A New Political Force Emerges In Spain

Pablo Iglesias, leader of PODEMOS

Fighting the new fascism: Juan Carlos Monedero on PODEMOS, Spain’s new political force

In Spain this past May, the usually dull and boring elections to the European Union’s Parliament produced a sudden shock to the political system. A new two-month-old party led by a 35-year-old, pony-tailed political scientist, appeared out of nowhere—but clearly from the Left—to sweep up a surprising 8 percent of the votes. The result was good to win five European seats, transforming the infant organization into the country’s 4th largest political force. One of the party’s founders, political scientist Juan Carlos Monedero, spoke with us in late August.

The unexpected European triumph of Spain’s newcomer on the Left underscored the affirmative simplicity of its name—PODEMOS: We Can. Or perhaps better: Together We Can Do It. The party’s rise has been meteoric. PODEMOS began as a grassroots movement in January 2014 and did not register as a party until March. Since the May elections, it has multiplied its support; according to an August 31 poll PODEMOS would earn 21 percent of the votes, only one percent less than the Socialist Party. Its political program, the details of which are still being defined, calls for broad political, economic, and social reforms: a new social contract that supersedes neoliberalism. (For more details see the sidebar.)

Juan Carlos Monedero. Photo Sarah Bienzobas.

Among the party’s most prominent public faces is Juan Carlos Monedero, a political scientist at the Universidad Complutense de Madrid. Monedero has extensive international experience as a consultant to progressive politicians (particularly in Latin America), has worked for years with Spain’s United Left, is a fixture in the Spanish media, and has served as an academic mentor to PODEMOS leader Pablo Iglesias. (More on Monedero here.) 

Monedero’s life since May has been a whirlwind, with almost daily appearances on television, trips abroad, and feverish preparations to get PODEMOS ready for its first constitutive congress in September. In this first extensive interview to be published in English since the rise of PODEMOS, Monedero spoke to The Volunteer about the birth of the party and his role in it; the Spanish crisis; the progressive tradition; the lessons from Latin America; and the future of his country. “I am a hopeful pessimist. We’re facing a long and difficult struggle. But we have plenty of reasons to keep fighting.”

Why PODEMOS and why now?

JCM: Those of us who launched PODEMOS found each other in the Faculty of Political Science and Sociology in Madrid, and in La Tuerka, a political debate program. We agreed that the model of Spanish democracy as it had been established in 1978 was exhausted, and we felt the same about representative democracy under neoliberalism in general. What compelled us into action in early 2014 was a series of different factors. First, the United Left (IU) unilaterally abandoned a project that had tried to bring different political forces together. Second, the European elections in May opened a window of opportunity. These are the only elections in Spain that bypass electoral districts, so that every vote counts the same, and they draw a relatively low turnout, so that fewer votes are needed for a seat. It was an attractive opportunity to try for an electoral breakthrough. Finally, Pablo Iglesias had become a very powerful presence in the media, while I had spent a couple of years traveling all over Spain to give talks. So a whole range of elements coincided: the possibility of a nationwide network, our media presence, the European window of opportunity, the exhaustion of the current regime—and the fact that some polls indicated that there was electoral room for a new political party. Like in a fairy tale, everything came together: the princess, the castle, the woods, the frog-turned-prince, the seven-league boots. All we needed was the kiss—which we got on May 25 in the form of 1,250,000 votes.

You are part of the PODEMOS leadership but are not yourself running for office.

JCM: Yes, and that is on purpose. Among the founding group we decided that only Pablo Iglesias would run. This is our way of showing the voters that we are not in this for a cushy political job. That there is a different way of doing politics. We are now working toward the constitutive congress, from which an elected leadership team will emerge.