Covid19, the far-right and upper-class revolt in Spain

After the right-wing’s performance in the midst of the COVID19 outbreak -with figures like Donald Trump, Boris Johnson or Jair Bolsonaro leading the way -one could reasonably think that popular support for the far-right would plunge after the crisis.

At the very least, that was my deluded hope in the Spanish context, in which particularly VOX[i] -but also the whole right-wing circus- has been accumulating one foolish and impertinent appearance after another. Just to give an example, the voices of the Spanish right -both the ‘old’ one (the conservative Partido Popular) and the ‘not-that-old’ one (VOX or Ciudadanos) – have repeatedly blamed the feminist demonstrations held on the 8th of March as responsible for the exponential outbreak of the virus. The fact that this same day VOX organised a multitudinous antifeminist meeting whereupon leaders like Santiago Abascal or Javier Ortega Smith, who shook hands with all the attendants, were diagnosed with coronavirus- never stopped the most rancid right from making such senseless accusations.

Overall, the actions of the far-right these days merit an entire analysis that I am not able to cover here. The reason that I am writing today refers to some recent events that have been taking place since last week. With almost 30.000 deaths in official statistics, and coinciding with the first government measures easing the quarantine, Spain is witnessing a sort of ‘upper-class revolt’ in which ladies and gentlemen from the wealthiest neighbourhoods of the country are taking over the streets in their Francoist flags, suits, ties and heels demanding freedom and the immediate dismissal of the government.

This image of the same fascists that blamed feminist demonstrations now rallying in the street- during their daily allowance outside the house for exercise- captures the incongruencies of a rancid extreme right that, far from being losing its support, is fully aware that it’s time for class struggle. The Madrilenian ‘Barrio de Salamanca’ -the neighbourhood with the highest GDP per capita- has become the spatial reference of these ‘revolts’, albeit the reality is that they have spread to other -mostly wealthy- areas across the country’s geography. This discontent was capitalised on by the far-right party VOX, who promoted a national “caravan demonstration” which took place on Saturday in different cities of the state “in the name of Spain and freedom” and demanded the immediate resignation of the government, while obstructing the circulation of ambulances and insulting health workers standing in their way as a form of protest.

I am not a big fan of giving excessive publicity to the far-right, but as an antifascist I am very concerned about a situation that has only started and seems to be expanding.  There are some important things to reflect on here. First, against the widespread discourse that the virus “does not discriminate” and “does not understand of neighbourhoods”, this is just a clear piece of evidence that, of course, it does. When these people demand freedom in the Barrio de Salamanca and their islands of wealth, they claim freedom to keep exploiting us in order to preserve their privileges. They are not any sort of anti-establishment force; they are the advocators of the most murderous neoliberalism. The problematics these people are facing have nothing to do with working-class areas, which will face unprecedented levels of poverty and misery in the incoming months.

The difference is that in working-class neighbourhoods, rather than making noise with pots, people are building incredible networks of solidarity, mutual care and support. We really need to reinforce these, considering that the times to come are going to carry real hardship alongside a fascist offensive. The people who participated in the caravan on Saturday and have been breaking the law hitting pots each evening in the street are going to mobilise all their means to emerge triumphant from this crisis. But the solidarity demonstrated these days proves that there is power in the grassroots and that ‘solo el pueblo salva al pueblo’ (only the people can save the people).

Building antifascist solidarities is particularly important considering that it is a well-known fact that the Spanish right is not a democratic right and it embodies a long-term history of authoritarian politics. We should not forget that the Partido Popular was founded by the Francoist political elites, while their new-born son VOX has outright antidemocratic positions. What we are seeing these days in the Spanish state is without doubt a coup-plotting right, with a discourse and pragmatism that seeks to overthrow the government. Because in Spain, the right does not attend to legalities when it comes to defend their privileges.

In a country under the democratic rule of ‘the pact of oblivion’[ii], prisons are still full of antifascist political prisoners whereas the far-right has a free path to break the law. They can go and demonstrate in the middle of a pandemic because the police and the security forces, heirs of the dictatorship, are too busy fining to people in working-class areas or doing racist raids against migrants[iii], no matter who is in government. This is the crude reality of the Spanish state, wherein if you are a businessman who lives in the richest neighbourhood of the capital you will never have to face the police. It is the reality of a state where waving a flag that is stained with the murder of hundreds of thousands of women and men that fought for freedom remains absolutely legal[iv]. It is time to put all these debates on the table and act in consequence.

I am also saying this because something that really hurt me over the past months is -again- the way the left often reproduces the spatial divides of the 1978 Regime[v]. Since the beginning of the crisis, there has been a general reaction against Madrid- the most affected region- and images of Madrilenians escaping to the coasts created a homogeneous narrative of Madrid and its people. Clara Ponsatí, a Catalan politician well-known for her political exile in Scotland, tweeted “from Madrid to the sky”, making fun of all the deaths that the capital was accumulating. Now that the ‘Barrio de Salamanca’ has become the symbol of the right-wing protests, Madrid is again in the spotlight of imaginaries of hate within part of the left.

However, the reality is that most of Madrilenian neighbourhoods are strongly contesting the right-wing demonstrations while articulating impressive networks of support. We need to finally realize that the war is not between Madrid and the rest but between the privileged and the poor. Very recently, I came across an article which, on the occasion of the protests, mentioned how during the Spanish civil war Franco ordered to bomb all of Madrid, but gave specific instructions to spare the ‘Barrio de Salamanca’. In that time, Madrid represented one of the biggest international examples of resistance to fascism and today, more than seventy years later, still shouts ‘¡No Pasarán!’. It is in our hands to decide what sort of spatial divides we want to politicize.

Finally, much has been written about the Spanish government as an example of progressive politics and protection of workers against the virus. Particularly in Scotland, I came across these arguments frequently. Anyone living in Spain and facing unemployment knows perfectly this is not the case. Of course, the PSOE-Podemos government has made too many mistakes: it is granting concessions to big economic powers, many of the announced subsidies are not arriving on time, and most importantly, the government has been making use of the longstanding authoritarian tradition of the post-dictatorship state to enforce its measures.

However (and I need to take a breath before this sentence), I do believe that we are not in a conjuncture that allows us to be radical towards the government. While I understand the anger, I think that this widespread position does more harm than good. In the end, what unites the right is the will to overthrow a government that indeed is not legislating according to their interests. Despite the criticisms mentioned before, I think that we are not in a place to add more instability to the current situation. Rather, the strategy should focus on pushing the government to protect workers while continuing to organise from the grassroots.

We all know that this crisis under a right-wing government could devastate the country, and there is no need to mention that the reason many people died can be found in the Partido Popular’s politics of neoliberalisation alongside the austerity measures imposed by the European Union. The fact that Madrid has been the area most affected by the Pandemic, and where fascist demonstrations are increasingly massive, is not a coincidence. The capital has been the testing ground for a progressive privatization and the dismantling of public health services and care homes, with the Council and the regional government operating as funding organisms of the most rancid ultra-catholic, patriotic and upper-class social activism. What is going on right now is not only about VOX; the whole right wing stinks of fascism.

With hard times coming ahead, only solidarity will save us from the ruins. Long queues in foodbanks and support networks indicate that people are beginning to starve in many areas of every city. Uncertainty appears enhanced as a material way of being for many precarious popular classes who lost their jobs and do not know if they will ever return to work. While neighbours are supporting neighbours, the political opportunism of the right is seeking to catalyse the social catastrophe.

Nevertheless, they should know their demonstrations are awakening our rage and that we are organized. Once again, this crisis is teaching us a lesson about the spaces and the tactics of solidarity. Many working-class neighbourhoods, which have been organizing autonomous alternatives against a murderous and racist neoliberalism for years, are today standing in mutual solidarity. For their part, feminists have taught us the importance to situate care in the heart of every political struggle. The Spanish case is not an exception in the midst of a global conjuncture on the brink of an unprecedented crisis and the rise of exclusionary nationalisms and far-right politics. My message here is that building antifascist solidarity is today, more than ever, a priority. The demonstrations witnessed over the past days are not a joke, and we are staking our future and the dignity of the masses. Either we act, or they will eat us again.

[i] VOX is a far-right party with rising political support in the last years. It became the third political force in the Spanish Parliament after the November 2019 National Elections. 

[ii] The ‘Pact of Oblivion’ is one of the most important political pacts within the Spanish ‘Transition to Democracy’, whereby the political elites agreed to avoid directly dealing with the legacy of Francoism after the 1975 death of Francisco Franco. In practice, this meant the denial of any process of reparation to the victims of Francoism, and that most of the politicians, State men and members of the security forces of the dictatorship remained in power. On the antifrancoist side, it meant the release of many of the political prisoners of the Dictatorship.

[iii] Vallecas, a working-class district in the South of the capital, has championed the list of daily fines imposed by the police in Madrid, exceeding 500 each day and often counting double and triple the amount of the runner-up. Police racist raids in places like Barcelona and Madrid have also been multiplied.

[iv] The protests these days have been filled with Francoist flags, which are completely legal in Spain.

[v] Political regime that emerged from the Spanish ‘transition to democracy’ and the rule of the 1978 Constitution.

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