June 2013        

Time for the Indignados to grow up!

One of the essential weaknesses of the “indignado” movement in Spain (as elsewhere), which celebrated its second birthday on 15 May, has been its failure to translate the energy of street protest into the type of political action needed to effect fundamental socio-economic change. The main political outcome of the movement’s anniversary celebrations in Madrid was the creation of a new political formation, Democracia Real Ya (Real Democracy Now), to enter the Spanish political arena.
     So, what’s wrong with that?
     Let’s have a look first at the context of this move! In the 2011 general election Mariano Rajoy’s neo-Francoist People’s Party was elected to govern Spain, the discredited social-democratic PSOE government being dumped for imposing austerity on their core constituency: the working class.
     Once in government, the PP—breaking all its pre-electoral promises—intensified the PSOE’s policies, leading to today’s 6 million unemployed (predicted to rise to more than 28 per cent of the work force), collapsing public services, rising poverty, thousands of evictions, and brutal police tactics, condemned recently by Amnesty. Massive opposition in the streets, pioneered originally by the indignados, has refused to be intimidated.
     The communist-led United Left (IU) trailed third in the 2011 election, despite standing on a platform that matched very closely the indignados’ objectives: social justice, jobs, affordable housing, a crackdown on banksters, and reforms to the political system to return power to ordinary people and their communities. The deepening crisis, however, is causing a massive rethink of the electorate and a corresponding seismic shift in the correlation of Spain’s political forces.
     IU, thanks to its ability to articulate popular demands in the Spanish Parliament, is now at a rising 16½ per cent in the opinion polls, a gain of ten points since the general election. It is closing the gap with the two main parties, being only four points under the PSOE (20½ per cent), whose disgruntled voters are turning to IU in increasing numbers, and six points below the PP (22½ per cent).
     With the Republican Left (ER) now the most popular party in Catalunya, support for the radical left in the Spanish state has not been at such a level since the re-establishment of democracy at the end of the Franco dictatorship in 1975. The fact that the politically bankrupt PSOE has just elected to enter a form of national coalition with the PP to face Spain’s worsening economic crisis can only lead to enhanced popular support for IU.
     The PP’s standing has collapsed even more radically than that of the PSOE, its 44 per cent popular support at the time of the last election being halved. This is due to public anger at broken promises. Having promised not to increase taxes, Rajoy proceeded to do just that in order to plug the hole in the public finances caused by austerity-induced recession, and to curry favour with the EU for a €100 billion EU hand-out for Spanish banks. Not surprisingly, a large number of traditional PP supporters, even party members, are jumping ship.
     The sustained level of mass popular mobilisation against Rajoy is astonishing. Whether on the issue of evictions (a quarter of a million and rising), union-led protests against cuts and privatisation in education and health, protests against gender discrimination, the demand for a parliament and politicians accountable to the people, not to financial moguls or unelected Brussels or IMF officials—the determination and tenacity of the protest movement is a wonder to behold, and something to be imitated elsewhere.
     Which brings us back to the indignados, confronting a regime that has barricaded itself against popular demands. To make an effective impact, social protest and moral outrage must have a political cutting edge. Spain already has such a “cutting edge,” a principled political party, IU, rooted in the labour movement, a proven openness to social movements and burgeoning popular support. In that context, the founding of Real Democracy Now can only be a retrograde step: splitting popular support and the protest vote is the last thing needed if IU’s attempt to effect genuine radical change in Spain is to be given a fighting chance.
     It is high time for the indignados of Spain, and elsewhere, to grow up and shake off their political adolescence!

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