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Spain: after Socialist Party victory - What Now?

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With a turnout of more than 75 percent, one of the highest since 1982, the Spanish elections on April 28 saw the Partido Socialista Obrero Español PSOE – Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party, as the main winner with 28.7 percent of votes and 123 seats, as against 2016 when it obtained 85.

Pedro Sánchez, the party leader also won an absolute majority in the Senate, going from 43 to 121 seats. To add to his triumph, the elections held on the same day in the País Valencià saw it increase its seats from 23 to 27 and, in alliance with Compromís, 17, and Podemos, 8, it will be able to form a government.

PSOE’s rival on its left, the populist Podemos, suffered a serious reverse, yet another setback for its leader, Pablo Iglesias, who, before the 2016 election had talked of the “sorpasso” overtaking the Socialists. Iglesias denounced them as just another party of “la casta”, the caste or establishment. Unidas Podemos, UP, an alliance between Podemos and United Left, IU, lost a third of its seats going from 71 to 42, and the popular vote, too, 21.15 percent down to 14.31 percent.

Nevertheless, together, PSOE and UP have 165 seats, only 11 short of an absolute majority in Congress, a number that will probably be made up from small regional parties. They may also be able to gain the support of one or another of the Catalan independentist parties on an issue by issue basis.

In contrast, the traditional post-Franco right wing conservative party, the Popular Party, Partido Popular, PP, under its leader, Pablo Casado, suffered crushing losses; going from 137 seats to 66, with only 16.7 percent of the popular vote. Within the conservative electorate it lost votes and seats to its left and its right.

To its left, the neoliberal, quasi-populist party Ciudadanos, Citizens, increased its seats from 32 to 57 with 15.86 percent of the popular vote, less than one per cent behind the once mighty PP. To its right, it lost votes to the new racist, populist party, Vox, which enters parliament for the first time with 24 seats and 2,667,313 votes,10.26 percent, Vox is a virulently islamophobic party, summed up in its slogan that Spain needs a new Reconquest against the Muslims.

Right-wing Breakthrough: Catalan consolidation
Vox, which was founded towards the end 2013, and whose stronghold is the southern province of Almería, issued a 100-point manifesto of “urgent measures” to "make Spain great again". These included repealing laws against gender violence, outlawing abortion and same-sex marriage and taking even harsher repressive measures against Catalan separatists. It also called for the expulsion not only of all unauthorised migrants but any legal ones if they commit a crime.

After the results, its leader, Santiago Abascal, brazenly identified the party’s success with its islamophobia “We told you that we were starting a reconquest of Spain, and that is exactly what we have done”. The term “Reconquista” refers to the expulsion, or forced conversion, of the Moors in the Middle Ages. The party also defends bullfighting, wants to relax gun ownership laws and glories in Spain’s Catholic traditions.

The threat posed by Vox, with its shameless praise of the Franco regime, played into the hands of the PSOE and Sánchez used the anti-fascist slogan, “No pasarán!”, to good effect. People saw the Socialists as the only electorally effective barricade against a right wing coalition that would include Vox. This was helped by the PP’s demagogic swing to the right to try to match Vox.

Meanwhile, in Catalonia, the ERC, the Republican Left, Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya, advanced from 9 to 15 seats, with 3.89 percent of the votes and Junts Per Catalunya, Together for Catalonia, won seven seats and the left-nationalist Basque party, EH Bildu, won four seats.

Although it might take two rounds of parliamentary voting, it is likely that Sánchez will win recognition by Congress by an alliance with the UP, the Basque nationalist Partido Nacionalista Vasco, PNV, plus the Valencian Compromis and the Cantabrian regionalist PRC, without having to agree with the Catalan independence movement.

However, it must not be forgotten that four of the elected leaders of ERC and Junts per Catalunya are languishing in jail, about to be tried by the right-dominated Supreme Court, for sedition, that is, for holding the independence referendum. Though the PSOE says it favours dialogue with independentists, it has made clear that it will not allow an independence referendum under any circumstances. Sánchez has once more stressed the PSOE’s loyalty to the Spanish Constitution and its courts:

"The democracy that guarantees the freedom of protest is the same one that judges [Catalan] politicians who break the constitutional rules and legality … Under a Socialist government the independence of Catalonia will not occur."

Podemos in Crisis
Pablo Iglesias himself made an effective return to the political stage, after 3 months' paternity leave, with strong performances in TV debates in which he put Sanchez on the spot over whether he would consider a coalition with Ciudadanos, which the Socialist leader has been shoddily evasive about. Unlike the early Podemos' refusal to be identified with either Left or Right, he has recently spoken of the need for a "government of the left". He has also made the clearest denunciations of the ruling families of the super rich and the business oligarchs, who, he said, “have more power than any MP or elected representative”.

Neverthless, UP and its various allies lost twenty-nine MPs and 7 percent of the votes, following years of internal disputes, sudden turnarounds in attitude to the PSOE, and evasiveness and indecision over the national question. It is also true, however, that the dirty tricks waged by the the mass media also contributed to its defeat.

Splits between the original ideological leader of Podemos, Íñigo Errejón, and the cultish “single leader”, Pablo Iglesias, have led to the standing of rival candidates in Madrid's municipal elections on May 26. The disintegration of alliances in the regions of Valencia and Galicia has clearly led to disillusionment, as measured by the fall in participants in the internal plebiscites that Iglesias calls to confirm his dominance.

The loss of MPs to the PSOE means that dreams of “surpassing” the reformist party, founded in 1879, have been rudely shattered. But this is unlikely to budge the UP from its “left populism” based on the writings of post-Marxist theoreticians Chantal Mouffe and Ernesto Laclau and the Hugo Chavez concoction of “twenty first century socialism”.

The Podemos intellectual and MP, Manolo Monereo, made this clear when quoted in an article on the US Jacobin website, that “left populism is the form class struggle takes in our post-socialist age, that is, an era heavily marked by the historic defeat of the labor movement in Europe and the fracturing of working-class communities”. Given the Podemos academics' infatuation with the “goodbye to the working class” trope, which allows the intelligentsia to masquerade as “the people”, and its denial of identification with the working class, it should be clear that Unidas Podemos is no alternative to the PSOE.

Nevertheless, Monoreo himself points out a positive truth about the potential of the political situation after the elections.

“There is a social and parliamentary majority to set in motion a social agenda that reverses all lost rights and strengthens our weak social state. There is a social and parliamentary majority to regenerate our divided democracy, which creates the conditions to limit corruption and the growing control that economic power exerts over the political class. There is a social and parliamentary majority that can set in motion the fiscal reform that our country has needed for many years, that guarantees democratic government of the economy and generates the bases to build a new model of social and ecologically sustainable development. There is a social and parliamentary majority to lead a set of constitutional reforms, starting with the electoral reform, which we urgently need.”

The fight to impose such goals, however, must start with an alliance at whose heart is a united front of the working class involving not only the parties of the left but the major (and minor) trade union federations, drawn from all the nationalities of Spain.

A programme of action for Spain
Despite Sánchez' appalling declarations of Spanish state patriotism, the party’s electors and members clearly represent a huge part of working class and progressive people, who expect at least serious reforms and they must be addressed through making demands on a PSOE minority government or even a coalition. Genuine revolutionaries will fight to get the trade unions and left parties to form a united front around demands on PSOE, Podemos and other left candidates who may win election on May 26 and which should include the following:

A complete end to austerity, full restoration of the pre-2008 social gains and indeed their extension to meet the needs of the overall 14 percent of people unemployed and the 32 percent of 15-24 year olds. The burning question of restoring people's homes, lost during the Great Recession, taking over empty properties for the homeless, will require a plan of public works and expenditure that means taxing the rich and the big banks and corporations and nationalising them without compensation if they fail to cough up. Indeed, the powerful Spanish banking system needs to be socialised under workers' control as the first step to a planned economy.

The agrarian census of 1982 found that 50.9 percent of the country's farmland was held in properties of 200 or more hectares, but only 1.1 percent of the country's 2.3 million farms. Meanwhile, 61.8 percent of Spain's farms had fewer than 5 hectares of land and occupied only 5.2 percent of the total. On her death in 2014, Spain’s’ largest landowner, the Duchess of Alba, owned 34,000 hectares of land. The Socialists' limited agrarian reform of the 1980s must be upstaged by a real agrarian revolution with all the remaining latifundios (aristocratic estates) in the south and west expropriated and, depending on local conditions, turned into workers' or small farmers' cooperatives.

In summer 2018, Spain received the highest number of refugees and migrants in the EU, exceeding both Italy and Greece, the former a result of the clamp down by Salvini and the right-wing government; the latter as a result of the EU deal with Turkey to block their overland passage. In 2018, just under 60,000 people crossed the western Mediterranean to Spain, or drowned trying, compared to fewer than 22,000 in 2017 and 8,000 in 2016. The right wing press has used this to inflame anti-migrant and anti-Muslim feeling. The Sanchez government’s decision in June to admit 400 refugees on a rescue ship barred from Italy and Malta exposed the inhumanity of the other EU countries and progressive forces should insist that all refugees to given asylum.

The most burning democratic right at the moment is the right of the Catalans to self-determination, including the right to hold a referendum which includes the option to secede from the Spanish state. Socialists should not favour the break up of the country, both because huge minorities of non-Catalan speakers would exist within an independent state and because independence would break up the unity of the working class across the whole peninsular. However, that unity is weakened, not maintained, by the current denial of the right of Catalans to decide this issue for themselves.

Last, but not least, is the defence of democratic rights, including women’s and gender rights that need to be staunchly defended against the right wing parties at both the state and regional levels. An antifascist united front, including defence groups, needs to be formed to defend workers in struggle, or immigrants under attack.

The post-Franco constitution, which preserved many of the features of its dictatorial predecessor, not least the monarchy and the role of the High Court that has imprisoned the Catalan leaders, needs to be swept away. Elections to a sovereign constitutional assembly, based on proportional representation with no minimum threshold, and with votes for all over the age of 16, should be held. The unions and workers' parties should supervise such elections and campaign for a workers' government, based on, and accountable to, the workers' organisations.