The authors put the call out online, and then asked for 50,000 signatures in two weeks to see if the idea was wanted by the public. They hit their target the same day. In the European elections just four months later they won an incredible 1.25 million votes, gaining five seats in Brussels. I recently met one of those newly elected MEPs, chemist Pablo Echenique:
“My political trajectory is very short. Last December I was a full time scientist, and when I say full time I mean full time; when you are a scientist you not only work Saturdays and Sundays, but also sometimes in your sleep. Then in January, I heard about Podemos, and I thought ‘That’s a good idea,’ so I became involved. It’s shameful that here, in rich Europe, there are people who need to look for food in the garbage. People evicted from their homes. We can and must do better.”
The members that rapidly set up local groups, known as Circles, of which there are now over 1000 throughout Spain and beyond. The circles discussed policies and a programme for the new party, but discussion was also taking place online. From the start, Podemos has seen use of the internet as key to the way they seek to do “citizen politics”.
Everything about the party is completely open – anyone, member or not, can vote on their candidate selection, contribute ideas to their programme or view their accounts. When they held open primaries to select their candidates, they took laptops into the street to allow people to vote, and over 33,000 took part. This allowed many who, aren’t able to be regular meeting attenders, a real chance to participate.
One of the first things the new members did was to hand deliver thousands of letter to neighbours, reading: “This letter has not come to you by mail, because to mail every person in Spain costs €2million. Ask the parties who did mail you where they get their money from. If you’re reading this it’s because someone who lives near you wants to change things for real.”
Their collectively drafted election manifesto calls for both higher wages and a universal basic income; for participatory democracy and the people to be consulted on all important positions; bringing key industries into public ownership; and ending the brutal treatment of migrants on the EU frontiers of the Spanish coast. Their candidates are subject to term limits if elected, and accept only three times the Spanish minimum wage in , the rest being to the party and the movements from which it sprang.
Coming fourth in the European elections, for a party that is only four months old, was an extraordinary achievement. Activists believe just one week more campaigning and the result would have been even more spectacular, such was the volume of support coming in each day of the campaign.
Since the election, they have rocketed up the polls, and currently standing at around 20 per cent. This leaves them poised to overtake the PSOE, the Spanish equivalent of the Labour Party, which has disgusted many voters with its capitulation to EU imposed austerity.
If Podemos can find a way to work together with the United Left (the more traditional party to the left of the PSOE), the possibility of radical left government taking power in Spain at the end of next year is raised. Echenique is confident:
“What will our problems be when we win the election? I think we will win. What can we do about that? We won’t be able to do anything but win. We will have to be responsible and put in place a programme that will improve people’s lives. We have strong restrictions now, our political class are cowards. When they are told what to do, they capitulate. We will not, we will be brave.”
After its wild success, the members of Podemos are currently working hard to collectively develop proposals for the long term structure of such a direct democratic, open, new kind of political party. These will go to their upcoming founding conference. As Echenique puts it: “Now we are discussing franticly. We are running very fast. We plan to keep running fast. Because we have punched these guys in the stomach, and they are out of breath. We will not let them recover their breath. We will keep punching.”
• Read a longer version of this article here