Publication Europe - Europe / EU - Europa links The Situation of the Left in Spain

What makes "15M" and "Podemos" different from the traditional left?





February 2019

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The Great Recession of 2008 unleashed a decade of great political turmoil in Europe, particulary in the countries of Southern Europe. The responses to the neoliberal crisis have taken different forms and orientations, which oscillate between authoritarian regression and democratic hope in different countries. In the chiaroscuro of this situation, the left has had different fates: in Greece, it took power only to suffer a severe blow from the Troika, in Portugal, it supports a successful social democratic government, and in Italy, it has been eclipsed by a xenophobic upset of the political map.

The case of Spain is of special interest. In the last decade, there has been a boom in social mobilisation. This has seen spectacular expression in the areas of feminism and the defence of the right to housing, and a strong increase in the capacity of the left to introduce its agenda into the public sphere. Above all, the Spanish left has experienced great changes related to two singular phenomena that have attracted the attention of many activists and observers from other countries: the outbreak of 15M (or “movement of the outraged” – los indignados) and the emergence of Podemos. This wave of political change has produced some transformation of common sense and unequal electoral results: various municipalist platforms won mayoral elections in the main Spanish cities in 2015. However, central government has been in the hands of the right-wing Popular Party (2011–2018) until very recently, when it was ousted by a motion of censure motivated by a corruption scandal.

In spite of the differences between the initiatives that emerged from 15M and Podemos – the assembly-oriented and diffuse character of a movement distrustful of political institutions as opposed to the hyper-leadership of a party focused on electoral competition – both phenomena share some new features. These are far removed from the rhetorics and repertoires of the more traditional left, and reflect the same social dynamics. The general picture of the Spanish left, however, is not reducible to the legacy of 15M and the possibilities of Podemos.

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  • Introduction
  • The Left Before 15M
  • The Left After 15M
  • The Political Game Board and The Systems of Parties
  • The Parties and Their Democratisation
  • The Social Movements
  • The World of Work
  • Municipalism and the "Cities of Change"
  • The Catalan Crisis
  • The Current Balance Sheet 
  • Bibliography

We appreciate the comments to previous versions of this report by Vera Bartolomé, Inés Campillo, Mario Candeias-Bechstein, Carlos de Castro and Javier Moreno, as well as the kindness of Martín Portos in providing us with the data of the p. 15. The text was written in the summer of 2018 and does not include two recent and significant events that could reconfigure the political space: the irruption of the far-right party Vox (which obtained 11% of the vote in the Andalusian elections of December 2018) and the Podemos crisis in Madrid that has led to the creation of a new space headed by Iñigo Errejón.

This publication was funded by the German Federal Foreign Office