The Rise of Podemos (2/3)

Professor Vicente Navarro, one of the main architects of “Un Projecto Economico Para La Gente” for Podemos, discusses how the party emerged from the Indignados movement

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Story Transcript

SHARMINI PERIES, EXEC. PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome back to The Real News Network, I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore. I’m in conversation with Professor Vincent Navarro, about Podemos in Spain and how it rose to power.

In our first segment, we talked about Podemos and the conditions that led to its rise, and in this segment we’re going to deal with the economic underlying issues that led to the rise of Podemos, as well as who is Podemos, what its leadership looks like. Thank you again for joining me.

VINCENT NAVARRO, PROFESSOR OF PUBLIC POLICY, JOHNS HOPKINS, BALTIMORE: Delighted to be here.

PERIES: So again, Vincent Navarro is professor of public policy at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, and of the Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona, Spain. He is director of the Johns Hopkins University-Pompeu Fabra University’s public policy center, and also that is located in Barcelona. He’s the author of the Spanish bestseller Hay Alternativas. Thank you again for joining us.

Let’s in this segment try to tackle … first I want to tackle who is Podemos? How did the leadership form, the decision to form a party all came out of Indignados movement. So let’s begin there.

NAVARRO: Well, the Indignados movement, as I mentioned before, was clearly commited to democratic change. Democracy understood not only in the form of representative democracy, which was very limited in Spain, but also in terms of direct forms of democracy, which is practically unknown in Spain. That is where the demand for a political instrument that could be channeling that movement was critical. It started as a group of young political scientists. Pablo Iglesias, Juan Carlos Monedero, and others. Several, some of them I knew, then, because I am also a political scientist.

PERIES: Now, Carlos Modenero actually comes from having been a part of the movement in Venezuela.

NAVARRO: Well, many of them have been advisors to Latin American countries. Actually, the majority of the core of this group coming from the Complutense University, the largest public university in Spain. They were involved as consultants to the Chavez government, to the Correa government, Ecuador, and others. They were, in that sense, politically sympathetic to what was happening in Latin America after the neoliberal decade that was a disaster, then these parties of the left or left of center appear. And many intellectuals in Spain, you know that Spain has very close links with Latin America, and were involved in terms of analyzing, studying it, consulting. This is how this group came about.

But what happened in Spain was independent of that situation, because many of the people came from other places. Actually, the majority of them came from the youth of the branch of the Communist Party. The Communist Party in Spain had clear democratic credentials, because they were the leading force calling for democracy during the antifascist period. There were other parties, including the Socialist Party. But in that respect, the Communist party was the major force in the antifascist tradition, and many of these people came from the youth of [the party]. Sometimes disenchanted with some of the modus operandi of the Communist party, not always as sensitive to the direct form of democracy as, in my opinion, they should be.

But anyway, in that respect, it was a very important movement, but the country was so ready that in just one year it became the major force in the country. Because you could detect, at the [street] level, there was enormous anger, frustration. The governments were imposing policies no one had called for, they didn’t have popular mandate. And that is why a group of people with a commitment, clear-minded where to go, immediately come up. Now these are great challenges, because the majority of people needed to gain power and there’s not yet infrastructure for that. But they are doing it–

PERIES: But there is some building blocks here. There is councils-

NAVARRO: Right.

PERIES: – democratic participatory discussions going on, there is a lot of material being generated to educate the public along the way.

NAVARRO: Absolutely. Because the, part of this insufficiency of the Spanish democracy come of that transition, where the right wing was very powerful. The political parties themselves were not very democratic. They were controlled by an elite leadership who stayed there forever. That is why Podemos denounced that caste. A caste, something similar to the United States. We have a political class there forever. Well, in Spain, that wasn’t acceptable. So in that respect, that was how the expression [la caste] appeared. Which then expanded to the media. You also had the same caste controlling the media. You had the same caste controlling banking. You had the caste controlling the country. It used to be called dominant class, or whatever. But the term caste, people related very quickly, because it was obvious that they were the same. And in that sense, that is why the message became very popular.

And they are very young, but it would be a mistake to believe that they’re only young people. At least-

PERIES: Because they’re obviously calling on people like yourself to advise them and help them develop their political and economic platforms.

NAVARRO: Right. Young, emotionally and in spirit, but not biologically. They call on me, that I have almost 80 years. They call on Villarejo, who used to be member of the Attorney General’s office of Spain, who was one of the founders of Podemos. They ask me to help them with Juan Torres and other economists well known in Spain to help them in developing the economic program.

And if you look at their demonstrations, you see people from all different ages. The leadership are young, biological, as well. As it should be, they have the energy to move on. But the majority of the popular classes, I mean, the working class, and middle-low income, middle class. You see people in all the demonstrations. Millions of people in the street. That is very impressive, and their strength came from their numbers. And that is-

PERIES: And this is a highly economically and politically literate society. So in terms of what Podemos put on their political platform, and the economic plans that they are deriving in discussion is going to be, have to be pretty sound. So what is it you are advising? You had helped Podemos develop their political platform.

NAVARRO: Yes. Economic and social platform, primarily. One of them is to redefine the meaning of democracy. Democracy has to take place also at the place of work. Democracy also has to mean a redistribution of resources. We cannot have democracy when we have such dramatic inequalities. Spain is the second country, after United States, in terms of concentration of wealth and income. You cannot have a democracy in a system which is such a huge concentration of income and wealth.

PERIES: And this was clear to the people? The economic inequality—of course, day-to-day they were realizing it because of the unemployment lines-

NAVARRO: Absolutely.

PERIES: – the cut in pensions and inadequate housing, and all of that. So in terms of this translating into economic inequality and the gap growing bigger and bigger, long before Piketty came out with his book, the people knew.

NAVARRO: Well at least we wrote our analysis of inequalities before he wrote the book. But yeah, because it’s obvious, in that sense. In the program, we have written a document that Podemos has widely distributed. The data’s absolutely clear. You see the income derived from labor has been declining, declining, declining. Which has created a major crisis, because that means a decline in demand for goods and services, and therefore of the economic stimulus. Meanwhile, the income derived from capital has been going up and up. And it’s not by coincidence. One is going up because the other goes down. That is very clear. So any economic policy committed to democracy has to reverse that. We cannot have democracy with such a concentration of capital.

There is a critical element. Because in our analysis of the crisis, Juan Torres and I indicated that the roots of the crisis are the inequalities, and because labor has been weakened deliberately. I must say sometimes there is overabundance of economic debate when it should be a political debate. I think the central issue is that there has been an attack against labor. Even the creation of the [Euro] was to break with the social model in Europe. In that sense, that is the major point we make, that redistribution plays a critical role, and democracy cannot be understood without redefining the relations of property and income within a country.

And people are very amenable to this message, and of course the leadership of Podemos is in agreement. So that is, in that sense, our major focus. We speak of class power, which is important to recover, but not only class, but also in terms of gender. I think that is terribly important to help women into the labor force. That is another element we emphasize in our program which requires a whole set of investments in infrastructure, in terms of childcare services, homecare services, and a change, a revolution in the way men think about it.

Another element of our program is the revolution in the ecological sense. We have to refine the meaning of consumption and production, and these were some of the major elements of the program which were very popular. The power structure, however, was enormously hostile. We have received enormous hostility. I have lived in many countries, and I have never seen so much hostility. But not only from Spain. When we published our program, none other than the president of the German national bank, central bank, the Bundesbank, said that we’re going to destroy Europe. And he’s right. We destroy their Europe, this is our intention.

PERIES: And you’ll build another one.

NAVARRO: We want to save Europe, we want to save the popular Europe. Podemos wants to recover social Europe. This is also what we want. But it is quite remarkable, that none other than the president of the Bundesbank appears, the day after presenting our document, saying that the application of that document is going to ruin Europe.

PERIES: I don’t understand the super, hyper-capitalists that shoot themselves in the foot by attacking labor. Now, it’s very obvious in any equation that if you reduce purchasing power of your population that you’re going to somehow at the end of the day eventually, you know, attack your own economy. This doesn’t seem to resonate with that class.

NAVARRO: Well, because it has to do with the changes within the dominant class. I think today the dominant group is financial capital, is banking, and in that respect their primary enemy is inflation. They will go to great length to stop inflation. And the European Central Bank is not a bank, is not a central bank. It’s a lobby of banking. That is an extremely important thing to realize in this country. The Federal Reserve Board, with all of its problems—which it has many—has as objective control inflation, but also stimulate the economy and create employment. That is not an objective in the European Central Bank. The European Central Bank was designed in such a way that the states are not protected in front of the speculation from the financial markets.

So what does the European Central Bank do? Prints money. All central banks do it. But with that money they do not buy, until very recently, the public bonds which help the state to protect themselves against the speculation of financial markets. So the states are completely unprotected. The European Central Bank prints money, lend it to a ridiculous interest, very low, to the private banks. The private banks then buy public bonds at the interest, six, seven, twelve percent. This is a fantastic business for the private banks. The roots of the problem of the growth of public debt is this in the Eurozone. It is rooted in how the Euro was established, and how the European Central Bank operates. That is why we say the European Central Bank has to change dramatically. Not only in terms of objectives, but in its governance and control.

Today the European Central Bank is either controlled or under enormous heavy influence of the German central bank. That is not good. As a matter of fact it’s not good, even as you said, for the business community, the non-financial sector of the economy. That is what is happening in Spain. European central bank is very much part of the problem, and in our program we denounce that situation. And we say, they are ruining Europe, even economically. I think that banking has never had a better situation in Europe than now. In Spain, banking is extremely profitable. But they have lost the function of banking, which is offering credit. They do not offer credit. The European Central Bank has spent billions and billions and billions of euros. It has given them to the private banks. But it does not offer credit. What does it do? Speculate. So today, European economy depends on the speculation because banking controls the financial system. That is the root of the problem.

PERIES: And they create bubbles then they, later we have to pay for.

NAVARRO: Exactly.

PERIES: In our next segment, we are going to talk about how Podemos can fuel more Podemos across European countries, like that of Syriza in Greece. Thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.