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The rise and rise of Podemos: a movement for popular empowerment

Camiseta Pablo Iglesias PODEMOS

One of the highlights of the recent AGM of the Labour Representation Committee was the address from Leticia Bernues Caudillo from Podemos which took 8% of the vote in the European elections and won five MEPs just three months after being founded.

Podemos (“We can!”) was inspired by the radical left force in Greece, Syriza. It grew out of the mass protests in Spain of the last three years, the Indignados movement. It fought the European election campaign on a tiny budget, much of it funded by small online donations. To universal surprise, it polled 1.2 million votes, drawing considerable support from younger voters, running on an anti-austerity programme that was produced in a way very different to the opaque processes used by the traditional party elites.

Utilising social networks and online media, large numbers of supporters helped write Podemos’s programme. Amendments were discussed in local party circles and put to online referenda. Candidates were chosen democratically through open primaries. Over 33,000 voters took part, giving those who voted a real sense of ownership of the movement. Leticia says:

It’s not just a political party but a movement for popular empowerment. There is a strong feeling that the two parties that have run Spain since the death of Franco are both the same. It’s led to Spain having the second worst youth employment and second most children in poverty in Europe.”

Podemos has been an integral part of the movements in defence of public services and against housing evictions, now running at 180 a day. Speaking at a packed public meeting in London in September, Íñigo Errejón, who organised Podemos’s campaign for the European elections, announced:

The political caste is now on the defensive. Fear is changing sides. It’s no longer the masses but the minority, the elite, that is worried.”

Leticia agrees:

Our goal is to turn our social majority into a political majority. We have more than 200,000 members working in 1,000 circles. We have assemblies where we share information and work on solutions. There’s even one in London that meets every fortnight.”

In October, 112,000 supporters voted online on programmatic documents. Opinion polls put Podemos on 27% of voter support, ahead of the governing Popular Party on 20% and the opposition Socialists on 26%. With a general election due in 2015, there is a very real chance of achieving that political majority.


  1. Barry Ewart says:

    Yes Mike and I have argued we should work with our sister parties to have common global aims like a living wage in every country etc. Capitalism/Neo-Liberalism is strong because it is international and our weakness is perhaps we are not. But of course with austerity in the UK the rich and powerful & Tories were never going to pay. One of the first things the Tories did was cut corporation tax fo their big business friends then they cut taxes on private landlords with multiple properties so the Tories and Lib Dems facilitated private landlords geting £9b from the housing benefit bill. Then of course tax cuts for millionaires but probably worst of all was changing the rules on local government settlements – these used to be calculated on population size and need – the Tories and Lib Dems made it just depend on population size so we have had hundreds of millions of cuts in Northern, Midland etc councils whilst the Tory South /South Eastern councils got few if any cuts and some infact gained money!
    It was reported in the Guardian on Friday that the Tories have been given £50m since the last election by Hedge Funds and in April’s budget the Tories supported by the Lib Dems gave a tax cut of £145m to Hedge Funds! So I think we should all shout this from the rooftops and get it in leaflets!

  2. swatantra says:

    Lets just suppose that such a Party were to be set up here in Britain, then its going to be a tough choice for members of the Labour Party to decide wheter to remai n or join this ‘New Party’, isn’t it. Remember ‘Left Unity’ seems to have fizzled out; ehy aren’t ghey putting up candidates in Rochester for example? We already have the Greens stealling votes away by vague promises, and UKIP taking our working class leftbehinders away.
    Greece has a PR system; here we don’t so until we do have PR its pointlewss talking about smaller Parties.

  3. Robert says:

    Well sadly Labour is just a name placed onto a party which today is middle class, middle of the road and being destroyed by a left leaning SNP.

    If Scotland now decides that labour is not the answer then labour may well go out of Scotland leaving another hole for another party in Scotland.

    Labour does not have the voice of the working class any more and it’s trying to hold on to it’s middle class swing voters, the problem with those people they tend to vote Tory.

  4. Mike Phipps says:

    Conditions in Spain don’t transpose to the UK in a linear way. Firstly, the intensity of austerity and the strength of the resistance have been far greater there than here, so for Podemos there was a very broad popular basis on which to build. Secondly, the unitary form of the UK trade union movement suggest that new parties based on the working class are unlikely to succeed without significant trade union endorsement. That said, there were other left formations in Spain, such as Izquierda Unida, that have been overtaken by Podemos. What’s key to their success is their populism, their inclusiveness, their embrace of new technology as a means of participation and decision-making and their single-minded focus on key political goals that are unencumbered by the history of the left and its divisions. However, my own feeling is that what’s needed in Britain is not a new electoral alternative but a broad, cross-party fighting front that actually builds something concrete against austerity and puts the issue of electoral politics to one side at least to start with.

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