Look, Ma, No Teeth: the Rise of Podemos

1940 Marx Brothers in Go West

This is a translation of an article by Isaac Rosa, published 10th July in eldiario.es, charting the current course of Podemos.

To storm the heavens, Podemos’s founding core understood from day one that they had to be light, gassy even, to rise quickly to those heights never reached hitherto. So, they had to get rid of all the ballast their analysis told them had prevented the “old” left from lifting the balloon any more than a few metres off the ground. There were tethers that had to be cut, weight to be jettisoned, so they could rise up and reap the new wind blowing in their favour.

So they started off with daring decisions that surprisingly spurred the cockpit upward: free from organisational binds (they weren’t going to be a conventional party), free from ties to the old politics, free from being moored to the banks for funding, without pacts hatched behind closed doors (everything would be subject to a vote), and, in even more of a stretch, without the left-right compass we all used for aerial navigation.

The ascent in the first months was so rapid that it may have induced vertigo among the team, who decided to go on jettisoning weight: now that the left-right axis was no longer useful, they could throw the whole weighty cargo of flags, speeches, and generally any mark of leftist identity, overboard. It was all proving such a drag. From the earth, and I suppose from the balloon itself, there was no shortage of looks of incomprehension, but you had to acknowledge it was working, and that the machine was going up, ever upward.

From then on, everything has been about lightness, breaking away, jettisoning weight, tossing overboard anything that might be considered a drag on reaching the final objective: winning the general elections. Over the rails went the initial horizontalism, in favour of a verticalism that would work better amid the heights. Then, dissenting ideas started to drop (after being steamrollered out of it in Vistalegre) and then the dissenters themselves (idem. in the successive internal elections), as well as the circles stripped of their functions, and many of the most radical proposals there from the start, which had begun to weigh the craft down.

In the Andalusian elections, and then in the regional elections, Podemos got higher than where the traditional left had usually reached, but it wasn’t enough, it was well below the heavens to be stormed: they needed to go on rising, and so they had to get well shot of the glum-faced left, and leave those who called for formulas of covergence behind on terra firma (they were seen as a new burden), along with those who said that the success of the municipal elections showed the path to follow, and even the critical voices who did not approve of the system of primaries made to the measure of the ruling nucleus. At this rate, they will end up like the Marx Brothers in Go West, getting rid of the balloon so it weighs less.

We don’t know if the officials at the helm have altitude sickness from rising too quickly, or if they are a collection of geniuses and we are the ones in the wrong, but some of us, looking at the speed of lift-off, recall an old children’s joke: the kid playing with his bike in the park, and each time he goes past his mother he calls attention to his prowess: “Look ma, only one hand”. “Look ma, no hands”. “Ma, ma, look, no feet”, until finally he cries “Look ma, no teeth!”. There we go: “Look, look, no hands, no feet, no left, no circles, no convergence, no critical voices, no truly open primaries…no teeth. No storming the heavens.”

I know, I know, the joke isn’t funny. You won’t find me laughing if that moment arrives. And I know it’s easy to talk like this when you’re down on the ground, and not up there with vertigo and at the mercy of the wind. But sometimes, from the ground, you can see the trajectory better than from the helm.

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