Parliamentary elections in the Spanish state on Sunday saw the victory of the Labour-type PSOE Socialist Party, the entry into the Spanish Congress of the far right VOX and the continuing importance of the Catalan struggle.
PSOE, the party of the current prime minister, Pedro Sanchez, won an impressive victory. It rose from 85 seats with 5.4 million votes in 2016 to 123 seats with 7.5 million votes this time.
Only two years ago, the right wing old guard of the PSOE ejected Sanchez from the leadership. He had used the Socialist votes in the congress to try to stop the right wing PP conservative party from taking power.
Sanchez fought back and won the leadership again. So this election result, based on opposition to the right, is a slap in the face for that old guard.
But under Sanchez many PSOE policies still cede to the arguments of the right, and even the far right. To give only a few examples, he has kept the Catalan political prisoners—who have still not been convicted of any crime—in jail. And after a brief photo opportunity welcoming refugees, he has stopped the migrant rescue ships from operating.
He maintains the main elements of neoliberal economic polices.
The radical Podemos party and its various coalitions fell from 71 seats to 42. When it was launched in 2014, Podemos was presented as the great new hope for the left.
But now it is effectively just another reformist party. From being an “opposition to the regime of 1978”—the date of the current Spanish Constitution—it has become the great defenders of that constitution. In one of his key electoral speeches Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias insisted on his pride in Spain, celebrating everything from cleaning workers’ struggles to the armed forces.
Podemos has suffered massive internal tensions and splits. These are mainly a result of the top down leadership methods that go with “politics as marketing”.
Democratic grassroots organisation becomes an obstacle to the obsession with tweeting the right messages and getting sound bites on TV.
Podemos's main aim in these elections was to obtain enough seats to form a government with the PSOE. Many people followed the logic that if what was needed was a PSOE government, they should vote PSOE.
There was widespread fear that these elections would see an extension nationally of the right wing alliance—the PP, the centre right Ciudadanos (Citizens) and the new far right party, VOX—that took power in the Andalucia region last December. The fact that the right didn’t win is very positive and important.
The main conservative party, the PP, fell disastrously, from 7.9 million votes and 137 MPs to 4.4 million and 66 seats. This is a serious defeat for the party’s new leader, Pablo Casado, and his strategy of trying to deal with the rise of the far right by copying it.
A lot of the PP’s loss went to Ciudadanos. It rose from 3.1 million votes and 32 seats, to 4.1 million votes and 57 MPs.
But the big story on the right is the rise of VOX. It has grown from almost nothing to over 10 percent of the vote in less than a year. It originated as a right wing split from the PP in 2013.
The PP’s ongoing crisis—its corruption, its inability to resolve the Catalan issue, and other factors—has led to a haemorrhage of its right wing members and supporters to VOX. But VOX has also sucked in out and out fascists.
So rather like Ukip in Britain and the AfD in Germany, VOX includes both populist right wing elements and fascists.
VOX does not draw most of its support from poor working class areas, but rather from former PP strongholds. To give an example, the two towns with the highest income per person in the whole of the Spanish state had massive votes for the far right. In the richest, Pozuelo de Alarcon, VOX obtained 19.8 percent. In the second richest, Majadahonda, 18.8 percent.
Even though the worst predictions of 30, 40 or more seats for VOX were not fulfilled, 24 far right MPs is very bad news. It makes it all the more important to continue to build movements like Unitat Contra el Feixisme i el Racisme, the Catalan sister movement of Stand Up To Racism, across the whole of the Spanish state.
In addition the Catalan question will not disappear. The centre left pro-independence party, Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (Republican Left of Catalunya, ERC) won the elections in Catalonia with 25 percent of the votes, ahead of the PSOE.
In the face of the stalemate in the independence struggle, ERC has opted for a strategy of broadening the movement and linking the national question to social issues. ERC has its contradictions and limitations, but its success in these elections is a good sign.
Short of immense repression, there is no alternative to respecting Catalan people’s democratic right to decide on their future.
Several of the successful Catalan candidates are political prisoners and currently on trial in Madrid’s supreme court. After their election it remains to be seen how the Spanish authorities will react.
Sanchez and PSOE do not have enough MPs to govern alone. They will need to form a coalition either with Podemos and some of the nationalist parties, or with Ciudadanos.
The left faces major challenges. There is an urgent need to build united movements against racism and the far right.
The Catalan issue is a key issue for the left and progressive forces across the Spanish state. But most of the left is incapable of taking a principled position over it.
Finally the crisis of Podemos confirms the urgent need to build a coherent anticapitalist left.
Without a left committed to fighting for its principles at the same time as working with other people in concrete struggles, we will never see the broad movements we need to deal with the many serious challenges before us.