Podemos has exploded onto the Spanish political scene. It was founded in January 2014, only started to accept members from late July, and yet now, just five months later, it has over 260,000 members. By comparison the Green Party of England and Wales celebrated the doubling of its membership, from 13,809 at the start of the year to 27,618 on 2nd December. So if our Greens can rightly be proud of their surge in membership, how on earth did Podemos achieve such extraordinary and explosive growth?
Podemos is a new kind of political party. It grew out of the Occupy movement that burst onto the streets of Spain, and many other countries during 2011, and which I blogged about at the time. ‘Los Indignados’, or the ‘The Outraged’, occupied the streets of Madrid for weeks starting on May 15th 2011, the date becoming immortalised into the M15 movement. Hundreds of small groups around the county planned protests, linked-up through social media and tried to envisage a different political future. Leaving NATO, re-structuring the Spanish debt, introducing a basic citizen’s income, cancelling some free trade agreements, rigorously cracking down on corruption and tax avoidance and evasion, nationalization of much infrastructure are just of few of the policies they’ve been debating.
Pablo Iglesias Turrion, a Madrid based political scientist and frequent speaker on TV, became their most recognisable spokesperson. He said they should form a political party only if they could get 50,000 people to pledge support, which they achieved within 24 hours. Podemos has hundreds of local circles of supporters who meet frequently and organise online. These local groups can initiate ideas and policy suggestions. Online voting via Reddit or other platforms allows ideas to come from the grassroots with great speed. Capturing the wisdom of the crowd is a core value of Podemos. Money is raised almost entirely through Crowdfunding online donations. Membership of the party is free, which may partly explain the sheer numbers of new members. The unemployed, penniless and indebted are positively encouraged to become politically active. Podemos in some ways draws more inspiration from some of the political parties of Latin America, from Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela or Jose Mujica’s Uruguay, than to any of the parties of Europe.
At the Euro Elections in May they got five MEPs elected, including the charismatic Pablo Iglesia Turrion. In solidarity with the poor their MEP’s only accept less than a quarter of their salaries. They currently have no elected politicians at either the local or national level within Spain. That will undoubtedly change: Spain is due to have a General Election by December 2015 and some polling is suggesting that Podemos could become the biggest party and form the next government. Now that really would enliven Spanish and European politics and provide a refreshing challenge to the corporate and banking oligarchs and all the political parties in their control!