Spain’s State of Emergency for COVID-19 imposes social control at the gates of a cataclysm

By Ángeles Maestro

The author of this commentary is a leader of the organization Red Roja (Red Network) in the Spanish state and a medical doctor who is a major spokesperson for organizations promoting publicly funded health care. Translation by John Catalinotto.

After nine months of a pandemic [in Spain], health services are once again on the verge of collapse. The authorities have taken no significant measure – other than confinement – to confront an absolutely predictable situation. Hopes to obtain essential conditions of survival are collapsing in working-class neighborhoods and for tens of thousands of small- and medium-sized businesses.

Under these conditions, we have the right to point out that the strategy of the central government, and of all the autonomous governments, is aimed at using all kinds of instruments of social control and repression against foreseeable popular revolts.


Spain’s healthcare workers protest health service cuts, Madrid, Nov. 19.

[Spain’s federal government is a center-left coalition of the Socialist Party (PSOE) and Podemos; the autonomous governments direct regions mainly where national minorities predominate: Catalonia, Basque Region, and Galicia, for example.]

Destruction of capital serves financial oligarchy and energy multinationals

We still don’t know where the virus came from, but we do know that, before it appeared, all the alarm warnings of a major economic crisis went off, and that the social situation was explosive in many countries. In the case of the Kingdom of Spain, “although a rich country, it lives in a situation of generalized poverty,” as stated by the UN Rapporteur on Poverty at the beginning of 2020. (tinyurl.com/y6fmwrms)

As in all capitalist crises – and this one is of gigantic proportions – the destruction of capital continues its devastating course, sweeping off the arena small- and medium-sized enterprises on a massive scale. (tinyurl.com/y2y3gdf6)

Also, as happens in crises, the banks are accelerating the processes of concentration of wealth. This is coupled with their purchase of what little is left of state-owned banks with the direct complicity of the government, as was the case with Bankia, which led to the corresponding massive layoffs. At the same time the banks are becoming administrators of credit from the European Union.

In a scenario of massive impoverishment and the collapse of the economic model of tourism and construction [in Spain], when it is urgent to tackle reconstruction of production from positions of sovereignty, the EU has decided that its priorities are energy transition towards greener energy and digitalization. Only by satisfying these conditions can banks located in EU member countries obtain access to the 760 billion euros of the European recovery fund. To assure that the banks and multinationals control this enormous amount of money, the rules wipe out any sovereignty.

All this, when the little industrial fabric that remains is being destroyed and when environmental pollution is not the main problem, and when digitalization – in the hands of capital – will serve to intensify the destruction of jobs. In other words, while millions of people face massive destruction of their living conditions, the banks and the multinationals, especially the electricity and energy companies, are preparing to receive a deluge of billions of euros.

Everyone can see that the rapid extension of misery will lead to great social explosions. It is also evident that the government is passively witnessing the looming disaster without taking even minimal measures to confront it.

Cataclysm for working class and popular sectors

In view of the harsh consequences of the epidemic, the stupor of the first months has given way to the realization  – except for those who cover not only their mouths, but also their brains – of an undeniable fact: While reports multiply that reveal the essentially social causality of the pandemic, neither the “progressive” government nor the autonomous governments have adopted indispensable emergency measures, although they had the legal capacity to do so.

I do not engage in conspiracy theories, nor am I speaking of revolutionary measures. Here are some facts.

Failure of health care

In the health field, the central government and the autonomous governments have not mobilized the resources – personnel and facilities – of the private health sector, nor of the pharmaceutical industry, nor of the companies that manufacture the necessary material such as respirators, personal protective equipment or masks, to serve the most pressing needs of the population. Articles 8 and 13 of the decree of a State of Emergency last March provide for requisitions, interventions and occupations of private companies. (tinyurl.com/sxroyrj)

None of these steps were adopted then, nor is anyone talking about them now, when according to these same authorities, we are heading for a breakdown in the health system.

Although, since the beginning of the pandemic there has been talk of huge shortages of health care personnel, the governments have taken no action, in nine months (!), to make public offers of employment with decent working conditions. Such public offers could encourage the return of the tens of thousands of health professionals who emigrated after years of garbage contracts, or to avoid, as is happening now, the cascade of casualties from depression or stress in an overburdened public health system.

They have not de facto extended the right to health care to undocumented migrants, who remain without access to the card that pays for health care – even though such a social strategy increases the danger of transmission of diseases.

The autonomous regional governments, with the complicity of the central government, have made it possible for all the additional funding that was made available for health care to end up in the hands of private companies (Ribera Salud, Indra, Telefónica, Pascual, etc), by subcontracting various services.

Accelerating unemployment, evictions, poverty

In the social sphere, the central government approved a cutting-edge measure, the Minimum Vital Income, whose ineffectiveness gives an idea of what has happened in other areas. Even after overcoming a bureaucratic labyrinth – an almost impossible task for the vast majority of applicants – more than 60 percent of nearly one million applications have been rejected. (tinyurl.com/yyamkgc7)

Evictions have not been stopped. More than a million people have been evicted since 2008. (tinyurl.com/y55c96b8) At the height of the pandemic, we are helplessly witnessing the daily human drama of people with fewer resources being forced onto the streets. In the Spanish state, one suicide occurs every 2.5 hours, with a good part of this due to causes related to unemployment and evictions. (tinyurl.com/y59acyxj) Meanwhile, according to official figures, there are 3.5 million empty houses, with a significant percentage of them owned by banks that carry out evictions.

On Sept. 30 the moratorium regarding the payment of mortgages, rent and water, light and electricity, provided for in previous decrees, expired. (tinyurl.com/y4of4gvq) The new State of Emergency decree of Oct. 25 has not renewed this moratorium; that is to say, the banks and the big water, light and electricity multinationals have the freedom − granted by the government which “leaves no one behind” − to carry out new evictions and to cut off the supply of goods indispensable for the survival of those who are drowning in poverty and disease. Since last March these payments were only postponed; now all the bills are coming due at once.

The regime has done nothing to strengthen the educational system, neither to guarantee the most elementary security measures, nor to allow the students of the working-class neighborhoods − affected by successive quarantines − to follow the classes using distance learning (by internet).

After more than 27,000 deaths of elderly people, the governments have taken no steps to control or punish the owners of the private homes that have been converted into real “death chambers” due to the owners’ drive to obtain profits in collaboration with the governments. Popular clamor calling on the government to pass a law to regulate this business sector has had no results. (tinyurl.com/yyq2b4vd)

Nothing has been done to improve the impoverished condition of retired workers, especially women, who in many cases turn out to be the ones who supported their families. More than six million people receive pensions of less than 950 euros per month. The brutal fact is that while the overall number of pensions increased from January to October 2020, the number of minimum pensions has suffered a very significant decrease – exactly 49,646. This figure is almost ten times the decrease suffered by this group in 2019, which was 9,195 people. This figure undoubtedly reflects, once again, that vulnerability to COVID is not age, but poverty [because the poorest people have died at an accelerated rate].

No measures have been taken to force regional and municipal governments to improve public transport in large cities to avoid concentrations of crowds of people (in Madrid the frequency of trains passing through the metro at peak times is more than 10 minutes between trains), which are obviously the best breeding grounds for the transmission of COVID-19. The conditions in which transport from the working-class districts, where all the risk factors are accumulated, to the work place where the employer reigns and safety is subordinated to profit, make the recommended measures to avoid contagion look like a macabre joke.

Fear mongering by the media

And meanwhile, the media dedicates more than 80 percent of its time to spreading fear of the pandemic.

Radios, newspapers and televisions are constantly vomiting data and more data, most of it incomprehensible and lacking the minimum rigor, seasoned with analyses by talk shows and supposed experts, all pointing in the same direction.

The result is the creation of feelings of panic that colonizes the heads of millions of people, of fear that even the least social relationship is dangerous, and of insecurity when faced with anything that requires leaving one’s home. All of this the media promotes without reporting at equivalent length on the situation in Cuba, in Vietnam or in China, countries where the pandemic is under control and where the population has returned to its usual social relations.

Given that all the big media are owned, directly or indirectly, by the same multinationals and banks that manage the crisis to their greatest advantage, there is little doubt that the creation of a state of widespread fear and preaching social isolation sets up the most propitious environment to conjure up what they fear the most: that the working class and popular sectors will knock over the game board.

Fear and the creation of a psychosis of war – brought into focus through press conferences with the military and Civil Guards present – are the most effective instrument for disciplining the masses and neutralizing, through criminalization, any disobedience or resistance.

Disciplining the masses

And to guarantee social control, the “progressive” government imposes on the popular sectors prone to mobilization, through its subsidized political and union lieutenants, the argument that the PSOE (Socialists) should not be criticized, nor Podemos, because the situation would be even worse if the right wing were in office. The only mobilizations they allow are those directed against the Popular Party (right-wing) governments.

This is the fundamental service that Podemos and the self-proclaimed institutional left in general render to capital: to control the outbreak of social revolt when in January the ERTEs [special subsidies for COVID-19 keeping businesses open and providing unemployment insurance] end, and the avalanche of bankruptcies begins.

And this service has already begun in reaction to the brutal police charges against the youth of Vallecas. Police injured or arrested several people who were exhibiting their class consciousness – in the face of the segregation imposed on the working-class neighborhoods – by shouting “Fewer police and more health.” The Regional Federation of Neighborhood Associations of Madrid, with a strong presence of Podemos and the United Left (IU) – separating themselves from the activists – sent the following tweet: “In Vallecas there have been riots in which the neighborhood associations have no relation.”

In the last few days, the youth mobilizations that have occurred in various cities have been censored by Podemos, which attributes them to the extreme right or to nihilistic positions. This stance advances the criminalization of protest and the use of the emergency measures at the service of social control. All this is an attempt to hide the evidence that at moments when misery and desperation affect millions of people, it is precisely the so-called institutional left, weak and cowardly, which feeds fascism.

Class struggle cannot be contained

All levels of state power, from the repressive apparatus to the media, are preparing to confront the social rebellions that will undoubtedly take place.

When hunger and desperation are spreading, without – as I have argued – governments adopting even the most elementary measures to alleviate them, one must break with and criminalize those who seek to confine resistance and social mobilization.

The strategy of the national and European oligarchy plunges millions of people from the working class and small and medium-sized businesses into misery and desperation, condemned to absolute ruin. It is necessary that, from positions of class independence, we unmask this strategy and the complicity of the “progressive” government and its political and trade union agents.

At this moment, abstract criticisms of capitalism or the ruling classes are insufficient. Two lines of work, intimately connected, should govern the action aimed at clearly confronting the impending cataclysm.

On the one hand, it is necessary “to identify which element has the biggest impact” for causing the destruction of society and against which most force can be accumulated, and which, moreover, is a keystone on which the whole system rests.

If we succeed in detaching ourselves from that element, we will have taken giant steps to put an end to capitalism. This key element is none other than finance capital, which we urgently need to expunge from our lives, and against which the majority of popular sectors are now entering into contradiction. (tinyurl.com/y3ol9c7c)

It is of great importance that, in the face of the power of the banks that objectively annihilate not only the working class, but also small and medium-sized businesses, an alliance be built to prevent this sector from nourishing the ranks of fascism.

On the other hand, it is decisive that spaces for organization and mobilization be activated in a united front manner, creating from the base the structures of popular power, of intransigent defense of life in all its facets, in preparation for the hard period of class confrontation that is coming ever closer.

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