Podemos, or “We Can,” emerged in 2014 out of the 15-M movement, the Spanish precursor of Occupy Wall Street. Led by political scientist Pablo Iglesias, Podemos has campaigned against austerity and corruption. This year, the so-called Gürtel case has grown into one of the biggest scandals in recent Spanish history, leading to the ouster of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy. In May, Spain’s highest criminal court found dozens of people—many from the ruling conservative Popular Party—guilty of fraud, money laundering, and illegal kickbacks. I spoke with Iglesias, Podemos’s secretary general, about Spanish politics and global capitalism. —Winnie Wong
WW: Where does Podemos go from here now that Rajoy has been ousted?
PI: Our first step was to remove Rajoy from government; he was an obstruction that made it impossible to initiate change. But we are not naive—the road ahead will be full of obstacles. We know that PSOE [the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party] has created policies that undermine our welfare state. We know that they have implemented labor reforms to remove worker protections. PSOE have demonstrated that they are capable of aligning themselves with the right to enact constitutional changes overnight in order to auction off our sovereignty. We know this, but this will not dampen our efforts in this historic moment.
The no-confidence vote was a no to Rajoy, a no to corruption, a no to privatization, a no to parasitic institutions, but, above all, it is a yes to democracy and hope.
WW: As leader of Podemos, what do you see as the leading threats to the security and stability of Spain?
PI: The primary menace is inequality, which has surged under the policies of austerity imposed by the European Union. Spain has suffered a profound socioeconomic crisis, which has led us to our current political crisis. This is because the elite want to codify a social model based on the ongoing impoverishment of the majority of the Spanish people. Spain needs new national agreements to strengthen our democracy and meet the challenges of the crises in which we are immersed.
WW: How should the European left engage with transnational social movements to stop the rise of authoritarian regimes such as Viktor Orbán’s and Donald Trump’s?
PI: The question should be how long will the EU continue to undermine the creation of a genuine project to defend the interests of the region, one dedicated to strengthening democracy. We need another EU that will stand in solidarity and defend democracy, an EU that will not allow itself to be dragged around by the offensive policies of the United States, an EU that asserts its own leadership. The victory of Trump, the tone-deafness of the Democratic Party that refused to listen to the message of the Bernie Sanders movement, the long shadow of the financial crisis of 2007—these all signal to us the urgency of creating an alternative to the neoliberal policies of globalization, the urgency of working together with social movements that center sustainability and democratization, which is the complete antithesis of the authoritarianism of Trump.
WW: How should the left confront global capital?
PI: We have witnessed the inspiring rise of mass movements around the world demonstrating against capitalism and against a financial sector that has positioned itself as the enemy of human aspiration. Finance is against democracy; it is against the people and the environment. Our political experience is, in great part, a reflection of that.
In this moment, women have taken the reins of progressive, citizen-led democratic movements. It is within the women’s movement that we can see the tip of the spear capable of thwarting the plans of the elites. We must expand the arenas in which people can control their own lives and deliberate over our shared experiences. It is the only way we will be able to stop the destructive course set by the few who have accumulated too much power and capital.
When we have true equality and greater democracy, we will be able to confront the despotic power of corporations, transition away from an economy based on fossil fuels, and guarantee a sustainable economy that will ensure the survival of future life on this planet.
Maricela Sanchez assisted with the translation.