Behind the rise of the Galician Left Alternative: Interview with Xosé Manuel Beiras
Xosé-Manuel Beiras interviewed by Daniel Raventós, translated for Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal by Dick Nichols
Xosé-Manuel Beiras, 76, has been a prominent figure nationalist left politics in Galicia since the 1960s. In 1963 he helped found the Galician Socialist Party (PSG, Partido Socialista Galego), illegal under the Franco dictatorship, and later became its international secretary and then general secretary (1971-77).
In 1982 Beiras participated in the founding of the Galician Nationalist Bloc (BNG, Bloco Nacionalista Galego), entering its leadership. In 1985 he was elected as a BNG candidate to the 75-seat Galician parliament, and was re-elected in 1989, becoming the BNG’s parliamentary spokesperson. Upon further re-election in 1993 Beiras was also elected as the BNG’s national spokesperson at its seventh national assembly.
In the 1997 election Beiras led the BNG to its best result ever, 18 seats, replacing the Socialist Party of Galicia (PSdG, Partido Socialista da Galicia) as the second force in parliament. In 1998, he was re-elected as the BNG’s national spokeperson.
In 2001, Beiras wasagain re-elected to the Galician parliament, but stood down from all representative positions in the BNG in 2005. He left the BNG in early 2012.
In the October 21, 2012, Galician elections Beiras was the lead candidate for the Galician Left Alternative (AGE, Alternativa Galega de Esquerda) in the electoral district of A Coruña, where he was elected along with three other AGE candidates, including Yolanda Diaz, coordinator in Galicia of the United Left (Esquerda Unida).
Beiras was educated at the University of Santiago, the Sorbonne and the London School of Economics. He has lectured in the University of Santiago’s economics faculty since 1968 and is the author of many books on Galician economy and politics.
This interview was published on October 27, 2012, on the website of the international left magazine Sin Permiso. He is a member of its advisory council Beiras is a member. The interviewer is editorial board member Daniel Raventós.
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First, can you give us an evaluation of the October 21, 2012, Galician elections?
A preliminary clarification: I’ll do it through the prism of AGE, trying to make my assessment objective—i.e., truthful and intellectually rigorous—but without pretending to be “neutral”, given I was a citizen directly and personally involved in this poll as a candidate.
AGE set itself two basic goals in this electoral contest. First, to activate the vote of the social left that feels robbed of reliable representatives in the Galician legislative chamber. Second, to help in this way to overturn the parliamentary majority and occupation of the regional government by the Popular Party (PP, Partido Popular), “the demolition gang of ethnic cleansers, ecocides and sociopaths”.
Achieving the first goal depended solely on us in the AGE, while the second did not. In view of the results, I think we achieved the first goal to an extent far beyond the most optimistic plausible forecasts at the start of the campaign. You could say as an exercise in parody humour of that we have achieved “mission impossible”. By contrast, it is clear that the second goal has not been reached.
Why this seemingly contradictory outcome? In brief synthesis: in just a few weeks from our initial appearance on the political stage we have managed to reactivate and win the support of a very large chunk of the disillusioned and disappointed electorate that would have added to the ranks of abstention had the AGE not emerged. We have jumped from zero to nine MPs (with less than 200 extra votes it would have been 10), winning more than 200,000 votes, equal to 14% of the total. However, this was not enough to offset the slump in the vote for Socialist Party of Galicia (PSdG-PSOE) and the BNG. They were the formal parliamentary opposition to the PP during the last legislature, and had previously formed a two-party government in Galicia.
But hasn’t the left experienced proportionally significant progress at these elections?
Yes indeed, because in addition to what I was just saying we should note two important facts. First, in the last parliamentary term there were only 12 MPs to the left of the PSOE (those of the BNG), now there are 16 (seven BNG and nine AGE). True, the PP goes from having a wafer-thin majority (38, half the 75-seat chamber plus one) to having three more, but that seems irrelevant to me. What matters is that it allows the Xunta [government of Galicia] to “rule” against ordinary citizens, and for that it’s enough to have the support of a bare majority of 38 mindless and amoral androids who continue to act as they did in the last legislature.
By contrast, our entry into the parliament will change the script completely: we are going to fight implacably in defence of the social majority attacked by the plutocracy’s puppet [PP leader Alberto Nuñez Feijóo], and in no case will we take part in “rotten compromises”, as [Die Linke leader] Oskar Lafontaine would say. We will not be waiting for the actions by the Xunta to rouse ourselves in resistance, as does the conventional opposition. We will take the initiative in restoring the genuine role of the house of representatives, forcing the government to come out openly against initiatives that we will bring into parliament from where they have been worked out, namely by platforms of the most active and militant citizens.
The second important fact is that the electoral support achieved by the AGE has not been at the expense of the BNG and/or the PSdG-PSOE: the vast majority of voters they lost would not have voted for them in any case. That is an electorate they have lost definitively through not being a truly strong opposition to the PP in the last legislature. Yes, each of our seats “cost” about 25,000 votes, compared to 15,000 for each of the PP’s: if ours had had their “cost” of 15,000 votes, we would have had exactly 14 members and, vice versa, if every PP seat had cost what ours did, the PP would not have a majority. That is an eloquent example of the perverse effect the so-called d'Hondt rule [applied to unequal electorates] has.
AGE was the most voted-for list in cities like A Coruña and Santiago de Compostela. An exceptional result…
Yes, and also the most voted in Ferrol (in this city we tied with the PSdG-PSOE) and 20 more municipalities of western Galicia. Yes, exceptional.
Which political forces entered the AGE coalition? Given the different sensitivities involved, did any problems of understanding, or has the campaign has been calm on that front?
Our initial approach involved a broader spectrum than that finally organised within AGE. The original initiative came from Anova-Irmandade Nationalista (Anova-Nationalist Brotherhood/Sisterhood), a new type of mass meeting-based organisation, fostered by left nationalist citizens and forged through a process that started in March this year. It followed a bottom-up approach by promoting the creation — without any guiding “pre-cooked meal” — of open mass meetings across the country.
By late May there had been close to 50 of these and at that point it was decided to create an interim national coordinating group, which called a founding assembly for July 14. Anova was born on that day and I was chosen as its national spokesperson. On July 25, Day of the Galician Homeland, during our public launch at Santiago de Compostela, I made a proposal that suggested building a broad front electoral capable of giving a resounding response to the outrages of the PP in parliament and the Xunta, and in this way throwing them out of power in Galicia’s institutions.
That invitation was addressed first of all to the network of movements and trade union, social and civil organisations presently at work in Galician civil society. These are much more dense and active than is often understood outside the country and were already promoting a snowballing process of civil rebellion. It was directed on the other hand towards the nationalist political groups that were not part of Anova — including the BNG itself — and also towards left forces linked with statewide Spanish organisations, provided that these accepted the right of the Galician nation to self-determination. Obviously, the last tacit target of our proposal was the United Left in Galicia, which immediately announced its willingness to take part in building this broad electoral front.
The original plan was to carry out this process of convergence in September, but the Xunta’s opportunistic calling of elections in the last days of August forced us to speed up the process of dialogue and convergence, squeezing it into the bare 10 days the rules provide for formalising an electoral coalition, with another 10 to preselect and register candidates. We immediately repeated our proposal for a broad front, this time formally approaching each of the potential partners we had invited to the discussion.
The United Left accepted immediately and entered into discussion with us without mentioning the possible exclusion of any other of the organisations that had been invited. The leadership of the nationalist collective Commitment for Galicia (CpG, Compromiso por Galiza) — made up of the centre-left group More Galicia (+ G, Mais Galiza), the centre-right Galician Action (AG, Acción Galega) and the ecologist and Galician nationalist Ecosocialist Space (EEG, Espazo Ecosocialista Galego) — accepted coalition with Anova, but were for excluding United Left. On the eve of the deadline for electoral registration of the coalition, the rank-and-file of that alliance overturned this position, but it was by then too late to renegotiate the terms of the coalition already agreed between Anova and the United Left.
The leadership of the BNG, without even the slightest consultation of its rank and file, lost no time in making public its rejection of the proposal and its condemnation of those proposing it.
In this situation, we in Anova and the United Left decided to register our coalition as a “technical coalition” called Galician Left Alternative (AGE), but including in the document of our agreement a clause that left the door open to other groups to come in during the 10 days still available for the selection and registration of candidates. That clause allowed the coalition to incorporate Ecosocialist Space and [the all-Spanish green organisation] Equo as well, with members of these two groups being placed on AGE candidate lists. Both those collectives then took active part in the election campaign. And that’s how the AGE coalition took final shape.
Regarding problems of mutual understanding between the United Left and Anova, I must say that initially there were logical enough difficulties: different political cultures, ideological outlooks that were not identical — for both sides a risky test at crossing over the dividing line between “nationalism”' and “Spanishness”, which since the late-Franco period has been turned into an impassable frontier (little more than a taboo) — plus a lack of previous experience in political collaboration outside of joint action in certain mobilisations. But these difficulties arose and were satisfactorily resolved in the stage of negotiating the terms and basis of the coalition and the design of its campaign: in no way did they exist during the election campaign itself.
The key was that we shared a common programmatic basis, identified the main enemy as the primary goal of our struggle and defence of the ordinary citizen brutally attacked by the powers-that-be as the supreme reason for our alliance, combining with reciprocal give and take as a necessary condition for achieving the indispensable mutual confidence. Without that we knew we would not get to gain credibility and instill confidence in a citizenry fed up with the usual political representatives.
And, once up and running, relationships both personal (between individual candidates of this or that group) and collective (between the respective activist bases) advanced in harmony and increasing camaraderie. In addition, our specific respective messages — the United Left’s more class and worker oriented, Anova’s more embracing of national identity and the needs of the social majority — underwent a process of gradual osmosis as actions and meetings followed upon one another.
I am very satisfied, as well as truly and pleasantly surprised.
What impact do you think the results in Galicia will have on the Kingdom of Spain as a whole?
I don’t know, and don’t have enough reliable evidence to venture a forecast. However, what I do know — and knowing this beforehand was a crucial element in the diagnosis on which we based our risky proposal for a broad front — is that these elections in Galicia could not be analysed and undertaken, exclusively or even primarily, on the basis of internal Galician political dynamics alone. Rather they are an episode in the decomposition process of the current Spanish political regime of the Second Bourbon Restoration [of King Juan Carlos].
This process is similar, in their different socio-historical contexts, to that of late Francoism [1939-1975] and to the death agony of the First Borbon Restoration [1874-1931]. These led, in the second case, to the Second Republic [1931-1939] and, in the first, to the fraud of a “transition” [1975-1982] that usurped the democratic breakthrough for which the anti-Francoist and anti-fascist citizenry were fighting.
That lesson had to be absorbed from both precedents so as to orient all political battles, including the electoral ones, towards the horizon of a necessary democratic break with the current rotten regime. It implies a strategy at an all-Spanish level, and at that of the iniquitous European Union too, one where emancipatory Galician, Basque and Catalan nationalism cannot afford to practice isolationism.
I also want to give my opinion about those who believe, from the simple fact that the PP has managed to entrench itself for the moment in the regional government of Galicia, that this will give it a boost on the Galician and national levels: they are wrong through and through. I warned Feijóo during the campaign that if he believed, on the assumption that he would stay in charge of his “demolition gang” in the regional government, that this would stop the siege of citizens revolting against his policy of ethnocide … then he was completely wrong. With our entry into the parliament we will provide positive feedback for that citizen revolt: that’s the least we can achieve.
I warned Feijóo that when he articulated the false dilemma between “either me or chaos”, fed-up citizens would decipher the reality hidden beneath this fallacy: namely “Chaos, that’s me.” His previous administration produced chaos in Galician society: a further mandate would only redouble it. Days later, at the massive internationalist rally celebrated at A Coruña, comrade Stavros [Karagkounis] of SYRIZA, corroborated this diagnosis — and used the same terminology — as the key to the current situation in Greece.
How do you rate the results in the Basque Country elections, held on the same day as the Galician elections?
These days I'm trying to recover from the hectic pace of activity — absolutely ridiculous for someone of my age — which I got myself into during the campaign and where I repeatedly “over-revved” (I refer to my own internal engine, of course, not to the ongoing sociopolitical process). I’m trying to recover the corresponding loss of my increasingly scarce and non-renewable energy! So I have not had the opportunity nor the time to adequately inform myself and exchange views with my friends of the Basque nationalist left, and of the left of the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV).
So I can only note a couple of things. First, the overwhelming electoral tide of Basque nationalism has returned. Second, unfortunately (?) the left did not beat the PNV. The question mark in brackets shows that I am not sure whether the resulting balance of electoral forces between the two wings of Basque nationalism will be more or less favourable to the left’s strategic project. That strategic project seems more important to me than whether or not you get to govern in the present institutions of the Basque Autonomous Community, covering three of the seven territories of the Basque Country and which are, mutatis mutandi, as degenerated as formulas of “self-government” as in Galicia and Catalonia.
Speaking after the election you said that “we are in a period and historical context in which we cannot know how long this political regime will last”. Although you have referred to this issue before, can you explain further what you mean by such forceful expression?
I think this question is largely covered, as you effectively say, in one of my previous answers. I will just add my conviction that, either as citizens behaving as such will we end this rotten regime — where the constitution which some of us did not vote for but afterwards defended against its cooks turned into its wreckers is out of date in its most important norms — or there will be no possibility of Celtic Iberia avoiding the fate of that “foggy cattle yard” and “absurd deformity of European culture” denounced by Max Estrella, the protagonist of [Galician-born Spanish dramatist Ramón] Valle-Inclan’s theatre of the grotesque called Lights of Bohemia — written precisely during the First Bourbon Restoration’s peak period of decay [in 1920].