Spanish workers vote Socialist to block the Right

The PSOE has won a decisive general election victory after a heated and bitter campaign in which the right wing Popular Party mobilized the forces of reaction, using language that was reminiscent of the period before the Civil War in the 1930s. Alan Woods in Madrid looks at the meaning of this result.

Outside the Socialist Party headquarters in Madrid there was a sea of red flags as excited supporters greeted the news of the Party's election victory. With 96% of results in, the Spanish Socialist Worker's Party had won 43.7% of the vote, giving it 169 seats in the lower house, an increase of five on 2004, but short of the 176 needed for an absolute majority. The People's Party won 40.1%, which translates to 153 seats, up six on 2004.

The PSOE won a decisive general election victory after a heated and bitter campaign in which the right wing PP (Popular Party) mobilized the forces of reaction, using language that was reminiscent of the period before the Civil War in the 1930s. The Catholic Church has been a major player in this campaign of destabilization, organizing massive street demonstrations against Spain's socialist government and its Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero.

As a result, there has been a sharp polarization between the classes and an unbridgeable gap between Left and Right. This political and social polarization left no room in the centre and ruthlessly squeezed out the smaller parties. The undoubted losers were the smaller parties, confirming the two-party nature of Spanish politics. The pro-Catalan independence ERC lost five seats, leaving it with only three,

The United Left (IU), the front organized by the Communist Party, received its worst result ever, being reduced to only two seats, one of which was in conjunction with a small left Catalan organization. So in reality IU only won a single seat under its own banner, in Madrid. It was a bitter blow, but one that was entirely predictable.

For years the leaders of the PCE have abandoned Communist policies and ideology, being reduced to a pale reformist reflection of the PSOE. All history shows that if there are two reformist parties with a similar policy, the workers will vote for the larger party and the smaller party will tend to disappear.

Last night the workers of Spain closed ranks to block the seemingly irresistible advance of the Right, which in Spain is traditionally identified with the dark past of the Franco dictatorship and fascism. The memories of that past have been stirring uneasily in Spanish society, and the working class mobilized to inflict a defeat on the forces of reaction. In this they have succeeded. The glum faces of Rajoy and the other PP leaders last night were an eloquent admission of this.

The election campaign was thrown into turmoil at the last minute by the killing of a politician, which was clearly the work of the Basque separatist organization ETA. The right wing has consistently taken advantage of the terrorist tactics of ETA to attack the Socialist government for its "weakness" and demand further repression.

However, on this occasion their tactic did not work. The working class of Spain was not going to be diverted from its aim by scare-mongering tactics. In fact, the brutal murder of Isaias Carrasco, a worker and former Socialist town councillor who was shot dead two days before the elections, produced a general mood of revulsion and sympathy for the Socialists, which was reflected in a big vote for the PSOE in the Basque Country (Euskadi). The Socialist Party is now the biggest party in Euskadi.

A similar situation can be seen in Catalonia where the Socialists swept the board in Barcelona, Gerona and other important areas. In traditionally red Andalucia, the Socialists likewise won a crushing victory.

The PP has never been reconciled to their defeat in the last elections in March 2004, when right-winger Aznar was swept from power following the bloody terrorist bombings in Madrid, in which 191 people were killed and 1,800 injured. They considered themselves the natural possessors of government and were convinced that they would eject the Socialists this time. They have been proved wrong. Seeing the danger of a return of the Right, the workers turned out in great numbers to vote. Polling day saw a turnout of over 75%. "It was incredible!" a veteran trade unionist told me: "The people were enthusiastic. They were queuing up to vote."

There can be no doubt that the main reason for this enthusiasm was the desire to inflict a stunning defeat on the PP. Many people who had traditionally voted for IU voted PSOE for this reason. The general idea was; Well, Zapatero may not be the best thing, but we must support him against the Right. In his first term, Zapatero carried out a number of progressive measures, such as the withdrawal of troops from Iraq, the introduction of social reforms, including the legalisation of gay marriage, and the cession of more power to Spain's semi-autonomous regions. Now he promises to extend his social reforms, pledging to create 2million jobs, to increase the minimum wage and maternity leave and to spend heavily on a high-speed train network.

However, the Socialists will be faced with a worsening economic climate. The 10 years of spectacular growth that saw the creation of new wealth and 600,000 jobs a year is now over and the Spanish economy is even more exposed than others in Europe to the cold winds of economic recession and falling house prices. Zapatero will be faced with rising unemployment, inflation at double the EU average, and a crisis in the construction industry, which has been hit by the global credit squeeze. Having seen the economy grow at a rate of 4% in recent years, analysts say it could drop to 2.5% this year.

The policies of reformism cannot solve the fundamental problems of the working class. The new government will come under even more ferocious pressure from big business, the Church and the right wing to abandon its reforms and carry out a policy of cuts. Zapatero fell short of the absolute majority that he had been hoping for. Socialist Party officials will now be forced to negotiate with smaller regional parties in order to form a majority. The bourgeois nationalists will add to the pressure on Zapatero to drop his reforms and turn to the right. On the other hand the Socialist rank and file and the trade unions will press for a policy in the interests of the working people. The PSOE will find itself ground between two stones.

The polarization between the classes will intensify. Spain's growth was built partly on the backs of the five million immigrants who have come to the country in the last 10 years, and now make up 10% of the population. These immigrants have been among the first to be hit by rising unemployment. The PP, which has openly fascist elements on its periphery, has shamelessly espoused racist propaganda.

During the campaign, Rajoy played on fears of unemployed immigrants soaking up the country's welfare payments, telling Zapatero in live televised debates - the first to be held in Spain in 15 years - that he had caused an "avalanche" of migrants. This is a warning of the kind of racist demagogy that the Right will use in the next period in an attempt to divide the working class. The national question also remains. The murder of Carrasco highlighted the fact that conflict in the Basque country has not gone away. As in the 1930s, it will remain as a further element of destabilization, turbulence and violence.

In the last analysis, the solution will not be found in the rarefied atmosphere of the Cortes, but in the factories, in the schools and on the streets. Spain is entering into a turbulent period of class struggle, in which the working class will use its industrial muscle to fight for its rights. The students and school students will mobilise, as they have done in the past, to demand improvements in education and to resist the impositions of the Church and the Right Wing.

In all this, the Spanish Marxist Tendency, organized in El Militante, will occupy a central role, fighting for every reform and every progressive demand, while at the same time explaining patiently to the advanced workers and youth that the only solution is a socialist government pledged to a genuine socialist programme, based on the nationalization of the banks and big monopolies under democratic workers' control and management.