The snap 10 November general election in the Spanish state has had as its first and clear consequence the strengthening of the extreme-right party, Vox, which grew from 24 to 52 seats, when in 2016 it did not have any. On the right, the Popular Party (PP) also increased its representation from 66 to 88 seats. PP and Vox combined thus won 49 more seats, almost the same as those lost by right-populist Ciudadanos (47). We are not therefore witnessing a great swing of broad layers of society from left to right, but rather a deeper polarisation which has pushed the right in a more radical direction.
By Socialismo Revolucionario (CWI in the Spanish state)
Both the social-democratic PSOE and the Unidas Podemos (UP – electoral coalition of Podemos and the United Left) also lost voters and seats, although they continue to hold more combined seats than the PP, Vox and Ciudadanos. The elections was also marked by an increase in abstention. Over 2 million more people decided to stay at home compared to the April elections.
On the other hand, we can see how the polarisation has also resulted in the pro-independence parties in Catalunya increasing their proportional representation compared to the non-independence parties. There was also a clear transfer of voters from Esquerra Republicana to the more radical Left pro-independence CUP. In the Basque Country, nationalist formations such as the PNV and Bildu also grew.
Why is the radicalisation of the Spanish right taking place right now? The first cause is undoubtedly the worsening of the crisis in Catalunya. The ideological offensive that accompanies the escalation in state repression and national oppression in Catalunya is expressed in an exaltation of Spanish nationalism. This is not something radically new, since the Popular Party and Ciudadanos have constantly competed in the last 3 years to see who would propose more radical measures against the broad pro-independence movement. In addition, they have formed joint governments with Vox in regions such as Madrid, Andalusia and Murcia, instead of applying a “cordon sanitaire”. Once again, it is clear that it is the “liberal” right that, in the face of a crisis, prepares the ground for and boosts the agenda of the fascistic ultra-right.
In the same way, Vox’s discourse is not radically new. In fact, it connects with the positions of the rancid Spanish Francoism. This is another of the causes of the rise of the Spanish ultra-right. The pacts of silence and the amnesty laws of the “transition” seek to whitewash the fascist character of the Franco regime, which could only come to power with the help of Hitler. The revisionist discourse of the leaders of Vox, which equates the Francoist side and the Republican side of the Civil War, has had no problems in imposing itself: it was already the official discourse of the Spanish political establishment and the educational system.
The third cause of the rise of the far right is to be found in the rightward turn of the leadership of the PSOE. Whereas in 2017 PSOE held its 39th Congress under the slogan “We are the left”, in this electoral campaign Pedro Sánchez has sought to present himself as an authoritarian president capable of imposing order in Catalunya, competing with the right-wing parties in a very dangerous terrain for democracy.
But in addition to these factors, we must also mention that Unidas Podemos no longer presents itself as a party of rupture with the regime of 1978 and with the established power. Its leadership’s continuous defence of the Constitution of 1978, its equidistant position on Catalunya, merely calling for negotiation between the movement and the central government that brutally represses it, and above all the disappearance from its programme of the most radical measures in favour of the working class, means that its no longer captures the “protest vote” as once before, feeding into abstention. This leaves more room for Vox, especially in communities where the anti-Catalan discourse has become more widespread.
What should the left and the activists of the Spanish state do now? Firstly, we need to learn from our comrades in countries such as Greece, Germany or France, where the new extreme right has a long tradition and great implantation in the institutions. In Greece, for example, the tireless work of anti-fascist organizations has led to a great loss of support for Golden Dawn.
Unlike these countries, in the Spanish state the networks of antifascist activists are still weak. The left has an important job ahead of it: to create and empower these networks to wage a battle. Proto-fascism has achieved an important institutional representation. Its next step is to also conquer those positions in the streets and that is where it must find us blocking the way, mobilizing the power of the working class for an alternative of solidarity and internationalism. In this battle, the role of an international organization with extensive experience in combating fascism is key.
Breaking the political logjam
The other big consequence of the elections was the rapid “pre-agreement” for a coalition government reached by PSOE and the Unidas Podemos, less than 48 hours after the elections. This was news that millions of workers and young people have received positively. On the one hand, it has blocked the way to a possible coalition of the three Spanish right wing parties, the so-called “trifachito”, which for example is already governing in Murcia, Andalusia and Madrid, with Vox decisively influencing these governments, although it supports them from outside.
However, on the other hand, many workers are also demanding that measures be taken in favour of our class, after a brutal economic crisis from 2008 onwards from which we have not recovered, either in terms of the number of jobs or in terms of the much more precarious conditions of the jobs that have been created, or in terms of the level of investment in public services.
The pre-agreement that PSOE and the Unidas Podemos have signed takes up part of these demands, but upon reading it carefully, points 1 to 9 are not much more than declarations of good intentions on different matters (climate change, discrimination against women, precariousness, public services, etc.) but almost without any concrete measure. This could mean that the real measures taken by the future government are very ineffective.
Unfortunately, point 10 is even more revealing, in pointing out that public spending must comply with “Spain’s fiscal responsibility agreements with Europe”. This is recorded on paper, as opposed to concrete social policies referred to above, and will mean that Unidas Podemos is completely tied to the control of the budgetary deficit, which will include the imposition of new cuts by the European Union.
A PSOE-UP government can serve to unblock months of governmental and political uncertainty, but this does not mean that it will not face great tensions or that it can successfully finish the legislature.
On the one hand, the government will be full of contradictions, with a PSOE whose leadership is fully capitalist, which will not easily grant improvements to the working class that go against the big companies. Any social conquest will not be achieved simply by office negotiations between PSOE and UP, but because the working class is capable of forcing the government to grant concessions, as happened previously with the pension increases, or the 2018 increase in the minimum wage, which was undoubtedly related to the feminist general strike.
A much more explosive factor is the situation in Catalunya. PSOE and Podemos have agreed to move towards a negotiated solution “within the Constitution” and there will be attempts to make concessions in negotiations with JxC and ERC. However, the movement will not accept that its demands for self-determination and an independent republic be watered down, which would generate strong protests. These tensions are already being felt, for example, in the difficulties PSOE is encountering so far in its attempts to get ERC to abstain in the parliamentary vote for President.
On the other hand, we can continue to expect, especially if there is any kind of concession from the government, however minimal, the same reactionary discourse of PP, Vox and Citizens, calling for repressive measures against the movement. The Madrid Assembly has already approved a proposal calling for the banning of pro-independence parties and the inclusion of the CDRs (Committees in Defence of the Republic) on the EU list of “criminal and terrorist” organisations.
The movement for independence in Catalunya will not easily accept the abandonment of the struggle and will continue to confront the repression represented by the regime of 1978, supported by the Spanish and Catalan bourgeoisie. The whole left, not only in Catalunya but in the whole Spanish state, must openly support Catalunya’s right to self-determination and join the struggle in the streets to achieve it. Unidas Podemos cannot have two faces. It is not enough for Iglesias and Garzón to say that they defend the right to self-determination in theory and that they do not agree with imprisonment, but that, on the other hand, the law and the constitution must be respected. The regime of 1978 and its corrupt laws must be opposed. What has been gained in struggle in the past can only be defended in the streets through the power of the workers.
Is the coalition government the only solution?
PSOE already has a disastrous track record of cuts, and privatizations, including the 2010 Labor Reform and the raising of the retirement age to 67. The ministerial positions and seats for Iglesias and co in government are not going to soften the pro-capitalist programme and character of PSOE. Unidas Podemos should have fought during their negotiations with PSOE for concrete measures in favour of the working class, including including guarantees against cuts and in defence of public services. These guarantees can only be fought for on the streets and in the workplaces.
If instead of entering into a coalition government, the Unidas Podemos agreed to vote for the formation of Sánchez’s government in parliament, in exchange for the implementation of radical measures in favour of the working class, it could have maintained its independence from the PSOE and dissociated itself from any antisocial and anti-democratic policies that the government will apply, including attacks on the pro-independence movement in Catalunya or a new application of the Francoist Article 155 of the Constitution.
For the coalition government to try to apply these policies could completely delegitimize UP in the eyes of many workers, as well triggering divisions and splits in UP. Therefore, it is crucial that if PSOE attempts to implement any of these measures, UP ends its participation in the coalition government. UP grassroots militants must be vigilant and fight resolutely against UP’s participation in a government that applies these measures.
Another argument for the UP not to enter the government coalition with PSOE is the danger that, while this coalition government does not implement real change for the working class, at the same time, Vox presents itself as the main opposition to this government, leaving it even more political space. On the other hand, if UP remains outside the government it can be an opposition from the left, and rebuild its political approach through struggle in the streets, instead of focusing only on work within the institutions.
To fight for real measures in favor of the working class, the whole left needs to unite, including Bildu (the Basque Left), the CUP in Catalunya and the grassroots militants of Unidas Podemos and the trade union movement, to fight for a radical social program that opposes all austerity measures and for a government that fights for the interests of the working class and the democratic rights of all. Only such a struggle can effectively cut across Vox, the far right and its reactionary, racist policy and fascistic pretensions. Unfortunately, we fear that the governing coalition can lead to Unidas Podemos committing to the capitalist programme of PSOE and that, as a consequence, it could lose credibility as an alternative to the establishment. That is why we must build a revolutionary, socialist and anti-capitalist pole of attraction from the ground up.