The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx

The Socialist Party in the Government and the Army in the Wings

Jan 31, 1983

The recent election of the Spanish Socialist Workers Party (PSOE) in Spain crowned the transition from the Franco dictatorship to bourgeois democracy. A decade ago it would have seemed impossible that such a long standing and deeply rooted dictatorship could have been shed, not as the result of social struggles, but peacefully and with social calm. But today, the Spanish bourgeoisie feels secure enough even to accept a party of the Left in the government – a party that presents itself as a workers’ party.

What pushed the Spanish bourgeoisie to make such a shift? Why did it want to discard the dictatorship that had defended its interests since its installation in the 1930s?

Under Franco and the army, the regime disciplined the workers and peasants with an iron hand. Their wages and working conditions were kept at the lowest levels. Having ensured social calm, by the 1950s the Spanish bourgeoisie was able to begin a rapid modernization of the economy without fear of social disruption. It benefitted from a certain investment by the foreign bourgeoisie. And it received financial help from the U.S. government, both directly and indirectly, through the International Monetary Fund (IMF). As a result, Spain was able to develop a range of industries including auto, steel, ship-building, chemicals, cement, paper, shoes and textiles.

But if the dictatorship’s enforcement of order allowed such a development, it was at the price of making Spain a very restrictive and closed society. This began to pose problems for the bourgeoisie itself. The police state atmosphere denied political liberties even to the bourgeoisie, and it limited cultural development within Spain. The consequence of this lack of democracy was that the bourgeoisie had neither access to information nor even the possibility of an open discussion, which was needed for it to decide on its policy.

On top of this, the dictatorship had earned the hatred of the population, and it had no safety valves to let off the steam of the popular discontent. After thirty years during which the dictatorship had maintained social order, social and political struggles began to weigh against the restrictions of the dictatorship. In the mid-1960s and then again in the 1970s, the working class organized itself and engaged in strikes. And it wasn’t only the working class that worried the Spanish bourgeoisie. In the Basque and Catalan regions there were movements for independence. In the Basque region, the movement took the form of terrorist activities, including assassinations against the regime. And by the 1970s, sections of the middle classes, including students, intellectuals, sections of the church and even elements inn the army, were beginning to take their distance from the regime.

Even on the economic level, there were problems. By the 1970s, the economic development had reached a plateau, without, however, addressing many of the problems of underdevelopment. Spanish industry was on a small scale, with most businesses employing less than fifty people. And its industry was concentrated and localized around three urban areas.

Agriculture remained backward and inefficient, and even in the 1970s, close to twenty-eight percent of the population was still engaged in agricultural production. Agricultural products remained Spain’s biggest exports.

The dictatorship itself was an obstacle to addressing these problems, since it was in part the cause of Spain being isolated without trade openings to Europe. Politically, the democracies of Europe could not accept the Franco regime into the Common Market. And the dictatorship with its low wages gave the Spanish bourgeoisie an unfair advantage in the eyes of the other European bourgeoisies. In order to have trade relations with Europe, to expand its markets and economic possibilities, it had to remove the barriers of the dictatorship.

How to Find a Smooth Transition

The obviously approaching death of the dictator, Franco, posed the necessity of the problem acutely. It also offered the opportunity to the bourgeoisie to open up the political situation.

But if there was a necessity, there were also risks. If the dictator was removed, without any provision for a transition being made, the dictatorial regime itself could fail, brought down by social struggles. What happened later in Portugal illustrates precisely the problem. A military coup in 1974 by a faction of the army was necessary to overthrow the dictatorship. This opened the way for social upheavals, with mass popular participation.

The Spanish bourgeoisie had long concerned itself with the problem of Franco’s successor. The continuity of order was already being examined in the 1960s. The regime itself began to take steps to guarantee the there would be a smooth transition of authority at the time of Franco’s death.

In 1966, a prime minister was designated and given limited duties and authority. First an admiral held the post, and then a former minister in Franco’s cabinet. But the main hopes of the Spanish ruling class were pinned on Juan Carlos. In 1969, Juan Carlos was designated as the future king and head of state, to succeed Franco. Twice, during periods of Franco’s ill health, Juan Carlos temporarily assumed power. More or less, the Spanish bourgeoisie went as far as it was able to, before Franco’s death, to prepare itself for the future.

But that in itself posed other dangers. The fact that the bourgeoisie itself, with its regime in accord, moved to change the regime, might unlock the floodgates of social struggles. If the Spanish bourgeoisie was to move from a dictatorial regime to a bourgeois democratic one, like those of Western Europe, with their parliaments, political parties, and trade unions, it needed to assure several things.

It needed first of all to make sure that its state apparatus, that is, above all, the army, was not upset and remained intact and functioning within the democracy, as it had under the dictatorship. Secondly, it needed to be sure that it had political parties ready to participate in a parliamentary framework. It needed a social democratic party and union leadership that could convince the working class to accept to discipline itself. If both these conditions were met, then the Spanish bourgeoisie could take the risk of a democratic opening.

Spain after Franco

When Franco died in 1975, the Spanish ruling class moved quickly. Juan Carlos was installed as king and head of state immediately. Iribarne, a former minister of Franco’s, became prime minister.

At first the Left parties and unions stood somewhat aloof from the monarchy. But their opposition was modified quickly, as they saw that their prospects for legalization were tied to their approval of Juan Carlos. In 1976, Juan Carlos and the Right-wing government, feeling more confident that the Left had fallen in line, moved toward a legalization of the parties and the unions, and set up a parliament. Under Franco, only his own party had been legal. With the first national elections in 1977, the problem for the Right was to quickly create its own parliamentary parties. This took two forms: the party of Fraga Iribarne, the Popular Alliance, which openly had ties to the past, and a new electoral formation under Adolfo Suarez, the Union of the Democratic Center (UDC), a looser centrist formation that had the appearance of more independence from the old regime.

On the Left, the parties already existed. That is, the SP and the CP had continued to exist clandestinely and in exile during the dictatorship. The representatives of the Spanish bourgeoisie were wary of the CP and the Workers’ Commissions. The government proceeded carefully before legalizing them. It was uneasy that the army and sections of Franco’s apparatus might not be willing to accept the CP with its ties to Moscow, and its leadership of past workers’ struggles. The CP appeared to them as the most radical faction of the Left and far less trustworthy than the SP. In addition, given who the militants of the CP were, and the fact that they were formed in clandestine struggles, it was not completely sure what the CP was going to do. The CP had been the major opposition to the dictatorship and the defender of the republic against the monarchy. The Spanish bourgeoisie wanted a trial period before granting the CP a legal status, to see what it was willing to accept. The test was what its attitude would be toward Juan Carlos. From 1975 until 1977, the CP remained officially illegal. In fact it was allowed to function openly until it showed itself ready to demonstrate its responsibility toward the bourgeoisie. It was finally legalized just in time for the 1977 elections.

One side result of the holding back of legalization of the CP was to favor the SP, which had existed mainly in exile and whose union, the General Workers Union (UGT), had only weak roots in the working class. Giving it its legality first gave it a head start to campaign, as well as in the race to establish themselves.

The SP had already demonstrated its responsibility. Under the leadership of Felipe Gonzales, a middle class lawyer, it removed all references to Marxism from its texts, put away its Republican flags, and showed its respect for the king. It tried in every way to give itself an appearance of moderation. It aimed at being the left half of the parliamentary whole.

By 1977, both the SP and the CP had shown their loyalty to the monarchy and were ready to participate in the regime.

By the 1977 elections, the Spanish bourgeoisie had its political parties both Right and Left ready to play their role in the new democracy. Suarez and the UDC won a majority in the elections. The parliamentary game had been put in place, and it was this that in part allowed the bourgeoisie to continue to take down the scaffolding of the dictatorship with few risks.

In 1978, a constitutional referendum, which was supported by all of the parties, was held. Its passage ratified the constitutional monarchy as a permanent feature of Spanish democracy. It marked the complete official capitulation of the Left, formalizing what the SP and the CP had in fact decided quite a bit earlier.

The unions, which were legalized in 1976 and 1977, from the beginning played the role of broker for the bourgeoisie in the working class. In the period after Franco’s death they made no attempt to organize the workers for any struggles. In 1977, with the signing of the Moncloa Pact they began the process of enforcing the social contract on the working class. This pact set a new wage- and benefit-freeze in place. The unions signed another such accord in 1980 and a national employment pact in 1981. The result of all these pacts is that since 1978 the working class has seen its buying power cut by twenty-six percent. Not only did these pacts force the workers to pay for the crisis through wage sacrifices, but they also gave additional gifts to the bosses in the form of a cut in both the unemployment benefits and social security payments that the bosses were required to pay.

As a reward for a job well done the regime granted the unions $250 million to compensate them for property confiscated from them under Franco, and gave them the right in 1981 to an automatic dues check-off.

The only problem so far that the regime hasn’t been able to regulate is the problem of the oppressed nationalities. The regime opened talks, appointed representatives from the regions to government posts, and in 1980 granted a kind of paper autonomy to several regions. But this has not been enough so far to get the Basque nationalists to play the same role as the Left and the unions. Neither the government’s overtures nor its continual repression prevented the armed groups in the Basque country from continuing their terrorist attacks.

Where Is Spain Today?

Today the bourgeoisie is ready to accept the Left in power. In fact, for the bourgeoisie there could be an advantage today to have the Left, and not the Right, in government. By the time of the last elections the economic crisis in Spain had worsened. Today there is an unemployment rate of sixteen percent, over two million people. Inflation is running at between fifteen and sixteen percent. The state deficit at the time of the elections was one trillion pesetas. The SP in the government is more likely than a Right-wing party to be able to impose the austerity measures needed to help the bourgeoisie weather the crisis. The SP has the confidence of the working class more than the Right-wing parties do.

The SP, and even the CP, and the unions, all say to the workers that their only real guarantee is to put their trust in the government, to trust in the Left parties even if the Left can offer nothing but austerity; and, they hold over the workers’ heads the threat that, other than that, the workers risk to have the Right wing back in power or, even worse, an army coup.

Any democracy is watched over by the army, but this is especially so in Spain. The army is the bourgeoisie’s apparatus to defend its interests and guard its property. If the army does so today from the barracks, this doesn’t mean that it won’t be at the head of the government tomorrow. This is especially true in Spain, where the army that stands guard behind Gonzalez today is the same one which stood guard behind Franco.

Today the army is not directly in power in Spain. It waits in the wings. But even in this period, there have been several coup attempts, and there are constant rumors of other potential coups. Tejero, the lieutenant colonel who led the coup attempt of 1981, was not even prohibited from running in the recent elections. If the bourgeoisie doesn’t need to call the army to power today, nonetheless it keeps officers even like Tejero in reserve. Tomorrow, we could see the army push the democracy aside and again take the helm of the Spanish state. It’s highly likely the army will move in if the working class does not accept the austerity of the SP and decides to struggle, and at the same time is not prepared to defend itself against the army. This could easily happen if the struggle in the Basque region escalates.

But even if there are no struggles, there is no guarantee that democracy will stay. If the crisis worsens and the Spanish bourgeoisie needs more sacrifices and more quickly than the SP can deliver them, the bourgeoisie could bring the army back to power.

Certainly for the working class it is preferable to live under a democracy rather than a dictatorship. But it can’t count on the gifts given to it by the bourgeoisie. The workers need to understand that what the bourgeoisie has given – whether in the form of economic concessions or democratic rights – it can also take away if it feels its interests threatened. The bourgeoisie has recourse to either democracy or dictatorship – whichever suits its purposes at the time.

Yet at exactly the time when the workers need to see clearly the danger, to see who their enemies are and prepare to defend themselves against the economic and political attacks that await them, the SP tells the workers that their best bet is to do nothing. It tells the workers that they will be safe if they do not fight. In fact, not only does the SP make the workers pay for the crisis right now. It also disarms the workers in the face of future dangers.