The Disunited and Fading Spanish “Left” — handing on the baton

Diarmuid Breatnach

(See also and for southern Basque Country results

Izquierda Unida (United Left) did badly in the Spanish state’s general elections of 20th December 2014 but their trend has been a downward one for years, apparently due to its increasing friendship with one of the main political parties, the social democratic PSOE. After a short recovery in votes due the current crisis of Spanish capitalism, the rise of Podemos kicked the IU down the stairs again. And it turns out that Podemos is not as far from the IU as we might have been led to think.

The IU (Izquierda Unida) is a coalition of Trotskyist and radical-Left groupings and parties along with the PCE, the old Moscow-style Communist Party, which takes the leadership position in internal elections. The IU and the PCE also have a strong presence and influence in the leadership of both main trade unions in the Spanish state, Comissiones Obreras (in Spanish the acronym is “CCOO”) and Unión General de Trabajadores (UGT). The latter is affiliated to the PSOE but a people of other political affiliations are active within it, including the IU. The CCOO, the largest union, was founded by the PCE but since the late 1980s the party no longer controls it. The laws on industrial representation in the Spanish state favour union organisation but also favour the dominance of the CCOO and UGT. Overall, these two unions have no recent record of great militancy and are seen by many in the Spanish state as part of the status quo.

IU sticker; slogan reads "The power of the people"
IU sticker; slogan reads “The power of the people”

Izquierda Unida was formed by the PCE in the mid-1980s at a time of the party’s waning influence in society and in the trade unions, when party leaders perceived the need to work with other left forces apart from the PSOE. For decades since, the IU has a history of internal dissension as well as one of general collusion with social democracy but may now be about to fade away. On the other hand, the political party that took a big bite out of its vote, Podemos, is not as far removed from the IU as its creators and leaders try to portray.

Historical background

In 1989 Julio Anguita, then General Secretary of the PCE, was elected General Coordinator of the IU which at that time had seven elected Deputies of the Spanish Parliament (el Congreso). The IU denounced without reservations the neoliberal economic politics of the PSOE in privatisation, “reforms” of labour legislation, etc. It stated that no unity of the Left with the PSOE was possible while it bowed before the economic and financial oligarchy and was rolling out the IFM’s program for Spain. Sounds familiar ….. almost recent, doesn’t it?

For unity of the Left, Anguita insisted on adherence to a Left program and developed an analysis of politics in the Spanish state in which he described both main parties, the PP and the PSOE, as being on the opposite bank of the river to the IU. The IU should therefore work to hegemonise the Left and displace the PSOE which they proceeded to attack not only for their policies but also for scandals of financial corruption which the Right was condemning.

Despite denunciations by the PSOE-friendly sections of the media that the IU was siding with the Right of the PP against the Left of the PSOE, in the elections of that same year of 1989, the IU’s share of parliamentary deputies climbed to 17. In 1993 they gained one more and in 1996 they reached 21, they highest they have ever done.

With the approach of the general elections of 2000, Anguita, due to stand for the IU again, suffered a heart attack but shortly before the elections his place was taken by Francisco Frutos (who had also replaced him as General Secretary of the PCE two years earlier). Under Frutos, Anguita’s path was abandoned and the IU entered into an electoral pact with the PSOE. The result? Electorally, a drop from their high of 21 to only eight parliamentary deputies; in public perception, the death of hopes of a Left coalition standing against the IMF.

Far from the results teaching the IU the value of militancy and drawing a line, they became even more timid and elected Gaspar Llamazares, also a PCE activist, who flirted with the PSOE inside and outside of the Cortes, claiming that the PSOE was “one of ours”, despite differences a “party of the Left” etc. The parliamentary downward slide continued with only three deputies from the 2004 elections and only one remaining – Llamazares himself – out of those in 2008.

2008 was also the year the economic crisis hit and the IU elected another PCE activist, Cayo Lara, as General Coordinator to manage the disastrous legacy of his predecessors Frutos and Llamazares.

Three years later, in 2011, the 15M movement put hundreds of thousands on to the streets shouting “They do not represent us”, tarring PP and PSOE with the same brush as bipartisan actors for an economic and financial oligarchy. Many of the slogans were also against the main trade unions, Comissiones Obreras and UGT. In the general elections of that year, the IU with Cayo Lara leading, climbed up again to 8 elected Deputies, against the 186 of the PP (absolute majority) and the 110 of a seriously-damaged PSOE.

Another three years later, in 2014, a split from the IU, the Izquierda Anticapitalista (Anti-Capitalist Left) and a group of Politics professors from the Universidad Complutense launch the Podemos movement. Some of these professors had advised governments of the 21st Century Latin American socialist trend and some were connected to the IU. Podemos identified the PP and PSOE as a political caste in the service of IFM and of the Troika in general, and of the markets. Podemos – like the Frente Cívico ‘Somos Mayoría’ (“Citizen’s Front ‘We Are the Majority’ ”) no longer speaks in terms of Left or Right but rather of parties, one of the Right and one supposedly of the Left governing for the oligarchy instead of for the majority of the population.

The new movement and Anguita (remember him, back at the start of this article?) express approval for each other’s political line. Podemos and its leader Pablo Iglesias, a young Politics professor who theorises about marxism on his television program La Tuerka and who in interviews and discussion programs on more general television lambasts the ‘caste’, proposes to the IU a joint platform for the European Parliamentary elections of 25th May. However, preparatory discussions fail to reach agreement and each goes ahead on its own. Podemos gets five MEPs and IU gets six and Podemos decides to become a political party.

Cayo Lara declares that he will not stand for the IU in the 2015 general elections. In his place a young Deputy, Alberto Garzón is elected, also an activist of the PCE and linked to 15M, who is in favour of constructing an alliance with Podemos. Garzón is also praised by Anguita and is regarded favourably by José Luis Centella, the Secretary-General of PCE; he is the only member of the coalition to present himself in the primaries for selection as IU candidate and his selection is assured. In the General Elections of December 2015, the IU went down once more to two seats but one of the elected was Garzón.

Alberto Garzón, head of a depleted United Left and one of only two successful IU candidates in the recent General Elections
Alberto Garzón, head of a depleted United Left and one of only two successful IU candidates in the recent General Elections

Although the crisis of the Spanish capitalist system has matured considerably since then, we have almost come full circle from what Anguita proposed in 1989: the Leftist opportunist approach of correctly drawing a line between the socialists and both capitalist parties, including the social-democratic one, combined with an incorrect ambition to supplant the latter within the system. It is a plan to “take over” the state through elections. However, the satchel in which the plan is carried seems to have been handed from IU to Podemos.

Tania Sanchez of IU and Pablo Iglesias of Podemos
Tania Sanchez of IU and Pablo Iglesias of Podemos

The plan is ultimately doomed to fail, either because enough votes will not be gained or because the coalition will split before that can be achieved. In the event that it does ever actually succeed, the result will be that the State will take over the Left Coalition rather than the other way around.

In the very unlikely event that the leadership of that coalition should be unprepared to accede to the demands of the bourgeoisie, the latter have their armed forces, police, civil service and supporting media to teach the members of the Leftist Coalition the necessary lessons which many revolutionary theorists have expounded over the 20th Century and even earlier and which the Leftists have probably read but decided to forget. Or decided that they know better.


NB: I have drawn very heavily on the following article in composing this article:

2 thoughts on “The Disunited and Fading Spanish “Left” — handing on the baton



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s