In the legendary paragraphs of his Prison Notebooks, Antonio Gramsci reflected on the war strategies of World War I, both position and manoeuvre warfare, to understand politics in the West. In Western politics, manoeuvre warfare (the assault) lost relevance in the face of complex position warfare in which the State would only be the first trench in the fortifications of civil society. The politics of trench warfare is the struggle for hegemony. Contrary to popular belief, Gramsci did not devise the concept of hegemony, which could already be seen in the way of thinking of the Russian socialists that Gramsci knew, and even in some Comintern texts. However, Gramsci was the first to understand hegemony not as the need for socialist organisations to lead different subordinate sectors to the working class or to become allies with sections of the bourgeoisie, but as a collection of superstructural mechanisms, especially in a cultural sense, on which political order rests in advanced societies. Gramsci returned to Machiavelli, the father of politics as a science of power, to understand the importance of consent. Power in advanced societies is not only expressed through coercive mechanisms, but predominantly through consent and consensus.
If Gramsci’s reflections have aged so well, becoming a reference for all left-wing politics and even some cultivated right-wingers, it is because Western politics, once democratic systems and their States were consolidated and developed, are basically hegemonic politics. Hegemony is the organic capacity of key sectors to convince the social majorities of the stories that justify and explain the political order. The devices they use to convince are basically cultural (schools and the Church are classic examples, with the media as the main example of our time) and serve to establish the keys of hegemonic narratives. Winning in hegemonic politics is basically convincing people of your story.
During periods of political stability (generally associated with economic stability), hegemonic narratives are almost impregnable, but when organic crises occur, it opens up the opportunity to challenge the dominant narratives and reasons for political changes through trench or manoeuvre warfare. The 15-M Movement signalled the existence of an organic crisis in Spain, questioning the official political narratives and representing the best social expression of the crisis. The political party Podemos has so far been the best political expression of that crisis, managing to impose new interpretations of the situation and new possibilities of transformation through the role of subordinate sectors (the people). The imposition of the word “caste” to mark the political and economic elites in Spanish political language is a good example of Podemos’s hegemonic politics; politics for a new crisis narrative and how to overcome it. The struggle to occupy the centrality of the board is precisely the struggle to determine where the centrality of the board is. As we mentioned in a previous article, if we place centrality in the need to democratise the economy, Podemos may win. Conversely, if centrality is found in other parameters (mere regeneration or replacement of elites), the key sectors will have demonstrated their capacity for resilience.
In times of organic crisis, election campaigns are a simplified version of trench warfare. Campaigns represent the moment of glory or failure of policymakers who fight to impose their narratives based on changing consensus in the very difficult environment of the media, which themselves are not neutral political operatives.
The campaign that is now starting is trench warfare through the imposition of a political narrative; how one or another is imposed largely depends on the final results, since almost half of the voters have not yet decided how to vote. What should we do? The first task, before chasing the opponent, is to observe their movements. What narrative will they try to impose? They will say that Podemos is disappointing in the polls, that there are basically four candidates for Prime Minister, that the fundamental problem with these elections are the post-electoral pacts in an unstable multiparty scenario, that Spain is a country of middle classes and that social majorities are moderate. Just look back to see that the political and social success of the ’78 regime rested on a very similar narrative that led to the resounding failure of possible Eurocommunism and the moderation of a Socialist Party that, once in control of the State, could have gone much further.
Today, our opponents’ narratives will say that Podemos was the protagonist of the breakdown but it will not be the protagonist of change. Some cartoonists have expressed it with the clarity of hunters and storytellers.
What should we say about this campaign then? First, that Podemos was born to win the general election and any previous battle, however important, cannot distract us from the matter at hand. We must say that there will be no change without a breakdown and, therefore, whoever agrees with us must break with the politics that led us to disaster. In this election there are not four options, there are two: change, or continue business as usual. Podemos is not alone in the change; in the city of Madrid the change is called Manuela Carmena, in Barcelona it’s Ada Colau, and our hand is outstretched to all who are in favour of change, which means defending the public and social rights. That’s why Podemos defends and is a tool for popular unity. It should be noted that today 13 million Spaniards are at risk of poverty, a third of employees earn only €645 per month, and almost half of unemployed people receive no benefits. Social majorities do not aspire to a second home or having three cars in the garage, they aspire to enjoy public schools and public hospitals, they aspire to decent housing, a decent wage and not to be stuck with a lifelong mortgage. In Spain there is not a moderate social majority, there is a nation that has been humbled and is very clear about who its enemies are; political and economic elites who have robbed the nation and grown rich at its expense. We must explain that our programme is the programme of change, precisely because it focuses on rescuing citizens, on transforming the production model, on promoting quality employment with rights, on promoting technological innovation and on creating institutions to protect democracy from corruption and public theft.
Trench warfare is beginning, and the opponent wants us to follow their movements. We must force them to follow ours, doing what we do best; being open and honest with the truth in a way that others dare not, however uncomfortable it makes the elite. We will not win by being like the enemy, but by being ourselves.
Translation: Veronika Peterseil
Originally published in Spanish on 3 May 2015 at: http://blogs.publico.es/pablo-iglesias/1025/guerra-de-trincheras-y-estrategia-electoral/