Spanish state: ‘Podemos has won new people over to the left, to oppose neoliberal policies’ -- United Left

Federal coordinator of the United Left in the Spanish state, Cayo Lara. Photo from Público. 

More analysis of politics in the Spanish state.

By Daniel del Pino, Madrid; translated from Público for Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal by Federico Fuentes

June 5, 2014 -- The federal coordinator of the United Left (Izquierda Unida, IU) in the Spanish state, Cayo Lara, received Público just hours after the June 2 rally in support of a referendum [to decide whether Spain should become a republic] and with the European election results still hot news.

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Over the last few days, IU has once again demonstrated that its fundamental principles are sacred, no matter what. Republicanism is its element, which is why it was so quick to react to the king’s abdication by demanding what many see as a basic democratic right: that the people should decide. Focused on the mobilisations in support of a referendum over what kind of state model for Spain, and with the European election results still hot news, Cayo Lara (born in Argamasilla de Alba, Ciudad Real, in 1952) yesterday received Público in his office in the Congress of Deputies.

The IU federal coordinator does not believe the results in the European election [10% nationally] were bad for his organisation, and if errors were committed, he has no problems in accepting them. His analysis of the vote in the Madrid region is one of caution—the Plural Left[i] came fifth—but he points to some of the factors that could have influenced the results: certain positions held by people within the Madrid federation who viewed 15M [the May 15 Movement, otherwise referred to as the indignado movement] with suspicion, and above all, Moral Santin’s presence in Bankia[ii]. Lara says the ex-advisor to [former IMF director general Rodrigo] Rato “is not a comrade”, adding that everyone in IU should pay the price for what they do.

He is also not afraid to talk about Podemos. He welcomes their emergence “because they add to the left”, but he does not see building an alliance as an easy task. He does not like the term “political caste”, which “puts everyone in the same basket”, nor their “full-frontal attacks against trade unions” and recalls that the agreement with the PSOE (Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party) in Andalusia was “democratically decided upon” by party members in Andalusia[iii]. He recognises the merits of the campaign carried out by Pablo Iglesias and his running mates, even if he feels proud of IU’s performance and does not believe IU lost votes to Podemos because, even if the programs are similar, that were not aimed at the same people.

Throughout the campaign you repeated the idea that the PP [People’s Party] and the PSOE have put in march a plan, together with the Royal Palace, Prisa[iv] and IBEX 35[v], to ensure the survival of the two-party system. Is the king’s abdication part of this operation? Did you know more than what you let on?

We did not have any more information than what is today public knowledge. The issue is that the PP and the PSOE are tied to the maintenance of the monarchy and the monarchy is not going to oppose their plan. I believe that [PSOE general secretary Alfredo Perez] Rubalcaba’s decision to bring forward the Socialist Party’s Congress is directly linked to the decision to hold onto the monarchy and accept the abdication. I don’t know if it is true that Rajoy and Rubalcaba already knew in March that the king was going to abdicate, but I am convinced that the exact date and time had not been set; instead, it was determined by the results of the European elections.

Yesterday’s El Mundo claimed that the King took this step so as to not abdicate right after the national elections[vi]. Does this surprise you?

I believe the fact that the two main parties of the system won less than 50 of the vote has set off a number of alarm bells. And the economic power, which is the hand that rocks the cradle, saw the possibility that we could be heading towards municipal, regional and national elections that would definitively put into question the equilibrium maintained by the two major parties, and on which the monarchy rests. Given this, they made a decision.

What do you think of Rubalcaba’s position and his complete opposition to holding a referendum?

It clashes with the republican ideals, sentiment and thought of a large part of the PSOE’s own base. This decision is opening up a big crack within the PSOE, among its members and among an important part of its voter base.

Can you have republican roots but prefer a monarchy, as the PSOE secretary general said?

This is an important contradiction, but beyond this, what we are talking about here is not whether you support a republic, but whether you support democracy. What we are asking for is a democratic right. Regardless of the way each person may choose to vote, we should all have the right to decide on the state model we want. What they are doing is denying us the very essence of democracy. That is why I believe that the PSOE is going down a dangerous path.

Is a bout of republicanism a disease, as El País put it yesterday?

If anything is a disease, it is having bouts of Medievalism. To say that someone is born to rule and is educated from a young age to be nothing less than head of state, without allowing the people to have a say, that is a sickness. This makes us subjects, not free citizens

How do you feel about the media coverage of the abdication?

It is in tune with what the media has been saying throughout the entire transition period [following the fall of Franco’s dictatorship]. The figure of the monarch has been propped up and protected by the media, and when support in the monarchy has declined, they have bombarded us with nicities about the monarchy to ensure that power is handed over to the prince. All the media outlets have played up the role of the monarchy, which has at the same time provoked even greater opposition among a section of the population.

Do you believe that any PSOE deputy will be willing to break party discipline and cross the floor to vote against the law of succession?

If anyone does that, they would run the risk of being punished by the party. I am sure that many PSOE deputies are thinking about the issue, but I am not sure if any would dare to take that step or not.[vii]

A spokesperson for the Royal Palace said yesterday that “it would be reasonable for the king be given immunity to avoid any nonsense”. What is your opinion?

There is no nonsense here. If the king’s immunity was to cover the whole period that he was a monarch, he could not be tried for anything that happened during that time. I think he should be treated like any other citizen. I would go further and say that the immunity that certain sectors enjoy, including myself, should be solely limited to our parliamentary activity. From there on, anything that has to do with corruption, with things in our private lives, should not be covered by this immunity and all citizens should be equal in front of the law. This includes the king during this stage of stepping down.

The government, the mass media and even the attorney general have for days been repeating the idea that whatever is not in the constitution does not exist, but article 92 seems to contradict this. Could a referendum be called on the basis of this article?

If the king had agreed, then yes. In fact, I proposed it in 2009. The king can call one if the president of the government proposes it, and that can be ratified, by parliament, the logical thing to do. The current constitution could have allowed for such a referendum. In any case, the government also has mechanisms at its disposal to modify the constitution. In politics, we have become accustomed to seeing the constitution modified in the space of one afternoon, as occurred with article 135[viii], so this position has no solid foundation.

Yesterday, IU met with various left forces to come up with a way to propose a referendum. What will IU’s strategy be from now on?

What we had yesterday was an open call by political organisations and the National Republican Union[ix] met in the afternoon with representatives of social groups. What is at stake here is the essence of democracy. Our objective is to ensure that on Saturday [June 7], the streets are filled with people demanding, in a peaceful and massive way, their right to be consulted. And this is the path we will continue to follow until the day of the coronation, which will supposedly occur on June 19.

Do you really believe there is a possibility a referendum will be held?

Possibilities always exist. The only battle you lose is the one you don’t fight.

Has the idea of calling a symbolic referendum been raised?

So far, we have not discussed it and I don’t want to play the role of spokesperson. In IU, we debate these issues democratically with everyone, even if this takes time.

What do you think of the fact that Podemos did not attend the meeting [that issued the call]?

I think it was wrong. I don’t understand it. Not even if it had to do with bigger differences, which it didn’t, because we spoke on the telephone. I think that there is no excuse when it comes to such an important issue.

Do you think that the issue of the referendum could serve to promote new alliances on the left?

No necessarily. We are immersed in a project that some believe is moving very slowly and that others believe could go faster, but any such process can only advance when both parts want it to. Unity is not easy, and on the left it is particularly complex. But we are for the creation of an alternative political and social bloc because we believe there is only one way to defeat deeply entrenched neoliberal politics. We are talking about taking on the core of the PSOE and PP and all the economic power they represent. This bloc has to have a program in order to be a credible alternative, but this has to be built from below, and that is what we are doing.

I repeat, there will be those who think we should be moving ahead more quickly, but we went into the European elections in an alliance with 12 organisations, and we will continue to build alliances, starting with those we have already built, and taking into consideration the fact that this is a diverse country in which many different positions exist, including ones that support independence, something that weighs a lot on the possibility of building alliances. Because, for example, we do not share this model, we support a federal model where all the territories and citizens live together. I don’t like borders, there are too many as it is. The system, neoliberal policies, tough EU policies, financial power, capital, have all punished us regardless of whether we speak Euskera [Basque], Catalan, Galician or Castilian, they have punished us in different languages, but above all they have punished specific social classes. Workers fired with 20 days notice in Catalonia are the same as workers fired with 20 days notice in Castilla-La Mancha or in Madrid.

A few days ago, [former IU federal coordinator] Julio Anguita said that protests in support of a republic are fine but what is needed is to outline what type of republic and model we want for the country. What type of republic does IU want?

We have to build it. What we want is to take a first democratic step: citizens should elect the head of state and the state model. Then comes the constitution. We want a constituent process so that there we can decide upon what type of republic we want, but it will not be IU alone who decides that.

We are working on our model at the moment, but we have already worked out a few key points: economic policy must be subordinated to the general interest and political power has to stand above all economic powers. In a republic, economic power cannot stand above the state or democracy.

Another important priniciple, from our point of view, is that a republic has to be secular. After this, rights must also be treated as fundamental. Your bread, your work, your home, your health and your education have to be guaranteed. What use is it to me to be told that article 47 of the Spanish constitution gives me the right to work if my daughter has to migrate? And just like my daughter, hundreds of thousands of young people have had to leave, not because they wanted to experience something different, but because they were forced to because they could not find any work here.

Or that the constitution says you have the right to receive some kind of support if you lose your job, yet we have almost four million people who are not receiving unemployment benefits. They have broken the social pact of 1978 and this constitution has become a dead letter.

We also want to guarantee a federal state model. We cannot force peoples to remain bound to this state. We have to discuss and decide this among all of us, but we will respect the democratic rights of the people.

There are many elements that we want to include in this republic, but this is something we have to build together, with lots of people. If there is a referendum, it will also open up the opportunity to carry out educational work.

A republic represents radical democracy because it is impossible to conceive of a republican project that is not based on citizen’s participation in public life. That is what 15M demanded in the streets.

But would you prefer a presidentialist-based republic like France or one in which the figure of president stands above parties and has as their main objective ensuring that the constitution is complied with?

I am not a supporter of presidentialist regimes, I believe in democracy, and for me, democracy is popular participation.

For example, do you support direct elections for the presidency or letting the parliament decide?

If the people elect the president, then only the people can remove them via an election. If the parliament chooses the president, then evidently they will be subject to the control of the parliament and therefore to popular sovereignty, and they would not be able to do things they are not allowed to.

Another issue is the protection of the figure of the president. What we need to ensure is that a balance exists between powers. I don’t support the concentration of power. Here it’s“neither god, nor king, nor parliament”. The president of the republic has to ensure that the constitution is complied with and ensure, for example, that a government sticks to its promises.

[IU parliamentarian] Alberto Garzon said in an interview that he preferred a right-wing republic to a monarchy…

For me, the concept of a republic goes beyond either left-wing or right-wing ideological concepts and we have to frame the discussion as such. No one elected by blood rites has democratic authority over the citizenry. I prefer a republic to any type of monarchy. This republic would be whatever the citizens wanted it to be, it could be left-wing or right-wing, but that is a different issue.

The European elections revealed that the total votes for IU, Podemos, Equo and Commitment[x] could be enough to convert them into the biggest force in a number of important cities. Is the creation of a broad front in the lead up to the upcoming elections more possible than ever given these results for the left?

The electoral system does not punish small political forces at the level of municipal elections. The D’Hont Law is essentially proportional; it slightly favour s the biggest force, but only slightly. For example, if there are 3000 votes and to elect a councillor you need 300 votes, if you get 299 you are not elected, but if you get 301 then you are guaranteed to be elected. That allows everyone to go to the elections with their own program and afterwards come to an agreement when it’s time to form government.

So, depending on the municipality, there could be specific agreements? That’s right, but they would be carried out on the basis of the program. We do not close off the possibility of any future agreement.

Regional elections are a bit different and the electoral system can hurt your chances, which means that each case will have to be looked at on its own merit, with all political forces. For the national elections, it is clear that the PSOE and the PP have a numerical guarantee that in the provinces where only a few deputies are elected, they will have the majority of representation. For example, the PP and the PSOE only need 60,000 votes to elect a deputy, while we need 150,000. In the lead-up to these elections, the possibility or necessity of working together are greater than in other elections.

But the process is open and we have a willingness to unite even if this is always subordinated to the key issue: the program, which has to be achievable so that we are not deceiving the people.

I have asked you this at two different media conferences, but you haven’t answered me: What is your reading of the fact that Podemos won more votes than IU in various communities, above all in Madrid?

There is a new tenant on the left and I prefer that a spot is taken on the left rather than the right with a populist conception: look at what has happened in Europe.

That said, I don’t think the difference has been that great in those communities where they beat us. In fact, rather than Podemos performing worse in places where IU has filled a space, the opposite has occurred, and both of us have increased our support. This occurred in Asturias, for example. Perhaps we share part of the same electorate, but I think there is another part that clearly votes either for one or the other. It is neither anti-IU nor anti-Podemos, but it has a more defined position.

They achieved a big vote in Madrid, but this is not where they overtook us by the greatest margin of votes. My opinion is that in Madrid, the heart of 15M, the vote was influenced by the fact that we had people in our organisation who were not attentive to this development, who did not have the same attitude as Federal IU had, for example. I’m not talking about the entire Madrid federation, but there have been those that have not looked upon 15M with favour able eyes. There are statements, which are public, which have not helped. Then there are cases, such as Bankia, that have greatly damaged us, and that is despite the fact that we have taken out a court case on the issue.

Did you take too long to present it?

Perhaps, but a political decision by the party leadership in regards to Bankia was taken more than a year and a bit ago. We have had technical problems, everything had to be laid out publicly, we only have the resources that we have, and it took us time to detail the case, but the delay had nothing to do with a lack of political will or, as some others have interpreted it, that we did not present the complaint because an IUCM [United Left – Madrid Community] representative was on the Bankia board of directors …

But say the name, because otherwises its seems you are referring to [imprisoned ex-PP treasurer Luis] Barcenas…

Yes, Moral Santin, I have no problems saying it because this did not influence the way in which our organisation responded. The fact that Moral Santin was vice-president of Bankia had no impact on the federal leadership when it came to making a political decision and to the case that we later took to the courts. The case is against the 31 members of the board of directors and each one will have to defend what they did.

Did Moral Santin influence the way people voted? My opinion is that it could have swayed some, but not only in Madrid, because I have been asked about this issue across the Spanish state. What should have logically happened? Well, representatives should raise their hands when they they see something abnormal occurring, but he didn’t. And that has cost us. We don’t know how much, but we are sure it has.

In any case, for me that is not the whole story. I believe people know that the federal leadership took a clear-cut position on this issue from the start. That’s the position of this coordinator and what this coordinator represents. One thing I am certain about in politics is that whoever is responsible, has to pay. I am certain that the person who was responsible for this was not a comrade of the organisation. When someone begins to act in a corrupt manner within an organisation such as ours or helps to corrupt it, they are no longer a comrade of the organisation. They are not my comrade, I want nothing to do with them.

If someone makes a mistake, we can stop and support them, but those that are solely interested in advancing their personal interests do not have the right to weaken the hope and work of an entire organisation such as ours. Honesty has to be one of the first banners raised by the left because if we support a society of equals, what are you going to say to the citizens if you don’t carry out your promises?

So you don’t believe that you were unable to channel all of the discontent or mobilisation in Madrid?

It’s possible that we were unable to channel part of the discontent, but I don’t think we could have channelled all of it, anyway. We will never adopt part of Podemos’ message. We are not going to use a discourse that says we are neither left nor right, because we don’t believe in that. I can’t go to steal some votes from the right using that discourse. As United Left, I can’t go and try to deceive the people.

We believe in social classes, in the democratic class struggle, we understand that society is made up of exploited and exploiters, that the proletarian is part of the exploited… we can’t deny the existence of classes. We can’t adopt that discourse; we don’t believe in it, it is not ours.

Podemos has spoken out against the agreement [to form government] with the PSOE in Andalusia, right?

Our people democratically decided upon this agreement. This may have more or less undermined our support, and there are differing opinions, or perhaps it didn’t have a negative impact on our support, but we are not going to use an election campaign to question an agreement that our comrades democratically decided upon in Andalusia, one that was decided upon by the ranks, because I also believe in the federal state and that not everything can be decided by whoever heads up the list in Madrid. Each federation has its competencies. In Extremadura [were IU refused to vote with the PSOE to bring down a PP government], we did not share their criteria and Podemos directed its message in a particular direction, but we are not going to do the same. We have a history.

Are we going to carry out a radical critique of trade unions? I belong to a trade union and the criticisms I have of my union I raise inside the organisation in order to improve it as much as possible, but I am not going to carry out a full-on attack because I am not going to side with those that want to put an end to trade unions. Trade unions are responsible for the labour rights we enjoy today. That they have fallen asleep on the job, that they are not doing what they should be doing… ok, we can carry out all the self-criticism that we want, but I am not going to wage an all-out struggle against unionism.

Some people did not live through that part of the Transition where we had to struggle for labour rights, and I don’t criticism them for that, but nothing we have today has come for free. The “political caste”… I don’t believe in this idea of a caste. I can’t use a discourse that speaks of castes: here we have some scoundrels, people who have economic power, capitalists, that are part of the financial power, that are benefiting from the suffering of the people, who convert everything into money, who each day value the human factor less and less, and who only generate a speculative economy that brings with it poverty, misery and hunger. I can’t talk about a problem of castes when I know that inside the PP and the PSOE there are people who have subordinated themselves to these economic interests; they have a first name and surname, I can’t condemn all of them and put them in the same basket. That is not fair.

There are many elements in Podemos’ discourse that we cannot use because they are not part of our DNA or our roadmap. We are against corruption, to the death, whatever is necessary, whenever it is necessary, and if we have had to deal with two, three, four cases, we have and they have been removed. A group that comes into this with a clean sheet has it much easier from this point of view, and that is fine.

It should be clear that our discourse has never been able to reach a certain part of the electorate while Podemos has had the capacity and ability to connect with them with some good media work, with a good communicator, with a very personality-based campaign that was well-designed. Now, for me, what is important out of all of this is that they have won new people over to the left, to oppose neoliberal policies. Out of all of this, that is for me the fundamental value of Podemos.

For me, the fact that we got a million more votes compared to 2009 is not a defeat. There are some comrades who think that if we had of had a different attitute we could have taken votes away from Podemos. I don’t think so. Nor am I pissed off or unhappy about this. A certain number of votes have been won over to our cause, and if some voters have left us, then we must have done something wrong and we will have to rectify that. But other spaces exist, not just ours. Now it’s time to work on a definite project, because their program is very similar to ours.

There are those who think you are condemned to come to some kind of understanding….

It’s not a problem of being condemned. I don’t agree with this. Time will encourage the left to come to some understanding. Sometimes it is difficult to explain what we are building. We are involved in a very important process in Galicia, which has occurred from the bottom-up[xi]; the same in Catalonia, where there exists two organisations, ours and ICV [Initiative for Catalonia Greens] which is a sister organisation; Batzarre in Navarra, with small organisations… but which this time has involved 12 organisations. I insist, this also part of a bottom-up process we have been working on.

We haven’t been able to come to an understanding with Commitment in Valencia because there was a split with our organisation… we cannot build something that goes against what our people in each territory want, and any unity has to come from the bottom up, not from the top down.

But someone could respond to your “bottom-up” talk by pointing to the issue of primaries…. Can primaries be a key issue for not reaching an agreement?

Right now, in Andalusia, we are holding primaries. But of course, when [Podemos] proposed them to us…. you can’t come as they did at the start, saying to the media that we need to hold open primaries to see who the people want to be their candidates for the European elections. Look, it’s not that it’s a new element, it’s that it has nothing to do with a political organisation that builds a project based on a program and with a specific type of democracy. And after we have already formed certain alliances.

Moreover, you can’t come and say: “Clean up your house, because I don’t like how it is, and then come back and invite me in.” Things don’t work like that. If they want to speak formally and they consider themselves to be a political force, because Izquierda Anticapitalista (Anti-capitalist Left, IA)[xii] is involved, then they should have approached us in a more natural manner. But don’t go and kick up a fuss in the media. I am sure that some in Podemos were not contemplating an alliance with IU for the European elections.

For us, it’s not that it was a problem, it’s that it would have set back everything we had achieved so far because primaries would not have allowed us to bring together the different alliances we had built in a diversity of territories, and ensure gender parity, something we had already achieved.

But in the end they won five European parliamentarians with their primaries….

And good on them, because they add to the left. We welcome them. There is no need to be alarmed by that.


[i] The Plural Left is the electoral coalition being built by IU.

[ii] In 2012, a corruption and fraud scandal engulfed the Caja de Madrid building society, which during 2010 and 2011 had fused with other building societies credit unions struck by the financial crisis. The end result of this process was the creation in 2011 of the private bank, Bankia, headed by former IMF chief Rodrigo Rato. Leading IU member and former Madrid region MP José Antonio Moral Santín had been the vice-president of the Caja de Madrid since 1996, and was appointed to the board of Bankia in representation of the Caja de Madrid. In 2011 his income was around €500,000, causing a scandal on the left and within IU. In May 2012, IU demanded his resignation from the Bankia board, which was soon removed when Bankia was nationalised to avoid its collapse. The Bankia case is one of the leading symbols of the intertwined corruption of Spain’s business and political elites.

[iii] IU governs with the PSOE in the regional government of Andalusia.

[iv] Prisa is one of the largest media monopolies in Spain and Latin America, and owns the daily El País.

[v] IBEX 35, which stand for Spanish Exchange Index is the benchmark stock market index of the Bolsa de Madrid, Spain's principal stock exchange.

[vi] To take place in 2015 or early 2016.

[vii] At the Congress of Deputies vote on June 11 only one PSOE deputy abstained, while two left the chamber to avoid voting.

[viii] In August 2011, the previous PSOE government, with the the support of the PP, amended article 135 of the Spanish constitution to make European institutions, in particular the European Central Bank, the first creditors of the Spanish state, giving debt repayment priority over all other expenditure, including social welfare.

[ix] Umbrella of republican organisations in the Spanish state.

[x] Compromís, a left-green regionalist party based in Valencia.

[xi] A reference to the Alternative Galician Left (AGE), a coalition involving IU’s Galician branch and the left-nationalist force ANOVA, along with the Galician branch of green party Equo and the Galician Ecosocialist Space.

[xii] Fourth International affiliate in the Spanish state.