by Jerome Grapel
This is part of a series of essays that were written in Spain last summer, when a totally unknown political entity called “Podemos” (we can) broke onto the political landscape, catching all the “literati” by surprise in the wake of the 2014 European Parliamentary elections. In less than a year, they have begun to outpoll the 2 traditional centrist parties in the country. They are the offspring of Spain’s version of the Occupy Movement, “Los Indignados”. Their leftist politics have caused, in spite of the significance of their appearance, the almost total ignoration they are receiving by American media.
(6/14, Spain. This is the last in a series of 3, beginning with “The European Parliament” and “Podemos”)
The True Left
Even in terms of normal European political parlance, Pablo Iglesias and his political organization, Podemos, is entering the fray from the “far left” (in American terms he’d be considered a lunatic apt for a strait jacket). Mainstream media has no trouble calling him “radical”, and if we adhere to the nomenclature such media sources have been force feeding us for the last ¼ century or more, yes, Pablo Iglesias could be labeled as such. But the way in which such ideological affiliation is measured has become perverted. The “center” has been moved so far to the right that anyone even slightly to the left of center is now considered radical (Bernie Sanders? Elizabeth Warren? Barak Obama!). What is now referred to as “center-left”, meaning such traditional heavyweights as the Democrats in America, Labor in England, the Socialists in France and Spain, have only trace elements of “left” in them. They, like their sidekicks on the “center right”, have become little more than enablers for the International Monetary Fund sponsored, supply side, let’s privatize it all, anti-social contract, neo-liberal capitalism that has led us to the brink of another Great Depression.
Given this almost exclusive political club, one in which acceptability is so narrowly defined by private media sources in collusion with this global economy tyranny, or by important sources of public media working for the same masters (the BBC, etc.), I’d rather refer to Pablo Iglesias and entities like “Podemos” as the “True Left”, not the far or radical left. In light of the biographical material to follow, this might seem a hard sell, especially in today’s constipated informational environment — but hey, I’m not afraid.
What I’m about to tell you about Pablo Iglesias is no secret. He offers his ideology with the same security a Republican might stomp for deregulation or lower taxes on rich people, and considers himself no more or less radical than that. His original political roots grabbed their first toehold in the Communist Party. People like Hugo Chavez and Fidel Castro are not exempt from his affection. He throws around words like “nationalize” and “anti-system”. Even though he considers them an anachronism, he shows respect for today’s evolved version of what used to be Spain’s Communist Party, Izquierda Unida (I.U. or United Left). But perhaps the thing that most distinguishes Pablo Iglesias is this: his true enemy, his reason to be, is to defeat this decadent, unresponsive, corrupt political center that, instead of representing its constituents, has become the employees of the plutocratic rulers of neo-liberal capitalism. He makes no distinction between the center-right and the center-left. All he sees in this ambiguous center is a ruinous, complex political machine with rusted mechanisms incapable of running properly. It is broken. It cannot be fixed. A new, more highly evolved machine is necessary.
“But Post Consumer Man, this guy sounds like a friggin’ Commie weirdo. You can’t be serious.”
What does someone like Pablo Iglesias really believe? In this day and age, are there really any Communists left? Does anyone really believe in a totally centralized economy completely controlled by government technocrats? Even if someone like myself might have considered the Communist experiment a noble but mistaken undertaking, don’t we all realize by now that it failed not so much for mathematical, economic reasons, but more for its inability to respond to our emotional needs, to our need to express our individual, creative desires? Don’t we all realize by now that some form of market driven free enterprise can be a significant outlet for these feelings?
I suggest that Podemos and someone like Pablo Iglesias are not trying to establish a new form of Communism, but rather, a new form of capitalism. First and foremost here would be the revitalization of public services — the so called “social safety net” — that has been sacked and looted in order to pay for the malfeasance of a private financial sector let off its leash by the political center Podemos is going after. It was not the cost of these public services that brought down the global economy and to continue funneling public money to the same private institutions that created this mess, while compromising, almost exclusively, the well being of millions of people, is not just poor policy, it is morally unacceptable. If someone like Pablo Iglesias favored some form of government intervention in these not just financially bankrupt, but morally bankrupt private enterprises (as this writer did at the time), an intervention that could have been used to serve the broader good and not just the well being of these private institutions, I see nothing “radical” in that. I see good public policy being used to bolster a more humane form of what is still, basically, a market driven, capitalist system.
So yes, the True Left will always advocate for this “State of Social Well Being”, for this safety net of public services — medical attention, public education, access to higher education, pensions and retirement possibilities and more — that the wage structure of the market generally does not allow its workers to afford. But, if I read Podemos and this True Left correctly, there is another area they’d venture into that has been wiped off the map of political consciousness by this rightward drift of the “center”.
Way back in the adolescent stages of this mass of dubious philosophical patter, I coined a phrase to replace such concepts as “State Run Industries”, or “nationalized industries”, or “Public Companies” — code words meant to vilify and discredit such entities by neo-liberal media — with the label “Cooperative Societal Enterprises”, or CSE’s (doesn’t that sound better?). There are many elements of modern society that should not be thought of as commodities we might or might not want to have, in varying degrees of quality, with differing levels of interest, like a birthday cake or a pair of compression shorts. What I am referring to are not commodities, but rather, “universal necessities” we cannot live without, — energy-electricity, water supply, waste removal, medical attention, and others that might be included depending on the evolutionary course of socio-political thinking. These “universal necessities” do not lend themselves readily to the kinds of market pressures that consumers help shape and benefit from. Such undertakings should be CSE’s whose only goal, rather than to provide private enrichment, is to deliver these services in a way that best accommodates the harmonious functioning of society in general.
(Cue Shakespeare) “To privatize or not to privatize, that is the question”. In answering that question, I now give forth with Post Consumer Man’s Handy Dandy Guide To Resource Management In The 21st Century: 1) If by privatizing an industry, you are creating a monopoly, do not privatize. 2) If the product being offered has little variability as to quality, in other words, everyone knows how to make this product and it is the same product everywhere, do not privatize. 3) If the consumer has little or no opportunity to shop around, to compare price and quality, do not privatize.
All the “universal necessities” mentioned above fall somewhere within the parameters of the anti-privatization taboos just enumerated. It is my guess that Podemos and other elements of the True Left would favor Cooperative Societal Enterprises to manage and provide these services to humanity. Indeed, such potent capitalist machines as England, France and Italy have already lived periods of such gestation without compromising the fecund power of their private sector’s ability to create wealth. Why privatize large sectors of the economy that do not respond well to the pressures that make the market work for both consumers and the entrepreneur who deserves it?
“But Post Consumer Man, aren’t you just enumerating a blueprint for political failure with such policies”?
Before the European Parliamentary elections of 2014, I’d have certainly said “yes” to that question. Admittedly, not saying “yes” to that question could still be considered a naively optimistic attitude by someone desperate to find some morality in a corrupt world. But a whole new political panorama has unfolded, somewhat unexpectedly, right before our eyes. The average voter (or non-voter) is not ideologically sophisticated. The average voter does not operate on a technical or academic level. The average voter cannot make decisions based upon interest rates or monetary policy or Federal Reserves. The average voter reacts emotionally, and emotionally speaking, that average European voter has had enough. Without any need for a more intellectual understanding as to how things have gotten to where they are, they understand their political representation is not working for them anymore. More than looking for a specific ideology, they are looking for something to fill this void. The “Indignados-Occupiers” were the first fluttering of this emotional unrest and movements like Podemos seem to be the logical next step, that is, an organizational upgrade capable of tapping into and directing this massive, amorphous, ambiguous “paella” of citizen discontent.
As an American, I can’t help but relate this all to Barak Obama and the unfulfilled promise that brought him to power in 2008. It would be harsh to call Obama’s presidency a failure and I won’t. But rather than lead the country into a more galvanized form of political enlightenment, he’s done little more than hold off the Neanderthal wing of American politics without disarming them. He has not been able to change the socio-political culture of the nation, something he had the chance to do in the first 2 years of his mandate.
Unlike the Europe of 2014, where a complete and utter disaffection with all forms of mainstream politics led to a flight from the “center”, the American electorate in 2008 was simply trying to rid itself of 8 years of calamitous Bush-Cheney failure. Basically, “dey trew da’ bums out” and were pretty much ready for any change their successors would offer. What does strike me as similar with regard to America 2008 and Europe 2014 is this: ideology was really not what motivated the voter, but rather, a need to move somewhere, anywhere else. Obama underestimated the mandate he’d been given. Left, Right, Center — the electorate did not relate to their votes in that kind of way. “Just do something different”. Obama could have gone where he wanted to go. Instead of “Obamacare”, this tortured, Byzantine mutant meant to keep the private sector pacified, he could have opted for the common sense of a single payer system, or at least a “public option”. He could have intervened more aggressively in the financial sector public money was rescuing. He could have sent some of the greatest crooks in the history of mankind to jail. He could have acted like someone on the True Left because the voters were not thinking in terms of ideology, they were thinking in terms of “clean this crap up”.
Podemos is not timid with their True Left ideology and they might have found the right soil to plant their seeds. We will know within a year.
Post Script: In the 5 weeks I spent in Spain after the European elections, Podemos and its leader, Pablo Iglesias, have become “news”. This has also made them targets of mainstream-media-status-quo negativity and the methodical, persistent, drip-drip-drip of business as usual journalism has begun its efforts to discredit this intrusion on their hegemony. Iglesias and his movement were well aware of this reality before they got into this and are perhaps better equipped to deal with it than others who have tried to assault this fortress of plutocratic power in the past. If I did not think Podemos and Iglesias brought something powerful to this game, I’d have never written this series of essays. It is very difficult to be optimistic when the little guys go to war with City Hall. If I am not optimistic, I can at least say I am hopeful.