Thursday, March 30, 2023
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< view full issue: Nationalism and far right II
Jorge Galindo

​Why is there no successful Far Right party in Spain?


If there is one recurring question among those outsiders who closely observe Spanish politics, this is it. The surprise is usually followed by the following reasoning: after being one of the countries hardest hit by the Great Recession and by the subsequent European debt crisis, with astronomical unemployment rates, a far-from-perfect protection system, how can it be that the Reactionary* Right has not found an electoral space for itself in Spain? This latter example is provided by Tobias Buck with this interesting review in the Financial Times, to which I will return later, given that it provides some hypotheses, rare in this debate. A few weeks ago, Diego Torres did the same in the Político magazine. However, to get a complete overview it is worth reviewing the possible answers to this question.

Sesiu00f3n Solemne en el Congreso de los Diputados

The arguments to explain the presence of the Far Right in a country are usually divided into two blocks: those that refer to the electoral manifesto or the institutional environment, and those that emphasize the social demand for this type of policy. In the first group, in the Spanish case, the Francoist historical legacy, the apparent inability of extreme leaders to reach out to the general public, and the integration of many of them into major platforms (mainly the PP) are often cited. All of them share space with the latest idea of Podemos as an element to be contained as regards new proposals from the Far Right during the crisis. On the demand side, the absence of a strong Spanish nationalist sentiment and the non-conflict around immigration join the other side of the "Podemos (we can) argument", which links to a possible lack of competition for public economic resources. It is in this last point, after collecting and criticizing the existing arguments, where I would like to contribute a possible shift.


It is the fault of (or thanks to) Franco. This is perhaps the most utilised argument, or at least it used to be: after a coup, three years of civil war, 36 of national-Catholic dictatorship, three of complex transition to democracy, and a second coup less than four decades ago, being of Far Right it is little less than a taboo. The idea, being attractive, only partially defies international comparison. Although it is true that our dictatorship was the second longest in Western Europe on the Right (only surpassed by the Portuguese, where the absence of an electorally strong Far Right is also patent), and also in Greece and Italy, Germany and Hungary, among others, They had their own dictatorial regimes. 

Neither are the Northern European countries free of having had executives related to Nazism during The Second World War, not to mention Vichy France, although it is true that they had a not-negligible degree of external impossibility. 

The issue is that fascism and other ideologies is related to the nationalist Right had a presence throughout Europe in the 20th century, so it is difficult to exclude or underline its influence on current politics in one way or another in particular countries. For the rest, there is nothing clear about the mechanism by which a dictatorship that was resolved with the death of the leader and not by a revolution, following a transition that incorporated not a few elements of the previous regime to democratic life, causes an absence and a presence of the Far Right in the electoral landscape. From a certain point of view it is almost counter-intuitive. Or not. Which brings us to the next hypothesis.

Yes there is a Far Right, but it is integrated. The PP was not always the party that it is today. When it was known as the Popular Alliance, and even before the old members of the Franco regime that comprised it were called, their positions were far more reactionary than conservative, and certainly not at all centrist. 

The famous trip to the centre that Aznar led in the nineties shifted him to fill a space that originally did not correspond to him, but on the way he did not lose his electoral assets on the far right of the spectrum. 

Perhaps these elements were already doing well by staying within an established structure that was able to come to power, influencing from there instead of setting up their own platform with an uncertain future. Josep Anglada, former leader of the failed Plataforma per Catalonia, expresses this vision in Torres' piece. Proof of this is Vox's weak electoral power. But in truth, the Far Right has not been very successful (quite little) in carrying out a specific political agenda from the PP (Conservative) party. So it is surprising that, if the reason for their low profile is because they are more comfortable inside than outside, they have endured much. In fact, Vox was born with the pillars of peripheral anti-nationalism, terrorism and family traditionalism as a banner, struggles that are far from being the touchstone of the new European right: immigration.


Immigration is not a contentious aspect. If there is a specific feature that unites the different nationalist Rights that proliferate in the West, it is opposition to migratory movements. So then, another quite usual argument to explain the absence of a new Far Right in Spain is the particular profile of our immigration: more integrated, it is assumed, with a greater presence of individuals who share cultural and linguistic features, and less of them. However, this hypothesis comes up against two realities: on one hand, as Tobias Buck emphasized in his piece, countries such as Romania or Morocco contribute as much or more to Spanish immigration than Latin American states. On the other, there is enough evidence that it a greater presence or direct contact with the migrant that triggers support for the nationalist right is not necessarily. 

On numerous occasions we have observed that anti-immigration sentiments occur in ethnically more homogeneous areas.

In fact, there is a huge debate in specialized literature, among those who defend the contact hypothesis (having a neighbour, co-worker, family member of different origin reduces prejudices) and those who bet on the idea that they are a threat. This is an unresolved question, but a contentious one that prevents establishing a direct causal relation between level of integration or presence of migrants and the Far Right vote.

Absent nationalism. The Francoist inheritance and the taboo that it entails, the lack of a risk of concrete "cultural contamination" for (let's say) native fundamentalists from immigration, and the competition of peripheral nationalisms with the central would combine to drive away the ghost of the, let's call it this way, cultural anxiety against the different. It is interesting to recall here the PxC experiment, which gained some success locally by linking a defined identity and pointing to an external threat. However, that fell down quickly, largely by a leadership that failed to consolidate their gains.

A useless manifesto. Setting up a political movement takes two: who demands it, but also who provides it, or who helps the demand to attain what they are looking for (political preferences are rarely clear, closed and shared from the very first minute). Ansell & Art (2010 - pdf) have no qualms in stating that "when radical right parties are dominated by individuals with blatantly racist views and poor cognitive skills, they are likely to implode even if socio-structural and institutional conditions are favourable".

Spain has had few right-wing leaders who do not come from a particularly extreme environment, although it might seem redundant. 

Only recently have new faces been seen in this ideological space, but for the moment it has not had very positive results either. It is quite likely that the lack of a manifesto that hits the spot is partly to blame for the failure of the Spanish Far Right, but it seems clear that the demand has not been buoyant either.


The blockade on the Left. "In Spain there is no Right-Wing education because Podemos exists". The phrase is from Pablo Iglesias, and seems to presuppose one of these two things: either the Podemos electorate has the profile to subscribe to Far-Right postulates, or Podemos has managed to deactivate a response to the crisis based on postulates of the nationalist Right (forcing its potential electorate into abstention or towards other more traditional formations) and instead soaking up the Left's discontent. The first idea seems unrealistic to me, as it is to Buck, while Podemos's voting base is among middle-class urban youth with a strong ideological left-wing profiles, but the second interpretation seems more productive. However, not by merit of Iglesias or Podemos, but by the configuration of redistributive conflicts in Spain.

There is no struggle for public resources. Pepe Fernández-Albertos expresses an interesting hypothesis in Buck's piece, underpinned by Sergi Pardos-Prado: in Spain there is no reason to compete. As the welfare system is weak, in issues such as housing or direct money transfers, and this is where competition (perceived at least) between immigrants and natives would be higher. In addition, Fernandez-Albertos continues, immigration has been "objectively worse off" during the Spanish crisis, and reasonable proof of this is the strong 180-degree turnabout in migration flows since 2009: people are returning to their own countries, rather than coming to ours.

As I say, this is an idea that I find attractive. However, in a few places immigrants have fared better than the local population during the crisis, and this greater suffering has not prevented the emergence of the Far Right. The hypothesis of the direct competition of resources has more strength, but I would reformulate it to broaden its explanatory power.


In reality, and here comes the shift, the exposure to the vagaries of the crisis of the sociodemographic groups that usually support the Far Right in other countries has been comparatively low in Spain. Neither those working in industry nor in service, nor the middle-aged and older, nor the petty bourgeoisie have been hit hardest by our particular form of recession. 

It has been young people, with an educational level equal to or higher than the country average, and the most vulnerable groups (immigrants, people in a situation of irregular employment) who have taken the punches.

The second, in purely material terms. The first, seeing how their expectations for the future fell apart. Neither of these two segments constitutes a source of easy support for the Far Right, either due to lack of political mobilisation tools or ideological incompatibility. However, yes (particularly the first ones) for a proposal such as that of Podemos.

Here is the possible truth hidden in Iglesias's self-attribution of merit. This where the crisis has hit more the expectations of a sector not co-opted by the Far Right, it was the Extreme Left who was in the best position to start a successful electoral journey. But not by merit in the absorption of a generic anti-establishment vote, lacking in ideology, as well as in the emergence of a market different from that of other places north of the Pyrenees.

It is not that there is no struggle for public resources, it is that who usually does not need it because they are well-protected by a welfare system set up for them, and not for the outsider.

Putting this debate in the European context, the Spain's most conclusive differences respect to its neighbours could be summarized in the absence of a refined manifesto and an active demand both in cultural and economic axes. On this last front, I find it particularly significant to highlight as a hypothesis that the segments most susceptible to sympathizing with the values of the reactionary Right have been comparatively little exposed to the economic crisis in Spain.

However, nothing is forever. And, as suggested by Torres in the magazine Político, the offer can improve at any time (in fact, although the results of Vox are minimal compared to the great political parties, they place them clearly above the rest of the political formations on the right of the PP). At the same time, despite the existence of certain sociodemographic regularities, there is not a possible demand for each single ideology. It is not out of the question that certain segments will decide given a sufficiently attractive offer that, indeed, they do perceive an external cultural or economic threat that requires a nationalist reaction. In short, Spain is not a country vaccinated or immunized against the Far Right. In future articles I will try to explain why with comparative arguments, and also with additional data.

(*) In this text I use the terms "Reactionary Right", "Far Right" and "Nationalist Right" interchangeably. The first defines a common strategy, the second a relative ideological position in the spectrum, and the third a defining feature that comprises all the formations to the traditional Right conservatism consolidated after the post-war period. I consider them complementary, although I accept the argument about the possibility that they are not interchangeable. Yes, on the other hand I avoid the use of other epithets, such as ultras, populists (controversial and, sometimes, vague), xenophobic, authoritarian (referring to traits that can be designated, but in different degrees), or neo-Fascists/neo-Nazis (more specific and restricted to certain types of Far Right formations).



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