Santiago Carrillo (1915-2012): The man who betrayed two Socialist Revolutions

On September 19th Spain woke up to the news of the death of Santiago Carrillo, General Secretary of the Spanish Communist Party (PCE) in the crucial years 1960-82. He passed away at the age of 97 in his home in Madrid. Usually the death of a leader of the workers’ movement would only get limited press coverage and perhaps some official statement from trade unions, Socialist and Communist Party local branches, and so on. But this was completely different. All newspapers reserved their front page for the news. El País, the mouthpiece of the liberal bourgeoisie, paid fulsome homage to Carrillo with long tributes from prominent celebrities. King Juan Carlos came to Carrillo’s deathbed just two hours after he had died. He was quoted as saying that Carrillo had played a “fundamental role” in the establishing of democracy in Spain.

Why all this fuss about Carrillo? As the old Spanish proverb goes: “Dime Con Quien Andas, Y Te Dire Quien Eres” (“Tell me with who you go and I’ll tell you who you are”). Just as the ruling class never forgets its enemies, it equally never forgets its close friends and allies. A political review of Santiago Carrillo’s life shows us how he played a major role in aborting two revolutions.

Carrillo as a Young Socialist

Born on January 16th 1915, Santiago was the son of foundry worker and later well-known Socialist leader Wenceslao Carrillo who worked as a full-time official of the socialist trade union UGT and belonged to Largo Caballero’s Left faction of the Socialist Party (PSOE). Santiago was born and raised in Gijón, one of the main cities of Asturias in the North-west of Spain. In 1924 the family moved to Madrid where his father became the editor of Socialist Party daily El Socialista. At a very early age Santiago Carrillo became involved in both the UGT and in the FNJS, the Spanish Socialist Youth.

It was in the latter organization that he became a prominent leader, reaching the position of General Secretary by 1934. At this time the young Santiago Carrillo held a position which was completely in contrast to the path taken during the rest of his life. Then he was a close ally of Largo Caballero, the leader of the Socialist Left, and an advocate of the “bolshevisation” of the PSOE. As a leader of the Socialist Youth he participated in the call for a revolutionary general strike in October 1934 which led to the Asturian Commune when workers held power for nearly fifteen days before they were crushed by troops led by Franco.

After the defeat of the Asturian Commune, the Young Socialists turned sharply left. In a document called “Octubre, segunda etapa” (October, the second stage), co-written by Carrillo, the organisation drew up a balance sheet of the defeat of the October uprising. They came out against both the Social Democracy and Stalinism and called for the formation of a new revolutionary International. They contacted Andreu Nin (the leader of the then Trotskyist Communist Left - ICE) who had been expelled from the official CP and invited him to join them in the struggle to cleanse the Socialist movement of its reformist wing and help to form a genuine revolutionary party in Spain.

At that time, Carrillo and the other leaders of the Young Socialists were very sympathetic to Trotskyism. But Nin, motivated by sectarian considerations, rejected their offer. It is not possible to deal with the history of the Spanish Socialist Youth in this obituary (for a more detailed account, we recommend this article by Pierre Broué). Suffice it to say that the actions of Andreu Nin played a fatal role in the future development of the Spanish Revolution, leaving the door open to the Stalinists, who began to pay serious attention to the FNJS, which had around 40,000 members. When Trotsky discovered what Nin had done, he described it as a betrayal and broke off relations with him.

The Spanish Revolution and civil war

According to the official historiography, Santiago Carrillo joined the Spanish Communist Party (PCE) on the eve of the battle for Madrid in November 1936. However, this dubious claim was undoubtedly invented by Carrillo to blur the fact that he had been won over to Stalinism more than a year earlier. While serving his sentence in the Modelo prison after the failed October 1934 insurrection, Carrillo received several visits from Vittorio Codovilla, an Italian-Argentinean Comintern agent.

In February 1936 he travelled to the Soviet Union. By then he was most certainly won over to Stalinism. It is important to stress the difference in time, because it allows us to understand how he used his leading position in the Spanish Socialist Youth to prepare meticulously the fusion between this organization (the FNJS) and the small Communist Youth in what was to become the Unified Socialist Youth (JSU).

This was the key factor in allowing Stalinism to win a mass base in Spain and in the final analysis, to strangle the revolution from within. Before capturing the Socialist Youth, the PCE was a very small party with less than eight thousand members nationally. The influx of a whole layer of young cadres provided Stalinism with a huge base. It is no coincidence that many of the people recruited through the JSU, just as Carrillo himself, were later installed in important positions in the army and in the bourgeois Republican state apparatus. They formed the backbone of the Party.

When the Civil War broke out on July 17th 1936, Santiago Carrillo was only 21 years old. In spite of his young age he played an important role on the Madrid Defence Junta. He was responsible for maintaining order in the capital. He played a big role in dismantling the anarchist CNT workers’ militias and patrols. He also participated in the repression of the Madrid POUM who had their papers censured and their offices attacked by Stalinist thugs.

His main concern, however, was to allow the Communist Party to keep a stronghold in the Spanish youth and to change it revolutionary class line to one that was in agreement with the class collaboration politics of the Popular Front now favoured by Moscow. In one speech after another he stressed that socialism was not on the agenda in Spain, and that any talk of carrying through the revolution was mere adventurism. It is no coincidence that these speeches won the confidence of many high ranking bureaucrats, careerist and petit-bourgeois that joined the ranks of the CP at that time.

It was these policies that undermined the Spanish Revolution and ultimately led to defeat and forty years of the Franco dictatorship. The tragic fate of the Spanish Revolution has been described in detail elsewhere (see in particular Felix Morrow’s book). Suffice to say that the working class had to pay a heavy price for the betrayal perpetrated by Santiago Carrillo and the PCE, assisted by the other leaders of the workers’ movement. Carrillo himself fled Spain in March 1939, just before the final defeat at the hands of Franco’s troops.

In exile: The development of euro-communism

For a period of forty years Carrillo would not set foot on Spanish soil. He travelled to France, then to Moscow, the United States, Mexico and then France again after its liberation from the Nazis. In this period he was still a second-line leader. In 1942 the then General Secretary, José Hernández had passed away after a long illness and Dolores Ibarruri (better known as La Pasionaria) had become the leader. In the faction fight that had occurred, Carrillo had supported Ibarruri strongly against her competitor, Jesús Hernández who was subsequently expelled from the party.

In 1960 La Pasionaria was already old and living in Moscow, where she was not even in noticeable contact with all the Spanish exiles there. She took over the presidency of the party and decided to hand over the general secretariat to Santiago Carrillo. From this position he purged Semprún and Claudín, who had began to question the party policy in Spain arguing that the only pending revolution in Spain was socialist, as opposed to the official view held by Carrillo about the need for a “democratic anti-feudal” revolution. Unfortunately, both Claudín and Semprún eventually moved to the right and ended up in the right wing of the Socialist Party.

In 1968 Carrillo began to distance the Party from the suffocating control of the Soviet Union. This process began with his criticism of the Soviet military intervention in Czechoslovakia that year. He was followed in this by Berlinguer, the Italian CP leader, and Georges Marchais in France. They adopted a more independent view, which subsequently became known as “euro-communism”.

But far from a return to genuine Leninism, this was rather a turn towards social-democratic reformism and even to national patriotism. The more independent the European CPs grew from Moscow, the more dependent did they became on their national bourgeoisie. This was a development that Trotsky had predicted in his 1928 pamphlet Critique of the Draft Programme of the Communist International, where he warned that the adoption of the “theory” of Socialism In One Country would end up with the national-reformist degeneration of the parties in the Communist International.

With a delay of some years, this was exactly what happened. The Italian, French and Spanish CPs removed themselves from control by Moscow, but in so doing they abandoned any pretence of following the ideas of Marx, Engels and Lenin.

“The transition”: a new counter-revolution

The terrible defeat of the Spanish working class in the 1930s had far-reaching consequences after 1939 and it took a long time before the proletariat could recover. A few examples are enough to give a sense of the terrible plight of the Spanish workers at that time. Wages in the countryside were fixed to half of what they had been during the Republic. They would not reach the 1931 level again until 1956. Around 190 prison camps were set up in Spain with somewhere between 367,000 and 500,000 prisoners. While the official executions stood at “only” 35,000, some historians, such as Anthony Beevor (who certainly cannot be accused of being a Socialist), estimate that the figure could be closer to 200,000.

The real figure will probably never be known, but there was a thorough cleansing, a purging of all dissidence. The flower of the Spanish working class was liquidated. However, throughout the 1960’s there was widespread industrialization of the country, with many automobile factories opening, especially in the Basque Country and Catalonia. The proletariat regained some confidence and strikes became more common. Between 1964 and 1966 there were 171,000 working days lost due to industrial action. Between 1967 and 1969 the figure rose to 846,000 and from 1973 to 1975 there were 1,548,000.

The communists had conquered the majority in the workers’ commissions (Comisiones Obreras, CCOO) and linked them up on a national scale, forming a very strong trade union confederation of more than 200,000 members. They had begun this work by painstaking activity in the state-controlled vertical “unions” where they succeeded in winning over many of the most militant elements.

When Franco finally died on November 20th 1975, the Communist Party was in an extremely powerful position. The CP had in its ranks a big majority of the proletarian vanguard, including a large number of extremely heroic and self-sacrificing men and women. At that time it had a far bigger base in the organized working class than the Socialist Party (PSOE), thanks to years of consistent and highly effective underground work. The PCE claimed a membership of 150,000 and its journal El Mundo Obrero had a print-run of 200,000 per issue.

The fall of the dictatorship occurred in a tumultuous revolutionary period, with mass strikes and demonstrations. There were elements of dual power. Between 1976 and 1978 the figure for working days lost due to strikes rose to 13.2 million, with more than 5.7 million workers involved (60% of the working population). More than 10,000 people, including the CC.OO leadership, had been imprisoned in 1972, accused of “subversive political activity”. With the death of El Caudillo, people demanded that they be released and that all political parties be legalized.

But for many workers, the issue of democracy was not the only question. They felt that power was within their grasp. The most advanced workers understood instinctively that it would not be enough to overthrow the Franco dictatorship, but rather what was required was to destroy its roots. The movement had a clearly anti-capitalist character. That was shown most clearly by the events of the general strike in Vitoria in March 1976, with the emergence of bodies of dual power.

What was the role of Carrillo in this situation? Already in 1973, when the fall of the dictatorship was simply a matter of time, he had signed on behalf of the PCE, the infamous “Democratic Junta” coalition together with liberals, former fascists and even some monarchist parties. Having been smuggled illegally into Spain in 1976 he began to meet secretly with Adolfo Suárez, the former fascist who had been appointed by King Juan Carlos as prime minister and who for decades had been an integral part of the Francoist state, even leading the notorious Falange Movement.

Scandalously, Carrillo worked out a compromise with Suárez, resulting in the legalization of the PCE in 1977. For this a price had to be paid, however. And what was the price? Not only did the Party renounce the struggle against capitalism, it even embraced the monarchy, the national flag and the national anthem! The main slogan was now a “broad democratic government”, i.e. a national unity government.

The revolutionary wave was moving rapidly in the direction of an open clash with the forces of reaction. Things came to a head in January 1977, when fascists murdered five communist lawyers of the Workers’ Commissions in the Atocha district of Madrid. A wave of fury swept the country. The workers were ready for anything. But the PCE put the brakes on. At the massive funeral of the lawyers, the CP stewards would not allow any banners, slogans or chants. Carrillo and the other CP leaders were only interested in pursuing their intrigues and manoeuvres at the top. At its 1978 congress the party formally abandoned Leninism, although, if the truth be told, this was just a formal recognition of the fact that the party had long ago abandoned any genuine revolutionary position.

The ruling class seized the opportunity with both hands. When in October 1977 the infamous Pactos de la Moncloa agreements were signed, they bore the signature of Santiago Carrillo on behalf of the PCE and its trade union confederation CC.OO. This pact established that wages could not rise more than 22%, when inflation stood at 30%, that the peseta was to be devalued and that the bosses could sack 5% of the workforce without notice. In other words, this deal was a betrayal of the interests of the working class. By the end of 1977 the purchasing power of the working class had already fallen by 10%.

This period was known as “the Transition” (allegedly from dictatorship to democracy), but it was in fact a huge fraud. The hated monarchy was retained and played a central role. The Civil Guard and other repressive bodies remained in being. Nobody was made responsible for the crimes and atrocities of the old regime. The murderers and torturers walked freely in the streets. The people of Spain were told to forget the one million who were killed in the Civil War. None of this was supposed to have happened. And this monstrosity was eagerly advocated by Santiago Carrillo.

The masses were bitterly disappointed. In particular, the activists who had sacrificed so much, risked their lives, lost their jobs, suffered imprisonment, beatings and tortures, felt deceived. Thousands of militants resigned from the left parties and trade unions in disgust. This wave of disillusionment prepared the way for a period of semi-reaction which began in the early 1980’s. For the second time Carrillo had managed to play a key role in the derailment of a revolution. Let us give the last words on his role in 1976 to the Financial Times, the main organ of the British capitalist class:

"The support of the PCE, both for the first as the second administration of Suárez has been open and sincere. Mr. Carrillo was the first leader to give his support to the Moncloa agreement and inevitably the PCE has backed the government in parliament. (…)

“But being the party which controls the majority trade union confederation CCOO and the best organized political party in Spain, its help has been crucial in some of the most tense moments of the transition. The active moderation showed by the communists before and after the massacre of workers in Vitoria in March 1976, [after] the shooting down of five communist lawyers in January 1977 and during the Basque general strike of May 1977 – just to name three examples – was decisive in order to avoid that Spain fall into an abysm of civil conflict and to allow the continuation of reforms” (Financial Times, 13th December 1978)

The break with the PCE

In the 1970s, Carrillo strongly opposed the PSOE Socialist Party which he thought had a too leftist rhetoric, which would endanger the “transition towards democracy”. His proclaimed “tactic” was that Spain needed a “historic compromise” between conservatives and Communists. This “compromise” was entirely in the interest of the conservatives and not of the CP, which was utterly wrecked as a result of this policy.

To obtain the historic compromise that he had in mind, an alliance with Suárez and his UCD party was necessary. Unfortunately for him, the ruling class itself was split and the UCD party was very heterogeneous. In January 1981, Suárez was forced to resign. One month later, on February 23, a section of the army and the Civil Guard held the Members of Parliament hostage at gunpoint in a failed coup d’état.

The role of King Juan Carlos in these events has never been clarified, and many people believed that he was somehow involved in the coup. However, once it was clear that the coup had already failed, he finally came out against the plotters. The main fraction of the ruling class obviously understood that a coup under these conditions would have produced an extremely explosive situation which could have put the very foundations of capitalism into question.

Carrillo had lost Suárez as his main ally, and the PCE was punished for its opportunism when it suffered a huge electoral setback in October 1982. The CP’s vote was reduced to 3.6%, whereas the PSOE (Socialist Party) under Felipe Gonzalez was elected with 46% of the votes. The PCE was in ruins, its membership had fallen drastically and its paper was a shadow of its former self.

At first, Carrillo pretended to continue as though nothing had happened. He tried to balance between the different factions in the PCE, the renovadores who wanted to go still further to the right, and the more pro-soviet sectors of the party which represented a left-wing opposition. But in the end he had to resign from his post as General Secretary, as the electoral disaster was too evidently a product of his opportunist policies and betrayals.

From that point on, from November 1982 to April 1985, he retained his parliamentary seat andalso  his seat on the National Executive Committee. But strong contradictions were building up between himself and the new PCE General Secretary, Gerardo Iglesias who wanted to make a broad alliance of left parties. This plan gave rise in the end to the United Left (Izquierda Unida) which exists today.

Carrillo preferred a “Communist regroupment” with the other small Communist Party – a position that made no sense at all. Being a man of the apparatus with so many years in power, he wanted to maintain control at all costs. In the end, a ferocious inter-bureaucratic struggle took place and Carrillo and his supporters were expelled in 1985. They tried to set up a new party, the PTE (Spanish Workers’ Party), but failed to get any parliamentary representation.

After that experience Carrillo was reduced to the role of merely commenting on events and writing memoirs. As a supreme irony, all the members of his PTE party finally went into the PSOE, except for Carrillo himself who said that he had too many years of Communist militancy to go back to his old home. But politically he remained what he had always been: The most pragmatic (that is, unprincipled) of all reformist Social-Democrats.

The death of Carrillo… and the death agony of reformism

Santiago Carrillo will be remembered by Marxists as the saboteur of the marvellous Spanish Revolution of 1931-39 and the man who derailed the revolutionary period of 1976-79. But one cannot help seeing the symbolic death of Carrillo at a time when the tide is just beginning to turn. Carrillo represented Stalinism in its most degenerate, reformist, social-democratic manifestation. It is no coincidence that his death was lamented by such outstanding representatives of the Spanish ruling class as the royal family. But his death comes at a time when Spain is faced, not just with huge unemployment and the deepest economic crisis for decades, but also with the prospect of a major upsurge in the class struggle.

In 2011 we had the impressive movement of the revolutionary youth with hundreds of thousands of indignados occupying the main squares of the cities in Spain. But in 2012 the movement has reached an even higher level. Throughout the spring we had protests against the severe austerity measures that the Rajoy government is trying to impose. A general strike in March had a huge impact, after which we saw the spectacular movement of the miners fighting against the cuts in state subsidies for the mining sector. The recent mass demonstration in Madrid of hundreds of thousands on September 15 shows that a new hot autumn is being prepared.

The death of Carrillo coincides with the death agonies of classic reformism. Nowadays the reformist leaders do not have the same unquestioning support in the Spanish working class that they had in 1976. The new layers that are beginning to struggle do not see class collaboration as a viable means of obtaining anything in the Spain of 2012. On the contrary, they are beginning to see that the present crisis is not something transient but is far deeper and more serious.

Amongst the new generation of activists there is a renewed interest in the “historical memory”, the struggle to recover the genuine traditions of the past generations. Many are questioning the very essence of the “transition to democracy,” the great betrayal in which Carrillo played a central role. Republican flags are seen again by many in the Communist movement and in United Left as a symbol of struggle against the rotten monarchy which was imposed by the Franco regime and which Carrillo helped give “democratic” credentials.

This is an organic crisis of Capitalism and it cannot be resolved by the panaceas of reformism. Already the most advanced elements of the workers and youth are beginning to draw revolutionary conclusions. The coming period will be one of sharp clashes between the classes everywhere, and Spain will not be the last to enter the road of revolution.

We are returning to the situation of the 1970s, but on a higher level. The new generation have turned their backs on reformism and Stalinism and are seeking the road to revolution. Most have never even heard of Santiago Carrillo. His ideas are dead and buried along with him. The road is open for a return to the genuine ideas of socialism: the ideas of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky, the only ideas that can guarantee the final victory of the working class.

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