In the final part of his analysis of Podemos, Luke Stobart examines the group’s response to Spain’s social crisis.
This is the third part of a series exploring the rise of Podemos, originally published on the Australian Left Flank website. The first part looked at how the new organisations drew on the inspiration and power of the 15-M (“Indignados”) movement. The second part critically examined the Podemos leadership’s deployment of radical populist strategy. This third part examines the policies Podemos has developed to tackle Spain’s enormous social crisis, and asks why Podemos has so quickly moved to moderate these, and what implications such changes have for activists seeking fundamental social transformation in Spain.
A Keynesian return?
As Podemos has risen in the polls, and particularly since its October Citizens’ Assembly, it has moderated some of its key policies (or anticipated moderation through “experts” drafting new plans). General Secretary Pablo Iglesias has justified the change on the basis of guaranteeing “governmental responsibility” and therefore Podemos needing to “grow up”. The Spanish and international media, and some radicals, have exaggerated the shifts backwards, but they are significant. Below I look at the evolution of the crucial area of economic policy and what changes here tell us about whether Podemos can be an emancipatory tool — or even one that can usher in the minimum reforms needed to allow the majority of people to exit the crisis in the medium term.
Before late November the economic program had been developed collectively but with input from revolutionary Izquierda Anticapitalista economists (such as Bibiana Medialdea). Since then, the popular Left Keynesians Viçenc Navarro and Juan Torres López have been assigned to produce a draft economic program, based on their popular book Hay Alternativas – also co-authored by (Communist) IU leader Alberto Garzón. The new “emergency plan” was presented as a “discussion document” in a press conference, but in practice is being treated by Iglesias as Podemos policy. Its analysis is that the crisis is fundamentally one of “under-consumption” (which Iglesias agrees is “the problem”) caused by mushrooming socio-economic inequalities under neoliberalism (including a sharp decline in wages’ share of GDP) – a view that overlaps with those of Thomas Piketty, Joseph Stiglitz and Paul Krugman. The solution is thus to increase consumer demand through expansionist public spending (à la Keynes). They then neatly tot up how exactly this can be funded though measures such as combating relatively high levels of tax fraud (mostly carried out by the rich), reintroducing inheritance and property taxes, and debt restructuring.
The measures clash substantially with the dominant neoliberal orthodoxy. For example, they have continued with the Podemos policy of introducing the 35-hour working week (without wage reduction and include large-scale state investment in employment so that the proportion of public-sector employees rises from 1 in 10 (at present) to 1 in 4 of all workers! They also propose the unions playing more of a role in decision-making; and the creation of public banks under citizens’ control, a housing law to apply constitutional protections against homelessness, controls against over-pricing by monopoly firms in the energy and other sectors, and a tax on financial speculation. The report “aims” to reach providing universal access to public nurseries from birth (to ensure gender equality) and universal benefits for the disabled and other “dependents”. Not surprisingly the program is being met with universal hostility from the Spanish elites and their loyal media pundits.
Read the rest of the article at Left Flank.