Thursday, May 18, 2017

Podemos: The Experiment That Went Wrong?

So, as predicted, Alberto Jarabo will cease to be the general secretary of Podemos in the Balearics. With all Podemos parliamentary deputies plus dozens of others lined up against him and in favour of Laura Camargo, his position had become untenable. He sought to cling to the life raft - rescue from the Madrid leadership and Pablo Iglesias - but that was never going to work. He was destined to sink.

For those of us who are not part of the Podemos apparatus, the party's divisions can seem distinctly arcane. The local difficulty in the Balearics mirrors the much greater one that was played out in March. From the outside, the triumph of Iglesias appeared as though it was the culmination of fighting over the remains of Karl Marx and Leon Trotsky, with no one entirely sure what the fight was. How many inside the party really understood either?

The divisions have been styled by some commentators as evidence of a party attaining maturity. After the euphoria of election triumphs that emerged from out of nowhere, the challenge was for Podemos to make sense of those triumphs. The essentially non-political party had to learn to behave like one. In the process, and as is the case with any other party, there were bound to be arguments as to policy and strategy. And if we need reminding of how other Spanish political parties are engrossed by such a dynamic, we need look no further than PSOE and the Lazarus-like rebirth of Pedro Sánchez in the face of the all too PP-compliant (supposedly) Susana Díaz.

There shouldn't, therefore, be any real surprise that Podemos find themselves attempting to reconcile factions. This is the very nature of political parties. But with Podemos there was also the sense that they were somehow different. An aversion to the established order of the political system and indeed to established practices had lulled many into the belief that here was a mould-breaker. They may have shattered the old mould - at least partially - but are now devoting energies in piecing it back together.

The struggles they are having reflect the very essence of the party and those who inhabit it and its support base. This is an amalgam of an egghead university professorial class, of hardline communists, of disgruntled PSOE (and even PP) supporters, of Republicans, of the previously politically frustrated, of the outright opportunist. There is a sense in which Podemos are a current-day manifestation of elements that contributed to and conspired to force the Second Republic into implosion. All the party lacks is a definable bourgeoisie, and Laura Camargo - a defender of the party's anti-capitalist faction - stands as a symbol against such self-interest.

Jarabo, now that he has decided to walk, is urging the party to find a unifying leader. Camargo, where he is concerned, isn't that figure. But who could he have in mind? Jarabo himself is indicative of a Podemos weakness, the inherent inexperience that the party brings to the table. Who, after all, was he when he became general secretary? Who had ever heard of him? The "new politics", the breaking of the mould, conjured up new faces but ones who were unaware of how to proceed.

Camargo has accused Jarabo of "improvisation". But what else could he have engaged in? Podemos are improvisational. They are, as Mariano Rajoy was at pains to point out, an "experiment". This is a party founded in the cloisters of academe, a laboratory exercise of competing compounds exploding in the test tube.

There may not have been a blank sheet of paper - quite the contrary given the hundreds of items that were to find their way on to the Podemos manifesto - but there was a blankness of procedure. Hard though they try to adhere to a new democratisation via citizens' councils, there is always the potential for a leadership to plough its own furrow. Essentially, this has been one of the criticisms of Jarabo. His proximity to PSOE and Més has supposedly been greater than his proximity to the "bases".

Might, therefore, Jarabo have been undone because of pragmatism? Podemos have refused to kowtow to the established order - witness, for instance, their non-support for Sánchez and his pact with the reviled (by Podemos) Ciudadanos - but in certain instances they have. The Council of Mallorca is an example. It may not be a complete bed of roses, but the combination of PSOE, Més and Podemos has worked with comparative harmony. If Camargo takes over, and perhaps this is Jarabo's fear, the semblance of pragmatism would evaporate.

Ultimately, there is a question of what they really are as a party. Yes, there is a certain maturity, and the electorate will now want a firmer indication. Podemos have passed from being new. They are still an experiment, a work in progress, but their divisions could bring progress to a grinding halt and eventual failure.

No comments: