One Tuesday afternoon in late January, Pablo Iglesias and Íñigo Errejón, the two most powerful figures in Podemos, appeared to get into a heated disagreement while sitting next to one another in the Spanish parliament, where their young anti-austerity party is the third-largest. Brows furrowed, hands touched shoulders, fingers pointed accusingly. Their 30-minute conversation remains the stuff of hearsay, yet dozens of photographs, a 10-second video clip, and a pinch of mystery were the perfect ingredients for a media firestorm. The next day, the tense faces of the two college friends—the Lennon and McCartney of the Spanish left—appeared on half a dozen front pages. “Fight in Congress,” read the headline of the conservative paper La Razón; “Iglesias and Errejón Stop Pretending.”
Though the Podemos leaders brushed it off—“We’re Spaniards, not Dutchmen: We gesticulate when we talk,” Iglesias joked—their confrontation was the latest crack in a growing rift within the party. Over the previous six months, ever since the disappointing results in last June’s parliamentary elections, different factions of Podemos have been at each other’s throats in increasingly nasty and public ways. While the Madrid-based leadership has occupied itself with internal rivalries, Podemos representatives and allies elsewhere in Spain are busy doing day-to-day political chores: In Aragon, Podemos is pressuring the Socialist Party (PSOE) to pass increases to educational infrastructure, including the building of a new hospital; in Andalusia, the party is bringing to light the sweetened deals the regional government struck with major multinationals such as Santander and BBVA; and the party’s regional affiliate in Cantabria has proposed measures to address a gender pay gap of nearly 30 percent.
Although the party has experienced growing pains throughout the country, nowhere have they been as acute as in Madrid, where the past month alone has seen the infighting reach new heights. On January 22, the journalist Enric Juliana wrote that party sources had told him that the rift had begun when, early in 2016, Iglesias discovered by chance that Errejón’s allies in the leadership were conspiring to sideline him. It didn’t take long for counter-narratives to appear. On February 1, Carolina Bescansa and Nacho Álvarez, two of the party’s most public faces, wrote an open letter saying that they wouldn’t partake in the confrontation between Errejón and Iglesias, blaming both for trapping the party in a “thicket of noise.”
Days later, the philosopher Luis Alegre, one of the party’s founders, published a scathing piece in which he blamed the division not on Iglesias but on the slash-and-burn tactics of the leader’s current entourage, a group of operators who came of age as activists in the Communist Party and include Iglesias’s romantic partner, Irene Montero. Two days after that, the respected philosopher Carlos Fernández Liria joined the choir, also pointing to the ruthless methods employed by Iglesias’s inner circle and publicly expressing his regret for, as he put it, having served in the recent past as Iglesias’s stooge. All this happened just days before “Vistalegre II,” the party’s second national congress, which took place on February 11 and 12 and was convened to decide, by assembly vote, Podemos’s platform, representatives, and direction for the next three years.