Right-wing Partido Popular wins Madrid elections – a warning to the working class

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

Following a highly polarised and bitter election campaign, the right-wing Partido Popular (PP – ‘People’s Party’) has emerged victorious in elections to the ‘autonomous community’ of Madrid (one of 17 autonomous administrative areas).

Led by Isabel Díaz Ayuso, the far-right President of the Community of Madrid, PP emerged as the winner, taking seats and votes from the right-wing populist Ciudadanos (‘Citizens’). The PP increased its number of seats to 35, and increased its vote by 864,000.

The fascistic party, VOX, increased its vote by 35,000 and its seats in the parliament from one to 13. This is clearly a setback and blow for the working class in the Spanish state and for the left.

This was despite the strong criticism of Ayuso over her handling of the Covid-19 pandemic and the high death rate in Madrid. Residents in care homes, which she had privatised, were simply left to die. However, she was able to appeal on a populist basis to café and bar owners and small businesses, demanding they remain open because of the devastation they faced.

The biggest loser was the social-democratic party, PSOE, which scored its worst-ever election result in Madrid. In 2019, PSOE received the highest number of votes and seats in Madrid. This time, it fell to third place and its seats fall from 37 to 24.

UP – the left electoral alliance which includes Podemos – slightly increased its number of seats from seven to ten. A right-wing split-off from Podemos, Más Madrid, took many PSOE votes, to became the second-largest party.

This result is a clear warning for the working class, in the Spanish state and throughout Europe, of the threat of the far-right. The failure of PSOE in the government of the Spanish state, in coalition with UP, to transform society, and instead to operate within the boundaries of capitalism, has created a political vacuum that the right and far-right can step into on a populist basis.

By going into government with PSOE, Podemos became imprisoned, failing to offer a radical socialist alternative, and isolating itself from the social struggles being conducted by workers and youth.

This has crucial lessons for the left throughout Europe – especially the so-called ‘new left’ forces like Podemos, which arose out of the ’15-M’ anti-austerity movement ten years ago.

A failure to advocate a combative socialist alternative, both in programme and strategy, for the struggles of the working class and youth gives the opportunity for the right to step in.

Seeking a compromise with the so-called moderate left leads to the ‘left’ being weakened and/or defeated. The failure of the Corbynistas in Britain to confront the right wing in the Labour Party led to the counter-revolution being carried through by Keir Starmer, which they have failed to effectively fight against.

The depth of the crisis of capitalism and its social consequences has exposed the political weakness of the ‘new left’ to an even greater extent. The polarised situation which exists in many countries has found them wanting and floundering, not offering an independent class alternative.

Podemos’s mistakes

It was a big mistake for Podemos to enter the government with PSOE. This has important lessons for the socialist left in Spain and internationally.

It should have voted in parliament to allow PSOE to form a government but remain outside, voting on each piece of legislation on a case-by-case basis, in the interests of the working class. This would have allowed it to maintain its independence and a socialist programme. It is now paying the price for this mistaken position.

The right conducted a highly polarised campaign. Madrid PP leader Ayuso tweeted the election was about “communism or freedom”.

The polarised nature of the campaign was illustrated by the death threats against Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias, who stood down as deputy prime minister to contest the Madrid election. Bullets were sent through the post to him, and his family was threatened. Podemos’ offices were attacked.

These threats probably were undertaken by fascistic forces around VOX. Ayuso has not excluded governing jointly with VOX, such is the right-wing character of the PP.

Iglesias, tainted by being in the government rather than leading a mass campaign with radical socialist demands, at the beginning of the campaign initially proposed a joint platform with Más Madrid, which it refused.

Stunned by the election victory of the right wing, in which Podemos finished in fifth place, Iglesias, rather than draw the lessons of this defeat, announced that he was resigning all his political positions and withdrawing from politics.

The need for a mass party of the working class with a bold revolutionary socialist programme is an urgent necessity to offer an alternative to and combat the populist right and the threat that it poses.

The elections are a warning. Youth unemployment officially stands at 40%. The economic and social crisis will trigger new struggles of the working class and youth in the Spanish state in the coming months.

To take these forward, the building of a new mass party of the working class with a revolutionary socialist programme is an urgent necessity.