These are the lead paragraphs of my article “Where Did Podemos Come From? Where is it Going?” that is timed to coincide with the relaunch of North Star,
This article provides some background on Podemos in Spain, a broad-based radical party that has been likened to Syriza in Greece and that like Syriza could very possibly become a ruling party in the not too distant future. It was written for the relaunch of North Star (http://www.thenorthstar.info/), a website that calls for the creation of a non-sectarian, broad-based anticapitalist party—in other words, an American Podemos.
For those of us in the United States who are working to create something equivalent, there are many lessons to be drawn even if there are sizable differences between the USA and Spain. But what they do have in common is key: a two-party system that has effectively maintained hegemonic control over politics.
Since an earlier article announcing the relaunch, progress has been made to put the website on a firm footing. We have an editorial board of four people all committed to the original mission, namely to publicize the need for a broad-based anti-capitalist movement in the terms articulated by Peter Camejo in the original North Star Network of the early 80s. It is a pity that Peter did not live long enough to see Pablo Iglesias in action. This young leader of Podemos shows a grasp of revolutionary politics that would impress anybody.
Podemos has prompted some rich analysis since its formation. I would like to call your attention to some other articles that get it right, as opposed to the standard sectarian dismissal. The first appeared in the December 11, 2014 edition of Open Democracy. Titled “Leaderless no more” (https://www.opendemocracy.net/can-europe-make-it/paolo-gerbaudo/leaderless-no-more) and written by Paolo Gerbaudo, an academic and journalist who looks as young as Pablo Iglesias, it calls attention to the growing realization of young Occupy type activists that some degree of centralized coordination is necessary. He writes:
While many anarchists are no doubt grumbling at seeing many of their comrades supporting Iglesias, Tsipras, and other emerging leaders (is Russell Brand the UK’s farcical equivalent of Iglesias and Tsipras?), those hoping for radical political change in Europe and beyond have many good reasons to celebrate this development. This shift from “leaderlessness” to the rise of new political leaders fighting for the demands raised by the movements of the squares is a demonstration of the “wisdom of the crowd”, of the fact that social movements and their supporters are capable of learning from their mistakes and evolving accordingly. Yet, it is apparent that this return of strong “personalised leadership” within the leftwing also raises some serious political questions for activists.
I would also call your attention to a series of articles on Left Flank, an Australian website, titled “Understanding Podemos”. Luke Stobart, a PhD student based in Spain, is the author. The first two of three has already appeared.
In the first, subtitled “15-M & counter-politics” (http://left-flank.org/2014/11/05/explaining-podemos-1-15-m-counter-politics/), Stobart addresses the question of “anti-politics”, a term that resonates with the feeling of most Americans, who like the Spanish, have grown weary of a two-party system that favors the rich. He writes:
“Anti-politics” is not just a counter to the parties but to the institutions and organisations tied to both them and the state (what Gramsci called the “outer fortresses” of “the integral state”). Crucially for those interested in emancipatory politics, this includes the union bureaucracies. The contradiction between representing workers’ interests and containing their demands has always been present in mass trade unionism. However, Humphrys and Tietze have shown using the Australian example that from the beginning of neoliberalism the balance has shifted in the direction of the latter function. Indeed, in Australia the unions maintained an “Accord” with the Labor government while the latter restrained wages and brought in the first big neoliberal reforms. As a consequence, over the last three decades union coverage has decreased from over 50 per cent to just 17 per cent of workers.
As should be obvious from the above, Australia—like Spain and the USA—suffers from a two-party shell game.
In the second article in the series, subtitled “Radical Populism” (http://left-flank.org/2014/11/14/understanding-podemos-23-radical-populism/), Stobart links Podemos to the post-Marxist “radical democracy” theories of Chantal Mouffe and Ernesto Laclau, a couple of academics who in my opinion are given more credit than they deserve, even if Podemos leaders are in the habit of quoting them.
Much of Stobart’s article dwells on the specifics of Spanish politics and the usefulness or lack thereof in Podemos’s strategy and tactics. I am hardly in a position to judge the merits of his analysis but will simply say that Podemos, whatever its failings on this or that, represents a huge step forward for the Spanish left and an inspiration for revolutionaries everywhere trying to transcend the sectarian limitations of the “Leninist” parties.
The fact that Podemos has reached millions of Spaniards while self-declared vanguard formations largely speak to those already “in the know” about Lenin and the Russian questions should tell us that we are on the brink of a new period in the class struggle, one in which the socialist movement will be rebuilt on 21st century realities. It is about time.