Monthly Archives: May 2014

Podemos: Overcoming Representation

Translation of an article originally published on Pour la Fin du Temps, 28th May 2014.

Overcoming Representation

By Germán Cano, Jorge Lago, Eduardo Maura, Pablo Bustinduy and Jorge Moruno

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There is a narrative thread that connects two improbable points. On election night in 2004, thousands of young people gathered outside the Socialist Party headquarters  in Ferraz, waving republican flags and chanting “Don’t let us down” at Zapatero, who was out on the balcony. Seven years later, the squares in all of Spain exploded with a shared and unquestionable diagnosis: “They don’t represent us”. Between one moment and the other, there occurred a clear rupture in the political logic of representation that has systematicaly served as a mechanism for expropriating citizens of their political powers.

There has been a great deal of discussion since then about the unrepresentable character of the 15M, about this clamour for democracy and equality that meant the beginning of the end of the regime of 78, about the forms and practices with which one might transform this powerful yearning into a sustained affirmation of a different life. Within the frame of this discussion, we believe that the spectacular irruption of Podemos poses a series of essential questions. On election night of 25M, for example, the thousands of people gathered to celebrate this victory in the Reina Sofia square received the candidates amid spontaneous shouts of “They do represent us”. Does this mean that this rupture of the representative contract has been undone by Podemos? That we are confronted with a receding of this radical logic of democratisation from below, which expressed itself so clearly just over three years ago?

We do not believe so. The result obtained by Podemos does not certify a return to representation, but rather its opposite: the staging of a new political relation between the public and its spokespersons in the institutions. Podemos has laid out from the start that its approach is based on a method, materialised in a series of fundamental processes: open citizen primaries, the constitution and proliferation of the circles, the editing and approval of a participative programme, collective funding, transparent accounting, agreement on the revocability of roles, the limitation of mandates and salaries of representatives. And in light of the election result, we believe that this method has allowed for at least three things that prevent it from being read in the frame of the old representative logic.

First, this method has shown that the argument that tends to disdain the abilities and possibilities of young people and citizens to go out and practise politics (“they have no training”, “they don’t have the means”, “they don’t know what they’re doing”, “they’re not fit for this”) is not only antidemocratic, but is, moreover, radically false. The 15M showed it and the Podemos campaign has shown it: the association of singularities, the democracy of abilities, is perfectly capable of generating both ilusión and effectiveness and of overcoming barriers that were supposedly impassable. It has been necessary to go everywhere, to combine social networks and motorway miles, word of mouth and local and sectoral work, in order to make the mix contagious. And it has been.

Secondly, the Podemos method has given expression to a common sense that has been hegemonic in this country for some time, but which political representation and electoral arithmetic have however systematically prevented from making a reality. The central themes of Podemos’s programme and campaign (the fight against corruption, the audit of debt, the sharing of work and wealth, the defence of social rights and public services) expresses clearly, precisely and resoundingly a common sense of the majority that does not fit within the institutions. And these matters have not been defined and articulated from above, but through the active work and participation of ordinary people.

The third point has to do specifically with the form of this expression. In Podemos there has been a two-way communication established between the people most mobilised (in the circles and campaign teams) and a large sector of the public that for some time has desired a profound political change and as such is in a potential position for democratic rupture. This communication has allowed for the basic axes of classical representation to be overflowed: the party form; the culture of militancy; the left/right axis; the intransitive conception of the relation between representatives and the represented; and an idea of political identity that depends upon the definition of a subject that is more or less given. Podemos has managed to play beyond each one of these axes, laying the basis for a triangular relation between citizen participation, social struggles and the expression of demands in institutions, which goes beyond representative democracy and allows for a profound transformation of political, economic and social life.

The surveys in 2011 revealed that almost 80% of the population was in agreement with what was happening in the squares during the 15M. Since then many of us have been asking ourselves how we can transform that outrage into political change. By overflowing traditional representation, the Podemos tool has set out a viable option for connecting these two realities: articulating this social majority as a political majority, and opening up a new cycle that democratises the collective life of the country from its foundations.

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Occupy representation: Podemos and the politics of truth

This is a translation of an article by Juan Domingo Sánchez Estop, a participant in Podemos, originally published on his site, Iohannes Maurus,

 

podemos

Occupy representation: Podemos and the politics of truth

Affectus nec coerceri nec tolli potest nisi per affectum contrarium et fortiorem affectu coercendo.”

(An emotion can only be controlled or destroyed by another emotion contrary thereto, and with more power for controlling emotion.)

Spinoza, Ethics Part IV, prop 7.

 

1. The left, especially of the Marxist tradition, has usually conceived of political action as the application of a theoretical truth, and only considers it possible to act through forms of representation crystallised in the party form, or in the State as general representation of society. Against this current, anarchism has usually stood for a moral truth and a more immediate organisation of workers, such as the trade union or the assembly, and by showing disdain for representation. With rare exceptions, this has led anarchists and the radical democrat sections of the left to ignore electoral participation of every kind. Despite their opposition, these two stances are articulated around the same axis: the ‘truth-representation’ relation. This relation, for both anarchism and political Marxisms, has been at the centre of political theory and practice, Whereas some maintained that representation in the party or the State constituted the truth of the (universal) class, or of society, others maintained that the truth had to be sought in the immediacy of social life, by staying clear of the misleading appearances of parties and States.

 

2. The 15M largely shared the perspective of anarchism, at least if it were to be interpreted in terms of the strong sense of the central slogan of the movement of the squares: “they do not represent us”. This phrase can, in fact, be read according to two senses: in a weak sense, as the aspiration to a good representation, “these people do not represent us, but there are others who will do it better”. Or, in a strong sense, as a rejection based on the ontological impossibility of all intervention: “they do not represent us, because we are not representable”. Among the attempts to intervene within the co-ordinates of representation based on the principles of 15M, political experiments such as Partido X are the bearers of the weak sense of this slogan: through their networked practices and their virtual democracy, they seek a “good representation”, whereas other sectors have interpreted the impossibility of representation as the need to hermetically seal themselves off from this sphere. These strong versions of the “they do not represent us” -leaving to one side the proposal of returning to the old forms of representation on the part of veteran organisations such as Izquierda Unida- reached their limit: it was not enough for democracy and anticapitalism to live for a few days or weeks in the squares. There was a need for them to spread and to endure. Against the spreading and enduring of these liberated spaces, what became manifest, and what continues to manifest itself day to day, is “the full force of the State”, the entire weight of the apparatus of representation. The free squares maintained themselves as an ethically impeccable particularity, but with their effectiveness frustrated by repression, police baton charges, fines and so on, and delegitimised by both the public and private propaganda apparatuses of the regime: parties, press, institutions.

 

3. To unblock the situation it was essential to find something else, a change of element. There was a need to assume a paradox: to represent the unrepresentable or, better still, to bring the unrepresentable into the sphere of representation. This posed, and continues to pose, a major challenge. It consists, no more and no less, of ejecting the neoliberal misgovernment from power by the only means possible today: the ballot box. However, it is not a matter of suturing the space of power through a new form of representation seen as “the good representation”, but rather, by emulating the 15M or the Occupy movement, to occupy that space from and for social movements, thereby neutralising the action of the State against them, and even through taking effective governmental measures in favour of the demands of movements such as the Mortgage Holders’ Platform, the Mareas, feminism, the labour movement, and so on. It consists of a formula initially tried out by the popular governments of Latin America, but which in European conditions must by necessity adopt other features.

 

4. It was not enough to stand for elections at a conjuncture that demanded the action of social movements in the space of political representation; one had to also “be” the kind of organisation able to join the horns of the dilemma that is the representation of the unrepresentable. On the one hand, there was a need to play the card of representation very forcefully, including even the use of media figureheads. But on the other hand, and with the same strength, there was a need to use forms of direct and horizontal democracy. Podemos has been the beginning of the solution to this dilemma. With its media side, its campaign apparatus and its devices for communicative intervention, online and in all available public spaces, Podemos set about opening up a breach in the space of representation, in the discourse production machines that are television, radio, and social networks. Pablo Iglesias, before heading up the Podemos lists, had, along with the rest of the La Tuerka team, occupied a place that seemed impossible in the space where common sense is defined, in favour of the common sense of the social movements, and, according to the surveys, of that 80% of the population that supports the 15M and the Mortgage Holders’ Platform. There was a need to make an entry into that breach in the representative space, but what had to be brought in was not just anything, but an organisation of a new kind that would be able to keep a permanent open interface with the social movements and ordinary people.

 

5. The organisation and spreading of the circles, which was largely supported by the complete dedication of a small militant party, Anticapitalist Left, to the new organisation, was the second ingredient of the paradoxical formula of Podemos. The circles, authentic open assemblies, were the space in which the electoral lists and the programme were developed, but beyond the electoral periods they go on existing as organs of participation and social action. Each one of the 400 circles is equivalent to a local 15M assembly, but with the peculiarity that this time the social movement creates its means of irrupting into the sphere of representation, of occupying it. The five brilliant Podemos MEPs are the beginning of a necessary long march through the institutions marked by prolonged occupations: there are still the municipal, legislative and regional elections. In each one of these spaces, the popular movement must have a presence, not to replace the social and political action of the majority of society, but rather to give it potency, to free it of repression and to promote its goals.

 

6. All this would have been, and will be totally impossible with a classic party of the left. The party, as an institutional form, is strictly an ideological state apparatus and a political state apparatus (Althusser). Even when it exercises functions of representation for the exploited and oppressed sectors of society, a party remains part of a “political game” that reproduces existing social relations and legitimises them. To avoid this and to generate an authentic process of occupying the institutions, and of representation in general by social movements and the common citizenry, it is necessary for the ‘representatives’ not to represent, but to act within the institutions as appendices of the social majority that is resisting. The articulation of circles and ideologico-representative apparatuses in competition with those of the State and the dominant social sectors permits the effective neutralisation of the repressive and reproductive functions of the social order exercised by representation.

 

7. The construction of Podemos as a new type of social and political movement is not only based on the subversion of classic organisational forms, but also an audacious crossing into the dominant ideological space. In contrast to classic Marxist organisations that believed themselves to be endowed with a truth, an ‘algebra of revolution’ upon which they based their political activity, Podemos starts off with the existing common sense and intervenes upon it. It is not a matter of imposing upon the body of society a particular model based upon a supposed truth possessed by certain subjects, the leaders, who are supposed to be the ones who know, but rather of starting from the imagination, the ideology and the very space of our submissive and passive existence, in order to reach a series of common notions that are capable of configuring a new common sense that is within the grasp of everyone, to produce within us the subjects an effective process of liberation. Hegemony is not won through the imposition of a supposed truth, but rather through a work of intervening in the world of really existing human beings, that is, a world dominated by ideology. As Spinoza and Freud taught us, as well as Marx at his most lucid and, of course Antonio Gramsci or my dear teacher Louis Althusser, ideology is not an “error” but rather the world in which we live, and from which no-one will leave, however much they are taught “the truth” or one tries to impose it on them. The tragedy of the Marxist left has always consisted of its failure to carry out a revolution and its permanent cult of revolutions carried out by others, by those whose Marxism was heterodox. Not in Cuba, nor in Venezuela, nor in China, nor even in Russia itself was there a revolution through the application of the truth of Marxism. Very much on the contrary: as Gramsci said in a famous article, the revolution in Russia -and in every other country- was made “against Capital”. In general, a politics is not based nor can it be based on the truth, since the constitution of political subjectivities is not the result of a scientific process, but rather an ideological transformation, a transformation of the space for imagination. To attempt to practise politics in the name of a truth leads, when one possesses a State apparatus, to terror (Stalinism), or, when one does not possess one, to the proliferation of chapels each possessing “the truth”, and thus, to the ineffectiveness that historically characterised many sectors of the left, both Trotskyist and Maoist.

8. The greatness of Podemos consists of having been able to get out of the dual historical trap in which the left has found itself and remains prisoner: the party form and the truth politics inherited from ‘scientific socialism’. Podemos thus moves beyond the mold of the left in order to constitute an effective hegemony of social majorities and social movements. Its plain language, at once accesible and truthful, uses imagination and ideology to constitute the common notions of a constituent process underway. The identity of the left, an imaginary identity that leads into impotence, has been displaced by a potent work of configuration of hegemony in really existing society, which is neither left-wing nor much less takes part in supposed “marxist” truths, but which opposes evictions, the consequences of illegitimate debt, plunder, impoverishment, the political-economic caste and which demands democracy. Much remains to be done so that Podemos can be our required war machine against the caste, but the foundations have been laid: we need to develop and consolidate the structure.

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Home Rule Is Caliphate Rule

 

Pastor James McConnell

Pastor James McConnell

Without getting all Freudian about it, is there not some sort of crude, even mechanical transference at work in the remarks of both Pastor James McConnell and Peter Robinson, vis-a-vis Muslims?

I am old enough to remember the now venerated old timer Ian Paisley issuing bloodcurdling sermons against the evils of Catholicism, singling out the Pope as the Antichrist, but covering his tracks when challenged by saying that it was not Catholics as such that he had anything against, but rather the religion to which they were enslaved. Paisley even went as far to disclose that he loved Catholics.

But as various former loyalist paramilitaries have admitted, this demagoguery delivered the impetus for them to imagine Catholics as a whole as the enemy, and to conclude, when it came to finding some scapegoat, that “any taig would do.”

The new dispensation in Northern Ireland means that this kind of Manichaean religious discourse can no longer use Catholics as its object and enjoy any great public support. Not least because Peter Robinson and other DUP figures go to GAA matches and such with Martin McGuinness, but also because the image of uppity Catholics out to uproot the lost tribe of Israel from their land has a lot less currency than it used to, as there are a lot more middle class Catholics around these days, and they don’t appear particularly dangerous.

It’s true that NI is still a sectarian society, and it’s hard to see how it could be anything else, given the nature of the current political settlement. But there is far less sectarian tension and fear, as illustrated by the lack of people getting shot dead. Many unionists are not enthused by the prospect of a united Ireland, but they’re hardly quaking in terror either.

What I wonder is, if the division between Catholic and Protestant is no longer a reliable marker of lines of confrontation, and even, in the political sphere, the division between nationalist and unionist, how does that shape the religious imagination of NI’s, er, ‘homegrown radical clerics’?

There must be some kind of anxiety about the fact that chest-puffing ‘Britishness’ has very little political content, and such clerics must be mindful of the germ of Scottish independence and how it undermines their sense of being different from their neighbours, or at least the way in which they feel and declare themselves different.

So perhaps the designation of Muslims as the new religious enemy is a way of cementing imagined ties to ‘the mainland’, in light of the fact that Muslims are now the main object of suspicion on account of Britain’s most recent imperial escapades and a press that demonises them.

The political credibility of the ‘liberal Unionism’ of the likes of Mike Nesbitt and even Basil McCrea is pretty thin; it has to do more with keeping things the way they are through misty-eyed evocations of things British, without ever articulating just what it is in political terms that they find so attractive.

Whereas Peter Robinson and his political allies in unionism still have to rely on support drawn from reservoirs of resentment, based on an expectation that “we” (i.e. the imagined unionist community) are all in this together and our political leader will see us right. Well, maybe there are limits to how convincing this sort of thing is when the spectre of Rome is not haunting Norn Iron.

And it is at this point that the gaze turns to the Muslims.

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Podemos: The MEP on wheels

This is a translation of an article by Pablo Echenique, one of the newly elected Podemos MEPs, published 26th April 2014.

Pablo Echenique, Podemos MEP

Pablo Echenique, Podemos MEP

There is no better way of assessing the structure of a society than looking at its “higher” strata, in the sites of economic and political power.

Women are well aware of this. Only 16.6% of directors in firms on the IBEX 35 (benchmark stock market index for Spain) are women and only 36.2% of the deputies in our Congress are women. Since women are more or less 50% of the population, we know that both in the IBEX 35 and the Congress they are under-represented.

Something similar and possibly much more serious occurs with people with a disability. However, the statistics in this case are very poor and we can only make estimates or relate anecdotes which make up for what they lack in science with suggestiveness.

In the field of estimates, for example, if we take into account that around 1 in 10 people have a disability, in the Congress of Deputies there ought to be 35 deputies with a disability. I have not been able to ascertain whether this is the case or not, but certainly, only one of them is a wheelchair user (when there should be three or four) and I don’t recall seeing any deputy who is deaf, or blind.

The fact that the King has a disability compensates for things a little and it fills me with pride and satisfaction, but it does not correct the under-representation of the collective, which is undoubtedly brutal.

In the area of anecdotes, let’s look at a few that have happened to me in months of late.

As you may know, I was fed up with millions going through hunger, deprivation and misery whilst a handful of psychopaths devoid of empathy bought themselves more yachts, more paintings and more mansions than ever, and so I recently decided that my job as a scientist in the Spanish National Research Council and my collaboration in this house were not enough, and that I had to do something in order to stop this butchery of human rights, starting with kicking the lackeys of the marquises of the IBEX out of the institutions.

With this desire in my mind, I began to take active part in PODEMOS, I put myself forward for primary elections open to all citizens, and I was elected in fifth place on the list for the European Parliament.

Since then, I have travelled through many cities in Spain, I have got a tan in many squares, I have got up onto a few stages and I have gone along to certain media outlets of greater and lesser importance. On Sunday night I found out that I am officially an MEP, but it is the stages and the media outlets that I want to talk to you about.

Regarding the former, I have discovered that if nearly all theatres, meeting halls and auditoria are more or less adapted so that those of us with disabilities can attend as members of the public, very few of them allow us to go up onto the stage comfortably. As I don’t mind speaking from below, it’s no big deal. But it is a fact.

Media outlets are worse.

At a major radio station I was confronted with four steps at the entrance and I had to recruit the concierge, a delivery man who was loading boxes into a lorry, and a passer-by. They didn’t know that I weigh 200kg with a seat and everything when they said “Of course, man, let’s go!”. When we finished, the presenter and a pair of journalists brought me back down. I don’t know if they’ll be inviting me again.

On another broadcaster, to a debate with various parties, I simply did not go. It was a basement without a lift.

A few days later, they invited me to a television station and I could not access the set because I had to pass between a table and a wall. I couldn’t get past, but another person who was a bit fat couldn’t either. I am sure that I was the first (and perhaps the last) person with a disability that they were inviting.

Last week, in another TV station viewed widely in Zaragoza, I allowed them to help me go up three steps and down seven more. But only because the VOX [right-wing political party] candidate offered to help and I found it piquant.

Such a disaster is not a coincidence. No.

Obviously, the issue is that those of us with a disability almost never hold positions of power, we almost never take part in politcal debates, we almost never have to go onto a stage because we do not fit in at all in this society. The oppression that we are subjected to condemns us to be, almost always, subjects of charity, spectators, listeners, TV watchers.

In our case, the ceiling is not one of glass, but reinforced concrete.

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What Podemos (fortunately) learned from Venezuela

This is a translation of an article by journalist and media analyst Pascual Serrano, published in eldiario.es, 28th July 2014.
What Podemos (fortunately) learned from Venezuela

'A better world is possibile if it is socialist'

‘A better world is possibile if it is socialist’

Whoever visited Caracas, for example in 1997, and went back five years later, discovered a surprising change. Millions of people of humble origins, who lived in slum housing in the suburbs of major cities, who took no interest in politics, or elections, surviving amid misery, drugs and crime were now, to the mobilising cry from their neighbourhood leaders, descending in their thousands on the centre of Caracas to defend a form of politics, brandishing as their main arguments and weapons a book and a leader, the Venezuelan Constitution and Hugo Chávez.

If we were to wander today around Lima or Mexico City, we would hardly be further from the reality of this scene I have described in Caracas. However, this is how Venezuela was before the arrival of Chávez and his Venezuelan revolution. What had happened for this social mutation to unfold? Simply, thousands of citizens who had not felt reflected in their political system had discovered a light, a hope of radical and absolute change. History will show whether they had reason to hope, but this is how they lived it.

There is no doubt that this is one of the cards being played by the leaders of Podemos. They know, that as with Caracas, thousands, millions of people do not believe in the system, they do not mobilise, but they are in a position to stand up if they see a hope. That is why Pablo Iglesias showed no indication of triumph with five MEPs and a million votes. His discourse, in contrast to that of the traditional left, is maximalist. It does not talk about winning two or three more percentage points in the vote or doubling the results. Like Chávez, Podemos talks about winning, about razing (arrasar), about bringing down the system. I am not going to get into whether it is viable or not. It is a matter of generating hope and excitement because they know citizens vote because they want to win, not to get one more deputy for the party.

In the same way, the ambiguity of Podemos’s discourse, which is as sensational for some as it is irritating for others, is also a lesson learned from the Bolivarian process. Chávez made it to the presidency of Venezuela with the electoral promise of a “third way”, something no-one knew what it was. It was only a few years later that he dared to speak of socialism, socialism of the 21st century, and no-one knew what that was either.

History is full of politicians who reach power by adopting left-wing stances and then abandon them, so why could the opposite not happen? To reach power with a moderate and ambiguous discourse so as then to set about deepening changes to the left. It is what happened in Venezuela, in Argentina and in Ecuador. Whilst our socialist parties do the opposite of socialism, in Latin America, without calling themselves socialists or workers, they are doing more for socialism and workers than here. Obviously, to trust that a moderate discourse should finally dare to pursue a left path requires a major dose of faith on the part of the electorate, but has experience not shown us that those who claim to be on the left also requires such a thing?

Let us consider certain provocative unknowns: might it not be an option to reach power with a few basic principles – Julio Anguita [former secretary general of Izquierda Unida] has said that it would be enough to stand up for human rights -and gradually show that the way out of the tunnel lies in the politics of the left? Is it not that the right reaches power by proclaiming universal and incontesable principles and values (justice, freedom, rights, civil society…) only then to place them in the service of an economic and financial oligarchy? Why couldn’t the leaders of Podemos avoid an extreme left discourse in order to reach power and, gradually, show a path with whatever radicalism is necessary?

The spokespersons of Podemos have also adopted a form of action that the politicians of the traditional Spanish left never dared. The opting for audacity during confrontations in the media. Podemos has cast aside the dominant format of reserve and diplomacy used by European politicians when they find themselves in a TV set or in front of a microphone, and has launched into the courageous loquaciousness that characterised Hugo Chávez or Rafael Correa.

Pablo_Iglesias_Turrion

Thus Pablo Iglesias surprised us all by calling Sánchez Dragó [prominent right-wing intellectual] a buffoon of the right two minutes after beginning his conversation on a radio station that has a massive audience. Julio Anguita would scarcely have dared to be similarly resounding in his public behaviour or when facing the media. Every day we see our left politicians maintaining infinite composure when up against pseudo-journalists who attack them with absolute impunity on panel debates. People wanted to see other politicians giving it back to them in spades. And they saw this in Pablo Iglesias up against the hawks of the media right.

The rupturist discourse of Podemos also emulates the rupture with the past of the Bolivarian process. Chávez called for the burial of the so-called Fourth Republic (the Venezuelan political system that preceded the arrival of the Bolivarian process) and Juan Carlos Monedero insists on the fraud of the Transition and the need to overcome it. A discourse that proves difficult for an Izquierda Unida with a Spanish Communist Party that is still perceived as part of that fraud for many people.

It is not a matter of whether Podemos’s take-off and the key tactics of its success amount to an injustice to the modus operandi of the traditional left. It is, simply, something that worked in Venezuela and other countries in Latin America, whilst over here there were few sectors of the left who understood anything because they confined themselves to watching Chávez making jokes and singing songs.

Here too, just as in Venezuela, the role of the public is essential in pressurising Podemos -as the Venezuelans did with Chávez by saving him from the putchists- so that it remains firm and radical in its proposals for regime change, for confrontation with the financial powers, for defence of social rights and the role of the State as the guarantor of the economic sovereignty of the country, for fighting against the corruption and for co-operation with all the left organisations that might share that project for change. Many gaps and ambiguities of its programme will have to mature along this clearly revolutionary line. Because in Spain, just as in Venezuela, what is needed is a democratic revolution of citizens.

And just as what happened to the Venezuelan president, now comes the reaction of the mass media. Here too, Podemos must learn from Chávez and stay firm and not give in to pressure. Not even in those media that, without knowing or wanting it, have helped create the beast. Or the beauty, depending how one looks at it.

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Podemos: Left Unity, Participation, and The Right

This is an extract of a conversation from the edition of La Tuerka, Monday 26th May, in which Pablo Iglesias, the foremost figure in Podemos until now, spoke about the possibilities and challenges facing the political platform. This was following its explosion onto the political scene in the European elections on Sunday, when it won 5 seats and over a million votes. Iglesias is one of the regular presenters of the La Tuerka programme since it started back in 2010. This edition is presented by Juan Carlos Monedero, academic and former adviser to the Venezuelan government of Hugo Chávez. He is another prominent figures in the platform. The translated extract begins at 14:50, in the video (in Spanish) linked here.

Pablo Iglesias

Pablo Iglesias

Juan Carlos Monedero: Dani Mateo asks via #preguntaapodemos, which is a Twitter trending topic, regarding a broad left and green front in Europe including social democrats.

Pablo Iglesias: With those terms, regarding the left, I’m not that good with them. On this, I’m with what Julio Anguita (former secretary general of Izquierda Unida) says: programme, programme, programme. I’m a political science teacher, and when it comes to a little bit of ideology, I understand it. But this thing about what is the left and what is not… it is rather: whoever is for a public debt audit with a tax reform so that the rich pay, for compliance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, for the end to the revolving doors [between big business and politics], is with us. And we are not going to ask there whether they have a green flag or a photo of some German social democrat leader from the start of the 20th Century.

On those foundations, I think that confluence is desirable and necessary, but without losing from sight that this has to come from popular citizen participation. And that is what Podemos has shown. There are those who think that left unity is a series of leaders who go off and have a meal together and then they go to an office and in that office they reach an agreement on lists [for candidates]. And that suddenly turns into an alphabet soup that becomes left unity, and that is what makes the powers that be tremble. Well, those in power do not fear the left. Those in power fear ordinary people.

So, these processes of confluence, in which no-one is surplus to requirements, and for which I would like Podemos to serve as a lever, in order to join together other social movements, other citizen movements, political forces, have to take into account the leading role and participation of ordinary people, that they get excited about it. Having people saying “this is ours” is something essential, and we welcome that with open arms, but everyone will have to recognise that one of the keys to this result is that we have mobilised ilusión [hope and excitement]. And we have mobilised people’s hope and excitement by allowing people to participate and decide.

Juan Carlos Monedero

Juan Carlos Monedero

Juan Carlos Monedero: We have seen how, with the right wing, when it has sought to frighten a government that wanted to legislate in a progressive direction, brought thousands of people onto the streets, holding an enormous Mass..I mean, there is no politics without people behind it.

Pablo Iglesias: Of course. Manuel Fraga [Francoist political leader] said so: the street is mine. The right has always taken care to look after the organisations of its civil society. That is why the right funds organisations that depend on the Catholic Church. That is why the right is so concerned with education and funding its private colleges. The right permanently keeps sectors of civil society active so that they act, so that they operate. That is why the right is always concerned with having television channels, debate shows, debating panelists, people who write: that is the practice of politics. It is as if some on the left think that practising politics means conspiring in order to win at a congress. And it has nothing to do with that.

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Podemos: A Tale of Two Posters

This is a translation of an article on Podemos by Isaac Rosa, published 26th May 2014 in eldiario.es. You may also be interested in the translation of the initial Podemos manifesto here, some of my own notes from January here, and a translated interview with one of its initiators here.

 

A Tale of Two Posters

 

Podemos_lagente

Now that we all, experts and amateurs, are jumping to interpret the success of Podemos (and how clearly some can discern their core values in hindsight), I remembered the election posters in my neighbourhood. Those of IU[i] and Podemos, which you see in the photo above.

The majority of them appeared like this, alongside each other on the same wall. The potential left voter in my neighbourhood encountered them side by side, and could compare them. Elections are a lot like the market, and it’s good to be able to see the two items in the same glance. I don’t know if Podemos activists did it deliberately, but wherever there was an IU poster they posted one of their own. And the contrast between both images is clear to see, and it says a lot about the differences between both formations.

What does a voter see in them? Let’s take a voter whom we shall call ‘indignado’, so as we know who we are talking about. More or less on the left, who at times has voted IU, other times perhaps PSOE when the PP had to be thrown out of government. They go down the street and encounter these two posters. What do both images say to them?

They are like day and night. Or rather: yesterday and today. Or yesterday and tomorrow.

On one side, Willy Meyer, who has been in active politics for decades, he has been a councillor, a deputy and has been ten years in the European Parliament. A man who belongs to the party, which the everyday voter identifies as the ‘apparatus’. On the other side, Pablo Iglesias, young, an activist but at a remove from party-based apparatuses, who has never stepped on a carpet and gives voice to an anti-political class (“the caste”) discourse that is widespread among a public who, though it might seem unfair, sees Meyer as part of the same “caste”.

On one side, Willy Meyer, a politician with an indelible past and who has no doubt done a good job in Europe, but who has neither charisma nor much ability to communicate. On the other, Pablo Iglesias, who is not a creature of television as we might think, but someone who has studied in depth the importance of communication in politics, and has given great thought to every gesture and word that he makes or says in front of a camera.

If we keep looking at the posters, alongside Meyer appears Paloma López: a trade unionist, with a long history of roles in Comisiones Obreras, a trade union with a long and worthy record defending the working class, but which today gets a very poor rating from many workers: some who are disappointed by an institutional trade unionism and social partnership, others because they have bought into the anti-union discourse. With López, IU was saying it wanted to connect with workers, but her trade union links are a turn-off for more than a few.

On the other side, alongside Pablo Iglesias there are not one but four candidates: only one of them has a known record, and for the good: the former magistrate Jiménez Villarejo, who merits prestige and esteem on account of his denunciations of corruption. The other three are people from the street, like any of us, totally at a remove from “the caste”, and that is how they are presented in the same poster: Teresa Rodríguez, “Public primary school teacher”; Lola Sánchez, “Unemployed autonomous”[ii], Pablo Echenique, “Scientist at CSIC[iii]”. They were elected in primaries, but anyone might say that they came from the casting couch, since they could hardly be more representative of “ordinary people”[iv] versus “the caste”.

Yes, I said primaries. Though certain people did not lend so much importance to the matter, we need to recognise that they are a plus for many voters: the open primaries of Podemos, compared to the refusal of IU (often with somewhat colourful agruments), which moreover was unable to defend its method of picking candidates, including internal rows, which gave voters the feeling of more of the same: another sign of “the old politics”.

I will leave it there, I’m not going to get into matters of aesthetics, because besides they jump out at you: the image of dynamism, youth, closeness in the Podemos group photo, taken outside, against the rigidness and formality of the Meyer-López couple, a studio photo that could pass for the portrait of a couple celebrating their silver wedding anniversary while on a cruise. Once again the new and the old, yesterday and today (or tomorrow).

It is only two posters, but we could do the same analysis if we were to compare the communications strategies of one and the other, their public speeches, their campaign events, their work in networks, their brand image… The work of the Podemos team is brilliant, and Pablo Iglesias is right when he says that it will be the object of study in the future for political scientists and communications experts. One has to recognise all the work done by their main thinkers, Juan Carlos Monedero, Carolina Bescansa, Ariel Jerez, Iglesias himself, all led by the invaluable Iñigo Errejon.

The discourse built by Iglesias and his people deserves to be studied. All that which some of us left voters rejected (the displacing of the left-right axis towards a them-us key, the caste vs ordinary people (la gente); the appeal to common sense, the absence of markers of identity recognisable on the left, the continuous mention of patriotism…), we now recognise that it works. That does not mean we are going to like it, to me at least it still does not appeal, but I recognise that they knew what they were doing.

Given the awesome effectiveness of their strategy, this effectiveness amplified in contrast with its main competitor in the sector of voters it was addressing. The communications greyness of IU, its ongoing lack of flexibility when it came to adapting to new forms of political action (which we may like to a greater or lesser extent, but it is obvious that they work), made the discourse and image of Podemos all the more potent.

Podemos has not directly attacked IU, it has not sought out its weakness. It was enough for it to build a discourse that was exactly the reverse of all that citizens identified as failures of the political system: primaries against apparatus, transparency against corruption, crowdfunding against bank credits, the street versus closed off events, the open circle against the grouping of affiliates…in this game of opposites, IU was unable to locate its space properly, whereas Podemos traced it with a clear red line.

Obviously the secret of their success is not just image, communication or social networks. Nor is it their media visibility in TV debates or a digital outlet such as Público, despite their importance. It goes without saying that nor is it explained by the programme, which in practice is no different from that of IU. And not even the rapid growth of its activism in circles, which is more an effect than a cause.

So? What else is there apart from posters, communications intelligence, savvy discourse, social networks and mass meetings? Above all, voters. Many voters. Hundreds of thosands of voters who had been waiting for years without a party to vote for, who were tired of “the old politcs” (a bag into which fell all those present in the institutions, however unfair the generalisation might be), and who did not want to abstain because they were more politicised than ever. The enormous citizen repoliticisation of these years of citizen protest could not find an option once the moment to vote arrived. Obviously it was not the PSOE, shackled to the sinking regime, but nor was it IU, engulfed by the expansive wave of citizen rejection of the political class, also perceived as one more piece of the system, part of the problem rather than the solution. As well as many voters, left-wing or not, who would never vote for an IU that they still identify with the Spanish Communist Party.

 

And you, why did you vote for Podemos?

I asked those around me, by way of a survey that has no sociological value, but which to me says a lot about this IU-Podemos relation. I ask people who voted Podemos on Sunday, and these are some of their motives. Among them there is a bit of everything, former voters of IU and the PSOE:

 

“For a change, to vote differently”

 

“For the possibility of binding together a broad left vote that couldn’t be recognised with what already exists”

 

“Because on Sunday I got up saying “I am not going to vote because this is a load of shit”, and I want to stop believing it is impossible”

 

“Because to me they have a flavour of the people[v], citizen organisation, grassroots”.

 

“Because I trust that they will fight for an end to evictions, cuts and unemployment”

 

“Because of the way they speak close to real problems, and far from the declarative confrontation between parties that shows contempt for the citizen”.

 

“Because I like the ideas that Pablo Iglesias transmits, and his concept of creating a party of the people”.

 

“I didn’t want to let pass the opportunity of voting for the spirit of the 15M”.

 

“For the opportunity of changing the political logic”

 

“Because they do politics in a different way”.

 

“Because they are a citizens’ party, transparent, without the radicality of IU, without corruption, and which has transformed the discourse of bourgeois and proletarians into citizens and caste”.

 

“Because it is the only party that defends the most basic rights”.

 

I suppose that if you ask around, you will find similar responses: being fed up, frustration, rejection of more of the same, and mad desire for change. And that desire has been gathered by Podemos with a mobilising discourse that had not been heard in these parts for a long time. Since ’82, perhaps, and it is no coincidence that Iglesias referred to the González victory in those elections and what they represented.

None of this was easy. Others have tried it before, without success. We should applaud the intelligence and the work of those who got something like this up and running in only four months. But without those voters who were waiting for it, it would not have been possible.

Let me finish by going back to the posters. Perhaps I am interpreting them in retrospect, but looking again at the photos, the slogan, the colours, I see in the IU one something of reluctance, of routine, whereas the Podemos one inspires desire, trust, ilusión[vi]. Ilusión, that word they have repeated so many times. I didn’t vote for them, but I understand why more than a million did. They believed that, as they have been repeating for months, it can be done. And they have done it.

 

[i] Izquierda Unida, ‘United Left’

[ii] In Spanish, ‘autónoma en paro’. ‘Autonomo/a’ normally translates as ‘self-employed’; a problematic enough term in English. The alternative translation of ‘Unemployed self-employed’ gains a great deal of absurdity in translation, perhaps deservedly, but the absurdity is not patent in the original.

[iii] Spanish National Research Council, Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas

[iv] ‘La gente’ in the original. In the main, there are two translations of ‘people’ in Spanish. ‘La gente’, and ‘el pueblo’. The former is a more general term for people in the everyday, which I have translated as ‘ordinary people’ here, whereas the latter refers to a collective, with particular political connotations.

[v] ‘El pueblo’, see [iv] above.

[vi] Ilusión in this context has a different meaning to its cognate in English, ‘illusion’. In this context it refers to a sense of hope and excitement, not an image at odds with reality.

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