Huge political changes obviously point to two recent occurrences under former Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar; Supporting the Bush Administration’s war in Iraq while 90 percent of the Spanish population disagreed and the recent bombings of the RENFE commuter trains in downtown Madrid.
The interconnection of these two and the timing of the bombings left the Aznar government trying to blame the bombings on ETA, the Basque separatists who usually call in to warn of bombings, similar to the Irish Republican Army’s tactics against the British.
Aznar knew that a bombing of that magnitude by al Qaeda, of which so many Spaniards said supporting the Bush Administration would invite terrorism to Spain, could threaten the election of his chosen successor.
So, he tried to lie, even as evidence to possible al Qaeda links with the arrest of three Moroccans and two Indian Muslims and a tape from a Moroccan who claims to be with al Qaeda’s military wing in Europe surfaced.
Therefore, in one day the Spanish government majority changed from a rightwing Bush-supporter to a leftwing socialist workers’ party. Absolutely incredible, or is it? Looking at the history of Spanish politics and the socialist party, one may not be so surprised at the extreme changes. Though, it is the consequence of these changes that must be attended to.
In 1879, 11 years after “La Gloriosa,” the fall of Queen Isabella’s regime when General Juan Prim proclaimed “Long Live the Sovereign Nation!” and during what has been called the time when anarchist thought developed in Spain, the Partido Socialista Obrero Espanol (PSOE) or Socialist Workers Party of Spain was formed in the capital Madrid. It is the oldest political party in Spain. For more than ten years PSOE lived in general obscurity and insignificance, as compared to the influence the anarcho-communists and the collectivist anarchists had on the Spanish left who were primarily agrarian workers in the south and factory/mine workers in the north.
It wasn’t until 1886 when the PSOE fathered a regular paper called El Socialista and again in 1888 when a trade union branch called the UGT, General Workers’ Union (of which the famous writer George Orwell fought with during the Spanish Civil War) formed in Barcelona that the socialist movement began to have an influence on the Spanish left.
The socialists supported partial strikes for reasons only to improve working conditions, which were so abhorrent during the time. It avoided the anarchist’s general strike, which often put the entire Spanish economy at a standstill.
Still, the socialists came out in favor of the eight-hour workday, which was inspired by the anarchists’ Internal Commission of Eight Hours in 1886.
On May Day 1890, the anarchists had called a general strike which lasted four days in the Barcelona region. The PSOE decided it would have a meeting, where an incredible 20,000 workers showed up. Peacefully, the procession marched to the governor general’s office and left a note with workers’ demands and calmly dispersed. Although membership in the PSOE and UGT were nowhere near anarchist numbers, the meeting showed there were a great number of socialist sympathizers. In Madrid, Prime Minister Praxedes Sagasta was quietly handed a petition of workers’ demands from PSOE officials and a few thousand members. Sagasta, a liberal leader, would look favorably on the peaceful demonstrators.
By 1910, Pablo Iglesias, the founder and leader of the party, was named deputy to the Spanish court. But also in 1910, the anarchists formed the wildly popular CNT, or National Confederation of Workers, which by 1919 had a membership of 700,000 while serving as an umbrella group for socialists, anarchists, liberal republicans and anarcho-syndicalists.
By the time Miguel Primo de Rivera’s dictatorship (1923-1930) took hold of Spain, the Spanish left’s membership had mushroomed to over 1.5 million under the CNT, which included the socialists.
In the election of 1931, Primo de Rivera was ousted for the Popular Front left coalition republican government. Therefore, in one election, very similar to this most recent election, Spain changed from a dictatorship to a coalition of leftist organizations, including the anarchists and socialists.
Of course, the rest is history and even more extreme. General Francisco Franco, a military officer, led a fascist revolt against the republic in 1936 and by 1939 had succeeded, with the help of Hitler and Mussolini, in plunging Spain into a fascist dictatorship that lasted until his death in 1975. As reprisal, many socialist were put up in horrendous concentration camps in Albacete, many were executed on the spot after Franco took power.
In the first democratic election of 1977, after nearly forty years of socialist obscurity, the PSOE had 103 deputies and 35 senators elected. In the general election of 1982 it obtained and absolute majority, with 202 deputies and 134 senators and. its secretary general, Felipe Gonzalez, was elected prime minister. It held a majority until the elections of 1993 and was generally blamed for the downfall of the economy.
Jose Maria Aznar, a former taxman in the north-central provinces, became prime minister mostly due to the discredit of the socialists, who were said to have been corrupt. Aznar, whose father was a bureaucrat under Franco, was appointed by the conservative former Franco minister Manuel Fraga Iribarne, to head the party.
Aznar had often been linked to the chilling effect of Franco’s isolationist dictatorship in the minds of the Spanish people. Though he tried to explain many of his conservative policies and anti-worker stances as being the best path for Spain’s future, the Spanish people had enough when he sided, against the will of the people, with the Bush Administration’s war in Iraq.
Spain will now be going through some very critical times. Its foreign and domestic policies will essentially be making a U-turn while conservative leaders are rushed out of key appointed positions, socialist appointees will be pushed into service. New PSOE Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriquez Zapatero has already threatened to withdraw the country’s 1,300 troops deployed to Iraq by Aznar unless the United Nations takes over. Jacques Chirac and Gerhard Schroeder called an emergency meeting to clank champagne glasses at the election results as Zapatero has proclaimed he’ll be joining the ranks of ‘Old Europe,’ spurning the U.S. Secretary of Defense’s comic criticism of those who did not support the war in Iraq. Social programs, such as helping the poor instead of inspiring the rich with tax incentives will undoubtedly anger the out-going power base.
As PSOE members and all those who voted out the conservative leader wave their red flags in the streets of Spain, all must remember the occurrences after the Popular Front took power in 1931. As the leaders of France and Germany celebrate, Spanish conservatives are booted out of office, big Spanish business disenfranchised, the Spanish worker suddenly emphasized, the American neo-conservatives dangerously scowl across the pond as one of its own was suddenly wrenched from power.
ALEXANDER LYNCH is a journalist who lived in Spain. His forthcoming novel, “The Soft War: Notes from Madrid” is due out next year. Lynch can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org