The PSOE-Unidas Podemos coalition government will take a draft of the transgender law to Congress this month. The sexologist Loola Pérez has written about the need for legislation of the matter and the shortcomings of the preliminary proposal. Beyond the political and moral implications of the law (of which there are many, like the objections even within government), the law inaugurates in some way an end of cycle for the left, even a kind of dead-end street.
In the last forty or fifty years, the left has shifted its interests away from class to other kinds of identity (especially race and gender, not so much nation). It is a phenomenon that has been described countless times in the last several years. The left has become professional, it has become urban, educated, and in a certain sense Victorian: it believes that the most important social reforms are moral. Along the way it has lost the working class, which has detected a moral superiority and arrogance in progressive elites.
If we adopt (superficially) a whig conception of history, one political advance will necessarily be followed by another. In material matters, this is easy to measure. The GNP grows, life expectancy is longer, poverty is reduced, social protections are expanded. In moral questions, however, it is more complicated. After reforms like the legalization of abortion, gay marriage, LGBT rights, and now the rights of the transgendered or transsexuals, what moral causes remain to the left? It’s obvious that these reforms don’t defend themselves nor are they self-explanatory. And that there will be reactions as well as backsliding. But, in general, almost all the moral questions in which the left has been involved have won a relatively stable support: in today’s Spain a reversal of the abortion law or of the law allowing gay marriage is unthinkable. The transgender law, despite its polemical nature, will benefit a very low percentage of Spaniards. It’s likely that because of its slight effect on the citizenry it will go relatively unnoticed.
The postmaterialist left is, definitely, running out of moral or cultural causes. In countries like the United States or the United Kingdom, the racial question will go on playing an essential role in the ideological configuration of the left. But in countries like Spain, the debate on race is non-existent, and when it does exist it tends to be an unthinking import from the Anglo-Saxon world.
Politics isn´t exclusively a chain of new causes to promote, but in general progressive politics has assumed it is for several decades now. What does it have left? It can reorganize and concentrate more on material questions: inequalities (in income, in geographical areas), the concentration of wealth, precarious employment, the defense of ecology understood as more than an individual moral virtue (or a necology that goes beyond the dominance of a woke capitalism). In Spain, however, this option is almost ruled out. The PSOE is a party that is well integrated into crony capitalism and the capture of income. And Podemos’s institutionalization has killed the party.
With the material turn ruled out, the Spanish left will continue to build its ideological identity through the defense of increasingly minoritarian causes, especially those having to do with sex or gender (asexuality, intersexuality), issues of national identity, the moralization of material causes (like ecology) or simply the preservation of its cultural achievements (at the risk of becoming conservative and losing the impulse of “new causes”), But this does not guarantee power. The best strategy for preserving power is above all post-ideological. It is the Sánchez strategy of power for power’s ’sake, resignation to things as they are, and institutionalized populism.