“Keys to Covenant of Left Parties in Spain ”

Pacto de Izquierdas - La Marea

From left to right and top to bottom: Joan Baldoví, Joan Tardá, Chesus Yuste, Jose Luis Centella, Uxue Barcos, Laia Ortiz y Sabino Cuadra. / FERNANDO SÁNCHEZ


Progressive parties start their negotiations in order to try to establish new alliances regarding elections of 2014 and 2015, both essential to define our society in the near future.

Daniel Ayllón, Journalist.

Madrid, July 2013


15th January 1936. After the two darker years of the II Spanish Republic, when the government stopped the construction of schools and cut down the liberties and rights obtained under the rule of Manuel Azaña (the first governor), the party Frente Popular wins the election, reassured by a major social upheaval. Indalecio Prieto (from the social-democratic Spanish party PSOE) and Azaña himself (from the left-wing Republican Party Izquierda Republicana) were the ones who settled the basis for the alliance of the left-wing parties. Catalan nationalistic, republicans, socialists, Marxists and anarchist shared three common goals: amnesty for prisoners of “political and social” crimes, recovery of the reformist legislation of the first years of the republic -including projects such as the agrarian reform- and reopening of the regions’ self-government process.

The left-wing bloc surpassed the right (obtaining 263 deputies, against 156) and took back a social policies path that was truncated, five months later, by the coup d’état leaded by Franco (Spanish dictator for 40 years).

Almost 80 years later, the Spanish left looks in the mirror of that process and of those that during these decades have taken place in Europe (Greek Syriza, German Die Linke, Portuguese Bloca de Esquerda, French Front de Gauche, Italian El Olivo…) in order to face a “right-wing government which is also violating the Constitution, eradicating political and social rights”, as the historian Isabelo Herrero points out. The writer signalizes a difference between the context of 1936 and the present one: “Back then, there weren’t any European or external institutions which defined the policies”. The enemy was at home.

The x-ray of the Spanish left has also changed. One century ago, for instance, the anarcho-syndicalists of CNT (Spanish confederation of anarcho-syndicalist labor) counted a million affiliates. Furthermore, the current major unions as well as the PSOE (social-democratic Spanish party)have lost the leadership in the social support they knew years ago.

In Spain, 32% of the population declares themselves center-left or left-wingers, according to the survey of self-ideology positioning published by the Spanish Center of Sociologic Investigations (CIS); against 11.2% said to be center-right or right-wingers. However, the left does not succeed to displace its political rivals, partly due to abstention. According to the CIS barometer of voting intention in April (picture of the gross answers, not interpreted), declared abstention reaches 22.7%, the highest point since the series started in 1996. If it was a political party, it would have already surpassed the two bigger ones in Spain, PP (Christian democratic conservative party) and PSOE.

The Frente Popular that part of the left dreams about for two next year’s elections (Europeans in 2014, municipal, regional and national in 2015) is additionally facing various challenges.

Theoretically, parties seek common objectives: constituent process, youth unemployment, Royal House, redistribution of wealth, tax evasion, pensions, evictions, public Health and Education, institutional secularism… But some groups have stepped back from the negotiations in advance in order to create a common project. At leaston the short term. The two bigger Progressive units which, together with IU (United Left), have had the greatest parliamentary representation – PSOE (social-democratic Spanish party) and ERC (republican Catalan party) – are today far from this possible coalition, for different reasons.

PSOE after embracing the institutions from the Troika (IMF, European Commission and European Central Bank) and the recent recognition of past mistakes, forecasts a change of direction in autumn, to rediscover their left-wing roots. Although, they firmly reject to be part of a Spanish Syriza: “We are not fighting that battle”. ERC, as other nationalistic parties as BNG (from Galicia) or Amaiur (from the Basque Country), focus on the issue of their identity.

The only nationalistic group that has expressed their willingness to participate in the bloc is the one of the historic founder of BNG and current head of the Galician Anova, Xosé Manuel Beiras. On the last Galician election he defended, without losing sight of the identity issue, that it was necessary to prioritize an “alliance of the left” against neoliberal policies. This way, he forged Alternativa Galega de Esquerda (Galician Left Alternative) together with Esquerda Unida, the Galician side of IU, Equo Galicia (coalition of Spanish green parties in Galicia) and Espazo Ecosocialista Galego (all left-wing Galician parties). The Galician Syriza, the first alliance of this legislature, attained nine seats and became the third political force at the Parliament.


One of the most active processes is the Catalan one, which also seeks to become part of the social movements, despite it is still in an initial phase. The main coordinator of Esquerra Unida i Alternativa, EUiA (United and Alternative Left) and deputy at the Congress, Joan Josep Nuet, is the leading edge of the initiative at the political level.

The project aroused last summer at the EUiA’s assembly and, since then, Nuet has met with tens of parties, social movements, entities and civilian society organizations. Critical sectors of the Catalan PSOE (like the movement Avancem), members of ERC disappointed by the lead of the party, as well as ICV or CUP (pro-independence Catalan organizations) are some of the political agents liable of joining this initiative; other tuned groups are Revolta Global, En Lluita or sectors of 15-M (Spanish protests of 2011-12) like the Iaioflautas (the elder group of this movement). Despite conversations are opened, the situation is not mature enough to host a common assembly that would lead to an actual alliance, as sources of EUiA declare.

The economist and president of the NGO Justícia i Pau (peace and justice), Arcadi Oliveres; together with the Benedictine nun Teresa Forcades, a doctor too, known by her critical opinion of the pharmaceutical companies; promotes since months ago a “constituent process” based on gathering civil support to create a movement from thebasis.  On 19th June they counted 39 270 adherences, and their meetings in the different cities of Catalonia became popular due to the great attendance.

Their goal is to “start a process where citizens from Catalonia can chose which State and country model they prefer”. Among the measures they defend we can find the expropriation of private banking for the creation of a public and ethic banking, reduction of the working hours and task distribution, moratorium of evictions and retroactive nonrecourse debt, foster of the participative democracy and ecological reconversion of economy, approaching strategic sectors to the people.

For the Constitutional Law investigator of the University of Valencia, Diego González, the convergence of the left-wing parties requires not only “the commitment of the top” but also “the support of the citizenship that pushes from thebottom, as Forcades and Oliveres are doing”.

The Candidatura d’Unitat Popular, CUP (Catalan Candidates for the People’s Unity) has its own way of assembly proceeding attached to the region and built from the basis. Joan Teran, member of the national bureau of CUP, declares that the left-wing pro-independence groups appreciate as “very positive” the constituent process boosted by Oliveres and Forcades. “The majority of the points in their manifesto share our basic views”, he states. Regarding the proposal of EUiA, he assures that the group has already presented their idea of “unifying all the left-wing groups in Catalonia together for a transformative will, a project that we share”. However, the project leaded by EUiA meets more distrust among the CUP, mostly due to the recent past they shared with the formation of the Tripartite and the Conselleria de Interior (Interior Counseling), as Brais Benítez reports.


At a State level, the great promoter of the possible Spanish Syriza is IU (United Left), the older sister of EUiA. The Spanish Center of Sociologic Investigations (CIS) highlighted in its barometer of April 2013 a voting intention for Cayo Lara’s coalition (IU) of 7%, much higher that 2.8% that they plummet with in January 2008. Forecasts for PP and PSOE are of 12.5% and 13.7%, respectively. The role of the historic 50.8% of hesitant shown by the CIS and above all, the abstentions and the “none of the above” voting will be key too.

During its Political Council of May, IU approved that the agenda of the hypothetical group must be elaborated in a participative way: “The Political and Social Bloc cannot be an organizational structure, neither an electoral platform; it is all about assembling for the mobilization of those who support a social solution for the crisis, built in a collective way, a common place of encounter and coordination”. “Candidate’s lists should therefore also be participative”, states the secretary of Political Convergence and Social Movements of IU, Enrique Santiago.

Although, the way of electing the candidates will be defined in the coming months. So far, it is in a “debate” phase. The Political Council of September will be essential to define their position. From the inside, there is a sector that would rather keeping the IU identity, not to become a Syriza and take advantage of the growing citizen support that surveys of the last one and half years confer them.


The relationship between parties and present social movements little has to do with the one in 1936, although there are some similarities. The so called “white tide” (platform for the defense of Public Health) or organizations such as Juventud Sin Future (Youth without Future) make us think of those doctor groupings or of the students union that, in the IInd Republic, created their own banners to support the Frente Popular.

The spokesperson of IU at Congres, José Luis Centella, urges today to include the different tides, the Cumbre Social (social summit), Frente Cívico (civic front), 15-M (Spanish protests of March 2011), 25-S (Spanish platform aroused during the “Occupy The Congress” protests) and the PAH (Spanish Movement of Mortgage Victims); all the main social agents in the Political and Social Bloc.

Among these collectives, possible candidates to belong to the bloc, there is an opened debate about two essential points: Do we need to jump from the streets movements to another kind of politics? And if that was the case… Would the European elections of 2014 be a premature scenario?

Ada Colau, spokesperson of the PAH (Movement of Mortgage Victims), has turned into the showy star all parties dream about for the next elections. And she has already received some offers. But, should Colau jump to the parties politics? Without rejecting it, Centella believes that it would be a “mistake” of the parties to “go around looking for the perfect electoral candidate“, as if it was a “football strategy”. And he uses the example of Alberto Garzón, the big hope of IU, who “joined IU naturally and is now having a great impact on the formation, he is now a consecrated deputy”. Centella also alerts about the risk of having all the leaders of the social movements involved into parties, leaving those “leaderless”.

Julio Anguita, from the Frente Cívico, defends the same idea: “No need to look for leaders, but for a base. We have to get ready for that big constituent act. Strategies are medium-term”. Centella, “far from intending to correct Lenin”, analyzes the goal of the revolution in the 20th century: “It was about getting the power and, from there, make the revolution. In the 21st century, it’s about building the power of the people…or the counter-power, like in Bolivia or Ecuador. Circumstances are different. The process is now longer and slower, but also more solid. In the 20th century, the goal was to win elections to get the government. And it forgot to organize the people, from the bottom”.

After the explosion of 15-M, the Progressive parties look for their reflection in the social movements. PSOE and IU have recently started re-foundation and convergence process, respectively. Cayo Lara’s coalition (IU) did so during the X Federal Assembly, in December 2012. During his celebration speech, after being reelected as federal coordinator with 84% of the votes, Lara stated a sentence that caused certain fuss among attendants from all around Spain: “IU is the Spanish Syriza; we don’t need to look for one outside!”

The sentence has its explanation, states Centella, who understands it as “rhetoric resource”. After the overwhelming victory of PSOE with Felipe González in 1982 with a very fragmented left, IU was born four years later as a coalition raised around the No to NATO and boosted by several parties among which the PCE (Spanish Communist Party) outstood. Therefore, it is already a bloc on its own way.


IU is sure about keeping their alliances with ICV (Initiative for Catalonia and Green Party) and CHA (Aragonese Union) and go together to the European elections of May 2014; both have been their partners in the group Plural Left at the Deputies Congres. Furthermore, it seems quite likely that Galicians from Anova join the alliance, after the result of their pact with EU (IU from Valencia) in Galicia. However, Centella points out that the European elections won’t be the essential date: “The general elections will, those are the big ones”. The continental date will be a sort of thermometer, affirms the general secretary of the PCE.

The coalition of Cayo Lara (IU) won’t start looking for impossible alliances. Equo (coalition of Spanish green parties), for instance, who a priori fulfills the essential points for a Spanish Syriza, has outlined to go to the elections with the Partido Verde Europeo (European Green Party), to which they belong since May. Looking at the general elections of 2015, “We don’t reject anything. When the moment comes, the bases will decide” as Juan López de Uralde, the leader from Equo points out.

The slump of the two-party system is a key to explain the renaissance of left-wing formations in the South of Europe as IU, Syriza or Bloco de Esquerda, but also the muscle that parties of the extreme right win in Eastern Europe.

Any hope of victory for the left needs, in the coming two years, to mobilize their voters. If we analyze the victory of the Frente Popular in 1936, the historic participation of 72% draws our attention. This happened thanks to, among other factors, the respect of the anarchic-unionism of the CNT (Spanish confederation of anarcho-syndicalist labor) “respected the proposal of the bloc and rejected their usual call for abstention”, as the historian Herrero recalls. In addition to the ideological commitment, the amnesty that Frente Popular suggested for “political and social” prisoners was the only option for thousands of anarchists and Catalan pro-independents. The revolution in Asturias and the uprising in the Generalitat of Catalunya in 1934, counted more than 10,000 people arrested.

PSOE (Socialist Party)

What about the PSOE? Can they join the Spanish Syriza? According to Centella, “now there is no way for a deal with PSOE at a State level” because we would have to “talk about the reform of Section 135 of the Constitution or the electoral law that PSOE rejected to change when they were in power”. Centella believes that PSOE is debating between “the pressure of Felipe González and Joaquín Almunia and other leaders who suggest a deal with PP (Christian democratic conservative party) similar to the deal they reached in June at the EU, and those who propose another path”. He also warns: “Even with the second option there aren’t many chances”.

This lack of understanding at a State level does not occur at an autonomic level, where the heads of IU give carte blanche to their delegations to choose partners. This way, in Andalucía and in Asturias governments of alliance with PSOE were formed, while in Extremadura they blocked and gave the perfect opportunity for the presidency of PP with Monago. The decision of IU in Extremadura was very controversial and brought back the memories the rumors of alliances PP-IU in the 90’s.

In Greece, while the PASOK collapses (the equivalent of Spanish PSOE), some of its members leave the party to join Syriza before the former Greek president George Papandreu signs the memorandum that gathered all the drastic economic reforms of the Troika. The socialist spokesperson in the Commission for the EU at Deputies Congress, Juan Moscoso, rejects something similar happening in Spain.

In addition, “PSOE does not consider creating a coalition of this kind (Syriza) with IU since we are a party with a vocation of majority, a party of the government”, Moscoso affirms. The Socialists will go to the European elections together with another 30 social-democratic groups.

But not every militant -or voters- of PSOE see it in the same way than the higher spheres of the party do. Besides the downfall that months ago at the headquarters of PSOE in Madrid, the general secretary of International Alliance of Socialist Youths, Beatriz Talegón, some internal groups as well as Socialist Groups (Izquierda Socialista, Bases en Red, Construyendo la Izquierda, Líneas Rojas…) are trying to boost the party to the left, not without great difficulties.

However, Moscoso reckons some points of agreement with the Political and Social Bloc. And he shows an example: the payment of the debt. “PSOE is carrying out a debate and deep renovation process of their discourse”, he assures that this will be successful at the political conference in October. The meeting, presented as “a deep reform process”, is articulated around three different axes: economic, political and a third one aimed to the modernization of PSOE.

Moscoso clarifies some points:

-We are planning the reform of the Constitution, modifying the State model, the electoral law, the power distribution, introducing new rights, consolidatethe well-being model…and deepen into the separation of Church and State, towards secularism.

– But when you were in Government, you didn’t.

– There were elections faced with different priorities. The Law of Religious Freedom was not passed, but different ones were passed in different scenarios.

– That law was made, but left behind.

– Yes, it was left behind. And we lost the election. There have been things that were not done, but the majority of the party believes that now they have to be done.

– Is the monarchy questioned?

– No. We believe that we need to end with the primacy of the male in the succession, submit the Crown to strict controls of transparency and budget, and have its members inside the law because there isn’t any that regulates that… But, even if the republican issue is in the heart of the Socialists, we believe that there are other priorities.

– And a constituent process?

– Well…we suggest a deep reform of the Constitution.


In Europe, several left-wing coalitions have emerged during the last two decades. Besides Greek Syriza, the German Die Linke or the French Front de Gauche stand out. Die Linke – “The Left” in German- has consolidated as the main strength of the left-wing social-democrats (SPD) and greens. The fruit of the fusion in 2007 of the PDS, heir of the communist party from the GDR, and the WASG, a group created mainly by social-democrats disappointed with the reforms of the Government of Gerhard Schroder and leaded by the former Economy Minister, Oskar Lafontaine. Die Linke is still stronger in East Germany, where it has reached the Government with the SPD in several states.

In Portugal, another important coalition was created in 1999: the Bloco de Esquerda, as an alternative to the Communist Party and which clusters left-wing groups, from Maoists, Trotskyists or dissidents from the PCP (Portuguese Communist Party).

And, even if further in time and with a social-democratic profile, the Italian El Olivo, leaded by Romano Prodi, was another prominent coalition, born in Italia in the 90’s that clustered central and left-wing groups, secular and catholic inspired ones, as well as ecologists.

In Greece, Synaspismos was the base over which Syriza was articulated ten years ago. This coalition, which now is the second political force of the country, had an spectacular progress in 2012 elections, when it got 26.9% of the votes, barely 2.8 points less than the winner, New Democracy. Its powerful emergency is today a referent for European left.

Three years ago, its leader, Alexis Tsipras, walked around like any other unknown person in the Spanish Communist Party Festival, where he has come many times. Today, he travels with bodyguards and a vast team of consultants and translators. He really is successful. A big rock&roll star of politics.

At the end of May, IU organized a three day visit for the Greek leader to Madrid. He devoted the first two days to offer conferences and to hold bilateral meetings.  The organizers of the trip were bothered by the fact that Tsiprashad a meeting on the first day with Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba (the leader of PSOE),but they breathed easy when they heard the warning of the Greek man to the PSOE:”leave the neoliberal dogma behind”. The social-democrats have to give an answer:  Are they going to contribute and support a left-wing government or are they going to follow the path of supporting the right?”

Before he left, Tsipras reminded the Greek recipe to unify the left: “First thing is the togetherness, not to start an inside war. We know who the opponent is. The second point, to present a powerful agenda, with real changes: we are not asking for the sympathy vote, but for the people to fight with us. And, eventually, to use a new political vocabulary with the newgenerations, the one they use every day”.


The identity key is the main difference between the convergence process in Greece and in Spain. “In Greece there aren’t any major left-wing pro-independence groups (like Spanish ERC), what made easier the deal with Syriza”, explains Luis Ramiro, teacher at University of Murcia and author of the book Cambio y adaptación en la izquierda La evolución del Partido Comunista de Espalña y de Izquiera Unida (1986-2000) [translatable in English as Change and Adaptation of the left. The evolution of the Spanish Communist Party and United Left (1986-2000)], published by the Spanish Center of Sociologic Investigations (CIS). In Spain, the most part of left-wing pro-independence parties will go together to the European elections, within the ALE (Free European Alliance). Likely, among many others, BNG, ERC and part of Amaiur (left-wing Basque nationalist and separatist) coalition, Compromís (Commitment Coalition, they defend Valencianist, Progressive and ecological politics) and Partit Socialista de Mallorca (PSOE from Majorca) will take part of it.

What is the priority: the identity issue or the attachment of the left? The big majority avoids in a pro-independence perspective, the question about a possible Spanish Syriza. The ERC deputy, Joan Tarda, for instance, invites Spanish left to take advantage of what he considers to be “the imminent break of the after-Franco Spanish State and its Constitution” to “burst it” and, then, go towards a constituent process. “The crash is unavoidable. It will happen next year, at the latest. The proclamation of the Catalan republic will cause the destabilization of the Spanish State, which will force a reinvention. Is it or not an opportunity for the Spanish left?” He wonders.

In the short term, there are no hopes for these coalitions to respond to the political courtship of what would be the Frente Popular of the 21st century. Despite IU, ICV and EUiA approached to the pro-independence groups signing a document in favor of the “right to decide”, Tarda pays no attention to this: “We are not going to waste more energy in trying again. We don’t believe that, because of evolution, just by the break! The Spanish State will want to become a federal State. Our objective is to leave, to provoke a train crash, a conflict, of the biggest intensity. And, the sooner, the better.

What’s the point of the conflict? The right to decide: a crash between Spanish legality and Catalan legitimacy”. And the next day? What will happen if the “crack” that Tarda predicts takes place on the next year? Then, yes. By then, he expects a Catalan Syriza. “We, the Catalan left, need to know how to get feedback so that, the day after, we will be hegemonic in the constituent process and so that the Constitution of the Catalan republic won’t be written with blue ink”(blue was the color of the Franco’s troops during Spanish Civil war). Until then, ERC advocates for each one to play his destabilizing role “in his area” and affirms that the current differences with ICV and EUIA are purely “tactical”. The future political system of the Catalan republic will be made up, according to Tarda, by a big right-wing party and another left-wing one, and it should be hegemonic: “If ICV, EUIA and ERC work together, Catalonia won’t have an army and we will institutionalize the Universal Basic Income”.

In 1936, ERC did hug the Frente Popular, even though they belonged to the parallel Catalan platform, the Front d’Esquerres. The key was that one of the three pillars of the bloc’s agenda was the reopening of the autonomy process of the various regions.

Amaiur like Geroa Bai (both separatist parties from the Basque Country) share the idea that “multi-national reality of the Spanish State does not allow to import the Greek project”. Actually, Uxue Barkos, spokesperson of Geroa Bai at the Congres, suggests that the “resistance front” shouldn’t just be from the left, but be opened to other powers as the conservative PNV “in order to defend welfare”.

Besides the pro-independence debate, Luis Ramiro points out two factors that affect the negotiations: the recent and still bleeding injuries of IU in Valencia or Baleares and the hegemonic role of PCE, which seems to his eyes “intimidating” to some minor formations.  After the autonomic elections of 2007 in Valencia, two deputies of Esquerra Unida (IU from Valencia) left the group behind and joined the Bloc Nacionalista Valencia (Nationalistic Bloc from Valencia) in order to make up Compromís. This group stood together with Equo (coalition of Spanish green parties) to the last general elections, in which they obtained one seat.

The spokesperson of Compromís at Congress, Joan Baldoví, assures that “there are people that comes from IU and still needs some political time for that injury to close”. Baldoví shares the analysis of Ramiro about the independence issue: “The situation in Greece and in Spain is very different, because the Spanish State is multi-national”. “The forces of all territories, we are all exploring and it won’t take long for the first alliances to start emerging. If we will join Equo or not….only time will tell”, he states.

About the possible hegemony of the PCE (Spanish Communist party), Martine Billard presents the key that was followed in France in order to create Front de Gauche (Left Front). Billard is co-president of the left-wing party in France, one of the nine groups that the Front clusters and that go from Socialism to Communism. At last year’s elections, they obtained an historic 11%. Billard emphasizes the importance of the decision made in that moment by the candidate of the Communist Party: accepting a non-communist candidate, Jean Luc Mélenchon, his colleague from the party, in order to reach a deal in the Left Front.

Today, the size of IU and PCE is about 45%. Four other left-wing groups (Izquierda Abierta, Izquierda Republicana, CUTSAT and above all, Independientes) share the 55% left. The hegemony of PCE is specially highlighted since the general elections of 2008, but the heads of the party insist on the fact that they will be “generous” when creating the bloc. As collateral, they present the Galician Syriza, where the national coordinator of EU, Yolanda Díaz, was number two and handed over the lead of the coalition to Xosé Manuel Beiras. The spokesperson of IU at Congres, Laia Ortiz, points out that the priority, above all, must be to “add”. “The alternative that is presented needs to have renewed names. But we all have to be ready to give up some points, even to present primary elections to elaborate the lists, if it was the case. There has to be generosity to overcome the two-party system that neoliberalism has embraced”.


 Left Party Programs – Comparison table 

Comparativa Partidos Izquierda

www. lamarea.com