Lessons of Spain
In this book, which is prefaced for UK readers by Owen Jones, there are several important ideas which just might have some application to the current situation here.. Firstly, there is a need to rethink what is the focus of our political activity. Without this, as Errejón puts it, you are “caught between cynicism and nostalgia for the centrality of the lost class” and the possibility of developing a counter-hegemonic narrative dies. Application here: drop the unscientific justifications for a “white working class” and start to understand the most conscious, trade unionised sections of the working class as it is currently constituted.
Secondly, hegemonic power, “even when it is being defied by its adversaries, must be defied in its own terms.” Margaret Thatcher said she regarded her greatest achievement as Tony Blair and New Labour. So even when the Tories were challenged, they were challenged from within a neoliberal economic framework that Labour accepted. Application here: even if the full programme of Jeremy Corbyn and the left fails to survive the right-wing onslaught within the Labour Party, there is a fair chance that many of the key things he has fought for will survive, not least a repudiation of the Iraq War and clear opposition to austerity.
Linked to this is the idea of “relative irreversibility”. While some Marxists have argued for the continuous, permanent involvement of the masses in politics, in practice it never happens. Long periods of relative inactivity follow concentrated moments of largescale political engagement. The issue is: how do we ensure that in those rare moments we lay the foundations for something that cannot be easily swept away when mass activity begins to ebb? Application here: the last year has been exceptional in Labour politics with the its membership first doubling when Corbyn was elected and them putting on another 100,000 members since Brexit. Our task is not only to engage these members in meaningful activity but to ensure the impact of their involvement is a lasting one.
What makes Errejón’s approach so creative is his willing to learn from real experiences and set aside models that have not worked in the past. If the traditional left approach did not work in Europe, where it was initially refined, how could it be expected to apply, for example, to Latin America, where most of the advances have been made by movements usually disparaged as “populist” by the western left?
When I saw him speak in \London last year, Íñigo Errejón asked rhetorically: ”Are we interested in uniting the left? No, we’re interested in taking power!” He echoes that idea here, when he says, “We’re interested in constructing a people, not in constructing the left.” Podemos succeeded in framing the electoral map differently - democracy versus oligarchy, citizens versus the elite. Application here: taking the Corbyn agenda out into the country and building a social majority that can get a socialist government elected to power is a lot more important than reforming the Labour Party.
Heretical stuff to some, but in Spain it helped overcome the crisis of representation that still grips many western democracies. Podemos’s slogan for its initial campaign for the 2014 EU elections was “When was the last time you were excited about voting?” - something no traditional party could have afforded to say. There’s a great deal in this slim book to learn from.