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