Anticapitalists: ‘We need a left that is not a crutch for the PSOE’

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Interview with Raul Camargo, spokesperson for Anticapitalists, by Sato Díaz Cuartopoder, November 20. Translation and footnotes by Dick Nichols.

December 6, 2019 — Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal — The election campaign, then the elections, then the results and then, after 48 hours, the announcement by Pedro Sánchez and Pablo Iglesias of the pre-agreement for a coalition government [between the Spanish Socialist Workers Party (PSOE) and Unidas Podemos (UP, United We Can)]. Everything very fast and then sudden silence. Away from the media, the negotiations between the PSOE and UP to devise a government and a program follow their course, while in parallel the PSOE works to win the support needed to achieve investiture before Christmas.

The organisations involved in the possible coalition government (PSOE, Podemos, the United Left (IU) and En Comú Podem (ECP, Together We Can[1]) are consulting their memberships in internal referenda, in the hope of getting the green light. Other left-wing organisations are watching from the sidelines. Anticapitalists has long since been more outside than inside Podemos, except in Andalusia.[2] Always critical of governing with the PSOE and always in a minority within the purple formation[3], Anticapitalists today observes the course of Podemos with suspicion and distance.

Spokesperson Raúl Camargo (Madrid, 1978) gives this interview to Cuartopoder to analyse the political conjuncture. He announces that a political conference of Anticapitalists will be held in March where it will determine the strategic direction of the organisation in the new context. He is convinced, if the PSOE-UP government goes ahead, that opposition from the left will be needed.

We’ve got the verdict in the case of the EREs[4]: a strong whiff of "PSOE, PP, it’s all the same shit!" 

Yes, that classic chant of 15M[5] hasn’t lost its validity. The PSOE of the EREs is not something in the past, Susana Díaz [former PSOE premier of Andalusia] is still at the head of the PSOE’s Andalusian federation. Díaz held a senior position at that time and replaced José Antonio Griñán, sentenced today to six years in jail. We believe that the PSOE in Andalusia is still a corrupt outfit.

The position maintained by the comrades of Podemos Andalusia over the years has been consistent. Imagine if they had yielded to the pressure to do deals with this PSOE: today it would be a disaster, given that those people have been condemned for decades of corruption, for taking funds for distribution among their mates that should have been allocated to unemployed people.

It is a very serious verdict, which reveals the widespread corruption in one of the pillars of the regime — the PSOE — and in our opinion corroborates that the best stance with respect to this type of party is political independence, save when specific agreements can be struck.

I detect here a critique of the possible coalition government between PSOE and UP. The position of Anticapitalists is clear: to facilitate investiture of a PSOE government following an agreement on program and to remain in opposition so as to ensure that they comply with the program agreed from then on. How do you rate last week’s pre-agreement between the PSOE and UP?

We’ve always presented the question like that, for five years now. We helped initiate Podemos because we believed that what was missing in this country was a left to represent the impetus — at once destructive of the status quo and constructive of the alternative — of the 15M movement.  Without the Anticapitalist Left[6], Podemos would never have happened. That impetus was directed against the right wing, but also against the PSOE. Remember that the PSOE of the EREs governed in Andalusia with the United Left (IU). That experience was key to understanding that what we need is a left that is not a crutch for the PSOE. It was with Griñán, today convicted, that IU did that deal for government.[7]

Because of the economic forecasts and the territorial crisis, we believe that now is not the political moment for a left-wing force to govern with this PSOE in a subordinate position.  This is the PSOE that has not broken with the period of the EREs and has not come to terms with its past of GALs[8], industrial reconversion[9], labour market counter-reforms, ETTs[10], NATO, the Maastricht Treaty… Sánchez maintains continuity with the whole neoliberal trajectory of this party.

In our opinion, governing with the PSOE represents an obvious break with the foundational line of Podemos. We came into being to govern, but not subordinated to the PSOE. Having a minority role in a coalition with the PSOE was never discussed in any Podemos forum.

We continue to defend what we defended five years ago, a position that we believe must continue to be defended—let’s have a left that aspires to change the rules of the political game in this country. Things can’t be changed with the current rules of the game. It is not possible to implement left-wing policies in this country with the current Constitution, with its outlook on social rights, with how it regulates the territorial question. We aspire to a left that is not satisfied with being a crutch for the PSOE.

From the “Heaven is taken by assault” of Vistalegre I[11] to “Heaven is taken with perseverance”, in Pablo Iglesias’s most recent letter to the membership: what does this evolution suggest?

At Vistalegre I, Pablo said that heaven is taken by assault and not by consensus, because from our side — which also included people who are now with Pablo like [former Organisational Secretary] Pablo Echenique and others — we appealed for consensus. A consensus was needed between the different proposals that were being put forward. He said no, no consensus, heaven is taken by assault. In this way a committee, a leadership, was created over which there was almost no control.

The result was good at the electoral level, but heaven wasn’t taken by assault and consensus wasn’t achieved with almost anyone else: Podemos’s political evolution has resulted in something similar to the IU of Cayo Lara or Gaspar Llamazares[12]. The current result is more like this than what we aspired to in 2014.

Perseverance is a good thing, and you have to recognise perseverance in Iglesias. Although the UP vote has again fallen at these elections, his political theses have been imposed: he wanted to enter the government at all costs and it seems that he will succeed. I believe that perseverance should have been applied to other issues, like building an organisation implanted across the whole of Spain, one with an open and friendly relationship with the social movements, one that would have been able to include different political sensibilities. The Podemos that exists today no longer has any of that.

Perseverance is a good prescription. Pablo has applied it to enter a minority government with the PSOE: in Anticapitalistas we will use it to defend the need for a left that’s independent of the parties of the regime and the material pressures involved in being part of the state.

So Anticapitalists is already a project outside of Podemos, independent of it?

No, in some territories we are still inside Podemos, but in the majority we are already outside. It is true that the Podemos project has been moving towards a strategic orientation that we do not share — that is increasingly obvious. But Anticapitalists is a confederal organization and there have to be debates in the territories [that make up the Spanish state]. In March, we will have a confederal political conference of Anticapitalists to decide on what political investment we’ll make in the coming years.

We’ll be in discussion in the coming months, but it is obvious that this coalition government, if it is finalised and does finally get the numbers, will reveal that the distance is getting bigger.

I find there’s a curious contrast here. You refer to Podemos having become a kind of crutch for the regime, but at the same time we see the right wing and the representatives of the economic powers-that-be nervous and belligerent about Podemos entering government in the Spanish state. Won’t Podemos in government perhaps be dangerous for the privileged?

I think they want to discipline them before they arrive. One of the main political powers of European geostrategy is the European Commission, and we have seen that the European Commission has given the OK to Unidas Podemos entering government. In this country there’s a Spanish-chauvinist right, a Francoist right not only in the state institutions, but also in the economy.

Those fears are also unfounded. Podemos already governs in six autonomous communities[13] and nothing happens. I say nothing happens, not only to the powerful, but also because nothing remotely like collectivisations are being carried out in these autonomous communities. They are being managed, more or less as managed by the PSOE. No button is being pressed that affects either the big investment funds, or the banks, or the big holders of housing ...

It’s all overacting so as to discipline Podemos beforehand. In turn, it also puts more pressure on Sanchez and the PSOE to discipline the UP ministers. But anyone who checks on what is happening in autonomous communities or municipalities where Podemos has governed sees honest, uncorrupt management, but nothing to justify the fuss that the big powers are making.

On the other hand, they’ll complain all the same.  Remember the first legislature of [former PSOE prime minister José Luís Rodríguez] Zapatero. We already know what Zapatero means politically and, nonetheless, the right wing, the bishops, the PP and the protests on any issue related to ETA, declared war on him ... They painted him as if he were a kind of Lenin, and we saw what Zapatero did with article 135.[14]

Podemos has every right in the world to be in government. What we say is that for a left that aspires to a deep social transformation, a profound transformation of the economic and political system, doing so leaves it in a very delicate situation for a project that has to be conceived in the medium and long term.

In the face of a political, media, economic and social right wing hyper-mobilised against the possible coalition government of PSOE and UP would Anticapitalists defend the government, would it mobilise in favor of the coalition government?

If the right were to demonstrate against an opening in support of dialogue with Catalonia if there is a courageous position on the part of the government, without a doubt. If the right were mobilised against the repeal of the labor reform, the gag law[15], LOMCE[16] and against the approval of laws with a left-wing content, we would undoubtedly be supporting the government. There is no doubt about that.

What cannot be is that the government keeps retreating before right-wing pressure, which is what we have seen many times. To avoid that, a counter-power formed by the social movements and organisations of the political left is needed, one that requires the government to comply with the program that the social movements have already put on the table. These are the issues that I have just mentioned as well as others, such as rent regulation. By the way, the European Commission is belligerently against this and I don't think, with Nadia Calviño inside the government, that they will compromise.[17]

If the government only feels pressure from the right, it will increasingly turn to the right. Therefore, pressure from the left is needed. That doesn’t mean that we aren’t going to do anything against that right wing, quite the opposite. That right and the extreme right are enormous dangers for the social majorities, we must fight them untiringly, but for this we also need a courageous left. Here, we have doubts that the PSOE will be that or that United We Can, with this correlation of forces and having to be loyal to the decisions of the Council of Ministers, can be that.

In the election campaign, Anticapitalists called for a critical vote for United Podemos and at the same time welcomed the possible arrival of the [Catalan] People’s Unity List (CUP) in Congress. Finally, the CUP will be in the new Congress of Deputies. Some of the first statements they have made were to encourage the rest of the pro-sovereignty forces in the State not to facilitate the investiture of Sánchez. Do you understand this position when the extreme right is growing at each election?

Indeed, the CUP.’s result has made us very happy. We believe it is healthy that an anti-capitalist force with which we have a friendly relationship should have a presence in Congress. We understand what their position is, but it is not ours. Our position is to negotiate strong programmatic points, supported by the movements, to facilitate an investiture agreement. We don’t believe that an agreement can be reached with the PSOE for the whole legislature, but that we can achieve a few commitments.

On the other hand, we understand why the CUP rejects the pre-agreement between PSOE and UP, which only talks about dialogue within the framework of the Constitution and about the problem of Catalonia being one of social coexistence. If they want to get the votes of any Catalan party, including the abstention of the Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC), they will have to modify that point.

But it's not just a question of Catalonia. A third election would run a huge risk of the extreme right becoming a second force in Congress, or even of its propelling itself into first position. Although Anticapitalists is small, we have to think big, reach for a position of hegemony. That is, we must make proposals that are not seen as too risky by the social majority of the left.

We understand why the CUP says that, we believe that with the existing wording of the pre-agreement there will be no investiture. But we also understand that, in a situation like this, having a social-liberal government is not the same as a government with the extreme right inside. We have our differences with the CUP on this issue, although we agree on other issues.

Finally, you mentioned that in March you will hold a political conference. You have also suggested that what is needed is a left-wing political force that is not "a crutch for the PSOE". Are we facing an embryo here, the creation of a new left-wing political force beyond Podemos?

We shall have to discuss and debate that, including with people beyond Anticapitalists, with many other comrades from other forces, even with many of those in UP. This debate must be held to the extent that UP leaves a space to its left. As part of the government, it will surely develop practices that will not satisfy an important part of its social base. The discussion will take place with the relationship within the left dialectical, not static. It will be seen, in our political conference and beyond, whether this possibility is real or not.

It will also depend on the political situation of the country. It is not the same thing to create a political force after great convulsions and mobilisations than when nothing is moving. Let's look at the mobilisations for the climate, the feminists, the new mobilisations that will arise as the result of a new crisis. What is clear is that Podemos, as the catalysing force of all the alternative left in the State, has come to an end. But that does not mean that something alternative will be created immediately. It will emerge, but the timelines are set by history.

Raúl Camargo, spokeperson for Anticapitalistas, was formerly a Podemos MP in the Madrid regional assembly.

[1] En Comu Podem is the progressive coalition in Catalonia that brings together Catalonia Together (CeC), led by Barcelona mayor Ada Colau, Podem and the United and Alternative Left (EUiA), Catalan sister organisations of Podemos and IU respectively.

[2] In Andalusia, the Anticapitalist current, most associated with Andalusian regional MP Teresa Rodríguez and Cádiz mayor José María González Santos (“Kichi”), forms the ruling majority in Podemos Andalusia. In Catalonia, Desbordem (Let’s Overwhelm), the left tendency in CeC initiated by Anticapitalists’s Catalan sister organisation (Anticapitalistes),  decided on November 16 to resign from CeC Executive and National Council positions. Desbordem claimed that CeC had “passed from the struggle against austerity to approving a ceiling on expenditure, from wanting to overthrow the 1978 regime to being a junior partner to the PSOE of article 155 [sanctioning suspension of Catalan self-rule], from defending Catalonia’s right to decide to not supporting an amnesty for the political prisoners [...] and everything always on the basis of sudden turns decided outside the leadership bodies…”

[3] Purple is Podemos’s party colour.

[4] ERE are the initials in Spanish of Expediente de Regulación de Empleo, meaning Employment Regulation Procedure, a court application made by a company in economic difficulties for permission to reduce or dismiss its workforce. When an ERE is granted, the workers affected are sometimes entitled to receive a payment from the regional government where the affected company operates. In the case of Andalusia, a November 19 sentence of the National High Court’s Seville branch found that the previous PSOE government had run a “system of fraud” in which a €680 million slush fund, supposedly for workers displaced under EREs, had also been devoted to paying people who had never worked for companies affected by EREs. The eventual destination of these funds was the PSOE’s clientelist network. The court sentenced former Andalusian premier José Antonio Griñán to six years jail for embezzlement and perverting the course of justice and banned him from holding public office for 15 years. Four former PSOE ministers in Andalusia also received prison terms (from six years to seven years and 11 months) while former Andalusian premier Manuel Chaves, other ministers and senior government officials were banned from holding public office for terms ranging up to nine years. The verdict will be appealed to the Supreme Court. For further background in English on what has been called “EREgate” see here, here and here.

[5] The reference is to May 15, 2011, birth date of the indignado movement when hundreds of thousands occupied the central squares of more than 80 cities and towns in the Spanish state.

[6] Anticapitalist Left changed its name to Anticapitalists when it voted to become a current inside Podemos.

[7] The IU-PSOE agreement was adopted in the Parliament of Andalusia on May 3, 2012.

[8] The Anti-terrorist Liberation Groups (GAL), hit squads directed against the military-terrorist organisation Basque Homeland and Freedom (ETA), were set up from within the Department of Interior of the PSOE government of prime minister Felipe González.

[9] The reference is to the phase of rationalisation of «uncompetitive» heavy industry, often state-owned, which began in the Spanish state after the 1974-75 economic crisis.

[10] Temporary Work Enterprises, Empresas de Trabajo Temporal (ETT) in Spanish, are firms whose ostensible purpose is to match people seeking work with companies seeking workers. In practice, in combination with the labour market counter-reforms of PP and PSOE governments, they have been one of the main tools for casualising the workforce and reducing wages and conditions.

[11] “Heaven is not taken by consensus but by assault” was a celebrated phrase from Pablo Iglesias’s opening address to the founding Podemos congress, held in Madrid’s Vistalegre arena on May 18-20, 2014.

[12] Previous general coordinators of IU, who headed small parliamentary groups before IU joined Podemos to form Unidas Podemos.

[13] States (in Australia and the US) or provinces (in Canada).

[14] In 2011, the Zapatero government, with the support of the PP, reformed article 135 of the Constitution to make the repayment of Spain’s public debt a constitutionally binding priority over and above any other expenditure.

[15] The Gag Law (Ley Mordaza, formally the “Organic Law for the Protection of Citizen Security”), was introduced by the former PP government in 2015. It increased the range of protests and actions against which legal sanctions could be invoked and the penalties that could be applied. It has been criticised for restricting basic democratic rights, such as freedom of speech and the right to demonstrate.

[16] The Organic Law for the Improvement of Educational Quality (LOMCE in its Spanish initials) was introduced by the Spanish previous PP government in order to control education spending in the phase of economic crisis following the financial crisis of 2008. It provoked widespread protest by students, teachers and parents.

[17] Before becoming Minister for Economy and Enterprise in the Sánchez government Nadia Calviño worked in the European Commission as budget director.