Spain’s United Left Coalition against Neoliberalism and Economic Austerity

‘This is the Spanish SYRIZA!’

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On the last day of the 10th federal convention of the Spain’s United Left (Izquierda Unida, IU), Juan Peña, young IU organization secretary for the Castilla town of Valladolid, summed up his view of the impact of the indignado (15M) movement on the IU, one of the oldest broad left formations in Europe: “15M brought IU good news and bad news. The good news was that our programmatic proposals hit the mark, shared by the people who poured into the streets. The bad news was that the people thought that these proposals were new, their own.”

Ever since the enormous and exceptional upsurge of protest that began in Spain on May 15, 2011, the 30,000-strong IU has been wrestling with this contradiction – the gap between the millions of people, including many members and supporters of the sociali-democratic Spanish Socialist Workers Party (PSOE), who share its positions but who don’t regard the IU as their political voice.

It’s not that the broad left coalition hasn’t made gains during the social and political crisis. Support in opinion polls has more than doubled to around 13 per cent and the IU and its Catalan sister party, the United and Alternative Left (EUiA), have enjoyed big increases in regional elections in 2012 in Andalusia, Asturias, Galicia and Catalonia.

However, such gains account for a small part of the more than 6 million voters who have deserted the PSOE over the past four years. The basic picture is still one of serious erosion of the two-party system of the PSOE and the ruling right-wing People’s Party (PP), but with no force yet emerging as the core of a radical left challenge to bipartisan capitalist politics.

Major Themes Discussed

How to transform the enormous upsurge of protest in the Spanish state into a political and social movement strong enough to take power out of the hands of the PP government of Mariano Rajoy was the overarching issue for the 959 convention delegates who met from December 14-16, 2012, in an outer suburb of Madrid. As the convention slogan said, “Transform: mobilization into organization, rebellion into alternative, alternative into power.”

Predictably, that meant the convention was a tame affair for the mainstream media. How dull was this! No faction fights, no personality clashes, only a handful of close votes – not much sustenance for the insatiable monster of raging abuse, rancid gossip and loud-mouthed moronic opinionizing that is ‘coverage of politics’ in most Spanish media.

How unlike, too, was it to the IU’s ninth federal convention, held six months after the coalition and its allies had been reduced to two seats in the 2008 elections for the national Spanish parliament. That convention had seen five different slates presented for the federal political committee, the organization’s ruling body between conventions. Whether the IU even had a future was widely discussed at the time. In the following years leading IU figures deserted to the PSOE and to the environmental party Equo.

The ninth convention had even failed to elect a new federal coordinator to replace resigning coordinator Gaspar Llamazares. At the first federal political committee meeting afterwards, Cayo Lara, from the Communist Party of Spain (PCE), the IU’s largest affiliate, had become the new federal coordinator with just 55 per cent of the vote.

The ninth federal convention had also begun the process of refounding the IU as an “anti-capitalist, federal and republican social and political movement as the axis of a new social and political convergence,” but now, four years later, with IU members participating in and often leading the huge waves of protest against austerity and attacks on labour rights, the mood of the organization was transformed.

As a result of this shift and the IU’s electoral gains this convention was also in a position to ride through disputes that in a more sombre situation might have produced acrimonious conflict.

One of the tensest was the situation for IU in the Euskadi (the Basque Country), where its present and former local affiliates, respectively Esker Anitza (EA, Plural Left) and Esker Batua (EB, United Left), had run against each other in the October 2012 regional election, with neither winning a seat. Esker Batua is affiliated to the Open Left (IA), the IU-affiliated party founded earlier this year by Llamazares, and its election material featured photos of Llamazares and other leading IA members.

(Llamazares later denied that he had given permission to Esker Batua to use his photo, but said nothing at the time of the poll, leaving the impression that the IU’s two main personalities, Lara and Llamazares, were supporting different tickets in the Euskadi poll. Partly as a result, a number of previous sympathizers of IA broke with the current.)

Another potential source of conflict, that the IA might present its own slate for the federal political committee, was resolved at the last minute when that formation negotiated 20 per cent representation on all IU leadership bodies. According to Llamazares: “We believe that’s representative enough and we don’t have any further ambitions. Moreover, it’s not a question of percentages but of representative participation in IU as a whole, from top to bottom and bottom to top.”

The decisions of the convention, building on the support for its draft documents in the September meeting of the federal political committee, reflected this resolution of differences. Cayo Lara was re-elected unanimously as national coordinator after the presentation of only one slate for the federal political committee, the first time in 24 years. It represented all organized sensibilities within IU and won 85 per cent support.

Previously, Lara’s balance sheet of work since the previous convention had won 91 per cent support, the political document 97 per cent support, the economic document 96 per cent support and proposals for restructuring the IU and amending its statutes 90 per cent support.

Near unanimous support greeted the “Declaration of Madrid,” a resolution summarizing the IU’s view of Spanish and European politics and its tasks in the coming period, as well as specific resolutions, many from IU’s different federations, which correspond to Spain’s 17 “autonomous communities” and Ceuta and Melilla, its two enclaves in Morocco.

Main Challenges

The outgoing IU leadership had outlined four challenges and basic goals in its “Call for Debate” for the convention: to popularize a concrete economic alternative to neoliberalism; to “organize the democratic rebellion of the people”; to overcome the two-party system by “making IU and its alliances a real alternative for power”; and “to make profound changes to the IU we know … in order to transform it into a powerful political force for the left and the majority of society.”

It stressed that unless this last challenge was met it would be impossible to meet the first three: the IU would continue to be seen by many in struggle as alien and even part of “the political class,” at best a lesser evil on election day. The section of the political document headed “Profoundly changing our organization” called for an “internal revolution in IU.”

But how to meet that challenge? The concern with making the IU more hospitable for the new generation of activists was reflected in the huge number of amendments devoted to its statutes – more than 3200 of the 5500 total. Most were aimed at creating a less “institutional” IU: quicker to react and more organized in its support to social protest and resistance; providing greater opportunity for participation by sympathizers and activists in the social movements; and with greater transparency and accountability from public officeholders and elected officials.

However, some of the amendments would have transformed the IU into an assembly-based organization, even questioning the very concept of membership and, in the words of political document drafting panel reporter José Manuel Alonso, “placing in doubt the need for IU itself.” That would have taken the IU a very long way from its first response to the rise of 15M – the 2011 “Social Call,” a consultative process to provide a space for input into the IU’s program for the November 2011 national elections.

Ranging between these poles, the convention debate centred on what interrelated changes were needed to the IU itself, to its relation to the social movements, and to its alliances with social and political forces outside its own borders – all essential in order to build toward a majority social and political bloc against neoliberal capitalism in the Spanish state.

A contribution from the IA said:

“The ‘they don’t represent us’ [non nos representan, a 15M chant against the ‘political class’]… is a fundamental challenge for we left activists … our survival as a force for transformation is bound up with it … We should recognize ourselves in some of the criticisms of professionalized politics made from the social movements, and of which we are part. We are not outside or alien to what is being criticized and proposed.”

The IA’s proposed treatment was that all social collectives and individuals interested in a particular issue be invited to policy-formulation meetings, that draft policy documents based on that input be submitted to members for discussion, and that social networks be used and the IU web system rejigged as channels for proposals and feedback.

Pre-selection of candidates should be via primaries open to IU members and declared supporters or, in the case of the candidacies of alliances beyond the IU, through mechanisms agreed with the partners in the alliance.

In his blog for the left web daily Público, IU MP for Málaga Alberto Garzón, popular indignado and youngest deputy in the national parliament, tried for a precise diagnosis of the IU’s present condition.

“IU is not a conventional political party, even if it suffers from many of their vices, but a political and social movement. That’s what its statutes say and that’s how I personally reckon its role in society should be understood …

“However, the organization itself is structured internally with the rigidity and dynamics specific to a traditional party. And this state of affairs leads to a manifest inability to attract highly capable people who presently ‘travel’ outside the organization. In this situation the ‘insiders’ – namely, the people familiar with internal negotiation and the balance of forces among the different internal currents – usually end up prevailing over the ‘outsiders’ – namely, all those people who are potentially members but don’t end up joining owing to the enormous barriers to entry.

“This is a problem that is separate from purely ideological confrontation but which once set hard within the organization ends up blocking the dynamic needed to maintain the right balance between action in the streets and in the institutions.

“The result is that the organization gets transformed into something much more conservative than what the struggle in the street and citizens in general are demanding. A disconnection from reality gets produced, along with a tendency toward political dependence on the institutions, which leads to other tools of struggle being formed alongside the organization.

“That’s how we can understand that, despite clear ideological convergence, those who have carried out the most effective resistance against the neoliberal assault have been the social movements situated outside IU.”

A similar diagnosis was carried on the preconvention blog, “Going over the head of the regime.” In a statement that got wide support, Juan Peña, Eberhard Grosske (spokesperson of the IU council group in Palma, Mallorca) and Tánia Sànchez (MP in the Madrid regional parliament) outlined “ten messages that the Tenth Convention of IU must launch toward society.” These included, “We are going to start building tomorrow’s society today,” “We are going to make a qualitative leap in social and political convergence,” “We are going to place the institutions at the disposal of the people” and “We are going to open our main decision-making to citizen participation.”

Opening Session

However, the discussion wasn’t starting with a blank whiteboard – the IU had already accumulated valuable experiences since May 2011. These included:

  • Its broader alliance for the November 2011 national election, which gave rise to the Plural Left (IP) parliamentary caucus between its successful candidates and those of its allies elected from Initiative for Catalonia Greens-United and Alternative Left (ICV-EUiA) and the Aragonist Union (CHA);
  • The spectacularly successful Galician Left Alliance (AGE), between IU Galicia, the left-nationalist ANOVA, Equo Galicia and the Galician Eco-socialist Space (EEG), the “Galician Syriza”;
  • The sixth national congress of its Catalan sister organization EUiA, which featured web-based input and discussion with sympathizers and space for engagement with major social movements, such as the Platform of the Mortgage-Affected (PAH) and those fighting cuts to public health and education;
  • Council election successes like that in Valladolid, where the program for the 2011 council elections was decided by open meetings including IU sympathizers, resulting in a doubling of IU’s vote, an increase in its seats from one to three and a 25 per cent jump in membership.

In the convention’s opening session differing assessments of the IU’s present condition were expressed in reports from the regional federations that followed Cayo Lara’s balance sheet of his four years as federal coordinator. Even while recognizing many gains and the welcome success of Lara and the federal leadership in composing differences, numerous speakers stressed the enormity of the challenge before IU.

Ramón Trujillo, coordinator of the IU federation of the Canary Islands, said that, while creating the anti-capitalist alternative to neoliberal austerity was inconceivable without the IU, its present condition should be stated for what it is: “not a social movement, but a limited electoral machine and an institutional political apparatus.” La Rioja coordinator Henar Moreno criticized the federal leadership for its inability to “stay one step ahead of the rising class struggle.”

Valencia coordinator Marga Sanz stressed that “we’ve got a long way to go on with regards to feminism and youth.” The reporter for Galicia, Carlos Portomeñe, pointed to the growing gap between the IU’s vote and the size of its activist base, creating rising stress within an organization that is winning more and more respect and positions in institutions but not yet developing enough activists to use and service them.

On the positive side, Aragon coordinator Adolfo Barrena presented what the alliance achieved in that region between the IU, the Aragonist Union and the Social Initiative of Aragon as a valuable example of success in building broad left coalition.

Approach to the PSOE

The other main concern of speakers was what orientation to adopt toward the PSOE in the regions where the social democracy can govern with IU support. At present, where IU MPs are in a position to determine the shape of regional governments, IU federations have adopted three different approaches.

In Andalusia, the IU is a minority partner in a PSOE-led government; in Extremadura, the IU keeps the PSOE in opposition by allowing a minority PP government to rule; and in Asturias, IU MPs keep the PSOE in government by opposing the censure motions of the parties of the right, but without participating in the administration.

This difference was addressed by many, and not only by speakers from Extremadura and Andalusia (where majority and minority reporters were heard). Henar Moreno said: “We have been unable to define our alternative to the savage governments of the PP… We have to work out a common stance, and this has to abide by a minimum – not to take part in governments that implement cutbacks in contradiction with what we propose in our election platforms.”

Margarita González, from Extremadura, spoke out against the position of her federation as having “subordinated the program of IU in defence of the welfare state to petty tactical considerations” and having adopted the “morality of the slave for whom it’s good that things go well for the master so we can get some crumbs.” Her call for the convention’s support “against this pragmatism that only leads to political cynicism” drew strong applause.

IU Extremadura coordinator Pedro Escobar, acknowledging himself as the “black sheep of the family,” told the convention:

“We dared not to do a deal with PSOE … we were fed up with the situation where PSOE thinks it can write any script it thinks fit.

“We have not betrayed the program of IU, we are scrupulously following the mandate of 73 per cent of the membership of IU Extremadura. [PP premier of Extremadura] Monago is the right wing, but he is not doing what he would like to do because IU is there. True, it’s very little, but he’s also doing things he doesn’t want to do and which he wouldn’t do if IU weren’t there. It’s common sense in Extremadura: people say, thank God there’s IU because otherwise things would be happening as in other places.”

The IU’s Andalusian federation was represented by three speakers, two representing the 30 per cent minority that opposes IU’s participation in the Andalusian government and one, Andalusian deputy premier Diego Valderas.

Cayo Lara and the new leadership.    [pic.twitter.com/9v9qF9EG]

Álvaro García Mancheño from Seville spoke for the minority that is influenced by the Workers Unity Collective (CUT) and its leader Juan Manuel Sánchez Gordillo (also mayor of cooperative-based town Marinaleda): “Our government is applying policies of cuts and austerity in our community… We are going to approve a budget full of cutbacks … which we already voted against in 2012. We need a change of policy.”

Diego Valderas replied that the IU’s participation in the government of Andalusia was producing definite concrete reforms: the struggle against evictions would be rewarded with a progressive law effectively banning them, there would be laws on sexual equality, food sovereignty, historical memory and much more, and the budget would be “social,” with public health and education preserved in a very difficult financial environment.

What’s more, said Valderas, the IU-led parliamentary commission into PSOE government corruption in Andalusia had been torpedoed by an alliance of the PSOE and the PP. The correctness of the way the IU is participating in the Andalucian government was confirmed by the increase in support shown in the most recent poll, up from 11 to 16 per cent.

‘Belief in Ourselves’

In his summary, Cayo Lara made clear the position of the federal IU on these differences toward the PSOE: “The position in Extremadura contradicted the federal line, but it was a decision taken by all the comrades in Extremadura. Who has to change the line in Extremadura? The members there, on the basis of their view of what is best for the people of Extremadura. And although we have the opinions that we have, we are not going to carry out any intervention to change that.”

On the charge of “electoralism” raised by one speaker, Lara said: “We stand to win elections and govern. We are in the street all the time, we don’t have to prove ourselves in the street. But how do you take power in a constitutional state if not via the ballot box?”

Lara also took up the issue of how to build a ‘Spanish Syriza.’

“Many people dream about Syriza, but Syriza asked for our statutes in 2004 because they wanted to build a movement like IU! Comrades, we want to unite with many other left people – why can’t IU be the Spanish Syriza? Is it because our brand name is weak, that it doesn’t sell? That’s not the problem, the problem is that we have to start to believe in ourselves.”

Referring to the experience of the Galician Left Alliance, Lara said that the unity between all-Spanish federalists and Galician nationalists was achieved not as a deal between organizations but from the bottom up, on the basis of the unity that people wanted and needed to see. “Galicia started that way, many years ago. People began to understand each other in the towns. We need to adopt a similar approach toward other parts of Spain with an independentist approach.”

The federal coordinator concluded: the “IU must grow and bring together whoever wants to transform the reality of this country – the amalgam must continue to grow even if plurality is hard to manage. The challenge we have before us makes our internal differences small. We need fraternity, generosity and dialogue … because even in wars truces are signed and the sides shake hands.”

Statutes Debate

On the first part of the second day the 5500 amendments received to the three documents for voting were discussed in four commissions. The amendments were classed into those acceptable to the drafting panel for each document, those where a negotiated rewriting was offered and those which were rejected and to be debated in commission. Movers of amendments that were lost in the commission vote had the chance of moving them in the plenary that would hear the commission report backs.

Predictably, the plenary report that took longest was that devoted to the IU’s organization and statutes, with commission reporter Fernando Sánchez presiding over more than two hours of debate. A lot of the amendments expressed distrust toward the present structures and good intentions of the IU, an underlying desire to be able to go back to the social movements and say, look, the IU really has changed.

The main issues were:

Statutory youth quotas and an IU youth organization. Numerous amendments proposed a compulsory quota, usually 20 per cent, of young people (defined variously as under 35, 31, 30 or 20) on elected bodies and candidate lists. The draft statutes set 20 per cent as a goal to be strived for. Carlos Martínez Núñez, coordinator of the IU’s youth work, while reluctantly agreeing with a compromise to refer the proposal to a commission for further study (“we recognize this is only a battle not a war”), expressed great disappointment with the result, noting that all amendments around youth participation had been accepted for the political resolution but not for the statutes. The opportunity for creating a rejuvenated CPN had been lost.

The proposal for a separate youth organization (as opposed to the existing youth area of work) was overwhelmingly defeated on the grounds that the last thing the IU needed was to try to hive off the generation of 15M into its own box, away from the bulk of IU interventions and work.

Taking a flexible approach to the IU’s gender equality rules for public and internal elections. The proposal from one federation that the IU’s statutory gender parity in public and internal candidacies be applied flexibly because of practical difficulties was given short shrift by the plenary. It strongly applauded Sánchez’s response to the effect that the whole point of the rule was to force the organization at all levels to make itself “a space where women feel comfortable in activism and struggle for the rights of everyone.”

Limits to election mandates of IU officeholders. The drafting panel had proposed that IU candidates, both for public as well as internal positions, be able to stand for a fourth term only if they received the support of 75 per cent of the body carrying out the pre-selection. This was an attempt to tackle the situation where the actual IU policy – to allow a third term for candidates only if supported by the relevant pre-selecting body – had been, in the words of Sánchez, “systematically breached.” In the closest vote of the session (223-203) the convention decided to stick with the existing policy.

New statutory processes for developing policy and pre-selecting candidates. This amendment proposed that IU statutes allow open assemblies as the basic unit of policy development and candidate pre-selection – along the Catalan left-nationalist Popular Unity Candidacies (CUP). Raúl García Martín from the Aldalusian delegation painted the proposal as the only way to overcome the suspicion of non nos representan: “Let’s really open up IU, really!” Valladolid councillor Maria Sánchez stressed that this approach had been the key to IU Valladolid’s successes, noting that the amendment didn’t compel IU bodies to adopt the approach, but made it an option recognized in the statutes. Fernando Sánchez argued in reply that nothing prevented any IU body from including non-members in pre-selections and policy development, but that the process was still embryonic and the organization had to accumulate more experience in order to decide how exactly to include it in its statutes. The same applied for the proposal to mandate all IU organizations to hold regular, open, accountability assemblies. The amendment was lost.

Limits to the salaries of publicly elected officials. A joint proposal from the federations of Euskadi, Navarra and Valencia proposed that elected IU office holders receive the average wage of the electorates they represent, with the relevant IU body deciding on how to use the excess income. The rationale for the proposal cited Lenin to the effect that the abolition of the salary privileges of elected officials was one of the key questions of worker democracy, “perhaps the most important.” Sánchez proposed that the issue be discussed further within the IU – because the IU’s codes of income varied across the federations and were not widely known to all members and because “the vast majority” of IU elected officials abided by the relevant code.

A broad debate was needed to inform the membership of the actual situation and harmonize criteria among the federations, taking account of the cost of living in Spain’s different regions. The limit proposed to the plenary was based on the practice of IU Valencia and came from Marina Albiol, MP in the Valencian parliament. It stipulated a maximum salary for IU officeholders of between 2.5 and 3 times the minimum wage [of €645.30 a month, roughly $838 (CAD)], with a limit on expenses of 1.5 times the minimum wage. Albiol said: “An office holder who earns €4000 or €5000 a month ‘does not represent us’…please don’t let this issue, once again, not be decided by convention.” Here was an issue that the convention felt strongly about, also being seen as a way of demarking the IU from other parliamentary parties. Albiol’s amendment was carried, by 282 to 152.

Relations between IU and EUiA. The relation between the IU and the EUiA is different to that of the IU with the rest of its federations, being based on a joint agreement between the two coalitions that gives the EUiA the right to elect all its members to the IU federal political committee. This contrasts with the situations with other federations that elect 50 per cent (after this convention 30 per cent) of their members on the federal political committee, the rest being elected as part of the winning slate at the federal convention.

When a delegate moved that the EUiA’s relationship be made the same as other IU federations he was reminded of the IU-EUiA agreement. The amendment was overwhelmingly defeated, but it pointed to the sensitivity within the ranks of the IU itself of the national question in the regionally differentiated Spanish state.

Economic Document

Two positions were put in the report back from the commission that handled amendments to the economic document, “The IU Economic Alternative in the Face of the Crisis.”

José Antonio García Rubio, the IU’s federal secretary for the economy, said the amendments had improved policy in the areas of the self-employed, the legal elimination of tax-exempt investment funds, the pursuit of tax evasion and the black economy.

Other improvements involved a guaranteed minimum income, agricultural policy, the IU’s taxation model, its approach to debt and the overarching strategy of a New Alternative Model of Production that is “understood as a process of transition to the overcoming of capitalism and as a set of proposals that we offer for discussion to the social movements, the trade unions, the ‘tides’ [the different mass protest movements against cuts to the public sector, each symbolised by a different coloured t-shirt], to the plazas, so that together with all these an alternative can be evolved that can put an end to the present state of affairs.”

Given that the vast majority of suggested amendments were either accepted or compromise wordings negotiated, the commission would send a revised version of the document to the federations for final comment before developing a final version for adoption by the incoming leadership.

IU federal executive member Alberto Arregui, who had presented an alternative document to the September federal political committee, then addressed the convention on what he saw as “a core issue where we have to delve much more deeply and where there’s a certain disagreement.”

For Arregui, the New Alternative Model of Production necessarily presupposes a question of different management of the capitalist system itself, “in the narrow margins that the system leaves us” and “represents an abdication of the struggle for socialism as an alternative to the capitalist crisis, as a practical task, as Rosa Luxemburg would have said, and not as an abstract, long-term objective.”

Arregui proposed to substitute the concept of New Alternative Model of Production with the idea of…

“consistent struggle for labour, social and democratic rights … Because, if not, we end up accepting the logic of the capitalist system, we end up saying things such as they have put in the document, like we have to stimulate demand. Why do we have to stimulate demand of this system, based on the reproduction of capital, the accumulation of surplus value, unequal exchange with the Third World? I don’t want to stimulate this demand!

“The IU must break the logic of the system, it has to be able to answer without hesitation, without deception, what we would do if we were the majority of the left. Do we have an alternative to unemployment, just reducing the 6 million without work? Or is it full employment at the cost of those who own wealth?

“I have no doubt. If we weigh up the interests of 200 families and the interests of 100s of 1000s of families that are being expropriated and thrown out of their homes, there’s no doubt. I want to expropriate those 200 families that control 50 per cent of the economy in the Spanish State.”

Stressing that there was no third way between capitalism and socialism, Arregui said:

“We can’t be like the PP and PSOE and, on being elected, just pull our socialist program out of our pocket… History never responds to a plan. Things can’t be done from an office. Occasions arise and we are bold, we intervene or we lose this opportunity. We have this sort of occasion before us. Hic Rhodus! Hic salta! If you are socialist, show it now, and let’s struggle for socialism!”

García Rubio replied that the charge of “managing capitalism” belonged in a PSOE, not an IU, convention. How did any of the proposals of the economic document (35-hour week, the state to be an employer of last resort or provide a guaranteed minimum income) strengthen capitalism, especially when the IU proposals would end the reserve army of labour, one of the basic props of capitalist functioning?

He pointed out that the drafting panel had incorporated the greater part of the alternative document – the analysis of the crisis, the strategic goal of the construction of “socialism of the 21st century,” the impossibility of social pacts or accords, and the understanding that the New Alternative Model of Production could only be carried forward through class struggle.

However, while welcoming the contribution of Arregui and others for reviving within the IU “a long-standing debate in the international workers’ movement” that “had not been solved by history,” García Rubio rejected the claim that the IU was for reforms along the lines of those forced on capitalist administrations by economic crises and wars. “By contrast, defending the reforms of public health and education, introduced by capitalism in a previous period, in the present period – when capitalism needed to restore its rate of profit by privatizing everything – is revolutionary,” he stated.

As for Arregui’s emphasis on “socialism, build it, now,” there’s has never been an example of socialism being built from opposition – it has always been built from government, from state power. Citing Lenin’s formula that socialism was “soviets plus electrification,” García Rubio asked which was the most important element and answered “political power.” The economic document was aimed at creating the majority social and political bloc that would bring that about and without which all talk of socialism was words “on paper.”

Political Document

The least contested commission report back was that by IU international secretary Willy Meyer, covering the international aspects of the political document. Meyer said that the commission debate had strengthened the document with regard to Cuba’s struggle against imperialism, in particular the demand that U.S. President Barack Obama pardon the Cuban Five.

Other amendments improved areas like the European left’s responsibilities for solidarity with Latin America and properly underlined the central importance of Venezuela’s Bolivarian Revolution.

On the main issue of commission debate – the IU’s attitude toward the European Union and the euro currency – Meyer proposed that the IU hold an open conference to further elaborate its vision of a social Europe in opposition to the neoliberal European Union, with this being seen as a contribution to the work of the Party of the European Left before the 2014 elections for the European parliament.

That conference will give the IU, its supporters and the rest of the left in the Spanish state the chance for a serious debate on an issue already raised in pre-convention discussion by Llamazares: under what conditions should the IU stop supporting Spanish membership of the eurozone, in whose name much of the horrors of austerity are being visited on ‘peripheral’ Europe?

Greetings received from other European left parties, such as Syriza (in person from representative Stavros Karagkounis, but also from coordinator Alexis Tsipras via videolink), Catarina Martins, national co-coordinator of the Portuguese Bloco de Esquerda (Left Bloc) and the Portuguese Communist Party, all touched on the importance of the November 14, 2012, Europe-wide strike action as an advance in building an all-European left response to the crisis.

The international greetings with the strongest applause were from the countries with whose struggles IU activists do consistent solidarity – Western Sahara, Palestine, Cuba, Venezuela and Ecuador (these last four also being represented by their ambassadors to Spain).

José Manuel Alonso, the reporter on the section of the political document covering politics in the Spanish state and the IU’s own interventions, began by pointing to the contrast between everybody’s desire for increased involvement and the prevailing method of amending draft documents – involving nine hours of commission discussion to cover 1183 amendments. Alonso said: “These are not participatory methods. We have to look for other approaches, maybe of various documents, or of synthesising amendments … of grouping them so as to facilitate a different sort of debate.”

The commission had tried to do this by cutting the amendment mountain into 18 sections, covering all the major issues facing the IU (including 15M, how to promote participatory democracy and reform the model of the Spanish state, tactics toward the PSOE and PP, alliances for government, how best to present the IU’s own program, how to draw young people into the IU, animal rights and the environment – especially in the areas of food sovereignty and alternative models of agriculture and cattle raising).

Alonso reported that commission discussion had been particularly lively around issues of women’s rights and how the IU should relate to the trade unions, including whether it should develop a union intervention of its own. He added that the draft document had particularly gained from amendments in the area of environment.

This commission voted to propose that the IU’s formula for reform of the Spanish state – to a federal republic with the right to national self-determination – be further elaborated at a special open conference. With the new Catalan government resulting from the November 25, 2012, elections committed to an act of free choice on the future of Catalonia in 2014 – nearly certainly ‘illegal’ in terms of the Spanish constitution – this special conference will be vital in getting the IU’s position crystal clear on a make-or-break issue.

The commission also rejected one specific view of how to build a “Spanish Syriza,” moved by EUiA coordinator and ICV-EUiA MP in the Spanish parliament Joan Josep Nuet. His amendment read that the “IU must promote and extend the experience of the parliamentary Plural Left, in order to focus on establishing, within the territories and peoples, alliances between federalist and independentist forces like the success in Galicia with the Galician Left Alternative.”

Such an approach would have cut across the IU’s existing approach in Euskadi, where it is presently focussing on building up its own affiliate, the IA, especially after the loss of any IU representation in the Euskadi parliament.

After its nine-hour marathon, the commission, which had accepted 479 amendments, negotiated 580 and rejected 104, agreed not to submit any to the plenary, but to propose that its main debates be reflected through presentations from five speakers, representing different sensibilities within the IU.

Zaragoza (Aragon) councillor Pablo Muñoz contrasted two visions of how a majority social and political bloc should be built: either by “calling and leading” or by “suggesting, allowing to emerge and supporting.” The IU’s challenge, he said, was not to “be hegemonic” but to “create hegemony in partnership with the social movements,” learning all the time how to relate to what is different. The experience with the Social Initiative of Aragon had allowed the articulation of the movement for an alternative beyond parties, and the creation of a space for discussion and initiatives involving many more people – a pointer to the road to the social and political majority.

We must participate in the daily struggle of our class, but without forgetting that this struggle is a labour of Sisyphus … that’s why we need a struggle that leads to the elimination of private property of the means of production. ”

Federal executive member Alberto Arregui reappeared to stress that all the advances in the movement were nothing if not related to the struggle for socialism as an immediate practical task. “We must participate in the daily struggle of our class, but without forgetting that this struggle is a labour of Sisyphus … that’s why we need a struggle that leads to the elimination of private property of the means of production. The motor force is consciousness, and we can’t lift consciousness if we give up saying that socialism is superior. Let’s trust in ourselves and our class, demanding socialist democracy.”

A related message of urgency came from longstanding PCE intellectual leader Manuel Monereo: “The time factor is critical, we haven’t got all the time in the world. What we can’t do today or tomorrow we shan’t ever be able to do.” Monereo also insisted on the urgency of the debate on Europe and the euro.

From Valladolid Juan Peña expressed “pleasant surprise to find agreement from other federations, and in the commission itself. The drafting panel adopted the greater part of the amendments proposed.”

Peña’s main point was that “we have to rethink politics … it’s not just about winning support at election times, but actually achieving short-, medium- and long-terms goals. Take the platform against evictions. It doesn’t just work to achieve liquidation of mortgage debt on surrender of the house key. It works to stop evictions and restructure mortgage debt.”

Peña underlined the revival among young people of the traditional Spanish cooperative ethic as one example of how the strategic idea of a “political and social bloc” could be concretized, for him an area where the IU still had work to do.

IA speaker Montserrat Muñoz also acknowledged that most of the contributions from her current had been accepted in the commission, and stressed the need for the IU to look beyond itself to the creation of a broad left social and political front.

At the end of the day, Alberto Garzón reported on a special meeting between IU leaders and social movement representatives. He said: “Our closeness with social movements has grown exponentially through the long march to make our organization adequate to the times. We have recovered the sense of what we are: a social and political movement.” An important role in this had been done through “taking the parliamentary fraction into the street,” of really articulating its work as a parliamentary megaphone for struggle and protest. After stressing that the meeting had further strengthened ties with the social movements, Garzón concluded: “We have to be up to the challenge of the exceptional, which is always the emergence of the struggle of the oppressed, of those who cannot take it anymore.”

Final Day

The final day featured IU social movement activists speaking to resolutions from the federations as well as special resolutions of solidarity and support. These included one for Alfonso Fernandez, the last remaining prisoner from the November 14 general strike, who is held in solitary confinement and is increasingly being seen as the Spanish state’s hostage kidnapped from the social movements.

Chelmo Ruiz, spokesperson for the Platform of the Mortgage-Affected in Madrid, brought the house down when he noted the “slight problem” involved in a resolution suggesting that PAH be awarded the annual Prince of Asturias prize for good works in the Spanish State. “The one eviction that PAH would support is that of the Prince of Asturias.”

After his unanimous election by the incoming federal political committee, Cayo Lara stressed the gain represented by the unity of the single slate and the burning need for coherence in the face of coming attacks, which would be launched from big capital, the Spanish state and its parties, the media and from the EU. The new-found strength of the IU, he said, rose from its being an organic part of the wave of social protest. Building that protest would be the only way to “get rid of the powers-that-be democratically.”

And, to drive home the point that the IU is different and not part of the ‘political class,’ the national coordinator listed all the struggles where the IU had stood with the victims against the policies of the PP-PSOE, from attacks on democratic rights to opposition to changes to the Spanish constitution to placate the EU and the powers of finance. In short, “we defend democracy, which has become the most revolutionary tool in this phase of history.”

The other main stress in Lara’s summary was the European dimension of the crisis, and the need to build the Europe-wide response, importantly by strengthening the Party of the European Left with a view to winning a majority in the European parliament.

In this context “we have to struggle against the attempts of capital to set the workers of one country against others. It’s a class struggle, we stand with our class, and so the struggle in the EU has to be from a class viewpoint.”

Lara ended emphasising that “the IU that leaves this convention is not the same as the one that began it… This is the Spanish Syriza, you don’t have to look for any other Syriza.”

Some Conclusions

The delegates to the 10th federal convention of the IU expressed a clear feeling of “mission accomplished” in its final session. The convention decisions, the result of a confluence of the document drafts and high membership participation in amendments, registered a clear turn in the politics of the IU – a shared conviction popular mobilization and protest is the motor force that will change the political balance of forces in the Spanish state and Europe as a whole.

The greater the mobilization, the greater the crisis of the Rajoy PP government and the EU, the greater the crisis of perspective for the PSOE, and the greater the willingness to heed the IU’s perspectives.

The challenge will now be to generalize that approach, so that the IU becomes a more activist, interventionist organization across the whole of the Spanish state. That will depend crucially on its ability to attract, involve and hold the younger generation of activists, as it is already beginning to do.

The next wave of challenges that the gains of this convention can help the IU confront are:

  • How to relate to the PSOE nationally, including the issue of what form a left government would take in the Spanish state (not specifically addressed in the political document, unlike that outlined in the political perspective recently adopted by Portugal’s Left Bloc). Winning the millions who are disillusioned with the PSOE but are still not convinced that the IU will become the necessary alternative only though the IU being the best builders of the social struggle or through the growth of a social and political bloc. How to use that strength to pressure the PSOE from the left? What should be the IU’s specific calls on the PSOE for it to join the IU in building an alternative to neoliberal austerity?
  • How to relate to the likely real evolution of the national struggle, especially in Catalonia. The IU’s model of a federal republic with right of national self-determination doesn’t yet give an answer as to what stance to take in the face of the highly probable conflict between the Catalan and PP governments over a Catalan consultation on the region’s future status. That is, the likely evolution of the struggle around national rights poses the question of how a new federal Spanish republic could actually come into being – via a constituent process following on the election of a left government and/or via acts of self-determination of its constituent nationalities, at least one of which (Catalonia) might actually vote for independence.
  • How to build a broad social and political bloc in the regions where the national question is as important, or for many even more important, than the struggle against austerity. In Catalonia, the IU sister party EUiA has adopted a perspective, along with the ICV, of helping create a broad left space based on recognition of the Catalan people’s right to decide. The same approach was adopted by IU Galicia, enabling the formation of the Galician Left Alternative as a parliamentary coalition. How to apply a similar approach in Euskadi, where the IU is weaker in relation to left independence forces, specifically EH Bildu?
  • How to apply the federative approach within the IU itself, always pulled between two imperatives – that of having a consistent and clear national line, and that of the autonomy of federations. An IU constitutional conference will take this issue up later in 2013.
  • What exact rationale is there for maintaining the existing groups and tendencies in the IU in their present form if some of the differences that gave rise to them are being superseded by the convergences revealed at this convention? A lot of the pre-convention discussion did not take the form of debates between the existing affiliated groups and networks, but of a issue-specific exchanges of views among individual members via blogs and email networks.

The convention, an important gain for the European left as a whole, left this observer with the impression of a high mountain successfully climbed, but immediately bringing into view a range of higher peaks. The accelerating economic, social and institutional crisis in the Spanish state is relentlessly increasing the tests its anti-capitalist left must meet. •

Dick Nichols is the Barcelona-based European correspondent for Green Left Weekly and Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal, where this article first appeared. He attended the 10th national convention of the United Left as a representative of the Australian Socialist Alliance. For full video coverage of the convention go to www.izquierda-unida.es/x_asamblea. The draft convention documents and reports to delegates can be found at www.izquierda-unida.es/taxonomy/term/622/documentos.

Appendix: Organizations affiliated to the United Left

  • Communist Party of Spain (PCE, Partido Comunista de España)
  • Communist Youth (JC, Juventudes Comunistas)
  • Workers Unity Collective (CUT, Colectivo de Unidad de los Trabajadores)
  • Republican Left (IR, Izquierda Republicana)
  • Workers Revolutionary Party (POR, Partido Obrero Revolucionario): The POR is integrated into IU via the internal IU current Networks (Redes)
  • Eco-socialists of the Murcia Region (Ecosocialistas de la Región de Murcia)
  • Batzarre: A left-nationalist collective in Navarra
  • Initiative for El Hierro (Iniciativa por el Hierro): Collective based on the Canary island of El Hierro
  • Aragonist Union (CHA, Chunta Aragonesista)
  • Open Left (IA, Izquierda Abierta)
Articles by: Dick Nichols

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