This is a translation of an article by Pablo Iglesias on the matter of the left. It was published yesterday in El País. It was written following a controversial interview in which the Podemos general secretary spoke in contemptuous and dismissive tones in reference to certain leaders and groupings on the left.
I grew up in a family that remembered, in which my grandmother would always talk to me about the shooting of her brother, a socialist, in 1939. I am the grandson of a man condemned to death, also a socialist, whose sentence was then commuted to 30 years, of which he served five. My parents were communist activists when in Spain it was a crime, and my father saw the inside of Carabanchel prison for distributing propaganda. In my earliest childhood memories I can see myself going hand in hand with my parents to the anti-NATO demonstrations and to the meetings of United Left in Soria, in 1986, when my father was a congressional candidate for the province (you can imagine the result). When I was 14 I joined Communist Youth and I spent years as an activist in the student movement and in the movements against globlisation and war. When I finished my doctorate and got a job as a lecturer I was one of those heterodox teachers who go along to demonstrations with students and who include Marxist authors in their bibliography. Unlike the majority of the citizens in my country, I know the Internationale by heart. I have the left proudly tattooed in my guts and I see myself as part of it, but, perhaps because of that, I am well acquainted with its miseries and, above all, its deficiencies.
In politics, form and tone matter at least as much as content, and in a recent interview I made a mistake with the form and the tone, and offended many people. I apologise to them but I would also ask them to attend to the content, which, with better tone and form, I shall set out here.
Perry Anderson wrote that the only conceivable starting point nowadays for a realistic left is to take stock of its historic defeat. In Spain, the failure of the communist left was made plain following the Transition to democracy. It was not that the socioeconomic reality of the era (so well foreseen by that “airhead” [the reference here is to La Pasionaria] Fernando Claudín), the cultural weight of the media, and the international conjuncture revealed the impossibility of revolution and socialism, but rather the enormously limited possibilities of electoral success for the left as it was. The failure of Mitterand and his Common Programme in France, as well as the historic compromise with Christian Democrats by the PCI in Italy, highlighted well the limitations of the standard bearers taken up by our Communist Party.
A great deal of water has passed under the bridge since then and now we are faced with the possibility of changing the political map of Spain in a transformative direction. But none of this has to do with the left. The left remains socially and culturally confined to a corner. The key to the exceptional moment in which we are living lies in the politicisation of the frustrated expectations of the middle sectors of society who are faced with gradual impoverishment. If the 15M served any purpose it was to express this frustration. The 15M highlighted the ingredients for a potential confrontation characterised by a rejection of the ruling political and economic elites, but this new common sense could not be grasped in terms of the categories of left-right; this was something the bosses of the political left did not accept.
Despite the fact the PP won the elections in 2011, elements of crisis in the party system could already be perceived. Before our own irruption, polls signalled the decline in electoral support for the PP and the PSOE. Faced with this new conjuncture, United Left had its opportunity; it would have been enough to simply follow the example of AGE in Galicia. But it spurned the opportunity.
When we decided to launch PODEMOS we thought that we should collaborate with the left, and hence we proposed to United Left and other forces to hold joint open primaries. We believed that this method could mark a healthy turning point: the left would begin to resemble everyday people a bit more. We were unaware then that the arrogance with which our proposal was received would provide us with the opportunity to go very far. We went ahead on our own and thanks to that we did not feel obliged to make concessions to the conservative forms of the left. Thanks to the fact that the left did not want to listen to us we were able to put our hypothesis into practice: that the geography that separates political fields into left and right meant that change, in the progressive sense of the word, was impossible. Upon the symbolic terrain of left-right, those who stand for a politics of defending human rights, sovereignty, social rights and redistributive policies have no way of winning electorally. Whenever the adversary, be it PP or PSOE, calls us radical left and identifies us with its symbols, they bring us onto the terrain where their victory is easy. In politics, whoever chooses the battleground determines the result and that is what we have tried to do ourselves. When we insist on talking about evictions, corruption and inquality and we refrain from getting into the debate of Monarchy vs. Republic, for example, that does not mean that we have become moderate or that we are abandoning principles, but rather that we are accepting that it is not we who define the poltical chessboard.
Profound political changes (which always involve winning institutional power) are only possible at exceptional moments such as the one we are going through, but they require pinpoint strategies. We traced out ours in Vistalegre. We respect those of other comrades but we will not put ourselves on terrain that distances us from a popular majority that is not “on the left” (however much we might like) but that does want change.