Podemos in Manchester

Circulo Podemos in Manchester is one of the forces that could re-energise the left here. Podemos is a new radical party in Spain that is saying no to corruption, no to austerity and it is putting the question of radical change on the political agenda. The 8 December 2014 meeting at Friends Meeting House was organised by members of Left Unity together with Podemos, and we built this meeting as a Podemos meeting which aims to connect with the rest of the left in Manchester. There are some opportunities and dangers, and we should not underestimate either of those. There are many reasons why this link between Podemos and Left Unity could be so important. These notes are written before the meeting as a contribution to the debate we will have there and continue as we work together after it.

Podemos has succeeded in building in Spain what Left Unity still aims to build in Britain, a broad left party that could mobilise millions of people who are sick of the austerity programme and who know that there must be an alternative. That alternative would defend public services, make them accountable to people and end the rule of those who have got richer and richer before the crisis and even richer during austerity at the expense of working people. In Spain Podemos is now leading in the polls, and Left Unity should be in that position now, given the failure of the Labour Party here to stand up to the ConDem government. Why is it not? It is not an easy task given the ingrained bureaucracy of the reformist and the revolutionary left.

Supporters of the Fourth International in Manchester have been committed to building Left Unity, but because we insist that this should be a broad inclusive party that mobilises people to work together we are sometimes accused of being to the ‘right’. It is easy for the little old far left groups who spout revolutionary rhetoric to claim that they want to win Left Unity over to a full revolutionary programme, but in the process they threaten to sabotage the attempt to build something more inclusive and wide-ranging. This is not a game, and it is precisely because we are revolutionaries that we are putting our energies into something that can genuinely shake capitalism with a self-organised movement of the exploited and oppressed.

People in Britain are sick of capitalism, and in the absence of a genuine alternative some are turning to right-wing and racist parties like UKIP who will enforce their own version of the austerity programme protecting big business. And those who have been involved in socialist politics are also sick of the traditional far left groups who try to manipulate those who they see as less clued up than themselves in various front organisations. These are groups who abuse the power they hold, sometimes abusing members of their own groups at the same time. It is time for a change in the way we do our politics, and Podemos has made us face that question of how we organise again now.

We also have a particular link with the debates in Podemos because our comrades in Izquierda Anticapitalista, the Fourth International in Spain, have been active in building Podemos. And just as we have here, they have been accused of building something to the ‘right’. Yes, it is true! They have succeeded in working alongside people they have political differences with, and what has emerged now in Podemos is much bigger than them, bigger than the tiny revolutionary organisation that they are. This is something in the organisation of Podemos that we need to discuss, how to keep open a space for the different left traditions while making sure that no one group seizes control, and our group in Spain working in Podemos has made it clear that they will be loyal to Podemos, they will keep building it while still insisting on that discussion.

It is not enough to say that these new organisations like Podemos must learn lessons from the past or that they must use the same terms that we have always used. We too have to learn that simply saying that we are on the ‘left’ or that we are ‘socialist’ or ‘anti-capitalist’ will magically solve the problems we face. The Fourth International, for example, was founded as a revolutionary Marxist world-wide party that would keep alive the authentic democratic spirit of communism, and keep that alive against the bureaucracy in the Soviet Union under Stalin, a bureaucracy that murdered so many revolutionaries to maintain itself in power. But while that history of struggle and that tradition is a revolutionary thread of resistance to capitalism and bureaucracy that we are proud of, we know that those terms ‘communism’ and even ‘revolution’ are for many people associated with dictatorship and repression.

So we understand well the need to find a language, terms of debate that will resonate with peoples experience today, and that is all the more important given that there were aspects of our own ‘socialist’ history that was also problematic. We recognise that today with some of the baggage of that history and language of the ‘left’ there are problems we need to face, even that we are part of the problem. It is not enough, for example, to say that we have a proud record of fighting for women’s rights as some ‘left’ groups still do today. We need to take on board arguments from feminism that point to the way that men in left groups enjoy power as leaders. And we need to expand our sense of what ‘socialism’ is to care for people in a planet in serious ecological crisis. If that means going beyond ‘left’ and ‘right’ as Podemos say, then so be it, if we go beyond that old language to a new genuinely liberating politics together.

If we are to re-energise Left Unity we need to tackle the problem of a top-heavy organisation that spends too much time on developing ‘policy’ on this and that issue, and, like Podemos, we need to target our message to people around a few clear points, a few clear demands that will mobilise people. And we need to be clear that our diversity is not a weakness, working together it is our strength. A top-down old-fashioned ‘party’ is the last thing we need, and our debate with our comrades from Podemos must be in the spirit of active involvement in the ‘circles’. We want to link Left Unity activists, and those who are joining Left Unity now with the Circulo Podemos activists in Manchester in protests and political argument, and to do that in a way that is welcoming to revolutionaries redefining themselves and to all who really want people to take power.