Spain: thousands march in Andalusia against far-right electoral gains

Thousands of people marched through the streets of Malaga, Seville and Granada last night in response to the results of the Andalusia elections, which saw the far-right party VOX enter the regional parliament with 12 deputies. The demonstrations, which had been called through social media, were overwhelmingly made up of youth, with many carrying red and Republican flags, as well as the Andalusian green and white flag.

In Málaga, some 1,000 people gathered in the town centre, taking over the whole of Larios street, which was already decorated with Christmas lights. In Seville, hundreds gathered in the centre and then marched to the regional parliament, their numbers swelling to 2,000. In Granada, there was already a gathering in the centre of town, which then became a demonstration that shut down the main streets, with the local police putting numbers at 4,000. Noticeable in Granada was the presence of Catalan independence flags, as well as shouts of “Free political prisoners”.

Far-right in parliament

These demonstrations were the spontaneous reaction to the shocking news that VOX had not only entered the regional parliament for the first time ever, but had achieved results that had not been forecasted by any of the opinion polls: 12 deputies with 10.97 percent of the total vote. This is the first time that a far-right formation has achieved any parliamentary representation in Spain since 1982.

The elections had been called by regional president Susana Díaz (PSOE) ahead of their scheduled time, as she calculated that the increase of the Socialist Party in the opinion polls was going to give her an overall majority in Andalusia, where she had ruled in an alliance with liberal party, Ciudadanos, since 2015. It was a fatal miscalculation.

The Socialist Party had ruled Andalusia ever since the regional parliament was established in 1982. The decline of the PSOE nationally had also affected it in Andalusia, but still the region remained overwhelmingly dominated by the party in regional elections and the regional party was one of the main players in the national PSOE. The regional president, Susana Díaz, had clashed with Pedro Sanchez in the party’s primary elections in 2017, where she represented the right-wing apparatus of the party and was defeated. Already, in 2012, the PSOE was forced to make a coalition with United Left in order to rule, something that damaged IU as it was put in a position of propping up austerity policies. In 2015, again, the PSOE had no overall majority and made an alliance with Ciudadanos, the right-wing liberal party.

results Image fair useResults breakdown for Andalusian regional elections / Image: fair use

The party’s share of the vote progressively declined, from 48 percent in 2008, to 40 percent in 2012 and 35 percent in 2015. The elections on Sunday were the final blow to socialist hegemony in Andalusia. The party lost 400,000 votes (nearly a third) and went down to 28 percent. It is still the largest party in the regional parliament, but will not be able to form a government. The party in Andalusia has been responsible for carrying out unpopular austerity policies as well as being involved in a myriad of corruption scandals.

Many of its voters decided to abstain, with a smaller section voting for Ciudadanos. Turnout, at 58 percent, was the lowest since 1990, and five percentage points lower than in 2015. In total, the number of abstentions went up by 320,000, with spoilt and blank ballots increasing by 45,000. Abstention was higher in the working-class areas and towns, which had traditionally delivered overwhelming Socialist Party majorities for nearly four decades.

The right-wing Popular Party, recently ousted from the national government by Pedro Sanchez, also did badly. It went down from 26 to 20 percent of the vote shedding over 300,000 votes. The right turn of the party’s new leader, Casado, did not prevent many of its voters from deserting it, on the contrary, it encouraged them to vote for more radical and openly right-wing options, mainly VOX, which went up by 378,000 votes. The right-wing liberal Ciudadanos capitalised on its reactionary Spanish nationalist agitation against the Catalan Republic movement last year, doubling its share of the vote from 9 to 18 percent, but still coming short of its main aim of overtaking the popular party.

The alliance of United Left and Podemos, standing under the bland name of Andalusia Adelante (Forward Andalusia), did not do well. In went down in share of the vote as compared to the combined voted of the two formations in 2015, from 21 percent to 16 percent, and lost some 280,000 votes. The campaign it run was not bad, with a radical message and lots of references to the working class, but this was not enough to offset a number of other factors. First of all, internal faction struggles within the regional organisation, together with a general process led by the national leadership to empty out the local branches, meant that the Podemos part of the alliance did not have many activists it could rely on. Only in July, the national leadership around Pablo Iglesias had launched a dirty campaign against the regional leadership around Teresa Rodriguez (from the Anticapitalistas wing of the party) which had the effect of destroying many of the local structures and demoralising a section of the remaining activists. Perhaps more significant was the fact that Unidos Podemos has reached an agreement with the Pedro Sanchez government on the question of the state budget for next year. Thus, for many left-wing people in Andalusia who wanted to get rid of the hated Susana Díaz government, the organisation appeared too close to the PSOE.

The most striking feature of the election result was the irruption of VOX. It received 395,000 votes on Sunday, while it had only 18,000 in 2015. This is a far-right party, standing on policies which can be easily compared to those of Le Pen in France, FPO in Austria or the AfD in Germany. It denounces immigration and Islam, stands for Spanish nationalism, advocates the abolition of autonomous regional governments, defends free enterprise and denounces feminism and “gender ideology”.

Catalonia

Clearly, the Catalan national question has played a role in the party’s growth. VOX has been a party of the prosecution in all the trials against Catalan political leaders for the independence referendum a year ago. The main right-wing parties (PP and Ciudadanos) have in fact helped bring VOX to prominence and give it legitimacy by openly participating in joint Spanish nationalist demonstrations in Barcelona, for instance.

The PP and Ciudadanos made the Catalan question one of the main issues in the Andalusia campaign… and it was VOX which benefitted. The PSOE, and above all Susana Díaz, is also responsible for the rise of the far right, as it joined in the chorus of reactionary Spanish nationalism a year ago. If the Catalan politicians are “coup plotters”, “defy democracy and the Constitution” and the Catalan referendum is dealt with in a brutal repressive manner, then it is no surprise that right-wing voters will turn towards the party that is seen as more radical in dealing with that threat.

Vox Image Contando EstrelasThe far-right party, VOX received 395,000 votes on Sunday and gained 12 deputies, meaning it will enter parliament for the first time / Image: Contando Estrelas

VOX comes from a split of the right wing of the PP. Its main leader, Santiago Abascal was a local councillor and regional deputy of the party in the Basque Country. He and others split from the PP in 2004 as they considered the party’s line too lenient regarding “ETA supporting parties” and not tough enough against Catalan and Basque nationalism. The far right, which in Spain had always remained within the boundaries of the PP (which was after all founded by six Francoist ministers) seems to now have found a new political home.

The votes for VOX in the Andalusian election come overwhelmingly from wealthy neighbourhoods where the PP was strong. In most election districts, there is an almost exact correlation between the votes lost by the PP and the votes won by VOX, with a few additional voters coming from abstention. The strongest result for VOX is in El Ejido, Almería: a medium-income area dominated by agricultural greenhouses, where about a third of the population are African migrants working in brutal conditions of exploitation. Here, the PP was the largest party in 2015, with 41 percent of the vote, and now VOX has won the election with 29 percent, and the PP going down to 26 percent.

So far, it cannot be said that VOX has captured the working class vote in any significant way, and in the main working class and landless labourer neighbourhoods and towns, the combined vote of PSOE and Adelante Andalusia ranges from 50 to 80 percent. That does not mean that this could not happen in the future.

Who will form the government?

The question of who will form the new regional government is now posed sharply. Neither Ciudadanos nor the PP seem keen on a grand coalition with the PP “to stop the extremists”, as that would only provoke a further transfer of their voters to VOX. The main option they are discussing is a joint government of PP, Ciudadanos or VOX in one form or another. This would be a first for Spain: the entry of the far right into a regional government.

This rise of the far right and, in general, the penetration of reactionary Spanish nationalism amongst wide layers of the population, would not have been possible (or at least would have been somewhat contained), if the leaders of Unidos Podemos had taken a principled stand towards the Catalan referendum. Instead of clearly defending the right of Catalonia to self-determination and taking advantage of the Catalan challenge to join the defiance of the 1978 regime, they took a cowardly non-committal position, criticising “both sides” as equally “responsible for the crisis” and in effect making concessions to Spanish chauvinism. Unfortunately, this included the leaders of Podemos in Andalusia (Teresa Rodríguez and the Cadiz mayor “Kichi”) both of whom members of the Anticapitalistas wing of the organisation who also came under the same pressure and made concessions.

The question now arises of how to fight the far right. The youth took the initiative in the spontaneous demonstrations yesterday. On Thursday, is the 40th anniversary of the Spanish constitution. In Granada there will be big, left-wing demonstration to mark Andalusia’s national day, called (amongst others) by the militant trade union SAT. The demonstration marks the day on which Manuel Caparrós, a 17-year-old-worker and trade unionist, was killed by the police in 1977 during a demonstration for Andalusian self-government. It should be a massive show of strength against the far right.

Pablo Iglesias Foto Flickr Parlamento EuropeoPablo Iglesias called for the “unity of all democratic and anti-fascist forces” against the far right: a losing strategy / Image: Flickr, Parlamento Europeo

There is enormous confusion in the left about the cause of the rise of the far right and above all on how to fight it. Many have lost all sense of proportion and talk of fascism around the corner. Certainly, VOX is a far-right, reactionary organisation, but to deduce from this that we are back to 1939 is a long stretch. The Communist Party, for instance, issued an alarmist statement in which it described not only VOX but also the PP and Ciudadanos as “unashamedly fascist!” If that was not wrong enough (PP and Ciudadanos are right wing reactionary Spanish chauvinist parties but certainly not fascist), then it calls for the “unity of all democratic forces”.

In a similar vein, Pablo Iglesias and the national leadership of Unidos Podemos held a press conference on election night, in which they also called for the “unity of all democratic and anti-fascist forces” against the far right. While the call for the mobilisation against the far right is to be welcomed, the main strategy he proposed was making sure that the PSOE government should be able to approve its budget in order to prevent the triggering of early elections, as this would see the irruption of the far right at a national level. He especially made an appeal to the parties that supported PSOE in the motion of no-confidence against Rajoy (that is, the Catalan nationalists of PDECAT and ERC) to be “responsible” as what is at stake, he said, “is that the leadership of the state might be in the hands of the far right”. In essence, he is appealing to defend democracy… by preventing early elections… as these would be won by the right wing!

Fight the far right with socialism

In reality, all of these proposals to “defend democracy” in the abstract represent nothing more than a defence of bourgeois democracy, which in Spain also means the defence of the 1978 regime. In Catalonia many will say, correctly, “which democracy are you talking about if, when we had a democratic referendum, this democracy you talk about sends the police to crack our skulls and has now jailed our leaders for calling that referendum? You are asking us to ‘defend democracy’ by propping up the PSOE government, a party that wholeheartedly supported the repression of the Catalan referendum!”

The rise of the far right in Andalusia takes place in the context of increased abstention by working-class voters, disillusioned with decades of PSOE rule, which meant corruption, cuts and nepotism; and did not solve any of the fundamental problems of unemployment, casualisation of labour and poverty facing millions of workers and youth. How can you call on them to fight the far right by propping up the party they reject?

Which democracy are we supposed to defend? One in which the former King is accused of corruption, but enjoys full immunity, while rap artists and militant youth are jailed for their ideas?

The only way the left can organise a serious struggle against the danger of the far right is to abandon empty phrase mongering about “democracy”, and organise a serious campaign against the 1978 regime, and the now very unpopular monarchy, for the democratic rights of Catalonia, freedom of expression, and above all for jobs, homes and bread. Such a struggle would be able to mobilise workers and youth and bring them into a collision course with the rotten 1978 regime.

You cannot fight the far right with clever maneuvers in parliament, but by being present in the struggles of the workers and youth in the streets, factories and schools. Only a few weeks ago, a joint demonstration called by the trade unions, the youth, left wing and anti-fascist organisations drove the fascist sects off the streets in Valencia. That is the example that should be followed. The only way to fight the far right is to question the roots of the system, capitalism, whose crisis gives rise to it. Only the uncompromising struggle for socialism, not abstract appeals to “democracy”, can effectively combat the far right.