Far-left Podemos has already changed Spain

The left-wing Podemos party can turn Spain into a model for other European nations where change is also needed.

Podemos Secretary General Pablo Iglesias waves as he arrives at an electoral meeting in Oviedo, Spain [REUTERS]
Iglesias waves as he arrives at an electoral meeting in Oviedo, Spain [REUTERS]

This year is an important electoral year in Spain, with municipal, regional, and also general elections. But for the governing right-wing People’s Party (PP), this is the worst time to face elections. They are facing a number of corruption charges: Rodrigo Rato, former finance minister and head of the IMF, has been arrested on tax evasion; the party’s treasurer is awaiting trial for a funding scandal; and the chairman of Valencia’s provincial council and mayor of the inland town Xativa, as well as many other regional politicians, have been dismissed from the party after money-laundering allegations.

All these scandals, according to most political analysts, are only the tip of the iceberg in Spain as members of the other major party in the country, the Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE), are also involved in corruption scandals. It is no surprise that the latest polls indicate Mariano Rajoy’s party will not do well in this year’s elections.

Spanish far-left party seeks to copy success of Greece’s Syriza

While members of his government and party attribute this loss of public confidence exclusively to corruption charges, claiming that they have improved Spain’s economy even though unemployment is still over 24 percent, the truth lies elsewhere.

Channelling anger

A year ago, at the European elections, a new party, Podemos (“we can” in Spanish) won 1.2 million votes (8 percent) and five seats, shaking not only the PP, but also the PSOE.

Founded in the aftermath of the indignados (outraged) movement in 2011-12, against the widespread inequality created by the ongoing economic crisis, Podemos has managed to channel the anger at these two establishment parties, which they refer to collectively as the “caste”. 

As its charismatic leader, Pablo Iglesias said on Friday, which marked the fourth anniversary of the indignados movement, “Podemos is the inheritor”. Together with support from Greece’s Alexis Tsipras, Podemos immediately became the leading force in the country according to several polls. But what does Podemos stand for? Why is it so different from the other parties?

When Podemos was launched at the beginning of 2014 its founders – Iglesias, Inigo Errejon, and Juan Carlos Monedero – were very cautious to distance themselves from the other leftist parties, such as United Left, Republicans Left of Catalunya, or the Communist Party of Spain.

Even though their manifesto and programme was clearly rooted in European radical left, they defined it “a participatory method open to all citizens”, that is, independent of ideological preferences.

Rajoy … accused Podemos of populism and wanting to transform Spain into a South American nation given its founders’ admiration for the progressive policies of the late Hugo Chavez in Venezuela.


Podemos quickly became the alternative not only to the hegemony of PP and PSOE but also to the traditional right-left axis, which is also losing ground in other European countries. This is why, when Amy Goodman asked Iglesias a few months ago on Democracy Now, what Podemos stands for, the 36-year-old professor of political science replied: “For a national plan in a new social Europe.”

They seek not simply to restructure the Spanish debt but also to extend public ownership to “key areas of the economy, such as energy, transport, utilities and other strategic sectors”.

Campaign of hate

But these measures, together with the creation of an universal basic income, ending evictions, and forcing politicians to justify their expenses on a monthly basis, has triggered a campaign of hate against them.

Rajoy, as well as the leaders of other parties, accused Podemos of populism and wanting to transform Spain into a South American nation given its founders’ admiration for the progressive policies of the late Hugo Chavez in Venezuela.

Beside the fact that not all populist parties are alike, this campaign of hate had its effects on Podemos, as Monedero (who was constantly under attack for payments received from Venezuela after working as a consultant for Chavez) resigned from the party and the latest polls situate Podemos in third place.

Nonetheless, in the first regional parliament election of this year, Podemos obtained 15 seats in Andalusia and is expected to do well in May’s municipal test, where they will run with other alternative parties. But the progressive politics of Podemos do not end in Spain.

Contrary to Beppe Grillo’s Five Star Movement, which ruined its reputation in Italy by joining Nigel Farage’s racist Europe of Freedom and Democracy group, Podemos opted for the European United Left/Nordic Green Left group, where Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories as well as the CIA’s torture programme are often condemned.

Podemos, unlike all other parties in Spain, has been endorsed by renowned intellectuals and activists such as Judith Butler, Fathi Chamkhi, Noam Chomsky, and Naomi Klein among many others.

This year, Spain has the chance not only to change its governors and reputation, but also to become a model for other European nations where change is also needed. As we can see, the truth behind the government’s unpopularity lies in Podemos, that is, in an alternative that has already changed Spain even before this year’s election results are known.

Santiago Zabala is ICREA research professor of philosophy at the Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona. He is the author and editor of, among others, ‘The Future of Religion’ (2005), ‘The Hermeneutic Nature of Analytic Philosophy’ (2008), ‘Art’s Claim to Truth’ (2008), ‘The Remains of Being’ (2009), ‘Hermeneutic Communism’ (2011, coauthored with G. Vattimo) all published by Columbia University Press and translated into several languages.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.