Juan Carlos Monedero, who recently stepped down from the number-three position in Podemos, believes that the anti-austerity party runs the risk of becoming predictable and trite if it continues along its current path.
“Moderation could disarm Podemos,” says the man who was one of its founders.
Created in January 2014, the party struck a chord with voters thanks to its strong anti-corruption message, and secured unprecedented support at last May’s European elections. Since then, Podemos’s popularity has been rising, even as its program has dropped some of its more radical elements, such as a plan to default on Spain’s debt and ensure every citizen is guaranteed a minimum income.
If we lose this window of opportunity, it will be terrible: we would be betraying a lot of people who believed that we represented change”
Podemos has also been hounded by claims of ties to the personality-driven, authoritarian left-wing regimes of Latin America, particularly Venezuela.
Monedero himself was involved in a scandal earlier this year when it emerged that he had paid €200,000 in back taxes and fines for failing to declare income of €425,000 allegedly earned for advisory work for Venezuela and other Bolivarian regimes.
But the associate professor of politics says his departure was caused by a growing ideological rift with party leader Pablo Iglesias, whom he sees as drifting to the center of the political spectrum in order to win votes ahead of municipal and regional elections on May 24.
Question. How did you feel during this period of time that ended with your resignation?
Answer. I became the brunt of disproportionate attacks: a tax inspection announced by [Finance Minister Cristóbal] Montoro and encouraged by the deputy premier, the regional education chief asking the rector [of Complutense University] for my head, a lawsuit filed by the lawyer Emilio Rodríguez Menéndez, another lawsuit by [the right-wing union] Manos Limpias, a complaint filed by police officers for something that had happened three years earlier, headlines that questioned my résumé, then published corrections in a side column, other headlines claiming that I earned money without saying where the money was... Those attacks made me furious.
Q. Did you feel alone?
A. I was aware that all this was not really happening to Monedero, but to a founder of Podemos. The accusations were over things from a previous period of my life. I found support from our grassroots activists, and had the complete support of Pablo [Iglesias] and from my friend José Manuel López, our candidate for the Madrid regional government.
Q. Could you have done things differently with regard to the tax issue?
A. I always asked my tax advisor how to do things correctly. The workers at the Tax Agency said there was no desire to conceal or defraud anything on my part. Later there was a matter of dispute with the agency, and Montoro told me that he would leave me no room for dispute, that he would crush me.
Q. Do you feel that you made a mistake at some crucial level in connection with this episode?
A. I made the mistake of thinking that as a person involved in politics I had the same rights as any ordinary citizen. But I don’t regret being so naïve. Ever since the attacks began, I scorn the expression “You knew what you were getting yourself into...”
I made the mistake of thinking that as a person involved in politics I had the same rights as any ordinary citizen”
Q. When you left, you said that being in the circles [Podemos’ grassroots-level deliberation structures] was more important than being on television...
A. We realized that television is like the train that the Germans put Lenin in to go to Finland. Dammit, but after that you need to get off the train and meet with people!
Q. Could that happen to Iglesias, could he get caught inside the train?
A. He has an advantage: his thirst for power is compensated by his thirst for knowledge. That represents a grassroots connection.
Q. You were the party’s radical voice. Now you’re not there any more.
A. I am much more useful outside the leadership, because leaderships are bodies of associated members where plurality tends to disappear. I cannot walk into the executive body with a book of mine, have them tear off a lot of pages, then have them return it to me with the claim that this is what I wrote.
Q. You are no longer part of the leadership. How will you fit into Podemos?
A. It is a Zapatista premise: every person has to lead by obeying, and that is what Podemos needs to do. It needs to listen to its supporters, because they are the ones in charge. I have the ability to go back to being the agitator that I once was.
Q. You will be an uncomfortable figure.
A. Or maybe not. Maybe it will be uncomfortable for some people within Podemos, but not for Podemos itself.
Q. Do you enjoy making others uncomfortable?
A. Tremendously. In Curso urgente de política para gente decente [or, Crash course in politics for decent people] I say that ideas should be like tossing a hornet’s nest into a confessional. Our freshness was the opposite of gutter politics, and if Pablo was able to garner the kind of support he did, it was because he broke the chains.
Q. Could [Podemos] fall into that?
A. I said it in the Ramón Lobo book: we need to be very careful, the fight does not end by making yourself resemble those you are fighting. My idea is for my exit to become a reality check to make our organization think about what we are doing. If we lose this window of opportunity, it will be terrible: we would be betraying a lot of people who believed that we represented change.