PODEMOS MUST MOVE FROM ANTI AUSTERITY TO SOCIALISM

by David Peel

I know it is a bit early to be thinking of Christmas 2015, but it is worth putting a note in your diaries to watch out for the Spanish General Election, which takes place on December 20. By then, here in Britain, we will be seven months into our own messy government coalitions, following the General Election in May, a time of extraordinary drama and instability not seen for a generation in British political and national life.

By then also, the issue of Greece might be resolved, but it is doubtful. With Syriza, the anti-austerity movement thought perhaps a corner had been turned. And yet a few weeks after the momentous victory and following tough negotiations with the Troika, it looks like austerity is alive and well. It’s most virulent opponent – a coalition of the Radical Left and anti-immigration Right – is managing to keep it going while hoping a desperate Greek people stay loyal.

Confused? Well not if you are on the anarchist and communist ‘hard left’ as they are termed by journalists groping for new old words to describe old new situations. From this hard left, has come the clear message: We told you so.

The BBC put it brutally honestly: Syriza ditches Marx for Blair. Anarchists and communists go much further. They say Syriza never intended to end austerity and that the warning signs were there in speeches and writings, especially by finance minister Varoufakis.

Even Podemos, the mass Spanish movement against austerity, while initially enthusiastic about Syriza has cooled. Podemos, like Syriza, emerged from the anti-capitalist Left. It has a Trotskyist background, but it is at its core ‘citizen politics’, and few citizens these days are Trotskyists. They are not even socialists, never mind anarchists. Sure Podemos supporters are angry with the same things all those on the hard left are angry about – unemployment, poverty, racism and much much more – and yes, they identify these issues as arising from austerity.

Even Podemos, the mass Spanish movement against
austerity, while initially enthusiastic about Syriza has cooled.

The heart of the matter however is that in seeking a solution, neither Podemos nor Syriza are revolutionary. Neither movement wants to destroy capitalism and replace it with socialism, anarchism, or as some anarchists might term it, ‘full communism’.  Attempts to end the symptoms of capitalism, while not pulling its roots will fail.

In Greece, Varoufakis concluded that the most important task was to rescue capitalism, because the Left had nothing to replace it with. The assumption has to be that leader Alex Tsipras agrees. Time will tell whether the long suffering Greek people give Syriza the benefit of the doubt. I think their patience will rapidly wear thin. And they may turn to the Far Right and parties like Golden Dawn.

Pablo Iglesias, the spokesperson for Podemos, is a former communist like Tsipras. That appears to be a guarantee of nothing anymore, and certainly not socialism. But Podemos has much more going for it in terms of momentum. It has almost a million followers on Facebook, pulls 100,000 people to its demos and consistently tops opinion polls.

It has almost a million followers on Facebook, pulls
100,000 people to its demos and consistently tops opinion polls.

It has a university lecturer for a leader who seems to connect with ordinary people, a nation suffering with one in every two of its young people and one in five of its adults out of work.  It has a centre Left that is largely discredited and devoid of ideas. That is why Podemos is barely a year old and is a political phenomenon standing a very good chance of winning the elections this December.

But what if it wins and its anti-capitalist radicalism turns out to have been just rhetoric? Can we spot the signs now, in blogs, or speeches? Will Iglesias take Podemos ultimately down the road of compromise with the rich and powerful and with capitalism?

Meanwhile here in the UK another Party but which has nothing like a mass movement behind it has staked its own claim to be the anti-austerity flag bearer. It shares a common difficulty with Podemos in that it too has a programme with great and popular ideas, but locked as it is within the capitalist narrative and context – it has no idea how to ‘pay for them’.  Most notably its leader Natalie Bennett has come a cropper in fairly tame media interviews where journalists have asked the bloody obvious, and Bennett has not been able to credibly respond.

Sure the size of the Party has shot up recently especially off the back of the sympathy and interest generated in the great Cameron Telly Leaders Debate Debacle.  But probably the most the Greens can hope for is a coalition deal with Labour and an attempt to hold back the most aggressive austerity policies of Miliband in office. With the SNP as partners, they might even constitute a formidable block to cuts, but neither the Greens nor the SNP want to abolish capitalism. And that is the problem we must all confront. Until we build for ourselves a mass revolutionary movement of people prepared to end a capitalism which has far outlived its usefulness and is destroying our planet, we are going round in circles.

Until we build for ourselves a mass revolutionary movement of people prepared to end a capitalism
which has far outlived its usefulness and is destroyingour planet, we are going round in circles.

So far there is no credible electoral alternative to the Greens. Certainly, Labour is dead to socialism, and to pretend otherwise is mendacious at worst, and delusional or opportunistic at best. It has been this way for a very long time. Many of us have noticed. Some would argue, Labour was never socialist in the first place. The Greens however stand for much that is socialist,  but to be explicitly anti-capitalist and to seek for its overthrow, that’s still too big an ask.

The people of Greece, Spain and Britain may not share many characteristics, but they do share one at least. At this critical juncture in the history of capitalism’s collapse, they seem not to have the confidence as a mass to take the next logical step, and move from being against austerity to being against capitalism, and crucially, for socialism.

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