On the morning of October 22, the day after elections to the parliaments of the Basque and Galician autonomous communities of the Spanish state, the TV and radio political pundits were struggling to be wise. Their powers of analysis were not tested so much by the rise of EH Bildu, the Basque left-nationalist coalition—the polls had predicted its vote of 25%. The disorienting new phenomenon was result for the new Galician Left Alternative (Alternativa Galega de Esquerda, AGE).
Just six weeks old and already widely dubbed the “Galician SYRIZA”, AGE won 14% of the vote and nine seats in the 75-seat parliament. The average of poll predictions for AGE before the election was three to four seats and 6 to 7 per cent of the vote.
The pundits weren’t alone in their shock. Xosé Manuel Beiras, AGE spokesperson and lead candidate, and historic representative of left nationalism in Galicia, told La Voz de Galicia: “To go from zero to nine is incredible. It was reasonable to assume three… All the support we have received now allows us to totally modify the parliament. Moreover, for the first time in 10 years genuine nationalism can return to the chamber.”
Beiras was referring to the fact that AGE — an alliance between part of Galician left nationalism and the United Left(Esquerda Unida) in Galicia — had won the battle for the progressive vote against the Galician Nationalist Bloc (Bloque Nacionalista Galego), the electoral voice of left nationalism since the early 1980s. (Beiras had been co-founder of the BNG in 1982, and was later its national spokeperson and lead MP when it became the second biggest political force in Galicia. He stepped down from all official positions in 2005.) The BNG lost 125,000 votes (6%) and five seats. On October 29, BNG national spokeperson Guillerme Vázquez resigned his position.
The AGE vote was highest in Galicia’s cities and bigger towns. In Santiago de Compostela, the capital, it won 21.9%, relegating the Socialist Party of Galica (PSdG, Partido dos Socialistas de Galicia), Galician affiliate of the Spanish Socialist Workers Party (PSOE, Partido Socialista Obrero Español), to third place (with 15.9%) behind the Popular Party (PP, Partido Popular), with 40.2%.
The same happened in A Coruña, Galicia’s second-largest city, while in the largest, Vigo, AGE came in only 7350 votes behind the PSdG (19.5% as against 24.5%). In the ship-building centre of Ferrol the new coalition and the PSdG tied on 20.2%.
If these results were repeated at the next municipal poll, AGE would govern A Coruña and a number of medium-sized towns.
AGE’s total vote was two-thirds of the PSdG’s (20.6%), but AGE won only half the seats of the PsG due to Galicia’s unfair voting system (proportional within four large electoral districts, but with votes in rural Lugo and Ourense nearly double the value of those in more urban A Coruña). With a fair proportional system AGE would have won 14 seats.
Except for AGE all the parties that won seats lost votes compared to the 2009 election — over half a million in all. Even the PPP, which was returned with three extra seats (41) because of the greater collapse of the PSdG and BNG vote, lost 136,000 votes.
Yet, the surge in the AGE vote also went with an increase in blank and spoiled ballots and in the vote for the Empty Seats party (which, had it won seats, would have left them unoccupied) — 6.4% in total. When added to an abstention rate of 36.2%, this revealed that 926,000 Galicians were disaffected with all choices. Among the Galician diaspora, which has the right to vote in elections in its homeland, the abstention rate reached 96%.
Clearly, AGE made definite, but still limited, headway in its war against political disillusionment and indifference.
However, despite this “shock of the new” the AGE result is perfectly understandable — its campaign spoke to masses of people, especially the young, who felt abandoned by traditional Galician political options. Its radical stance against the economic and political powers that be in Galicia, Spain and Europe — captured in its campaign slogan “They must be stopped!” — was combined with a platform to defend the welfare state, create work, protect the environment, advance democratic rights and Galicia’s right to self-determination.
AGE meetings were the biggest and most enthusiastic of all the parties and got bigger as the campaign progressed, with the social networks buzzing with the good news and volunteers flooding in.
In mid-campaign Beiras told the El País: “I notice a recovering of the credibility of politics; what is striking is the absolute silence during the interventions … and the outbreaks of delight when you make fun [of opponents]. That isn’t the reaction of defeated people, but of people on a war footing.”
A Madrid-based Galician journalist sought to explain the AGE result in a Twitter comment: “Beiras represents the disillusioned, anti-establishment, outraged and romantic vote.” That was part of the truth, especially as the former BNG MP had become famous and popular for his incendiary parliamentary interventions, including thrashing the desk with his shoe in 1993 while opposing a PP proposal for a 5% threshold for parliamentary representation. (One nice ritual adopted at AGE election rallies was to get people to remove a shoe and wave it while chanting “They must be stopped!”)
But that is not the full story. The new coalition also won the support of broad layers of civil society fed up with the social and environmental wreckage created by what AGE candidates called the PP “demolition squad”.
Leading figures in Galician (and Spanish) culture, such as the novelist Manuel Rivas, produced a very broadly endorsed appeal calling for support for AGE. It said:
AGE isn’t one more brand that’s for sale on the election supermarket shelf. AGE is the diverse and dynamic expression of a need for transformation that only the people can carry out. AGE does not aspire to become the mediator between the immense majority below and the tiny minority above. It offers itself as a tool to help democracy achieve real meaning for the first time in history.
If anyone had predicted the emergence of AGE at the beginning of 2012 they would have been met with incredulity: the possibility of the “Spanish” United Left and any part of Galician nationalism coming together would have seemed inconceivable.
However, with hindsight, AGE was implicit in the growing crisis of the BNG, which exploded at its 13th national assembly, held in late January.
In 2007, Beiras had formed a current, Encontro Irmandiño (EI, literally Brotherhood Encounter) within the BNG to fight what he saw as its weakening connection with social struggles and an increasingly compromised role in the institutions — especially in the government of Galicia (the Xunta), where it was the junior partner to the PSdG between 2005 and 2009.
As he told The Voice of Galicia on February 18, 2012, “the turning point was when the BNG won institutional power, between 1997 and 2001 … what has happened to other forces began then — the BNG became an organisation in which the different groups began to compete for their slice of power.”
At the BNG assembly the position supported by EI and other currents — for the revival of the BNG as a mass, assembly-based organisation of social struggle — narrowly lost. EI then voted to leave a BNG, which it said had “lost its bearings”, to be followed by other currents and individuals, all in all about half the BNG membership.
That split then unleashed a complicated and still unfinished process of realignment of the ex-BNG forces. In June, ANOVA-Irmandade Nacionalista (ANOVA-Nationalist Brotherhood) brought together a number of these, with Beiras elected as spokesperson.
Other ex-BNG groups came together in Commitment to Galicia (CpG), which was also to stand in the October 21 elections, but without success. Other forces that had initially aligned to CpG, such as the Galician Ecosocialist Space (EEG), later went over to AGE.
On July 25, Day of the Galician Homeland, Beiras issued a call for a “citizens’ revolt” and an “emergency” broad front of all social and political forces opposed to the PP’s destruction of Galician society and supportive of Galicia’s right to decide its ownfuture. Implicit in this call was the position that, for the left, fighting the neoliberal right should take priority over whether or not to take a specifically “Galician” or “statewide” orientation.
The CpG leadership said it would join such a front, but on condition that it excluded United Left. For its part United Left had already been calling for an electoral coalition of “the entire Galician anti-capitalist left”. In June, spokesperson Yolanda Diaz had told the web-based magazine Praza Pública, “We are in a period of emergency, at the end of an exhausted political regime where capital’s strategy of dismantling democracy and the welfare state is working.
“We have to create a new political agency. A Galician Syriza is indispensable; citizens are demanding unity in action from the forces of the left, and so we are committed to working out a common minimum program that brings everyone together in a front against this shock doctrine.”
Within the United Left, the forces supporting the need for a “Galician Syriza” won the debate against other positions envisaging a reworking of the United Left itself. Important in this discussion was the fact that it was questionable whether United Left alone, despite its rise in the polls, could break through the 5% threshold for parliamentary representation.
With early elections called for October 21, ANOVA and United Left came together to register AGE as a “technical coalition” open to other forces. The Galician affiliate of Equo, the all-Spanish greens party, and the EEG then entered AGE, giving it the form it would have in the election campaign.
AGE has now become a point of reference for the left across the Spanish state, impatient for the coming clash between Beiras and PP leader Nuñez Feijóo in the new Galician parliament.
Yolanda Diaz summarised its meaning in an interview on Galician local radio last week: “AGE broke taboos. We were able to unite federalists, nationalists and independentists… The success lay in its message of breaking with the system, of being against the powerful.”
Many questions now arise. Is a reconciliation between the BNG and AGE possible, as many are already suggesting? Should the United Left at the all-Spanish level, where it is stronger, follow the lead of its Galician affiliate and look to initiate an AGE equivalent nationally? Does the example of AGE have any lessons for Catalunya and the Basque Country?
Such questions would not even be being asked today, were it not for AGE’s explosion into Galician and Spanish political life, an inspiring example in a country that needs all the inspiration it can get.
[Dick Nichols is the European correspondent for Green Left Weekly and Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal, based in Barcelona. A shorter version of this article appeared in Green Left Weekly.]
Galician Left Alternative programmatic agreement (between United Left and ANOVA), Galicia, September 2012
Translated by Dick Nichols
Given the emergency situation we live in we say: another politics is necessary and possible.
After four decades of the imposition of economic policies hostile to the social majority, policies which have dismantled the welfare state model and led to the biggest economic, social and political crisis for capitalism, we believe we are at the end of an historical cycle, in Europe and on a world scale.
The end of this cycle can also be seen in the Spanish State—in the exhaustion of the political model of the so-called “transition”, in the severity of the economic crisis, in the disrepute of the monarchy, and in the oligarchical interests protected by the state in the fields of politics, economy, legal system, etc. The “state of autonomies” is patently incapable of providing a home for Spain’s multinational reality, on which it has increasingly become a fetter. The two-party regime has long ceased responding to the aspirations of a citizenry increasingly aware of this state of affairs.
From the viewpoint of a plural and inclusive left and also that of the national aspirations of the men and women of Galicia, the subject of its national sovereignty, it is urgent that we work out alternative models that go beyond both the current economic system and model of legal-political organisation—from the double aspect of the need to recognise the reality of multinationality and national sovereignty and to establish and guarantee real participatory democracy.
We, the political forces that have decided to come together for the October 21 elections for the Galician Parliament, agree on the need to recover the dignity of political action based on radical democracy, on the republican principles of equality, liberty, fraternity and secularism, on awareness of the ecological limits of the planet, on the fight against any kind of discrimination, on permanent citizen supervision of elected representatives, and on the basis that our policy orientation in all areas will always be guided by defence of the social majority’s welfare and by defence of oppressed minorities: in short, by the pursuit of the common good.
We understand that at this point in time we must bring together all possible forces to confront those policies that prejudice and undermine any possibility of a better future. Removing the PP from government is an essential minimum for creating opportunities for the democratic breakthrough we consider essential.
In the context of our differences, result of our legitimate pluralism, we agree:
That in Galicia, conquest of the political sovereignty of our nation remains a strategic goal, one that must incorporate new dimensions of sovereignty, such as food sovereignty, energy sovereignty, cultural sovereignty and the real exercise of popular sovereignty.
That our contribution to the struggle for a change of world system is the process of national construction based on a model of horizontal and collective action directed towards a social model that serves popular interests, the realisation of the saying “Think globally, act locally.” Galicia is our framework for action because we believe in the ability and need for political self-organisation at the same time as supporting cooperation among the world’s peoples and individuals.
That the fight on behalf of the social majority assaulted by the system requires new organisational forms within the cultural and political tradition of an inclusive left, where space is provided not only for the left’s classical cultures but also for those lessons arising from environmentalism, feminism, anti-consumerism and anti-authoritarianism.
We therefore believe in the need to contribute to the establishment in society of policies based on the fundamental principles of direct participation, pluralism, protection of the earth and of work, and in favour of the interests of the social majority.
We are committed to changing the values currently hegemonic in society, which lie at the root of the system that is currently in crisis (selfishness, lack of social solidarity, the profit motive, extreme competitiveness, exploitation), promoting other alternatives—justice, equality, solidarity, fraternity, collective well-being and defence of the commons.
It is essential to recover an ethical basis for the practice of politics. Without ethics there is no democracy, and for the left, no ethics of the left. Honesty and transparency are essential requirements in the people elected in the name of this coalition, both personally and, most obviously, in the exercise of executive power in the institutions. That is the reason for the Ethical-Political Code adopted by all people standing as our candidates.
II. Programmatic proposals
Based on the conviction that the welfare of the social majority that we pursue requires the flourishing of our individual and collective rights as a people, we affirm that it is also necessary to push for the freedom, equality and fraternity of citizens and for the exercise of full national sovereignty from within the institutions. For a nation without a state national and social liberation are inseparable.
1. Audit of the public debt that is in large measure illegitimate; commitment not to provide public funds to rescue banking entities; the managers of these entities to face criminal prosecution.
2. Return to the public domain of the concessions made to the private sector in the areas of infrastructure, resources and those strategic goods and services that can be regarded as in the public or common interest.
3. For a public stock of social rental housing, to be created by the expropriation of all houses in the hands of the banks and large developers, starting with those where eviction is threatened (to stop this immediately).
4. Public regulation via taxation of financial markets, intermediaries, financial flows and capital movements, with special rigor in regard to speculative operations.
5. Democratic control of monetary policy, presently in the hands of the “technicians” of the European Central Bank.
6. Close tax havens and reject tax amnesty measures. For civic and political rebellion against the measures imposed by the organisations of the plutocracy such as the international financial institutions (ECB, World Bank, International Monetary Fund etc.)
7. Repeal the Water Law of Galicia, which has opened the door to the increasing commodification of water.
Defence of what belongs to us
8. We recognise the crucial role of the Galician diaspora in defending our identity as a people in the darkest moments of our history and in the name of justice and equality pledge to ensure its citizenship rights on the basis of equality with citizens residing in our Country.
9. A Law of Historical Memory for Galicia. Dignity for the victims of Francoism. Justice and compensation.
10. Active defence against the loss of the Galician identity and in the face of the continued aggression against our language, the degradation of our countryside, the abandonment of our cultural heritage and the misrepresentation of our history.
11. Defense of the Galician sphere of information, with news media not subject to the political and economic powers
12. For food and energy sovereignty. For ecological and social sustainability.
13. For territorial and urban planning according to social and environmental criteria, with rebalancing of planning across the territory, revival of traditional forms of settlement and humanising of urban areas.
14. Removal of the economic privileges enjoyed by the Catholic Church and opposition to any favourable treatment that might be granted in future.
Democracy, equality and social rights
15. We shall contribute to the setting up of a new constitutional process that would recognise the full sovereignty of Galicia and right to public participation, including binding referenda with regard to laws and unrestricted electronic voting.
16. Draft a new fair Electoral Law, respecting the principles of proportionality, plurality and representativeness.
17. Demand the establishment and strengthening of a Galician Labour Relations Framework which would develop and promote collective bargaining, conflict resolution, professional training, recruitment and union participation in enterprises, and would ensure: job stability and security, reduction of working hours, unemployment and retirement income, the equitable participation of labour in value added and a sustainable increase in productivity.
18. Repeal of successive labour reforms that entrench the worsening of workers’ rights. Democratisation of enterprises by legislating for worker participation in management.
19. In defence of a stable job with rights we shall repeal the latest Galician rules and standards which undermine the rights of workers.
20. Implementation of a universal basic social income that guarantees subsistence with a minimum of dignity.
21. Real equality of women and men in all spheres (labour, economic, social, etc.) Establishment of effective measures to eradicate sexist and gender violence. Respect for people’s sexual and reproductive rights
22. Defense of the right of women to control their own body. Defence of readily available, public and free abortion. End “conscientious objection” in public health.
23. Effective equality policies for all social groups: lesbians, gays, transsexuals and bisexuals; children, youth and the elderly; migrants and the Gypsy community.
24. Non-negotiable defense of universal, free quality public social services, notably in health and education.
25. Fight against the professionalisation of institutional policy. Our representatives in the institutions should lead by the example of a conduct fulfilling the ethical code that accompanies this program.
26. For a Transparency Act that allows public online access to the tenders and subsidies of Galician government bodies.
Solidarity and economic development
27. Establishment of a financial public sector at the service of Galician citizens and commitment to returning the savings banks to their original role as non-capitalist entities in the social economy.
28. Tax reform to restore progressive taxation, especially of higher income levels and private fortunes, in favour of an essential redistribution policy for social welfare, aimed at ensuring the material conditions of freedom.
29. Policies in defence of the small farmer sector, revitalisation of small and medium-sized farms, guaranteed fair prices, commitment to the recovery of agricultural ecosystems and to economic sustainability, promotion of rational land use and of settlement in rural areas. Similar policies to apply in the maritime and coastal sectors.
30. Policies to promote economic, taxation and social equality for the self-employed and small business, with emphasis on cooperative and social economy structures, and on support services to entrepreneurs.
31. Structuring of the commercial sector in favour of the planned revival of small and medium trade as against big commercial capital, via promoting the necessary reform of the sector’s regulatory framework.
32. Development of socially sustainable production strategies to correct the structural deficiencies in Galicia’s strategic economic sectors. For R&D in the service of society and aimed primarily at the public sector.
33. Creation of a Galician Renewable Energy Company (EGER) to supply energy at low cost to our industries and farms, and to make our nation into a global point of reference in reducing energy dependence.