Spain: The Sorpasso

The big political news in Spain at the moment is expressed in a single term: sorpasso. ‘Sorpasso‘ is an Italian word. Its use in Spain stems from the history of the Italian Communist Party in the 1970s and 80s, as the PCI sought to overtake (sorpassare) its rivals for party political primacy. It was then adopted in the 1990s in Spain by Julio Anguita, the then secretary general of the Spanish Communist Party and co-ordinator of Izquierda Unida (IU, United Left) as the target for Izquierda Unida: to overtake the PSOE, (Spanish Socialist Workers Party), as the dominant force on the left of Spanish politics. This sorpasso did not materialise, but recent polling indicates that Unidos Podemos, the joint electoral ticket of Podemos and Izquierda Unida, will indeed overtake the PSOE as the main force on the left in the upcoming elections on the 26th of June (26J). This translated piece from Isaac Rosa, published in today’s eldiario.es, puts the concept of sorpasso into a broader socio-political context.

Podemos Secretary General Pablo Iglesias and Izquierda Unida federal co-ordinator Alberto Garzón

Podemos Secretary General Pablo Iglesias and Izquierda Unida federal coordinator Alberto Garzón

The people whose sorpasso already took place

I don’t know if on 26J we will see the sorpasso predicted by the CIS (the official statistics bureau), the sorpassito identified by other surveys (that is, in votes but not in seats), or even the sorPPasso the more optimistic in Unidos Podemos dream about. What I do know is that the electoral sorpasso, when it happens, will be only the latest in a long series of sorpassos in recent years. Yes, the one on 26J would be the most resounding, but it would not have been possible without all the others that came before.

At the origins of Podemos (apart, of course, from Venezuela, Iran, communism, [television channel] la Sexta, and Pope Francis) there was a group of university lecturers and activists who at the end of 2013 realised precisely this: that there were more and more people who had already made the sorpasso. Most of them had done it without a sound, in private, almost without noticing, but it was irreversible.

I remember how some of the founders of Podemos, in the months leading up to the party’s birth, showed surveys where, reading between the lines, one could predict the political crisis that would come about following the social and economic crisis. Surveys that showed a shifting in discourse, a spilling out of values and principles that indeed went beyond the left-right axis, shared by citizens on both sides. A tectonic movement that did not yet sound like an earthquake, but that was there for whoever was prepared to listen, and was headed straight for the pillars of Spain’s ‘consensus’.

One part of the public had made a first sorpasso in 2011, in the 15M and the months that followed. This is what the “they do not represent us” shouted in the squares was: a cultural sorpasso of the party system, though only in words for now. Many others went on, sorpassando, as they took part in Mareas, strikes, and stopping evictions in the intense cycle of protest of the time.

But there were many others as well, the majority, who made their sorpasso at home, without going onto the streets, merely by watching the news bulletin or the political debate and cursing through their teeth. People who felt deceived, defrauded, and who gradually lost trust in traditional parties and in the political institutions. People whose sorpasso came about through corruption, inequality, cutbacks, dwindling expectations and the widespread decomposition of the post-Transition system. People who felt like hitting the table with a good sorpasso.

Some of them still went out to vote, and ended up voting for parties that in reality they had already overtaken, but they voted for them because they could find no option that was sorpassante. Hence the blazing success of Podemos: it was what so many were waiting for: the possibility of realising the burning desire to give the parties who caused the crisis a good sorpasso in the chops.

When such a rupture happens, no campaign of fear can do its job. With such a disconnect, there is little that the PP and PSOE can offer, and they should really thank their lucky stars that they were able hold on to so much support after all that has happened and continues to happen, since there are many among their voters who have already done a sorpasso on them even if they still put a tick in their box.

The question then is not if there will be a sorpasso, but when, whether it happens this 26J or in the following elections. And whether it will be Unidos Podemos at the helm, or if they too will end up sorpassados if they’re not careful.

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