After having been without a government since December’s inconclusive elections, Spain will go to the polls once more on Sunday. This time, however, there will be a new option on the ballot paper: an electoral coalition between the upstart Podemos and veteran Izquierda Unida (IU or United Left), christened Unidos Podemos. Pablo Iglesias, Podemos’ leader, has shown once again his political genius in forging a broad coalition with the minority party who have consistently polled well. With one of the IU’s constituent members being the Communist Party of Spain, the party have been able to surpass the Partido Socialista Obrero Español (PSOE, Spain’s historical social-democratic party) as the country’s second electoral force.
But Iglesias, who once remarked in a thinly-veiled allusion to Marx’s observation on the Paris Communards, ‘Heaven is not taken by consensus, it is taken by assault’ knows that in Spain’s new electoral landscape becoming the second largest party won’t be enough to form a government. What he is gambling on is that it will be enough to force PSOE’s hand into creating a coalition government with Unidos Podemos with Iglesias as Prime Minister. Given that Pedro Sanchez, the leader of the PSOE, has been at the centre of accusations of racism in recent days after appearing to clean his hands after meeting a black voter on the campaign trail, the party is in desperate need of an image overhaul that the coalition could provide.
Yet before we allow ourselves to be swept up in the ‘progressive’ fervour with which several Anglophone commentators, most recent among them Owen Jones, are greeting developments on the Iberian Peninsula, we must examine the facts in the context of the prevailing historical conditions. Jones’ attempt to do this, in the Guardian, betrays a fundamental lack of understanding and blinds him to the dangers inherent in the present historical moment in Spain, which are just as visceral as in the rest of Europe. He naively writes that the years of Franco’s dictatorship ‘add a layer of revulsion for the far right in the eyes of many Spaniards’. Here he either forgets or is ignorant of the fact that fascism did not come to Spain like it did to Italy or to Germany; it came as a military coup against a democratically elected government of the Left.
Before we assume that this is unthinkable today, it is worthwhile remembering that it was only in 2012 that a serving officer in the army told a website: ‘Catalan independence? Over my dead body and that of many soldiers’. In 1936 the army too abhorred the idea of Catalan separatism, and the unity of the Spanish state was one of the rallying calls to the ‘Nationalist’ cause. When Lluis Companys, the President of Catalonia’s fledgling federal parliament, was later delivered by the Gestapo into victorious Nationalist hands, he was executed by firing squad. With this in mind, it is no minor detail that Podemos, alone among the major parties, has been in favour of a binding referendum on Catalan independence, and would at the very least still be amenable to discussion of constitutional arrangements once in power.
What is clear is that the stability of all of Europe is hanging by a thread, with Spain as no exception. The inevitable impending financial crisis will act as a hurricane on what it would take only a butterfly’s wing to break. We are living in tumultuous times, and as Gramsci wrote from his prison cell the last time Europe saw what is now visible on the horizon: ‘the old world is dying and the new world struggles to be born: now is the time of monsters’.
Image: Stornoway Gazette