'Transversality' means building popular support for our politics to transform institutions, says Podemos MP
Podemos transitioned from movement to party, with the objective of entering institutions, to transform them, to put them on the side of the people.
After the success in the 2014 EU Parliamentary elections, where Podemos won five seats, the party-movement attracted more people, who began to identify for the first time with a project that aimed at bringing down the barriers of outmoded politics, and recovering the hope of achieving its desired aims.
Many people who abstained from voting in past elections became activists in the 15-M movement. The moment arrived when political organization opened the door to a series of electoral opportunities, which would prove to be crucial for the future of Spain.
Through assembly debates in local ‘circles’ they discussed the political and organizational models with which they would face these different elections. In October 2014 the proposals with the most votes were discussed in the founding congress of Podemos in Vistalegre.
Podemos was founded upon a transversal political model – meaning that it is committed to building a broad consensus among diverse groups of people for things like the defense of free, public and universal healthcare, the social right to housing, and regaining lost labour rights.
But what exactly do we mean by ‘a transversal political model’? Transversality can be understood as the act of building majorities. Not electoral majorities per se, but social majorities made up of identities based on common goals; building inclusive identities adapted to today’s society.
An example is that of the identity of ‘working class’, which was a necessary identity when they were organizing to overcome their class conditions 50 years ago, but which is not appropriate to the modern world.
It is in this transversality that there is a clear reflection of citizens that came together in the streets in the 15-M movement. It is thanks to this transversality – this broad appeal – that we have been successful. It has resulted in governments having changed in cities such as Cadiz, Madrid, Barcelona and Valencia.
Transversality has made it possible to take projects anchored in minority objectives and integrate them into major projects with real possibilities of reaching the government, and transforming institutions from within – the essential element to successfully carry out the projects.
Of course, commonly identified goals and lines of action by the social majority is not sufficient. They must be ready to take institutions back from the privileged elite.
It is their duty to join forces and provide tools of participation and action so that the social majority feel not only represented but have real resources to be heard. This is reflected in Podemos’ current organizational model which provides various channels for participation.
We must not forget that within the organization there may be many different levels of participation. On the one hand there is the core or ‘nucleus’, the people who are the most heavily involved, and on the other there are supporters that participate to varying degrees.
The lines of action must be oriented towards the social majority to which it aspires, not the nucleus; towards supporting communities in their struggles – whether or not they support Podemos – in an effort to construct a major identity that is conscious of the importance of change and that (contrary to what boredom and the media blitz has produced in them) it is in their hands to carry out.
And so groups like public servants, healthcare professionals, teachers, the unemployed, regardless of ideology based on outdated left-right divides, are gradually adding to the construction of large consensuses such as the defense of free, universal public health, the social right to housing, the recovery of lost labour rights, the fight against corruption, etc.
It is true that many of us come from very progressive environments – some of us recall the legend of the POUM, or are avowed Republicans, others feel a sense of pride when the Internationale is sung, others are anarchists, some consider themselves eco-socialists or feminists, others come from being active in big parties.
Some are newcomers to politics, but are as concerned as those who have been in activism since they were born. Therefore with this in mind it is essential that we always remember that activist spaces are a means and not an end in themselves, to reach the broad social majority that needs us.
We must be prudent not to assimilate activist spaces one hundred percent with that hegemonic project that is being constructed around us everywhere, and we must escape the perverse dynamics of the old politics that lead nowhere.
Our goal is not to proselytize the extreme Left. We need to look beyond our activist navel to regain the hope of people who feel identified with, and involved in, the project, and to recover the momentum that occurred early in the movement.
Juan Antonio Gil de los Santos is MP in Andalusia for Podemos. Follow him on Twitter @juangilpodemosSign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.