Frankenstein and the Monster (Part III)

Ed George edgeorge at
Sat May 31 17:47:18 MDT 2003


In August 1914, as the German armies rolled across Belgium and France
practically unopposed presaging a stunning military victory in only a
matter of days, in the German High Command in Berlin the Chief of
General Staff, Helmuth Moltke, was worried. 'But where are the
prisoners?' he would ask his junior officers. 'Where are all the
captured guns?'

The Spanish transición is a little like this. In a way surprisingly but
absolutely unforeseen (dogmatic thinking has weighed especially heavy on
the Spanish state workers' movement) the Francoist state apparatus
effected a seamless process of self-reform and ushered in a
bourgeois-democratic system virtually indistinguishable - understood in
both positive and negative senses -  from those obtaining elsewhere in
western Europe. To say that this caught the left unawares would be to
severely understate the matter. Unguarded, the left found itself at the
mercy of bourgeois democracy at most clinically efficient.

That bourgeois rule follows the path of least resistance has become
something of a truism on the left, but it reveals a profound truth.
Bourgeois democracy is no mere sop to the workers, a compromise
dispensed by a grudging bourgeoisie. For the parliamentary system
operates something as does the sand-trap on a motorway. It absorbs the
momentum of the runaway vehicle, leaving it stranded and with nowhere to
go. If the Spanish transición stands as a model of anything, it
illustrates with unprecedented clarity how effective a measure bourgeois
democracy is at absorbing popular radicalisation and mobilisation. The
efficiency with which Spanish-state parliamentarism was brokered stopped
any radicalisation of the transición period dead in its tracks. [23]

The effect of the transición reduced the Communist Party - historically
the predominant opposition to Francoism domestically -  to a rump, a
status it enjoys to this day; and to call what is left of the
revolutionary left a rump would be too kind.

The only force to emerge relatively intact from the whole process was
the more pragmatically-minded PSOE, but its turn to be sucked in and
spat out by Spanish capitalism was to come. The record of the its
governmental period stands clear. Elected on a popular wave of hope for
the future by a people recently freed from the shackles of dictatorship
- and remember that up till the late 1970s PSOE was still openly calling
itself a 'Marxist' party: its electoral slogan in 1982 was 'Por el
Cambio', 'For Change' - all that it did was open up the Spanish economy
to the cold winds of free-marketism, 'labour flexibility' and austerity,
along with managing the entry of Spain into both the European Community
and NATO. PSOE effectively 'bedded in' Spanish bourgeois democracy on
behalf of the bourgeoisie; it is unlikely that an unreconstructed
government of the right could have achieved so efficiently a package of
measures so consonant with the untrammelled operation of capitalism so
soon after dictatorship itself. For Spanish capitalism the services of
the PSOE government has thus been of inestimable value. That the PP
government of Aznar (and his successor to come) can now proceed as they
are doing - consolidating the operation of neoliberalism as well as, and
it is fundamental to grasp this, ameliorating some of its worst excesses
- is due entirely to the foundations laid down by the left in
government, and in the last analysis explains the PP's continued and
dogged electoral robustness.

For, if we cast Aznar's PP as the monster, the Spanish left plays the
role of the good Doctor Frankenstein: the resurgence of the neoliberal,
neoclerical right in Spain is entirely the creation of the left, and
until it can understand this there is no way out for the latter of the
labyrinth of despair it has created for itself. No amount of renovación,
of shiny young photogenic leaders, can make up for this deficiency. But
for the left, to challenge its role in making the monster would be to
challenge everything that is noble and good in its history: the
transición remains untouchable in Spanish politics, especially among the
left - the totemic representation of everything that is progressive and
modern, the anti-pariah to dictatorship itself. This is the fundamental
difference between Zapatero and Blair, however much the former may like
to model his approach on the latter's transformation of British Labour.
For the Blairite renovación was precisely predicated on a break with a
dark past - the Labour governments of the 1970s and the consequent (so
the story goes) period of 1980s and 90s opposition and unelectability -
with reference, in however a distorted and perverted way, to a prior
period of halcyon glory rooted in 1945 (no wonder is it that the NHS,
that ridiculous and inefficient dinosaur, remains an inviolable in
Labourite mythology). But for Zapatero the dark days from which he has
to break and the halcyon days of glory are one and the same, and no
amount of ideological and demagogic gymnastics can break this bind. The
seed of Blairism cannot nourish itself on such barren Spanish soil, and
for this reason Zapatero's reign will itself be seen as something of an
interregnum by the future renovadores to come.

In its fundamental contours the same kind of process is underway with
respect to the Spanish Communist Party. If Spanish capitalism 'needed'
the left cover of PSOE to implement the first wave of neoliberal
free-marketism, it 'needed' too the left cover of the Communist Party to
legitimise the very transición itself. In turn, and by the same token,
the Communist Party too will need to rethink its past role in order to
be able to face the challenges of the future: but yet again, to do thus
would require thinking the unthinkable, such is the status of the
transición and the Party's role within it in its ideology.

What, then, is to be done? If, as Brecht said, in the contradiction lies
the hope, the fact is that the present position in which the left finds
itself is unsustainable. Already, within the Communist Party, the
opposition Corriente Roja has begun, in a limited and timid way, to
raise at least questions about the role of the party in the transición.
Should, as seems likely, Zapatero fail in 2004, PSOE will have to
address why: although the pressure will be to move the party further to
the right, opportunities will emerge to address the fundamental
questions engaged with here. And - most importantly - it is undeniably
and demonstrably the case that the Spanish state working class, although
politically bloodied, remains unbowed. The massive mobilisations of the
last six months stand clear testament to that.

But to capitalise on opportunities that may arise in the future the left
has to begin to focus itself a little more on the recent past, in order
to better avoid repeating its own history.

Nevertheless, until these tasks are addressed, the left remains trapped
by the tentacles of the system it helped create. It would be a foolish
man who would bet on there not being a PP Prime Minister occupying the
Moncloa Palace this time next year. And the left finds itself still
stuck in the sand-trap, without momentum, and going nowhere.

Unable to understand that it was he who created the monster, Doctor
Frankenstein finds himself incapable of killing it.

León, Saturday 31 June


[1] There were in fact a number of simultaneous elections on this day:
on a Spanish-state basis municipal elections, for what are called
ayuntamientos, roughly equivalent to the British local council, which
include the enormous councils of Madrid (population around 3 million)
and Barcelona (population roughly 1.5 million), down to tiny villages
where the population may be only measured in tens of people; and for the
governing bodies of 13 of the 17 comunidades autonómicas: a region of
government between the ayuntamiento and the state dating from the late
1970s and early 1980s when a regional structure of devolved government
was established with the aim of assuaging rebellious national minorities
- in Galicia, Catalunya and, especially, Euskadi - by creating an
all-Spanish state structure in which powers could be devolved to these
nationalities without acknowledging them any special 'national' status.
The structure of comunidades autonómicas sometimes follows accepted
national or regional logic, such as in the cases mentioned above, but
also includes such administrative absurdities as Castilla-La Mancha and
Castilla y León, in which previously unrelated regions have been roped
together in a way akin to, for example, creating a unitary authority out
of Yorkshire and Lancashire. There were also elections for the Spanish
held enclaves in Morocco, Ceuta and Melilla, which hold a position in
the Spanish state constitutional structure similar to the comunidades
autonómicas. Elecciones Autonómicas were not held in Catalunya
(scheduled for later this year), Andalucia (next year), and Euskadi and
Galicia (both scheduled for 2005).

[2] Aside from the traditional Catholic Church, which in Spain is in
part financed through the public tax system (direct payments to the
Church in 2001 amounted to some approximately €120 million, not
including state funding for religious teachers in public schools,
military and hospital chaplains, and other indirect assistance), we also
have to take note of the influence of the fundamentalist and highly
secretive sect Opus Dei, which enjoys a heavy influence in governmental
circles. The Defence Minister Federico Trillo, for example, is an Opus
Dei 'supernumerary', a member of the organisation's elite who tithe it a
share of their earnings. Other prominent Opus supporters include Spain's
Attorney General Jesús Cardenal, the former police chief Juan Cotino,
and three former ministers, Isabel Tocino, José Manuel Romay and Loyola
de Palacio, the last of these now a European commissioner. The present
Foreign Minister, the deeply strange Ana Palacio, attended last year's
canonisation of Opus Dei founder José María Escriva in Rome. Aznar
himself sent two of his children to Opus Dei schools and his wife, Ana
Botella, a political figure in her own right, is at least openly
sympathetic, if not an actual member.

[3] His official title is the rather grand-sounding 'President of the
Government', but since Prime Minister is effectively what he is, that is
what we shall be calling him here.

[4] The full text of the letter in English can be read at

[5] El Mundo 27 March 2003.

[6] Aznar had in fact threatened to do the same thing before the general
elections of 2000, but, that time, had been persuaded that his presence
at the helm of the party would be essential. It is perhaps surprising
that a character so singularly lacking in charisma - his deadpan
delivery style is only exacerbated by a congenital if relatively minor
facial paralysis, which he conceals in part with his trademark moustache
- should be so highly regarded as a political figurehead. But it was
precisely Aznar's plain-man, common-sensical persona that had appealed
to a good part of the Spanish state electorate as a refreshing change
from the flashy politics of glamour - and corruption - of the PSOE
governments of Felipe González in the 1980s and early 90s.

[7] See the statistical appendix below.

[8] Some would characterise IU as 'Stalinist'; I insist on the term
'social democratic'. For the reasoning behind this see my notes at

[9] Izquierda Unida was set up by the Spanish Communist party in 1987 as
a broad left coalition out of the popular mobilisations against the
governing Socialist Party's move to win Spanish NATO entry. The project
has been a spectacular failure: practically every founding organisation
bar the Communist Party itself has left the organisation, and although
it managed to win around 10 per cent of the popular vote in the mid
1990s, nowadays it is unable to break out of the five/six per cent
position - which is what the Communist Party was getting before it set
up the IU project. Effectively, IU is these days simply the Communist
Party under a different name. 

[10] The position held by Izquierda Unida in Madrid was to abstain on
the illegalisation of Batasuna. IU's president, Gaspar Llamazares (the
PCE chief in Asturias) - trying to have his cake and eat it - explained
the decision to abstain in these terms: 'We are abstaining because while
we repudiate Batasuna's connivance with ETA, we don't think that the
Parliament should involve itself in something that pertains to the
judges', i.e. that illegalisation should now have been a legal and not a
political matter. (See El País, 21 August 2002.) The only currents
within IU outside of the Basque country who rejected this position and
called for IU to oppose illegalisation were Corriente Roja - an
opposition led by Ángeles Maestro that emerged within the PCE at its
sixteenth congress in March of last year - and Espacio Alternativo - a 
rump formation that originated from the old Spanish State USEC section.
Thus, aside from this very small opposition, IU outside of the Basque
country effectively lined itself up - once we allow for its own nuance
of abstention - alongside the PP and PSOE in their offensive against the
abertzale left. Indeed, both IU and PCE have a long history of Greater
Spanish chauvinism: denunciation of ETA as 'fascists' is not only
routine from the leadership of PSOE and PP but is also the preferred
characterisation of present PCE general secretary (and former leader of
IU) Francisco Frutos.

[11] In Spanish state elections voters have an opportunity to cast a 'no
vote', the voto en blanco. By 'abstention rate' here is referred to this
vote plus votos nulos - spoiled ballot papers.

[12] In Raymond Carr's description the fundamental juxtaposition of
modern and antediluvian inherent to Francoism is neatly expressed: 'The
dying Caudillo was plugged into every modern medical device; on his bed
was the mantle of the Virgin of Pilar and grasped in his hand was the
mummified arm of St. Theresa of Ávila.' (Spain 1808-1975 (Oxford, 1982),

[13] I am not here talking only about the Civil War itself, although
this was bad enough, nor the compounding process of terror -
imprisonment, summary execution, torture - that followed it, but also of
the impact of the dreadful material hardships inflicted on an entire
generation of ordinary Spanish people during the years of the regime's
autarkic period. Raymond Carr quotes Ronald Fraser, writing on rural
Spain: 'The people ate anything they could find: thistles and weeds....
Our skin burst open with ulcers from not having enough to eat, from not
washing. There wasn't any soap.... When they saw me giving food to my
dogs they began to cry.... A lot of others died like that, not directly
of starvation but from eating only cabbage leaves and things.' (Carr,
ibid., 742, ellipses in the original) Talk to any Spaniard over the age
of 50 and you will see that the bitter experiences of these years are
far from forgotten.

[14] Joan Estruch: 'Se trataba, pues, de arrinconar la política sectaria
de los años de la Guerra fría y de recupera la política de Unión
Nacional que el PCE había defendido durante la guerra civil. La política
de reconciliación nacional no era, pues, tan novedosa como parecía.'
Historia Oculta del PCE (Madrid, 2000), 197.

[15] The way that within PSOE 1982 still resonates as halcyon, and
consequently Felipe González as a totem, was illustrated very
graphically in the 2000 leadership elections that followed the
disastrous electoral campaign of the same year. The winner (and present
incumbent), the previously unheard of José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, was
the only candidate to combine the necessary balance between
modernisation and affinity with the past. Zapatero's campaign, although
he presented himself as an out-and-out moderniser (with more than a
passing borrowing from Blairism - his cabal of supporters within the
party operated under the rubric of Nueva Vía, a conscious assimilation
of 'New Labour' and 'Third Way') was also assiduously replete with
fawning references to Felipe González. The other modernising candidate,
the Basque Euro deputy Rosa Diéz, famously began her campaign with the
words 'I was not at Suresnes' - i.e. 'I am not of the Felipe
generation'. Diéz, as a consequence of this presentation of herself as a
break from Felipismo, performed miserably in the membership ballot. The
more astute Zapatero, on the other hand, understood perfectly that any
project of modernisation that did not present itself as in some way
under the paternal tutelage of Felipe González would not be acceptable
to the party. The consequences of this we shall examine below.

[16] See note 3 above.

[17] As the chamber of deputies was in full session the opening sequence
of the coup had been filmed, and fascinating viewing it makes too.
Watching the scenes one is struck by a curious observation: Suárez, as
outgoing Prime Minister, was seated not 15 metres from the podium as it
was stormed by Tejero. As the latter begins to fire his revolver, one
cannot help but notice that, as the surrounding deputies hit the floor,
not only does Suárez not move (thus confirming the legend referred to
above) he does not even move a muscle - not even a flinch. Anyone who
has been in close vicinity of a revolver being discharged, especially in
a confined space, will know how difficult this is to achieve.
Nevertheless, it is not possible to conclude that this strange, almost
unnatural, behaviour can be put down to the fact that Suárez knew not
only what was going to happen but that what was going to happen was only
for public display, and that he consequently was in no real danger, or
whether supreme personal courage had indeed moved him to complete
insensibility. Perhaps we will never know, but the circumstantial
evidence is sufficient to provoke a certain incredulity.

[18] There was in fact a certain precedent for this approach: the 1978
Moncloa Pacts, signed by amongst others PSOE, the Communist Party, UCD
and the Alianza Popular, broached a well below inflation wage freeze
along with a series of measures aimed at restricting credit and reducing
public spending. In the words of Paul Preston, one of the more honest if
hardly left commentators on this period, 'The Pact [of Moncloa] was
[...] virtually the only way, short of revolutionary measures, of
confronting the inextricably linked problems of the burden of Francoist
economic imbalance and the unfavourable international situation.' (The
Triumph of Democracy in Spain (London and New York, 1990), 137, my
emphasis) Preston, of course, does not say this to advocate the
'revolutionary measures'.

[19] In 2000 PSOE and IU stood on a joint ticket. Essentially what
happened was that the then leader of IU, Julio Anguita, whose political
trajectory had been characterised by a visceral anti-PSOE sectarianism,
was taken seriously ill just before the election; his place was filled
by the Communist Party General Secretary Francisco Frutos, who comes
from a current more open to working with the Socialists, who brokered a
deal with the PSOE leadership that, in turn for endorsing the latter's
programme, IU candidates would be entered into PSOE lists. Supporters of
both parties, recognising a behind closed doors stitch-up when they saw
one, voted with their feet and handed the PP an immediate ten-point
lead. See the statistical data below.

[20] This is also the characterisation held by a good part of the
abertzale left in the Basque country. Indeed, the a priori
characterisation of the post-transición set-up as still 'fascist' would
seem to be about the only way that ETA's increasingly lunatic 'armed
struggle' can be politically justified. Once again, profound political
errors in the present find their root in an incapacity to understand the
nature of the transición.

[21] 'Literally' in the sense that a roll-call of the surnames of the
upper layers of the PP and the state structure reveals that they are in
good part peopled by the children, grandchildren, nephews and nieces of
the great Francoist families.

[22] Although it should be noted that although in the workforce as a
whole the figure is coming down, in the public sector, where the figure
has been historically lower, the proportion of temporary workers is
rising. This is indicative of the PP's strategy. In general, working
conditions in the public sector are qualitatively better - in terms of
job security, if not salaries - than in the private; trade union
affiliation is also significantly higher here too (which goes some way
to explaining the conservatism and craftist elitism of the Spanish-state
trade union movement). By attacking conditions in the public sector what
the PP is achieving is something of a levelling down, rather than up.
The same thing can be seen in the overall workforce: the mechanism of
choice deployed by the government with respect to lowering the level of
temporary working is a cheapening of dismissal costs for time unlimited
contracts - again, a levelling down.

[23] Again, with the possible exception of Euskadi, where the mix of
social and national discontent provoked a popular radicalisation and
mobilisation that did threaten to break out into a crisis of
revolutionary proportions. Hence the urgency with which the structure of
the comunidades autonómicas was established: without recognising Basque
nationhood, a structure was put in place which allowed the transfer of
significant devolved powers to a Basque parliament. That this strategy
has been only partially successful is indicated by the persistence of
radical Basque nationalism, in both its armed and political
manifestations. The devolution of powers to a regional level was also
key in keeping the Catalan bourgeoisie on board of the transición too.

SINCE 1977

1. Percentage of votes cast

                                                RIGHT    LEFT
                                               (AP/PP   (PSOE
        AP/PP     PSOE      PCE/IU    UCD/CDS    +        +
                                               UCD/CDS) PCE/IU)

1977L   8.21     29.32       9.33      34.44      42.7    38.7
1979L   6.05     30.40      10.77      34.84      40.9    41.2
1982L  26.50     48.36       4.04       9.34      35.8    52.4
1986L  26.31     44.62       4.47       9.22      35.5    49.1
1987E  24.73     39.19       5.27      10.30      35.0    44.5
1989L  25.80     39.60       9.13       7.95      33.8    48.7
1989E  21.70     40.20       6.20       7.20      28.6    45.7
1991M  25.34     38.34       8.38                 25.3    46.7
1993L  34.77     38.79        9.6       1.76      36.5    48.4
1994E  40.60     31.10      13.60       1.00      41.1    44.2
1995M  35.26     30.83      11.68                 35.3    42.5
1996L  38.79     37.63      10.54                 38.8    48.2
1999E  40.42     35.88       5.87                 40.4    41.8
1999M  35.11     34.93       6.64                 35.1    41.6
2000L  44.54     34.08       5.46                 44.5    39.5
2003M  33.84     34.71       6.06                 33.8    40.8

2. Total Votes Cast

                                                   RIGHT     LEFT
                                                  (AP/PP    (PSOE
         AP/PP      PSOE       PCE/IU    UCD/CDS     +         +
                                                  UCD/CDS)  PCE/IU)

1977L  1,504,771  5,371,866  1,709,890 6,310,391  7,815,162  7,081,756
1979L  1,088,578  5,469,813  1,938,487 6,288,593  7,377,171  7,408,300
1982L  6,795,447 10,127,392    844,976 1,354 858  8,150,305 10,972,368
1986L  5,247,677  8,901,718    892,070 1,838 799  7,086,476  9,793,788
1987E  4,747,283  7,522,706  1,011,830 1,976,093  6,723,376  8,534,536
1989L  5,285,972  8,115,568  1,858,588 1,617,716  6,903,688  9,974,156
1989E  3,395,015  6,275,554    961,742 1,133,929  4,528,944  7,237,296
1991M  4,775,051  7,224,242  1,579,097            4,775,051  8,803,339
1993L  8,201,463  9,150,083  2,253,722   414,740  8,616,203 11,403,805
1994E  7,453,900  5,719,707  2,497,671   183,418  7,637,318  8,217,378
1995M  7,820,392  6,838,607  2,589,780            7,820,392  9,428,387
1996L  9,716 006  9,425,678  2,639,774            9,716,006 12,065,452
1999E  8,346,166  7,409,427  1,211,589            8,346,166  8,621,016
1999M  7,334 135  7,296,749  1,387,900            7,334,135  8,684,649
2000L 10,230,345  7,829,210  1,253,859           10,230 345  9,083,069
2003M  7,772,934  7,972 995  1,390,673            7,772,934  9,363,668

Key: L=Elecciones Legislativas; M=Elecciones Municipales; E=Elecciones

AP = Alianza Popular; PP = Partido Popular; PSOE = Partido Socialista
Obrero Español; PCE = Partido Comunista de España; IU = Izquierda Unida;
UCD = Unión de Centro Demócratico; CDS = Centro Demócratico y Social

Sources: 1977L, 1979L, 1982L, 1986L, 1989L, 1991M, 1993L, 1993M: Anuario
El País 1996;

1987E (total votes cast), 1989E (total votes cast): Anuario Estadístico
1997 Junta de Castilla y León;

1987E (percentage of votes cast), 1994E (total votes cast): Anuario El
País 1990;

1994E (percentage of votes cast): Anuario El País 1995;

1996L, 2001L: El Mundo 14.3.2000;

1999E, 1999M: Anuario El País 2000;

2003M: El País 27.5.2003

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