Frankenstein and the Monster (Part II)

Ed George edgeorge at
Sat May 31 17:46:29 MDT 2003


At the end of 1975, as the octogenarian dictator Franco lay dying, [12]
whatever the differences that existed within the ranks of the regime's
apparatus and base, there was near unanimity on one point. The previous
year, in neighbouring Portugal, the Caetano dictatorship had fallen in
full-blown revolutionary crisis. That was not going to happen in Spain.
What did in fact happen - universally an accurately subsequently dubbed
la transición - was a remarkably seamless and bloodless process of
self-reform of the Francoist state apparatus. The fundamental fact was
that the dictatorship, having accomplished its mission of modernising
the Spanish social structure (a modernisation carried out on the back of
a defeat of crippling proportions for the Spanish state working class
[13]) was deemed in effect no longer necessary, and reformed itself out
of existence.

When Franco died, a transitional government, incorporating regime
hard-liners and reformers alike, was rapidly assembled around Adolfo
Suárez, the former general secretary of the Movimiento (previously
Falange), the official - and only permitted -  political party under the
dictatorship; and the king, Juan Carlos, Franco's personally chosen
heir. This government oversaw the drafting of a new constitution, and
the first free elections since the days of the Second Republic in the
1930s. But it is significant to note that this reform process was
carried out entirely under the tutelage of the old Francoist state
bureaucracy: there was no revolution, no tumultuous overthrow of the old
order; neither was there any kind of calling to account of anyone for
the terrible suffering inflicted on the Spanish people during the civil
war and dictatorship. And fundamental to the success of this operation
was the enthusiastic support lent to the new regime by the Spanish
Communist Party, the dominant oppositional force within Spain at the
time (mainstream Spanish social democracy had proved itself incapable of
maintaining an underground organisation of any note, and, although in
its formal political positions stood well to the left of the Communist
Party, had been forced to operate from outside of Spain). As then leader
of the Communist Party, Santiago Carrillo, was to tell Suárez in this
period during one of their frequent private tête-à-têtes: 'Adolfo, there
are only two serious politicians in this country: you and me.'

What lay behind the Communist Party's decision to throw its weight so
unreservedly behind this new government of relatively unreconstructed
fascists? The position of the Party was informed by the same
popular-frontist policy that had determined their line in the civil war
of the 1930s. For them, the dictatorship of Franco was not a
dictatorship of Spanish capitalism tout court, but of only the most
backward and reactionary sectors of it. This had two consequences.
First, the dictatorship was seen as inherently unstable (even though it
had long resisted the PCE's promises that it was on the point of
collapse). Second, that there were in Spain bourgeois elements who had a
vested interest in ending the dictatorship; who could be won to a
popular struggle against Spanish fascism - as long, of course, that the
struggle remained politically within certain limits and did not become
too radical. It was this approach that underlay the PCE's curious line,
which dominated its positions from the mid-1950s, of 'national
reconciliation'. [14] Of course, as in the civil war, that the forces of
Spanish fascism were the principle enemy of the working class movement
was incontestable. Where the line of the PCE was flawed was where it saw
Spanish fascism as anachronistic. This was far from the case: once the
radicalisation of the 1930s had displayed itself, the crushing of the
working class movement became the precondition for the modernisation of
Spanish capitalism, and this latter was the overriding concern of the
Spanish bourgeoisie en bloc. That the 'modern', 'democratic' bourgeoisie
could find common cause with the fascist apparatus of the Spanish state
against popular anti-fascist struggle was ruled out of the Communist
schema; but this is what precisely happened in the transición. The irony
of the PCE's position lay in the fact that its view that the very
anachronistic nature of Spanish fascism made its overthrow obligatory
was something it shared with the revolutionary left: where the
revolutionary left differed from the Communist perspective was that it
viewed the overthrow of fascism as a 'socialist' task which could only
be carried out by the working class, while the Communists clung, against
all evidence to the contrary, to their popular-frontist proclivities.
Nevertheless, the two perspectives clearly share a curious symmetry of
form. What practically nobody predicted was that Spanish fascism,
representing as it did the hegemonic interests of the whole Spanish
bourgeoisie, could simply, once its historical modernising function had
been completed, reform itself into 'normal' bourgeois democracy. Yet of
course this is precisely what happened: it is precisely this process
that lies behind the way that the Spanish experience has been held up as
a model of moves from dictatorship to democracy the world over.

In fact the only political current in Spain that had grasped the
essential nature of Spanish fascism was the opposition within the PCE
led by Fernando Claudín and Jorge Semprún, which was able to see the
hegemonic role and function of dictatorship and, as a consequence,
predicted that, under the right conditions, a project of democratic
self-reform was open to it. It really is one of the tragedies of the
Spanish left that the analysis of Claudín and Semprún appealed to so few
of its ranks: within the Communist Party such views were simply regarded
as heretical, and Claudín and Semprún found themselves ejected from the
party in fairly short order; to the revolutionary left, heavily
influenced by radical Maoist-Guevarist models of revolution, or by the
worst excesses of the impossibilist 'socialism now' interpretation of
permanent revolution then (as now) in vogue within the Trotskyist
movement, the possibility of a peaceful transition to a normal
bourgeois-democratic form of state rule appeared itself as authentic
'Stalinist' popular frontism. That the transition largely passed the
Spanish state left by - in the case of the Communist Party after it had
played the role of legitimising the transitional governments of Suárez -
was a function of its incapacity to understand the real nature and
function of the very dictatorship it had aligned itself against. As we
shall see, the legacy of this - a bitter one - makes itself felt all too
strongly even to this very day. 

Suárez attempted to organise the ad hoc coalition of forces behind the
new regime into a new political party, the UCD, encompassing regime
moderates and even a layer of social democrats, but, inevitably, what
had been assembled was transitory and unstable and the UCD, although it
won the first elections, haemorrhaged forces to its left and right: to
PSOE on the one side and to the newly formed neoclerical conservative
Alianza Popular, set up by Franco's former Minister of Tourism Manuel
Fraga. It was the Alianza Popular that was to mutate, in 1990, into the
Partido Popular, when Fraga was replaced by his protégé, a young former
Falange activist by the name of José María Aznar.

The progressive disintegration of the UCD government at the turn of the
decade opened up a vacuum at the heart of Spanish state politics; at the
same time, it was becoming increasingly clear that the shift from the
top-down state social management of the Franco era to a more open
free-marketism - imposed in a context of a severe austerity programme as
the government desperately tried to avert the free-fall into which the
Spanish economy appeared to heading by locking down wages and slashing
social spending - was stimulating working class discontent. This twin
process found its resolution in 1982: by a huge margin, the elections of
that year were won by a PSOE which had been transformed at its last
conference in exile (in 1974, in Suresnes, France) and which had won the
Socialist International's Spanish-state franchise in 1976, and which was
now led by a new young generation from the interior - figureheaded by
the charismatic and photogenic young sevillano Felipe González, but in
reality driven by the eminence gris of Spanish social-democracy, the
irascible but brilliant Alfonso Guerra (a Spanish Mandelson if ever
there was one). This was the first time history that Spain had had a
socialist government: and the memory of 1982 still lives on in Spanish
state social democratic circles much in the same way as the mythical
legacy of 1945 does in British ones. [15]

Yet - and it is important to register the following in order to grasp
the dynamic of events - the PSOE landslide had been preceded one year
before by a curious event. On 23 February, as the Spanish Parliament was
sitting to confirm Leopoldo Calvo Sotelo as Suárez's successor as Prime
Minister [16] (the latter having resigned - a symptom of the centrifugal
forces gathering force within the UCD - at the end of the previous
month), Antonio Tejero, a colonel in the paramilitary Guardia Civil
police force, led a group of fellow officers into the chamber. As his
colleagues blocked the doors, and as astonished deputies looked on,
Tejero marched up to the speaker's podium, and, firing his revolver
wildly in the air, ordered everyone to the floor. It seemed that Spain's
democratic experiment was going to be short-lived. But the attempted
coup won little support among the upper echelons of the military: only
General Jaime Milan del Bosch, commander of the Valencia region,
responded, ordering tanks onto the streets of the capital of the Spanish
Levante; and within 24 hours Tejero and his followers had surrendered,
and the deputies released.

The coup made legends out of three people. Out of Suárez and Carrillo,
who, legend had it, were the only deputies who refused to move from
their seats and hit the floor as they had been ordered. Both men thus
emerged from the incident having displayed almost superhuman courage,
and covered in glory. Emerging equally blessed by events was the king
himself, who, after a little (still unaccounted for) hesitation, had
appeared in the small hours of that night on state television to
denounce the coup and call on military units loyal to the government to
put it down: something that, as we have seen, was not in the end
necessary. Juan Carlos was thus transformed by the coup into something
of a saviour of Spanish democracy; significantly, any remaining stain
left by his association with the dictatorship had been removed. 

Nevertheless, alongside the emergence of this triumvirate of saviours of
democracy, the idea had been rammed home that the fascist threat had not
been completely extinguished, and the idea that undue radicalism could
awake the slumbering fascist beast had been impressed on all (a point
that Carrillo was to repeat again and again in his copious memoirs of
the transition).

Which was very convenient for all concerned, all in all. Now, there is
insufficient evidence that the whole event was a put-up job, even if
evidence has subsequently emerged that CESID, the Spanish secret
service, had been heavily involved in its preparation. It is certainly
true as well that the ring leaders of the coup escaped especially heavy
sentences (for a crime which, in lesser countries and in recent times,
would have got them shot, or worse). And its timing, with the
possibility of a resurgent working class radicalism and a disintegrating
government, was certainly fortuitous. Nevertheless, no final judgement
can be made on the question of whether 23 February was a grand
conspiracy or simply an extraordinary fortuitous stroke of luck, even if
the former view is increasingly widely held in Spain. [17] But from this
point, everyone operated as if there was a slumbering fascist giant
ready to be awakened; whereas in fact the entire logic of preceding
events indicates that this view was absolutely false.

To return to our story. The economic scenario facing the new PSOE
government was far from encouraging. Franco had in fact chosen an
unfortunate time to die, at least from the economic point of view: the
transición had to coincide with the explosive quadrupling of world oil
prices, and since Spain imported 70 per cent of its energy, mostly in
the form of Middle Eastern oil, it was hit hard. By the end of 1982, as
PSOE took office, inflation was running at an annual rate of 16 per
cent, the external current account was US$4 billion in arrears, public
spending was ballooning and the foreign exchange reserves had become
dangerously depleted.

To deal with this the policy framework adopted by the new PSOE
government was essentially a continuation - and a deepening - of that
pursued by that of Suárez, what today would be called 'Thatcherite':
privatisation, restructuring and lay-offs, hiking the prices of public
goods, slashing pensions and sickness payments. [18] The record of the
government would be a familiar one for many Europeans in this period,
but it was not what had been expected from the until recently 'Marxist'
PSOE as it took the reigns of a country blinking into the new democratic

There was one particular measure taken by the government that was to
have particularly and insidiously deleterious consequences over the long
term: the 1984 Reforma del Estatuto de los Trabajadores sought
(ostensibly at least) to facilitate the creation of new employment by
liberalising what was considered an especially rigid labour market
(inherited from the dictatorship). Temporary working, as we have seen,
has subsequently become a structural feature of Spanish employment (I
say 'structural', since it bears little relation to typical patterns of
seasonal work or gender distribution of employment, towards which the
reforms of 1984 were ostensibly aimed). The fundamental point to
register here is that the reforms opening up the Spanish-state labour
market to 'flexibility' were introduced by the Socialist Party
government, not by the right: and in 1996, at the end of the PSOE
government, temporary contracts stood at around 40 per cent of the
private sector entire workforce.

Nevertheless, the 1982-96 PSOE government effected the stabilisation of
the Spanish economy, but a stabilisation carried out at the expense of
the working class, and nowhere is this clearer than in relation to
'labour flexibility'. A complaint heard from time to time by older
people is 'we lived better under Franco': and in relation to job
security we are obliged to say that by and large they are right. That it
was a government of the left that was responsible for this state of
affairs rather than a government of the right is a fact whose
consequences we are still having to deal with.

Its job done, however, PSOE found itself discarded by Spanish
capitalism. In 1996, by the slenderest of margins, and with the support
of the moderate Basque and Catalan nationalist parties, the PP was able
to assemble a government.

The end of the PSOE period was ignominious. It wasn't so much that the
government was rejected by the people than that it collapsed under the
weight of its own dashed expectations. The resounding memory that people
have now of this period is one of corruption. This is a little unfair:
corruption is in Spain - as in many countries - an endemic and almost
accepted feature of everyday daily life. All the major parties,
including the parties of the left, operate on the basis of clientage
networks. But corruption is something that can normally be lived with:
dirt only sticks when there is a reason for people to want it to (as a
certain Tony Blair has been finding out recently). Thus with PSOE: as
its project ran out of steam, and the government out of momentum, the
abiding popular memory remains one of something of a governmental

(There is one 'scandal' that is worthy of further comment: 'el caso
GAL'. Between 1983 and 1987 the government - a 'socialist' government,
let's not forget - organised a secret commando, recruited from the
French criminal underworld, under the name of Grupos Antiterrorristas de
Liberación, specifically to target the Basque nationalist organisation
ETA, which was organising itself from southern France. Dozens of people
were killed, not all of them ETA sympathisers. And as time has gone on,
it has become apparent that GAL was organised right from the top
echelons of the government. As yet, the then prime minister Felipe
González has not found himself the subject of legal process in relation
to GAL, but, following the circumstantial and anecdotal evidence, that
he was in full knowledge of it is beyond any doubt whatsoever. In the
later 80s, as Franco-Spanish inter-governmental and inter-police
relations were regularised, and extradition agreements normalised, GAL
was dropped as a weapon against Basque nationalism. But it indicates the
thinking of Spanish-state social democracy on the matter of Basque
national rights and self-determination for the non-Spanish nationalities
in general: the present PSOE leadership's support for the illegalisation
of Batasuna is of a piece with the 'GAL method'.)

How can we characterise the period of PP government, begun in 1996 and
consolidated by the more convincing parliamentary majority won in 2000?
[19] The first thing that is necessary to reject is the idea, prevalent
among some sections of the left outside of the Spanish state, that the
PP government is in some sense 'fascistic'. [20] True, through the upper
echelons of the party we can trace a lineage back to Franco, both
literally [21] as well as politically, but this is to miss the point of
the nature of the transición: today the PP is as much an orthodox
bourgeois-democratic party of the right as the Spanish state is itself a
bourgeois democracy. Evidence of, for example, 'undemocratic' practices
in Euskadi is not evidence of fascism: all bourgeois democracies kill
and ban oppositions in times of difficulty (Northern Ireland!). To
perceive this as evidence of a 'creeping fascism' is not only to
under-estimate the dangers of real fascism but also to display illusions
in bourgeois democracy itself.

Neither is the Spanish state under PP rule the economic wreck it might
appear to be at first sight. Although growth has slowed since the
sustained period of expansion in the late 1990s, it stands well above
the Eurozone average. And while it is true that unemployment is high, so
too is the rate of job creation: nearly 1.4 million jobs were created
between 1996 and 1999, accounting for nearly a quarter of aggregate EU
employment growth. And while temporary contracts - probably the
fundamental 'bread-and-butter' issue in Spanish politics - constitute a
phenomenal proportion of the workforce, overall the level now is lower
than it was under PSOE, [22] and it was the latter who introduced
temporary working as a structural feature of the Spanish economy in the
first place. And while at the beginning of 1996, Spain did not meet any
of the economic convergence criteria required by the Maastricht treaty,
and many doubted it would be in any way prepared for entry into the
Eurozone in 1999, Spain sailed comfortably into the EMU, much to the
delight of the powers that be within the EU, who are even, in moments of
insobriety, inclined to bandy around phrases like 'economic miracle'.
The only cloud on the immediate horizon is Spain's above European
average rate of inflation, but as any A-level economics student will
tell you, a little inflation can be the indicator of a certain economic

Thus when Aznar says, as he was wont to do during the late 1990s, that
'España va bien' (Spain is doing well), from the point of view of
bourgeois politics he is right: España va muy bien indeed. And this is
the fundamental difficulty faced by the left in general, and PSOE in
particular. For there is no criticism that they can in truth make
against the PP for which they can produce supporting evidence. When the
PP attacks the working class - in relation to labour flexibility, for
example, or cutting benefits, or in relation to the repression it metes
out in the Basque country - it does nothing that PSOE has not done in
office, and PSOE's record on these matters is in fact often worse than
that of the PP. In terms of the management of the economy, given that
the days of Keynsian pump-priming are long gone, and as long as PSOE
does not seriously challenge the present set-up of the European Union
and its present convergence and enlargement, it cannot argue that it
would deal with the problems facing the Spanish economy in a
fundamentally different way with any credibility. The only issues on
which PSOE can challenge the PP are contingencies - such as the
Prestige, or the War, when all it can say really is. 'Trust us, we would
do this differently if we were the government' - or to raise the
perennial question of the PP's fascist roots. The former is simply not
credible election material, and the latter is either pure demagogy, or
indicative of the fact that the PSOE in its modern incarnation simply
does not understand where it has come from.

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