The recent bitter conflict in Spain over the new Law on Education (LOE) represents an important turning point in the political situation in the country after the defeat of the Popular Party (PP) in the General Elections last year. It highlights the sharp class polarisation that is crystallising in Spain.
The Church hierarchy, the CONCAPA (the reactionary parents’ association linked to the hierarchy of the Church), the FERE (business organisation of the private religious schools) and the PP organised a demonstration against the Socialist Party (PSOE) government and its new Law on Education. Reaction has thus gone onto the offensive.
This offensive to destabilise the government is not going to be stopped with any “kind” words or with a compromising stance, as Zapatero, the Socialist leader, seems to think. The only way to stop this reactionary offensive, to cut the grass from under its feet, would be by changing the government’s policies and adopting radically different ones from those that have been implemented so far in the PSOE’s year and a half in power.
In their rabid obsession to beat the left in the amount of people they can mobilise, the right-wing has been lying through their teeth about the real numbers on their demonstrations. The Madrid regional government claimed that 1.5 million had attended the demonstration on November 12th, which they themselves had helped to organise. The organisers even talked of two million.
However, in spite of their own exaggerations, hundreds of thousands have indeed been mobilised against the government in what is clearly an attempt of the reactionary forces to get revenge after the defeat of the PP in the last general election. This recent demonstration was a show of strength on the part of the PP and the right-wing opposition.
We must remember that in the run up to the elections the PP had been worn down thanks to the mass mobilisations of workers and youth (general strike, anti-war demonstrations, the movement against their government after it had failed abysmally to deal with the spillage of the Prestige oil tanker, etc). But the straw that broke the camel’s back were the demonstrations after the Madrid bombings. These proved to be the kiss of death for José María Aznar, one of Bush’s best allies.
Now the PP and its allies, the Church, the bosses and reaction in general, simply cannot forgive the PSOE for the way that it was put in office by the mass mobilisation of the working class and the radicalised youth.
The reasons behind this movement
The official “excuse” for such a movement is the reform of the law on education that the government has started to introduce. But this is only the “official” story. Since the very beginning of the present term of office of the PSOE the PP has adopted a much more intelligent tactic than the Socialist Party when it was in opposition. From day one they have mobilised their base of support: the Catholic Church, Spanish reactionary nationalism, anti-gay feelings (aroused by the PSOE’s announcement on the right of gays to marry), in general the defenders of conservative values, the right-wing media, and so on. Basically they have mobilised all that is most reactionary within Spanish society.
They are demanding compulsory religious education as a valued part of the school curriculum and total freedom for private schools funded with public money (in Spain all schools get state funding regardless of whether they are private or public, something which the PSOE was not prepared to tackle during their previous 16 years in power). They are also demanding selective education and the right to expel students as they please and in general to give a more reactionary character to the different subjects taught at school.
Although all this is part of their reactionary baggage, the real aim of the demonstration was to continue their campaign of attrition against the PSOE government. In fact the PP in its present state is revealing that when it comes to defending the interests of the reactionary Spanish bourgeoisie it has a much clearer understanding of how to undermine a government. It sees things clearly in class terms!
Initially the demonstration had been called by the CONCAPA, but almost immediately, all the other allies of the PP jumped on the bandwagon. Even the right-wing Catalan nationalists, the CiU, helped out by saying that bishops have the democratic right to call demonstrations. The purpose of this was to give a democratic veneer to this reactionary movement, although the CiU did not directly participate in it. To do so would have jeopardised their own electoral base in Catalonia, as they would have been seen to be “collaborating” with the “Spanish” PP.
Another important factor in the success of this reactionary demonstration was the role of the media. The radios and TV stations close to, or linked directly to, the Catholic Church hierarchy have been spewing out a lot of right-wing propaganda aimed at whipping up nationalist prejudice against the so-called danger of the break up of Spain.
The right wing in fact did not wait long after the victory of the PSOE last year to start a campaign against the government. The first mobilisations they organised were to “defend the family” when the PSOE passed a law legalising gay marriages. Then, as now, the Catholic Church, the PP and all other “respectful” people in society engaged in a vehement campaign to defend the “traditional values of Spanish society and the family”.
In reality it was a good opportunity to test the strength of popular support for the government and to mobilise against it. It was also an attempt to try and shift the balance of forces to the right after the radicalising effects of the anti-war demonstrations had brought the PSOE to power after last year’s Madrid bombings.
The second opportunity they had, (and this is still going on), was to mobilise in support of the so-called “divine unity” of Spain against the Catalan “separatists”. This came after the proposal of the Catalan Regional Government (a coalition of the Catalonian PSOE, the left-wing petty bourgeois nationalists of the ERC and the former Communist Party, ICV-EUiA) to re-write their regional constitution (the “Estatut d’Autonomia”). This was a historic demand of the labour movement against the Franco dictatorship. But the changes were very minor ones. They do not change anything fundamental and in particular they respect private property. It all amounted to politely asking permission of the Spanish Parliament to make some minor changes. But it was enough for the right-wing to start screaming about the attempts to “destroy Spain.”
The PP and their reactionary and demagogic friends who control the press have been mobilising the most backward layers within Spanish society against “gays, reds, nationalists and other ‘undesirable’ elements, such as the immigrants”. After decades of bourgeois democracy in which an attempt was made to play down the class divisions of Spain what we have is the same old ugly face of that same bourgeoisie that backed Franco in the 1936 Spanish Civil war. The “two Spains” are very much alive indeed!
Weakness invites aggression
The response of the PSOE government has been weak and contradictory. It has been trying to keep both sides happy. Immediately after the demonstration Zapatero announced that he was going to meet with the organisers to start a “dialogue”! He is really fooling himself and the workers and youth who voted for him if he thinks this is going to appease reaction in Spain. The right wing are not concerned about any “negotiations”. They simply want to weaken the government, to damage its image as much as possible, as the right-wing have always done. It is incredible that the social democratic leaders of the PSOE have not understood this simple lesson after their eight years in opposition.
Just before the demonstration took place the deputy Prime Minister rushed to the Vatican to reassure the Catholic Church hierarchy that the government had no intention of undermining the privileges of the Church in Spain. She announced “the intention of the government to maintain the status quo in relation to the financing of the Church in Spain, i.e. the continued payment of wages of religion teachers, to continue to allow the Catholic Church to keep its present quota of tax rebates and the tax exemptions on improvements to the historic patrimony that they also enjoy” (La Vanguardia, November 12).
All this merely plays into the hands of the PP as it transmits an image of fear and submission on the part of the PSOE government. The PSOE has tried to build bridges between the Vatican and the Catholic Church in Spain, trying to convince the bishops of the good will of the government. It would seem that the PSOE leaders are more concerned about keeping happy this array of reactionary bishops and cardinals than in defending the interests of millions of students, teachers and parents. What they don’t understand is that the Catholic Church does not care about “good will”. All they care about is getting a right-wing government back into power.
In response to all this the Spanish Student Union (Sindicato Estudiantes) recently organised a protest both against the Law On Education and the hypocrisy of the right-wing, but the government and the right-wing media enforced a blackout and refused to mention it.
The problem that the PSOE will soon find out is that you cannot keep two enemies happy forever. Their choice will soon be either with the capitalists and their allies or with the working class and the youth. Unfortunately their tax reform and the foreign policy of the Spanish Government (such as sending troops to Afghanistan and Haiti, after the withdrawal from Iraq) show that they have already gone down the wrong road. They will pay dearly for all this.
All this has provoked contradictions and divisions within the PSOE. And it is not only a matter of religious education. The process in Catalonia towards some kind of self-government, as explained above, has also divided the leaders of PSOE and some of them have even joined the PP in their defence of “the unity of Spain”. This disgraceful behaviour on the part of these “socialist” leaders can only damage the perception that the working class has of its own main, mass traditional party.
The Catalan Socialist Party leaders and their allies, the ERC and IC-EUiA, are behaving like a transmission belt for the Catalan bourgeoisie. They give the reactionary Catalan bourgeoisie a veneer of “progressiveness”. In reality all the Catalan capitalists want is to find a mechanism by which they can justify their demands for more subsidies for their own businesses.
On the other side we have other leaders of the PSOE, such as Rodríguez Ibarra in Extremadura, Vázquez in Galícia and the Minister of Defence, Bono who have joined with the PP in using the demands of the Catalan bourgeoisie to raise the spectre of the weakening of Spanish “national unity”.
All this of course is absolute nonsense. All it achieves is to give an image of divisions and confusion within the PSOE leadership. This is something that had already happened previously over the question of gay marriages. When the law was passed, criticism came not only from the right wing but also from some bourgeois elements within the upper layers of the PSOE itself! Faced with such treachery, it is the task of the workers of Spain to mobilise to remove from the workers’ parties and the trade unions these elements that defend the interests of the bosses.
Zapatero is betraying his social base
We must remember who put Zapatero in power in the first play. It was not his willingness to dialogue with the forces of reaction that brought him to power. He came to power thanks to the mass mobilisation of millions of workers and youth. If he wishes to ignore this and proceed with his present policies he risks losing the next general election and preparing the ground for a return of the reactionary right wing. This would mean a right wing back in power determined to impose the most reactionary legislation on the working class, such as raising the age of retirement, and so on.
The main weakness of Zapatero has been his inability to meet the demands of his own social base, the working class and youth, on such things as housing, secure jobs, improvements in health and education... That is what the workers were expecting! The PSOE leaders must change their policies now before it is too late and defend the interests of those who elected them.
Unfortunately, the PSOE government is not just ignoring the demands of the workers; it is in fact already talking about reforming the labour law and introducing the German model, i.e. retirement at 67! This is preparing a confrontation with the unions.
The leaders of the trade unions, CCOO and UGT, together with the CEAPA (the progressive parents’ association) must now organise immediately a mass mobilisation to stop all this. They must stop any attempts to worsen workers’ living conditions. They must defend state education, which should be secular, democratic, and of high quality. This is what the Marxist leadership of the Spanish Student Union (SE) is campaigning for. This is the only concrete way of defending a real improvement in education.
The danger signals are already there. Recent polls now show that the PP is slightly ahead of the PSOE. If the Socialist leaders continue with their policy of appeasement of the right wing and continue to ignore the real issues while the PP continues with its campaign, one thing is clear the working class is going to have to step in. It will be forced to fight back.
The right wing have aroused the most reactionary layers of society. They are mobilising their forces. Their language is not one of appeasement but of class conflict. They are preparing their forces to attack the working class. The language they have been using is reminiscent of the language of the right wing during the Civil War. But they are playing a very dangerous game. With these methods all they will achieve is to arouse the working class, to make it aware of what is really being prepared for them. We have entered a new epoch in which the Spanish working class will rediscover its revolutionary traditions.
- Spain: After one year of the Zapatero government by the Editorial Board of El Militante (April 15, 2005)
- The lessons of Spain by Alan Woods (March 15, 2004)
- Madrid atrocities: Who is responsible? by Alan Woods (March 12, 2004)
- Terrorist Atrocity in Madrid by Alan Woods (March 11, 2005)
- Spain: Mass mobilizations force the unions to call for a one day General Strike against the war by Pablo Sanchez (April 4, 2003)
- Spain: Unprecedented student demonstrations against the imperialist war (March 26, 2003)