Podemos Threaten to Storm Spain: the end of the post-Franco order and a return to radical politics?

In the wake of the triumph of the anti-austerity Syriza party in the Greek general election, hopes and fears abound that a similar success may be in store for the extreme left in Spain. There, the radical Podemos is threatening to break the monopoly on government that the centre-right People’s Party (PP) and the centre-left Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE) have held since the restoration of democracy in 1977 following the end of Francisco Franco’s dictatorship.

Podemos (We Can) have quickly garnered a large and active support base
Podemos (We Can) have quickly garnered a large and active support base

Podemos advocates the ‘nationalization of key economic sectors, a state-guaranteed living wage, a 35-hour workweek, mandatory retirement age of 60, a law preventing profitable companies from firing their employees, and a citizen’s audit of public debt’. (Encarnacion, 2015) Such radical policies have populist appeal, particularly amongst Spain’s jobless youth. However, despite a general discontent with the mainstream political parties, are Spaniards ready for a return to radical politics given their recent history?

Prior to Franco’s dictatorship was the Spanish Civil War, which tore the country apart between 1936 and 1939 and ended up involving several competing European powers in a form of proxy war. This period was characterised by extremist political parties, ranging from the far-right Falangist fascists to the ultra-left FAI anarchists. In between was a diverse mixture of interest groups, including monarchists, republicans, communists, nationalists and trade unionists, each with their own agendas and each wary of their competition for supremacy.

Black-shirted Falangists march during the Spanish Civil War
Black-shirted Falangists march during the Spanish Civil War

An estimated half-a-million people died during the Spanish Civil War with the outcome being Franco’s brutal dictatorial regime. Atrocities were committed by both the Republican and Nationalist factions and this, together with pre-existing regional tensions, have created social unease in Spain ever since.

It is therefore perhaps unsurprising that the Spaniards have largely remained patient with the PP and PSOE, despite their mixed political performance in the past few decades. Government incompetence and corruption is surely preferable to civil conflict and death. Yet with the number of Civil War survivors decreasing and a new generation of Spaniards intent on a political upheaval to revive their economic fortunes, Podemos may have risen at an opportune moment.

There is little doubt that, like Syriza in Greece, Podemos will find it impossible to enact their radical agenda without irreparably damaging their country. Whether this would stop them trying should they win the general election remains to be seen. Yet we could be witnessing another momentous change in one of the EU’s member states; a return to radical politics for Spain, whose tragic recent past is in danger of being forgotten.

Marcos Ana is one of just 12 surviving combatants of the Spanish Civil War. He fought on the side of the Spanish Second Republic and was imprisoned by Franco for years
Marcos Ana is one of just 12 surviving combatants of the Spanish Civil War. He fought on the side of the Spanish Second Republic and was imprisoned by Franco for years

Source

Encarnacion, O.G., ‘Can the Far Left Sweep Spain? Radical Politics and the “Podemos” Wave’, Foreign Affairs (08/02/2015)

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Aiding a Lesser Enemy: the element of risk in defeating evil

One of the conundrums of the prolonged Syrian conflict is whether arming and supplying the ‘rebel’ groups trying to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad’s diabolical regime is a risk worth taking. Is it a necessary step to finally end one of the Middle East’s most repressive dictatorships? Or is it a misguided gamble that will see Al-Qaeda affiliates armed to the teeth, ready to deploy their weaponry against Western targets?

The Syrian rebels come from a disparate set of backgrounds, including Al-Qaeda
The Syrian rebels come from a disparate set of backgrounds, including Al-Qaeda

A comparable, if not totally identical, dilemma was faced by the Allied forces seventy-three years ago today. At the height of the Blitz, with France long since having fallen to the Wehrmacht’s ‘Blitzkrieg’, the British government feared an imminent invasion, both of its mainland and its overseas territories.

The Chief of the Naval Staff, writing on the 21st November 1940, declared the importance of supplying wheat to the starving Spanish regime of the fascist Francisco Franco in order to prevent Spain ‘being forced into the arms of Germany’.

British naval personnel were particularly concerned that Spain could support a German attack against their crucial naval base in Gibraltar, thus gaining control of all the Mediterranean. The dilemma faced by the British was obvious. Did they supply the Spaniards with an important commodity, knowing that Franco could easily accept the gift and still offer support to his ideological brethren in Berlin?

The British aided the detestable Franco in a bid to defeat the greater evil of Hitler
The British aided the detestable Franco in a bid to defeat the greater evil of Hitler

What made the issue more complex is that the wheat ship was due to be sent from America. The Americans, however, wanted a declaration of support for the Allied effort from Franco in return for the wheat. The British were unequivocal in their stance:

General Franco would not make such a statement and that if he did he would bring the Germans immediately in on his back…I feel that the American side of the problem has been very badly handled by the United States ambassador here.

America had yet to enter the war and the British clearly felt they had far more to lose if the procrastination regarding the Spanish wheat ship continued. For the British, the risk was worth taking:

Even if our friends and we fail to keep Spain out of the Axis we can at once reverse our policy and hold up supplies.

Ultimately, the American grain ships sailed and Spain’s wheat supplies were assured. Franco, knowing his war-ravaged country could ill afford to lose this precious resource, refused Hitler’s entreaties to aid a German and Vichy French attack against Gibraltar. Gibraltar, meanwhile, remained a vital British naval base throughout WWII and supported the convoys that supplied Britain’s allies.

Gibraltar's naval importance made it indispensable to the Allied war effort
Gibraltar’s naval importance made it indispensable to the Allied war effort

Of course reversing the policy of arms supplies to the Syrian rebels is not practicable and therefore it is a bigger gamble than the Spanish wheat ‘dilemma’ turned out to be. Perhaps, in the long run, it is a gamble worth taking. It depends on who is defined as the greater evil; Assad? Or the terrorist minority amongst the rebels?

PRO Source: CAB 80/23