Most on the left will be relieved that Spain’s social democratic Socialist Workers Party (PSOE) has won first place in the country’s general election — but the lesson of this vote is that the crisis gripping politics across Europe is far from over.
Its 123 seats are a big advance on its performance at the last general election in 2016. Its traditional enemy, the right-wing Popular Party (PP), lost over half its seats and trails a distant second on 66.
An overwhelming victory for PSOE leader and incumbent Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez?
The truth is more complicated. For all that it is now the largest individual party in the Spanish parliament, the PSOE does not have a majority.
It does not even have a majority if partnered with the main group to its left, Unidas Podemos, formed principally of the alliance between the Podemos movement and the Communist Party-dominated United Left (and support for which dropped sharply compared to 2016).
Together, the PSOE and Podemos have 165 seats (11 short of an overall majority), up, but not hugely, from their combined 156 in 2016.
The right-wing PP, Ciudadanos and the far-right Vox outfit have 147, down from 167. The size of the left and right blocs has changed less than their make-up.
And their make-up has shifted in a worrying direction. Most obviously, 24 seats for Vox marks the first time a party that could plausibly be described as fascist has entered the Spanish parliament since the end of fascist rule in the 1970s.
Vox’s aggressive homophobia, misogyny and anti-immigrant rhetoric are all too familiar from other European countries, with far-right parties having made great strides in France, Germany, Hungary and Poland and actually sitting in government in Austria and Italy.
Britain, where we witness the mobilisations in support of Stephen Yaxley-Lennon (“Tommy Robinson”) and the lurch of Ukip towards his brand of racist street politics, is not immune from the contagion.
Effective strategies to defeat the far right need to take account of where support for it comes from. Some observers of the Spanish scene conclude that the collapse in support for the PP is a result of popular disgust at its governing alliance with Vox in Andalusia and at the extraordinary authoritarian behaviour of its last government under Mariano Rajoy, sending riot police to brutalise voters in Catalonia’s unconstitutional 2017 referendum on independence and opting for flagrant repression rather than dialogue in handling the deep divisions in that region.
There is probably some truth to that.
But the numbers also suggest that former PP supporters are drifting further right, towards Ciudadanos and, dramatically, towards Vox. It will not be the first “centre” party to discover that pandering to far-right prejudices on racial, social or religious differences serves only to embolden and legitimise fascist groups.
There are warnings here for all of us — but there is also hope. While the constituent parts of Unidas Podemos will need to assess why they have lost support, the overall advance by parties of the left — albeit modest and far from enough to establish a secure government of the left or even social democracy in Spain — owes much to successful mobilisations by Spain’s women’s and working-class movements against the resurgent menace of fascism.
Delicate negotiations lie ahead for Sanchez. Unidas Podemos alone will not give him a majority, which means he may have to choose between concessions to Catalan separatists who brought down his last government and opting for a Faustian pact with a party of the right like Ciudadanos — something both his and its supporters bitterly oppose but which would, as Spanish newspaper El Mundo put it yesterday, be the preferred choice of EU institutions keen to banish anti-Establishment forces from government.
There is no reason to think such a stitch-up would address Spain’s or Europe’s crisis of capitalism for long.
This article appeared in The Morning Star Tuesday 30th April 2019.