Today, when a new year still at its beginning, we are witnessing in Spain the old rivalry of left and right, driven by the most extremist factions of both sides in a dynamic from which, if it remains, nothing good can be expected.
History taught us that both sides have much to regret or hide about the past; on the right hand, the pursuit of the interests of the most privileged, supported by force; on the left hand, the savagery of revolutions which, in the end, placed at their tops a new and equally privileged class, whose interests are not more legitimate than those of their predecessors.
However, nowadays we see that both sides did not assume their history in the same way; the left clearly won what has been called “the story”. While there is a right wing repentant for the sins of its predecessors, the left wing places its own ones on pedestals, as the supposed forerunners of democracy, even in those cases where the only thing they brought was dictatorship, ruin and death.
Recent episodes in Spain of removal of statues while maintaining others with equal or greater merits for such removal, changes of street names and even the transfer of Franco’s remains speak by themselves of a hyper-legitimacy from the most extremist leftists hardly supported by facts.
Well into the 21st century, the ideological debate should not consist of the most extreme right and left wings competing to pull up the rugs of the past of their opponents, nor should anyone have to apologize for existing. Each side has an ideological legitimacy that certainly does not reside in the past. Perhaps it is time for both sides to show their real legitimacy while they send to the garbage can of history the principles and practices of their ideological great-great-grandfathers and those present leaders who, nowadays, pretend to behave like them.
A modern liberal right wing is legitimate because, as a guiding principle, it seeks the common good and not the maintenance of situations of privilege; it trusts that an individual initiative with few restrictions will bring a better life for the great majority and will put its best efforts into it.
A left wing is legitimate when, likewise, it seeks the common good and not a mere quest to subvert the existing order in order to place its own members at the head of a new and equally undesirable one; legitimate left and right wings coincide in ends, though not in means. Thus, while the right wing trust in the individual, the left wing is prone to social engineering and direct action to alleviate the situation of the less fortunate, preventing them from being abandoned to their fate.
Naturally, any non-sectarian reader, whatever his orientation, will see that both options are not only legitimate but compatible, and that alternation in power has a crucial role to play: to correct undesirable drifts which, in one case, could drive to the abandonment of layers of the population while in the other could produce elephantine States and ever larger groups willing to get their living from the resources that these States take from the productive part of the population.
At the same time, there are also illegitimate political practices ; those led by politicians who get their living from the confrontation and see the common good as an empty abstraction, preferring to opt for their own. That is a situation, very present right now, that transforms the political chessboard into modern Augean stables where every dirt has its seat and that, despite it, its cleaning would not require any river or any Hercules but simpler, punctual and modest actions.
Pointing to individuals or gangs of opportunistic people as the culprits, even though they clearly exist and are guilty, does not put us on the road to solve the problem. Such individuals are not the key, which does not mean that they should not be stopped, but they are mere anecdotes stemming from basic errors in a process that, in Spain, started in 1977: The lauded political transition in Spain introduced undesirable elements that constituted the germ of the current situation, granting legitimacy to anyone who claimed to be against the dictatorship, no matter how questionable their own actions could be:
The design of the transition not only led to an unwieldy territorial situation, but -it is worth remembering- ETA prisoners with blood crimes were even pardoned, many of whom returned to their former activity. Situations of privilege were consecrated, both economic and electoral, which contradicted the supposed equality of all Spaniards proclaimed in the subsequent Constitution.
Once those principles were in place, the political pressures towards greater power of the successive executive powers and the concessions to groups favored by the electoral system to form blocking minorities started the process. In addition to a bad start, the Constitution, with the good offices of the Constitutional Court, has been twisted until it has become virtually unrecognizable. Today, we can find laws that require an advanced exercise in sophistry to be accepted within the constitutional framework.
Those have been the basic lines of a process that led to the present moment where, in addition, there are political actors -some of them inside the Government- who explicitly seek to liquidate the regime born in 1977 in order to replace it with adventures whose outcome cannot even be described as uncertain.
Relying on the old parliamentary arithmetic and on the old parties -or the new ones with old principles and actions- on both sides of the political spectrum- may be a mistake. Today an “apolitical” party may be required, without a government program, willing to lend its support to the party with the most votes if it commits itself to making changes leading to a real democracy, with the design errors of 1977 corrected.
It would be unrealistic expecting a solution from someone who is benefiting, at the expense of society as a whole, from the current morass, as the present Government and its supporters; nor does it seem that a solution can be expected from someone, now in the opposition, who had his chance in 2012. They got more central and autonomic power than anyone in the recent past and, however, behaved as temporary tenants without daring to proclaim his principles -if they existed- and limited himself to achieve some economic respite. Finally, neither should we turn back the clock nor resort to the “we lived better with Franco”.
Perhaps the most hopeful experiments in this long period have been the initial Ciudadanos and UPyD parties; it is true that UPyD was born almost as a PSOE in exile, but it progressively focused on nuclear issues and, perhaps that’s why it was made disappear. In the case of Ciudadanos, its origin is impeccable, but the ambition of its leaders turned the party into something unrecognizable today.
There are figures who could lead the rebirth of a principled political activity, but none of them occupy right now prominent positions within their parties (some of them did), if they even remain in them. Inviting these figures to action is not about bringing in more people to fight for power on the current political chessboard but, precisely, to change the rules of a game whose original design is wrong. The subsequent evolution have turned it into perfect terrain for the “gamblers of the Mississippi” -to use the former vice president Alfonso Guerra’s expression- to prosper at the expense of a society whose welfare they supposedly manage.
It is a matter of changing the rules of access and permanence in political activity, ensuring equality among all Spaniards, and that both the rules and the zeal in their application are the same for all.
Undoubtedly, the design of 1977 is coming apart at the seams in many places and its subsequent evolution was already foreseeable for some; a change is necessary, but this does not consist of returning to states prior to that date but of reinforcing what was already done well then and eliminating what was done badly or very badly.