‘Fascism or Democracy’. Lessons Learned from Madrid Elections

On 4 May there were elections in the region of Madrid and its result, the victory of a trumpist right, has been lived and interpreted internationally as a painful defeat for the left, magnified by the departure of Pablo Iglesias of active politics. It was a defeat, but much more in terms of a cultural battle than in the electoral field.

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The Community of Madrid (Autonomous Community is the equivalent to a German Länder) has been governed by the conservative right of the Popular Party (PP) for 26 years. That they won the elections again is not an anomaly, so why has the left experienced it as a defeat?

Triumph of ‘Trumpism’

Firstly, because after 80 years (40 years of fascist dictatorship included) Spain has a progressive coalition government between the Social Democratic Party (PSOE) and the left (Unidas Podemos). During the year and a half of this new government, the spearhead of the right-wing opposition to it has been the president of the Community of Madrid, Isabel Díaz Ayuso, who with an aggressiveness unusual even in the rancid Spanish right and a Trumpist style has been boycotting the government from her position as president of Spain’s richest region. She is, de facto, the leader of the opposition.

Elections in Madrid were carried out by her, because of surveys that said PP could win the elections at the expense of doing away with the moderate right party Ciudadanos, erasing it from the political map (which actually happened) and contest the vote on the far right of Vox with a Trumpist speech: the rebel vote against a left-wing government that imposes restrictions on the economy with the excuse of the pandemic, is to vote for the PP. She raised the elections as a challenge to the left, with the motto: ‘Socialism or Freedom’ and making of the word “freedom”, the opposition to the government and its delirious attacks Pablo Iglesias, the axes of her successful campaign. That is, a shift from the conservative right to extreme right positions.

Source: Communidad de Madrid

Defeat of Social Democracy, division of the left

In the field of the Socialist Party, this challenge was interpreted as an opportunity to distance itself from the left and Unidas Podemos, designing a campaign and a policy aimed at occupying the centrist space of Ciudadanos. An error that proved fatal since the voters of Ciudadanos went en masse to the PP and leaving the PSOE with the worst result in its history in Madrid.

In the field of the left, the dispute was expressed in two political formations: a division of Podemos, called Más Madrid and led by the former number two of Podemos, Iñigo
Errejón, with a moderate discourse of transversal left-wing populism, and Unidas Podemos, whose weak situation forced Pablo Iglesias to leave the Vice-presidency of Spain and go down to the political arena of Madrid to dispute that space.

In the block on the left a “virtuous competition” was carried out. This concept of Ernesto Laclau refers to the competition between similar political options in order to gain more votes – votes that otherwise would be lost.

From the victory of the Trumpist turn of the right in Madrid, we can extract several lessons:

The elections in Madrid are interpreted as a defeat because in the face of the “Socialism or Freedom” of the right, Pablo Iglesias condensed the response from the left in the slogan “Fascism or Democracy”. The efforts of Unidos Podemos focused on the mobilization of the working-class neighborhoods of the city of Madrid and the working-class cities that surround the capital, in the conviction that an increase in the participation of those neighborhoods would defeat the right wing. A hypothesis that was not proven true.

In fact, polarization led to an unprecedented media attack on Pablo Iglesias and Unidas Podemos, qualified as extremists who polarize society, which resulted in a mobilization of the right voting to prevent Pablo Iglesias to enter the Madrid government. The turnout was historic, and the right wing won in almost every district.

The right has been able to connect with pandemic fatigue and sell around an empty word, the false hope that the end of the pandemic can be decreed independent of the real situation. There are those who compare what is beginning to happen, as the level of vaccination advances, with the nihilistic desire that flooded Europe after World War I, that is, a new Happy 1920’s in which the search for individualistic satisfaction and a false happiness will be the signs of the times.

Faced with this false optimism, from the left we warn about fascism, that is, the opposite, the announcement of dark times that did not result in the expected electoral rise. Even so, Unidas Podemos and Más Madrid rose in votes. The catastrophe for the left bloc came from the disastrous result of the social democracy.

The role of the media, always at the service of the ruling class, on this occasion has reached barbarism, accusing Iglesias of being a fascist, corrupt, a liar, an incarnate demon, following Trump’s trail of filling the media space with ridiculous fake news, but effective in dominating the political debate in the campaign.

What’s next?

Madrid electoral result does not directly affect the progressive government in Spain. There are two years for the next general elections and precisely the federal system in Spain makes difficult for the radicalized right to have the necessary alliances to rule the country, but this cannot make us lower our guard against the radicalization of the right and the media messages demonizing all progressive thinking.

Pablo Iglesias left politics because he himself is aware that his figure was demonized in such a way that is already negative for the left. This opens a new time in Podemos, which to a certain extent puts an end to the cycle started in the 15-M Indignados (The Outraged) movement, 10 years ago.

A new crisis that forces the left, again, to rethink and readjust to this new offensive by the capital and its political expressions such as empty, but nonetheless extremely dangerous, discourses of the far right.