48 hours after the November 10 elections, Pedro Sánchez and Pablo Iglesias reached an agreement to form a coalition government. This represents an event of historical significance and has raised enormous expectations. Millions of workers and young people, who in these years have starred in the most powerful struggles since the fall of the dictatorship, cannot fail to consider the enormous opportunity that opens up to change their present and their future.
Putting an end to the social cuts, the counter-reforms of the PP, privatizations, precariousness, or low wages is not a utopia. Nor is it to put an end to the authoritarian framework of the State and its laws of exception, to the repression and criminalization suffered by the people and youth of Catalonia, and to resolve the national question on democratic grounds, that is, recognizing the right to decide. But to make these aspirations of the majority of the population a reality requires of this Government to confront the great economic powers, banking, and financial capital, face the judicial, police and military apparatus, and reject the austerity agenda of the European Union.
The last few years of experience have not happened in vain. Whoever thinks that this Government has a blank check is wrong. Both Sánchez and Iglesias, regardless of how much expectation and sympathy they gather, will have to demonstrate with facts that they are different if they don't want to encourage a political disappointment of great consequences.
The PSOE loses support
In an era of extreme polarization and stark class struggle, abrupt and vertiginous changes are the norm. In this case, what seemed impossible after the messages of the electoral campaign, has become viable with amazing speed. Pedro Sánchez and the leaders of the PSOE have had no choice but to seek the pact with Iglesias after the failure of their strategy.
The results of the general elections have also ruined the plans of the ruling class. Its goal of building a stable government based on the PSOE and Ciudadanos has been impossible after the catastrophe suffered by Rivera and his henchmen. The right, as much as it has abounded in the electoral growth of Vox, continues to have many difficulties to widen its social base.
And this is one of the key aspects of the situation opened with the November 10 elections. If the PSOE, after losing 727,772 votes, three seats and the absolute majority in the Senate, had drawn up an investiture and legislature deal with Cs and the PP, as many qualified voices — both inside and outside the party — were defending, it would wear out its social base in very little time. A pact of that nature would have strengthened the far-right, and would also offer Unidas Podemos a great opportunity to regain ground.
The fact that Sanchez has been forced to hug Iglesias and listen to him — he has praised his “generosity” — cannot hide what was the axis of his electoral campaign. Covered with the Spanish flag and acting furiously against the Catalan people, the PSOE leadership has given wings to the far-right. For example, in Andalusia, the traditional stronghold of social democracy, Vox has become the third force at only 0.15% of the PP, and achieves 867,429 votes, 20.39%, and 12 members of parliament. The sum of PP and Vox votes grew a lot in the Andalusian community: more than 345,200 votes and 10 percentage points since the April elections, and 10 members of parliament (from 17 to 27). These are the consequences of PSOE's policy.
Pedro Sánchez tried to hold Unidas Podemos responsible for the failure of the coalition government he now defends, seeking a flexible alliance with the party of Albert Rivera in all so-called "State" affairs. And he wanted this alliance in order to unload new cuts and counter-reforms on the shoulders of the working class and youth, something Pablo Iglesias never grew tired of repeating in his electoral rallies. It would be important for Iglesias not to forget this as he seats in the vice-president chair.
The goal of increasing their support among the so-called "cautious majority" — using the words of the guru of La Moncloa, Iván Redondo — has suffered a major setback. PSOE hasn't so little as scratched the shifting voting base of Ciudadanos, while hundreds of thousands have not voted, and its pro-Spain campaign hasn't done anything but draw water to the mill of the Francoist right.
The collapse of Ciudadanos and the advance of the far-right
Just seven months ago, in the April elections, Ciudadanos was 200,000 votes below the Popular Party (4,136,600 versus 4,356,023) and only 9 seats (57 versus 66). Today, with Rivera resigned and out of politics, with Cs disappearing from numerous autonomous communities and with extremely negative data in Catalonia (216,000 votes, 5.61%, when in the autonomous regions of December 2017 he obtained 1,109,732, 25.2%), one of the most important strategic bets of the ruling class has failed.
The cause of this debacle is not explained solely by Rivera's tactical errors or by his pride. In reality, the sinking of Cs has more to do with the general orientation of the ruling class, which has made the Spanish agitation and the repression of the democratic rights of the people of Catalonia the mark of all the parties that consider themselves to be the pillars of the regime of 78.
Rivera based his policy on seeing who was more fascist, who said the most thunderous barbarities against Catalonia, who proclaimed with more force the need to return to 155 and to stop Torra. But, in a context of such strong polarization, the social and electoral base of the right — mobilized with an overdose of anti-Catalán poison and an enormous desire for revenge against the working class and youth for the struggles of the last few years — has grouped around the formations that best guarantee this.
PP, Vox, Ciudadanos and Navarra Suma grouped in the elections of April a total of 11,276,920 votes, equivalent to 43.2%, and 149 seats. In the November 10 elections, they have gathered 10,395,920, that is, 881,000 less, 43.1% and 152 seats, in a context of decreased voter turnout: 6 points less than in April (10.5 million didn't vote).
We, the Marxists, won't be the ones who minimize the importance of the electoral increase of the far-right, but just as wrong as minimizing it would be to exaggerate it by hiding the true correlation of forces in society and the ability of the working class to beat this political backlash.
The far-right of Vox is not something new, it is the same that existed within the Popular Party, but today it is out in the open and emboldened. Its development, since its uncertain beginnings in December 2013, is linked to the exceptional events of the class struggle in these years, and to the changes that have occurred in the left camp.
The emergence of Podemos expressed at the polls the most important mass movement since the years of the Transition, and the deep left turn among millions of workers, youth and impoverished sectors of the middle classes. Shortly thereafter, an unprecedented popular mobilization was unleashed in Catalonia that shot a missile to the ship of the regime of 1978. The 1st and 3rd of October 2017 opened a disturbing crisis, with far-reaching consequences, that remains impossible to liquidate.
To meet this challenge, the combined forces of the State apparatus, the financial oligarchy — including the Catalan bourgeoisie —, the parties of the system and related media, have launched themselves into a rampant race to criminalize the Catalan people, agitating the most rabid Spanish nationalism. Vox has taken to its last consequences the programme of the rest of the regime's political formations, including the PSOE.
The petty bourgeoisie that is angry and nostalgic of Francoism, thousands of "small businessmen" who are nothing more than exploitative scum, hundreds of thousands of state officials and the repressive forces of the police, the Civil Guard and the army..., all that social dust that mobilized around the most reactionary propaganda in defense of the "sacred unity of the country", racism and homophobia, has seen its flag of struggle in Vox. Attracted by Vox's absence of shame in the defence of the fascist ideology, this petty-bourgeoisie raised Abascal to a pedestal.
The far-right draws on the social crisis of capitalism and the impotence of parliamentary democracy and its traditional representatives to get society out of the present impasse. Vox is the party of counterrevolutionary despair and constitutes a great threat to the labour movement, to its economic and political conquests, and democratic rights. Precisely for this reason, only by applying a policy that definitely breaks the chains of this system and mobilizes the force of millions of workers and young people can these reactionary forces be successfully fought.
However, the advance of Vox must be approached with a sense of proportion. It is true that concerning the April elections, they won 962,890 votes (from 2,677,173 and 10.26% to 3,640,063 and 15.09%) and more than doubled their seats: from 24 to 52. But these results above all point to a new redistribution of support in the reactionary bloc, one that fails again in its attempt to seize the Government. While Vox and PP together advance 1.6 million votes when compared to April, Cs loses 2.5 million.
The other consequence of this advance of Vox is that it puts a lot of pressure on Pablo Casado. Harvesting its worst second result in history, the PP has to settle for a modest comeback: it goes from 4,356,023 votes, 16.7%, and 66 members of parliament in April, to 5,019,869 votes, 20.82%, and 88 members of parliament in November. But in the 2016 elections, with Rajoy in the lead, they obtained 7.9 million votes, 33%, and 137 seats, and in 2011 they were 10.8 million, 44.6% and 186 seats (the absolute majority).
The electoral evolution of Unidas Podemos
In Catalonia, PP, Vox and Cs elected only 6 members of parliament on a total of 48! In the Basque Autonomous Community, none of the three obtained any parliamentary representation. Unlike the PSOE or Unidas Podemos, the independentist left has reaped good results. In Euskal Herria, EH Bildu goes from 4 to 5 parliamentarians; In Catalonia, the CUP achieves 2 seats from Barcelona and the ERC, although falling from 15 to 13 seats, maintains the 869,934 votes.
In the November 10 elections, the reactionary block lost almost 900,000 votes, while PSOE, Unidas Podemos, Más País, ERC, EH Bildu, CUP, BNG, and other small formations, although clearly surpassing the right, also fall: they remain at 12,141,507 votes, 49.3%, and 179 seats. In April, its joint result was 13,239,980 votes, 50.8%, and 185 seats. Obviously, in this generalized loss, the party that falls the farthest back is PSOE (almost 800,000).
Although Unidas Podemos obtained worse results also, paradoxically, it has achieved its objective of twisting Sanchez's arm. But failing to see things as they really are is a mistake with a high price in politics.
The November 10 coalition formed by Podemos and IU obtained 3,097,185 votes, which means a setback of 635,744 compared to April (when it won 3,732,929) and 1,952,549 since the June 2016 elections (at that time reaching 5,049,734 votes). In members of parliament, it means going from the 71 in June 2016, to 42 in April 2019 and 35 in the November 10 elections. In short, it loses more than 50% of its seats and almost 40% of its votes in these three years.
If in 2016 surpassing PSOE was within reach, with PSOE at a distance of less than 375,000 votes, after November 10 the difference has become more than 3,600,000 votes in favour of Sánchez's party, that has twice as many votes as Iglesias and gets almost 16 points away (28.6% for the PSOE and 12.8% for Unidas Podemos).
The results of different territories are significant. In Catalonia, Unidas Podemos was the first force in the 2016 elections, with 848,526 votes, 12 seats, and 24.5%. In the November 10 elections, they keep the 7 seats of April, but they go from 614,738 votes to 546,733. In the Basque Autonomous Community, they go from being the first force in 2016, with 333,730 votes, 29%, and 6 seats, to being the fourth, with 181,337 votes, 15.4% and 3 seats. In Andalusia they get 6 seats, that is, they lose 3 of the 9 they previously had, and they fall from 651,160 votes in April to 555,902 in November.
To clarify this fall, it can be argued that Más País, Errejón's party, and Compromís achieve 554,066 votes of the 635,744 that Unidas Podemos loses, but then the almost 800,000 votes that Sánchez lost go directly to abstention and not to Unidas Podemos.
Unidas Podemos maintains a not insignificant electoral ground, but the leadership has refused even the least of self-criticism. If the same mistakes that have been made these years are repeated now as a ruling party, the consequences will be much more serious.
Many leaders of Unidas Podemos declare themselves republicans, anti-capitalists, and not a few of them even communists. But in practice, they have played the painful role of whitewashing the "institutional order" that denies the right to decide and punishes with repression and imprisonment a people fighting for the republic. The opportunity they have missed to unify this extraordinary movement with the demands of the working class and the youth of the rest of the State is evident.
Iglesias' accusation that the national liberation movement in Catalonia plays the game to the elites is completely absurd. The hundreds of thousands of workers and young people who fill the streets of Catalonia in mass mobilizations do not want a republic of cuts and austerity. Quite the opposite. They have made more than clear their rejection of the Catalan oligarchy which, by the way, is fused with the Spanish oligarchy in the fight against the movement.
The truly incredible thing is that Pablo Iglesias, Alberto Garzón and Ada Colau intend to establish an impossible equidistance between a fighting people and those who repress it. They have erred in their analysis of the national question, just as when they renounce a programme of rupture with capitalism and abandon the most classist and advanced claims with which Podemos made a breakthrough five years ago.
Either with the capitalists or with the workers
The Government agreement between the PSOE and Unidas Podemos still needs to be finalized and achieve the parliamentary support that guarantees the investiture of Sanchez. But everything seems to indicate that they will not have insurmountable difficulties to add the deputies of Más País, PNV, BNG, Teruel Existe and PRC and, subsequently, to convince some of ERC or EH Bildu to abstain on the second ballot.
Nor does it seem that this time Unidas Podemos' goal of controlling some ministries, including a vice-presidency for Pablo Iglesias, is in any danger. The bottom line is: what purpose will these ministries serve in a government piloted by the same PSOE and Pedro Sánchez who have been strong advocates of the monarchical regime of 78, and fully willing to apply the measures that the great economic powers and the EU have demanded from them?
Pablo Iglesias, Irene Montero and Alberto Garzón should seriously reflect upon Syriza's experience in Greece. The party of Tsipras came to power riding the enthusiastic support of the working class and youth, amid a mass mobilization against the savage plans of adjustments and the draconian cuts of the Troika (IMF, World Bank and EU). But Tsipras turned his back on this enthusiasm and gave up confronting the Greek and European capitalists. Finally, after a referendum in which the mass vote against the Troika demonstrated the favourable conditions that existed to break the cuts and austerity and take control of the economy through the nationalization of strategic sectors, Tsipras shamefully capitulated, betrayed his social base and, finally, paved the way for the right to recover the Government.
The leaders of Unidas Podemos can fool themselves if they think that their “skills” in the Council of Ministers will convince the Ibex 35 to mitigate their attacks against workers, young people and the most disadvantaged sectors. Big capital, together with the heads of the EU, and many socialist leaders who now show themselves as "allies", will put them under ruthless pressure from the first minute. Under these circumstances, how will they respond?
The document presented as the basis of this Government only contains general statements of a "progressive" tone. There is no mention of repealing the labour counter-reforms, of pensions, of the LOMCE or the Gag Law, or of ending the bleeding cuts in public education and health. Not a word about putting an end to evictions, guaranteeing public and accessible housing with social rents. Nor are there references to concrete measures to fight against the collective sacking of workers, to renationalise privatized companies or to give back to the municipalities the public services, defending decent and quality employment. Nor is there the slightest mention of how to face the dictatorship of power companies, or how to get the bank to return the 60,000 million stolen from the financial rescue, and this has been one of the most highlighted measures on the electoral programme of Unidas Podemos.
The only two issues that are clearly stated are the control of public spending to respect the fiscal balance with Europe and that “dialogue in Catalonia will always be promoted within the Constitution”, that is, as Iglesias already pointed out months ago, that Unidas Podemos can support the PSOE in its policy against the legitimate right to self-determination of the Catalan people, including recourse to 155 and repression.
There is no doubt that the right will not give truce to this Government. The spokesmen of the PP, Vox and Cs have already announced it, although the latter, in a desperate gesture, has appealed to a Government of national unity between the reactionary bloc and the PSOE.
At the time of writing these lines, it is impossible to determine the programme of the new Government in its details and how the negotiations will take place for the investiture. But one thing is clear. It will not be possible to govern for two masters: either with the capitalists, with the banks, with the great powers, which are the support of the regime of 78, or with the workers and their families, with the unemployed, with the youth that suffers the scourge of precariousness and chronic unemployment, with pensioners, with the people of Catalonia fighting for the republic and their legitimate right to decide, with women struck by inequality and violence, with all the oppressed and the exploited.
This coalition government of the PSOE and Unidas Podemos has been possible by the will of millions of workers and young people who want a radical change in their living conditions. But there is no guarantee that this will be achieved if the relentless logic of capitalism is submissively respected.
As revolutionary Marxists, we are opposed to sectarianism, but we do not close our eyes to reality. The lessons of history must be taken into account. Both in June 1931, when the Government of the Socialist Republican conjunction was formed, as in October 1982, with the government headed by Felipe González, the working class demonstrated an enormous determination to transform society. But their leaders were incapable of disputing the power of the oligarchy, the landowners, the bankers and the Church, and their timid reforms soon turned into counter-reforms that paved the way for reaction.
We must rely on our strength and understand that any progress will be the result of organization and mass struggle. If we want to fight the far-right, if we want to break definitively with austerity and cuts, we need to build a workers' party armed with the programme of Marxism and that poses without any complexes the struggle for the socialist transformation of society. That is the most important task of this historical era.
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