The Future of Spain
II: The Left
FROM THE ONSET of industrialization in the late nineteenth century, Spain was the only European country where the Anarchists flourished. Marxist socialism was a "civilized" import that came later, hailing the eventual benefits of modernization and preaching gradualism. But landless Andulusian Farm hands and Catalonian textile workers were Anarchists until 1939--they dreamed of a collective society run by ordinary people and not by petty officials. The Socialists and Communists controlled Madrid during the Civil War, and the city knew no internal disorder. In Barcelona, where Anarchist workers held sway, there was revolution.
So the present situation in Spain and in the exiled leftist leadership based in Paris is odd: action on the left is oriented towards political parties, policy statements and programs to form a common front against the Francoist state after Franco. But rank-and-file Spanish laboring men, historically the most radical in the West, have not yet emerged as factors. Thirty-six years of repression and material prosperity have perhaps stemmed the revolutionary tide. Only when Franco dies and Juan Carlos attempts to enact reforms over visceral right-wing opposition will the working class have a chance to act for itself; until then, the parties claiming to speak for it command attention.
These parties have united in a "common front of the left" within the last two weeks. Its program for post-Franco Spain includes the freeing of political prisoners; the recognition of independent labor unions; the reestablishment of Basque and Catalan autonomy; elections to decide whether the nation would have a king; and most importantly, the legalization of all political parties. The common front unites almost every anti-Franco party, from the Communists to four non-socialist Christian Democratic groups--all of whom will fall into Lisbon-style infighting if they can first dispose of Spain's sportsman-king.
The Communists Party (PCE), now holding the lion's share of working class support, has yielded to the other parties on a key point: it has withdrawn its opposition to Juan Carlos' accession. In return the other, more centrist, parties have promised the Communists that the PCE's exclusion from the political system--which Juan Carlos has guaranteed to Franco die-hards as well as Washington--will not be tolerated.
This is no minor achievement for the Communists, who have said that their continued outlawed status would require the party to call a general strike, crippling the economy and forcing the issue to a head. The Spanish Socialist Workers Party (PSOE), descended from the Socialists of the Civil War and the other major party in the common front, had much to lose by the agreement. The PSOE had previously hoped that several years of illegality for the Communists would give it a chance to make inroads in organizing the working class. The Socialists, in this tactical turnabout, apparently believe that the circle surrounding Juan Carlos will be composed largely of Francoist hard-liners, and that the unity of the left will be necessary to move Spain toward the most basic democratic forms.
The Spanish Communists are, along with the Italian party, the most de-Stalinized in Europe. They condemned the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 and last year criticized the Portuguese Communists for their lack of commitment to democracy. This hostility to authoritarianism was reflected in the outcome of the party's power struggle while in exile. The fight was won by the Paris faction supporting the moderate Santiago Carrillo over a Moscow-based group favoring Lister, the venerable Spanish Civil War stonecutter-general.
Underground party members in Spain were bereft of central command during the long exile, necessitating local and regional decision-making. The growth of illegal workers' commissions, dominated by party members over the last fifteen years, confirms the trend. These factory-based councils have ties to the PCE but possess limitless autonomy. Laborers set up the commissions to defend their wage-and-hour interests in a way that the Francoist Sindicacio Nacional does not. The councils have no set programs, no dues and no distinctions are made between members and non-members. The activist membership which the commissions channel into the PCE protects the party from bureaucratic rigidity.
The commissions embody the party's influence in the day-to-day life of the class it seeks to represent. In the 1.5 million member Metal Workers' syndicate, Spain's largest, about three-quarters of the elected delegates from factories with over 50 employees are the commissions' candidates. The party has some strength in the middle-class, particularly among students. Elections to student committees at universities have recently been going to party members.
The Socialist Workers' support seemingly picks up where the Communists' constituency shades off as one ascends the hierarchical ladder of Spanish society. The PSOE, led by a young labor lawyer, Felipe Gonzalez, draws its support mainly from the professional strata which grew substantially during the nation's rapid economic growth in the '60's. The party is ideologically aligned with the Southern European tier of social democracy. These parties support a more worker-control style of the socialism than the British, West German, or Swedish socialist parties, and favor tactical coalitions with the Communists.
Before forming a common front with the Communists, the PSOE was allied earlier this year in a Platform of Democratic Convergence with the Christian Democrats. It is likely that this older coalition will survive the compromise with the Communists. Both Socialists and Christian Democrats see Spain in the immediate future becoming more or less like Western welfare-states. The Democratic Military Union (UMD), a group of middle-level officers favoring democratization and "redistribution of income", may become a part of this potential moderate left formation against the Communists.
The UMD numbers only 1000 adherents and sympathizers out of an officer corps of 28,000. The army's massive right wing is now being called upon to suppress the left, with Franco's Civil War companions leading the general staff. The politicization of the army rightward will lead to increased support for the UDM--the junior officers' organization thrives on every new abuse of the entrenched fascist generals.
The vicissitudes of the Spanish economy may prove to be a catalyst for radical workers' actions after Franco dies. Unemployment is unofficially running at 4.5 per cent and would be far higher if the government had not this year increased spending and refused industries permission to lay off workers. Wage settlements, which are up by 25 per cent this year, are still ahead of 17 per cent annual inflation rate--but only because the Franco regime has attempted to buy off discontent at the cost of fanning inflation and discouraging private investment, which has fallen off dramatically over the past year.
Juan Carlos's government, to stem the effect that inflation is having on the nation's balance of payments, must soon impose economic austerity measures, and this means holding down wages or increasing taxes. Such a policy would probably lead to working class rebellion, especially if Juan Carlos is serious about not legalizing the Communist Party. The PCE, within the political system or even within the government, might have an incentive to try to curb discontent; as a pariah, the party can only gain from economic crisis.
The supporters of the old regime face a growing force on the left, which is united for the moment in the midst of a political and economic instability verging on chaos. If the Spanish working class's radical traditions have not been obliterated, but merely suppressed, then the workers provide the key to the nation's future.
This article is the second of a four part series on Spain.