Politics in a Time of Crisis

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* Book: Politics in a Time of Crisis: Podemos and the Future of a Democratic Europe by Pablo Iglesias, translated by Lorna Scott Fox Verso, 2015


Review

Dan Hancox:

"By the time Politics in a Time of Crisis was published (as Disputar la Democracía) in Spain in October last year, the party was close to overtaking the PP in the opinion polls. But the bulk of the book was written in 2013 when ‘Podemos was little more than a vague, nameless hypothesis.’ As such it outlines the perceived need and historical context for the emergence of a party like Podemos, but doesn’t articulate the party’s policy platform. In the book, as on TV, Iglesias mixes the serious with the playful, political theory with pop culture. He cites Billy Elliot and The Wire alongside Francis Fukuyama and David Harvey to discuss neoliberalism’s corrosion of the postwar social democratic consensus, Game of Thrones alongside Gramsci to illustrate the meaning of power. The book is aimed at the ‘youth without a future’, the generation for whom adult life will begin with the considerable difficulty of getting away from the family home.

A large part of the book is devoted to a tour of Spain’s 20th century and its glaring precedents for the present: a succession of grim lessons concerning the use of crises by the strong to repress the weak, unnecessary compromises and the betrayal of mass movements. There are contemporary resonances everywhere: especially, given the likelihood of a coalition government after 20 December, in a passage about the subduing and incorporation of marginal parties in the 1910s to prop up national governments. One message is clear throughout: under capitalism, democracy is always incomplete, and always contingent.

Capitalism is rarely named explicitly as the enemy ideology, in part because attacking capitalism head-on is identified with the (failed) way of the old left, but perhaps also because it hardly needs spelling out. Fundamental to Podemos – as it was to the indignados – is the sense that Spanish democratic sovereignty has been usurped by the forces of global capitalism, represented recently in the form of the Troika, with the co-operation of the country’s own political and economic elites. As if to demonstrate this, in 2011 the PP and PSOE agreed a constitutional reform that made it a legal obligation for Spain’s governing party to designate balancing the budget a priority over public spending and investment – in Iglesias’s words, formalising ‘the victory of a Hayekian Europe’.

Podemos aims its critique not just at European austerity, but also at the failures of Spain’s post-Franco settlement. Almost as prominent as la casta in the Podemos lexicon is el régimen del ’78, a reference to the year the democratic constitution was established after Franco’s death in 1975. The term carries contempt for the shrinking of the differences between the PP and PSOE over the last thirty years, and the democratic deficit left by their domination. It also speaks of the chasm between the radical, organised working class that came alive again in the late 1970s, marching and striking in their millions, and the post-Franco consensus stitched up by the political classes, the monarchy and union leaders. There was neither atonement for the sins of the dictatorship nor a purging of torturers from Franco’s police force. ‘In the case of the Spanish transition,’ Iglesias writes, ‘it wasn’t the democrats who set the rules.’ (http://www.lrb.co.uk/v37/n24/dan-hancox/can-they)