The Rise of Podemos (3/3)
Podemos is the greatest threat to the ruling elite in Spain and their capitalist alliances across Europe, says Professor Vicente Navarro
SHARMINI PERIES, EXEC. PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore. This is segement three with Professor Vincente Navarro.
Professor Vincente Navarro is professor of public policy at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, and at the Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona, Spain. He’s director of Johns Hopkins University’s-Pompeu Fabra University’s Public Policy Center, also located in Barcelona and he’s the author of the Spanish bestseller Hay Alternativas. Thank you again for joining me.
VINCENTE NAVARRO, PROFESSOR, PUBLIC POLICY, JOHNS HOPKINS: Glad to be here.
PERIES: In our previous segments we actually talked about the evolution of Podemos and the kind of contestations they’re mounting in Spain. But these contestations are going to be obviously much broader than just Spain, which is what threatens the ruling elite the most. So let’s talk about the character and the constitution of the kind of … contestation. The ground of contestation, I should say. You know, what is the ruling elite so afraid of?
NAVARRO: Well, the first thing you have to realize is that there is an alliance of elites. So we have a Spanish gathering of elites, the capital elites, which are the different components of the dominant class. But you also have the European elites, who are allied among themselves. For example, the political party who governs Spain is very close to the political party who runs Germany, the party chaired by Angela Merkel. So you have alliances that appear as an alliance of those parties, who represent their specific interests. These interests—are the interests of the establishment of Europe, with the different components. You have the Spanish establishment, the German establishment, and so on. They feel very uncertain today, because they are fully aware that the system is collapsing. They are aware that if they lose their legitimacy they have lost. And moreover, they feel threatened by people’s demand for democracy. That is something they are not accustomed to handle, because they presented themselves as the authentic product of democratic processes, which in fact they have had very little of democracy.
From that standpoint, the proposals—as I said, Podemos and other forces, like Syriza in Greece and others, are not only a protest movement. They are indeed protest movements, but want to have meaningful changes. They are asking for democracy understood in many different ways, that includes not only political, but economic democracy as well. What does economic democracy mean? The existence of inequality is a critical element. The proposal of Podemos is that we have to redistribute resources. What I said before. Income derived from labor has gone downhill dramatically, and capital has gone up. That has to be reversed. And how is this happening? Because of political decisions. As I said before, most of the problems we have in Europe are political, rather than economic. Because the control of the state by economic and financial interests determines their regressive fiscal policies.
If you look, for example, how much a car worker, manufacturing worker, working in car industry in Spain, pay in tazes, and compare with the rest of Europe, you will see that they pay a little less, but not much less than the average manufacturing worker in the Eurozone. But if you look to what the super-rich pay in taxes, that derives their income from capital, you will see that they are paying much less in taxes than what the super rich pay in the rest of Europe. So in that sense, the majority of people in Spain who work on a payroll pay taxes similar although somewhat lower than their counterparts in Europe. But the differences are not great.
PERIES: But this is not just about payroll taxes, though. I mean, the elite and the rich do not pay their fair share of what they own in taxes either, in terms of …
NAVARRO: Absolutely. There are two basic issues. One is legally, the legislation favors income derived from capital over income derived from labor, so the fiscal policies are designed in that way. And in that respect, the crisis has affected much more labor than capital. That is why public deficits and public debt have increased so dramatically. So that is one thing. The other thing is tax fraud. Just plain tax fraud. The internal revenue service in Spain has the lowest number of employees of all the internal services in Europe. The same in Greece. So in that respect, there are a lot of similarities between Greece and Spain, Portugal and Ireland. Are weaker states, weaker states where the social dimension is underdeveloped. The state is underfunded. That has to do, primarily, with the fiscal policies. And of course, the proposals of Podemos and other forces frighten those who have a lot of power, who feel threatened. And it’s understandable. Because if Podemos mobilizes people and wins, then their interests are going to be affected.
It is because of this the president of the central bank in Germany said Podemos is going to destroy Europe. Well, Podemos will not destroy Europe, but it’s going to dramatically reduce their privileges, and will be more sensitive to the needs of the popular classes that this party owes loyalty to.
PERIES: Right. So how does Podemos, and Syriza, reform their tax system so it is efficiently collecting the taxes they need to collect from a community that’s really … have been getting away from it for a very long time?
NAVARRO: Oh, well, that is the critical issue. That depends who controls the state. So that is where these groups are very powerful, but not omnipotent. I think we do not have to exaggerate the power of the other side. People can win, and we have had many experiences of that. So even within Spain in 1982, when the social democrats won they introduced policy changes. Unfortunately later on they got very diluted, their commitment to change, and became part of the problem. But even the history of Spain under democracy, we have experiences. The creation of a national health service was a great victory. It was clearly resisted by the power structure, but people won. That is why the terminology of podemos, “we can,” is so important, which came from labor movements in the United States, when before Obama borrowed heavily on that, with his slogan “We can.” That in United States, as you know, came from the labor movement. So the idea of podemos is we can. The people move, they can. How powerful the other side seems.
And they’re not so powerful. When the president of the largest bank in Spain, called Santander, was dying he said, I’m very, very worried about Podemos. They will destroy Spain. So they are worried. And they have, they respond is by repression. Is a classical situation. And of course, they control the majority media, is very powerful. But people have lost faith in the, in the instutions, both representive institutions, in the media. That is the opportunity of asking for change. In a very sort of a, with a sense of dignity, with a sense of maturity. With a sense of, a sense given by the numbers, by the right argument. Because they are the truthful defenders of the country. With that sense—always against violence. Violence came from above. But people if they come from below, they can move mountains. That is why, when you look at one year ago, there was no party. In only one year, people might put that party in government.
PERIES: Now, the threat to the ruling financial elite class is not just from Podemos. The fear that this will catch on throughout Europe, as you know, now we have Greece. And if Podemos comes to power, they can actually change the character and the nature of the way financial capital moves around Europe, and this is a real, serious threat now to all of Europe.
Now, one unique thing about Syriza and Podemos is while they say that, you know, exiting the Euro is an option, here they mean exiting the financial constellation of the European Union, not necessarily the European community. Here they’re actually playing a very positive role in terms of holding hands with the other European countries and those who are working class in those countries.
NAVARRO: Yeah. That’s terribly important, and let me expand on one other point before that links to what I’m going to say. The sense of Podemos is not only Podemos itself. Because in that respect, a very important impact of the appearance of this movement is radicalizing many other parties, even some social movements. For example, the unions are being radicalized, and that’s a very important element. So in that respect the unions, by the dynamic of its own work, they were defending workers but in some ways sometimes needed to be shaken up a little bit. Podemos comes up, and move to the left. Izquierda Unida, which is a very important force in Spain, is also being shaken up. So in that respect, the strength of Podemos is that it affects other forces, making possible the enormous potential they have to flourish and adding them up. So it’s not only Podemos. In that sense it is the popular movement that is radicalizing all other instruments historically close to the popular class, and the working class. This includes the Communist party, the Socialist party, and other left wing parties. But sometimes their leadership have been to cautious for change and now these same grassroots are asking for more.
What is interesting in Spain is the popular mobilization, which Podemos has been a component, a critical one. Having said that, then, it’s very important to establish an alliance ata European level. That is why the establishment is so afraid. If Syriza now happens, if they succeed in stopping some of the austerity policies, that has enormous impact because … who has been the main hostile forces to Syriza? The Spanish government. The Portuguese government. Why? Because they are afriad that if Syriza succeeds, it shows they, the right-wing governments, had been lying to the people saying there are not alternatives. No, Syriza is providing alternatives. That is why Rajoy is one of the major forces against Syriza. Because if Syriza succeeds, it shows that they are lying. That is important.
And that is contaminating the other places and countries. In France, for example there’s a revival of the left-wing forces. The same, even in Germany. And that is an important element. There’s a party, [Die Linke], who is supporting the popular struggles in Greece, in Spain. So there’s a revival of the progressive—
PERIES: And [Linke] is a German Socialist Left party.
NAVARRO: Right. So you can see how it’s not Germany against Greece, or Germany against Spain. That is how the establishment of this country likes to present it. No. There are classes within those countries. The critical element is the governing elite of Germany align themselves with the governing elite of Spain and the governing elite of Greece against the popular classes of Greece, Spain, and Germany. That is the critical element that the progressive forces have to be very sensitive to. It’s not Germany. It is the German establishment. Because the working class of Germany is under enormous stress. We have plenty of evidence that the wages are far lower than they should be. It would be good for Europe if the wages in Germany will increase, and it will stimulate the economy, and it will stimulate demand. It will be good for the whole European economy. So the interest of the German workers are the same as the Greek workers and the Spanish workers. And people are increasingly aware of that.
But of course, the establishment who controls the media have started producing a whole set of stereotypes. Oh, these Greeks are lazy. Germans are supporting lazy workers. This is the ideological struggle that’s taking place in Europe. But I think they’re losing. In that respect, you will see in the next elections in Spain a coalition of forces, of which Podemos will be a central force, but it will not be the only one that will appear. But I’m sure that even in Germany there will be movements for change.
The greatest problem, however, is for first time we face the possibility of Nazism again in Europe.
PERIES: I was going to ask you about that. Because a lot of the … Yanis Varoufakis, the economic, finance minister of Greece, has been stating that if the conditions in Greece deteriorate the way it is—
PERIES: It really gives the possibility of rising up the right.
NAVARRO: Absolutely. I remember fascism. Some of my family were part of the anti-fascist and anti-Nazi resistance, not only in Spain but in France, and were caught in Nazi concentration camps. So I have a very vivid memory of what Nazism is. And I’m afraid that could come back. Why? Because the neoliberal policies are clearly antagonizing the working class. And if the left-wing forces do not respond to the working class demands, they will be attracted to Le Pen. If you look at who votes today for Le Pen today in France? It’s working class. Because they are disappointed with the left.
PERIES: Well, it’s just like the Tea Party here in the United States.
NAVARRO: Right. They are disappointed with their own political parties who are perceived to be part of the problem. And if you look, some of the proposals of Le Pen, they appear asking for changing the institutional power within France, et cetera, et cetera. So remember Nazism defined itself as national socialism. And that can be very frightening, because behind that, we know that the classical power forces who want to stop the left are the brother Kochs of that country. In Europe they are also the brother Kochs who are behind funding those Nazi parties. So in that respect, there is an authentic danger. And if the left does not win and make the reforms that the popular classes are demanding, then there’s the risk of Nazism. The responsibility for that will be in the hands of the elites who have governed those countries, who have not been sensitive to what their people were asking for.
PERIES: That’s a reality that’s still in the memory of the European people.
NAVARRO: Indeed. As I am, there are millions of Europeans who remember Nazism. That is why some of us keep fighting, because the enemy continues to be there.
PERIES: Professor Navarro, thank you so much for joining us today.
NAVARRO: Delighted to be here.
PERIES: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
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