The transmutations of Podemos: a theoretical appraisal

Luke Stobart


The politics of Podemos can be characterised as having passed through several contested stages: a) an uneasy combination of Indignados ‘anti-politics’ with Laclauian populism; b) populist hegemony; c) a further semi-mutation to more traditional broad-left strategies (including a coalition with the Communist-led IU. While the Podemos project in its early stages represented a partial continuation of ideas and practices of the 15-M movement that the formed the cultural foundation for its success, its recent incarnation suggests a break – as illustrated most clearly by Pablo Iglesias’ appeal to the PSOE to create a “fourth social democracy”.

Podemos’ transformations (and the general “institutional turn” made by large numbers of activists in autonomous social movements) can best be understood in relation to a series of interrelated factors: 1) the social limitations of the new “horizontal” movements; 2) the two “souls” of M-15 expressed in the ambiguity of the M-15 slogan “they don’t represent us”; 3) the antagonism between people’s desire for self-government expressed in the Squares and the hyper-leadership advocated by Laclau, Mouffe and Errejón; 4) fetishisation of the institutions and politics encouraged by the inverted appearance of the capitalist state; 5) limited theorising of the state and politics in the new movements and electoral coalitions; 6) the combination of the European illusion of the Podemos leadership and their pessimistic reading of Syriza’s capitulation towards the Troika; 7) the organisational models adopted nationally and in local coalitions that expose the new politics to the disfiguring combination of electoral competition and extra-parliamentary pressure by elites, and discourage democratic participation and strategic discussion.

By combining Marx’s early writings on the political state, Luxemburg’s polemics with Bernstein, and Lenin and Gramsci’s writings on different party forms, with articulate and constructive Spanish-language critiques of Podemos by contemporaries it is possible to identify the theoretical and practical limitations of an increasingly Euro-Communist / social-democratic strategy. Furthermore this could aid developing alternative ideas for a more promising emancipatory project fitting the post-15-M context.

Podemos - Laclau Moufe - Eurocommunism - Social Democracy - EU - 15-M - Left populism - State - Politics - Party organisation - Social Movements