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Pablo Iglesias: For a new democratic Transition

Miri Davidson22 July 2015

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The coming elections will not only mean a new set of MPs, but perhaps also the beginning of a different political system. Podemos wants the fundamental protagonists of these changes to be citizens, and not economic and political elites. By Podemos general secretary Pablo Iglesias, 19 July 2015. Translated by David Broder; read the original Spanish-language article here

By Pablo Iglesias

When I was teaching I liked to show my students a memorable sequence from Gillo Pontecorvo’s fabulous film Burn! The character played by Marlon Brando, an agent of the British Empire and its companies, tells us – referring to the French Revolution – that sometimes ten years can reveal the contradictions of a whole century. The movement that filled the town squares of Spain on 15 May 2011 symbolically marked the contradictions and crisis of our political system, and the beginning of a new Transition that is still advancing.

The Spanish political system that we call the 1978 system – in honour of its Constitution – is the result of our successful Transition: a process of metamorphosis, guided by the elites of the Franco era and of the democratic opposition, that transformed Spain from a dictatorship into a comparable liberal democracy. As Emmanuel Rodríguez notes in his recent book, the Francoite political and economic elites lacked legitimacy but could count on almost all the power, while the elites of the clandestine left could almost only count on their legitimacy: with his sharp wit, Vázquez Montalbán called this a ‘correlation of weaknesses’.

This transformation process counted on fundamental normative moments in politics, like the referendums that endorsed the Bill for Political Reform and the Constitution itself, as well as in economics, like the Moncloa Pacts that opened the way to the Spanish version of neoliberal development. The failure of the [23 February 1981] coup, which consolidated the prestige of the Monarchy, the PSOE [Socialist] victory in the 1982 elections, and the country’s incorporation into the European Community and NATO completed the consolidation of our Transition. The new system was built on two great national parties. It managed to handle the Catalan tension through a functional system of mutual recognition between the Spanish elites and the Catalan elites politically articulated around the CIU, and it coexisted with ETA terrorism in a Basque Country in which the PNV converted itself into the hegemonic party.

Supported by an unprecedented development in audio-visual culture and by media that consolidated themselves as the principal ideological actors, the social base of the 1978 system was the new self-perceived middle class, who associated Spain’s future with the promise of modernisation and improvement in their own living conditions and prospects – a promise which, in a certain measure, was fulfilled. The last happy phase of this system, which preceded the 2008 crisis and was led by the Partido Popular, relied on a model of development based on consumption-via-credit, property speculation and the European division of labour. The financial crisis would ultimately reveal the limits and dangers of the Spanish model and the decay of its political structures, forcing the middle and wage-earning classes to pick up the bill.

Among the institutions of the 1978 system, it seems that today the only ones still enjoying relatively good health are the Armed Forces (which are more modern, in good measure thanks to the fact that they have opened up to the world), the Monarchy (thanks to Felipe being substituted for Juan Carlos) and the PNV, which is surely waiting for its moment to come. 

The newspaper that I am writing in today [El País] constitutes perhaps the most important cultural bastion of the Transition and this system. It is perhaps for this reason that back in 2012 (long before Podemos), in a very lucid editorial entitled ‘The urgent need for a pact’, it registered the organic crisis in Spain and called for the system parties (PSOE and PP) to reach an agreement to confront a situation of vulnerability in the party system – one that threatened to jeopardise its historical stability.

But the decade of transformations had already begun. The European project continued to weaken as a result of the crisis (as the President of the European Parliament recognised the day that I made my first appearance in that chamber); in Spain, when the Catalan problem was flaring up in all its splendour, Podemos was challenging the two-party system with unprecedented force. The fact that – despite our experience and our mistakes, and despite having been attacked more than anyone – our prospects for winning the elections remain intact can only be explained by the exceptional nature of the current moment. The fact that a political force like Podemos – whose internal organs and candidates are elected in primaries open to citizens, without ‘blocked’ lists, and which puts up for referendum something as important as our alliance policy – is a possible government can only be explained by the exceptional situation that we are living through.

History is never written in advance (not knowing this was, perhaps, the greatest error of certain materialists) and the coming months, always with an eye to Europe, will decide the form in which our new, still-advancing Transition is resolved. In fact, the coming elections will mean not only a new set of MPs but perhaps also the beginning of a different political system, in which a lot of things will have to change. Politics is always conflict, and we will have to play our cards in a difficult context, against very powerful opponents. Today, these opponents are celebrating the Greek deal as a temporary victory for cynical thinking and reaction as against a social Europeanism. But Greece is not Spain. Our country can count on a lot more power as an actor in Europe, and on public institutions capable of disciplining our corrupt, unproductive and fraudulent oligarchies simply by making sure that the law is put into effect.

For a year now we have been preparing ourselves to win, for being the political force that represents the popular classes and civil society, defending a national project for the majority based on the regeneration of institutions, social justice and sovereignty. To this end, we have committed to a new pact for social and territorial coexistence that will have to be articulated through a constituent process, negotiated not by communiqués but through a great social debate. This will ensure that in the new Transition the fundamental protagonists will not be the political and economic elites, but the citizens.

A lucid-minded Russian socialist once said that there are decades in which almost nothing happens and weeks in which decades happen. The coming weeks fall into this latter camp. We must try to be up to the task.

- Pablo Iglesias is author of Politics in a Time of Crisis.

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