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Will 'Podemos' Betray The Spanish Working Class?

J.N. PAQUET photo
Will 'Podemos' Betray The Spanish Working Class?
Next stop in our exclusive reporting on the way populism has been spreading in the world in recent years: Spain. An intriguing and passionate country that flourished with mixed characters and a variety of cultures from the start.

The country, which is still quite a recent democracy, has two major political parties that have been in power at turns. But people unhappiness, recession, high unemployment rate, austerity measures, inequality and popular anger over political scandals have led to see the rise of a new Spanish far-left. Unlike France or Greece, the far-right has made little ground in Spain. Instead, voters have been supporting a different type of populist political movement: Podemos.

Podemos (‘We Can’) is an anti-capitalist and anti-establishment movement that rose to fame almost overnight in 2014 thanks to its revolutionary message and its particular smart use of social media. It is now also known as Unidos Podemos (‘United We Can’) since its recent merging with the communists of Izquierda Unida (‘United Left’) and other smaller left-wing parties.

Within a year of existence, Podemos became the third largest party in the Spanish parliament, after receiving 20% of the votes at the General election of December 2015 and controlled city halls across Spain.

On 18 October 2014, during the party conference in Madrid, one of the party leaders, Pablo Iglesias Turrión, told supporters: “El cielo no se toma por consenso, se toma por asalto!” (“You don’t conquer heaven by consensus, you storm it!”). Storming heaven… A powerful slogan that he actually borrowed from… Karl Marx.

In his account of the civil war in France in April 1871, when the workers of Paris (then known as the “Communards”) tried to overthrow the French government, Marx indeed wrote to Louis Kugelmann, his confidant, that “the present rising in Paris – even if it be crushed by the wolves, swine and vile curs of the old society – is the most glorious deed of our Party since the June insurrection in Paris. Compare these Parisians, storming heaven, with the slave to heaven of the German-Prussian Holy Roman Empire...”

‘Storming heaven’ was also earlier mentioned in a book, “Hyperion”, by Friedrich Hölderlin, a German lyric poet who was commonly associated with Romanticism and who Karl Marx is said to have been a fan of. In his book “Classical Horizons: The Origins of Sociology in Ancient Greece”, George E. McCarthy says of Marx: “Trained in classical Greek history and philosophy from his earliest days at the Trier Gymnasium and at the Universities of Bonn and Berlin, Karl Marx incorporated his love for ancient history, archaeology, and philosophy throughout his writings on political and economic issues.”

By paraphrasing Karl Marx on that day of 2014, at the start of the Podemos ‘adventure’, Iglesias purposely infused, injected Podemos’ soul with a deep hard-left and Marxist sentiment. A connection that, far from the discourses of mainstream parties, could resonate with the audience on a very emotional level.

However, over time, the party leaders have been perceived by their supporters as not having enough worked on practical solutions to austerity and extensively discussed ideologies instead.

What happened next was cold as stone: At the next General election, six months after their amazing result, they finished third again behind the two major parties, the Partido Socialista Obrero Español (PSOE, Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party) and the conservative Partido Popular (PP, Popular Party), with 21% of the votes, gained no new seat at the parliament and, most tragically, lost over a million votes.

Another explanation for the sudden halt in Podemos’ rise was the fact that many supporters got upset at the sudden concentration of power in the hands of one man in particular, the party leader Pablo Iglesias Turrión, which they saw as a betrayal of their original stance on being a democratic...

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