The 2008 economic crisis shook with tectonic force the old social stability in the Spanish State.
By Juan Ramos
The real estate speculative bubble ruptured, and the Spanish economy that relied on it (greatly indebted to European banks), begun collapsing, combined with the global economic recession. More than two million jobs were lost between 2011 and 2013, poverty soared and families had to greatly adjust their expenses. There have been 400,000 evictions since that date.
The working population felt the lash of the crisis, while those responsible amassed more wealth. Some cases have been recorded in the collective memory: 86 Bankia executives pocketed 15.5 million Euros from the entity, as income (untouched by the Treasury) added to their already bulky salaries (the “normal” compensation of Miguel Blesa, the President of Bankia, had been 20 million Euros in 8 years).
While the population was suffering, King Juan Carlos went to Africa on safari to hunt elephants, something that was only known because the monarch broke his hip. Or, reaching the height of nonsense, the regional and local governments had promoted large , absolutely useless infrastructure, for the benefit of their friends from large construction companies; like the famous Castellon airport without planes .
The governments that succeeded each other, the PSOE with the “social democrat” Zapatero and the PP with Rajoy applied the same neoliberal recipes to “get out of the crisis.” 100,000 million Euros were dedicated to rescuing the banks that had caused the “crack”, while cutting 20,000 million to public health and education. Both one and the other carried out labor reforms that have led today to a precarious employment previously unknown. Both attacked public pensions. And they reformed by “express way” the Constitution, untouchable since 1978, to establish as first in order, the payment of the debt to the creditors (mainly the big Spanish, French and German banks) over any social right. Again, financial capital won.
The impact of the economic crisis on people’s confidence towards institutions
This situation led to a deep questioning of the political institutions that governed us, and with which the rich had become richer at the expense of the working class and the impoverishment of the middle classes. Political parties and the electoral system were specially questioned.
On the one hand, the electoral system established in 1978 had left everything “tied and well tied” without even respecting the old bourgeois-democratic principle of “one person one vote” . On the contrary, it privileges the rural districts (more conservative), over the urban ones (of greater working class concentration). And within each constituency, large parties are privileged over smaller ones. Thus, for example, in the general elections of 2015, each of the Popular-Left Unity deputy candidates lost 461,553 votes, while the PP, Popular Party of Rajoy lost only 58,663 votes.
Above all, the discredit came by light of numerous cases of corruption. Since the year 2000, there have been more than 2,000 cases of corruption throughout the State. The PP has been especially involved, being convicted as a political party for its illegal financing. From the time of former Franco minister Manuel Fraga to Rajoy, all party treasurers have been charged. Four presidents of the Community of Madrid are also involved in corruption cases.
Corruption cases, in general, have been related to real estate or banking business … precisely the sectors that benefited most economically and contributed especially to the crisis.
Apart from illegal corruption, there is another legal one, which is present in the light of day, which shows the relationship between governments and big banking or brick capitalists . The so-called “revolving doors”, for which politicians, as a reward for their good services, end up systematically placed on the boards of directors of large companies. In order not to make an eternal list, we will mention only that former President Felipe González (PSOE) ended up as advisor to Natural Gas and former President Aznar (PP) in Endesa.
With all this, its no surprise that according to polls, “politicians” are (also currently) the second biggest concern of the population, only behind unemployment. In the numerous mobilizations, the most chanted songs were systematically “they don’t represent us”, “PSOE, PP, the same shit ” or treat the rulers as “chorizos” (thieves).
It is important to mention two other great expressions of the institutional crisis. The first would be the Monarchy. In addition to the famous “African hunt”, the royal family was involved in corruption cases, the King’s son-in-law currently in prison. The discredit was so great that in an unprecedented move, King Juan Carlos was forced to abdicate to his son in order to clean the image of the institution.
But we find the greatest institutional crisis around Catalonia. Spain has historically been built around the Castilian nationality, but never managed to integrate other peoples such as Catalonia, Euskal Herria or Galicia. In a different way, other territories are also considered “nationalities” such as Andalusia or the Valencia Country.
The Franco regime tried to solve this “problem” by violently denying national diversity. Spain was “one, great and free.” In addition to workers’ organizations, nationalist parties and trade unions were literally exterminated, any cultural expression proper to the territories was harshly persecuted, including the use of their own languages. Even names were to become more Spanish …
The decline of the Franco dictatorship was marked by a strong rise of the labor movement, but also by the social explosion of oppressed nationalities. The transition tried a new course, allowing a certain degree of autonomy in the legal framework of the “Autonomous Communities”, yet, diluting nationalities among other territories without any national reality of their own.
For many years, with more or less tension, depending on time and place , that form remained. But the crisis blew up Catalonian stability . Over the years, especially since 2012, the situation has been heating up, continuously mobilizing millions of Catalans. As a culmination of the sovereignty process, a self-determination referendum was held on October 1, 2017, in spite of the fact that thousands of policemen were brought from across the State to repress voters, there were more than two million votes for independence, with greater participation than in many other legal referendums.
As a result, and despite the fact that the Catalan government betrayed the popular will by proclaiming independence, only to suspend it exactly 8 seconds later, the State imprisoned the Catalan Government and unexpectedly intervened Catalan autonomy . Repression is since then an everyday occurrence, with episodes such as the recent imprisonment of several social activists under the accusation of “terrorism.”
Rise and fall of Podemos
About PSOE, we have already explained that it is a central structural part of the monarchical regime. In the early years of the crisis, to their left we found the United Left coalition (based on the old PCE), also integrated. Podemos famous propaganda group , when studying the inability of the United Left to carry the indignation wave , decided to launch the new purple party. For its launch they obtained vital help from the Anticapitalist Left ; the Spanish State’s “Mandelist” party .
Podemos managed to connect with the wave of social outrage that was running through the country at that time and that originated from 15M (the indignados movement) and the waves in defense of public services that followed. With a speech that proclaimed ‘’they call it democracy, but it isn’t “, Podemos labeled all bourgeois parties as part of the “caste” and raised a list of radical proposals. However, it was an openly electoralist bet limited to the institutional. The fever lasted only until it reached the limits set by the Regime.
They went from denouncing the “caste”, to mark as their main political objective to enter as ministers in a PSOE government . Iglesias went from showing off “living like people” in working-class neighborhoods, to moving to an exclusive € 600,000 villa. They went from being Republicans to asking the King to intercede for them. They went from defending a Catalonia referendum to calling for the imprisonment of the independence leaders.
Along the way Podemos broke apart, although always to the right. The haughty and arrogant character of the intellectuals of the leadership nucleus has turned the story of Podemos into a constant internal upheaval, a constant gush of resignations and fights resolved by decree . Internal fights rarely marked by substantive political debates, but rather what is popularly known as “armchair fighting”. Virtually no progressive trend came out of the process, except for small groups.
The “Anticapitalists”, the Mandelist group that dissolved their party to become an internal trend, despite the brutal turn of Podemos, remains placidly established within its bosom, playing its role of “stopper on the left” to the ruptures, in return of fitting into the party apparatus. Little by little, the purple formation has been losing electoral support, while PSOE recovers ; to whom they have systematically campaigned for, as the “big brother” necessary to form a “progressive government”.
To the right, and as culmination of the internal crisis of Podemos, “Más País” has appeared, the party of Íñigo Errejón, former number two of Pablo Iglesias. “Más País” appears with the leitmotif du aupar to PSOE to the government for free, presenting itself as the “responsible” left, opposed to the “intransigence” of Iglesias. That is, putting aside the last objections that Podemos still raises against the Socialist Party. Errejón’s bet is a direct missile to Podemos, trying to liquidate it and reintegrate it into the PSOE, and with it, in the “complete respectability” of the Regime.
Whether or not this is its last chapter, Podemos, which was born proclaiming itself as political heir of 15M, was actually its gravedigger. Its fundamental balance has been to help in the channeling of social outrage back to the institutions. Those institutions that suffered a serious crisis of legitimacy, and that Podemos managed to revive . It went from mobilization, to the ballot box. From “surround the Congress” to applaud it.
As his parliamentary spokesman insightfully wrote then, surprised by the visceral reaction of sectors of the right before his entrance to the Congress of Deputies: “ what hurt the institution was not that they had entered, rather that ,there were so many disappointed people outside”.
The “radical left”
What we could qualify as a “radical left” in the Spanish State has been composed since the Transition period by small groups. One might think that after 11 years of economic crisis and institutional instability, there would have been a leap in its extension. But the truth is the opposite ; what has advanced, in general, has been its institutional integration.
The Basque and Catalan Abertzale left, although we could not describe them as extreme left, at least they were anti-regime organizations. However, in the moments of greatest difficulty, they have responded by lining up behind it. In the Basque Country (Euskal Herria), after definitively closing the armed conflict that marked reality for 40 years, Bildu has become an efficient manager of local or regional institutions and has redefined its strategy around the search for an alliance with the Basque Nationalist Party , submissive representative of the Basque bourgeoisie.
In Catalonia, the CUP with different currents within it and, unlike Bildu, without government responsibilities beyond some minor town halls, has been unable to break politically with the official independence leadership, of which it appears as its left wing. They have not denounced that JxCAT and ERC, the parties in the government of the Generalitat, betrayed the referendum because their objective was none other than to force a negotiation with the regime. And they have never made it clear that self-determination will be impossible as long as the current independence leadership is in the lead, since it does not want a popular insurrection or anything that distances it from the EU governments.
As we have already mentioned, the Anti-Capitalist Left, the Spanish members of the Unified Secretariat-Fourth International ; heirs of the historic CSF, are a structural part of Podemos, in the form of an internal “Anti-capitalists” tendency . They dissolved their party, and with that, they definitively liquidated their revolutionary project. They govern the Andalusian City of Cádiz, where they are not distinguished from the management carried out by other municipalities linked to Podemos. Some other minor groups were dissolved in Anticapitalists or the CUP, or strategically subordinated to them.
Corriente Roja successfully managed to overcome the tsunami that represented the Podemos phenomenon, but we continue to be an organization of very modest size, although we have taken steps forward in our insertion into the working class. In the European elections of 2019 we obtained 9,812 votes. We have made progress, but our ability to politically influence the working class and youth is still very small.
“Alternative trade unionism”
The peak years of mobilization of this period were known internationally because of the 15M explosion, but there was also another series of mobilizations of great relevance. General strikes, where grassroots pressure and alternative unionism played a fundamental role.
From the mining strike and the Black March, which received intense solidarity while the miners strongly defended themselves against the repressive violence of the riot units. Of the Dignity Marches, which with a program headed by non-payment of debt and the repeal of labor reforms brought together tens of thousands of people in Madrid. From “Surround the Congress”, which pointed to the heart of the regime’s parliamentary system . Of white and green tides, in defense of health or education.
In the heat of these mobilizations, and the thousands of fights against dismissals, privatizations, etc … the role of CCOO and UGT was uncovered. As part of the Regime apparatus today, they were swept away by discredit, losing thousands of union delegates. Thus, today they do not have a union majority either in Galicia or in Euskal Herria, areas where nationalist unions have better numbers . Nor in important sectors such as transport. The CGT union, of an already remote anarchist matrix, also benefited from the discredit of CCOO-UGT.
There was a wide union dispersion made up of territorial, sector or even company unions. In general, those ruptures went to the left, seeking positions more committed to the struggle. In that context, after an anti-democratic breakdown of CCOO, Comisiones de Base (Co.bas) was developed, which, unlike the other minor unions, did not proclaim itself but instead raised a strategic orientation of union regrouping towards a combative and democratic Unified Workers Central.
In Corriente Roja we are actively involved in the impulse of Co.bas, respecting its autonomy and plurality, precisely because of the role it can play in the reorganization of the working class and its mobilization. Co.bas is also a humble union that, due to a combative and democratic union proposal, has achieved a significant implementation in the labor sectors of Madrid, Catalonia, the Canary Islands ,Andalusia and now in Aragon, after its recent merger with Intersindical, a union implanted in important metallurgical companies of the region.
We know there is an interconnection between the political and trade union, but they are not the same thing. We also know that the mobilization and organization of the working class is the main ingredient of the Revolution. In the Spanish State there is a rich process, still molecular, of reorganization of the working class. Helping to rebuild a combative, democratic and unitary unionism, while standing up against union bureaucracy, can play a decisive role. Especially, in a context in which signs of a new economic recession preannounce new convulsions, with the regime shaken by the Catalan conflict and increasing its cracks, while Podemos, due to its decline, will not be able to play the brake belt role played In the recent past.
 “Tied up and well tied” was the phrase used by dictator Franco to describe the conditions, before approving his succession to King Juan Carlos.
Translated by Blas (Corriente obrera Litci )