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The Spanish Elections: What price democracy?

After months of social upheaval and financial crisis, Spain goes to the polls on 20th November. Daniel Adam reviews the background and prospects.

The Spanish Constitution was inspired and influenced by the Portuguese socialist revolution of 25th April 1974. Some parts, written by the Spanish Communist Party (PCE), such as the statement that private property has a “social function”, clearly attacked the fundamentals of a society where, for centuries, every time that someone tried to attack the establishment and create a fair system, he or she was murdered or had to flee.

The Communist Party paid a high price for such gains. They had to accept a monarchy basically appointed by Franco, and a voting system where some votes can be seven times more valuable than others. Votes for the conservatives, the Partido Popular (PP), or the labourists, the Partido Socialista (PSOE), will be unfavourably distorted against votes for Izquierda Unida, (IU, United Left), the broad left formation of the PCE

The king’s symbolic importance will have to be resolved in due course but the famous 1975-81 “Transición” to constitutional democracy was a mockery. The same old elites that ruled Spain under the brutal regime of Franco are still in power. The elite is mainly represented by the conservative party, the Partido Popular, which has not yet condemned the Franco regime in the European parliament. It was founded by the former Tourism and Information Minister from the fascist state, Fraga. His successor, the former prime minister of Spain, José María Aznar, wrote passionate articles against the Constitution, democracy and in defence of the fascist status quo.

Weak Social Democracy

Spanish people expected the PSOE to take the lead in the fight against this elite in the institutions. Considering the PCE too radical, they massively voted to make Felipe Gonzalez President of Spain, hoping that he would transform the country into a social democracy comparable with our European neighbours. The fact that Gonzalez now has a well paid post in one of the companies he himself helped to create by “restructuring” the gas sector, Gas Natural, and that he is never criticised by the media, gives you an idea of how wrong Spaniards were. Gonzalez left the country with a shaken economy, huge unemployment, integrated in NATO through lies (such as no intervention in wars) and integrated into the European Union, which itself deserves its own article.

The PSOE has been in power for twenty-two years in Spain, with an eight year break when Aznar became president. During this time, they built a country where, although the level of GDP per capita is similar to the average of the original 15 European states, social expenditure does not reach two-thirds of the average EU15 level. Educational standards, as well as salaries, are well below level; minimum wage is barely above €600 per month; there are five million unemployed; and corruption is blatant. Sure, the PP did their bit during their eight years, such as the “Ground Law” that started the massive construction speculation, but PSOE prime minister Zapatero had four years to change that before the crisis came, and he didn’t.

The reaction to the crisis by Zapatero is more than disappointing. It has been considered an act of treason by workers and the unemployed. The two main unions, being supporters of a Zapatero’s government and weakened in a country where people actually work in fear, have failed to react to the situation. It is impossible to understand that no strike was called until 2010. And that was unsuccessful, mainly because of the distrust that workers have in these two organizations, considered puppets in the hands of the government. People lost confidence in political parties, either because they are corrupt or because they have no chance to win the elections, and also in the main unions, the two institutions that are supposed to channel their voice. In a country where the two main parties and the two main unions are, at best, compromised, and where political consciousness is at a low ebb, people have lost their trust in “politics”.

Disaffection and Mass Action

But this ‘loss of trust in politics’ is a media version of the ‘post-politics’ anti-capitalism that is breaking out the world over. Spain is an extremely political country. Wherever you go, whatever the bar you enter, you hear people talking fervently about politics, in anger. The situation had to explode, and it did. On 15 May, this year, thousands of protesters gathered unexpectedly in demonstrations organized by new groupings who declare themselves unaffiliated to any political group, with no political agenda, and not related to the unions. The movement grew and, last 15 October, numbers of demonstrators reached the hundreds of thousands in Madrid and Barcelona, and several tens of thousands in Valencia, Sevilla, Malaga and other cities. No such demonstrations had taken place in Spain since the beginning of the Iraqi invasion.

Surprised by the amazing and unexpected turn-outs, experienced anti-capitalist fighters put aside their differences and joined the newcomers in a united movement, filled with vices and contradictions but massive, democratic (organized through assemblies) and craving for a new society, comparable with May ‘68. Or is it?

The movement set itself to be as broad as possible from the very beginning, trying to avoid well-known formulas or names. It rejects calling itself a “leftist movement”, or socialist movement, although it has clear leftist claims. It has also avoided linking itself to any political party or union.

On one hand, there is a very positive outcome. People are embracing ideas that have been typically on the left’s agenda, but without using the traditional terminology. On the other hand, an individualism in the minds of the protestors rejects all kinds of organizations whatsoever and, in doing so, loses previous experience that could be useful. It´s a naive movement and proud to be.

And the Elections?

The question is, ‘How will it affect the elections?’ – if, indeed, it does. The polls show no result except for an increase in abstention, which might be caused more by the disgust the PSOE evokes from voters, than the movement itself. The PP is likely to win the elections hands down, and neo-liberalism will continue its rampant pillage on Spain for several more years. It will be for the movement to give a significant jolt to the conservatives in government, which might happen, and force the same unions it despises into organizing strikes that succeed. Too many ‘if´s’!

Meanwhile social unrest keeps growing. The two main parties cast their circus towards the elections. Debates on television invite only those two to discuss their same economic agenda. The only hope left for the next elections is the rise of IU, which, due to the nature of the proportional voting system, needs 250.000 votes to get each seat in parliament while the PSOE and PP need just 60.000. With those numbers of votes, the United Left might be able to force a pact with the PSOE to create a more socially oriented programme. Given the nature of the constitution, this is highly improbable. So it will be back to the streets!

Daniel Adam is an economist and activist member of the UJCE (Unión de Juventudes Comunistas de España – Communist Youth), part of the Izquierda Unida.

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