The crisis in the Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE) was resolved at the weekend with a decisive victory of the coup plotters against PSOE leader Pedro Sanchez. This opens the way for the victors to allow the formation of a government of the right-wing Popular Party. This, in turn, presents huge opportunities for Podemos and the United Left to make significant gains.
The crisis in the Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE) was resolved at the weekend with a decisive victory of the coup plotters against PSOE leader Pedro Sanchez. That opens the way for the victors, around Susana Diaz, President of Andalucia, to allow the formation of a government of the right-wing Popular Party.
As we explained last week (see article below), a civil war erupted within PSOE when its leader, Pedro Sanchez, announced that he would appeal to the ranks to back his proposal of attempting to form a “left-wing government” in opposition to the Popular Party. Sanchez was attempting to save his own political career and prevent the party from going down the road of further collapse similar to that of PASOK in Greece.
However, regardless of his intentions, this was a direct challenge to the plans of the ruling class which desperately needs a government to be formed, after nearly a year of uncertainty and two inconclusive elections. The right wing Popular Party government, in spite of implementing a brutal policy of austerity, broke all its deficit reduction commitments. The European Union demands 15bn euro worth of cuts over the next two years. To achieve that a government is needed that is strong enough to guarantee not only its own formation but also the passing of the budget next year.
Of course, Sanchez does not want to be responsible for the formation of such a government, which will very soon become extremely unpopular. From his point of view that is the only calculation behind the proposal to attempt to cobble together a “left government”. He knows perfectly well that such a government cannot be formed in practice.
Earlier on in the year, in spring, he tried to form a coalition involving the centre-right populist Ciudadanos and Podemos at the same time. The economic programs of these two party are at complete loggerheads. Furthermore, Podemos defends self-determination for Catalonia while Ciudadanos’ opposition to a referendum is one of its key policies.
It was Sanchez himself who, at that time, rejected a proposal by Podemos of a PSOE-Podemos coalition with support from the Catalan nationalists. That would have meant agreeing to a referendum in Catalonia, an unbreakable taboo for the Spanish ruling class, whose interests the PSOE leaders always reflect in the last instance.
What Sanchez rejected in the spring, a left government backed by the Catalan Nationalists, he now proposed in a desperate attempt to save his own political career. This led immediately to an attempted coup by the party’s hard right led by Susana Diaz, the President of Andalucia. The Spanish ruling class could not allow any talk of a “left government” involving Podemos. Diaz instructed her supporters to resign en masse from the party’s Federal Executive which then voided its mandate. But Sanchez, fighting for his own political survival, refused to accept it. He maintained that he was still the leader and that his supporters were now the legal Federal Executive. The “rebels” were locked out of their offices. Sanchez went ahead with the planned meeting of the party’s 300 strong Federal Committee on Saturday October 1.
Regardless of the intentions of Pedro Sanchez, his move was seen by many in the ranks of PSOE as a defence of an intransigent position against any support for a PP government, while they interpreted Susana Diaz’s opposition to Sanchez in terms of her support for such a government. There was an initial attempt by rank and file members to mobilise. Some gathered at the party headquarters in Valencia (where the regional leadership sided with the “rebels” but the provincial executive was loyal to Sanchez). The party in Terrassa (Catalonia), announced it was organising coaches for members to lobby the Federal Committee meeting in support of Sanchez. In Cadiz, Andalucia, a local meeting with 100 members voted a statement in support of Sanchez and rejecting Susana Diaz’s domination of the region.
Sanchez showed his true colours and called on members to stay away from the party headquarters in Ferraz street in Madrid on Saturday. The last thing he wanted was a genuine mobilisation of the ranks.
The Federal Committee meeting on October 1 was pandemonium. For 11 hours there were endless constitutional discussions between the supporters of both sides. Díaz supporters refused to recognise the legitimacy of Sanchez’s Executive. There was shouting, abuse and even physical intimidation. Outside, a few dozen Socialist Party members had gathered with banners and screamed at the rebels that they should be in the Popular Party.
In the end, a vote was taken which showed a clear majority for Susana Diaz with 132 against 107. Instead of attempting to challenge the result and appealing to the ranks, Sanchez accepted his defeat, announced his resignation and insisted he would be loyal to the new acting executive. From the point of view of his political career he can always say that he tried to prevent a PP government and failed.
The dilemma facing PSOE was this: to support PP and suffer further collapse or to attempt to present an alternative and save itself for the future. It is not by chance that support for Pedro Sanchez came mainly from those regions where Podemos has already overtaken PSOE. Now the party has clearly chosen a path which leads towards suicide.
The new acting executive is meeting today, Monday October 3, and will convene a new meeting of the Federal Committee in two weeks. The road is now open for the PSOE to abstain and allow the PP to form a coalition government with Ciudadanos. They will of course attempt to find a “nice” face saving way of doing it. Sanchez has put them on the spot.
The situation of PSOE is now even weaker vis a vis negotiating with the Popular Party. The PP now is saying that it is not enough for the PSOE to abstain, they want guarantees that it will also vote the budget next year. The alternative would be to call new elections (for the third time in 12 months), in which a divided PSOE would sink even lower and with a lower turn out the PP might even get an overall majority.
An editorial in the bourgeois paper El Pais on Saturday clearly outlined the deeper implications of the crisis in PSOE and its relationship with the general crisis of the regime in Spain. It talked of the “extremely complex economic, institutional and territorial problems facing Spain” and how these affected “a party which has ruled 21 of the 39 years of Spanish democracy since the Transition”. In this way, it recognised PSOE as one of the pillars which has sustained bourgeois democracy in Spain for the last 40 years and its crisis as important for the ruling class.
The editorial explained how this is not just a Spanish phenomena, as “in the whole of the advanced world, representative democracy is in crisis” and “socialdemocracy is particularly affected and unable to build a profile and a narrative which arouses, as in the past, illusion in wide layers of society.” This is a clear recognition of the fact that, in the period of a crisis of capitalism, social democracy is unable to guarantee or even promise any new significant reforms and therefore loses its mass appeal.
The conclusion the El Pais editorial writers draw however is no solution at all. What Spain needs, they argue, is “a centre ground, trustworthy party, united under a firm leadership and innovative ideas”. A “centre ground” party, that is one which is “trustworthy” from the point of view of the ruling class, is one which will have to manage the crisis of capitalism. In Spain this would mean giving support to the Popular Party. A further government of cuts and austerity, which is what Spanish capitalism demands, will soon become extremely unpopular and in its downfall it will bring down the PSOE.
The victory of Susana Diaz in the PSOE at the weekend will be seen as a turning point in the PASOK-ification of the party.
Possibilities for the Left
Potentially, the ground is now open for Unidos Podemos (the alliance between Podemos and United Left) to make decisive gains from this new situation. A PSOE which will be forced to support PP-led austerity will continue to shed support to its left, leaving Unidos Podemos as the only real opposition.
There is currently an internal debate within Podemos between those who advocate further programmatic moderation, represented by Íñigo Errejón, in order “to win over the middle ground”, and those who defend the need for hard and radical policies, led by Pablo Iglesias, This debate should be settled decisively in favour of the latter if the organisation is to take advantage of the crisis of PSOE.
Unidos Podemos needs to adopt a bold, clear and radical strategy of opposition in parliament linked to mobilisation in the streets, in defence of state education, the health service, for the repeal of anti-worker, anti-trade union laws, in defence of democratic rights (including the right of self determination), for housing, etc. By exerting the maximum pressure they can they will accelerate the internal contradictions within the ranks of members and voters of PSOE.
This program of demands needs to be accompanied by a clear explanation that none of these measures can be achieved within the limits of a deep crisis of Spanish capitalism. The only way to implement these demands is by expropriating the Ibex35 big businesses under democratic workers’ control. This is the perspective that Lucha de Clases is defending within the ranks of Podemos.
Published on In Defence of Marxism
Civil war erupts in Spanish Socialist Party
By Jorge Martín (written on Friday 30th September, 2016)
Two consecutive Spanish elections have culminated in a deadlocked political situation in which no party has enough seats in parliament to form a majority government on its own. The enormous pressure that this has created has now exploded in an internal coup in the Socialist Party, PSOE, with an attempt to remove its leader, Pedro Sanchez. This could even lead to a split, a possibility that reveals the enormous political, economic, and social instability rooted in the acute crisis of Spanish capitalism.
The immediate trigger for this crisis was the result of the Galician and Basque elections last weekend. On Sunday, September 25 the Galician parliamentary elections gave an increased overall majority to the right wing Popular Party (PP) of Spanish acting prime minister Mariano Rajoy. In the Basque country on the same day, the right wing nationalist PNV won an overall majority. The results of Podemos in both elections were not as good as expected, in Galicia standing as part of a broad alliance with left nationalist United Left and left-wing municipal forces; in the Basque country in an alliance with United Left. The results of PSOE were very poor in both cases: it was overtaken by the alliances surrounding Podemos and, in the case of the Basque Country, the PSOE came fourth – its worst ever result in absolute number of votes.
This result accelerated the internal crisis of the party. The election of Pedro Sanchez to the leadership of PSOE in 2014 represented an attempt by the party to change its image. Despite formally being in opposition to the hated PP government, the PSOE had continued to lose electoral support as it was seen as co-responsible for austerity policies. The idea was to elect a young and photogenic leader, untainted by the right wing policies of his predecessors, and not directly involved with the party’s collaboration with the right wing PP, as a way of regaining electoral support. As part of this media operation, Sanchez adopted a left face on some issues.
Behind Sanchez’s nice, friendly, soft left, and youthful-looking figure was Susana Diaz, the powerful PSOE leader in Andalucia – one of its last remaining strongholds – where she is also the regional president.
The eruption of Podemos capturing roughly a quarter of PSOE’s electorate, however, put PSOE in an impossible situation. A continuation of its tacit support for PP’s austerity would mean a continued collapse of support for the party. The threat of PASOK-ification loomed large and the party leaders were of course interested in averting an outcome which would leave them jobless. This is the reason Sanchez posed to the left on a series of points in order to try to shore up electoral support. The inconclusive results of the December 20, 2015 and June 26, 2016 elections put PSOE on the spot.
The ruling class in Spain demands a strong government, one which is able to carry out further cuts. For the last year there has been strong pressure in the direction of the formation of some sort of grand coalition between the PP and the PSOE, also involving the new centre-right populist Ciudadanos Failing that, the PSOE is asked to at least allow the formation of a PP government by abstaining in parliament, and to give it tacit support from outside.
The Socialist Party leaders have no qualms about following the policies demanded by the ruling class. They have done so for the last 40 years each they have been in power. The problem is that the policies demanded now, in a period of extreme crisis of Spanish capitalism, would probably spell the end of the party itself. This consideration is of certain importance for those in the party apparatus whose livelihoods depend on it.
Hence the split within the party. Pedro Sanchez has based his policy on rejecting any form of support for the PP, ruling out even an abstention in the government formation vote. At the same time, he has rejected advances made by Unidos Podemos for the formation of a left coalition government, which would require support from Catalan and Basque nationalists.
Meanwhile, Susana Diaz, representing more directly the interests of the ruling class, wants to allow the PP to form a government again, on the grounds that it got the most votes in the election. She likely calculates that this would allow the PSOE to recover some ground later on.
In the aftermath of the electoral debacle in Galicia and the Basque country, Diaz’s right wingers within the party started to blame Pedro Sanchez. He then reacted in an unexpected way, attempting to save his own political future. He said he would attempt to form a left government, which meant reaching a deal with Unidos Podemos and securing the abstention from Catalan and Basque nationalists. He also said he would call an emergency internal leadership election within the PSOE in October and convene an emergency party congress in December in order to give himself a mandate from the ranks for this policy. He called for a Federal Committee meeting on October 1 to ratify these proposals.
Sanchez’s main aim was to save himself, but he cleverly presented the issue as one in which Diaz and her supporters wanted a PP government while he stuck to his intransigent opposition to it.
The possibility cannot be ruled out that the experience of the victory of Corbyn in the British Labour Party had an impact on the methods Sanchez used to fend off his opponents, that is via leadership election by the rank and file.
The right wing of the party, spurred by former leader Felipe Gonzalez, immediately launched an offensive to remove Sanchez from leadership using a constitutional trick. Thus on Wednesday, September 28, they presented the resignations of 17 members of the party’s Federal Executive Committee. Because over half of its members have resigned, the whole committee is considered void and a Managing Committee is supposed to take over. The strategy was to remove Sanchez from his position quickly, allow the PP to form a government, and then have a party congress.
This backfired, as Sanchez refused to accept the dissolution of the Executive, locked the resigning members out of the national headquarters, and deleted their profiles from the website. The daily El Pais, a faithful mouthpiece for the Spanish ruling class, was furious and wrote a scathing editorial calling Sanchez an “unscrupulous fool,” a liar, and a coward and demanded his immediate resignation. All of the bourgeois media joined the chorus as well as the ruling PP, which insisted the need for a “strong and responsible” PSOE.
The different PSOE regional leaders started to come out on one side or the other. Susana Diaz convened a meeting in Andalucia of the 200-strong regional leadership as a show of strength. Sanchez has stuck to his guns and assured that the Federal Committee meeting on October 1 will proceed and that only rank-and-file members of the party who elected him can remove him from office.
Looking into the abyss
The methods used by the right wing of the party have enraged many rank-and-file members who, at least in Valencia, have gathered outside the party’s headquarters with banners saying “fuera golpistas del Partido Socialista” – “coup plotters out of the party!” Social media forums and Facebook profiles of the Socialist Party have been inundated with angry messages against the right wingers and in defence of Sanchez.
Taken aback by the resistance of Sanchez and the virulence of the reaction of the rank and file, the right wing today has slightly changed its tune and is now calling for moderation, unity, and reconciliation.
The outcome of this struggle is not decided. Sanchez’s supporters on the Executive Committee have declared themselves as the “acting Executive” and are going ahead with the meeting on October 1 of the Federal Committee. It remains to be seen whether the supporters of Diaz will turn up and what the balance of forces at such a meeting will be.
Both factions have peered over the abyss of an open split and will probably want to retreat slightly. They all have a common interest: to keep the party, which employs them all and grants them power, alive. That is the basis for some sort of compromise.
An unknown factor in the equation is how much genuine life-force remains within the ranks of the PSOE. The decline of its active membership has been a protracted process. Its links with its working-class voters have been strained very close to the breaking point; many have decisively abandoned the party in favour of Podemos. Its voters increasingly come from the eldest and more passive layers of society. Furthermore, Pedro Sanchez is no Jeremy Corbyn. Sanchez is a man of the apparatus and his interest lies not primarily in a political reorientation of the party, but rather in saving the party from destruction.
This is the most serious crisis which has affected PSOE in 40 years. PSOE has been, over that period, one of the two pillars of stability of the system of bourgeois democracy in Spain. Its deep crisis is not a mere struggle of personalities, but a reflection of the deep crisis of Spanish capitalism. It accompanies the absence of room for manoeuvre toward concessions and reforms, the consequent crisis of reformism, and the deep crisis of legitimacy affecting every single institution of the 1978 regime.