Podemos MEP Miguel Urbán talks about Europe’s political crisis — and why the left must meet it with radicalism, not moderation.
INTERVIEW BY EOGHAN GILMARTIN
From Syriza’s victory to Le Pen’s second round showing, Europe has undergone a series of electoral earthquakes in recent years. But in Spain, one of the epicenters of the populist surge, a key point of debate on the Left is now whether “the window of opportunity” for rapid political advance has closed. According to ĺñigo Errejón, one of Podemos’s leading figures, his party must now adjust itself to the rhythm of a “slower more normalized political cycle” which will be focused much more on institutional politics. Having failed to secure the sorpasso by overtaking the centre-left PSOE, Errejón believes Podemos must now be open to cooperation with them through entering a relationship of “virtuous competition” rather than outright opposition.
Miguel Urbán, leader of Podemos in the European Parliament and a prominent member of its Anticapitalista faction, doesn’t agree. He argues that the continent’s regime crisis is, in fact, only beginning. Defending the party’s left populism, Urbán believes that the European left’s route to victory at the polls will not come through moderation but rather through confrontation with the political center.
He discusses this, as well as the push for independence in Catalonia and the re-election of Pedro Sanchez as leader of PSOE, with Jacobin contributor Eoghan Gilmartin.
EG In a recent speech you discussed why Spain was one of the few countries in Europe that has not seen a surge in support for the far-right. You quoted Marine Le Pen’s explanation: “because Podemos exists.” How do you view this relation between right and left wing populism?
MU Ten years ago a far-right party with parliamentary representation was the exception not the norm in Europe. Clearly we now find ourselves in a different context defined by austerity and the financial crisis, but also by a crisis of Europe’s post-war political systems. This is exemplified by the continent’s social-democratic parties. In moving to the neoliberal center in recent decades, they have abandoned the social and class interests they were created to represent, leaving large sections of society feeling unrepresented by the political system in the process.
The acceleration of the neoliberal project after 2008 has deepened this crisis such that in the electoral field — though not the social — there is now a degree of polarization comparable in intensity to the 1930s. Yet such polarization is much more diverse and contradictory than the classical antagonism between fascism and communism. For example, it can even take the form of a confrontation between the extreme right and the right as it is responding more to the opposition between the inside of the system and an outside. What we have is a popular revolt against the establishment and the wider political regime.
Clearly with the far right you end up with a contradictory form of revolt which combines anger at growing social inequality with identitarian and xenophobic elements. Yet it can occupy this pole of protest across much of Europe in part because austerity has produced an imaginary of scarcity amongst the majority of the population — a sense that there is not enough for everyone. This lends itself to a terrain of political confrontation not only directed against the political system but which also pits the poor against each other. We have the second-to-last against the last, the native against the immigrant.
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