Podemos’ proposal to form a “government of progress” has upset the whole circus surrounding the formation of a new government in Spain.
[Statement by Lucha de Clases]
The ruling class, made up of the bankers and big businessmen, have been shocked and reacted with anger. First of all because the government coalition proposed by the leaders of Podemos, with the Socialist Party [PSOE] and United Left [IU], is a viable proposition from the point of view of parliamentary arithmetic. It would only require the active or passive support of at least some of the Catalan and Basque nationalist MPs. Secondly, because such a proposal has galvanised the hopes and expectations of millions of working class families and youth who are indignant at the corruption and impunity of the rich, the austerity measures imposed by the right wing and its politicians and want to ensure that Rajoy’s Popular Party is ejected from power.
The ruling class is also fuming because for weeks they attempted to paint Podemos as a “radical” and “anti-system” formation which would never negotiate with the PSOE, in an attempt to use this to justify the inevitability of a government based on one or another combination of PP, Citizens and PSOE.
Now the proposal by Podemos has unmasked the real intentions of the PSOE leaders, showing they are not left wing at all, and revealing that it is they who are not interested in forming a “government of progress” despite all their talk. Previously they had argued that Podemos and its allies had made the right of self-determination for Catalonia a conditio sine qua non for government talks. Podemos and its allied forces have not renounced the demand for a Catalan independence referendum, but have said that this is not a condition for talks with the PSOE, and that they are prepared to listen to any other proposal as long as it means a real and democratic solution to Catalan aspirations.
The proposal by Podemos and its allies
What Pablo Iglesias has proposed is the formation of a “plural and proportional government of progress”. He has said clearly that Podemos and its allies do not want to be responsible for the eventual continuation of a right-wing government. He has added that as long as a real possibility exists of forming a progressive government, Podemos is prepared to work for it and that it is taking the initiative as PSOE cannot be trusted to do it on its own, having betrayed on many occasions the aspirations of change of working class families. He also said that inasmuch as they are very skeptical of the real intentions of PSOE leaders, the only way to make sure a progressive government is formed is with the direct participation of Podemos and its allies in such a government.
Since PSOE leader Pedro Sanchez demagogically stressed his progressive credentials during the campaign, Pablo Iglesias has outlined a whole series of basic measures which would form the bedrock of a joint government.
These would include a shock program of social emergency (to stop all evictions, to stop all electricity and gas disconnections from families in need; that all unemployed receive a subsidy; that women affected by domestic violence are given alternative accommodation), as well as the repeal of the most important reactionary laws introduced by the Popular Party: the “gagging law” against democratic rights, the labour counter-reforms and the education counter-reform LOMCE, amongst others. The proposed government would also introduce a progressive taxation reform by increasing taxes on profits and on top earners; the defense of the public sector and an end to cuts; and a program to create secure, decently paid jobs.
Pablo Iglesias added that an eventual PODEMOS-PSOE-IU government could not accept that any members of of its component parties sat in the Administration Boards of big companies and that they should therefore resign. The so-called “revolving doors” through which former ministers are given lucrative positions in the boards of companies related to the ministries they occupy is one of the methods of political corruption and has become a key campaigning point for Podemos.
The proposal also involves a wide-ranging constitutional reform which would then be put to a referendum, as well as concrete measures to cleanse the state apparatus of corruption.
Regarding the most important issue of the national question, Iglesias said that the government would have to accept the “pluri-national character of Spain” and to organise a referendum in Catalonia. “The victory of En Comú Podem (ECP, Toghether We Can, Podemos allied list in Catalonia), in the general election in Catalonia should be reflected directly in the future government”, he said. This would mean the setting up of a new “Ministry of Plurinationality” in which ECP spokesperson Xavier Domènech would be the minister.
The “proportional” part of the government proposal would mean that Podemos, United Left and their allies together would have “at least” the same number of ministers as the PSOE in the government, including the vice president and a ministry for IU. To back up this proposal Pablo Iglesias reminded everyone of the election results: the added votes of Podemos, United Left and the joint allied lists in Galicia, Catalonia and Valencia (over 6 million) are higher than the votes of PSOE (5.5 million). Therefore, in any negotiations, Podemos and its allies would not have a subordinate position but one of an equal to PSOE.
A repetition of the PSOE-IU pact in Andalucia?
Some comrades have drawn a comparison between this proposal and the unfortunate and negative experience of United Left in its participation in the Andalucia PSOE government in 2012-15. But the comparison is mistaken. At that time the leadership of IU in Andalucia acted as a junior partner of that government and therefore accepted responsibility for implementing the policy of cuts in the region which was dictated by the Spanish government.
In reality it would be more precise to compare the current proposal by Podemos with the situation which exists in many of the “Local Councils for change”, where the local alliances of Podemos, IU and others were the first party in a number of local council seats. That forced the PSOE to allow them to take office, otherwise it would have allowed the right wing to rule those councils. At that time, the leadership of PSOE reluctantly agreed to hand over the local councils to Ada Colau in Barcelona, or Manuela Carmena in Madrid, in order not to damage their own prospects for the general election.
In this sense, we do support Podemos’ proposal. However, it is necessary to warn about the limitations such a government would face. First of all we need to stress that we cannot give any trust to the leadership of the Socialist Party, which has close links with the ruling class. The apparatus of PSOE has not reflected, in its policies nor programme, the powerful shift to the left in Spanish society. From the very beginning, Podemos, IU and its allied forces, which have the advantage of being much stronger in terms of social mobilisation than in the parliamentary institutions, would have to use street protests to fight back against any attempt of PSOE leaders to water down or back-track on the government program. Mass mobilisation will also be a must in terms of facing the inevitable onslaught of the ruling class, who will use the mass media, their businesses and institutions, to sabotage the actions of any progressive government.
We must warn, as we have already seen recently in Greece, Argentina and Venezuela, that the bosses and bankers will use blackmail, extortion and boycott to attempt to humiliate and break any government which attempts to bring real change.
Faced with such actions, the only alternative would be to wrest power and the key levers of the economy from this oligarchy of the 1% - which has the same share of wealth as 80% of the population. Only that would allow the democratic and rational planning of the country’s main productive resources so that we can start to address the most pressing social needs of the majority: those of the working families, the unemployed and student youth, the old-age pensioners and the impoverished middle layers.
The first one to react to Podemos’ proposal was acting president Mariano Rajoy, who used it as the perfect excuse to avoid a government formation vote. Knowing that he would be defeated (at least in the first round), he then argued that there was “evidence that others wanted to form government” in order to decline to face congress first, which would have been normal procedure as the leader of the largest party in the chamber.
Pedro Sanchez, for his part, also attempted to escape the responsibility, attacking Rajoy for dereliction of duty and declaring that he would ask the King, during the second round of consultations, to propose again that Rajoy should attempt to form the government. Clearly, Pedro Sanchez is unsettled as his farce has been exposed. He does not want to form a real “government of progress”.
The cunning proposal by Podemos’ leaders has the support of the majority of PSOE voters. According to a poll published by El Pais (and carried out before Pablo Iglesias’ proposal), 57% of PSOE voters and 72% of those who voted Podemos are in favour of a left-wing coalition government. However, for the pro-bourgeois leadership of PSOE, this is an offer they cannot accept.
Before Podemos’ proposal, the apparatus of PSOE was split regarding the question of forming a government. The dominant right wing, inspired by former Spanish president Felipe González, was in favour of abstaining and thus allowing the continuation of PP in government, either as a minority government or with the support of Citizens. This was argued “in order to guarantee the country’s stability”, and their preference would be for Rajoy to resign in favour of another PP leader, in order to transmit a certain idea of “renewal”.
The wing represented by PSOE leader Pedro Sanchez, reflecting the mood of a layer of the apparatus and the ranks of the party, wanted to avoid at all costs being seen as allowing the continuation of the PP in government for two reasons: to prevent a process of “PASOK-ization” of PSOE, and to satisfy Sanchez’s own ambitions of becoming the country’s president. His aim was a government coalition with Citizens which would be backed by Podemos’ abstention in parliament.
Unfortunately for both wings, Podemos’ proposal brings the question of a PSOE-Podemos agreement to the fore, and forces the leaders of both wings to explain to their own ranks and voters why they refuse to even sit with Podemos to talk about their proposal.
The weekend following Pablo Iglesias’ proposal was one of hide-and-seek for Pedro Sanchez. After having said that “voters of PSOE and Podemos would not understand it if we would not reach an agreement”, he then went on to contact… Citizens’ leader Albert Rivera, instead of contacting Pablo Iglesias. He then tweeted that he had attempted to contact Iglesias but failed. To which Iglesias responded by calling Sanchez directly, which he succeeded in doing without any problem!
PSOE finally reacted officially with a statement in which it denounced Podemos’ proposal as blackmail and stressed that they would only attempt to form a government if Rajoy failed to do so. Stepping up the pressure, Pablo Iglesias said that if PSOE refused his proposal of a coalition government, Podemos would vote against a minority PSOE government, which would then force early elections.
PSOE’s right wing is preparing for the party’s Federal Council on January 30th, where they will want to pass a resolution rejecting any agreement with Podemos.
Ruling class mobilisation against Podemos proposal
Since election night on December 20th, the main aim of the ruling class has been to sabotage any possibility of PSOE reaching an agreement with Podemos. Even before this latest proposal by Iglesias, the mass media launched a new campaign of manipulation against Podemos. They invented a report “proving” that Podemos was being funded by Iran and Venezuela. Then they made up a scandal about an alleged “secret” visit to Venezuela involving Podemos members, members of the Catalan independence party CUP and people “close to ETA”, to discuss the “breakup of Spain”. As a matter of fact, this was no secret meeting but a gathering of the Network of Intellectuals and Artists in Defence of Humanity in december 2014, which was public and widely advertised.
What this “scandal” revealed is how the secret services conduct surveillance operations on activists carrying out perfectly legal activities and then, at the appropriate time, recordings are leaked to the media. The aim was clear: to embarrass Pedro Sanchez into distancing himself even more sharply from Podemos. The ruling class had a clear aim: to guarantee the continuation of a right-wing government of PP-Citizens, with the acquiescence of PSOE.
After Podemos’ proposal, the ruling class and its media intensified the campaign. The next day El País published a scathing editorial attacking Podemos for “making a scene at the opening of the Congress sessions and now using the figure of the King to increase the image of the weakness of Sanchez. Enough of tricks.” They did not like the fact that Pablo Iglesias made his proposal directly to the media after his round of consultations with the King, instead of going first to Sanchez himself.
The same editorial in El País did not mince its words in appraising Iglesias’ proposal and telling Sanchez how to respond: “...the situation is not better for Pedro Sanchez, for whom Pablo Iglesias yesterday laid a trap in the form of a coalition government, from which he would do well to escape as soon as possible…”
In a situation which reminds us that of Greece last summer, or of Portugal in the fall, pressure from the European Union has also been piling up. “I’d like Spain to get a stable government as soon as possible,” insisted president of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, a few days ago. The reason why was explained by Eurogroup president Dijsselbloem: “Spain will have to present further adjustment.” European capital has already said that Spain’s budget is off-target and is demanding €10bn worth of additional cuts. It is not just an economic question. The formation of a anti-cuts government in Spain would be “bad examples” for other Southern European countries. However, forming the type of government the ruling class needs is proving very difficult.
Finally, the mobilisation of the Spanish ruling class has also made use of the “social agents”. The president of BBVA bank, Francisco Gonzalez - who earns €15,500 a day- spoke of the need for a government with the same policies as the previous one and warned that “instability is delaying investment decisions”. Similar statements were made by Joan Rossell, President of the main bosses organisation CEOE.
The worst part of this campaign has been the lamentable role played by the leaders of the main trade unions CCOO and UGT, who, once again, have emerged from their hiding holes to defend the need for “stability in the country”, that is, in defence of the regime. They participated in a highly publicised meeting on January 26th with the leaders of the bosses organisation CEOE “in order to analyse the current political situation and share the common points < around which they believe agreements can be reached to guarantee the formation of a government” (!!).
It is only a question of time for the working class, once it starts to move in a massive way, to brush aside the old bureaucratic leaders.
The plans of the ruling class are clear: they want to force the formation of a PP-Citizens government with the support or acquiescence of PSOE, which would remain in the opposition in order to prevent Podemos and its allies from appearing as the only opposition force. For such a government to have a modicum of authority and allow Citizens to justify their support, they probably will try to push the discredited Rajoy to one side and replace him with another PP leader who is less tainted by all the corruption scandals. Another variant would be a minority PP government with the abstention of both Citizens and PSOE, and then, a few months later, for Rajoy to resign and then Citizens would join the government.
Yet another option would be for both Rajoy and Sanchez to go to congress in turn and be defeated, to then move towards a government as described above but with both leaders having previously resigned.
Whatever the final form of the government, the ruling class wants to avoid early elections which would see Podemos and its allies (perhaps in a joint list with IU) overtake PSOE. The Federal Committee meeting of PSOE on January 30th will shed some more light on the processes.
Meanwhile, the ruling class cannot hide its anger at the apparatuses of both the PP and PSOE who are not doing what they should be doing - putting the particular interests and personal ambitions of their leaders above the general interests of the ruling class. They are particularly worried about the possibility of the King’s authority being damaged by these farcical goings-on.
Combine parliamentary and extra-parliamentary struggle
While Podemos’ leadership has made cunning use of its parliamentary tribune to weaken the position of its rivals and explain its own political proposals to a wider layer, they would be making a serious mistake if they were to put all their trust in what Marx described as “parliamentary cretinism”.
If the proposal of a “government of progress” is to be taken seriously by the working masses, their families, the youth, the pensioners and other layers, they should accompany it with a call for a mass mobilisation throughout the whole country in support of their proposal. That would put the PSOE leaders under enormous pressure.
Mass meetings in working class neighbourhoods should be called to explain the content of what is being proposed. The lodging of parliamentary initiative 25 on the part of Podemos, which includes opposition to cuts, increasing the minimum wage, emergency measures for families in need, halting evictions, etc, was a very positive step. It should be accompanied by a mass campaign of meetings and rallies to give it maximum publicity.
The only way to break the deadlock to the benefit of the working class is by taking the struggle outside of parliament. A joint call for a national mobilisation issued by the “Dignity Marches”, the Mareas (Tides - campaigns against cuts and austerity), Podemos, United Left and others would have a powerful response.
The struggle could be organised around a simple platform of four or five points: repeal of the PP labour counter-reform, repeal of the amended article 135 of the Constitution which enshrines austerity; repeal of the undemocratic “gagging law” (Ley Mordaza); stop all evictions; reverse all cuts in healthcare and education. Agitation around these points should be linked to the proposal for forming a government. Such a campaign should culminate in a march on Madrid.
As we have explained before, if the ruling class finally manages to install a government loyal to their interests in the next few weeks, it will in any case be a weak government which will soon lose its social base of support.
From all this it is important to stress one main conclusion which needs to be drawn: there is no alternative to austerity without breaking with capitalism. What is needed is the nationalisation of big banks and monopolies, under workers’ control. Armed with a program of social transformation and basing ourselves on the mass organisation and mobilisation of millions in the streets and workplaces, ¡Sí Se Puede! (Yes We Can!)