“The Spanish Transition”: What really happened? A Marxist analysis - Part one

The acute crisis of the political regime that emerged in 1978 has focussed general attention once more on the so-called “Democratic Transition”, a process that spanned the period from the death of the dictator, Franco, in November 1975 through to the historic victory of PSOE (the Socialist Workers’ Party of Spain) in the elections of October 1982. The current regime, the monarchy and the ruling class, conscious of their crumbling prestige, are now attempting to regain their lost credibility and authority by means of the most scandalous historical distortion

Part two

asturian-building-workers-strike-1977In this text we have undertaken to give a Marxist analysis of those events in which we try to restore the true history as seen from the point of view of the its protagonists; those who made it possible to bring down the dictatorship and conquer the democratic freedoms that, at great pains, we continue to maintain today, namely: the working class and the labour movement; the community movement in the neighbourhoods and villages; and the youth and women workers.

Nearly forty years have passed since the beginning of the so-called "transition to democracy" in the Spanish State. "The Transition", as the period stretching from the death of the dictator Franco to the historic victory of PSOE in the elections of October 1982 has come to be known, has been a recurring theme for all kinds of celebrations, publications, and radio and television programmes.

After so many years providing a Marxist analysis of a historic process of such magnitude (that is to say an analysis from the point of view of the general interests of the working class) becomes an urgent necessity as an entirely new generation of millions of young people has today been incorporated into the active life of society without ever having had a direct experience of those events.

Lenin once wrote, in reference to Karl Marx, that it often happens throughout history that in the lifetimes of great revolutionaries their ideas are subject to persecution and the most furious and merciless attacks by the ruling class; but that, after their death, they are converted into mere harmless icons, sanitised and castrated of the revolutionary content of their ideas so as to fool and console the oppressed classes.

We could also say that the same fate is suffered by the great historical events carried out by the working class in its struggle against capitalist exploitation. This is particularly true of the "Spanish transition".

The official history of the Transition that we are offered is the version of official, bourgeois public opinion as recounted in books, at school and in the mainstream media; and that which, lamentably, the reformist leaders of the traditional organisations of the working class have given their approval to.

But this official version has as its only purpose to mask and hide the true feelings and authentic hopes and passions that are rooted in the consciousness of the millions of working class men and women, and other oppressed layers of society, who in those times fought the dictatorship and all attempts to artificially maintain it by Franco’s successors. This struggle opened a pre-revolutionary situation in the Spanish State, which threatened the very foundations of the capitalist system in Spain.

To analyse the entire period of the Transition and to extract the most important lessons from it, we must first understand the character of the Franco dictatorship and the historical and social forces that made its subsequent collapse possible.

The long night of the dictatorship

The Franco regime began its existence as a classic fascist state. The workers’ organisations were smashed and extremely hierarchical fascist organisations were created in their place. The repression which followed the Civil War rose to a fever pitch of cruelty, sadism and cowardice; with the number of those either shot or incarcerated running into the tens of thousands.

The flower of the working class, tens of thousands of men and women who constituted its most dynamic and bravest elements; the intelligentsia, the most prestigious scientists and the most loved artists who were cherished by the masses, either died fighting during the war, were killed in the subsequent repression or were forced to flee into exile. The Franco dictatorship, as with all epochs of black reaction, extirpated the most creative and advanced elements of society, and pushed back by decades all the social advances and cultural achievements that were jealously treasured until that point.

Although the Franco regime lacked such unanimous support among the mass of the petty bourgeoisie (the traditional base of fascism and reaction) as that enjoyed in their early years by Mussolini and Hitler, it was able to count on mass support among the middle peasants and numerous sectors of both the rural and urban petty bourgeoisie, as well as that of the capitalists and landlords. As has occurred with every regime of a fascist nature however, this certain level of support disappeared over the course of years as a results of the brutality of the Falangist bureaucracy and the ruling military caste; its failure to satisfy the numerous social needs of the population; and due to the changing social composition of Spanish society in subsequent years. We could say that by the late 1950s the Franco regime maintained its existence exclusively through fear and repression, by the routine and inertia of society, and on account of the painful and bloody defeat that the working class had suffered and the decades that were required for all its wounds to heal. As such the Franco regime evolved into a classic bourgeois, Bonapartist regime, a dictatorship sustained by pure repression that lacked any significant social support among the population; save, of course, for that of the Spanish bourgeoisie.

The huge boom in the development of the productive forces in the advanced capitalist countries that lasted almost three decades following the Second World War, along with the growth of the world market, were the key factors that pushed forward a major spurt of industrial development in the Spanish State and which allowed the weak Spanish bourgeoisie to temporarily prosper in the new situation.

Spain became a paradise for investors. Without workers’ organisations to hinder the exploitation of the working class and with a regime that brutally suppressed all forms of dissent, the profits of the capitalists rose to unheard of levels.

The situation on the land, despite the fact that tens of thousands of agricultural labourers continued to live in distress, had temporarily been ameliorated by mass migration to the cities and abroad. In Andalusia alone it is estimated that by the 1970s two million people had emigrated.

Wages were fixed from above by employers and officials of the fascist union (the CNS, or the “Vertical Union” as it was referred to by the workers). All workers were compelled to affiliate to these unions, which were organisations that brought together both workers and bosses. The "workers' representatives" in the companies were referred to as "liaisons and juries" and were handpicked by the bureaucrats of the vertical union, in connivance with the bosses, who would usually put forward informers and the most reactionary and politically backward elements among the workers.

For its part, the Spanish bourgeoisie continually demonstrated the weak, parasitic and rapacious nature that has always characterised it by its constant demands for financial assistance from the state, which was always willing to take charge of any loss-making businesses. The protection of the internal market, an indispensible lever for a less advanced economy when facing foreign competition, undoubtedly played a positive role in the development of Spanish capitalism. However the Spanish bourgeoisie, rather than invest its fabulous profits in improving productivity to achieve an average European standard, instead dedicated a significant part of its profits in speculation, the purchase of latifundia and the accumulation of vast hoards in banks from which they accrued tremendous sums of interest.

The most significant aspect of this major development of the productive forces were the qualitative changes that resulted in the composition of society, bringing with it an impressive strengthening of the numerical and social weight of the working class, with an offsetting and weakening within the middle classes. In 1975, out of a total active workforce of 13.4 million people, the number of salaried workers had increased to over 9.5 million (70% of the workforce), of which 3.6 million were industrial workers. It must be borne in mind that at the end of the Civil War, the peasantry represented 63% of the active workforce. In this way the social basis of the Franco regime had been definitively undermined.

So it was that a completely rejuvenated working class, once it had fully recovered from the injuries of the past, was preparing once more to be heard and to reclaim the revolutionary traditions of their parents and grandparents, with the mission of once again retying the thread of history that the bloody axe of fascism had thought to have severed forever.

The awakening of the workers’ movement

After the dismantling of the workers' organisations, the ebb and paralysis that took root within the labour movement was absolute. It wasn’t until the end of the '40s that the first strikes began to take place. Outstanding among those early strikes were those in the mines of Asturias and the strike in Vizcaya in 1947. In 1951 a general strike was declared in Barcelona and in the mid-1950s a whole number of strikes in the Asturian mining region gave birth to the first Workers' Commissions. This type of organisation developed, in the beginning, as a movement that brought workers together on a class basis principally around the struggle for economic demands. It was only at the beginning of the 1960s that the Communist Party (PCE) began to penetrate these organisations and the strikes extended across the entire country, bringing with it a new approach.

From the beginning of the 1960s, the struggle of the Spanish workers took a qualitative leap, beginning a strike movement that was without precedent in history under conditions of a dictatorial regime. Neither in Germany under Hitler, nor in Italy under Mussolini nor even in Russia before the Revolution (during which time there were indeed significant strikes) have we seen a phenomenon of such dimensions. In the ascendant curve of the strike movement we can trace the process of awakening consciousness among the working class: in the three years from 1964 to 1966 a total of 171,000 working days were lost in industrial disputes; in 1967 to 1969: 345,000; in 1970 to 1972: 846,000 and in 1973 to 1975: 1,548,000. Later following the death of Franco, the strike movement acquired extraordinary dimensions: from 1976 to mid-1978 no less than 13,240,000 working days were lost in strike action.

The organisations which played the role of the main driving force behind these actions were the “Workers Commissions” (CCOO by its Spanish acronym), which were forced underground where they were subject to harsh persecution and came to be regarded as the biggest threat to the regime during the 1960s. The tactic of the CCOO, under the initiative of the PCE, was to use the structures of the CNS to gain a wider echo in the labour movement, and thus to increase its points of support in the factories. In the union elections of 1975 the CCOO achieved a majority of workers’ representatives within the Vertical Union in the major enterprises. This entrism in the CNS enabled the CCOO to sustain significant growth, converting it into the most important trade union organisation after the death of the dictator, counting 200,000 militants by the end of 1976.

The UGT by contrast played a very limited role until the early '70s. However, the burning hatred among broad layers of workers towards the Vertical Union and its overt participation in a whole series of struggles during those years, together with the enormous historical tradition that the socialist organisations had among the Spanish proletariat, allowed its prestige to develop among the working class, surpassing 150,000 militants by early 1977 shortly after emerging from illegality.

However it should be noted that the total number of workers affiliated to the unions barely reached 5% of all wage workers by the end of 1976, a situation that abruptly changed upon their legalisation during the period in which the pressure of the working class peaked in 1977 and early 1978.

At the start of the 1970s a series of workers’ mobilisations took place that revealed the high level of regroupment. In 1971, the CCOO managed to capture a very significant segment of the "liaison" and "jury" positions up for election in the union that year. In 1973 a general strike was declared in Pamplona, which elected a strike committee consisting of representatives of all the most important enterprises.

The workers’ movement could not be tamed by means of repression. Nevertheless many workers fell under the bullets of the police in those days, and hundreds more were detained or fired from their jobs for participating in demonstrations, strikes or illegal meetings.

In 1972 the entire of the national leadership of the CCOO, with Marcelino Camacho at their head, were arrested. The proceedings against them have gone down in history as "the 1,001 Court Process", after the number of their legal case. During the weeks prior to the trial, which was expected to start on the 20th December 1973 (the day that ETA killed the sitting president of the Franco government, Carrero Blanco), an major international mobilisation was held across a whole number of countries demanding their release and an end to the dictatorship.

However, it was the movement of the working class that proved to be the completely unstoppable force which constituted the backbone of the opposition to the dictatorship, and around which other oppressed layers of society gathered: amongst them students and intellectuals, the oppressed nationalities, the middle layers of both city and countryside, women and the youth.

The army and the church

The army and the church represented the spinal column on which the entire social superstructure of the dictatorship rested.

The officer caste of the army constituted the most irreconcilable nucleus against any attempt to relax repression. The Catholic Church, which christened the fascist uprising of Franco "the Holy, National Crusade", for its part acted as the spiritual crutch of the dictatorship over the course of decades.

However, both elements, like all social superstructures in a society divided into classes, could not remain immune to what was happening in the country at large, exposed as they were to the pressures of the different classes in struggle. Sooner or later, the contradictions that were shaking the foundations of society had to express themselves at the heart of these organisations as well.

One of the events that best revealed this situation was the clandestine formation of the UMD (Democratic Military Union) in the army in August 1974 by a group of young officers and NCOs opposed to the Franco dictatorship and influenced by the Portuguese Revolution of April 1974 (which was led by left-wing officers in the Portuguese army). At the time it was disbanded in July 1975 it counted on the support of some 200 army officers and NCOs, even having branches in the Guardia Civil. The leaders of the UMD were expelled from the army and thrown in prison.

We can well imagine the mood that existed within the lower ranks of the troops if this was the situation which existed among layers of the officer corp. The most astute sections of the bourgeoisie realised that they could not use the army against the people without provoking a split in the army itself. The same crisis made itself felt in October 1975 when Morocco invaded the then Spanish Sahara and the Spanish bourgeoisie found itself completely powerless to use the army against Hassan II.

Members of the other armed, repressive bodies, such as the police and the Guardia Civil, were also in the process of organising the embryos of what would become the SUP and the SUGC (the police and civil guard unions).

Thus, the hackneyed argument employed by the Social Democrats of the time that an openly revolutionary movement in Spain would have been bloodily suppressed by the army and the FOP (Forces of Public Order; i.e. the police and the Guardia Civil) simply did not hold water.

In working class communities on the other hand many priests, who were deeply moved by social questions and the demands of the workers, allowed their churches and parishes to be used for the purposes of meetings held by workers and left wing parties.

Organisations such as the HOAC (Catholic Action Workers’ Brotherhood) and the JOC (Catholic Workers Youth), which were formed by the Church in the 1950s to assist the penetration of religious ideas among workers and youth, shifted to the left, and adopted the idea that ​​socialism represented the true Christian ideal. By this route many brave fighters of the working class emerged from the JOC and HOAC during the 1970s.

The Church hierarchy for its part began to distance itself from the regime in the early 1970s. Sensing that a change of political regime was inevitable and, sensing the hatred which was directed towards itself, the Spanish Church rapidly prepared to give itself a makeover.

One of the clearest examples of this rupture was demonstrated by the “Añoveros case”.

Antonio Añoveros was the bishop of Bilbao in 1974, when he published a homily demanding the recognition of the national identity of the Basque people. The government reacted with fury and tried to expel Añoveros from the country following house arrest. The church hierarchy in Spain and the Vatican responded by threats to excommunicate the government if it went ahead with the expulsion. In the end the government was forced to back down.

One of the key individuals that lead this rupture was cardinal Enrique Tarancón, whose every action demonstrated the clear perfidy and hypocrisy that so well characterises the Church. As noted by the priest Francisco García Salve, an outstanding working class fighter and militant of the PCE: "I visited cardinal Tarancón in his palace to ask him two specific things: to allow us to use the churches and parish halls for workers’ meetings and to ask him for money to help the families of those imprisoned in the construction of Madrid. We left the meeting terrified that such an intelligent man, a cardinal of the Church, was capable of such cynicism. He more or less denied that the dictatorship would prevent the universal right of assembly and even doubted that they would imprison anyone for exercising their right to strike. He had just married a granddaughter of the dictator. I left that palace terrified" (History of the Transition, Vol 16, p 43). Nevertheless, Tarancón has been proclaimed by the “official” history as being one of the apostles of the Transition, alongside the king, Suárez and Carrillo.

The question of the historical nationalities: The emergence of ETA

Franco completely crushed the national aspirations of the Catalan, Galician and Basque peoples. The national culture of these peoples was completely suppressed. The people were forbidden from using their mother tongue and its teaching in school was outlawed. Even the Basque inscriptions on tombstones were chiselled away in the graveyards of the Basque Country. In this manner political and social oppression were compounded by national oppression in these regions.

As is always the case in a truly profound social movement, the struggle of the working class which reached its highest level in the most highly industrialised regions of the State such as the Basque Country and Catalonia, awakened all the other oppressed layers of society to conscious life, and these layers launched themselves against all forms of oppression. This manifested itself particularly in a national awakening in these regions of the Spanish State.  The struggle for the democratic rights of the historic nationalities therefore played an important role in the fight against the dictatorship. As a matter of fact, both the PCE and PSOE inscribed the right of self -determination for the Basque Country, Catalonia and Galicia on their programmes.

It was in this context of the struggle against Franco that ETA was born. Like all movements of this nature, the first militants of ETA were drawn from petty bourgeois elements, principally university students. Over the course of the years immediately prior to the fall of the dictator the organisation suffered a number of splits of a Marxist character, which questioned individual terrorism, reflecting the influence of the struggle of the Basque workers. This was also reflected in the fact that ETA itself set its goals as an independent and "socialist" Euskadi.

Unfortunately, the abandonment of a Marxist position on the national question on the part of PSOE and PCE – and their abandonment a of revolutionary socialist programme in general –alongside the fierce repression that the Franco regime subjected the entire Basque people to, due to the radical and combative character of the struggle in this region, created fertile terrain for ETA activists who succeeded in creating social and political room for themselves. Furthermore, the death and torture of many of its activists by the repressive forces of the regime gave it the aura of martyrdom that served to increase its social support.

Thus, during the famous Burgos trial against various ETA activists in 1970, the response of the Basque labour movement was unanimous, and a general strike convoked in the Basque Country alongside the international outcry forced the death sentence to be commuted. When two members of ETA and three members of the armed organisation FRAP were executed by Franco’s judiciary in September 1975, the already bitter hatred that working class activists felt towards the Franco regime intensified even further, generating a wave of revulsion on an international level that left the regime diplomatically isolated.

For many working class activists, and especially youth, the militants of ETA at that time appeared to be staunch anti-Franco fighters. The repression, torture, systematic elimination of dissent, and the suffocating atmosphere that stifled society, were hated by thousands of young people in the Basque Country. This state of affairs was further aggravated by with the contempt with which Basque culture and the national democratic rights of the Basque people were held in by the regime. Many young people took the path of individual terror believing that this was the most effective way to fight the dictator.

For Marxists however, individual terrorism is a method which is alien to the working class. Capitalism as a social system does not base itself on individuals, but on the domination of the bourgeoisie over the rest of society. The ruling class use the state apparatus (the army, police, judges, and laws etc.) to secure their power and to channel the resistance of the working class within the existing order.

The terrorist method of eliminating individuals, however much they are identified with this repressive order, does not serve to end the domination of the capitalists nor national oppression. Individuals can be easily replaced. Concretely, the assassination of Franco’s Prime Minister, Carrero Blanco, for instance, on the 20th December 1973 – despite its spectacular nature – added nothing to the struggle against Franco. On the contrary, it forced the calling off of the popular mobilisations that were being prepared against the so-called “1,001 Court Process”, in which the leadership of the CCOO were to be tried, and numerous activists were forced to go underground. Terrorist actions in actual fact only serve to give a pretext for the state to augment its repressive capacity by justifying its actions before the rest of the population. Furthermore, the methods of terrorism attempt to substitute the revolutionary methods of the working class – namely; mass struggle, the strike and the insurrection – with the pistol and machine gun. Such methods downplay the importance of the organisations of the working class and actually act as an obstacle in the development of class consciousness. If we can end oppression through force of arms alone, then why do we need political parties? Why do we need trade unions? For that matter, why do we even need a socialist revolution?

The workers' parties

The Communist Party (PCE) emerged from the period of the dictatorship as the strongest and most influential party within the labour movement, organising within its ranks the most fighting and militant elements of the working class.

The PCE’s leading role in the CCOO union, as well as ensuring its control of the heavy battalions of the working class organised in the largest and most important factories, also enabled it to win over an increasing number of militants and to develop its influence. In addition, the outstanding role that it played in the struggles to improve conditions in working class neighbourhoods, through the creation of Neighbourhood Associations, also endowed the organisation with tremendous authority.

Through the efforts of its courageous and seasoned cadres, the PCE carried out systematic clandestine work during the dictatorship years. Many of its cadres had years of experience in the Civil War, imprisonment and torture behind them. These were completely self-sacrificing militants for whom "the Party" represented their very raison d’être. Through its struggle, the PCE contributed numerous martyrs to the cause of struggle against the dictatorship and, justifiably, its elimination became an obsession for the Franco regime.

Politically, the leaders of the PCE had for decades been under the influence of Stalinism, having abandoned the programme of Marxism in practice. The positions that they adopted were openly reformist, although this was by no means self-evident to the majority of its activists, over whom the party leadership exercised tremendous authority.

The Socialist Party (PSOE), by contrast, was a far smaller party with just 10,000 militants at the time of the death of the dictator. Despite this, it remained an important traditional organisation of the class in the minds of millions of workers, and this fact would make itself felt a few years later. Moreover, it became a pole of attraction for thousands of sincerely revolutionary workers and youth who were repelled by the bureaucratic centralism of the PCE.

In 1972 a split took place amongst the socialists in exile (the so-called “historical” socialists), which caused the party to shift to the left. At the Suresnes Congress in France in 1974, the new PSOE received the formal support of the Socialist International. This organisation, which was controlled by the German Social Democracy, realised the major authority that PSOE had within Spain and sought to directly influence the leadership of the party, diverting it from the "revolutionary road".

The Young Socialists, for their part meanwhile, had adopted a genuinely revolutionary, Marxist programme at their congress held in Lisbon in 1974, at which they declared themselves in favour of class independence and of a revolutionary road to the seizure of power.

Paradoxically, the PSOE was to the left of the PCE in this period. Its political programme could be described as centrist, that is to say that they oscillated between Marxism and reformism; which in the last analysis reflected the convulsion taking place within the mass of the working class.

The political resolution adopted at the 27th Congress of the PSOE in December 1976 includes, among other things, "the supplanting of the capitalist mode of production by means of the seizure of political and economic power and the socialisation of the means of production, distribution and exchange by the working class". It also recognised the right of self-determination for the historical nationalities within its programme as well as a number of other measures of a Marxist character.

On the margins of these mass parties, the pre-revolutionary atmosphere that reigned in society created the conditions for many small ultra-left groups, without any tradition, to experience an astonishing growth of support among many workers and youth seeking revolutionary ideas. Parties such as the PTE, the ORT, the MC or the LCR grew to the size of several thousand strong each, and succeeded in conquering several important trade union positions, particularly in the CCOO. However, such groupings never achieved a prominent role during the Transition. Their ultra-sectarian policies towards the traditional organisations only succeeded in isolating these parties from the rest of the working class, with their members finishing up frustrated and burnt out. The leadership of these organisations never understood that the process of awakening within the working class necessarily passes through the traditional organisations (in this case the PSOE and PCE); and instead of orienting their forces towards the ranks of these organisations to assist the tens of thousands of workers and youth in drawing the necessary revolutionary conclusions, they separated themselves from the broad working masses that formed the basis of the PSOE and the PCE.

The economic crisis

A long period of economic boom, which began in the developed capitalist countries in 1948, ended in 1973-74 with the deepest recession since the end of World War II. The recession plunged the world into a prolonged period of organic crisis of the capitalist system that has continued to deepen down to the present day.

Mass unemployment, inflation and economic stagnation made their first appearance since the 1930s. These events left their imprint on the consciousness of millions of European workers as the political pendulum in society began to swing sharply to the left. The period of the 1970s witnessed enormous, convulsive movements of the working class, capable of shaking the very foundations of capitalism itself in France, Italy, Greece and Portugal. There is no doubt that in Spain the economic downturn helped to greatly accelerate the collapse of the Franco dictatorship.

The recession reached the Spanish State somewhat later than the rest of Europe, beginning in late 1974 and deepening into 1975. The traditional weakness of Spanish capitalism became ever more evident as the recession set in. Between 1973 and 1974 Spain’s trade deficit doubled, reaching 340 billion pesetas in 1976 (the biggest trade deficit in the world at that time). In February 1976 the government devalued the peseta by 10% against the dollar in an effort to cheapen Spanish exports. This measure proved wholly insufficient however. Spain was only able to export commodities worth 45% of the value of the commodities imported in this period. The lower competitiveness of the Spanish economy, which was reflected in the tremendous growth of the trade deficit, was the result of the parasitism of the capitalist class who, during the good times, would rather put their hand to speculation than to investing in improving the productivity of their factories. In the time of crisis opening up before them they began a strike of investment and a flight of capital to their Swiss accounts, which further served to deepen the collapse of the productive forces. While in 1973 new capital invested increased at a rate of 12.5%, it subsequently collapsed, contracting by -4% in 1975. The absolute decline in investment was reflected in the fact that in 1976 the state itself, through the INI, represented no less than a third of the gross investment nationally (115 billion pesetas).

Capital flight continued unabated as the government stood idly by. Between January and May 1976 alone, no less than 76.6 billion pesetas left the country. Even as late as July 1977, after the first general election in more than 40 years, capital flight stood at a level of 8 billion pesetas a day! It was the capitalist class, and they alone, who were responsible for the collapse of the economy. These figures demonstrate exactly how little confidence the capitalist class had in the survival of their system when faced with the might of the working class!

Inflation, which was already at 12% in 1973, continued to gather pace and stood at 14.2% in 1974 and 17% by 1975. In 1976 inflation reached a peak of 20%, with the price of bread alone having risen 35-40% in the first quarter of the year. This acted to spur on the working class to struggle for wage increases that kept step with inflation to prevent any loss of purchasing power. Only 2.5% of the population were unemployed in 1974 (standing at barely 300,000) yet this more than double to 5.4% of the economically active population by the end of 1975 (representing roughly 724,000). By the end of 1976 the unemployment figure exceeded one million.

Nevertheless, the full significance of the situation that was developing in Spain is revealed by the fact that while workers in the rest of Europe during the years from 1974 to 1976 experienced wage freezes and harsh policies of austerity, the wages of Spanish workers were actually increasing. Such concessions were wrought in the face of mortal panic on the part of the Spanish bourgeoisie when faced with the prospect of an open confrontation with the labour movement.

Although the main demands of the workers in this period were essentially economic in nature (such as a sliding scale of wages to counter inflation, the lowering of the retirement age, the shortening of the working day and improved health and safety at work etc.) others demands began appearing that went far beyond day to day, bread and butter issues. Common demands included:

·         the resignation of the “liaisons” and “juries”;

·         the dissolution of the fascist Vertical Union;

·         that the bosses recognise and only negotiate with the workers’ assemblies and the Representative Commissions that these assemblies elect;

·         the right to strike;

·         the reinstatement of all workers fired and full liberty for all workers imprisoned for participating in labour disputes.

Finally, many other demands of a sharply political nature began to gain an echo such as for amnesty for political prisoners, an end to the dictatorship, the dissolution of the FOP (Forces of Public Order), full democratic rights, etc. It would frequently be the case that the greatest radicalisation of the movement would occur and the struggle would reach its peak in the face of police repression. At these moments it was not uncommon to hear openly revolutionary and socialist political slogans coming to the fore: down with capitalism, for a Revolutionary Constituent Assembly, down the fascist monarchy, workers' control, etc.

The struggles at factory or sector level almost always broke through the “agreements” that had been imposed from above by the bosses and the Vertical Union. This led to the practical recognition of the representative nature of the workers assemblies and the Representative Commissions on the part of the bosses, although this by no means had official legal status. The more honest "liaisons and juries" of the Vertical Union would inevitably resign their positions at the request of their colleagues; with those who refused being treated as little more than informers and scabs.

The problem for the Spanish bourgeoisie was that repression in a period of upturn in the class struggle tended to have the opposite effect to that which was intended. Repression would push the workers forward in their struggles, with the majority passing from economic to political demands overnight; learning not from the pages of some Marxist “manual” but from the book of life and the living example of the class struggle.

The other difficulty in containing the burgeoning labour movement was that the workers’ organisations had not yet experienced the complete crystallisation of a consolidated bureaucracy at the leadership level. In other countries the bourgeoisie were able to rest on this layer as it rose above the rest of the working class and began to play the role of paralysing and safely channelling the workers’ struggles.

The death of the dictator. Democracy or socialism?

franco ha muerto2The death of the hated dictator came on the 20th November 1975. In 1969 Franco had named his successor as Juan Carlos, the Prince of Spain. The direct line of descent from the fascist uprising to the monarchy can clearly be traced. Before Franco’s death Juan Carlos had already taken on his role in government on a whole number of occasions whilst Franco was too ill to play the part; such as at the 1973 commemoration of the National Uprising of 18th July 1936; and again for a few weeks in 1974; and finally over the course of the dictator’s final illness. Up to that point one would seek in vain for a single criticism or muted protest by the king against the lack of democratic freedom in Spain.

On the 22nd November Juan Carlos was proclaimed King by swearing an oath before Franco’s Cortes (the “parliament” of the dictatorship, which was handpicked by Franco himself) that he would follow the Principles of the National Movement; i.e. the fascist declaration of principles on which the uprising of 18th July 1936 was based.

Nowadays the official history attempts to pass the king off, as with so many others, as a lifelong democrat who, even during the Franco era, was pulling strings behind the scenes to bring democracy to the country.

The reality was very different. The bourgeoisie were divided and confused regarding which path to follow and what lay in the future. Prior to the death of Franco, and to an even greater degree immediately following his death, a major section of the bourgeoisie drew the conclusion that maintaining the dictatorship much longer (as the most cowardly, ham-fisted and stupid sections of the ruling class and fascist state bureaucracy insisted) could lead to a genuine revolutionary explosion of the masses, which would threaten the very existence of the capitalist system itself (as had happened in Portugal a year and a half earlier). This group attempted to offer a series of reforms from above in order to prevent revolution from below, with the aim of ​​deceiving the masses and obscuring the organic link that existed between the Franco dictatorship, as a particular form of capitalist domination, and the bourgeois system itself.

The difficulty of this task lay in the fact that the bourgeoisie faced a growing mobilisation of the masses that threatened to precipitate a revolutionary crisis in society. If these democratic reforms went too far in their reach, or were conducted too rapidly, this could be seen as a sign of the utter weakness on the part of the representatives of the regime, and a recognition of the strength of the workers’ movement, which would give impetus to the masses to escalate their action to a higher level.

83rey-juan-carlos-franco v660Franco and his heir, Juan CarlosThe only hope of success for this operation lay down one of two routes. The first of these involved extending the process of transition for as long as possible, combining repression with limited democratic reforms, through the action of the monarchy of Juan Carlos. For this to occur the monarchy would have to appear to be renovated before the eyes of the masses such that it would be seen to be above class interests and disposed to “unite the whole nation,” leaving behind the “old animosities”.

The second method involved controlling the masses themselves, who were the decisive factor in the situation, which required the participation and cooperation of the authoritative leaders of the workers’ organisations; in the first instance the leaders of the PCE and to a lesser degree, on account of their lesser influence in those days, the leaders of the PSOE.

Unfortunately it soon became clear that neither the leaders of the PCE or PSOE were working towards the socialist transformation of society. They instead favoured the consolidation of a bourgeois democratic regime, in which the workers would have formal democratic freedom without touching the exploitative base of the capitalist system: private property in the means of production. Socialism would be confined to a hazy and distant future, with coexistence between the working class and the bosses being achieved by gradual reforms that favour the working class, rendering a revolution completely unnecessary.

To this end these leaders proposed establishing alliances with the progressive sections of the bourgeoisie, with the aim of “uniting all democratic forces to put an end to the dictatorship.”

In 1974, continuing with this anti-Marxist policy of class collaboration, the PCE joined hands with the monarchist Calvo Serer, García Trevijano and others to form the “Democratic Junta” and proposed D. Juan, the father of Juan Carlos, as its president! Carrillo, the leader of the PCE, rejected such a proposal with disgust. Such groups as Tierno Galvá’s Popular Socialist Party (PSP) and Maoist groups such as the PTE (the Workers’ Party of Spain) rallied around this “pact for freedom”. The PSOE, meanwhile, organised its own “Platform for Democratic Convergence” in 1975, which also included reinvented Francoists such as Ruiz-Giménez, Dionisio Ridruejo and others.

This policy was shown to be false from beginning to end. In reality the only force able to conquer democratic freedoms was the working class which, by its heroism and the continuous blows it dealt to the regime, was reducing the entire structure of the dictatorship to rubble. The so-called “progressive bourgeois” (such as Calvo Serer, Gil Robles, Ruiz-Giménez, Garrigues Walker, Fernández Ordóñez, etc.) had without exception occupied senior positions in the darkest periods of reaction under the dictator. In that period it was impossible to find a single section of the bourgeoisie in the whole of Spain that was willing to back democratic liberties. If these elements now favoured democracy and were prepared to denounce the regime in words, it was because they clearly saw that the continuation of the dictatorship could only provoke a revolutionary explosion that would threaten the entire bourgeois order. For this reason a coalition with the PCE and the PSOE was useful to these gentlemen as it garnered them a certain amount of respectability and prestige before the masses and, above all, because it forced the workers’ leaders to keep a lid on the struggle of the workers to prevent them going further than limits that could be tolerably maintained under the capitalist system. The labour movement was thus tied hand and foot to the interests of this sector of the bourgeoisie.

In the end, in March 1976, the “Democratic Junta” and the “Platform” came together and formed what came to be known as the “Platajunta”, and were joined by the CCOO and the UGT trade union confederations.

Juan Carlos played a key role in this process as a willing tool of the bourgeoisie in its efforts to avoid being completely overcome by the revolutionary wave, whilst at the same as defending his own subjective, dynastic privileges (which materially were extremely substantial).

To elevate before the thousands of anonymous workers and students who had had played such a heroic role in the dictatorship era – who had faced years of clandestine activity, prison, torture and exile – such a venal simpleton as Juan Carlos – who hadn’t given a single encouraging word nor a single act of defiance or courage in the face of the Franco regime, and who furthermore supported and assumed full responsibility for the crimes and oppression of the dictatorship in its final years – as a “figurehead” in the struggle for “democracy”, was an absolute outrage.

It was precisely these question of how the revolutionary tasks that faced the movement following the dictator's death should be carried out and the path that lay ahead, which aroused the most intense debates among the activists of the workers’ movement.

The leadership of the Young Socialists (JJSS) were forced to resign in late 1975 after the youth section found itself in a minority at the part congress in December of that year, at which they defended their opposition document, “From the Franco Dictatorship to the Socialist Revolution” (published in January 1976) that set forth the key issues outlined above. Unlike the leaders of the parent party, the youth leaders maintained a Marxist position regarding the tasks of the Spanish revolution, having won broad support for these positions among the base of the youth organisation.

The leaders of the JJSS then began the task of grouping together the best activists to win the ranks of the party to the ideas of Marxism. For years they published the workers' paper, Nuevo Claridad, as the voice of the Marxist left within the JJSS, PSOE and the UGT. When the social democratic leadership proceeded to systematically expel the Marxists of the Young Socialists from PSOE and the UGT, which in practice amounted to its dissolution, the Marxist tendency continued its task of regrouping socialist and communist militants in defence of a revolutionary programme. The followers of Nuevo Claridad aligned themselves internationally with the leadership of the Young Socialists of the British Labour Party, at that time linked to the Marxist tendency,  Militant, which was in the process of organising an international tendency, the predecessor of today’s International Marxist Tendency, of which our own organisation in the Spanish State, Lucha de Clases, continues to form a part.

In early December the king decreed an extremely limited amnesty. Barely one hundred political prisoners were liberated, the leaders of the CCOO imprisoned during the “1,001 Court Process” among them, whilst over 2,000 political prisoners continued to languish in the regime’s prisons. Throughout the month of December a wave of mobilisations broke out demanding full amnesty for those incarcerated by “los grises” (literally “the greys”, the name given to the police on account of the colour of their uniform).

The first monarchist government was headed by the very same man who had headed the last Franco government, Arias Navarro, nick-named “the Little Butcher of Málaga” on account of the role he played in the wave of repression in Málaga following the Civil War. In this government were to be found, along with Suárez, a host of personalities who had been completely loyal to the dictatorship and who nowadays are key figures in the PP: Fraga, MartínVilla, Calvo-Sotelo, etc. Both wings of the regime represented in the government, referred to as the “hards” and the “softs”, were constantly divided and arguing among themselves over the content and method of carrying out reform, which gave a faithful reflection of the atmosphere which prevailed among the ruling class. Between them they developed various projects for political reform, each more reactionary than the last, which fundamentally safeguarded the essence of the old regime.

A pre-revolutionary situation opens up

asturian-building-workers-strike-1977Asturian building workers strike 1977In the first months of 1976, with the dictator recently deceased, the struggles of the workers took on an irresistible momentum. Madrid took the lead in the workers’ mobilisations throughout the month of January, with the rest of the country quickly following suit, and with the struggle reaching a climax across the Basque Country during the month of March.

By the beginning of December 1975, 25,000 metal workers had already declared a strike in Madrid and the mines of Asturias were at a standstill. In early January the Madrid Metro workers went on strike. They were followed by strikes of workers in the Postal and Telecommunications sectors. Strikes then spread to the rail network (Renfe), taxi drivers and hundreds of other companies in Madrid’s industrial belt, forcing the government to call in the military to keep the metro and postal services running. In the month of January along, 21 million working hours were lost in strike action.

Some of the most important companies in the country, such as Ensidesa, Hunosa, Standard Eléctrica and Motor Ibérica among others, were on strike for months.

The struggle reached its high point in Vitoria at the beginning of the month of March. Given the tremendous importance that this heroic struggle acquired across the entire country, having an impact in the very heart of the government itself, it is worth making a brief detour to trace those events.

The strike began in early January in several factories. A list of demands had already been approved by the workers’ assemblies. The main thrust of these demands were: a linear wage increase of 5,000 pesetas to break the salary cap imposed by the government; a 40 hour working week and retirement at the age of 60 with a pension of 100% of final salary. Representative Committees were then elected in each factory, composed of the most militant workers, to coordinate the struggles and to negotiate with the bosses. These Representative Committees were at all times responsible to and revocable by the assemblies themselves, delegates being recallable at any moment.

The strike spread across the major factories of Vitoria until the stoppage was absolute. Daily assemblies were held in every factory to evaluate the progress of the struggle. A Central Strike Committee was formed covering the whole of Vitoria, which was composed of workers’ representatives from every factory engaged in the struggle. The strike committee issued a daily newsletter with which to update the entire working class and the population at large as to the progress of the struggle. Resistance Funds were established to cover the expenses of the mobilisation as well as to assist comrades in economic difficulty.

To avoid the struggles becoming isolated from the rest of the population, further assemblies were organised in the workers’ neighbourhoods and in the educational institutions, and committees of solidarity with the struggle were set up, which were also integrated into the Central Strike Committee of Vitoria. On the 3rd of March, following 54 days of uninterrupted strike action, a call went out for a general strike across the whole of Vitoria. The strike was observed by the entirety of the working class, with more than 5,000 people attending the general assembly convoked at the Church of St Francis. The police attacked the crowd in attendance, firing live rounds upon the strikers. Three workers were killed, more than a hundred fell injured and two workers died later in hospital. When word of the killings spread a wave of fury was unleashed by the workers, who threw up barricades and rioted well into the night. The atmosphere was such that the soldiers sent by the government to strangle the movement, as well as even many police officers, refused to even take down the barricades that they encountered. On 5th of March, the day of the funerals, 100,000 workers and their families accompanied the bodies of those killed in the streets of Vitoria. The executioners of these workers have names, which are to this day etched into the minds of thousands Vitoria’s workers, namely: Manuel Fraga, Minister of the Interior, and Adolfo Suárez, his stand-in when out of the country. The strike ended on the 16th, when the employers accepts almost every demand raised by the workers. The workers had scored an obvious victory, but such a victory left a bitter taste in the mouth.

The events in Vitoria had an electrifying effect on the consciousness of hundreds of thousands of workers across the entire Spanish State. Strikes and spontaneous demonstrations broke out in various parts of the country. On the 5th a worker of the Duro Felguera plant in Tarragona was killed by the police. Another worker was killed in Elda, Alicante. Everywhere the expectation existed that a general strike would be called. However, the leaders of CCOO instead called for calm and remained in a state of passivity. Only in the Basque Country was a general strike convoked, on 8th of March, to which working class respond as one man, when 500,000 strikers responded to the called for solidarity with the workers of Vitoria. In Basauri (Vizcaya), a young worker of 18 years of age died of a gunshot wound to the head at the hands of the police.

The time had come to intensify the struggle. A clear pre-revolutionary situation had opened up in Spain. All of the classical objective conditions for socialist revolution were present. The heroism displayed by the workers in every strike and every demonstration indicated that they were willing to fight to the end. The petty bourgeoisie, small peasants, small businesspeople, university students, contractors etc. were looking daily with greater sympathy towards the struggles of the working class and, in many cases, actively joined them in struggle. The bourgeoisie was in a state of utter panic, was demoralised and divided, and was completely isolated from the majority in society.

The workers knew very well what they were against: the repression, lack of democratic freedoms, the abuses of the bosses, impoverishment etc. On the other hand they aspired to live a dignified life in a free and equal society based on solidarity. The vast majority however lacked a programme and a clearly defined vision of how to achieve these goals and construct such a society. For such a task the existence of a party with a revolutionary leadership able to orient the working class as a whole was necessary, what Marxists refer to as the "subjective factor". Such a leadership was needed to lead the struggle and link the most urgent and immediate demands of a democratic character, or emerging from labour disputes, with the necessity to fight for socialism through the expropriation of the bankers, landlords and giant monopolies; and to create organisations of workers’ power parallel to the official power of the state.

It is a complete fallacy to imagine that every single worker can, independently and simultaneously, achieve a sufficient level of political maturity as to arrive at perfectly defined and polished revolutionary conclusions; or that it would be possible for them to spontaneously improvise the necessary slogans, tactics and concrete programme to begin the transition from capitalism to socialism; and furthermore, that this would could occur in each and every area of the country, and in each section of the working class. Such a point of view completely lacks even the simplest awareness of how workers’ class consciousness develops.  As Trotsky said a thousand times, there is not, nor can there ever exist, such a degree of maturity of the working class under capitalism. It is precisely this fact that necessitates the existence of the revolutionary party. The task of the revolutionary party is to help the majority of workers to draw the necessary conclusions from their revolutionary experiences; offering a programme, a strategy and the correct tactics, which the whole working class are able to adopt and understand. It is precisely for this reason that the PSOE and the PCE were created in the Spanish State. An unequivocally revolutionary situation is differentiated from a pre-revolutionary situation when workers take the next step in the struggle and begin to organise their own organs of workers’ power, opposed to the power of the bourgeoisie. Soviets or Workers' Councils, although they start out as organs for the coordination and leadership of the workers’ struggles, invariably end up taking on tasks which bring in to question the very essence of the bourgeoisie’s power: workers’ control in the factories, maintenance of public order, the distribution of food, transport etc.; and via this route the workers begin to draw the conclusion that it is necessary to substitute the nominal power of the bourgeoisie with the growing power of the workers until the former is eliminated entirely, so as to finally expropriate the capitalist class.

The slogan of the Revolutionary Constituent Assembly

When faced with the proposal of the bourgeoisie for a Constituent Cortes, which would give the old regime a “democratic” facelift, the workers’ parties should have opposed it with their own call for a Revolutionary Constituent Assembly aimed at bringing down the former. How else could full democratic rights for the population and the right of self-determination for the historical nationalities, the proclamation of the Republic, the dissolution of the putrefied state apparatus of Franco, and the prosecution of those responsible for the crimes of the dictatorship be achieved? The establishment of an authentically democratic regime implies the expropriation of the economic oligarchy of 200 families who represent the real power behind the Franco regime and who controlled the key levers of the economy within society.

But such a Constituent Assembly could only be called by a power which represents the interests of the majority in society. The elements of this new power capable of organising the people for such an aim were already present: the Representative Commissions within the factories and Neighbourhood Associations in the communities, which grouped together tens of thousands of people across the whole country in genuine embryonic organs of power in working class neighbourhoods and towns.

What was needed was the development and extension of these organs of power across the entire Spanish State; for these organs to coordinate on a local, provincial, regional and state level; and for a statewide Congress of worker and community delegates to be held that would declare itself in favour of the seizure of power and finally call such a Revolutionary Constituent Assembly.

A well-prepared, all-out general strike, alongside the mobilisation of millions in the streets, would have brought the old regime to its knees and transferred the formal power of the ruling class to the working class.

Consummated by the expropriation of the big capitalists and the dissolution of the old repressive apparatus, such a Congress of worker and community delegates would form the basis of a democratic, workers’ state, with the election and recallability of delegates at all times ensuring a regime of direct workers’ democracy able to complete the socialist transformation of society.

Despite the outpouring of propaganda, the army had decomposed from within, as noted earlier. The soldiers, who were sons of workers and peasants, had refused to fire on their parents and siblings as happened in Vitoria. The police would have been powerless to suppress millions of united workers’ moving into a coordinated struggle and would have been disarmed by the workers themselves.

The tragedy for the working class was that the leaders of the political parties and trade unions, who at that time held the responsibility, confidence and sufficient authority among the working class, were not able to raise themselves to the challenge. Having renounced Marxism in practice decades ago, they had no confidence in the revolution nor in the revolutionary capacity of the masses to transform society. Particular responsibility for this tragedy falls to the leadership of the Communist Party (PCE) as the organisation with the greatest influence in the workers’ movement at that time.

An example of the utter despair that large sections of the Spanish bourgeoisie had fallen into with regard to the possibility of maintaining Spanish capitalism intact is evidenced by Areilza himself, the Minister of the Interior at the time, who wrote in his diary: “Either we will end up with a coup d’état from the right. Or the revolutionary tide will finish everything.” (Memories of the Transition, El País, p 81)

This pre-revolutionary situation continued until 1977, during which time there were no shortage of opportunities for the working class to seize power in the Spanish State.

On May Day, the international day of struggle of the working class, the government forbade any demonstrations whatsoever. Despite police repression and the poor manner in which the demonstrations were called, there were demonstrations of thousands upon thousands of workers in every city and town of any significance.

Earlier, in the month of April, the UGT was able to hold its first congress since the 1930s. Despite the fact that the UGT was an illegal organisation, the government had to tolerate its existence. One of the resolutions adopted appealed to the CCOO and USO to assist in forming a joint “Workers’ Coordinator” to plan actions to unite the struggles. Such a coordinating committee had already been formed by these three organisations in Vizcaya, under the name, Coordinadora de Organizaciones Sindicales (COS), and the formation of such an organisation would soon follow across the whole country under the same name.

Strike after strike followed one another without interruption, affecting virtually every sector of the Spanish working class: from the metal works to construction, transport, the agricultural labourers of Andalucía, teachers and professors, healthcare workers, the fishermen of Almería and so on. During the month of June, the entire industrial belt of Madrid once more entered the struggle.

Police repression, on many occasions assisted by fascist gangs organised by the state apparatus itself, also continued.

In the month of May the Mount Jurra (Navarra) events took place. On May the 9th, the Carlists of Carlos Hugo (a leftist split away from the old Requetés, a fascist militia) organised their annual gathering on this Navarran mountain, with various left wing groups attending. That day, fascist gangs dispersed the meeting of 3,000 people with live ammunition, killing two attendees, one of whom was a worker from Estella. The murderers were never tried and it later came out that they were financed directly by members of the Government, with Fraga occupying the post of Minister of Interior at the time. Tremendous outrage was generated across the entire country at these events.

The bourgeoisie was perfectly aware that the use of the whip to contain the movement (in Vitoria, Mount Jurra, etc.) was like throwing more fuel on the fire raging in society, and as such they finally decided to throw the stupidest and most reactionary elements, such as Arias Navarro and others, out of the government and to placed their bets exclusively on a government of reform. It was in this way the “superman”, Suárez, appeared on the scene for the first time as Prime Minister in July 1976.

[continued in part two]