On September 26 last year, Podemos’s Castilla-La Mancha secretary-general Jose Garcia Molina said that his party’s agreement keeping the regional Spanish Socialist Workers Party (PSOE) government in office in the autonomous community had “died of depression and shame”.
Garcia Molina said the PSOE’s agreement with his radical anti-austerity party had expired “waiting for one of its signatories to breathe life and inspiration into it, waiting for justice to be done to what had been presented and signed, but most of all it died from shame at realising some people’s lack of commitment to their promises and undertakings”.
The unfulfilled undertakings of the PSOE — Spain’s major centre-left party — included laws on a guaranteed minimum income, transparency in administration and citizen participation in government.
The announcement by Podemos Castilla-La Mancha that it would no longer necessarily support PSOE Premier Emiliano Garcia-Page raised the possiblity of an early election for the 33-seat Castilla-La Mancha parliament. The PSOE (15 seats) has relied on Podemos (two seats) for a one-seat majority over the right-wing People’s Party (PP).
It also turned Garcia-Page into a more determined conspirator against Pedro Sanchez, the PSOE’s then general secretary. Garcia-Page supported the PSOE allowing the PP to govern in the Spanish state after the inconclusive Spanish general election in June last year — the issue over which Sanchez has clashed with the PSOE establishment.
Sanchez not only refused to support returning the PP to power, he also spooked the PSOE’s regional “barons” like Garcia-Page by putting out feelers towards Podemos, other left forces and Catalan nationalists about their possible support for a minority PSOE administration.
Sanchez was deposed last October by the barons. When he re-stood as PSOE general secretary, García-Page was a leading attack dog. The Castilla-La Mancha premier specialised in accusing Sanchez of having “podemosised” the PSOE — but failed to stop Sanchez’s succesful re-election.
‘A Podemos of government’
Yet on July 13 Garcia-Page told the media that PSOE and Podemos had reached an in-principle agreement: Podemos will approve the regional government’s new budget and take two seats in the ministry. Garcia Molina will become Garcia-Page’s deputy premier.
From demouncing the scourge of “podemosisation” in PSOE, Garcia-Page is now its leading exponent. García Molina, who last year said the premier was “more concerned about beheading Sanchez than restoring life to Castilla-La Mancha”, said: “Let’s not get tied up in what happened but in what should happen. We should concentrate on what unites us. On building confidence so that there is stability.”
Just three months earlier, Podemos voted with the PP to block the Castilla-La Mancha regional budget, saying the García-Page government had ignored its amendments. The main differences in the new budget are a €120 million “integral plan of citizen income guarantees” and €14 million in increased funding to make Castilla-La Mancha’s agriculture more ecologically sustainable.
Once the in-principle agreement was reached, it received support from Podemos’s Spanish state-wide general secretary Pablo Iglesias, who tweeted: “We do politics to change things. At times, only governing brings change. Now the membership decides.”
For Iglesias, the Castilla-La Mancha deal is as an example that could help pressure the PSOE to work more closely with Podemos and its allies in the Spanish parliament. It could build on a July 17 meeting between the two to set up a liaison committee to probe areas of potential agreement.
However, Podemos members in Castilla-La Mancha were not asked whether their party should enter its first-ever governmental alliance with the PSOE. Rather, the question to which they were offered a “yes/no” choice was: “Do you to think Podemos Castilla-La Mancha should vote in favour of the budget if on the basis of a government agreement there is a guarantee that its own policies of guaranteed income will be launched and be under its control?”
To further help swing support behind the deal, supported by the regional Podemos executive with 26 votes in favour and nine abstentions, Garcia Molina stressed that the Podemos ministers would refuse perks such as the use of official cars and that “we won’t renounce anything in our DNA”.
Opposition quickly emerged. The Anticapitalist current, representing about 10% of Podemos members, was prominent but not alone in criticism.
On July 21, Anticapitalist supporters and members of Madrid parliament Isidro Lopez and Raul Camargo wrote in Publico: “Over the last week we have seen a profound shift in the political direction of Podemos.
“Contrary to the majority understanding of what the results of [Podemos’s February all-Spanish congress] meant, there is a turn towards a dynamic of governmental agreements with the PSOE...
“Given a correlation of forces favourable to the PSOE, a policy of generalised governmental agreements means ... accepting one’s conversion into the left wing of the regeneration of the regime.”
In Castilla-La Mancha, Anticapitalist supporters called on Podemos members to reject the agreement, not least “because no document has been made available and no debate has taken place”.
Podemos’s second MP in Castilla-La Mancha, Anticapitalist sympathiser David Llorente, said: “An agreement to govern with the PSOE as a minority would be a mistake.” He called for the single question to members to be replaced by two: one on whether or not to support the budget and a second, in the case of a Yes majority, on whether Podemos should enter government.
Some well-known supporters of Iglesias have also opposed the deal. For example, Diego Canamero, former leader of the Andalusian Workers Union (SAT) and a Podemos MP in the Spanish parliament, wrote in a July 18 El Diario op-ed: “In this complex context, I believe — with prudence, modesty and all the respect in the world towards the comrades who are designing our political strategy — that the PSOE is not our natural ally...
“Getting closer to the PSOE while Podemos does not greatly exceed it in popular and parliamentary backing will only serve to rehabilitate ... the worst PSOE. And worse, we could get so seriously contaminated that ordinary people stop seeing us as an alternative.”
However, such criticism had litle effect on the membership ballot. With just under half the active membership participating, 77.98% voted in favour of the agreement and only 22.02% against.
Podemos’s local organisational secretary Maria Diaz said: “We are in no way going to disappoint the confidence of the overwhelming majority who understand that it is the moment to show that we know how to fight and how to govern.”
Garcia Molina said: “We are maturing without getting old ... The question is not so much about being in a government with the PSOE, but rather whether we are capable of sharing the business of government with the PSOE, knowing we are two different parties.”
Calling on the minority to accept the result, Garcia Molina added: “In Podemos there’s an in-depth debate that remains to be resolved.”
He was echoing Podemos’s Andalusian leader and Anticapitalists supporter Teresa Rodriguez, who told the July 25 Confidential: “There’s a legitimate and reasonable debate about how we relate to the PSOE. The only way to propose alternatives to the policies of austerity is via agreement with the PSOE, I agree with that.
“However, there’s an in-depth strategic difference, one which could put our future at risk, about whether we can be in PSOE governments without getting worn down.”
In a July 18 Cuartopoder piece, Podemos MP in the Spanish parliament Manuel Monereo commented on the complexities of the situation in which Unidos Podemos (the electoral alliance between Podemos and the United Left) has to work out its tactics towards the PSOE: “Pedro Sańchez’s project was clear from the beginning: limit — reduce the political and electoral weight of — Unidos Podemos.
“To do that it was necessary to have strong polarisation against the PP, to hegemonise the opposition and to reclaim a monopoly of the values and imagery of the left.
“Has Pedro Sanchez now really changed? I don’t know... [But] Sanchez has constructed a clear majority on the leading bodies of his party, still has to face an internal opposition front ... and — this is fundamental —has revitalised and politised a party and an electoral base that was vegetating halfway between resignation and nostalgia.”
Monereo spelled out this view of the battleground: “The struggle for unity has to be carried out with sincerity and right to the end. The social perception is that with Sanchez, a PSOE is winning that has turned to the left, that defends social rights and firmly opposes the policies of the PP. Independently of what we might guess or think about this new PSOE, it is necessary to respond to the challenge of unity.
“What should be our political tactic? To make unity, political alternative and the overall project a mass discussion, one that brings us closer to the demands of citizens, that again politicises a society that shows signs of disenchantment with politics and ... also wants political alternatives that are simultaneously possible, viable and radical.”
Hopefully, Podemos Castilla-La Mancha’s life as a small minority within a PSOE government provides experiences that can clarify the conditions for successful engagement by United Podemos with the Spain’s main party of social democracy.
[Dick Nichols is Green Left Weekly’s European correspondent, based in Barcelona. A longer version of this article will soon appear at Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal.]