An article by VÍCTOR ALONSO ROCAFORT for CTXT
On Sunday May 20 the centre-right and liberal political Spanish party Ciudadanos, held a an aesthetically kitsch public event in Madrid: reddish flags, nationalist speeches delivered by its leader, Albert Rivera, and the singer Marta Sánchez performing a new anthem for the nation. On Sunday May 27, the results of the Podemos consultation on the continuity of its leaders, Pablo Iglesias and Irene Montero, who had requested the support of their base after the purchase of a villa in Galapagar, became known. On Monday, May 28, a frantic week began in the Spanish Congress of Deputies that would end on Friday, June 1, with the return of the Socialist Party to the Government of Spain now in the hands of a new president, Pedro Sánchez.
In just one month the political landscape of the country has changed drastically. Every political turn brings elements of continuity and discontinuity. The situation is so new that the old recipes no longer work. At the same time, the events unfolding did not drop from the sky, and some are also the consequence of certain actions organized by the left in the streets, the courts and the institutions. The situation harbours so many familiar features from the country’s recent past, that we will have to implement crucial teachings learned in these years. However, many will enter this new stage stumbling, forced, and with old crutches used during the hard fight against the right, while the usual opportunists will be ready to see if they can put their flag on anything, in this new scenario opening up in Spain.
The events unfolding did not drop from the sky, and some are also the consequence of certain actions organized by the left in the streets, the courts and the institutions. The situation harbours so many familiar features from the country’s recent past, that we will have to implement crucial teachings learned in these years.
Centuries ago schools stopped teaching the best way to deal with these sudden changes of scenery. Classical rhetoric was an essential component of the European curriculum until the seventeenth century. In Italian humanism it was the cornerstone of all political formations and we would understand very little of the more republican Machiavelli if we did not take this into account. Rhetoric was indeed an appropriate subject when studying politics, because of its emphasis on the contingency that presides over human affairs, on its fortune, and therefore, on the consequent notion that, as ‘political animals’ we should be willing to attack at any moment before the unforeseen changes of our city take place. Lesbos versus Procrustes, as Giambattista Vico would say. Virtue and prudence, civic courage and listening, were the principles derived from an ethos (character) aimed at elevation while keeping one’s feet on the ground; they were the best guarantees to face the vagaries of the public life.
2018 is not 2004 anymore, let alone 1982. Not only because of the meagre minority of socialist deputies who support the new government, 84 out of 350, needed in principle to form the Republican alliance that ousted Rajoy. Not only because of the evident changes of actors, devices, media and scenarios. What is different is also the fact that on the left we have accumulated a series of lessons that will have to be adequately rehearsed for future deployment and action. Teachings acquired under previous socialist governments as well as those acquired during the 15M and las mareas protests.
The fundamental theoretical learning for this new stage comes from the acknowledgment of the failure of social democracy as a project capable of successfully facing the dilemmas of the 21st century Europe. Zapatero’s government (who governed Spain from 2004-2011) ended up humiliated precisely by the self-imposed corset of what in recent decades has been called, perhaps more precisely, social-liberalism. No reforms, no matter how fundamental, will ever be effective – nor will any action taken at an international level – if you do not also attack the neoliberal heart of the system, where the economy and labour relations that directly affect our lives are decided.
The Government of Pedro Sanchez has been formed keeping in mind the new features of our times, and it is able to interpret, in part, the times we are living in, also providing sufficient hope for a progressive citizenship that has not been able to find a way out of the dark tunnel of the right. Not only will the new Spanish government have more women than men, it will reinstate a Ministry of Equality; also the Ministries of Economy, Defence and Justice, will be ruled by women. At the same time it offers another significant novelty, such as the creation of an important Ministry to deal with energy, the environment and climate change. The new government also includes prestigious media personalities such as the scientist and astronaut Pedro Duque, who will be head of the Ministry of Science; also, the government will navigate the difficult waters of the territorial issue posed by the Catalonia region with Borrell and Batet who, in the upcoming months, will be in charge of negotiations that are already looking quite complex. The final appointments are those of the former judge Grande-Marlaska, ideologically close to Ciudadanos and José Guirao in Culture (appointed after the unexpected resignation of the journalist and writer Màxim Huerta from a week-old government following reports that he had avoided paying taxes while working as a TV journalist). Despite the immediate sympathy with which they might be met by part of the electorate, they also anticipate some of the difficulties on the horizon.
However, it is clear that the new government of the Socialist Party maintains the old familiar approach to economic matters, in line with the views of the large Spanish banks and of Brussels. The obedience to the absurd neoliberal mantra of the 3% cap on budget deficit will continue, and with it, the model of containment of salaries and public spending, of precariousness and unemployment. The repeal of labour reforms, the return to the primacy of collective bargaining, a policy of recovery of labour rights, at the expense of corporate profits, or a consistent tax reform, are all policies that quite possibly, judging by the new appointments, will remain on the sidelines, perhaps camouflaged by more superficial measures aimed at mitigating the current unbearable situation.
It is still to be seen whether the new government will at least be able to pose questions regarding historical issues, such as the separation of powers or the democratic development of various institutions, including the Parliament.
Along with the neoliberal economic order, the monarchical order that is known on the left as ‘the 78 regime’, a reference to the post-dictatorship period, will not be altered. It is still to be seen whether the new government will at least be able to pose questions regarding historical issues, such as the separation of powers or the democratic development of various institutions, including the Parliament. Also, a type of feminism that is not also anti-capitalist, a type of environmentalism that does not question the electric oligopoly, will not be able to shine with its own light once the cameras of the press have stopped flashing. As for territorial order, the government will have to be daring if this order is to last. And here it is worth being republican rather than monarchical, because the new government will have to work hard to demonstrate that its ideology rests on a federal stance, on beliefs in principles of autonomy and territorial solidarity that in this case many of us share.
But before going back to 2011, when we took to the squares to oppose this Socialist Party kneeling to Brussels, let’s try to reflect on what has happened since then and on what, not so long ago, only May 20, we thought was going to happen in Spain.
It has been seven long years of harsh government by Mariano Rajoy. The most vulnerable in society have been literally crushed by his policies, by his evictions and his police, by his precarity and unemployment, by his housing model, by his walls and borders. What the polls predicted was also the victory of something even more frightening, of what was beginning to be a nationalist and patriotic movement based on conflict, capable of connecting with broad areas of the population, an increasingly far right movement, which maintained its neoliberal purity.
The best thing about politics is when, going beyond what is on the surface, going beyond discourse, action is taken and becomes concrete, if possible, on the part of the organized citizenship. Those previous experiences against the Socialist party governments, the change of their positions and the declarations of recent times, our technical and programmatic plans developed in detail, the experiences in social movements and also in the governments of the big cities, all this will have to be on the table, in the domain of possibility, coming from the streets when necessary, to recover liberties and advance civil rights, for new educational laws and universities, for the re-universalization of access to health, which will have to be shielded, at the same time, from the assault of the capital. And for the most transformative economic proposals.
What is also important is to learn, finally, that we need great politics accompanied by good theory. What must be encouraged is the return of an ethical concern at the forefront of the left, a concern about how to win in order to bring positive change, and not at any cost. No more populisms or caesarisms, shortcuts or electoral war machines, we knew before this was ineffective and it has been proven definitely at this stage. Nor are the classic party models valid anymore. We continue to need broad social and political alliances against neoliberalism, against the heart of the beast, arising from below, rooted in social movements that know how to be collaborative and generous, capable of incorporating the democratic radicalism that we have learned so much from – from their presence but also from their clamorous absences characterizing these times.
What we have learned in these years is therefore enough, and it will not be easy to put everything into practice. The times ahead present us with many unprecedented scenarios, which we will have to become accustomed to quickly, being protected against fortune by those republican virtues that we named at the beginning. Spain is about to be ruled by a government of containment: not only because of its commitment to contain public spending, but also because at the moment, it will allow to contain the extreme right that is already ravaging Europe. Spain needs to try to use this stage of contention as a prelude, as a phase in which to prepare the new country the left is dreaming of. Good luck and let’s get to work.
This article was first published in Spanish on CTXT