Camps, regional president of Valencia, got off scot-free in another corruption trial. Or remember what happened when the decent Judge Garzón was disbarred as a pretty much direct result of investigating political corruption, including that of Camps.

The Socialists (PSOE) seem to be marginally less corrupt, but they are also stultifyingly traditional in their political approach. The left has never undergone much reform in Spain, and the previous government of Zapatero - despite a few decent social advances, such as gay marriage - was generally held to have been an economic disaster.

Although the debate is still finely-balanced, it may yet happen that Catalonia ends up seceding; not because of some quite reasonable claims to independence convincing everyone, but because its inhabitants see it as the only way to get a fresh start, away from the mess of Spanish politics. And even Catalonia's previously fairly corruption-free nationalist party, the CiU, has recently undergone a corruption scandal involving its long-time leader, Jordi Pujol, which has tainted it.

So Podemos - translated, "we can" - has garnered a widespread support, sometimes even from those naturally on the right, who are fed up with the incompetent and corrupt PP.

But it is not Syriza. It is more like a development of the Occupy anti-capitalism movement (in fact much of its momentum has come from the "Indignados", which was one of the inspirations for Occupy). One therefore wonders very much if such a loose political formation can have the mechanisms to transform itself into a party of government, lacking the Marxist-style organisational capabilities of the far left, which I suspect would have been a significant factor in the success of Syriza.

In short, one needs to be for things, not just against them, and one also needs to be ruthlessly organised. We shall see.

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