Spain: Podemos Citizens' Assembly - a clear victory for the Left

The resounding victory of Pablo Iglesias and his list of candidates at the Podemos congress, the National Citizens' Assembly, is viewed as a great event for millions of workers and youth in Spain and, by extension, for the Spanish and European left. At the same time, it represents a defeat for the ruling class and the dark forces of reaction, who barricaded themselves behind the right-wing stance of Íñigo Errejón, with the vain desire of dealing a demoralizing blow against everything that is alive and is truly progressive in the country.

Pablo Iglesias won 51% of the votes for his list and about 55% for his three documents, the political, the ethical and the organizational. If we add the 13% and 10% and 11% achieved by the Anti-capitalists current for their slate and their documents, respectively, that gives an overall support for the left of the party of 65% compared to 34% achieved by the right wing represented by the "errejonista" current.

The Podemos which emerges from this victory is one which bases itself on the aspirations of working class families and the militant youth for a future of dignity and social justice, which aims to use the institutions as a loudspeaker to denounce the false character of bourgeois democracy and subordinate parliamentary and council activity to mass mobilization. This is the only way to advance the political consciousness of millions of exploited and oppressed, the only way to wrest  from passivity and uncertainty the broad and politically more backward layers that need to go through more experiences.

The positions of Errejón's wing were diametrically the opposite. They want to base the party on the petty bourgeoisie and the more backward layers of the population, and avoid pushing these layers towards a project of social transformation, to throw back the political awareness reached by the millions who have already turned their backs on the old regime, highlighting the prejudices and reactionary ideas of the most conservative layers of the population, leading the party to increasingly mimic the ideological positions of the PSOE and Ciudadanos [Citizens], thus leading it into decline. It has been precisely this policy of playing ostrich, eliminating any hint of radicalism in the past two years - a policy of half measures and half-truths elaborated by the previously dominant errejonista sector - which led to Podemos and Unidos Podemos [Podemos' alliance with United Left and other forces] to electoral stagnation on June 26 last year.

Photo: Jose CamoAlthough we do not share all the political analysis and organizational proposals of the Pablo Iglesias wing, which we have already discussed in previous analyses, we insist on what is the essential aspect for us and that was what led us to give it critical support in this Congress. By leaning on the most dynamic sector of the working class and the youth, the Pablo Iglesias wing has left the door open to being influenced by this layer, to moving in line with the development of the class struggle towards sharper, clearer positions which challenge the capitalist system openly, that same capitalist system that only offers pain, suffering, poverty and barbarism everywhere.

The hysteria of the bourgeois media

Frontpages ScreenshotIn sharp contrast to the enthusiasm of most of the members of Podemos, the bourgeois media have not been able to hide their surprise at the overwhelming victory of the Iglesias' wing. Surely, as did the Errejón wing, they thought Iglesias would win, but by a much smaller margin, with the Errejón wing coming a close second and leaving the followers of Iglesias without an absolute majority in the leadership, the National Citizens Council. They were hoping to be able to unleash a media campaign to highlight the decline of the Pablo Iglesias wing as a result of its "radicalism", to which they hoped to oppose the moderation and statesmanlike nature of the Errejón wing, seeking to expand and instigate infighting so as to demoralize the activists, supporters and voters of Unidos Podemos. However, a very different reality emerged from the Vistalegre congress.

As expected, all the front pages and analysis of the bourgeois media opened the following Monday with black ribbons of mourning, "Podemos radicalizes", "The beginning of the purge [of the Errejonistas]", "hard line imposed." A spokesman for the PSOE's Interim Leadership, which manages the party in the interests of the ruling class, also chipped in. Speaking to the Onda Cero radio channel, Mario Jimenez said, "Pabloism-Leninism has won" and insisted, in case there was any doubt, that "the PSOE wants to address itself to the moderates so they can help us push forward a moderate project in Spain".

The bourgeois media and its agents in the PSOE understand this internal debate in Podemos the same as the Marxists: what was at stake was the taming or not of Podemos by the regime and, by extension, that of Unidos Podemos. Monday’s editorial in El País was forced to admit the bitter truth:

"That defeat is also an unmitigated defeat of the [party's] current number two and parliamentary spokesman, Inigo Errejón, who has unsuccessfully tried to convince members of the need to moderate the approach of the party and position it stably within the institutions in order to gain credibility as a government force and to broaden the electoral base of support in upcoming elections."

One of the most prominent hired pens of El País, Ruben Amon, put it more clearly in his analysis on Sunday. In addition to unleashing all his hatred and malevolence against Pablo Iglesias and the party ranks, he said:

"the spirit of United Left has taken hold of the essence, but it represents a huge electoral limit, the limits which Errejón aspired to overcome by normalizing institutional life and convincing his people that the future of Podemos, if any, is to the right of Podemos" [emphasis added].

The pre-congress discussion

Photo: Jose CamoMany people, including most of the activist base of Podemos, have struggled to get a clear idea of ​​the character of the political differences at the top of the party, and to understand the level of tension reached in the debate between the Iglesias and Errejón wings. That has to do largely with the obtuse and convoluted structure and organizational methods of the party.

Podemos' congress procedure, very democratic in appearance, poses enormous difficulties for genuine democratic participation of the ranks. The documents for discussion should have been available at least two months in advance and at the disposal of the members, so that they would have had enough time to read them and discuss them in the local branches and in wider gatherings. But they were only published three weeks before the Congress, making it impossible for tens of thousands of people to find the time to read and discuss hundreds of pages of documents of each of the currents. To make matters worse, the members were not allowed to submit amendments to these documents. In addition, hundreds of political and organizational contributions written by members and endorsed by the branches were barely publicized, and were finally published on the website of the organization only a week before the voting, with the aggravating circumstance that the five most voted, which had the right to be presented and defended at the National Citizens' Assembly were not binding on the organization. These methods, defended by the three main currents, express their desire to control and steer the membership and thus prevent any voice which does not fit with their proposals from being heard. There is still a lot to do to make Podemos a fully democratic organization, and this demand will be posed, sooner or later, by the thousands of members.

And yet, despite everything, the bulk of the membership could sense, perhaps not the fine details, but at least the broad strokes of what was at stake in this Citizens' Assembly. The long experience of 40 years of bourgeois democracy in the country, decades of betrayals and frustration of expectations by the leadership of the PSOE and the PCE [Communist Party] and IU [United Left] have not passed in vain. There was a feeling that Inigo Errejón and his wing wanted to shift Podemos to the right and push Pablo Iglesias into a corner. Iglesias is still seen by the bulk of the ranks as the most charismatic leader in Podemos and the one who best expresses their desire to transform society.

This feeling was reinforced by the clear bias and sympathy for Errejón expressed by the bourgeois media, the same media which demonises Podemos and its leaders, and are viewed with deep suspicion and even contempt by millions of people.

National Citizens' Assembly

Photo: Jose CamoThe crucial day of the Citizens' Assembly in Vistalegre was Saturday 11 February. Thousands of activists and supporters thronged at the gates of the compound, in the hallways and in the stands. The atmosphere was sober, attentive and tense. After the arrival of the members of the outgoing National Citizens Council (the highest leading body of Podemos) applause and cheers started. But what broke the ice and put its stamp on the congress was when Pablo Iglesias took to the stage. He was received by a torrent of applause and thousands of clenched fists following the rhythm of the shouts for "Unity, Unity".

The thunderous cry for unity was a reflection of the limited level of pre-congress debate discussed earlier. In part, it is the logical conclusion of a highly mobilized honest layer of the rank and file that could not perceive thoroughly clear political differences in the division which had taken place at the top, which was presented as a personal clash by the bourgeois media. But the almost unanimous call for unity at Visatalegre was also the expression of a healthy sense of discipline which was being demanded from the leadership in order to preserve the organization,and  the efforts and expectations accumulated in three years, against our enemies.

Beyond this, Pablo Iglesias and other speakers of his current were the only ones which stressed the political differences with the Errejón wing (though without naming him). The speeches of Errejón and his supporters, as well as those of the Anti-capitalists (Miguel Urbán and Teresa Rodriguez) in reality had the character of a rally. They criticized the political opponents of Podemos, but avoided any mention of the sharp political differences which have opened up inside the organization. Teresa Rodriguez (Anti-capitalists) made references to some programmatic measures proposed by her current (auditing the public debt, creating a public banking sector, defending "a new productive model"), but neither she nor Miguel Urbán raised any criticism of the right-wing ideas of Errejonismo. Their speeches were eloquent and combative, but would have gone down equally well in an election campaign, and thus helped to avoid debate in a congress plagued by political differences. Comrade Errejón, meanwhile, when the moment of truth came, in front of an audience of ordinary rank and file members, lacked the courage to openly defend the positions in his political document which had led him to the clash with Pablo Iglesias.


We regret to say that the position of the Anti-capitalists current was particularly demagogic and disingenuous, taking into account that they regard themselves as the furthest left current in the organisation. They appeared as champions of unity, in order to win easy applause from the audience, and practically reduced the Iglesias-Errejón differences to a personal fight, hiding the politically pernicious character of the positions of Errejonismo.

Our position before the Assembly was that both currents, that of Pablo Iglesias and the Anti-capitalists, should have had a joint slate - as they did in the Madrid internal elections in Podemos three months earlier - against the common adversary of the right wing so as not to split the left vote. The Anti-capitalists could have maintained their political and organizational documents if they had wished. But they dismissed the attempt to have a joint slate with Pablo Iglesias because they thought they would get greater representation in the leadership of the organization by having a separate slate - on the eve of Vistalegre they said they were hoping to get between 4 and 8 seats in the National Citizens Council - in the end they only got two.

By refusing to fight Errejonismo head on in the pre-congress period, and hinting at complicity to it on organizational issues - they said they were closer to Errejón than Iglesias on that point - voting for them was seen as a lost vote by tens of thousands of activists who feared a victory of Errejón and the defeat of Pablo Iglesias. Hence, there was a closing of the ranks around Iglesias' slate and documents to ensure the defeat of the Errejón's wing. Thus, the Anti-capitalists paid a certain price for their opportunistic attitude.

The attitude of comrade Miguel Urbán after Vistalegre is to continue with this wrong position. Instead of celebrating the defeat of Errejonismo - which was determined to exclude any hint of leftism and anti-capitalism from Podemos had they won - he wants to appear as the champion of unity and defender of the presence of Errejón in the leadership of the organization at the highest level of responsibility. It is a position that we do not support because it seeks to hide and mask the deep political differences that exist within Podemos, and the class character which they express. We agree that all tendencies should have representation proportional to their support in the ranks at all levels of leadership in the organization, but we also support the idea that the positions which have won majority support are those which should determine the policy of the organization and at the same that the positions defended by each current are expressed clearly, so that the membership has all the elements at its disposal to observe, monitor and follow the debates and political positions of each one of them.


Photo: Jose CamoAfter receiving a serious blow, the current of Inigo Errejón, which has its main base in hundreds of public officials and full timers of the organization, many of whom lack any links with the working class or social movements, is attempting to mask its defeat under the cloak of the defense of "plurality" in the leadership of the organization. The bourgeois media is pushing in the same direction, warning against a "purge" that the new leadership is allegedly preparing against Errejón and the party apparatus on which it rests.

The current of Errejón has secured its presence in the National Citizens Council with 23 members, against 37 of Pablo Iglesias and 2 for the Anti-capitalists. It is logical and democratic that they should have proportional representation in the new party executive, which will be elected in the coming days. But it would be unacceptable that they should occupy any relevant responsibility which may be used to impede or block the new orientation of Podemos towards the working class and its presence on the streets, and towards the unity with the forces of the Left, nationally and regionally. And it is an elementary proposition, that anyone can understand, that Errejonismo must abandon the disproportionate weight in has in the apparatus of the organization, which does not correspond at all with its base of support. The new leadership must firmly ignore the thunderous cry of "purge" which the bourgeois media have launched. It must explain that it is a consequence of the democratic will of the party rank and file, emanating from the Vistalegre Assembly, and appeal to it when the ruling class counteroffensive resumes against the new leadership.

Sooner rather than later, Podemos will be met with the favorable wind of the mood in society. The overwhelming vote for Pablo Iglesias proves that there is no demoralization, nor ebb amongst the most active and aware layer of the working class and the youth. The positions arising from Vistalegre are consistent with the development that the class struggle in Spain will take in the coming months. The continuation of casualisation of labour, low wages, long working hours, the feeling of impotence in the face of the abuses of the rich and powerful, rising prices and the suffocating political environment imposed by the PP government supported by the "triple alliance" of PP-PSOE-Citizens, are all a recipe for a revival of the class struggle. In the coming months, the PSOE will come out of its interim situation by ratifying in the person of Susana Diaz the umpteenth right shift in party policy, which will assure Unidos Podemos a much broader avenue for political agitation and popular support.

What is required is to advance in terms of the program. The shameful increase in the price of electricity puts on the agenda the slogan of nationalization of the utilities. But this abuse, this arbitrariness of the powerful, and the growing social inequality that it entails, comes from all the companies that dominate the country's economy. No significant progress can be made in public services, social services, job insecurity, unemployment, wages and social expenditure without breaking the stranglehold of the property held by the parasitic oligarchy at the top. Bank bailouts and abuses with their multi-million scams also pose the need to nationalize the banks, as the only way of concentrating the country's credit in a unified public banking sector and to pool resources to fund a vast economic plan to solve the problems afflicting millions of working families.

Podemos emerges from Vistalegre much more mature and stronger, with a more aware membership ready to exercise accountability. What is required now is to go from words to deeds, to "have one foot in parliament and a thousand feet on the streets" and appearing at the head of the struggle against the 1978 regime and the capitalist system as a whole.