Political impasse in Spain
The Spanish general election of December 20 created a political impasse. Although the Partido Popular, PP, the governing party under Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, won the most seats, this was a hollow victory indeed. With just 28 percent of the vote and 123 seats in the 350 seat Congress of Deputies, Rajoy is a long way short of a majority. Since his only potential partner, the centre-right populist party Ciudadanos, has only 40 seats, he also has little chance even of forming a coalition government.
At the same time, the "grand progressive coalition" pursuing “left-wing policies” called for by Pedro Sánchez, the leader of the Partido Socialista Obrero Español, PSOE, also looks unlikely.
In short, Spain has a hung parliament. For the first time in the post Franco era, the “two-party” system has failed to produce a government. If the impasse continues, a new election is almost a certainty. Despite this, the election result represents a rejection of austerity and a swing to the left by the electorate, comparable to that in Portugal in November.
Traditional left in Crisis
Nonetheless, both the traditional parties of the Spanish labour movement suffered serious setbacks. The PSOE had its worst ever result, 22 per cent and 90 seats, while the United Left, IU, which includes the Communist Party, lost 9 of its 11 seats.
Like the PSOE, which imposed a swingeing austerity programme after 2008, the IU’s losses stem, at least in part, from its electoralist opportunism in the face of the capitalist crisis. It participated in governments that imposed austerity measures in Andalusia and Asturias, and even supported a PP government in Extremadura.
The decline in the fortunes of the reformist parties, right and left, might not matter if Podemos were a clear, radical, working class party capable of advancing a socialist programme of action, but it is not. Rather, it is a petty bourgeois populist party, proclaiming itself neither right nor left, refusing to refer to itself as socialist or to identify with the working class movement and the trade unions.
In 2015, Pablo Iglesias, its leader, swung the party rightwards, appealing to conservative voters by courting the police, the army and the church. He announced the recruitment to its electoral lists of former judges, police officials and even a retired Chief of the Armed Forces General Staff, of whom he said;
“It is an honour for us to be joined by Julio Rodríguez, a man who has devoted his life to defending his country, a uniformed citizen and a democrat who has held the highest rank available in the military, and who contributes the solvency, honesty and commitment of a life devoted to others.”
However, Podemos also gained from the alliances it had made in the local elections last May, most notably in Barcelona where Ada Colau, a prominent anti-eviction activist, headed Barcelona En Comú and won the mayoralty.
The Catalan dilemma
Although Podemos does not itself support Catalan independence, it has correctly called for a referendum in Catalunya on the question. This is a major obstacle to the formation of a left coalition with PSOE, which actually supports the Spanish state’s denial of the Catalans' right to secede if the majority so decide. Its spokesman, Antonio Hernando, recently said that PSOE had, "an unwavering commitment to the unity and integrity of Spain, our defence of the Constitution and our rejection of the acts that might lead to non-compliance with the law or the constitution".
What sort of government?
Given the present balance of forces in the country, then, a stable government, either of the right or the left, looks difficult to achieve, if not impossible. Even another election would not, by itself, resolve the problem. For the Left and the working class, changing that balance of forces means a return to the streets, to mass direct action, to working class mobilisation not around the vague utopian slogans of the past four years but around clear demands, focusing on;
• an end to unemployment, homelessness, the cuts to the welfare and education systems; making the rich pay for repairing the devastation their system has caused.
• the right of Catalans to hold a referendum on whether they wish to secede from the Spanish state.
• a workers' government based on councils of delegates at local and national level, organized to defend themselves against the army, the police and the guardia civil.
To achieve such goals, the workers and youth who, over the last five years, have demonstrated their radicalism and fighting prowess, need to build a powerful revolutionary workers' party.
Its members will have to come from the rank and file of Podemos, the IU, the PSOE, as well as young people new to struggle. They need to link up at local and state-wide levels to prepare the creation of the new party on a clear revolutionary programme.
The impending economic crisis will pose once again the question of power, and not simply in electoral terms but in terms of which class rules. That question will also be posed in other European countries and the new party will have to be internationalist from the outset, defending the rights of refugees and setting as its goal a Socialist United Sates of Europe.