Gladstone, Podemos, and the struggle for party unity

Monday, July 04, 2016

It is difficult to read a history of the Liberal Party in the UK and not think about Podemos. From Hamer’s “Liberal Politics in the Age of Gladstone and Rosebery. A Study in Leadership and Policy:”

For Gladstone came to believe that one of the best ways of establishing organic order in Liberal politics was to attach them to some great cause that would so impress Liberals with its importance that they would voluntarity subordinate to it their special divisive interests. The aim was the same as that which is to be found underlying so many aspects of his political life, the striving to create wider frames of reference which would enable individuals or sections or classes or even nations to transcend the narrow limits of their own “selfish” interests.

Of course, some of the conflicts within the party’s elite that we have been witnessing for the past few months arise from differences in political strategy. The debate is far from uncommon in all left-wing parties, and translates into the age-old dichotomy between opportunism and militancy, between cooperation with the bourgeoisie or accentuation of the class divide. A hundred years ago it had a far more radical flavor to it (reform or revolution), but now that participation within the liberal democratic institutions is out of the question, it mostly amounts to whether to moderate and party and whether to cooperate or compete with the center-left incumbent, the PSOE. It does not take that much effort to view the recent declarations from Pablo Iglesias and Alberto Garzón from that perspective.

I bring the reference to the Liberal Party because it is not obvious to me the extent to which Podemos represents a unified constituency. Maybe the ideological strategy is best read in terms of finding a common goal, political hegemony, that can sustain internal unity. The prospects of electoral victory that could not be achieved otherwise play an essential role in the toolkit against internal factionalism for all parties. But Podemos is still very much a coalition of political forces that not long ago were antagonists in the political arena. Keeping the party together requires not only organizational flexibility but also the ability to put the conflicting issues in the background and focus on shared objectives.