“Everybody is realizing that political fragmentation in such important elections would give the power back to bipartisanship, specifically to Mariano Rajoy.” Ahead of Spanish elections in December, the young leader of Izquierda Unida discusses the “model” of Catalonia’s united party and the “sea change” we are facing in Europe.
Alberto Garzón has forged ahead. Born in 1985, he is the youngest member of the Congress of Deputies, Spain’s lower house, and is currently the youngest leader of the parties that will be vying for the parliamentary elections in December.
A Marxist economist and an activist in the Spanish Communist Party and Izquierda Unida, or IU, since 2003, Garzón participated in indignados movements in 2011. He was elected member of parliament in the district of Málaga (Andalusia), his adopted hometown, in the elections of 2011, when IU and its allies won 11 MPs, with 7 percent of the votes.
His political line aims to create a popular list that combines lists of the left against bipartisanship, especially Podemos. He is convinced that the time has come to overcome marginalization and aim to bring together alternative forces using the candidacy model that led people like Ada Colau and Manuela Carmena to become mayors of major Spanish cities. These days he is in Catalonia to support the unitary list Catalunya, sí que es pot (CSQEP) which unites Podemos, the red and green and the UI itself. The elections are characterized by a polarization within the separatist discourse.
“We are facing a sea change,” he explained to manifesto, “and we are discussing how the society that will emerge from this change will be and whether it will be directed by the oligarchy, with a change in the social model, with greater cuts, and work, toward greater insecurity, as well as a legal and political adjustment of institutions to the needs of capitalism; or whether we will experience a participatory, democratic process directed from below with the restoration of social rights. The Catalan elections are also situated in this context. With one unique feature: that of being permeated by the national identity and territorial issue. Those who share a model of society built by the oligarchy — the People’s Party, Convergència [the party led by Mas] and Ciudadanos — benefit greatly from the idea of reducing the political conflict to a territorial issue. The right to decide on the model of the state is part of the dispute, obviously, but together with other issues, such as education, health or social services. The rhetoric wants to reduce everything to do with independence to ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ But we believe there is much more at stake.”
In Catalonia, however, many pro independence movements, such as Cup, are markedly left.
A leftist nationalism that can be understood. The very word “nation” comes from a bond with the people — and “recovery for the people,” nationalization, has the same root. In the analysis by fellow Marxists, the material conditions of life must be given priority. National or cultural identity exists like social identity. I have much more in common with a Catalan laborer than with a businessman from my own city. I would vote no on a question of Andalusian independence, because I believe it is possible to build a legal entity greater than the territory that allows us to live together with other identities and fight together. We are much more united in terms of social class than separated in terms of language. From my point of view, nationalism is not the best way to look at things from the left.
In Catalonia, a unitary list has been created between IU and Podemos. Its prospects are only so-so, with polls predicting less than 15 percent.
It is an example that you can work together, overcoming differences, because priority is given to the fact that there is so much at stake, which forces us to stop navel gazing. If we managed to do it in Catalonia, why can’t we do it in the rest of the state? As for the result, we will have to see. In this respect the regime has transported everything to the level of identity, building a “plebiscite” narrative in which we do not recognize ourselves. In December, the potential will be much greater.
The separatists are challenging the constitution from the territorial point of view. Could they not be the forerunners needed to overcome it?
The constitution of 1978 has been hotly contested for a long time. Its fundamentals and socio-historical context are gone. The pact between capital and labor that sought to introduce the welfare state that came to the rest of Europe 30 years ago is no more. But the attacks against it have mainly come from the oligarchy, exceeding the legal approach set by the European Union, and depleting its substantial approach for privatization and neoliberal policies. Now there is no longer need to direct a society that is completely different. The Catalan process is part of this, but not the trailblazer because the trail is already open. The constitutional process is already underway. The choice is not between a constituent process or nothing. It is between a constituent process directed by the oligarchy, or one directed by the people.
Was your idea of a unified list created with this ambition?
Our diagnosis led to the conclusion that popular unity was needed, at least in terms of the elections. At the beginning not many people were on board, and a lot of resistance still remains. It is not yet possible to know whether we will succeed and how. But I think we’re getting closer because everyone is coming to realize that the political division in these important elections would give the power back to bipartisanship and concretely to Mariano Rajoy. This is why most people are in favor of a popular list. The resistance is from people who have not understood the historical moment.
Has the decline of Podemos in the polls made them more flexible?
Even if Podemos had not lost ground, it would not have had enough weight to change the country. Popular unity was already a necessity even when the polls were higher than today. The electoral law will destroy you, the smaller your percentage in the election. And we at IU are experts in this. I think the important thing is a diagnosis with broader horizons on whether in December the Left of this country will be able to take a rupture position or definitively fall back into marginality.
Has Izquierda Unida changed?
When I entered the IU, Izquierda Abierta dominated [one of the parties forming IU, which is now threatening to leave it], and they theorized that IU had to be the “influential” opposition, that its historic mission was to facilitate social democratic governments. IU had 5 percent of the vote, and that allowed it to survive in terms of apparatus. The IU certainly was fighting for social transformation, it was in favor of slightly more progressive management of the capitalist economic system. This has always seemed profoundly mistaken to me. Organizations are conservative by nature, what Robert Michels called the “iron law of oligarchy”: When it institutionalizes, each social community tends to have undemocratic leaderships by an oligarchy that controls its apparatus. When a party reaches 10 percent, and the question is raised whether to leap into action or stay still, there is always a very strong tendency not to risk it. We want to break this dynamic because we believe that we should build a new framework, and cannot handle the misery left over by the system on our own.
After what happened to Greece and the refugees, is Europe over?
Theoretical Europeanism is one thing: We are people with internationalist values. We believe that we are all equal, and there are no illegal people. But then there is the reality: The EU has never been a project concerned with brotherhood among peoples. They were pacts between economic powers that sought institutional adjustments which would avoid a future military confrontation and contagion of communist ideas, as a consequence of World War II. So an EU controlled by a few countries and economic interests is constructed. What we must do now is to rebuild the EU, taking into account that this Europe is dead, it has signed the beginning of the end. It acted like blackmailer with Greece, a gang of unsympathetic mobsters that sold people at auction instead of thinking about human rights, which has started again with the refugee quota. It has to be remade, but the right option is not autarky, shelter in a new nation-state. Besides, it would be impossible in the phase of financial and economic globalization we live in. We need regional alliances that build new bonds of solidarity and fraternity. Such was the case with the ALBA in Latin-American, which allowed new spaces for integration to be constructed around a true political project with principles and values, and interaction and solidarity. The south of Europe can have the ability and the potential to build this connection. We must construct the political will that is now absent.
You have often said that exiting the euro is like being on a plane: It is much easier to get off before take-off than during the flight. Is it time to jump off the plane?
I believe that the debate on the European Union is not an exclusively monetary debate. It is a debate on the production structure, on why there are countries that have specialized in structures with high added value, such as Germany or France, while countries like Spain were de-industrialized, turning them into a source of cheap labor for the rest of the Union. Leaving the euro would not mean this situation would suddenly change. We would be funding a highly negative economic trade balance. The debate on the euro enriches, but I think the real debate is over production capacity, equality and the interaction and division of labor.
Do you feel closer to Varoufakis or Tsipras?
In terms of economic analysis, certainly Varoufakis. Besides, it was made very clear that the person with the greatest interest in Greece leaving the euro was the German finance minister. He had spent six years transferring potential losses from the euro exit from private to public hands. If Greece had exited six years ago, the banks would have suffered the losses. If it exits now, the debt will fall on the public entities that have falsely “redeemed” Greece. On the other hand, leaving the euro would lead to the drama of how to reconstruct an economy based mainly on imports, with a wage adjustment of almost 40 percent in education, in health care and pensions. It is easier to negotiate with the EU when you’re inside and you have more ability to blackmail when you’re out of it. I’m happy for Syriza’s victory, although a country with Greece’s economic weight will have many difficulties changing the policies of the EU on its own. We will work for December, because Spain can help change Europe.
Speaking of elections, your most important proposal is that of guaranteed work.
Providing work to all those who want to work must be an obligation on the part of the state, as is the case with education or health. In our proposal, €9.4 billion would be enough to remove 1 million unemployed people from the streets. It is a significant amount, but compared to what we spent to rescue the financial system, for example, it’s trifling. In macroeconomic terms, the strategy of guaranteed work is used to stimulate domestic demand, to recover the economy by guaranteeing entry to those who are working. It is a complementary measure to that of the citizenship income proposed by Podemos, for example. I’m in more favor of guaranteed work because it is much more realistic and has more economic advantages. Obviously, if a person cannot work you have to guarantee them a different kind of service.
But practically, how it would work?
It involves setting work bursaries through a planning strategy, but not by digging a hole and then by plugging it, as Keynes has said. Instead, we must diagnose what we need to change in the production model. The structure has fallen, leaving millions of people out of the labor market, and at the same time the historic centers have deteriorated. So let’s implement a program to rehabilitate our historic centers, which we can use to stimulate tourism and at the same time to provide revenues for these people and stimulate domestic demand for small and medium-sized enterprises in each city. Other strategies may be: renewable energy, reforestation , care of people… Lines that the state would outline with concrete programs. For the moment, there would be two salary bands: from €900 to €1,000 and between €1,000 and €1,200, depending on qualifications. They are small amounts, but they can work to begin with. The program would be public, but the management could be carried out by the organizations or NGOs.