On Saturday, a leader of the Pabloite Anticapitalistas tendency that helped found Podemos in 2014, Teresa Rodríguez, was invited to publish a column in Spain’s leading social-democratic daily, El País.
As Rodríguez’s piece was published, the NATO countries were waging their ongoing war on Russia in Ukraine that threatens to escalate into all-out nuclear war. Prices of food, energy and other essentials are exploding, devastating workers’ living standards, and COVID-19 is killing tens of thousands and debilitating millions each month. Though humanity is teetering on the verge of economic collapse and nuclear conflagration, Rodríguez had nothing to say on these issues.
Instead, she penned a piece titled “Je suis Irene Montero,” [“I am Irene Montero”], referring to Irene Montero, the Podemos minister for gender equality in Spain’s current Socialist Party (PSOE)-Podemos government. Her title was a reference to the French government’s “Je suis Charlie” slogan after the 2015 Charlie Hebdo attacks, which it used to stoke anti-Muslim sentiment and back police-state policies.
She wrote, “Oui, I say … Yes! ‘I am Irene Montero’. Despite everything. Despite the fact that we don’t have good google, as they say nowadays, nor do we share the same political project. And I say this proudly because I am tired of this feeling that they are giving us women and feminism with a string of constant attacks on the Minister of Equality.”
Rodríguez criticized the neo-fascist Vox party’s attacks on Montero, accusing her of sexualising children, promoting sex among minors and paedophilia. The question, however, was not a defence of democratic rights of children and public education but an appeal for the middle class to support the PSOE-Podemos government.
The fact is that Anticapitalistas and Podemos share the same perspective. Anticapitalistas founded Podemos in 2014 along with Stalinist professors like Pablo Iglesias, Montero’s current partner, and Irene Montero herself, a former member of the Communist Party Youth.
In May 2020, Anticapitalistas left Podemos. They did so, not because they opposed any of Podemos’ signature policies in government: its back-to-work order amid the pandemic which led to tens of thousands of deaths, its austerity policies and its police state measures against Catalan nationalists. In fact, its statement on the split said it “will support all the gains made within this [PSOE-Podemos government] framework and we will fight together against the extreme right.” It added that “there is no doubt that we will find ourselves in many common struggles with the people of Podemos.”
In the video posted on the split, Rodríguez signalled in feminist language that Anticapitalistas would leave Podemos but remain politically close to it: “I believe that in politics as in life, there are ways of separating that are aggressive, violent and patriarchal, and then there are civilized, respectful, empathetic and even loving ways, which are the healthiest, which can be built and are possible in politics. That is the significance of the message we are sending today.”
Iglesias, then leader of Podemos, responded by praising Rodríguez for giving an “example of how to do things right,” repeating, “There is not good-bye, only see-you-soon.”
Now, Rodríguez, is signalling with the same language that the middle class must rally to Podemos on the basis of feminist identity politics. “We have left young girls alone at a time when they most needed feminism in the face of the reactionary and neo-sexist wave that permeates certain youth environments. … But Irene Montero has been attacked for almost everything, even literally for breathing. … They do not harass the [male] ministers of any branch or the ministers of other matters in the same way. Not in the same way, not with the same violence.”
She concluded, “Irene Montero is not a friend of mine, but the blows they are giving her are the ones that the patriarchy would like to give each one of us. For this reason, today ‘je suis Irene Montero’. Tomorrow, we’ll see.”
Montero is a reactionary Podemos minister, who specialises in promoting identity politics in Podemos’ middle class base while covering for the PSOE-Podemos’ anti-worker policies.
Her government is sending hundreds of millions of euros worth of offensive military equipment to the Ukrainian regime against Russia, even sending anti-tank missiles to the neo-Nazi Azov Battalion. Madrid is directly training Ukrainian soldiers on Spanish soil. It also supports the entry of Finland and Sweden into NATO—another reckless provocation against Moscow—and is preparing to hike Spain’s military budget by a historic 20 percent.
On COVID-19, Podemos supported the “let it rip” policy that killed over 160,000 Spaniards and left over 1 million debilitated by Long COVID. To pay for European Union COVID-19 bailout funds to the banks and corporations, it has implemented ruthless austerity in the form of labour reforms, pension cuts and violent police crackdowns on workers striking against below-inflation wage increases.
Montero’s most recent infamous action came after the June 24 police massacre of at least 37 refugees trying to cross the Moroccan border into the Spanish enclave of Melilla. Two days after the killings, at a government press conference, Montero refused to take a position on the massacre after being asked by journalists five times. The press later confirmed that her silence had been agreed upon between the PSOE and Podemos.
Rodriguez’s sudden appearance on the pages of El País is the product of a political operation cleared at the highest levels of the state. Factions of the bourgeoisie are concerned that Podemos faces an electoral debacle in next year’s November elections, due to the unpopular right-wing policies it has pursued. Anticapitalistas is once again intervening to prop the PSOE-Podemos government.
According to the latest electoral survey of Ágora Integral, corresponding to the month of September, the right-wing Popular Party (PP) would defeat the Socialist Party (PSOE). The PP would go from 91 seats to 139 in the 350-seat assembly, and the PSOE would obtain 92, falling from the previous 120 seats and Podemos would go down from 26 to 23. The far-right Vox party would go down from 52 seats to 49 but could form a coalition with the PP that would have a comfortable absolute majority.
El País has aggressively intervened to promote Podemos, supporting its latest electoral project launched by its de facto leader, Yolanda Díaz, Sumar (“Unite”). In an editorial last July, it said: “The fact that an electoral artifact that was born to articulate the space to the left of the PSOE is led by someone who occupies the post of deputy prime minister is positive. … [She] will need a project and a political organization that manages to retune the left amid a mixture of discontent, discomfort and fear after a decade and a half chaining one crisis after another.”
While Rodríguez’s Anticapitalistas presents her defence of Podemos as part of a campaign to combat Vox, the illusions she is peddling in the pro-capitalist Podemos only pave the way for the rise of the far right.
The hostility of middle class “left populist” parties like Podemos to the workers is irrefutably established. Italy has demonstrated how the role of the pseudo-left, which has supported austerity, NATO wars and anti-migrant campaigns, only strengthens the far right. Last week, Georgia Meloni of the Brothers of Italy (FdI) party, the political successor of the Fascist Party of World War II-era dictator Benito Mussolini, won the elections.
Key lessons must be learned. The decisive question facing workers and youth in Spain and internationally who are opposed to the US-NATO war against Russia in the Ukraine, the COVID-19 pandemic, social austerity and military-police repression is to break politically from petty-bourgeois forces like Podemos and Anticapitalistas.
The reactionary record of Anticapitalistas underscores that the decisive strategic question today is building the International Committee of the Fourth International (ICFI) as the revolutionary leadership in the working class. This requires building sections of the ICFI in Spain and internationally, based on the colossal political experiences embodied in its defence of Trotskyism, to wage an uncompromising struggle against the PSOE-Podemos government, its appendages in the union bureaucracy and groups like Anticapitalistas.
Aid groups say Ottawa has told them that paying people in Afghanistan or buying goods there could lead them to be prosecuted under anti-terrorism laws.
Many of Canada’s allies have found carveouts so that aid workers don’t get charged with supporting the governing Taliban, which is designated as a terrorist group.
But Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has no explanation for why Canada hasn’t fixed the issue.
The Senate’s human-rights committee will launch hearings into the issue on Monday and invited three ministers to attend, but all of them said they had prior commitments at the time of the planned meetings.
The United Nations says six million Afghans are now categorized as being at risk of famine, while another fourteen million are in critical need of food.
It has all been downhill in America since the first six presidents. Western civilisation was never the same after ancient wisdom gave way to the sentimental Gospel. Roosevelt should have stayed out of that damn fool war in Europe and the Pacific. People are breeding too much. The state must stop them.
I like Gore Vidal so much that I involuntarily smile when I see the spine of his essay collection, United States, in my bookcase. Even before his dotty late phase, though, he was a reactionary kind of liberal. If his 1968 debates with the conservative William Buckley Jr still grip us, it is because of the two men’s underlying oneness, not the superficial Democrat vs Republican framing.
Best of Enemies, James Graham’s otherwise fine play about the duel of the drawlers, might have made more of this. I fear much of the audience leaves with the sweet notion in their heads that Vidal would today have been a woke ally. The play wants to suggest that his showdown with Buckley was a trailer for the culture wars, the partisan spite, of now. I have come around to the opposite view.
The debates marked the end of something good, not the start of something bad. It was the last time being politically hard-to-place was normal.
Put it this way. If you tell me what you think about, say, the return of the Benin bronzes, I can infer with some confidence your views on public spending, the EU, rail strikes, immigration, working from home, climate change, Meghan Markle and much else. Nothing connects these subjects. It should be possible to be a small-government Remainer who thinks imperial loot is better off in western museums and who loses sleep to visions of a burning planet. But such a person would stand out now. To take a more concentrated example, lots of people should be anti-lockdown and pro-vaccine mandate. How many do you know?
I have aired Ganesh’s First Law of Politics before, but allow me a recapitulation. People do not work out their beliefs and then join the corresponding tribe. They join a tribe and infer their beliefs from it. The sense of belonging, the group membership, is what hooks people, not the thrill of being right or pursuing a thought on its own terms. Politics has become a team sport, goes the line on this. But even that is too kind. Sports fans are sardonic and irreverent about their own team. It isn’t so central to their identity as to require consistent adherence.
We have lost all sense of how weird it is to seek connection with others through politics. And how new. Watching Buckley and Vidal is a reminder of a less needy age. The former had his own credentials as an apostate of the right: his loose line on marijuana, his Catholicism, his Spanish-speaking intellectualism. Nor was the audience at the time much easier to place. Millions of whites were pro-New Deal and anti-Civil Rights in a way that stumps modern notions of “progressive” and “conservative”.
Noting the change since then is simple enough work. Accounting for it is trickier. One theory suggests itself. The rise of politico-cultural blocs more or less tracks the decline of church membership, trade unions and marriages that go the distance. An atomised population began to cast around for other kinds of belonging, didn’t it?
The mid-20th century voter was heterodox, yes, but heterodox in the way that someone with strong roots could afford to be. With such a firm social anchor, there was less need to seek emotional security in a political tribe. As I’ve used two metaphors for the same thing there, let us keep them coming. A rudder, a bedrock, a cornerstone, a north star: people used to find these things in their personal relationships. In their church, family, factory or town. As modernity scrambled those things, mostly for the good, the need to subsume oneself into a group was going to have to be met some other way.
That turned out to be politics. We live with the wicked results all the time now. The perverse consequences of ostensibly desirable change: Buckley would call this a conservative insight. And I, though a Vidalist, always thought he won those debates.
“Normal Politics”: I encouraged my students to embrace and practice this type of politics. Bernard Crick, a British political theorist, imagined this concept decades ago. He believed healthy democratic politics demanded empathy for your political opponents and searching for policies able to reconcile or bridge competing positions. At its best, normal politics is about finding or creating and implementing consensus. It invites political opponents to recognize they have some shared values and to work together to realize them.
Sadly, normal politics rarely characterizes politics in today’s democracies. Its antithesis is too common in political debate. In Alberta recently, the executive director of Take Back Alberta, an interest group that helped propel Danielle Smith into the premier’s office, accused the New Democratic Party of promoting a “toxic and disease-ridden ideology.” Such extremism slams the door on Crick’s hopeful view of politics.
With the legislature back in session, I don’t expect to see a lot of normal politics on display. But, in her recent television address, Premier Danielle Smith told Albertans she “must be humble, listen and continue to learn from you.” Alberta’s coal debate issue gives her an exceptional opportunity to back that commitment up with meaningful action.
Coal has been one of Alberta’s most contentious issues over the past several years. It’s an issue where a consensus exists, a consensus that could be strengthened. As hard as it may be for some residents of the Crowsnest Pass to accept, most Albertans don’t believe coal mining should have a future anywhere in the Rockies and foothills of Alberta’s Eastern Slopes. Impressive majorities of Albertans have said as much in public opinion polls, the Grassy Mountain coal mine hearings and the Coal Policy Committee consultations.
Smith’s government should listen to and implement this consensus. In this legislative session, the premier should introduce legislation guaranteeing that coal mining proposals in our southern Rockies and foothills cannot be revived.
But I think Crick would want the premier to go one step further. I think he would invite her to try to broaden the consensus, to try to bridge the gulf between coal mining opponents and supporters. Identify positions those camps share; build on them. Community prosperity in southwest Alberta is an obvious candidate here.
So far Alberta’s debate about coal has offered thin gruel when it comes to what economic future could be built in southern Alberta without coal mining. The UCP and NDP alike must pay serious attention to nurturing in the southwest the range of economic activities central to Alberta’s developing post-industrial society.
What does this perspective recommend? Begin to craft a regional development strategy. Several paths lead in this direction. One would be to establish a Southern Alberta Sustainable Economic Opportunities Forum. Invite leaders from Alberta academia, business, the federal government, First Nations, labour and municipalities to join it. Task them with thinking about how, without coal, healthy and prosperous livelihoods may be delivered to the people of southwest Alberta. Or, strike an all-party legislative committee, chaired jointly by the UCP and NDP, to do something similar. If this venture bears fruit, it could be replicated for other regions in Alberta.
Coal offers Smith the opportunity to pivot toward normal politics and show her commitment to listening to Albertans is genuine. Coal has opened the door to privileging conciliation in politics. If the premier goes through that door, she may be able to deliver what all sides of Alberta’s coal debate seek: good, healthy livelihoods for the people of southern Alberta.
Ian Urquhart is professor emeritus of political science at the University of Alberta.
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