Catalonia's general strike in defence of independence, 3.10.17, photo Robert Bonet/CC

Catalonia’s general strike in defence of independence, 3.10.17, photo Robert Bonet/CC   (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)

Tony Saunois , secretary, Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI)

The general election which took place on 28 April in the Spanish state, like recent elections throughout Europe, was marked by a deep polarisation.

It came on the heels of the revolutionary upheavals which have rocked Catalonia in 2016-17 and, in December 2018, the shock election victory of the right and extreme right in regional elections in the former social-democratic Socialist Workers’ Party (Psoe) stronghold of Andalucia.

There, the Partido Popular (People’s Party – PP), the traditional party of capitalism since 1989, together with the populist centre-right Ciudadanos (Citizens) and the extreme right, fascistic Vox won a majority and formed the government.

Spain’s right wing was hoping to capitalise on this in the 2019 general election. However, its hope of victory was dashed. The election was a defeat and set-back for the right and far right.

PP collapse

For the PP, led by Pablo Casado, it was a disaster. The party suffered its most serious defeat since its formation.

In 2016 it won 33% of the overall vote. This time, it collapsed to a pathetic 16.7%, and the number of seats it has in parliament fell from 137 to a mere 66!

A dramatic fall in support of the traditional capitalist parties has been a feature in many European elections in the recent period; France and Germany are two examples.

This development reflects a fragmentation and polarisation politically across Europe. In the Spanish state the fragmented right-wing vote moved further to the right.

A big section of the PP’s previous vote went to the newly resurgent far-right, fascistic, party Vox (Voice) – led by the gun-toting, former PP deputy in the Basque parliament, Santiago Abascal.

Although support for Vox was not as high as some opinion polls had indicated, it is a warning to the working class and left that such a party managed to secure 10.6% of the vote and enter parliament with 24 seats.

This is the first time that an openly extreme right-wing party has entered the parliament since the end of the Franco dictatorship in the late 1970s.

The centre-right populist party, Ciudadanos, led by Albert Rivera, increased its share of the vote from 13.1% and 32 seats to 15.86% and 57 seats.

The increased turnout and electoral defeat of the right-wing bloc was undoubtedly the effect of the ‘whip of counter-revolution’, especially following the previous victory of the right-wing coalition in Andalucia.

The prospect of the coming to power of a right-wing reactionary coalition, which would undoubtedly have assumed a repressive character, provoked a backlash among the working class, the radicalised middle class and young people.

At the same time Psoe offered some limited reforms, which resulted in it becoming the largest party in this election.


Since Psoe’s Sanchez took over as prime minister in June 2018 – when the former PP Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy lost a vote of confidence over his party’s corruption – the minimum wage was raised by 22% (the largest increase in 40 years) and 2.5 million public sector workers were given a much lesser 2.5% wage rise.

These and the promise of some further limited reforms probably increased Psoe’s support among a section of the electorate.

However, attacks on the working class are certain to follow as the country’s extremely ephemeral and shallow economic growth gives way to an even deeper social and economic crisis.

The vast majority of Spanish workers and youth have gained nothing from the small, weak economic growth of the recent period.

Mass unemployment and precarious jobs, especially among young people, continue to be the reality of life for millions.

A renewed era of instability and social upheavals will inevitably follow the election.

Psoe, under the leadership of Sanchez, managed to temporarily reconquer its electoral support which had previous collapsed due to its turn to the right and pro-capitalist policies and the explosive growth of Podemos which emerged from the ‘Indiginados’ movement in 2011.

From 22.7% of the vote and 85 deputies it has increased its electoral support to 28.7% and 123 seats. Much of this was a vote against the right rather than a pro-Psoe vote.

However, it was also a consequence of the collapse in support for Podemos which mainly transferred to Psoe.

The high hopes and expectations which initially existed in Podemos and its leader Pablo Iglesias have been shattered – as the CWI predicted it would if it did not consolidate a radical left or socialist base with internal democracy and democratic control of the party.

In 2015, the combined vote of Podemos and the Izquierda Unida (United Left – IU) was over six million.

Since then the party has swung further to the right, distanced itself from mass social movements, refused to support the movement for independence in Catalonia, and been run in an increasingly top-down undemocratic manner by the leadership.

In 2016 the Podemos/IU vote was just over five million. In 2019 its vote fell to 3.7 million. In this election, Podemos’s share of the vote fell from 21.1% to 14% and from 72 to 42 seats.


Podemos offered little or nothing to the left of Psoe, much less a radical socialist alternative. In such a situation why should workers and young people vote for the copy when the real thing in the form of Psoe is seen as a more viable option.

It has allowed Psoe – which played a reactionary role during the movement in Catalonia for independence, with a programme of ‘managing’ capitalism which will inevitably mean attacking the working class – to rebuild its electoral support temporarily for want of a viable left alternative.

The swing to the right by Podemos combined with the weakness of its programme – it was formed with more of a radical populist character, rather than radical socialist alternative – was, as the CWI warned, a danger that could threaten it as a viable vehicle for the working class to organise a political alternative.

The lack of a conscious part-icipation by the working class in an active struggle in Podemos and its domination by radicalised parts of the impoverished petty bourgeois and semi-working-class sections, has reinforced these weaknesses.

Failure to offer a radical socialist alternative and revolutionary struggle to break with capitalism in a period of capitalist crisis and upheaval will inevitably lead to the type of betrayal over stopping austerity that Syriza carried through in Greece, leading to a defeat of the Greek working class.

This process has clearly been seen in the Spanish state and the implosion of Podemos before it came to power. This is a stark warning for others on the left, notably Jeremy Corbyn in Britain.

It now seems Podemos is poised to play the same role as the Left Bloc and Communist Party in Portugal in propping up the social-democratic Socialist Party-led government but without offering a radical socialist alternative.


In Catalonia the right wing suffered a devastating defeat, reflecting the recent revolutionary movement over Catalan independence which had taken place there.

For the first time the parties that support independence secured a majority. The main electoral beneficiary was the ERC (Republican Left of Catalonia).

The ERC had an electoral base largely among the urban middle class but has now won support among sections of the working class.

The ERC featured demands for the release of those imprisoned during the independence movement and opposition to state repression, which helped increase its support.

Yet its leadership, which has propped up previous capitalist governments in Catalonia and voted for cuts budgets, with no democratic accountability, is not a viable alternative for the Catalan working class.

The crisis in Catalonia is certain to erupt again. It will be one of the conflicts which will erupt and confront the new Psoe government.

The defeat or setback of the right in the elections is a positive development. Yet the victory of so-called left parties which do not offer a radical socialist alternative but are defending capitalism, reflects the challenges now facing the working class.

The electoral defeat of the far right in these elections does not mean that the threat they pose has disappeared.

The failure of Podemos and others on the ‘left’ to offer a real alternative means that the right wing threat can re-emerge during an even deeper crisis of Spanish capitalism which is threatening to take place.

The lack of a new mass party being built by the Spanish working class at the moment can inject contradictions and complications into the explosive situation which exists in the Spanish state.

It is a mistake by some on the Spanish revolutionary left to try and bury their heads in the sand and ignore these weaknesses and dangers.

To celebrate the defeat of the right and proclaim a “left victory” is not enough. The right and far right have not gone away.

The role of Marxists is not to try and prettify the situation but to assist the working class in reaching the conclusions of the tasks necessary to advance the struggle to break with capitalism and carry through a socialist transformation of Spanish society.

The elections in the Spanish state will open a new era of polarisation, struggle and upheaval in which the working class, youth and others exploited by capitalism will need to build a revolutionary socialist alternative to defend their interests.