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Spain: 'The elections sent us a message: we have to rebuild the United Left'
Alberto Garzón in his office at the Congress. Photo by Marta Jara.
June 1, 2015 -- Transform!, posted at Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- Alberto Garzón, a Izquierda Unida (IU, United Left) candidate in Spain's November general election, was interviewed by eldiario.es in his office at the Spanish Congress. The interview was conducted by Aitor Riveiro.
Although the municipal and regional elections were on May 24, the activity of the IU candidate has been non-stop. He has had meetings, contacts with the press and is about to “rebuild” his organisation after the thud of May 24: “We are the patriots of IU and we want to rebuild the organisation for the process of social transformation.”
The lessons of the municipal and regional elections are obvious to Garzón: “We must generate a process of popular unity from below for the general election.” In his opinion, this project should involve anyone who wants to transform society, this includes Podemos. Garzon says, “they have won an average of 14% in the regional elections, however 14% will not transform the society”.
Were the results of May 24 been good for the IU?
Alberto Garzón: No. To do politics we should be straightforward and consistent. The overall results are bad. It is true that the municipal representation has increased if we include places where IU candidates were on lists of popular unity, but the results of the regional elections have sent us the message that we must rebuild IU.
How do you rebuild?
The road is clear: popular unity, not only for IU, but for the social majority and for the people, because it has been shown that no force alone can transform this country. However, when the popular forces of the left and the social movements have common lists, there is recognition by the public. The IU has always defended this popular unity and it has itself defined as the catalyst for that unity.
Have you lost that ability after May 24?
Popular unity is a very broad concept that includes an electoral component, such as the agreements to stand for elections, but there is also the social struggle. Popular unity is composed of the social movements, the stop evictions movement PAH, demonstrations and strikes. This is popular unity because it transverses political organisations. No one asks for membership cards when they are going to stop an eviction or when they defend public health. That is popular unity.
The United Left has been part of all these processes, both electoral and non-electoral. But popular unity does not have a single catalyst and neither a single representative. It would be a deeply dishonest appropriation by any popular unity candidates. We have learned this from the 15M [movement, the Indignados]. I was there, I defended its proposals on television but I was not the spokesperson of 15M.
The social part is not as clear, but the electoral component is quantifiable and we can identify how the different models of unity performed on May 24. What is your conclusion of the differing results?
The unity candidatures sometimes have been developed fully and sometimes not. Contexts, circumstances, beliefs and rhythms have changed. And therefore also the different results. I do believe that this country has never had such positive results in many large cities like Barcelona, Madrid, Zaragoza, Santiago or A Coruña and there have also been a series of good results in Salamanca, Palencia and Burgos. This has not happened in the regional elections. They have changed the subjects, but the map remains similar.
Why is there this dichotomy?
In the local elections there has been a break with the past because there have been candidatures of popular unity that have come from the bottom up, in a participatory manner, with multiple subjects and indeed in some cases with the added plus of iconic leaders. However, in places where the candidates were not as well known they have achieved spectacular results. People have clearly rewarded the popular unity, above all other forces. Madrid's case is paradigmatic: Ahora Madrid has won 500,000 votes and in the same city, while Podemos has won 280,000 votes.
And what is the conclusion?
Looking ahead to the general election, we have to build a process of popular unity from the bottom up and in a participatory manner, such as we have seen from these local elections in order to transform the country.
You mentioned Madrid, perhaps the place that best represents the May 24 hiccup of IU. On Sunday, the candidate of IU in Madrid (IUCM), Raquel Lopez, said that you are “deplorable”. How are you dealing with the situation of IU in Madrid?
Politics has to be consistent and honest and it must also be elegant. When politics starts to insult then it is not politics anymore. I will not get into mudslinging. But Madrid's situation is serious because we have a complex situation in which we had militants on two lists for the local elections. This is the reason because IU did not recognise Raquel's candidacy. They did not follow the procedures.
The people have spoken with their votes and have demonstrated that Madrid has accepted very extraordinarily the candidature of popular unity. I'm talking about cities like Getafe, Leganés, Alcorcón, Fuenlabrada and etcetera. That means that there are many militants who had to leave IU because of the leaders in IUCM (IU in Madrid).
For example, Mauricio [Valiente, who was candidate for Ahora Madrid] or Vanessa [Lillo, candidate in Getafe], winners of primaries in IUCM and they had to leave IUCM, but they did not abandon their militancy, and have shown that this political line has had extraordinary results, which can improve the process of construction of popular unity. All those people are necessary for the IU project and what I face now is the reconstruction of the left in all areas in order to serve a project of popular unity.
Does that reconstruction mean to disaffiliate IUCM?
These are collective and internal debates that have not been addressed yet and I will not do it here personally. What we have to bear in mind is that the future generations are at stake; it is not a question of preserving chairs and councillors, but to be part of a social transformation that prevents the consolidation of neoliberalism. And in Madrid that involves to recuperate all the people that have left and put all of the mechanisms together that are part of the same project as IU Federal.
Cayo Lara explicitly supported the candidacy of Raquel Lopez, although the federal presidency did not support this candidature. Will that personal decision have any consequences?
The position of IU Federal was very clear and to the point. It is a resolution that is available for everyone who wants to see it. This resolution says that the candidature was not recognised, therefore, the leaders did very well in respecting this decision. Some of the leaders supported IUCM and others supported Ahora Madrid, but personally, not in representation of IU. Any other question is for Cayo, not me.
Yesterday was the day of reflection of the results; today is the first day to promote and build the popular unity in order to win the general election. And that is my role, because I am the candidate of IU in the general election. I am not a candidate to simply lend my face to win votes, but to develop a political project and to put all the mechanisms in place to make things work. All I am interested in is to take the lessons that the people gave us on May 24 in order to launch a generous and humble process of participatory construction from the bottom up for the general election.
What are the characteristics of this process of popular unity? What is your proposal?
Any process of convergence goes through a programmatic framework to be debated collectively. We have seen it in Ahora Madrid, Barcelona Comú or Zaragoza en Común. Like Julio Anguita said, politics should be based on "program, program, program".
Apart from that, what we do know is that this cannot be a meeting of the political leaders with parliamentary representation in order to share electoral space, rather it has to be an absolutely participatory and democratic process where people can decide everything. That will lead to primaries and other mechanisms for the construction of the popular unity. This is one idea: we have enough time to discuss these things.
What has happened in Galicia, Barcelona or Madrid leaves the initials and the logos of the parties a little to one side. In addition to your opinion, which you have already made clear, is the IU willing to give up its initials in order to achieve popular unity?
We come from one of the most beautiful and consistent traditions of politics, which is the communist, socialist and republican tradition. A tradition that led us to Pepe Diaz and the Popular Front. I am a member of the PCE [Communist Party of Spain], which has not participated in elections with its initials since 1986, but it is part of the IU project, and of the left of this country. The PCE, however, has full autonomy and independence.
What Madrid, Barcelona, Santiago or A Coruña have proven is that the militants of IU are part of the process of popular unity in the candidatures; IU does not disappear, it contributes. That is the feeling of the majority, not a generalised feeling. It is coherent with the approved documents during the 9th and 10th IU assembly, but in the first assembly as well. The seed of IU is to put the needs for social transformation first and the electoral matters are secondary.
But there is important resistance among relevant leaders of the organisation. Are they salvageable?
There is resistance, it would be dishonest to deny it, but it is a minority and they will be overcome. I do not think that it is an important resistance. First, I have the perception that the militants know what they want. Second, is the coherence of the political project. And third, nobody wanted to run against me in the primaries. I would have liked to have had this primary process to confront projects, but nobody wanted to participate against me. We are defending the project of IU, we are the IU patriots and we want to focus the organisation on behalf of a process of social transformation.
Do we need changes in the IU to overcome this resistance?
Some months ago we initiated a renewal process and the clearest representation is my candidacy for president of the government. Part of the diagnosis was that IU was left in the historical moment and that it had to be corrected. Furthermore, I am the candidate for that so IU can reach this historical and political moment.
To whom do you send this appeal of popular unity and who should be represented?
I make this proposal with humility and with the belief that we can contribute to the process, as we have demonstrated in cities that have witnessed success. I extend this proposal to everyone who will listen. I am referring to already organised political organisations, such as Podemos, Equo [Greens] and many others, social movements, neighbourhood associations and combative trade unions, or in other words, all subjects involved in a process of social transformation from the values and principles of the left. The more people who participate, the better because it is making an in depth change. We are not only focusing on the deputies, we have to focus on everything.
Do you think Podemos will take the step into a candidacy of popular unity in which, you mentioned before, no one is the catalyst?
Podemos is an organisation that was born with a distinctly ground-breaking character, which is what inspired many people. They had an outstanding result in Europe thanks to their character and the invitation that they made to dialogue and reach a consensus among all the left. What I perceive when I talk to the Podemos circles is that people are willing and want unity.
Podemos has an average of 14% in the regional elections. And with 14% you cannot transform society. IU has always been the critical part and it has always been said that IU cannot settle for 5% or 10% or 15%, because our goal is to represent the social majority and transform the society, so I think we should be more ambitious. We are fortunate to have found the key in Madrid, Barcelona and many other cities.
Pablo [Iglesias] is a guy who I do not only appreciate personally, but I also recognise his political skills. He is intelligent. I think he will be able to read the historical moment. I learned this from Yolanda Diaz [coordinator of IU in Galicia], who follows this line. Pablo had much to do with the process that was so successful for the Galician Alternative Left and I think he will make those decisions in his organisation and as a concerned citizen; I hope it will be so because we have to avoid the consolidation of neoliberalism in this country.
Have you had any contact with him since May 24?
No, I haven‘t. We met in the TV program Los desayunos de TVE but we did not have time to talk. Soon we will meet with the people and organisations to help build this unity. Nobody will be the piloting organisation, only the people and much dialogue is necessary. The processes of popular unity that we have seen with Ganemos Madrid which then became Ahora Madrid, required much dialogue, because there are many things and differences to refine. We need to agree on several points for a minimum program.
With the general election scheduled for November, an intense electoral cycle will close. Will the window of opportunity for change be closed after this?
There will be a change. The economists who are critical of the system know that what is on the table is the exhausted model of production and consumption, the capitalist model, which is being restructured. This is what the PP [right-wing Peoples Party] is doing and what the [social-democratic] PSOE [Socialist Workers Partty] started. As a consequence, this has produced brutal changes in the social structure, laws, the constitution, such as they did in 2011. It also assumes social and environmental changes.
The problem is the outcome of that change whether it will be directed from the right or left. The real challenge is whether neoliberalism will be consolidated or whether it will initiate a constitutional, economic and political process of a different nature. The big risk is that it could consolidate a way of life of permanent insecurity, structural adjustment and garbage contracts. If the PP and PSOE leaders who obey the "Troika" continue to lead this country, the change will lead to a disastrous social order.