Here we publish the second part of our analysis of the revolutionary process around the Spanish Transition period at the end of the 1970s and in the early '80s.
The first Suárez Government and Political Reform
The new government led by Suárez decided to throw itself fully into negotiations with the opposition to secure the support of the workers’ leaders for the designs of the bourgeoisie.
Meanwhile however the demand for democratic rights for the historic nationalities was leading to major demonstrations in which the workers' organisations were playing an important role. In Catalonia, on the 11th September (the National Day of Catalonia), close to a million people took to the streets of Barcelona. Similar demonstrations took place in the Basque Country and elsewhere.
In the closing months of the year demonstrations demanding full amnesty for political prisoners continued without cessation. In September the police and the fascists killed three people at demonstrations in Hondarribia, Madrid and Tenerife. The last-named city was paralysed by a complete general strike. In the Basque Country assemblies, demonstrations and strikes were held in protest against the killings, demanding amnesty for everyone imprisoned for political reasons. In Vizcaya and Guipúzcoa alone more than 250,000 workers walked out. In the Basque Country, which stood at the head of the workers' struggles across the state, two general strikes were called in September. In late 1976 the monarchy of Juan Carlos celebrated its first anniversary with more than thirty workers and youth having been killed by the police, Guardia Civil and fascist gangs; hundreds more having been wounded (some gravely so) and with thousands more arrested.
On November 12 the COS called a general strike across Spain in protest at the government’s economic policies, which imposed salary caps and made it easier for bosses to sack employees. Despite the lack of preparation and organisation of the demonstration (it was called on a Friday with the grassroots being made aware only a few days prior or even, in some cases, on the same day) more than two million workers walked out, representing the biggest workers’ mobilisation since the days of the Republic. Some weeks earlier, the bus drivers of the EMT in Madrid had been on strike for eight days and at the end of November education workers declared a strike.
In the month of December Suárez’s government called a Referendum for Political Reform, wherein they proposed a series of extremely limited reforms, which the workers’ organisations boycotted. With this referendum, which was held without any democratic guarantees regarding the legalisation of the workers’ organisations, who were neither allowed to hold public meetings nor had any access to the media, the government sought to gain the legitimacy that it completely lacked in the street. Members of the búnker (the most recalcitrant Francoists) called for a “No” vote to avoid any kind of opening, whereas the government sought a “Yes” vote under the slogan: "If you want democracy, VOTE". Under these conditions it was natural that the referendum passed. Nevertheless, several million workers, principally in the main industrial centres of the country, abstained; and supporters of the búnker together scraped barely 2.6% of the vote.
As previously mentioned, in December of that year the PSOE held its 27th Congress under conditions of semi-toleration. However, despite the radical nature of the resolutions that were passed, the leadership of the party had in practice already demonstrated that it was about to begin a shift to the right, reflecting their fear that the stance of genuine Marxism would achieve a wide influence in the base of the party once the PSOE was legalised.
It was at this stage that the leadership of the party, under the pressure of international Social Democracy, decided to initiate a witch-hunt within the party to snuff out its Marxist wing. Thus, in January 1977, the PSOE and the Young Socialist branches in Álava, where the stance of Marxism had obtained its greatest strength, were dissolved. In the following months the Young Socialists were dissolved in Navarra, Sevilla, Cartagena, Madrid, Málaga and other areas, in the majority of which Marxists, identifying with the ideas of the newspaper Nuevo Claridad, were in the leadership. Throughout the year 1977 through to 1979 without interruption, hundreds of militants were bureaucratically expelled from the party, a large section of these identifying themselves with Nuevo Claridad, whose sale was banned at party meetings.
The consequence of these bureaucratic attacks was the practical dismantling and destruction of the Young Socialists organisation, as well as dozens of party branches across the country.
The Atocha massacre
The state apparatus had acquired a certain independence of action with respect to the bourgeoisie during the Franco period, demonstrating the inherent weakness of the latter. This led to the openly fascist elements often carrying out actions that did not always correspond to the needs, interests and necessary level of prudence that the Spanish bourgeoisie required at each moment. Once the bourgeoisie had reached an agreement with the workers’ leaders, a bloody fascist coup could not but provoke the anger of the masses, and such a scenario could ruin everything. The problem for the bourgeoisie was that it couldn’t do without this apparatus because it needed it intact to hold off the working class when faced with any eventuality. Only a government of the workers' parties themselves could clear out the fascists and reactionaries from the police, the Guardia Civil and the army.
At the beginning of January 1977, a sector of the state apparatus; in complicity with fascist bands and organisations, the Fuerza Nueva and the Soldiers of Christ the Lord; decided to take organised action in to create a climate of terror within the working class via a campaign of killings, to thus justify a coup by the military.
On January the 23rd, the Argentinean fascist, Jorge Cesarski, shot and killed a student from Madrid, Arturo Ruiz, at a pro-amnesty rally. That same day, the GRAPO (an armed leftist group, heavily infiltrated by the police) kidnapped Lieutenant General Emilio Villaescusa and the industrialist, Antonio María de Oriol. The next day another demonstration was held in protest at the murder of Arturo Ruiz, at which another young student, María Luz Nájera, was murdered by the police. Meanwhile, fascist gangs roamed the streets of Madrid provoking and terrorising the people.
On the night of that very same day, several fascist gunmen murdered five CCOO labour lawyers in cold blood at their Atocha Street offices in Madrid. The tension among the masses, which was already building upon news of the first two murders being disseminated, threatened to spill out into the open upon news of these latest crimes. The bourgeoisie and the government were stricken by panic at the prospect of the possible reaction of the masses.
Everyone was awaiting the call for a general strike while indignation and anger threatened to erupt at any moment. The only ones who could stop the masses were the leaders of the PCE and, to a lesser degree, the less influential PSOE. Instead of calling a general strike, these leaders put out the call for calm. Carrillo told the press that "we must support the government" and that "we must not respond to this provocation." These leaders did their utmost to defuse any protest whatsoever, and in this they succeeded. Nevertheless, more than 300,000 workers went on strike in Madrid on the 26th, the day of the burial of the victims. Major strikes and demonstrations also erupted in the Basque Country.
The PCE deployed a formidable number of stewards consisting of several thousand militants to avoid any incidents taking place at the massive demonstration of tens of thousands of workers and youth attending the funeral.
The conditions to launch a general strike and plan demonstrations to topple the bourgeois government and to prepare the transition to the socialist organisation of society, based on the tremendous strength of the working class, were even more favourable than in March to April 1976, and the working class would have acted as one man on the instruction of their leaders.
This incident finally convinced even the most apprehensive bourgeois of the need to legalise the PCE, despite the protests of the military caste, so that they might control the workers’ movement "from a position of legality".
The workers’ unions were finally legalised in February, along with the PSOE, and the PCE was legalised in April. Tens of thousands of workers and youth joined these organisations en masse, which grew from just over half a million members between them at the beginning of 1977, to nearly six million members by 1978.
The brutality of the police was evidenced once more in the Basque Country. In the month of May a week of action demanding full amnesty was called, which left six people dead. The leaders of the PSOE and the PCE, far from demanding the dissolution of the forces of repression, called for the people to trust in the police and refrain from carrying out any mobilisations. However, the Basque workers once again demonstrated their combative nature by holding mass assemblies and declaring a general strike, which received solid support.
We must emphasise again and again that the fundamental reason that the pre-revolutionary situation in Spain at the time did not lead to a successful socialist revolution was due to nothing less that the role played by the workers’ leaders and the policy pursued by the PCE in particular. This assessment is not one shared by Marxists alone. The official newspaper of British finance capital, the Financial Times, declared in an article in December 1978 that: "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. "
The general elections of 1977
In April 1977 the Suárez government called general elections, the first since February 1936.
These elections were held under conditions which were clearly disadvantageous for the workers' parties.
Firstly the Parliament was represented by two chambers: the Congress and the Senate, which was a device aimed at limiting genuine popular representation. However, unlike the elections to the Congress, the same number of senators was elected to the Senate for each of the provinces, without distinction. The manoeuvre was clear: to give greater representation to the less populated regions where the vote of the working class – concentrated in the large industrial centres of the big cities – was lower, and thus torpedo any initiative that was not to the liking of the bourgeoisie by Congress, where the workers’ parties had a greater possibility of obtaining a majority.
Secondly, only over 21’s were able to vote, thus marginalising some 2 million youths aged 18 to 21, who would have voted overwhelmingly for the workers' parties. One million emigrants were also excluded from voting, as they again would have overwhelmingly leaned to the left.
The electoral offering of the bourgeoisie was Suárez’s Union of the Democratic Centre (UCD), which brought together the “new democrats”. The Francoist old guard were grouped around the Popular Alliance (AP), led by Fraga. Both groups received billions of pesetas from businessmen and bankers for their campaigns. Furthermore, from its position within the government, the UCD held control of all public media outlets.
The UCD got 34.7% of the votes and the AP 8.2%. The PSOE obtained 30% of the vote, the Popular Socialist Party of Tierno Galván (which later merged with the PSOE) took another 4.5% and the PCE got 9.2%. We can see therefore, that despite everything, the PSOE, PCE and PSP took more votes combined than the UCD and AP and swept the board in the big cities and industrial centres. If these results had been combined with the votes of the youths and emigrants who were excluded from the elections, their victory would have been overwhelming.
It is not difficult to comprehend why the UCD emerged victorious. After many months the strike movement had not reached a decisive result due to the refusal of its leaders, particularly those of the PCE, to generalise the struggle. This meant that a large section of the masses began to turn their gaze to other options. The confused and ambiguous democratic aspirations of a section of the population, which was newly awakened to political life – the millions of small traders, peasants, housewives, pensioners, civil servants, teachers, middle class layers and the most politically backward layers of the working class – were easy prey to the demagoguery of the UCD, which apparently represented "the path of least resistance" and the easiest route to democracy. It was a vote of fear, indecision and uncertainty for the future, which was reinforced on account of the fact that nobody had pointed the way forward to a clear alternative. The fact that both before and during the electoral campaign, the leaders of the PSOE and the PCE themselves had sung all manner of eulogies to Suárez, claiming that he and the King had brought democracy to Spain, also served as a decisive factor. Instead of exposing these bourgeois “democrats” before the masses; instead of educating the working class to trust only in its own strength, organisation and consciousness, and to teach distrust in all of the promises and “democratic” demagoguery of the UCD; they offered only class collaboration and assisted in giving the non-existent “progressive bourgeoisie” a makeover.
The electoral defeat of the PCE has an entirely political explanation. The entire policy of Carrillo before the election consisted in making one concession after another (accepting the monarchy, accepting the exhibition of the fascist national flag at public events, support for Suárez, etc).
Furthermore the links between the party and Stalinism also prevented the PCE from connecting with layers of the working class who completely rejected the bureaucratic regimes existent in the USSR and Eastern Europe.
In the left-wing camp there existed two major options: either the PCE, which had hundreds of thousands of dedicated activists, or the PSOE, which despite its lower membership nevertheless connected with the historical memory of a very important layer of workers and youth. At bottom the political differences which existed between the leaders of the PSOE and the PCE were insignificant. The support that the PSOE received from the Socialist International; the fact that it was not tied down with the dead weight of Stalinism; and that it appeared to be able to come to power via the ballot box without provoking the forces of reaction, along with its historical legacy, enabled the PSOE to obtain far higher levels of electoral support than the PCE.
In any case, for Marxists, elections under conditions of bourgeois democracy have a relative value and this is true to an even greater degree in Spain of 1977. The results did not reflect the real balance of forces, which were extremely favourable for the working class and the liquidation of capitalism.
The Socialist Party emerged as the largest workers' party of the working class, clearly winning in Asturias, Andalucía, Barcelona, ??Vizcaya, Valencia, Zaragoza, Alicante, Guipúzcoa etc. In Madrid, the votes of the workers' parties combined represented 53% compared to 47% of the UCD and AP.
The Catalan bourgeois nationalists and the PNV (Basque Nationalist Party) took a significant percentage of the votes on account of the abandonment of the struggle for national rights in Catalonia and the Basque Country by the PSOE and PCE. Nevertheless, the PSOE emerged as the largest party in both communities.
At any rate, the UCD did not manage to achieve an absolute majority in parliament and they were forced to rely on the parliamentary crutch the PSOE and the PCE would soon offer them.
The Moncloa Pacts
In the context of the international crisis, the economic crisis that gripped the Spanish State in mid-1977 reflected the limits to which capitalism could further develop the productive forces. The closure of thousands of businesses, which left an additional one million workers unemployed at the end of the year, was on the one hand a reflection of the weakness of Spanish capitalism and on the other reflected the strike of investment by the employers and the robbery of the nation’s wealth through the flight of billions of pesetas worth of capital to Switzerland and other countries.
For decades Spanish capitalism had developed on the basis of protecting its domestic market, the provision of cheap credit by the state, and by keeping the working class under the heel of the military jackboot – all of this in the context of a major boom in the world economy. In the new situation of profound crisis however, in which world markets had shrunk significantly and in which there was ferocious competition between different bourgeoisies for markets, the less competitive economies such as that of Spain came off worse. The Spanish capitalists demonstrated to be totally powerless in the face of this situation.
Inflation reached 30% by the end of the year, and in the months of June and July reached an annualised figure of 47%.
Following the elections, in June Suárez devalued the peseta by 20% to stimulate exports but such a measure, in the context of stagnant production, only served to increase the price of imports, further spurring inflation. The devaluation only made sense when accompanied by an austerity plan to freeze wages and to increase the rate of profit for the capitalists, such that investment might increase. But the underlying problem was the lack of competitiveness of the Spanish economy due to the lack of investment in technological modernisation. To the extent that the bourgeoisie were unwilling to take this step, the only alternative left was to attack the wages and living standards of the working class.
For this reason, the bourgeoisie tirelessly sought after a “social pact” favourable to its interests. The problem lay in the strength of the workers’ movement. A frontal assault on the living standards of workers, at the time, would have increased social tension to levels that would be intolerable for the system; making it essential for the bourgeoisie to secure the support and collaboration of the workers’ leaders for their plans.
Throughout the months of August and September the government undertook all kinds of meetings with political parties and trade unions. The proposals of the social pact, referred to as the “Moncloa Pact” after the location of its signature at the seat of government, were as follows: wages must grow at levels below the government’s official inflation figures (which were far below the real inflation figures); freezing of public spending and the reduction of the public deficit; the reform of labour laws to increase flexibility, which took the form of companies being allowed to fire up to 5% of their workforce if wage increases exceeded the agreed maximum (which in practice meant freedom to dismiss workers); and a timid reform of taxation. The leaders of the PSOE, the PCE and the CCOO fully supported this pact. The UGT initially opposed them however, reflecting the pressure from below.
The opposition of the working class was overwhelming. Throughout the month of November demonstrations were called by the UGT and other unions in the major cities against the Moncloa Pact, for the defence of living standards and against rising employment. Even many sections of the CCOO union joined the opposition against the Moncloa Pacts.
The workers’ leaders did their best to demobilise and disillusion the workers. The arguments put forward were along the lines of: "Now that we have democracy, we have to pitch in to take the country forward; we must work together if we don’t want to provoke the military", and so on. The plans that the bourgeoisie were impotent to apply in the final years of the dictatorship were now being achieved under the aegis of “democracy”. And in this work they relied entirely on the collaboration of the left leaders.
Carrillo claimed that "with these measures, in 18 months we will emerge from the crisis." The reality was that, after 18 months unemployment had reached more than a million and a half and the purchasing power of workers continued to fall.
In the end the leadership of the UGT also put their signatures to the pact and the impact on workers’ living standards soon made itself felt. By the end of 1977 workers’ wages had lost 10% of their purchasing power.
This would be the first of a series of social pacts which, far from reducing unemployment, only served to maintain the rate of profit for the capitalists, to reduce the standard of living of the masses and to demoralise the working class – who having witnessed an opportunity to radically transform society within their grasp, saw the same opportunity irretrievably lost thanks to the policy of class collaboration of their leaders.
The question of the autonomous communities
The atmosphere of malaise present in the whole of society expressed itself among the masses through demands for autonomy for the various regions and nationalities of the State. This movement acquired formidable strength in the autumn of 1977, and would persist until the end of the UCD governments.
Unprecedented mass demonstrations took place. In the Basque Country there were innumerable demonstrations involving hundreds of thousands of people. In Barcelona, ??the Diada (the “National Day”) of 11th September 1977 attracted one and a half million demonstrators.
It is noteworthy that even in those areas where the phenomenon of nationalism or “autonomism” had barely existed historically, this phenomenon now developed with an unheard of vigour. Hundreds of thousands of people demonstrated in Valencia, Andalucía, Galicia, Castile, León etc. On 4th December, at a demonstration of 200,000 people demanding autonomy for Andalucía in Malaga, the police killed a young CCOO worker, García Caparrós. Clashes between workers and police reached such a pitch that the government declared a "state of emergency" for three days in Malaga.
Lenin explained that the phenomenon of nationalism is “a question of bread". This expression corresponded precisely to the situation in Andalucía. The main demands that were put forward at each pro-autonomy demonstration were for land reform, the return of emigrants, the eradication of illiteracy and the development of culture, and an end to unemployment.
The labour leaders failed to explain that the root of these problems lay in the very existence of capitalism itself and that only socialism could put an end to poverty and misery, by linking the struggle for greater autonomy for the regions and nationalities to the socialist transformation of the society.
The decentralisation of state powers (the “State of autonomous communities” as it is referred to in Spain) ended up going much further than the Spanish bourgeoisie had ever intended not only in the scope of the powers devolved to the regions, but also by its extension to all the regions of the State, and not only to the historical nationalities of Catalonia, the Basque Country and Galicia. The only explanation for this is the fear that the bourgeoisie felt before a mass movement of such size that threatened to completely slip out of their control at each turn.
But there was another political reason involved. By opting for a “one size fits all” approach and granting a regime of, albeit limited, autonomy to other regions of the state, the Spanish bourgeoisie hoped to dilute and weaken the pressure welling up from Catalan and Basque nationalism.
The labour movement gets organised
In early 1978 the first union elections were held in which workers were able to choose their own representatives for the Workplace Committees. The victory for the class-based unions, the UGT and the CCOO, which together took over 70% of trade union delegates, was resounding. Despite the salary caps accepted by the union leaders, the workers' struggles continued raging with every new agreement, with particularly noteworthy general strikes in the metal and construction industries. Strikes and demonstrations against the rising cost of living, which continually eroded the purchasing power of workers’ wages (between 4 and 6% in 1978), were also numerous.
Although, overall, the number of strikes and working days lost due to labour disputes decreased in 1978 when compared to 1977 and 1976, the number of workers involved, at 3.8 million or 32% of all wage workers, was much higher than in previous years and reflected the continually racing pulse of society. Unlike in previous years however, the demands now were almost entirely economic in nature.
Around this time the UGT and the CCOO reached their historic peak of organisation, reaching 5 million affiliated workers between the two organisations or almost 50% of the entire working class, a level of union organisation altogether unknown in Spain up to that point and which, even today, has not been surpassed.
Throughout 1978 Spanish politics centred on two questions: the demand of the workers' parties for the calling of municipal elections and the drafting of the Constitution.
Cities and towns across the country were still governed by the same Francoist mayors that were in place under the dictatorship. Municipal governments, which were intensely hated by the masses, constituted a tremendous lever of power in the hands of the local bosses.
Corruption, waste, the degradation and marginalisation of working class communities, the lack of any basic infrastructure, lack of cultural and sports centres, kindergartens and retirement homes etc. had forged a significant popular movement in the hundreds of Neighbourhood Associations (AAVV) established by leftist organisations and which organised thousands of workers, housewives and young people in their ranks. The AAVV’s constituted genuine organs of popular representation and working class women in particular played a major role in their initiation and organisation. Thousands of women, which until the transition had been forgotten and crushed by family routine and "housework", were re-forged as true popular leaders in the towns and communities in those years.
Despite the continued pressure of the PSOE, the PCE and the Neighbourhood Associations, the UCD government resisted calls for municipal elections, knowing full well that they would be overwhelmed in the big cities and that the artificial nature of their apparent strength would be revealed. Such a scenario would give new impetus to the struggle of the masses, encouraged by the victory of the workers' parties, and would make a victory for the PSOE and PCE, following the approval of the Constitution, more likely in the legislative elections planned for early 1979. For this reason there was no attempt to convoke municipal elections until the spring of that year, after the legislative elections were safely out of the way.
The drafting of the Constitution, aimed at regulating bourgeois democracy in the Spanish State, focused the attention of thousands of workers in 1978. Even as late as 1977 the PSOE were continuing to agitate for a republic as against the monarchy. But this last trace of “radicalism” would soon be diluted until it too finally disappeared – in early 1978 the party fully accepted the principle of a “constitutional” monarchy headed by Juan Carlos.
The leaders of the PSOE and the PCE harped on continually that the only guarantee for “democratic stability” was the approval of the Constitution. They were quick to forget that these democratic liberties were not gifted by anyone but were conquests achieved through the sacrifice and blood of the working class following forty years of dictatorship. The workers’ leaders, unable to understand the class character of the state and totally imbued with what Marx called "parliamentary cretinism", believed that a written constitution, which in writing conceded specific, more or less formal, democratic liberties, would be a guarantee, against which any threat of a military coup would be scuppered. They furthermore insisted that the Constitution would guarantee "the right to work, to adequate housing, to freedom of speech and free elections" etc. The bourgeois were more than happy to guarantee and promise anything, as long as their rule over society was not threatened or undermined. At any rate, they installed numerous “safeguarding clauses” of a Bonapartist character into the text of the constitution, just in case the workers’ leaders proved incapable of containing the working class at any given moment. These included:
· The maintenance of the Senate, which permanently threatened to veto any progressive decisions of the Congress;
· Entrusting important emergency powers to the King, which at any given moment could serve as a point of reference for all the forces of reaction;
· Denial of the right of self-determination for the nationalities;
· The power for judges to suspend the rights and liberties of individuals and parties considered a threat to the capitalist system;
· The recognition of the power to declare a state of emergency or of siege if bourgeois “national security” were ever threatened, which would see all democratic rights immediately annulled.
As we can see these are not mere trifles and their real significance is to be able to hold back and repress the struggles of the working class in case of a real threat to the domination of the capitalist class, by “constitutional and democratic means”.
The referendum was approved on the 6th December 1978, although abstention reached 35% of the population. The affirmative vote of the workers was a reflection of their rejection of the dictatorship of the past, and their trust that, as their leaders had explained, the Constitution would serve to better secure their recently won democratic freedoms.
The legislative and municipal elections of 1979
The first six months of 1979 witnessed the last great movement of the Spanish working class in the period of the transition. The impetus for the upturn in the strike wave was the continual rise in the cost of living and the attempts of the bosses to move onto the offensive at the first symptom that the struggle of the working class had begun to stagnate. From early January, virtually every sector was swept into the struggle with irresistible momentum. The number of workers involved in these strikes numbered 5.7 million, almost 60% of wage workers in the entire Spanish state, with some 171 working hours lost for every striker. The workers’ leaders, instead of taking the opportunity to re-launch the struggles against the government and the employers, accepted the government imposed salary caps when the latter refused to negotiate, and formed pacts behind the backs of the workers, shipwrecking most of the struggles.
It is in this context that the general elections of 1st March 1979 were held. Against all the odds the UCD was returned to power as the party of government, despite having lost its absolute majority. The explanation for the PSOE’s failure, having only taken a similar percentage to that in the previous election, lies principally in their lack of clear opposition to the UCD government. Sections of the population (mainly from the middle classes) could see no fundamental difference between one and the other. Important layers of the working class, and especially the youth, having seen their expectations bitterly betrayed now opted for abstention, which also favoured the UCD. With no class alternative to the problems facing the autonomous communities, a whole plethora of small nationalist groups, of both a left and right wing character, won sufficient votes to gain seats in Parliament. Nevertheless, the total number of votes obtained by the PSOE and the PCE was greater than the combined vote of the UCD and the CD (previously the AP), but the trickery of the electoral setup allowed the latter to walk away with more deputies.
In the municipal elections of 3rd April however the victory of the workers’ parties in the big cities (Madrid, Barcelona, ??Valencia, Seville, Zaragoza, Málaga and others ) was crushing. The combined votes of the PSOE and PCE gave victory to left wing mayors in the most important municipalities across the country, a result which represented the first clear electoral victory over the UCD.
The internal crisis in the PSOE - The abandonment of Marxism
In 1979 an open struggle broke out in the PSOE over whether or not the party defended the ideas of Marxism.
From the beginning of 1977, the leadership of PSOE had unleashed a genuine witch hunt inside the party against those militants who had consistently defended the ideas of Marxism within the party and who had opposed the consensus and political pacts that they formed with the bourgeoisie. This led to the virtual destruction of the Young Socialists and in many areas the dissolution of dozens of party branches; several hundred members being expelled and denied the democratic right to appeal to the party congress.
Persecution against left-wing elements even extended to the UGT. In late 1978 the UGT dissolved its branches in Navarra and Bandajoz on account of their being lead by Marxists opposed to the social pacts.
In May of that year Felipe González announced to the press that he was "no longer a Marxist" and that he felt that the label ought to be removed from the party’s statutes as well. The grassroots immediately protested however as hundreds of branches inundated the PSOE headquarters with resolutions reaffirming the Marxist and revolutionary character of the party.
The 28th Congress was scheduled for late May 1979, and was due to settle this point and elect a new leadership.
The fight around a single word –"for or against Marxism" – was no mere semantic debate. What was really at stake was an attempt to abandon the revolutionary and class character of the party on the part of the leadership.
In practice, the leadership had long since abandoned Marxism and had slipped into a policy of opportunism and reformism (the theory and practice of conciliation and collaboration between the classes), which contributed to the demoralisation of a large number of workers and youth who had placed such hopes in PSOE leading a profound social change. It was precisely this atmosphere of general apathy and frustration that had eroded the party’s membership and weakened the pressure of the rank and file on the leadership. As such the leaders of the party became more and more detached from the ranks, leaving them completely exposed to the influence of the bourgeoisie and bourgeois “public opinion”, which pushed them still further to the right.
The tragedy was that the party lacked any genuinely Marxist tendency, at this juncture in its history with sufficient influence in the party’s ranks to pose an alternative to the official leadership.
Opposition to the leadership as such fell to those sincere elements (such as Gómez Llorente and others) who stood not so much on the position of Marxism as between Marxism and reformism. These elements however lacked sufficient willpower and decision to take the reins of the party when the opportunity presented itself.
It has to be said that the 28th Congress was one of the most democratic in the history of the PSOE. Some one thousand delegates, elected directly by local groups, were in attendance. Although the Executive’s management received the approval of 68% of the delegates, the official position of the leadership was rejected in the commission on the ideological stance of the party, and the position of their critics adopted: "The Socialist Party reaffirms its character as a mass, democratic, federal , class-based and Marxist party". The ideological position of these critical voices was later voted on by the full membership and obtained 61% of the votes of the delegates. Faced with a defeat of such magnitude, Felipe González announced his decision not to stand for re-election to the Executive. The opposition then met to weigh the possibility of putting forward an alternative list (Tierno Galván, Bustelo, Pablo Castellanos and Gómez Llorente). The majority of conference delegates took it for granted that the critics would put forward their own list as they appeared to have every guarantee of walking away with an electoral majority. But precisely at this moment of decision, one of the most tragic events in the recent history of the party took place. The opposition didn’t dare take the next step and announced instead the need to create a “Management Committee” to convoke an Extraordinary Congress, which would choose a new leadership to “salvage the unity of the party”. Thus a historic opportunity to redirect the PSOE towards a Marxist path was lost, with the all the tremendous consequences that were entailed.
The Extraordinary Congress was held in early October. The party officials managed to introduce a change, which passed by unnoticed, into the statutes of the party altering the way in which delegates were elected. No longer would they represent the local groups but were elected instead from the provincial and regional federations, with the head of delegation voting for the entire province. In this way rank and file representation was radically narrowed. On the other hand, the officialdom resorted to all kinds of subterfuges: assemblies that were deliberately poorly convened, placing limits on debate, etc. but above all the result was owed to the fact that the critics failed to fully prepare for a serious battle. This allowed the Executive headed by Felipe to win without any difficulty, and in the resolution on Marxism a compromise was reached although with the “Marxist” appellation disappearing from the statutes of the PSOE. The most significant effect of the Congress however was the extraordinary strengthening of the bureaucratic apparatus of the party, which obtained far greater independence from the grassroots; besides an exceptional opportunity to sharply shift the PSOE to the left being lost.
The Workers' Statute and the AMI
During the autumn of 1979 Spain witnessed the last great struggles of the movement of the workers and youth under the UCD government, the defeat of which would deepen the retreat of the labour movement until the electoral victory of the Socialist Party.
In September, the UCD government submitted its draft “Workers’ Statute” to parliament. This law was widely contested by the ranks of the unions, as it represented a clear backward step – in many cases even with respect to the labour laws that the workers had fought for and won under the Franco regime – on issues such as casualisation, termination of employment, holidays, trade union rights, retirement, etc., whilst certain sectors of the labour market remained entirely unregulated (civil service, domestic work, etc.) On October 14th, 400,000 workers gathered in Madrid in response to the call of the CCOO. There were general strikes in Granada, the Basque Country and Asturias as well as stoppages in many workplaces; resolutions flooded in from hundreds of workplace union branches across the country against the Statute. The union leaders never posed the question of generalising and taking the struggle to its end however and instead, like the leaders of the workers' parties in parliament, limited their attempts to applying pressure aimed at improving the law as, in their own words, they had “no intention of overthrowing the Suárez government.”
The frustration and anxiety that existed in every corner of society also broke out among the youth. Hundreds of thousands of students in secondary education, and to a lesser extent in the Universities, took to the streets in the most significant student protests in the history of Spain up to that point against the Teaching Institutes Statute and the University Autonomy Law (LAU), which the UCD had drafted. These reactionary laws gave a tremendous impetus to privatisation of public education and the cutting of budgets, whilst they failed to advance the democratic rights of students by so much as an inch.
The centre of the struggle was Madrid but the provinces also bore witness to significant mobilisations during the struggle. “Student Coordinators”, charged with organising the struggle, were formed by representatives elected in assemblies. These bodies organised strikes and demonstrations across the entire country on the 5th, 6th and 7th of December. Police repression was brutal with dozens of students injured in the custody of the police. The police themselves were assisted by fascist bands in attacking the demonstrations. On the 6th of December a rally of students in Madrid attracted 25,000 participants.
The height of the struggle was reached on the 13th of December. The strike was solid across the schools and faculties. By the morning more than 100,000 students had gathered at the demonstration in Madrid.
The same afternoon, the CCOO had convoked its own demonstration against the UCD’s “Workers’ Statute” and in solidarity with the struggle of the Chrysler workers (now Peugeot Talbot) following the sacking of eight workers.
300,000 workers and thousands of students attended the union demonstration. At the moment at which the parallel student demonstration attempted to merge with the union march, which was beginning to dissolve, the police launched a brutal attack firing live ammunition upon the protesters and killing two young students and injuring others. The police detailed dozens of students across the entire state.
The Communist leaders were presented with an opportunity to call a general strike against the “Workers’ Statute”, the “Teaching Institute Statute” and the “Autonomy Law” after the enormous display of power and indignation by the workers’ and students’ unleashed by these cowardly killings, but they once again failed to take the initiative. With a broad mobilisation, a general strike being the obvious form to take, the leaders of the left could have brought down the Suárez government and forced new elections which the workers’ parties would have almost certainly won.
Despite this impasses, more student demonstrations were called the next day across the entire Spanish State in protest at the murders and detentions, and workers went on strike in many workplaces.
The student protests didn’t end at Christmas but continued through to the new year with mobilisations in January and February 1980. At the same time that the struggle drew to an end, a young student and leader of the movement, Yolanda González, was kidnapped and murdered by two fascist gunmen of the Fuerza Nueva. Again, the workers leaders failed to respond to the stupor that gripped millions of workers and youths in the face of the latest crime of the fascists. Finally, isolated from the workers’ movement, each student mobilisation was exhausted bit by bit.
Scarcely had the Workers’ Statute been approved when the UGT signed another social pact with the government and the bosses, the “Inter-Sectoral Agreement Framework” (the AMI), which revolved around salary caps and a driving down of living standards along the same lines as the Moncloa Pacts. In 1979 alone workers’ salaries lost on average 4% of their purchasing power. Although the CCOO did not, on account of the opposition from below, initially sign the AMI, neither did they pose working class struggle against a new accord as an alternative.
The workers’ movement begins to ebb
1979 marked a point of inflexion in the social and political activity of the masses. All the energies of the bourgeoisie had, since the fall of the dictator, been focussed on utilising the workers’ leaders to save Spanish capitalism and restore their control over society little by little. The effectiveness of this policy with respect to the workers’ leaders would have dramatic consequences.
And yet, what struggles these years had seen! How much hope had they been filled with! For the first time in their lives, millions of workers, women and youth had seen themselves as the protagonists of their own history; taking their destiny into their own hands. They had smashed the inertia and routine in society that condemned them to an existence of little more than a cog in the social machine. Forgotten and exploited, brutalised and humiliated by the capitalist system, they had felt that, finally, all that could be changed.
Millions of people joined parties, unions, AAVV’s, APA’s and youth clubs, marched on demonstrations and stood up and fought. It was precisely when they engaged in mass action that each feel their greatest individuality and the distinct quality of their own personality. The greatest qualities of the human personality bust forth, announcing the arrival of a new society: solidarity and unity, sacrifice and bravery, dignity and pride as workers, a new respect for women comrades, the struggle for an authentically human world. These were the feelings and qualities felt in the hearts of millions of men and women of our class between 1976 and 1979. And with this foundation, with this raw material, nothing and nobody could have stopped the socialist transformation of society that lay within reach, had the leaders of the PSOE and the PCE only taken a conscious lead in directing all these energies to such an end.
From the fall of the dictator, the broad mass of workers, women and youth had entrusted everything in their leaders. Reluctantly, they took as good coin the policies of "consensus, tightening your belts, take sacrifices to save democracy", etc. with the hope that all these efforts might serve some purpose, that they might guarantee a dignified life, and with the hope of a better future to come. But in the course of a few short months the workers, peasants and housewives came to understand that, despite the calming and demagogic phrases, the change that had taken place had not gone far enough.
Living conditions did not improve. The same people were occupied their old posts: the same bureaucrats, the same speculators; the same police, military and torturers; the same bankers, bosses and landlords. The workers were confused, disorientated and demoralised.
The new economic crisis looming large over the capitalist nations that year caused the situation to deteriorate even further. The phenomenon of mass unemployment, barely known a couple of years previously, took workers by surprise and stood as a constant threat hanging ominously over them. Inflation (at 16% in 1979) devoured wages, and in the majority of cases workers’ struggles went down to defeat.
All these experiences had the most dramatic effect on workers and youth. Even the most fighting and self-sacrificing elements returned to their homes burnt out and frustrated. “They have fooled us, politics is bullshit, they are all the same”. This was the fruit of the so-called “democratic consensus”. As they had entered the struggle hundreds of thousands of workers, women and youth now departed from the field of political and industrial struggle, tired and disoriented. Membership of political parties and trade unions fell in tatters. It was in this period that “apathy” and “getting by” became the fashion. The years of 1979-1982 were years of profound ebb in political and trade union activity of the masses. It was a period of semi-reaction at all levels of society.
The second UCD Government
After the March elections, the government of the UCD was left once more without an absolute majority. The dire economic situation demanded drastic measures, but Suárez knew full well that any attempt to launch a frontal attack against the conditions of the masses could have unpredictable consequences; in fact, as we have already seen, 1979 witnessed impressive demonstrations. For this reason Suárez had to base his entire policy on a permanent pact with the workers’ parties and the unions. He was constantly forced to recur to a policy of patching things up, which of course failed to satisfy anyone – neither the working class on the one hand nor the bourgeoisie on the other could be satisfied with such a policy.
His economic policy involved a constant yo-yoing between an inflationary policy (stimulating the issue and circulation of money to encourage economic activity) and a deflationary policy (cuts in spending and limitation of the amount of cash in circulation so as to lower inflation).
The impotence of the Suárez government in the economic field provoked a growing unease among the ruling class. The only solution lay in deepening the cuts in workers’ living standards to increase profit margins. But such a task was impossible without the consent of the workers’ leaders, who were at the same time compelled to demand concessions so as not to completely lose control over the working class. As such the requirements of the bourgeoisie were never satisfied to the degree that they demanded.
This situation was at the root of the permanent crisis of the UCD and the Suárez government throughout these years. The UCD government was weak and ridden with crisis from the very beginning.
To the extent that the pressure of the masses decreased, as explained previously, the impatience and irritation of the bourgeoisie with Suárez became daily more evident.
The economy grew by a mere 1.5%, followed by a figure of just 0.5%. Unemployment grew by 20% and with the growth in unemployment so too grew the discontent of the bourgeoisie for their “superman”. As such the bourgeois press began accusing Suárez of incompetence and posed the need for a reshuffle within the ranks of the UCD, where division and criticism against Suárez were also multiplying.
In 1979 the autonomy statutes for the Basque Country and Catalonia were approved by the government and put to referendum. Despite the fact that these statutes did not recognise the right to self-determination, they were nevertheless approved. However, in the Basque Country 40% of the population abstained. In the Basque regional elections in 1980, the PSOE paid a high price for the policy that it had pursued with regard to the national question. From being the largest party in 1977 it fell to third place, behind the PNV and the HB, which came in second. In the Catalan elections of the same year they also sharply declined, coming behind the bourgeois nationalist CiU.
The question of the autonomy statute for Andalucía also polarised opinion across the country. In this instance the PSOE and the PCE demanded that the Andalusian statute should be governed by Article 151 of the Constitution – i.e. on the same footing as the Basque, Catalan and Galician regions – rather than Article 143, as was planned for the other regions and which fewer less regional powers. A campaign of mass mobilisations unfolded across the whole of Andalucía against the aims of the UCD. Their weakness forced them to hold a referendum in February 1980 in which the Andalusians themselves could decide the question of whether or not to opt for Article 151. The popular response was impressive, despite the millions spent on campaigning by the UCD for the population to abstain. The UCD government found itself hugely discredited and the discontent within its own ranks and in the bourgeois press was only reinforced.
Amid this atmosphere the PSOE put forward a motion of censure against the UCD government in parliament. Suárez responded by incorporating many of the leading dissidents in the UCD into his government. This served no purpose other than to further increase the tensions in the government and prepare the complete wreckage of the “centre”, which would end in the resignation of Suárez in February 1981.
ETA’s offensive and the extreme right
It is a social law that the petty bourgeoisie takes to the centre stage of events when the mass of the working class takes a step back from the front line of the class struggle. This law was given a very clear expression in the years 1979 to 1982 with on the one hand the growth of ETA and on the other the savage terrorism of the fascist gangs.
In the years 1976 to 1977 a lively debate was taking place in the ranks of ETA around whether or not to lay down their arms. The fact that ETA had continued to carry out acts of individual terrorism up to that date, and with a certain level of support within some sections of Basque society, owes itself to three factors: the brutal and indiscriminate repression conducted by the armed bodies of the state, which was redoubled in those years and which nurtured a deep hatred towards those bodies among the population; the abandonment of the defence of the national democratic rights of the Basque people on the part of the workers’ parties, particularly of the right of self-determination, the implementation of which would have eliminated at one stroke the political arguments of the Basque nationalists; and finally the tumultuous social and economic situation which was the fruit of the economic crisis of capitalism. Thus while the period 1974 to 1977 saw ETA attacks leave 63 people dead, the period 1978 to 1981 saw 265 people killed.
Alongside the activity of ETA we also witnessed in those years the poisonous irruption of terrorism by fascist bands, fuelled by sectors of the state apparatus and the most abject and desperate sections of the bourgeoisie. Dozens of workers, youth and members of the Basque nationalist left fell into the hands of these hyenas of big capital. There were numerous instances of beatings and attacks carried out by these thugs, composed for the most part of the sons of the military and of the fascists, the police, the civil guards and lumpen elements. Dozens of local workers were attacked and burned.
The workers’ leaders, far from calling for mobilisations of the masses to crush these fascist gangs, a relatively simple task in the circumstances, made “appeals for calm”, “don’t allow yourselves to be provoked” etc. – which only further emboldened these gangs and encouraged police repression.
The coup plots: 23-F
This situation of deadlock in which the workers’ struggle failed to reach a definitive outcome or was semi-paralyzed, while the bourgeoisie was unable to establish order in society; constantly showing its weakness and relying on the support of the workers' parties. A situation of disorder and instability was created that intensified during 1980 and especially at the start of 1981.
This situation was best expressed by the caste of commanding officers o
f the army and the Civil Guard as well as the top police officials. These were mostly composed of clearly reactionary and fascist elements who hated the working class and its organisations to death. The army, and through it the officer caste, represents the armed wing of the bourgeoisie. But when the bourgeoisie shows signs of inability to secure the stability of the system, the officers feel called upon "to bring order and save the country, given the inability of politicians". The entire transition was a hotbed of conspiracies and putchist rumours. Already in 1978, two senior officers of the Civil Guard and the army, Tejero and Saenz de Ynestrillas, known reactionaries at the time because of their openly fascist ideas, were discovered while planning a coup d’état, which they called Operation Galaxy. The most important aspect of this operation was the large number of officers who knew all about the conspiracy and said nothing to the authorities. The scandalous release of these two conspirators months later did nothing but encourage them to continue along the same route.
In reality, the bourgeoisie was the least interested in a coup d’état during those first years after the fall of the dictatorship, knowing full well that it could provoke a revolutionary explosion among the masses.
Paradoxically, the leaders of the workers’ parties, particularly those of the PCE, did nothing but try continuously to frighten the masses with "the danger of regression and a coup" if the workers went too far in their struggles. All this to justify their disastrous policy of class collaboration with the bourgeoisie.
However, the situation became increasingly tense in early 1981. The exhaustion and the unpopularity of the centre was increasing every day. The isolation of Suárez within the UCD and the contempt which rose among the decisive sectors of the bourgeoisie and the state apparatus led him to resign in early February. In a survey conducted by the magazine Cambio 16 at that time, 59% of respondents agreed with the resignation and 26% thought he should have resigned earlier. No less than 85% of the population was against the leader of UCD at the time of his resignation. It is therefore grotesque and shameful that right now there is an attempt to rewrite history praising Suárez and UCD, particularly by Felipe and Carrillo, when Suárez and subsequently the UCD left the scene of history hated and despised by millions of workers and youth.
It was in this context that the most serious of any coup attempt planned during the transition took place: the coup of February 23, 1981, or 23-F, as it has been recorded in popular memory.
During the election of Calvo Sotelo as the new president of the UCD government, replacing Suárez, dozens of civil guards occupied the Congress of Deputies at gunpoint. Meanwhile, General Milans del Bosch brought tanks out onto the streets of Valencia, taking control of the city, and prohibiting workers’ parties and trade unions.
There is no doubt that the main military leaders were aware of the preparations for the coup, including the inner circle of the King, in the person of General Armada, one of the planners of the coup, Head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, staunch monarchist and mentor of Juan Carlos in his youth.
In fact, the ambiguous attitude of the King in the early hours of the coup gave the appearance of royal support for the coup among a section of the army that did not know whether to join. It is still surprising that, while Tejero entered Congress at 6:20 pm, Juan Carlos did not come out publicly on television speaking out against the coup until after 12:00 midnight! Some try to justify the behaviour of the King saying that the television stations were occupied by the military until late that evening, but they conveniently forget that the Zarzuela Palace, the residence of Juan Carlos, has its own autonomous infrastructure capable of emitting television broadcasts.
Therefore, if the coup failed, it was not due to the democratic convictions of Juan Carlos, but because the decisive sectors of the bourgeoisie understood that it was premature, and that the risk of provoking a confrontation with the working class would be very dangerous to the bourgeoisie, and for that reason mobilized all their forces to end the adventure.
Grouped around such grotesque figures as Tejero and others, there was a consensus among the organizers of the coup to organize a Bonapartist government, similar to the dictatorship of Primo de Rivera in 1923, with the inclusion of both military and civilian participation. Most scandalous was the subsequent leaked interview, held days before the coup, between Armada and Enrique Mugica (then leader of the PSOE) where, apparently, the latter did not object to the need for a strong government with the participation of the military and of members of UCD and PSOE in order to "save the country". This showed how far the degeneration had gone for certain members of the party leadership, their loss of political perspectives and their identification with the bourgeois state, to give in to this kind of scandal which could have had serious consequences for the working class and its organizations.
Although the working class was caught by surprise by the coup, some circles, guided by sure class instincts, came to the conclusion that very day of the need for arms to defend against the coup. This happened in some working class villages of Andalusia, such as Badolatosa (where defence committees were organised at the entrances of the town, while neighbours exchanged shotguns and cartridges), as well as among the Asturian miners. Despite the confusion and the fact that the top union leaders do not put forward a single slogan, that evening and the following day there were strikes and assemblies in dozens of companies (Hunosa, Gijon, Aviles, Santander, Alava, Seville, Navarra Barcelona and Madrid), and in Catalonia the CCOO had planned to call a general strike the day after the coup.
The demonstrations that swept across the country on February 26, formally called by all parties but whose main contingent was made up of workers and their families, were the most massive in all history. More than three million people participated in them. Madrid, with a million and a half and Barcelona, with half a million, were the most numerous.
The agony of the UCD - The government of Calvo Sotelo
The replacement of Suárez with Calvo Sotelo did nothing to save the UCD; the latter lost credibility even faster than Suárez. The failure of the UCD in the Galician elections of October 1981 led to its internal collapse. However, these contradictions in the government and its party reflected the deep divisions within the ruling class on strategic and tactical issues. The most representative sector (the Bank and its monopolies) had by this time come to the conclusion of the inevitable split of the “centre” and it had opted in favour of a right-wing government formed around Fraga's People's Alliance.
The businessmen became increasingly impatient with Calvo Sotelo, whose politics did not diverge very far from Suárez's policy of patching things up. Even the signing of a new agreement with the trade unions, (the National Employment Agreement, ANE), near the end of 1981, which deepened the reduction of living standards, seemed insufficient.
At the time, inflation reached 15% and continued to escalate. In a period of 18 months, real wages were continuously reduced. For the first time, unemployment rose above two million unemployed.
In May 1981, the cooking oil scandal broke out, the poisoning of thousands of working class families, primarily in Madrid, due to the consumption of adulterated oil. As a result of the oil business owners' actions in collaboration with the administration of the UCD government, which did not try to control the scam of these unscrupulous capitalists, more than 2,000 died and 12,000 were afflicted.
The government of Calvo Sotelo was, despite its brevity, tremendously reactionary in regards to democratic rights. In the beginning of 1982, a law was adopted which limited the powers of the autonomous regions, the LOAPA (the Organic Law on the Harmonization of the Autonomy Process).
Calvo Sotelo's last political decision before the end of 1981 was to impose Spain's entry into NATO, turning a deaf ear to the protests of the majority of the population, which in turn earned him even more hatred from the majority of the youth and workers.
Political repression and reactionary and fascist plos, far from decreasing during these last months of agony, were accentuated even more.
The ETA prisoner Joseba Arregui died after the savage torture he was subjected to by the police. In May 1981, three young people were viciously murdered by the Civil Guard in Almería. The Almería Case filled the population with outrage, and the assassins served a few years in prison. In March 1982, the hated Civil Guard once again spilled the blood of the workers throughout the Andalusian countryside. Two young day labourers of Lebrija (Seville) were killed Civil Guard gunshots in Trebujena (Cádiz). All of the people of the region immediately declared a general strike, and the funeral was attended by more than 8,000 labourers of the whole region.
The trial of 23-F, which lasted months, made it clear that military justice, with the complicity of the government, never intended to study the matter in depth. The only ones convicted with significant sentences were the ringleaders: Armada, Milans and Tejero, who 10 years later were already free or only going to prison to sleep. The dozens involved, of the military and civilians, were either sentenced to symbolic sentences or acquitted.
The reassuring attitude of the leaders, refusing to mobilize the working class and the youth with each torture and assassination by the repressive bodies and the fascists, did nothing but encourage the latter and the clearly reactionary elements of the military caste.
A few months later, 100 army officials and the Civil Guard published a manifesto expressing their “understanding” of the coup members and came out against the democratization of the army and in favor of the "autonomy in regard to political power." Calvo Sotelo's only response was to give a few of those involved 14 days of house arrest.
As another example of the continuous provocations of the extreme right and the military caste, on May 23rd a group of fascists, consisting of civil guards and lumpen, stormed the headquarters of the Central Bank in Barcelona taking more than a hundred hostages and demanding the release of detainees in relation to 23-F. The true identity of the assailants, who were set free after a majority were detained by the GEO (Special Group of Operations), was never revealed.
The coup plots did not end on 23-F. During the political campaign, in October 1982, it was discovered that there was another plot to bring about a coup d'état before the elections, on October 27th. Obviously, all of this plotting was aborted by the bourgeoisie for the same reasons they abandoned the 23-F: the fear of a revolutionary response by the working class which despite the noticeable ebbing of the labour movement, the 40-year dictatorship under Franco had not been forgotten.
The electoral disaster in the Andalusian elections in May 1982, where the PSOE won a landslide victory, eventually accelerated the decomposition of the “centre”. A series of splits to the right and left in the UCD forced Calvo Sotelo to call early elections. Thus, the UCD, the main party of the Spanish bourgeoisie, ended up disintegrating altogether.
The general elections of October 1982 - Historic victory of the PSOE
After six years of “centre” rule , the working class masses, and above all, the middle class layers had enough time to understand through experience the false character of the centre. The collapse of the UCD reflected a new process of polarization to the right and to the left within Spanish society. The working class and various sections of the middle class had high hopes in the PSOE as an alternative to this situation. Everyone recognised the inevitable victory of the PSOE. After years of deep economic crisis, where the workers suffered defeat after defeat on the economic front, made them turn to the political front – in the electoral field –, to finally place their leaders in government.
Meanwhile, the PCE found itself in one crisis after the other. With a shift to the right caused by the course taken after the fall of the dictatorship, it seemed impossible for anyone to comprehend the programmatic differences between the PCE and the PSOE. This meant that when it came time for the working class masses to vote, they chose the largest party because they did not see any significant differences between the two. The situation of permanent crisis within the PCE led to resignations and splits, arriving at the elections of October 28th completely debilitated. It was a sad fate for a party that had been in the best conditions to lead the socialist revolutionary process in the Spanish state.
The elections of October 28, 1982 were a landslide victory for the PSOE. The more than ten million votes it received have remained unparallelled in any election in Spain’s history. Controlling 202 seats out of 350, the PSOE leadership was in the most exceptional conditions to begin the process of profound transformation of society craved by millions of workers and other oppressed layers of society.
The hopes and dreams of the early years of transition were rekindled among millions of men and women, among the workers and the youth.
A new era began in the Spanish state, and the “transition to democracy in Spain” was considered to have officially come to an end.
The revenge of history
Faced with the idyllic story of the Spanish transition that is provided to us, we must say that the reality was completely different.
The socialist transformation of society could have been carried out (and relatively peacefully), not only once but dozens of times, if in the front lines of the traditional working class organizations (PSOE, PCE, CCOO, and UGT) there had been truly revolutionary Marxist leadership.
In spite of the demobilization and depoliticization of the working masses caused by the effects of the Transition, and the relative economic stability of the 26 years that followed, which continued up until 2008, patch up but did not truly resolve the structural problems of Spanish society; today, the unprecedented economic crisis has torn apart these stitches, openly exposing to society the insoluble contradictions of Spanish capitalism.
The old demons of our contemporary history have been unearthed once again. The crisis has exposed the historical backwardness of the Spanish economy, the particularly reactionary nature of the bourgeoisie, the political and intellectual mediocrity of its political representatives. In addition to the rising polarization between the classes, the monarchy lost its credibility thus making way for the overwhelming advance of the republican tendencies in society. Last, but not least, we see the crisis of the State of autonomous communities develop
and the exacerbating of the national question with the strengthening of divergent tendencies in the historical nationalities, namely in Catalonia.
However the differences between the current situation with that of 40 years ago are notorious and make much more favorable the development of a more profound and successful revolutionary process against the capitalist system, upon reflection. The old mole of history has not been burrowing in vain.
In the 1970s, the official leadership of the left, which had just come out from the underground, abused their political and moral authority – grounded in years of clandestine activity, prison, torture, and exile – to impose their views of class collaboration on a young and politically inexperienced working class.
Today, the leaders of these organisations (especially the PSOE and the CCOO and UGT unions) are too widely discredited to play the same pernicious role they did in the past. The organization which now occupies the political space previously held by the PCE – United Left (IU) – has shifted to the left, in its base and a large portion of its cadres have imposed a critical review of the role played at the time by the leaders of the PCE. Currently, the IU leadership emphatically rejects the Constitution of 1978 and the monarchy, and participates in the frontline against the adjustment policies promoted by politicians of the PP-PSOE-CiU-PNV system.
Furthermore, the extraordinary political ferment and the revolutionary mood which led to the current crisis, has spurred the emergence of new political movements (PODEMOS, Marches for Dignity, "Let's Win back Barcelona"/ “Guanyem Barcelona”, etc.) of a radical left character, of hatred against the rich and the establishment which, despite their confused and incomplete political ideology, expresses the thirst of hundreds of thousands of people for a radical change in society.
On the other hand, the monarchy which had been reluctantly accepted by the majority of the population under the exhortations of the treacherous leadership of the left, is widely discredited nowadays and steeped in corruption scandals. The new king, Philip VI, will not enjoy the goodwill of the population as his decrepit father did 37 years ago.
Another favorable factor is the disappearance of the armed activity of ETA and the phenomenon of individual terrorism, which for decades played a pernicious role in damaging the extraordinary struggles of the Basque people and diverting attention from labour and grassroots struggles in the rest of the state, providing an excuse for the reaction to strengthen repression and attack democratic rights.
In fact, the disappearance of ETA and its armed activity, and its substitution with mass movements, was the the basic prerequisite for the defense of national-democratic rights of the Basque Country, Catalonia and Galicia – such as the right of self-determination – could find a increasingly favorable echo among the working class and the youth throughout the Spanish State, as is happening now.
Towards a republican, socialist, and federal constitutional process
The abdication of Juan Carlos and the enthronement of Felipe is an attempt to contain the crisis of the regime of 1978, which has now become widely unpopular.
It is no coincidence that the abdication of Juan Carlos took place a week after the European elections of May 25, which have revealed the extreme weakness of the guarantor parties of the regime and strengthening leftist trends in society, with a strong anti-capitalist and anti-monarchist character. This has set off the alarms of the old regime.
The economic oligarchy composed by the banks and large corporations and the upper echelons of the state, have completely failed to offer a future to millions of workers and citizens. Quite the opposite, the only thing they have in stock is unemployment, growing poverty, low wages, precariousness, emigration, the dismantling of social services, impunity and enrichment for the powerful, and increased judicial and police repression against struggling workers and youth. It is time for the people to raise their voice and take their destiny into their own hands. The extraordinary mobilisations of the last three years have given us a clear lesson: through mass movements anything is possible.
The tendency Lucha de Clases supports the opening of a new constituent process to overturn the current monarchical state, based on a bureaucratic apparatus that has remained virtually unchanged since the days of the Franco regime. We defend a republic based on the most advanced social conquests and democratic rights, including the right to self-determination for the national minorities, since the only union that interests us is the voluntary union of the peoples that make up the Spanish state.
However, we consider it impossible to move towards this type of state without simultaneously transforming the economic structures of the capitalist system, on the basis of which rest the reactionary and repressive forces opposed to development, to progress, and to the welfare of the majority of society.
Popular sovereignty cannot merely consist of a series of political rights listed on paper, but must be complemented with the collective ownership under workers’ management of the commanding heights of the economy (the large industrial, financial, private, and commercial property) and the natural resources of our lands, to plan them democratically in order to ensure everyone’s welfare and to meet the pressing social needs that the current system has generated.
Therefore, we must link the struggle for the Republic with the expropriation of these commanding heights of the economy, wresting them out of the hands of the 200 families that own them.
In short, we link the struggle for a democratic and modern Iberian federal republic, where the different peoples of these lands are united on an equal footing, with the struggle for the socialist transformation of society. Our alternative is summarized in the slogan of the Socialist Federal Republic.
"Life teaches", as Lenin liked to repeat. The depth of the organic crisis of the capitalist system will, on an international level, make it increasingly more evident to the working class that under capitalism there is no way out, and the need to expropriate the capitalists to organise a new society based on the interests of the vast majority of the population, the working class.
Once the mist of social apathy dissipates in the new period of struggle that has begun, the Spanish workers will recover their revolutionary traditions, and the labour movement in our country, and internationally, will bring to fruition the task that history has entrusted them with: the creation of a socialist society.