The Spanish early elections of 23 July produced unexpected results. The right wing PP and far-right VOX failed to get the overall majority which opinion polls predicted. A last minute mobilisation of the left vote to prevent the entry of the far right in the government for the first time meant the vote for the social-democratic PSOE held up better than anticipated, leading to a hung parliament. The formation of a new government will be complicated and might even lead to repeat elections, just at a time when the Spanish ruling class needs a strong government to face the oncoming recession. The article by the Spanish comrades of Lucha de Clases analyses the reasons for this scenario.
The so-called ‘progressive bloc’ – composed of the Socialist Party (PSOE) and SUMAR (a coalition to the left of PSOE involving Unidas Podemos and led by Yolanda Díaz) – has withstood the onslaught of the right. The defeat of the latter has been made possible by an intense mobilisation of the left-wing vote in the last few days of the election campaign. The tight election result also sends a final warning to the government: its policy of managing the capitalist crisis is failing to solve the pressing problems of working-class families. Crying that “the far-right wolf is coming” may not be so effective next time.
There can be no real solution to the acute social and democratic problems in Spain within the narrow confines of backward Spanish capitalism, with its rapacious and parasitic bourgeoisie, its reactionary and vindictive state apparatus, in the context of a new global capitalist crisis. Solving the problem of housing, precarious employment, the cost of living, energy, the slave-like conditions of working-class youth and immigrant workers, the Catalan and Basque national question, the reactionary conspiracies of the judicial caste and police, or a corrupt monarchy that is above the government elected by the people, requires confronting the big capitalists and their neo-Francoist state apparatus with courageous socialist policies and popular mobilisation. But none of the forces that make up the so-called ‘progressive bloc’ are willing to break with the capitalist regime and carry out a decisive struggle against it.
That said, we fully understand the feeling of relief felt by millions of honest workers and youth at seeing the reactionary right bite the dust. This will undoubtedly increase the confidence of those layers of the working class that have mobilised, who have felt their own strength, and in the short term it will inflict a demoralising blow on the dark forces of reaction.
But this feeling of confidence and strength must be directed, now more than ever, towards the fight against exploitation and towards the defence of the dignity of working-class neighbourhoods under attacks. It must be channelled into the struggle against the mistreatment and violence suffered by women.
And it must be directed against this government’s own reactionary, pro-imperialist policies (its rearmament, its involvement in the war in Ukraine, its betrayal of the Saharawi people, etc.), and against the reactionary legislation that this ‘progressive’ government left on the books, despite having an absolute majority in the last legislature, such as the labour reform and the repressive gag law introduced by the PP (the conservative People’s Party).
A highly polarised outcome
So, what should we make of the 23 July election, and what perspectives does it open up?
PP, Vox (a far-right party) and their allies took 171 seats. Meanwhile, the so-called ‘investiture bloc’, which supported the PSOE-Unidas Podemos government in the last legislature, had 172 seats. The polarisation between the two blocs is extreme. The remaining seven seats, which round out the total 350 seats of Congress, belong to the Catalan pro-independence Junts per Catalunya party of Puigdemont, exiled in Belgium and wanted by the Spanish justice system.
It appears as though PSOE and SUMAR could easily renew their coalition government, much to the chagrin of the right. But such a possibility depends on the decision of the Catalan pro-independence party, Junts, who would only need to abstain in the investiture vote of the new government. This is something that is by no means certain at present.
At this moment, as a condition for abstaining, Junts has demanded amnesty for all pro-independence activists convicted for participating in the mass movement around the Catalan independence referendum of 1 October 2017, and in the subsequent struggle against state repression. In addition, it has demanded a binding independence referendum for Catalonia. The latter is a ‘red line’ that Sánchez will never cross as it would represent a direct challenge to the reactionary regime that underpins Spanish capitalism. We will see in the coming weeks how this plays out.
Voter turnout was considerably higher than expected, exceeding 70 percent. This percentage, although not historically high, stands out because these early elections were unexpected, the prior state of demoralisation of the left, and given many Spaniards would have been away on holiday. Given the circumstances, the turnout reflects the wide-scale mobilisation of the left unleashed in the last few days of the campaign, aimed at stopping a PP-Vox alliance coming to power, with all its ultra-reactionary policies.
The Spanish right-wing bloc (PP and Vox) with its regional allies (Coalición Canaria from the Canary Islands and the UPN from Navarra) won 46.11 percent of the vote (11.29 million votes). The PSOE-SUMAR bloc got 44.01 percent (10.78 million votes). The allies of the latter in its investiture in the last parliament (essentially, the Catalan, Basque and Galician nationalists and pro-independence parties, with the exception of Junts) got 4.99 percent (1.22 million votes).
In total, this would give PSOE, SUMAR and its allies 49 percent of the vote, (12 million votes). Even if the PNV, the party of the Basque bourgeoisie, is removed from this ‘bloc’, the combined vote of the official Spanish (PSOE and SUMAR), Basque (EH Bildu), Catalan (ERC) and Galician (BNG) lefts adds up to 47.88 percent and 11.73 million votes, also beating the right-wing bloc.
In comparison with the previous general election in November 2019, the right-wing Spanish nationalist bloc has increased its votes by 700,000, while the government bloc and its allies have lost 140,000 votes. However, the gains for the Spanish nationalist right and its allies have to be put into context. In the April 2019 general election, the right took the same number of votes as at present, 11.3 million, and they lost the election then too.
In other words, the right wing is able to consistently mobilise its rank and file during elections, whereas the electoral base of the official left bloc is dented by a lack of motivation on account of the government’s policies.
Results of the PSOE-SUMAR bloc and its allies
The ‘progressive’ bloc as a whole, did not do as badly as expected, although a fairly sharp decline was experienced by SUMAR (which brings together the remnants of Unidas Podemos, Más País, Compromís, parties to the left of PSOE). This left coalition obtained 3 million votes (12.31 percent) and 31 seats. This represents a loss of 700,000 votes (or 7 seats) compared to November 2019. In contrast, the PSOE actually increased its vote. It won 7.76 million votes (31.7 percent, or 122 seats), compared to 6.8 million (28 percent or 120 seats) in November 2019. We can therefore see who it is that has gained politically from the coalition government, and who managed to group around themselves the so-called ‘useful vote’ against the right.
SUMAR paid dearly for its lack of political and programmatic independence, accepting all the betrayals of the government’s original programme, which was already quite moderate to begin with, and every concession by PSOE to the ruling class and to EU and US imperialism in foreign affairs. SUMAR is left as a heterogeneous coalition of a dozen groups, almost all of them regional, with an almost non-existent rank and file, with the exception of the membership of Izquierda Unida. Podemos has been reduced to a marginal group within SUMAR, with just five of its outgoing MPs being reelected on SUMAR’s electoral list, confirming its irreversible decline.
In the Basque and Catalan nationalist camps, there have been significant shifts compared to November 2019. Catalonia was one of the few territories where abstention increased (with 350,000 fewer voters). This was particularly the case in the most nationalist and pro-independence areas, and expresses the discouragement in this camp in the face of what they consider a betrayal by ERC with its return to ‘autonomism’. It also reflects the lack of a real alternative by Junts and the CUP (a radical left Catalan independence party), which lost its two seats.
Thus, the pro-independence parties went from 1.67 million in November 2019 to just 954,000 votes now. A part of that vote, above all from ERC, was a workers’ vote that has returned to the PSC (PSOE in Catalonia), which has increased its votes in Catalonia by more than 400,000, receiving more votes than any other party there, with 1.21 million votes. It has also snatched almost 100,000 votes from Ada Colau’s (the former Mayor of Barcelona) Comuns, which has also integrated into SUMAR.
In spite of the setback for pro-independence parties, Catalonia has been key, together with the Basque Country, in ensuring the right’s defeat at the national level. Here, the parties that support the central government have won 33 seats compared to 8 for the Spanish right. Overall, the Spanish left (PSOE and SUMAR) and Catalan left (ERC and CUP) won 64.5 percent of the votes in Catalonia.
In the case of the Basque Country, the Basque left party EH Bildu overtook the Basque right party PNV, such that now the sum total for the Spanish (PSOE and SUMAR) and Basque (EH Bildu) lefts reached 60 percent of the votes in Euskadi and 56 percent in Navarre. Here, the parties that support the central government won 19 seats compared to 4 for the Spanish right.
It is important to highlight that, between Catalonia and the Basque Country, the so-called ‘progressive bloc’ won a net total of 40 more seats than the PP-Vox bloc! Without the vital contribution of both territories, the PP-Vox bloc would have been victorious in Spain as a whole.
With the Spanish right wing having identified independence, and Catalan and Basque nationalism in general, as public enemy number one, there is no doubt that the national question has played a massive role in radicalising and mobilising the vote in both territories in the face of right-wing threats. Furthermore, both territories have a high proportion of industrial workers, and the workers’ vote is a major factor.
This demonstrates again the progressive, democratic and revolutionary character of the struggle for national-democratic rights, and in particular the right of self-determination in both areas, which must be defended unconditionally by the whole of the Spanish working class, as part of its struggle against the Francoist right, the corrupt monarchy, and the backward Spanish capitalist class.
The results of the right
Although the PP boasts of having won 3 million more votes (rising to 8 million), its point of departure was the historical low of the dismal results of the 2019 general elections. As expected, the PP absorbed the residual vote of Ciudadanos (a ‘moderate’ right-wing party) from November 2019, just over 1.6 million votes. It also snatched another 600,000 votes from Vox, and recovered a further 800,000 votes from right-wingers who had abstained in the November 2019 elections.
The biggest loser of the elections was the far-right Vox. It lost 600,000 votes and 19 seats. Despite the decline of the forces that make up SUMAR, Vox barely pulled 19,000 votes away from it, in what was practically a tie for third place, at around 12.4 percent.
The clear retreat of Vox cuts through the discourse of certain sectors of the left who talk about the ‘rise of fascism’. The lunatic and crude positions of Vox will never be able to become a dominant stance in a society where the working class represents the overwhelming majority of the population. It has a very narrow social base: that of the hysterical and reactionary small and medium-sized landowners, and the neo-Francoist state apparatus of judges, police and military, which can occasionally drag in very backward, marginalised layers of the working class.
Undoubtedly, the right has suffered a major setback. Drunk with arrogance, it showed its true ultra-reactionary colours to society during the election campaign, with violent speeches and outright lies, threatening to repeal some of the progressive social reforms of the PSOE-Unidas Podemos government, joking about violence against women in the case of Vox, and even banning musical performances and plays for ideological reasons in some cities and towns where it recently won in municipal elections. This has awakened the class instincts and democratic sentiments of previously unmotivated layers of the left, which reacted at the last moment to prevent a PP and Vox victory.
In reality, the social base of the right is very heterogeneous. It ranges from crazed and brutalised petty-bourgeois reactionaries, insignificant privileged layers of workers possessing a petty-bourgeois mentality, backward and desperate layers of the working class, and even some honest but depoliticised layers of the population who, overwhelmed by instability and lack of alternatives, just want to try out ‘new management’, such is their desperation.
A left-wing government with a firm hand, seen to be tackling the problems they face in a radical way and with conviction, could separate the healthiest and most honest elements of the petty bourgeoisie and politically backward workers from the rest of the reactionary rabble, which would be reduced to impotent whining.
When working-class families have been reached, struggles around social issues have united hundreds of thousands on the streets, as we saw in the magnificent protests for public healthcare in Madrid. Meanwhile, shows of force by the Spanish right have struggled to bring together numbers even in the tens of thousands at best in the state capital. That tells us everything about the real correlation of forces in Spanish society today.
Another thing entirely, however, is the fact that these magnificent social forces of struggle that lie in reserve in our class are passive, unmotivated and frustrated because of the policies of the ‘progressive’ government and of the major trade unions, both of which have ended up accepting the terms of the bosses and the rich and powerful on the decisive questions.
However, let us not fool ourselves. The right came very close to achieving a government majority. This was wholly the responsibility of the government, which failed to offer an alternative to capitalist chaos that has pushed the lower layers of the petty bourgeoisie and politically backward and desperate sections of the working class into the arms of the right.
Many honest people are beginning to question the role of PSOE. We see this with the incredibly cowardly and criminaly role of PSOE, and the complicit silence of SUMAR leader Yolanda Díaz, when PSOE lined up with the right on the question of the ‘Only yes means yes’ law, on the question of sexual violence towards women. We saw it in the cowardly and apologetic way the government defended its pacts with the Catalan and Basque pro-independence parties. This only helped reactionary Spanish nationalism, and deepened among backward layers of workers.
This is not to say that we defend the content of these pacts which, in general, are composed of moderate, social-democratic policies and, in the best case, only snatch a few crumbs from the rich. Rather, we say this because the right wing used the fact to stigmatise the democratic and national rights of the Catalans and Basques in the eyes of the majority of the population. This added grist to their mill, as we saw in the election campaign.
As we said at the outset, Sánchez and Yolanda Díaz are wrong if they think that their nearly 11 million votes indicate an approval of their policies. The youth, above all, is completely sceptical towards this government.
There is dissatisfaction, impatience, and unease at declining purchasing power, at the impossibility of accessing decent housing and getting a stable and well-paid job, and in general about what the future brings. There is a grudging and gritted-teeth acceptance of the growing ties to the militaristic policies of NATO and US imperialism, or the betrayal of unfulfilled promises such as repealing the PP’s labour reform and its gag law, as well as of the blackmail by reactionary judges, among other issues.
Hundreds of thousands of people, from the most advanced layers of the working class and the youth, were stirred by an acute class instinct that they must once again stop the Spanish reactionary right wing. But they have also issued a final warning to this government. Namely, if it does not make a clear turn in its policies, if it does not leave behind the small crumbs and gimmicky announcements and begin to seriously tackle the real problems that beset the youth and working class on a daily basis, that it cannot take the working masses’ support for granted indefinitely – they might not come to the rescue next time.
But this means courageously confronting the big capitalists, the reactionary state apparatus, and leaving behind the pro-imperialist policies pursued to date. This is precisely what the PSOE-SUMAR government has made clear that it will not do. In fact, in the face of the global capitalist recession that is once again looming, and the high public debt that is gripping all the national economies, the government will be forced to apply a policy of cuts and attacks against the working class, as the European Commission in Brussels is already demanding. That is why we are obliged to warn in advance. If the investiture of a new Sánchez government is successful, it will rest on a weaker and much more precarious majority than in its last term. It will inevitably frustrate popular expectations, and this will lead his government into crisis, instability and certain failure.
The Spanish ruling class is facing the worst possible situation. With stormy seas ahead, it needs a strong government that does not hesitate to apply the most favourable policy for its interests. It will not have that with a PSOE-SUMAR government. Nor would this be provided by a PP-Vox government should they win a repeat election in the coming months, where there would be a high abstention rate due to accumulated weariness and despondency, and they would get an unstable majority. In the latter case, a right-wing government would also be viewed, from the first minute, with enormous disgust, hatred and distrust by the masses of the working class.
All this heralds a time of instability, convulsions and a sharpening of the class struggle in the Spanish state. Faced with the failure of a social democracy in crisis, incapable of delivering significant reforms and yielding fundamentally to the interests of the ruling class, it is more necessary than ever to prepare a communist alternative, which unites the most advanced sectors of the working class and youth, active in the mass movements to bring these ideas to the broadest layers of the working class. Join the IMT to join us in this task!