Juan Carlos Monedero writes about the poor prospects for the political left in light of the recent Partido Popular victory and suggests that although Izquierda Unida may operate as a disruptive force within the parliamentary system, the focus, given the collapse of representative democracy and unions caught up in the logic of the neoliberal state, ought to be on broad civil society mobilisation against the prolonged onslaught that shows no end in sight.

Road Map for a Shipwrecked Left

The attitude of the left following the elections is reminiscent of the story of the madman who, on release from the asylum, went out to the country to shoot at ducks without a rifle. After his surprise on seeing one drop from the air, the madman stammered as he held it in his hands: “but I don’t have a rifle..”. The duck, opening an eye, whispered: “you swine, that was some fright you gave me”.

The elections are the fictional rifle in the hands of a representative democracy unable to provide answers. Left wing politics has taken on, unnecessarily, the role of the duck.  The asylum is opened and closed by Goldman Sachs, and the field where this encounter takes place is none other than the incompatibility between democracy and an economic model that continues to shout “you have no say in this” and “we must do what we must do”. The important question then: why is the left playing dead?


The PP has had a very modest result – just 560,000 new votes and less than Zapatero in 2008. That the PP has no programme worth talking about is the opinion not only of 7 out of 10 Spanish citizens who did not vote for it, but also of “the markets”. Never has an absolute majority left a country so cold. The markets, who know that more austerity means more recession, play things safe. The economic right-wing never gave up Marxism.

The PSOE has crashed, but there is little deep reflection in the wake of its debacle. For how many years how have militant socialists been swapping ideological debate for the justification of policies that lost any whiff of socialism? The monarchy, industrial reconversion, NATO, Maastricht, the Parties Law, labour reforms… losing 4 million votes is not bad going, though if one thinks about the 5 million unemployed, the evictions, the ups and downs, youth unemployment, internal disunity, the submissiveness to the scolding from the German Panzerdivision, the constitutional reform, the labour counter-reform, the loans to banks or the ceding of Rota [naval base at Cádiz ceded to NATO for the naval component of its anti-missile shield], one might repeat what Girondo said, that knowing Van Gogh, the strange thing is not that he cut off one of his ears but that he didn’t cut off the other one too. A floor of 7 million is surprising.

The enormous relative increase in seats for Izquierda Unida can only produce a burst of happiness if it comes with a blindfold applied to one’s consciousness. Barely 12% of the votes lost by the PSOE. The 1.7 million votes is still some way off the 2 million of yesteryear, despite the rise in population, the economic crisis, the 15-M and the thoroughgoing refusal of the socialist PSOE to be socialist.

The 15-M heralded a growing generational gap. Can the left be reinvented by those who cast it to one side? There is a viciousness in the González [Felipe, former socialist PM] old guard against Zapatero that almost casts him as a sympathetic figure. Izquierda Unida also has problems in connecting with new generations. The ones who, there is no longer any doubt, will live worse than their parents. What does the left have to offer them? Resignation? We do not have any answer yet as to why Islamism is able to represent discontent in the Arab world whilst in Europe the left is incapable of winning political power with a radical programme. A vacuum that calls forth responses from beyond party-based formations. A moment for extra-parliamentary governance?

The shipwreck of the left also affects the unions. The mere possibility that an ex-secretary of CCOO [Comisiones Obreras] should be Minister for Labour with the PP shows the drift in organisations necessary for workers but which have been chained to the logic of the system. Just as with the parties, they have wound up cartelised within rigid norms, outside of which, they think, all is winter.

The fight between Chacón and Rubalcaba might keep the PSOE entertained, though do they really represent something different? Two ministers of the same government that promised one thing and did another. Our democracy is ripe for facing a question: what is the PSOE left waiting for in order to move ahead with the creation of a new empancipatory formation?

The response, however, is not simple. IU is not attractive enough. Not enough to invite the 15-M to reinvent politics. Will it now have the generosity that it did not before to open up to real changes? Will it take advantage of its growth to have the benevolence it lacked and build a practice out of the refoundation? Will it be the gap of the system within the system?

The problem, at any rate, is not that there will be social and wage cutbacks, savage mortgages, the end of collective agreements, privatisations, tax hikes for the popular classes (all that fascism attempted to do but failed) but that the left is still thinking in applying sticking plasters to the cracks in a dam.

If we are witnessing a change of social contract in Spain and in Europe, we must go back to the places where social contracts are re-elaborated. These spaces are in civil society, in the critical press, in social centres, universities, high schools, offices, factories and squares. It is a moment for setting in gear popular constituent platforms (mesas populares constituyentes) that debate the main elements of the new model. Platforms where anyone who shares the need to lay new foundations for coexistence, at a moment of exhaustion for representative democracy and for neoliberal capitalism, aggravated by the arrival at the model of other countries –China, Brazil or Russia- and at a moment of ecological crisis.

Once the daydreaming with Brussels comes to an end, it is time to think what is our international point of entry after the dismantling of industry. Also in our energy and ecological deficits, in our growing inequalities and the need to find ways out that do not entail sinking other peoples. For this, we need a citizenry with courage. If the political left is happy to remain on the raft of the castaways, should the compass not be set for a social left with greater ambitions?

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