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The International Writers Magazine: From our Vigo Correspondent

Is Spanish Socialism Dying?
• James Skinner
Spain is dividing between extremes squeezing out the middle-way.

Spainish street mobs

Sr. Pedro Sanchez, the recently elected Secretary General of the Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE) held an important yet hardly reported summit in Madrid on the 22nd of February of the majority of European socialist representatives. The objective was to show support for the new Spanish leader as well as to discuss the major problems affecting Europe and lay down certain ground rules for the future. The main point on the agenda was a plea to reduce the heavy imposed measures of austerity that are affecting the lower income earning population, followed by a plan to reduce unemployment and restore many of the welfare benefits that have been subjected to severe cut backs. They also condemned and confirmed the need to implement measures to combat the increasing threat of Islamic terrorism. All good stuff although many of their arguments, other than austerity, are already in place by the center-right parties in Europe.

The real message however, came from Sr. Felipe Gonzalez, Spain’s retired President. He warned of the danger of Russia’s President Vladimir Putin who is gradually undermining European integrity. In fact what he was trying to say was that the Russian Premier, as pointed out by a recent top story in The Economist, is wooing the extreme radical parties, both right and left, - examples Syriza in Greece, Podemos (We Can) in Spain and the National Front in France – with all kinds of goodies, so that they may rise and take over in their respective countries. Thus it could re-establish Governments more amenable to Russian style political scenarios on the continent. We all know what is going on in Ukraine and if the conflict is not resolved, Sr. Felipe’s warning will eventually by heard loud and clear throughout the European Union and beyond.

But aside from the summit, international news and conflicts, and returning to this month’s recent events; why the title of this essay?

According to recent polls, were general elections to be held in Spain right now, the present conservative party (PP) would scrape through as first contender followed by Podemos (We can), leaving the socialists (PSOE trailing behind. The latter are losing ground on a daily basis. Other minor parties such as nationalists, republicans, communists, social-democrats and liberals are all climbing the ladder forming all kinds of weird alliances. As one prominent journalist said, ‘We’re back to the days of the National Front of the 1930s. And we all know what happened then!’

So what is causing this strange political cauldron that is liable to endanger not only the Euro zone but the whole of the European Union?

If we back track over the past couple of years, corruption has been a major culprit that has spread like a cancer throughout the country’s political parties, especially the bi-partisan lot and continues to hit the press as more and more scandals emerge at every level of government. The main players, Sr. Rajoy (PP) and Sr. Sanchez (PSOE) have vowed publicly to expel any member of their respective parties that are in a governing position should they be called before a judge to testify in a case of corruption. Great!

The government already had its handful with the so called Barcenas case; the party’s treasurer for over 20 years who creamed off 52 M Euros of private donations and packed them off to several tax havens. He was convicted and sent to prison. However, he stated in his trial that he kept 2 sets of books and that most members of the party were handed envelopes of undeclared ‘tax free’ cash. This continues to haunt the government.

The Socialists on the other hand continue with their own corruption battle in the autonomous region of Andalucía. In this case it was public money that had been syphoned off for decades in fictitious ‘worker’ training programs that date back to the days of ex-presidents Sr. Chavez Manuel and Sr. Jose Antonio Griñon. However, there are new players on the scene both in Andalucía with Ms. Susana Diaz as president and Sr. Pedro Sanchez as General Secretary.   

Above cases have been reported in earlier essays on Spain’s corruption scandals. Judging by the above, the question is why, according to the very recent polls is the right-wing government holding its own and the socialists on a free fall? One of the reasons is the frightening rise of Podemos (We Can) that have overwhelmingly captivated the majority of dissatisfied citizens, with their clever use of the media and Internet, i.e. Facebook and Twitter, that are utterly fed up with the way the country has been handled.  Up until recently they have avoided any corruption scandals although one of their leaders, Sr. Juan Carlos Monedero is being investigated for tax evasion.

But why has it hit the socialists more that the conservatives? Simple, the Socialist party does not know which way to jump. They are in disarray!

Ms. Diaz is a charismatic leader in her own territory and has cleverly called for early regional elections thus hoping for a majority win. Another factor is that she does not see eye to eye with Mr. Sanchez.

Mr. Sanchez, on the other hand has signed a state agreement with the government to fight the ever present threat of Islamic terrorism. Good move, but did not go down well with many hard core left wing supporters, of all colors. So what does he do? He begins another anti-government campaign, especially as this is a multiple election year, including all town councils and some autonomous regions that include the all-important government of Madrid. Both these persons have vowed that they (PSOE) will never agree to a coalition with the right wing (PP) if they are unable to form a government.

So who will they join up with Podemos?

And that is the key question. As another prominent journalist wrote, ‘The Socialists and Conservatives, since the end of the Franco dictatorship have been the cornerstone and foundation of this country’s democracy. Podemos offers a very uncertain radical future that has yet to be experienced.’

There have been other events that have hit the headlines, including nationwide carnival jamborees with plenty of fun and games for the kids. Cataluña continues down the path of independence, although the Pujol family (Sr. Jodi Pujol was president for over 20 years) have turned their money laundering trial into a circus. A convicted ETA murderer, José Ignacio Juana de Chao who has been on the run for several years turned up in Venezuela running a bar. But the main issue is the future of the centre-left sector of Spanish politics that are at stake.

Spain is not Greece. The economy and finances are at last on the right path. There is light at the end of the tunnel. But if the goal posts are changed because Sr. Sanchez is unable or not assertive enough to woo the normal middle-class socialists to recognize that European Socialism has changed and so must his own party’s manifesto, within a year Spain could be in real political trouble. It will be left with only one right wing element and a cocktail of extreme left wing parties brought about by one incredible movement. Podemos.

See you next month.   

©  James G. Skinner. March, 2014.

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