Spanish Social Democrats can only remain in power thanks to the leftist independence parties
Jule Goikoetxea is a Basque professor, writer, and feminist activist
Translated and edited by BRAVE NEW EUROPE
Originally published in Spanish in Público
The era of party democracy has passed, claimed political scientist Peter Mair. Today’s parties are engaged in a competition so devoid of meaning for the people that they no longer seem capable of supporting democracy in its present form, he explained. The cartelisation process we are experiencing leads parties to have to broaden their voting base in order to win, if not elections, at least public office, otherwise they become superfluous parties, and it is in this context that we must understand, on the one hand, the emergence of parties like Unidas Podemos and Mas País and the (almost) disappearance of parties like the far-right Spanish party Ciudadanos or the Catalan PDeCat and, on the other, the development of coalitions such as the (truly) leftist Catalan CUP or Basque EHBildu.
The latter has been in existence for a decade and has just held its 2nd Congress, in which it made clear its commitment to being a functional party with a programmatic base that allows it to govern in all types of institutions on the basis of popular municipalism, which has already won it 117 mayoralties. We have gone from the cadre parties of the 19th century to the mass and catch-all parties of the 20th century, and from there to the cartel parties of the 21st century, which is the century of the “Democracy of the Spectacle”, where either you win posts and elections or you become a superfluous party. The latter requires a process of general de-ideologisation and an increase in the number of technocrats and communication experts in their staffs: that is why it is called the Democracy of the Spectacle.
In this scenario of cartelisation, the aim of every party is to strengthen its institutional element in order not to disappear, and while EHBildu is the second strongest party in the Basque autonomous community and is negotiating, among other things, the repeal of the labour reform with the Spanish government, we can say that it has fulfilled one of its objectives. But what are the consequences for the other parties with EH Bildu’s entry onto the scene as a negotiating actor? For the conservative Basque Nationalist Party PNV it is a threat, while for Unidas Podemos and Spain’s social democratic party PSOE (led now by its left wing) it is a hope.
In the case of right-wing Basque nationalism, it is a threat because after forty years it has lost, albeit provisionally, its monopoly on the representation of “Basque interests” in Spain, becoming, in this legislature, somewhat superfluous. This has had repercussions at home, where in the last elections EHBildu gained votes and the PNV lost them. The first paradox is that at the moment the PNV does not have an absolute majority in the Basque Country without the socialists, while in Spain the socialists do not have an absolute majority without EHBildu.
This is the crux of why nobody has been interested, since the end of the dictatorship, that the Izquierda Abertzale assembled in EHBildu (parties or organizations of the Basque nationalist/separatist left, stretching from democratic socialism to communism) went from being an anti-system or peripheral party to being a relevant and necessary institutional party for the governability of Spain. Traditionally, when the winner of the state elections did not have an absolute majority, be it the conservative Partido Popular or the PSOE, they negotiated with the conservative nationalist parties of Catalonia and the Basque Country, CIU or PNV: the transfer of some statutory devolution in exchange for their support for the state budget, and in this picaresque second-hand market system where organic laws are traded as if they were shoes, everyone was happy, especially those who in addition to having political representation had economic power.
But a few years into the new century, CIU disappeared, ETA laid down its arms, Unidas Podemos emerges and an independence process develops that nobody foresaw in Catalonia, so that the PNV, destined to be the key piece of the second-hand market’s governability, is left overnight dislocated in the state power structures, and with its shortcomings plainly in sight at home, due to a series of judicial processes in which its members were involved and the revelation of incompetent and corrupt patronage networks that end in environmental disasters and deaths.
The constant cases of corruption in the parties add to the process of cartelisation that we are experiencing, increasing the disaffection and distrust of the population with respect to the parties in general, and this means that those on the right vote angrily for the far-right and those on the left abstain or vote angrily to stop the far-right, which means that the whole political spectrum is lead to the right-wing and nobody votes with any illusion in this Democracy of the Spectacle.
In this landscape of disaffection and distrust, EHBildu is currently finding a somewhat indeterminate sociological space, but, perhaps because of this, sufficiently broad to expand its electorate not only among the young vote, but also among the vote that previously belonged to the Spanish left. This is because in the peripheral nations neither Podemos nor the social democrats of PSOE can compete on the left with EHBildu, but neither with the Catalan social democratic ERC or leftist CUP, which is why 15 May movement and the rise of the Indignados has been a very important phenomenon for the contemporary history of the Spanish nation (not necessarily for the remaining minority nations) because it has made it clear that the Spanish leftist parties cannot govern in Spain if they do not cooperate with the pro-independence parties. This leads us to the hypothesis that, outside Madrid and the two Castiles, the young left-wing generations are mostly pro-independence or pro-sovereignty, something that the PNV has identified perfectly since it has distanced itself from any pro-independence party with the aim of reinforcing its autonomist identity and thus broadening its electoral base by attracting voters from the Spanish right, which is the only place from where it can broaden its base.
In this new era of cartelisation and spectacle, the left in the Spanish state will be the governing left if and only if the pro-independence left so decides. And if not, the right, including that of the PSOE, will always win.