Tuesday, January 17, 2017

The Temptations Of Power: Podemos

The Spanish noun for power, one of them anyway, is "poder". This isn't a noun to be used for your car or your electricity. It is one to mean authority and might. From authority and might, it is a short step to control, manipulation and finally corruption. All power corrupts.

There is another maxim. Knowledge is power. It is accompanied by "information is liberating". The internet is the ultimate repository of information, a liberating and colossal warehouse for the democratisation of knowledge and thus the wider diffusion and sharing of power. This is both illusion and delusion. The internet is a giant transmitter of propaganda, of distortion, persuasion, untruths, manipulation and corruption via corrupted, prejudiced knowledge. What Joseph Goebbels would have given for the internet. His ministry was one not just for propaganda but also public enlightenment. How wretched that was, a steer on the Enlightenment movement and of the Age of Reason.

It was Kofi Annan who asserted that knowledge is power. Through information and education the peoples of the nations of the world would be liberated. Instead they are being incarcerated by corrupted information. And they willingly abet the process.

Lord Acton's assertion regarding power has itself been corrupted. We use the corrupted version because it sounds more powerful. What he actually said was that all power tends to corrupt. He was prepared to be non-committal, no doubt wishing to give the benefit of doubt. 

"Poder" is also a verb. It plays the role of the English modal "can" and "could" or of "to be able to", which isn't a modal verb as such. The verb "poder" thus has its own innate power. It isn't, as in English, an auxiliary. It exists in its own right. And from its conjugation, one gets "podemos" - we can, we are able to. It's emphatic, and it is a message that Podemos chose to emphasise what they could do, were able to do. Note the grammar. The past of choose requires an alteration to the less emphatic could or the implication of no longer being able to.

The party will of course still believe it can, that is able to, and that it will do so via the collective will: we can, not I can. The power lies in evoking the collective, until there is degeneration, and the individual starts to take over. Having shown to have been able to, the temptation for Lord Acton's tendency to take over is too difficult to resist.

Of course, and let's not delude ourselves, Podemos have always been about being able to and about power. Political parties don't dissolve themselves once they've achieved something. They are organic entities, for which growth is the aim. And growth means power. There is no point to a political party otherwise.

Podemos, in their very essence, proved the power of liberating knowledge and information. They caught other political parties on the hop by using the internet as a means to grow, to disseminate and persuade and to create themselves in the image of knowledge and information democratisation. The internet became the tool for citizen involvement. Podemos were a party of the new age, crafting their niche from this powerful medium; a niche to become, as inevitably it has, part of the mainstream.

Some will say that frictions within Podemos are signs of a maturing as a party. They may be right. But these frictions, however they might be explained in terms of the collective (the "we"), revolve around power. The party, thwarted in the goal of government power - its principle objective from the time of its formation - has fallen into the hole that all parties make. They fight each other, because factions are a consequence of such formation.

I admired Podemos. The admiration was based on their newness, a seductive message for the collective, an assault on the cosy nature of Spain's political system, the abhorrence of the misery of crisis. The admiration has dwindled. Podemos are falling victim to the very things they sought to eradicate. Their desire for power has corrupted them. It has created the fallout between Iglesias and Errejón, both driven by alternate visions of power.

In the Balearics Podemos are desperate to keep hold of the presidency of parliament. Why so desperate? Because it is their greatest success in gaining power regionally. This, in a way, is curious, as they placed less store by regional elections than the generals: it was the latter which they craved. They will probably have their demands met and keep a hold. But in the meantime, the institutional crisis that has been unfolding has exposed the party's fault lines. Factionalism is just one. The allegations of blackmail, the "administrative error" in using Montse Seijas's digital signature, votes and senior officials for the Council of Mallorca, the apparent need to silence critics are others. Seijas is right in saying that this is not the Podemos that the collective had willed.

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