• Spain – The Left and the Crisis of the Regime

  • By Adoración Guamán , Jaime Aja Valle | 06 Dec 13 | Posted under: Spain
  • The crisis we are witnessing in Spain transcends mere economic and political factors;

    it is an organic crisis of the system which can be qualified as a ‘regime crisis’.  This is a crisis questioning the economic, political and social system which dates back to the Spanish transition to democracy and which encompasses the period between the Constitution of 1978 and the two-party system, a phase which also includes the social pact.

    Growing inequality in the distribution of incomes and wealth, increasingly precarious working and living conditions, rising unemployment, poverty and exclusion,1 an increase in clientelism and corruption, which have found their way into the very structure of the regime,2 and numerous other aspects are to blame for wide-spread frustration and dissatisfaction with the country’s democracy.3 This manifests itself in a state of permanent indignation, dissatisfaction with the authorities and traditional political actors, in the sectoral mobilisation of the working class and young professionals and expresses itself in numerous demonstrations of varying origin, content and goals.4

    It is broadly agreed that the 15th of May 2011 is the date on which this continuous public opposition received the impetus which has come to characterise it during these past years. After the demonstration which took place that afternoon – an event organised by recently founded social movements – everybody’s individual discontent turned into joint public indignation in a spontaneous, unexpected and sudden manner, transforming individual passivity into collective action. In the months that followed, the symbolic occupation of town and city squares and the exuberant democratic enthusiasm enabled the movement to play a leading role on the Spanish political scene and in the demonstrations that succeeded initial protests by way of different mobilisations with the common goal of defending social rights against the cutbacks imposed by the Troika.


    Individual elements of the regime crisis

    In order to conduct an in-depth analysis of the forces of the left, a first examination of this so-called ‘regime crisis’ – in the words of Gramsci, an organic crisis of the current system of authority – is necessary. The current dominating bloc, which is switching allegiances according to the power of financial capital, has unlawfully held power since the Civil War and has already experienced a profound organic crisis during both the last years of the Franco regime and the first years of the Transition Period.

    Without a doubt, the dominating bloc has rapidly lost stability during the past years. Three typical elements can be distinguished in this organic crisis: First, support amongst the population for the two-party system is crumbling; second, social protests dominated by growing majority sections of society are getting stronger by the day; and, finally, the unity of the state as an element of its stability is being challenged in a way that has never before been seen in the history of democracy. Let us take a closer look at these three elements.


    The electoral crisis of the two-party system and the electoral success of the forces of the left

    The PP (People’s Party) and the PSOE (Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party) have effectively been taking turns in office for the last 30 years, which has helped to relieve the tensions within the power bloc and has served as an escape valve for the pressure built up by the fundamental conflict of interests between the power bloc and the social majority. Today, the two-party system is, without a doubt, experiencing its greatest electoral crisis since 1977. All surveys indicate a continuous loss in popularity for both PP and PSOE. According to data from the Centre for Sociological Research (CIS), in July the direct intention to vote for either the PP or PSOE jointly amounted to 25.7%. Two years ago, in July 2011, 55.2% of voters intended to vote for these two parties.

    Direct intention to vote for PP or PSOE see Graph 1 below

    Trust in the government and the first party of the opposition see Graph 2 below

    In fact, the crisis of the two-party system became visible as early as the local elections of May 2011 and the general election of November 2011, which marked the PP’s domination in the large majority of institutions. The PP achieved its greatest electoral success, however, by virtue of the poor performance of its opponent rather than its own merit. In the general election of November 2011 the PP obtained an absolute majority, but the PP and PSOE together lost a total of 4 million votes, which was a break with the 25-year trend. Public support of the two-party system was destroyed by its weakest link: the PSOE. The fall of the PSOE had a very negative impact on the government. Even though the PP mainly grew at the PSOE’s expense, the PP needs an opposition to channel social tensions. The dialectical relationship between PP and PSOE means that the excessive weakening of one of the two puts the power of the other in jeopardy.

    This crisis of the two-party system has not yet manifested itself in an effective transfer of votes from the PP/PSOE to the other options (the last elections on a national level, the parliamentary elections, were those held in November 2011). However, surveys on the electoral landscape predict this change. In terms of votes, public support is definitely growing for the forces of the left. Taking a closer look at the IU (United Left) and, according to CIS – the most reliable institute despite its conservatism – we see that voter supporters of this alliance has returned to the levels seen in October 1996, reaching 7.8% (see Graph 3 below).5

    A historical opportunity to launch an electoral transition can, of course, be found in the European elections. The European electoral system is more proportional and its electoral behaviour more open, but the capacity of PP and PSOE to recover should not be underestimated. This is because the two-party system is not solely based on a certain voting system; it is at the centre of all mechanisms of representative democracy, especially for the media.


    Continuing social protests

    It is obvious that the impact of the crisis of the two-party system goes beyond the electoral level. As mentioned above, it is a clear sign of the organic crisis of the dominating bloc.6 This has also manifested itself in the intensification of the social conflict and the multiplication of social actors who have become organised and have grown stronger over the past years, a fact very much connected with the already mentioned phenomenon of the 15th of May which is also known as the movement of the Indignados (the ‘outraged’) or simply ‘15-M’.

    Two years after its formation, it has become clear that one of the principal virtues of the 15-M Movement is its ability to elicit sympathy and support. Its initial proposals were basic principled critisisms of the flaws of a representative democracy – critisisms which can easily be related to, and understood by, large majorities. In fact, the initial slogan of 15-M was: ‘We are not commodities in the hands of politicians and bankers.’ However, the scope of the protests became more comprehensive, and the movement began focussing on socio-economic issues, as well as developing and expressing a global critique of the system and its main actors, such as the government, banks and political parties. It has also discussed a wide spectrum of causes, arguments and civil disobedience.

    One of the greatest triumphs of the 15-M Movement was its subjective breadth. In fact, one of the virtues of the new wave of social mobilisation animated by 15-M was the creation of new collective identities, which slowly overcame individualism and the rupturing of traditional links, thus enabling joint action by generating new consensuses, relationships and strategies. Through the awakening of 15-M, an endless number of crucially important movements have matured such as the Plataforma de Afectados por las Hipotecas (‘Movement of Mortgage Victims’) or the so-called ‘mareas ciudadanas’ (‘human tide’ demonstrations).

    These so-called ‘tides’ have emerged as a continuing series of sectoral protests, aimed at achieving specific goals and collectively defending social and workers’ rights. The tides are characterised by colours: green for education, white for healthcare, orange for social services, and red for pensions. They are also constituted by a spectrum of people who come from different backgrounds but who have one thing in common: their precarious situation.

    The tides have used old and new strategies – from the continuing occupation of public spaces, hunger strikes and demonstrations, to labour strikes – and have been waging an ongoing power struggle with the government in sectors as important as healthcare or education, collaborating with the trade unions.7

    Simultaneously, structures have been created and strengthened aimed at uniting the social basis necessary to build a civic counter balance.8 The strategies deployed in the social struggle related to overturning the regime are also being diversified; the miners’ demonstrations which took place in July 2012, the ‘Coordinadora 25-S’ (Coordination Platform 25-S),9 the actions of SAT (Andalusian Workers’ Union) in supermarkets10 and protest rallies at certain politicians’ places of residence by PAH11 are examples of the new shape social and political protests have taken. The dynamics of its members’ solidarity, formation and empowerment are combined with practicing civil disobedience, which is increasingly becoming accepted in society, as well as the simultaneous use of the limited possibilities existing in the system for the participation of citizens.

    In short, the crisis has reinforced social frustration and has begun to lift it to the level of political frustration. The depth of the crisis has led to financial capitalism putting those institutions at risk which used to secure the ruling system: the name we have given to the political and social system of 1978. Thus, the political institutions created for the retention of power were put under pressure. This has led to a crisis within the dominating social bloc and has reinforced the contradictions between hegemonic financial capital and medium-sized industrial businesses, small business owners, civil servants and retirees.


    The pledge of independence – Catalonia

    Since the summer of 2010, the pledge of independence has received more and more support in Catalan society, causing a shift on the political spectrum in Catalonia which affects the whole state. In June 2010 a mass demonstration was held in Barcelona with the slogan ‘Som una nació. Nosaltres decidim’ (‘We are a nation. We decide.’), to protest against a recent decision made by the Spanish Constitutional Court on a constitutional complaint involving the Statute of Catalonia’s Autonomy. A year later, in April 2011, the Catalan National Assembly (ANC) was founded and two years later, in September 2012, one of the largest demonstrations in the history of Catalonia took place with the slogan ‘Catalonia: a new European state’.

    The pledge of independence was transformed and given a comprehensive charter, embracing the fundamental common proposal of the Catalan right, Convergencia i Unió (a federation of the right social democratic Convergence and of Union which emerged from a social Christian party), as well as the proposal of its conditional supporters in the Catalan Parliament, Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (Republican Left of Catalonia) and the new political protagonist in the Catalan Parliament, the Candidatures de Unitat Popular (Popular Unity Candidates), taking the place of the independent left in the political spectrum. The alliance of ICV and EUiA,12 for its part, has supported the ‘right to decide’ but not Catalonia’s independence.

    Looking at the electoral results since the demonstration of September 2011, left-wing parties represented in the institutions have experienced an increase in support, whereas the Spanish nationalist right-wing parties, such as the Partido Socialista Catalán (Catalan Socialist Party) have seen their votes decline.

    Before this shift on the Catalan political and social landscape, the various political forces of the left had shared the demand for the right to decide, even though they proposed different state models. This led to the founding of ANOVA (Nationalist Brotherhood) and BNG (Galician Nationalist Bloc) in Galicia, Bildu (‘Gather’) in the Basque Country, CHA (Aragonese Union) in Aragón, the United Left of the Valencian Community and Compromís (Commitment to the Valencian Community), as well as other trade union movements, such as the SAT in Andalusia. On a national institutional level, the United Left (Izquierda Unida) has supported motions for the right to decide, maintaining its proposal of a pluri-national and solidary federal republic as a state model.


    The challenge for the left: cooperation in the construction of a broad social bloc to give momentum to the constitutional process

    As we have said, in recent years various movements have appeared which want to establish themselves as points of convergence in bringing together the different socio-political forces of the broader spectrum. Beyond the areas of friction,13 a common battlefield has become clear: the resistance to cutbacks and the Troika’s plans, and the need to come up with alternatives to define the point at which the 1978 regime runs its course and to open up a new constitutional process. The need to collaborate on a joint programme of actions and proposals is based on this common ground. This programme should enable and accelerate the process of the fall of the government, and it needs the citizens to play a leading role as a counter balance.

    The proposal of the United Left – which was established in its last assembly – is pointed towards accumulating these forces in order to give momentum to the process of overturning the government. The proposal pledges to direct the organisation towards the construction of a social and political bloc by means of a process aimed at accumulating political, social and trade union forces. A bloc is to be established based on an amalgamation of alliances of the three levels, which may collaborate in a project of ‘democratic rebellion’ against the neoliberal order. The bloc will put forward a proposal intended to immediately satisfy the needs and claims of democracy and social welfare demanded by the working majority. With this strategy, it pledges to move forward from the existing common ground to the different spheres of social, political and trade union protests in order to achieve collaboration between the various forces of the left. One of the tools designed for the process of overturning the government was the campaign ‘Gobierno Dimisión, elecciones ya, Hay Alternativa’ (‘Dissolve the government, elections now, there is an alternative’).

    Parallel to this, ways to bring together wide-ranging groups who want to see change are being promoted. Examples include the ‘Alternativas desde abajo’ (Alternatives from below), driven by Izquierda Anticapitalista (Anticapitalist Left) and different groups whose principal objective is the convening of a constitutional process.

    This is the core idea which ties the various strategies together. In light of the emergency situation discussed in the preceding pages, there is an ever-growing belief in Spain in the idea of a constitutional process as a way of achieving social transformation. Obviously, the idea of using the constitutional charter against the 1978 regime is not a new one.  Stemming from the lessons learned from experiences in Latin America, there have for many years been a significant number of calls from the left, putting forward the need for a constitutional process.14 However, it is undeniable that the exponential deterioration in the objective living conditions of the working-class majority has led, on the one hand, to an increase in theories on the desirability and the feasibility of pushing for a constitutional process in our situation. This body of theory has put forward different possibilities, none of which are without their difficulties.15 On the other hand, it has led to the idea of a constitutional process being a constant presence in socio-political policy over the course of the past two years. Thus, this idea can be found in the debates and most basic proposals of the 15-M Movement, as the central idea of the Movimiento 25S (25-S Movement), at the heart of the ‘Constituyentes’ (Constituents) movement, among the proposals of the Frente Cívico (Civic Front), in the Procés Constituent (Constitutional Process) movement in Cataluña and in political debates within the IU and the PCE.16 Furthermore, in the last general election, the vast majority of parties of the left had explicitly set out their position in their manifestos as being in favour of holding a constitutional process.17

    The need for a constitutional process has led to debate on a theoretical level, but also in the socio-political sphere, about the best ways to achieve this goal.18 The objective is to achieve this without falling into a mere process of reconstitución (reconstitution) or facilitating the familiar gatopardismo (a promised political transformation which in reality only comprises superficial changes to the extant structures in order to maintain the status quo) of the dominant elites through another failed transition. To that end, the widely shared proposal is the already-mentioned strategy to create a social, political and trade union bloc with the ability to mobilise and the will to power. It would be a bloc where new entities, which do not want to engage in institutional action,19 come together with pre-existing entities and all of these, in turn, with the wide-ranging political left – a new combination of the old and the new.


    Time to come together in order to achieve change

    This brief analysis shows that this is a decisive time for left political, social and trade union forces:  The increased difficulties of the social majority in labour, social and economic terms may very well result in new general strikes; the issue of financing for the Autonomous Communities will lead to intensified debate among these Communities and, in particular, in relation to the independence process in Catalonia; pressure from the European Union to make cuts, especially those in the area of local administration, will lead to further regression in social welfare. This will result in unacceptable levels of poverty and social risk; reforms in education, abortion policy and local administration and the announcements in regard to universities will keep the tide flowing, to a great extent, over the coming months.  Meanwhile, the institutions which were pillars of the regime, such as the monarchy, find themselves immersed in corruption scandals, just like the party in government.

    As the surveys indicate, the European election could see the two-party system severely punished and serve to channel part of the social anger into support for the left options, thereby foreshadowing the end of the two-party system which could be punished in the next general election, scheduled for 2015. The key is to reach that point with an accumulated strength which will allow the end of the two-party system to become the launching pad for a constitutional process with a genuine social and political capacity to face and resist the Troika’s impositions, and to lay the foundations for the construction of an alternative social bloc which could challenge the hegemony of financial capital.


    translated by Veronika Peterseil



    1   In the second trimester of 2013, the unemployment rate reached 26.6% (among women 27.02%); 23.12% of paid employment contracts were temporary; the number of households with all members unemployed amounted to 1,821,100. The minimum wage for 2013 was set at 645.30 euros, even though in 2012 per capita income only amounted to 9,321 euros, which suggests a drop of more than one percentage point compared to previous figures. In the same year, 21.1% of the Spanish population living in Spain were at risk of poverty; persons between 16 and 65 – basically all people of working age – faced an even higher risk.

    2   In 2013, corruption and fraud were named as the second biggest problem affecting the population, ranking higher than economic concerns and outdone only by the issue of unemployment (CIS [Center for Sociological Investigations] Barometer, July 2013).

    3   According to the CIS Barometer, in July 2013 81.5% of Spanish citizens classified the political situation in Spain as ‘bad’ or ‘very bad’. Only 2% called it ‘good’. These are the most extreme evaluations ever seen in available statistics, which even surpass the results of 1982 when only 5% of the population indicated that the political situation of the state was ‘good’ or ‘very good’ and 37% agreed it was ‘bad’. Statistics show that since 2010 a polarisation of the evaluation results has taken place, with negative opinions constantly surpassing 70% and positive results staying below 15%.

    4   According to sources from the Ministry of the Interior, in 2012 more than 36,000 demonstrations and protest gatherings took place.

    5   This percentage was established by analysing the answers to the question ‘If general elections were held tomorrow, i.e. parliamentary elections, which party would you vote for?’ In this survey, the PP obtained 13.2% and the PSOE 12.5%. Despite being less reliable, surveys conducted thereafter, such as those carried out by the ‘Electoral Barometer’ of the Metroscopia opinion research institute, provide a different perspective: IU 9.5%; PSOE 9.6% and PP 14.1%.

    6   The Spanish voting system, which was designed by the last Cortes Españolas (during the Franco regime, an institution claiming to be an organ of public participation in the state), tends to favour a two-party system and represents the rural areas more strongly, which have historically been more conservative. However, the two-party system does not only rest upon the individual applicable electoral law; it is the most efficient party system for capitalism in higher developed countries.

    7   Between 2010 and 2012 four general strikes were called against policies depriving people of their rights and against cutbacks in public services.  Three of them were called on behalf of the joint forces of the unions, led by the largest unions in Spain, CCOO (Workers’ Commissions) and UGT (General Union of Workers). The fourth strike was called by Catalan, Basque and Galician nationalist unions against the pension reform of 2011. The number of ordinary strikes has increased due to the crisis and, as a response to corporate privileges, which were introduced with the labour market reform, facilitating the reduction of salaries and mass layoffs.

    8   In terms of other initiatives, on a national level there are the Frente Cívico Somos Mayoría (Civil Front ‘We are the majority’) la Convocatoria cívica (Civil Call), las Mesas de Convergencia (Tables of Convergence), and a large number of smaller platforms.

    9   A coordination platform exists which involves different bodies, movements and platforms and which has organised various actions and mobilisations to draw attention to the malfunctioning of government institutions. Its first action was Rodea el Congreso (Surround the Congress) on 25 September 2012, in the course of which thousands of people were mobilised to gather around the Congress of Deputies.

    10 In the summer of 2012 the Andalusian Workers’ Union carried out actions of food expropriation in two Andalusian supermarkets. The media response was huge. For further information on this action, see Sánchez del Pino, ‘Los del SAT y sus asaltos constituyentes’ [‘The people behind SAT and their constitutional assault’), Sin Permiso, 19 May 2013

    11 Since March 2013, the Movement of Mortgage Victims has launched a campaign of ‘escraches’ (protest rallies at certain politicians’ places of residence), the goal of which was, on the one hand, to tell the deputies why they should vote in favour of the measures mentioned in the ‘Iniciativa Legislativa Popular Hipotecaria’ (ILP; Popular Legislative Initiative on Mortgages), presented by the platform, and, on the other hand, it was an attempt to publicly denounce politicians or political parties not intending to vote for the ILP, either actively or passively.

    12 The name is derived from two political parties, Iniciativa per Catalunya-Verds (Initiative for Catalonia Greens) and Esquerra Unida i Alternativa (Republican Left of Catalonia), the latter being part of the Federation of the United Left.

    13 In the various meetings, coordinating bodies, platforms and assemblies aiming at facilitating cooperation between the forces of the left, there are a few issues which create particular controversy. Among others, in the context of the approaching European elections, the debate around staying with or opting out of the European single currency has been sharpened and drawn out. Among the most convincing positions for a withdrawal from the Eurozone is the one presented in the manifesto ‘Salir del euro’ [‘Withdrawing from the euro’]. In this argument, the specific political contexts of each of the European countries – and not the currency itself – are seen as primarily responsible for the adoption of adjustment policies and cuts. For a summary on this debate see J. Barredo, J. And R. Molero, ‘Euro no, euro sí y viceversa. Una propuesta’ [Euro no, euro yes, and vice versa. A proposal] and articles published by the Novecento collective. So far, the debate is open within the socio-political movements of the left; however, they do agree on working together on the issue of non-payment of national debt.

    14 One must bear in mind that, alongside these proposals, the political forces of the two-party system have also been advocating the need for constitutional reform. Furthermore, right-wing populism, represented by the Unión Progreso y Democracia (Progress and Democracy Union) party, has embraced the slogan ‘Proceso Constituyente’ (Constitutional Process) and given it the meaning of a reconstitución (reconstitution) of the dominant bloc.

    15 R. Viciano et al., Por una Asamblea Consituyente. Una solución democrática a la crisis. (For a Constituent Assembly. A democratic solution to the crisis). Madrid, Sequitur, 2012; A. Noguera, Utopía y poder constituyente.  Los ciudadanos ante los tres monismos del Estado neoliberal (Utopia and constitutional power. Citizens faced with the three monisms of the neoliberal state), Madrid, Sequitur, 2012; G. Pisarello, ‘Reino de España: perspectivas de un proceso destituyente-constituyente’ [Kingdom of Spain: perspectives on anticonstitutional-constitutional process], in Sin Permiso (Without Permission), 17 March 2013; M. Monero, De la crisis a la revolución democrática [From the crisis to democratic revolution], El viejo topo, Madrid 2013.

    16 At its 18th Congress in November 2009, the Spanish Communist Party set an objective of initiating a constitutional process after the breakup of the constitutional pact of the Transition. In 2010, a republican conference took place to that end. See J. Aja Valle,  ‘República y democracia en tiempos de crisis.  El PCE inicia la elaboración de su propuesta de proceso constituyente’ [Republic and democracy in times of crisis. The PCE begins crafting its proposal for a constitutional process] in Mundo Obrero [Worker’s World], April 2010.

    17 The following, in alphabetical order, is a non-exhaustive list of political forces that ran on a programme advocating (to differing extents) the holding of a constitutional process: Anova; BNG; CHA; Compromís; Les CUP; EH-Bildu; Equo; Izquierda anticapitalista; Iniciativa per Catalunya-Esquerra Unida i Alternativa; Izquierda Unida.

    18 As regards theory, various options have been put forward.  To be brief, there is a first option which we could call ‘the electoral option’ based on the electoral victory of a political force which has the launching of a constitutional process among its main objectives (R. Viciano et al., Por una Asamblea Constituyente, op. cit. [For a Constitutional Assembly]). The second option is the possibility of using mechanisms of social pressure in the streets which will force those in political power to initiate the constitutional process as the only way to maintain social peace. In the opinion of other authors, it would be necessary to opt for creating ‘numerous and wide-ranging spaces, assemblies or any type of participative and self-managed institution which would engage, from within civil society and in an organised way, in alternative regulation’ (in this vein see: A. Noguera, ‘Constituyente’ [Constituent], in Lugares Comunes, trece voces sobre la crisis (Common places, thirteen voices on the crisis.), Lengua de Trapo, Madrid, 2012.

    19 It has been noted that the existence of these new movements, which have been in the vanguard of the fight for social rights in recent years (PAH, SAT, Mareas), is precisely the way to give a real basis to the ‘utopian’ aspiration of a new constitution. In this vein, see (regarding SAT):  Sánchez del Pino, ‘Los del SAT y sus asaltos constituyentes’ (‘The people behind SAT and their constitutional assault’), Sin Permiso, 19/05/2013

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