The Spanish Left Against the Rise of Authoritarianism – The Future of Social Democracy
The current Spanish government PSOE-Unidas Podemos is arguably the most progressive in the history of Spanish democracy. The government was able to recover and establish a social safety net which, although imperfect, saves the lives of many families. He has faced unforeseen issues like the Covid-19 pandemic with a healthcare system weakened by the austerity policies of the Conservative People’s Party. And recently, EU funds allowed the government to approve one of the most large and progressive budgets in history.
Since the formation of the new government, however, Spain has also seen the resurgence of an authoritarian right wing bent on overthrowing it. In particular, the right has used two inflammatory strategies. First, as has been the case in the past, he called the government “Frankenstein ‘ to be open to dialogue and to conclude agreements with nationalist parties. Second, he used the traditional “red fear” tactic, inflating the threat emanating from a government formed with the “communists” of Unidas Podemos.
These concerns are often exaggerated. Remember that Unidas Podemos has been opting for a social democratic political project for years. In fact, the governing agreement between the PSOE and Unidas Podemos includes many elements of progressive policies that both sides share, such as the expansion of the social safety net. But while the best antidote to countering the spread of authoritarianism may be the strengthening of the welfare state, Spain has not been immune from the wave of far-right populism that continues to rage. in Europe.
The rise of authoritarianism in Spain
For a long time, the drift of the right towards authoritarianism contrasted with the received idea that Spain was not suffering from a wave of authoritarianism. Until recently, figures and facts could be found to support this claim. But this was misleading given that far-right voters opted for the conservative People’s Party (PP) before the recent rise of the far-right Vox party.
It was the beginning of the end for Ciudadanos: a liberal party in agreement with the far right was a contradiction that could not last long.
To understand what happened, we have to go back to the surprising result of the Andalusian elections at the end of 2018. At the time, experts did not predict that Vox would achieve such a result. extraordinary result in a historically socialist region like Andalusia. In the end, the liberal Ciudadanos party had to choose the type of government they wanted for the region. Shockingly, they decided to support a new administration in which Vox would be the key to ensuring governability.
It was the beginning of the end for Ciudadanos: a liberal party in agreement with the far right was a contradiction that could not last long. While the strategy worked at first and Ciudadanos scored a great result in the April 2019 general election, success led then party chairman Albert Rivera to think he could repeat that strategy and move Ciudadanos even further to the right in order to overtake the PP.
The collapse of the center
As might be expected, Rivera’s strategy turned into a big failure and led to the virtual disappearance of Spain’s only liberal-centrist party in the November 2019 elections. From that day forward, the dynamic Politics in Spain has changed, with PP now trying to compete with Vox on the far right. For example, the PP adopted a similar rhetoric on “the enemies of Spain” – alluding to the separatist parties – and implementing a strategy of confrontation with Pedro Sánchez in many issues like the health crisis or the immigration policy.
Isabel Díaz Ayuso, one of the most influential politicians of the PP and president of the Community of Madrid, is a perfect example. She used the pandemic to criticize the central government by partially imitating Vox’s rhetoric. He invoked the “freedom of the people of Madrid” while refusing to take the necessary measures to avoid being one of the regions hardest hit by the pandemic. At the same time, Vox tried to improve the game by describing the Spanish government as “criminal‘.
Then, on May 4, Ayuso called an early election in Madrid, with his red fear campaign slogan “socialism or freedom”. Vox again tried to raise the bar and distinguish itself from the PP, waging a campaign of hatred against immigrants. For example, the far-right party decided to openly present racist posters in the Madrid metro.
The other left-wing parties should at all costs avoid further fragmentation.
In the end, Ayuso scored an impressive victory – with several consequences for Spanish politics. The most important thing is that it accelerates the disappearance of Ciudadanos. Moreover, there is no doubt that the three left-wing parties that took part in the elections (PSOE, Más Madrid and Unidas Podemos) suffered a crushing defeat, raising the question of whether the left will be able to hold on to power in the event. of the future legislative elections of 2023.
Lessons for the left
In this context, the left must depend on itself. For this to happen, the PSOE must stop making political calculations and underestimate the right. Before the Madrid elections, for example, the PSOE made an unforced error by bringing forward a motion of censure in the Murcia region which sought to remove the PP from power and reduce its dependence on Unidas Podemos. . But the censorship failed because the PP “convinced” three deputies from Ciudadanos to vote against.
In addition, the PSOE must understand the popularity of leftist policies at a time of great economic crisis. In this context, it is not only important to increase social spending, but to intervene in the market to deal with the oligopolistic structure of the Spanish economy.
The other left-wing parties should at all costs avoid further fragmentation. In recent years, the Spanish left has fallen into a vicious cycle of continuous division, driven by a lack of historical understanding, excess ambition and internal processes that are not sufficiently democratic, transparent and accountable. The radical left in particular is currently split into two main parties: Unidas Podemos and Más País (or Más Madrid in the Madrid region). In the best-case scenario, the recent decision by former UP leader Pablo Iglesias to leave politics could encourage both parties to rethink the best strategy for the future, as it is important to ensure that the votes are not wasted in the Spanish electoral system.
Two other important lessons must be learned: The first relates to strategy. Although understandable given Vox’s racist and Francoist messages, invoking Antifa slogans does not work for an electoral left. Instead, as the Madrid elections have shown, using a more constructive discourse focused on environmental aspects has electoral potential. With this strategy, Más Madrid could even overtake the PSOE for the first time.
This opens up new possibilities. The government could resist the wave of authoritarianism by combining the best features of social democracy and the environmental movement. We can only hope that the enlarged left will profit from this wisely.