Andalusia: victory for a PSOE in decline and resounding defeat for the right

On March 22 elections were held in the region of Andalusia, the most populated region in Spain and a key political arena. This is especially so because, firstly, these are the first elections in a year that will be marked by the ballot box: there will be municipal elections in May and general elections in December.

Most importantly, the Andalusian elections come at a time of rapid change and instability in Spanish politics, expressed above all by the breakneck rise of Podemos, a party that was set up by a group of well-known left-wing university professors in February 2014 and that in a matter of months, by autumn, was topping the polls, and by January 2015 the level of enthusiasm was such that as many as 300,000 people attended one of its rallies in Madrid.

The rise of Podemos reflects the profound discontent and the desire for radical social transformation that exists in crisis-ridden Spain, which has experienced repeated waves of mass protests in the past four years, starting with the indignados movement of 2011 and culminating in the massive Dignity Marches of March 2014. Podemos has become the political expression of this radicalisation.

Although the party leaders shy away from ideological tags, Podemos is seen by the population as the most left-wing party in the political spectrum, having repeatedly been selected in the opinion polls as the party that is further to the left in Spain, surpassing the traditional United Left, and most of its potential voters come from the working class and the youth.

In light of all this, the elections in Andalusia generated tremendous expectation among Spanish workers and youth and, conversely, tremendous fear among the upper classes and the parties of what has been dubbed el régimen, “the regime”, the old, hated establishment. In the end, the so-called Socialist Party (PSOE) - which despite its name, like the Greek PASOK, has acted as a faithful servant of the bourgeoisie - won the elections and the upper classes breathed a sigh of relief.

However, this was a Pyrrhic victory for the regime: the PSOE lost 118,000 votes and the right-wing PP party lost more than half a million votes, while Podemos went from none to fifteen regional MPs, winning almost 600,000 votes, while a new right-wing party, Ciudadanos, also made significant gains.

What are the reasons behind the (unimpressive) victory of the PSOE? Despite the remarkable results of Podemos, is this all that could have been expected? What are the perspectives for the coming period? We publish the analysis of the Marxists of Lucha de Clases, the Spanish section of the IMT who are active in the Podemos por el Socialismo (Podemos for Socialism) tendency.

PSOE first but in decline, big defeat for right and Podemos third largest force

The PSOE won the Andalusian regional parliamentary elections, but lost four percentage points and more than 100,000 votes compared to the regional elections of 2012. Its victory, with a simple majority, was more a reflection of the collapse of the Popular Party vote than a vote in its favour. The PP lost half a million votes and dropped from 40.6% to 26.7%. The votes for the PSOE declined from 39.6% in 2012 to 35.4%, making it the worst ever result for the PSOE in Andalusia. The combined vote of the PSOE and the PP fell 18 percentage points (from 80% to 62%).

All of this happened in spite of the fact that there were 200,000 more voters in these elections than in 2012 and that the PSOE and the PP scandalously had the support of the mass media of the regime and unlimited resources at their disposal for their campaigns.

Despite everything that has been said, the turnout, below 64 percent, was still low—barely 3 percentage points more voters than in the regional elections of 2012. Undoubtedly, a large part of those who stayed at home will vote for Podemos in the November general elections.

Collapse of the PP and PSOE victory

The collapse of the PP is striking, with the party losing 14 percentage points and hundreds of thousands of votes, when they have actually been in opposition in Andalusia. Clearly, the working class and other layers punished it for its brutal policies of cuts and social attacks at national level. It is clear that a large part of the votes lost by the PP went to Ciudadanos, which gained about 370,000 votes.

On the other hand, there are many activists of Podemos and the left in general, inside and outside Andalusia, who do not understand the reasons for the PSOE victory and who have drawn bitter—and very mistaken—conclusions from these results. But as Leon Trotsky said: "When all else fails, and there is no other alternative, start to think."

Some had already set out premature comparisons between the fate that awaited the PSOE and the recent collapse of the Greek socialist party PASOK. But there is a fundamental difference and that is that the PSOE has not gone into coalition with the PP in a government of "national unity", unlike PASOK which, following the disastrous government of Papandreou, spent three years in coalition with the right-wing party New Democracy, implementing a brutal policy of austerity and massive impoverishment which has condemned them to political irrelevance. Many activists on the left believed, mistakenly, that the political process in Spain was advancing to the same level as in Greece, but for now that is not the case.

It is true that Andalusia has the highest rates of unemployment in the country and that hundreds of Andalusian government officials have been involved in numerous cases of corruption. But for the hundreds of thousands of Andalusian workers, these are not the only factors that count.

In reality, it would be demagogic to pretend that the government in Andalusia could on its own put an end to the high levels of unemployment in the region. It is a structural problem rooted in the backward economy of the region and in the backward and petty attitude of Andalusian capitalists which is embedded in the division of labour that has been going on for decades and centuries in Spain.

A real left-wing policy by the regional government, with the limited resources at its disposal, would only be able to introduce small measures here and there to reduce by one or two percent the rate of unemployment. Owing to the depth of the global crisis, there is no prospect of significant economic growth which would help achieve a tangible reduction in unemployment. For this reason, without the expropriation of the great agricultural, financial and industrial holdings of the Andalusian bourgeoisie, united by indissoluble economic ties, and the establishment of a centralised plan of production, under the control of the workers, it is impossible to undertake a comprehensive transformation of the Andalusian economy which would be the basis for a solution of the urgent problems which oppress the region. Therefore, in order to solve the endemic problems of the backward Andalusian economy what would be required at some point, are left-wing governments in both Seville and Madrid to implement a genuine socialist policy.

Yes, there is corruption, but what is to be done about it? Most of the working class are convinced that the politicians of the PP are more corrupt than any others, that they are richer than ever before, and that they hate the workers and their rights.

This explains why almost 1.4 million voted for the PSOE, but without any enthusiasm. It was a safety vote against the national right-wing government which is implementing nightmare policies for working families. It is these policies that have had more impact on the living conditions of the working masses of Andalusia than the policies of a regional government such as the Government of Andalusia, and the same is true in the rest of the country. The vote for the PSOE was a vote from the working class in the hope of preserving those social gains which remain, as Susana Diaz [PSOE President of the Regional Government of Andalusia] promised in her electoral campaign, and in the hope of blunting the antisocial and repressive policies of the PP against the institutions of Andalusia. At the same time, driven by fear of Podemos, Susana Díaz came out with demagogic and fiery speeches during the electoral campaign, and a significant section of the population was persuaded to give her one last chance. For thousands of socialist and left activists this, in all truth, is not a solution. But what alternatives were there to the left of the PSOE?

iu-podemosThe leadership of Izquierda Unida has a great responsibility in this, having helped restore the authority of the PSOE by giving its leaders a "left" cover when they signed a government coalition agreement with them for three more years, which they—incredibly enough—continue to justify after the 22 March electoral defeat. But if two parties who claim to be left-wing put forward similar policies, it is logical that the majority will vote for the largest one, the one with the biggest chance of defeating the right.

Podemos, on the other hand, gathered its support from the popular disillusionment with the politics of PSOE and the sentiment of hatred towards the PP. Without a doubt, the votes it has won—together with those of IU—represent the most advanced layer of the working class and other poor sections of Andalusian society. However, in spite of widespread feelings of indignation and rupture with the establishment and its parties, and the undeniable sympathy Podemos arouses among broad layers of the population, it still remains a new formation in Andalusia, without a tradition, with an undeveloped apparatus, without deep roots in society, and with barely known leaders who lack authority among the masses in this region. At the same time, Podemos has been subjected to the most ruthless attacks from the mainstream media. It is natural in these circumstances that a large section of the working masses, less politically developed and still needing more experience, concluded, unenthusiastically: "better the devil you know than the devil you don't." What is certain is that if the expectations placed in the PSOE are not met, Susana Díaz and her party will pay dearly in Andalusia.

But even so, the decline of PSOE in Andalusia is undeniable. As we said, PSOE lost more than 100,000 votes in these elections and fell by 4 percentage points. It is significant that this drop in votes comes after the last Andalusian elections in 2012, when the party had its second worst result in its history in Andalusia (39.6%).

And although the PSOE held on to the 47 seats it won back in 2012, in spite of its loss in terms of both absolute votes and in percentage, this was thanks to the unfair D'Hont Act which is used to calculate the distribution of seats. In these elections, the Act favoured them especially due to the fall of the second party, the PP, and the lower than expected rise of the third party, Podemos. Through purely mathematical luck, the PSOE won the duel for the last deputy in every Andalusian province.

In these circumstances, it is ridiculous to see how the PSOE leaders and the bourgeois media have been celebrating the party's victory. The newspaper El País came out with the headline "Solid majority for Susana Díaz". It would seem as if it had won an overwhelming absolute majority, when in reality the PSOE has obtained its worst result in Andalusia in almost 40 years of "democracy". This gives a measure of the panic which is gripping them in the face of what they see as a menace to the stability of their system: the emergence of a political movement such as Podemos.

Undoubtedly, Susana Díaz has saved the day by retaining the same number of deputies, but she will be facing many major difficulties, since those who were expecting to govern with her (the leaders of Izquierda Unida) are not in  a position to give her sufficient support. She remains 8 seats shy of an absolute majority and will now have to seek a pact for every single measure in order to govern.

Ciudadanos's vote

Ciudadanos (Citizens) received 9.2% of the vote, having been pumped up by the media and the regime in order that it can provide a second line of defence in the face of the decline of the PP. Its electoral base comes from the right wing (PP, UPyD) and from the petit-bourgeoisie. It will be necessary to pass through the experience of this right-wing formation, camouflaged behind a superficial progressive approach, until it gives itself away—which is certain—and reveals its true face.

Izquierda Unida

The United Left (Izquierda Unida, IU), having obtained only 6.9% in the region where it has its strongest base of support, paid dearly for its coalition with the PSOE—from which it had previously been embarrassingly expelled—and received the worst result in its history in Andalusia. Some Andalusian leaders of IU are now pointlessly complaining about this grave error; but there was no shortage of warnings!

This confirms that the pact was a disaster for the coalition that had set itself the aim of leading the so-called "rebellion". IU, whose leaders made themselves jointly responsible for a policy of "resistance" against the PP, which only convinced voters of the PSOE, a policy that was only supported by 10% of the electorate in the last survey carried out by CIS (Centro de Investigaciones Sociológicas).

IU has been shipwrecked by its own leaders. Its collapse was not even more catastrophic only thanks to the fact that it was saved by its rank and file in the villages and working class neighbourhoods, especially in Cordoba, Malaga, and Seville.

The election night press conference of their candidate, Antonio Maíllo, says it all—without a serious and consistent explanation of its failure. ". . . In this campaign we have felt loved by the people . . ." he stated, without admitting that their entry into government with the PSOE was a mistake, a fact he finally had to acknowledge after repeated questions and comments from the journalists. His response, rather than an explanation, sounded more like a justification: "our participation in the government has been found to be a mistake by the citizens," and he immediately went on to add that ". . . in the field of government, we are content with what has been carried out, but it is clear that this has not been seen by the citizens, and if it has not been perceived, an error must have occurred . . ."

The leaders of IU sacrificed the organisation, most of the best rank-and-file members, and hundreds of thousands of voters for the interests and the material well-being of the members of its apparatus. Who will pay for this error? Perhaps Comrades Maíllo and Castro will go home, and thus correct this error? It does not seem that they will. They should have a sense of dignity and resign. This calls for an extraordinary regional assembly to elect a new leadership to apply the message conveyed by Julio Anguita to the ranks of IU in the meeting in Malaga: No pact with the PSOE, and reach out to Podemos as well as other emerging social movements.

Podemos's results

podemosPodemos, which has been hounded by the media and the mainstream parties, and shamelessly sidelined from campaign promotional opening meetings, and which barely has any apparatus or resources, came in third and gained a very good result (14.8%) starting from scratch. This proves that it has managed to sink deep roots in a growing portion of the working class and impoverished sections of the middle classes. Its vote has come from those who formerly voted either IU, PSOE, or PP, and from new voters who abstained in previous elections.

In general, the vote for Podemos was stronger in towns of over 20,000 inhabitants, in the suburbs, and in urban areas in general.

Podemos won in the city of Cadiz and in some major cities, such as Puerto Real, and got more than 20% of the votes in significant towns in the province of Cadiz such as San Fernando, El Puerto de Santa Maria and Trebujena. It came second in most working class neighbourhoods of the city of Seville (Cerro de Águila, Rochelambert, Torreblanca, Parque Alcosa, Macarena Norte), and in many towns with a high number of workers and agricultural labourers in the provinces of Seville, Cadiz, Cordoba and Granada. In Malaga, it was a only a few hundred votes short of being the second political force in the most populous district of the city, Carretera de Cádiz, as well as the commuter belts surrounding the capital: Torremolinos, Rincón de la Victoria, and Alhaurin de la Torre. All of this reflects the strong class composition of the Podemos vote.

Also significant is the fact that the combined Podemos and IU vote in the entire region totalled about 22%, the highest percentage ever obtained in Andalusia by forces standing the left of social democracy. This combined vote exceeds that of the PP in the provinces of Seville and Cadiz with 23.6% and 25.5% respectively.

Could the vote for PODEMOS have been higher?

Despite all this, we must admit that this result does not satisfy the expectations of the voters and supporters of Podemos.

Earlier we discussed some possible reasons for this. These include the lack of social integration of Podemos in Andalusia due to the fact that it is still a very new political formation, and its lack of well-known political cadres in Andalusia, with the exception of Teresa Rodriguez. In a young force like Podemos what is necessary is a vibrant internal political debate.

To this must be added the fact that there was perhaps an excess of confidence on the part of the national leadership, who, without doing much more than they did during the election campaign, expected to achieve far bigger results than those attained in the end.

This reflects a superficial approach on their part to the situation in Andalusia and a lack of a sufficient class outlook. It is not true that this less than expected vote for Podemos is due to the so-called "patronage vote" for the PSOE, as has become popular to claim in and outside Andalusia for years. Nor is it due - as comrade Íñigo Errejón suggested on election night on the TV channel La Sexta - to the prevalence of a rural population (which is not the case) or the numerical weight of the elderly population (the contrary is the truth), who are supposedly resistant to change. Here we see the danger of blaming the people for election results which, after all, were in fact not all that bad.

The truth is that, even if the leading comrades of Podemos do not accept it, Andalusia is perhaps the region of Spain where the discourse of "neither left, nor right" among "those at the bottom" arouses the most suspicion and rejection, and produces no electoral advantage. For this reason Susana Díaz doesn't for a moment doubt donning her "Left" clothes at every opportunity.

The reality is that the right-wing electoral fringe is more limited in Andalusia than in any other region, due to the absence of a large property owning middle class, the high rate of proletarianisation, and the economic backwardness of the region that leads to higher social inequality and exploitation, together with very sharp and entrenched feelings of social injustice and class hatred. The sum of PSOE-Podemos-IU votes, which share the same social base of support among working class families and impoverished middle-class layers, exceeded 57% in these elections. In many cities and towns of Andalusia it is common to find support for the Left at a staggering 70%, 80%, 90% and higher.

The leaders of Podemos must draw the correct conclusions and understand the profound social and historical roots in Andalusian society that lead the working class to hate the right wing. They did not take into account the ability and demagoguery of the PSOE leaders when they raised the spectre among the population of "either us or the Right", so as to avoid having to pose an adequate alternative.

Moreover, to face the electoral machine of the PSOE in Andalusia in these conditions would have required the highest possible involvement of the national leaders of Podemos, who have a higher authority among the masses (especially comrade Pablo Iglesias). But there was no such involvement in the main rallies in the most important cities, particularly in the last week of campaigning, with the exception of the extraordinary final meeting in Dos Hermanas, the biggest of the entire Andalusian campaign with 15,000 participants, but by then it was already too late.

Even the important rally in Malaga - where comrade Pablo did participate - was badly organised and this limited mass attendance. It was convened on Saturday at 1pm, when people are still working or having lunch. It would have been much better to convene it in the evening. If this had happened, they could have gathered 6,000 or 8,000 people, rather than the meagre 3,000 who turned up.

A better prepared campaign, along the lines already indicated, which could be explained on the grounds of a lack of experience in this sort of campaigning and limited resources, would probably have assured them larger audience for PODEMOS than what they obtained.

A serious error would be to deduce from these results, as the professor and economist Juan Torres has suggested (someone who is a point of reference for the top ranks of the PODEMOS leadership), that the problem is that PODEMOS frightens people because it has too radical an appearance or political discourse. Torres writes: "It will be difficult for [PODEMOS] to advance whilst it does not open itself up instead of isolating itself within its most left-wing elements." (My reflection on the Andalusian Elections, 23/03/2015). It is an error to try to find impossible short cuts to the masses by watering down the programme and the political level. It would be suicidal for PODEMOS to blur its political lines of differentiation. This would frustrate the aspirations of millions for real change, while by its zig-zags, half measures, hesitation and contradictions in the political line it would arouse the suspicion and mistrust of newcomers to politics. There are no short-cuts to winning the support of wider sections of the working class and the ruined petit-bourgeoisie, except for patiently explaining the proposals and the programme, and to trust that experience will push them towards our positions.

Perspectives and tasks

In spite of the above, these elections were of a specific nature, in the sense that the feeling that dominated most of the working class was to stop the PP, largely using the PSOE, which is identified with certain social advances in the last decades in the region.

The right wing and social democracy of the PSOE are seriously mistaken if they expect the results of these regional elections to be mechanically repeated in the behaviour of Andalusian voters in a general election.

Hundreds of thousands who today voted PSOE to punish the PP will vote Podemos en masse as the best way of changing the situation in Spain. The reason for this is clear. In Andalusia, Susana Díaz can afford to emphatically defend the "Andalusian welfare state" because she presents it as being under the threat of the PP in Madrid, while at the same time carrying out - albeit relatively attenuated - cuts as a "legal obligation". But the PSOE leadership nationally cannot put the same emphasis on the defence of the welfare state across the whole of Spain where it has, together with the PP, helped to destroy it. A leadership like that of the PSOE, with a "sense of responsibility and state", cannot oppose Merkel’s policies of austerity, nor can it embrace "populist" politics like that of Podemos or SYRIZA.

For this reason, and this has been our perception on the ground in this election campaign, hundreds of thousands of Andalusian workers will say, "I voted for Susana Díaz without enthusiasm to see if she would defend what little we have left, while the PP is in power in Madrid; but at the general elections I will vote Podemos, because I don't trust the others, and this is the only real hope for change."

Those who mechanically draw the conclusion that the 15% obtained by Podemos in the Andalusian elections will produce a 15% result in the November general elections in the same region, are seriously mistaken. For this reason, Podemos activists and their wide network of sympathisers should not feel disappointed at all with these Andalusian elections, even though we went into them with higher expectations.

We must see our 15 deputies in the Andalusian parliament as an extraordinary base from which to work to increase our social support, using the parliament as a huge platform to present our programme and policies to ever wider layers within the region, as well as at national level. They must present proposals to increase spending on education and healthcare, to cut the expenses and perks of the elected representatives, take a stand against evictions, etc., and demand that the PSOE and Ciudadanos deputies vote for them. If they do not do so they will be exposed for what they are, thus providing a valuable experience for the most vacillating and hesitant layers of the population, and help to win them over. There is therefore nothing to lose, and everything to gain.