Chris Harman


The Politics of Spain

(April 1977)

From International Socialism (1st series), No.97, April 1977, p.31-32.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Franco and the Politics of Spain
Edouard de Blaye
Penguin £1.50

Spain in Crisis
edited by Paul Preston
Harvester Press £6.50

Franco’s Political Legacy
Jose Amodia

SPANISH politics today must be particularly confusing to many people on the left. Elections are due soon, the Communist-backed opposition has issued joint statements with the Francoists who still run the government, the press is able to print statements from virtually any political standpoint. Yet in the wake of the killing of five labour lawyers by the extreme right, the government gave carte blanche for the police to carry through arrests of hundreds of left wingers.

These three books about the last years of Franco should help provide an understanding of these apparently contradictory processes. After all, it was Franco who personally designed the institutions that now preside over the ‘democratisation’ of Spain. And it was the struggle, particularly the underground workers’ struggle, which caused the ruling class to see they had no choice but to ‘reform’ the regime in order to protect it.

The first people to see this were the ideologues. Hence the strange spectacle of the head of fascist propaganda in the civil war and the fascist minister of education in the 1950’s going over to the ‘liberal’ opposition. Hence too the shift in theattitude of the church. Faced with the transformation of millions of superstitious peasants into anti-clerical workers (a poll in 1958 showed 89.8 per cent of workers to be anti-clerical and 41.3 per cent anti-religious) the priests had to choose between losing their congregations or pretending to sympathise with workers’ struggles.

But the bourgeosie proper were not far behind. The more the workers’ struggle rose, the more they felt the need for a Spanish Jack Jones to control the struggles. There were candidates enough for this job. The Communist Party had been preaching the gospel of ‘national reconciliation’ since the mid 1950s. It did not need much pressure to persuade Carrillo and Camacho to add to this the demand for a ‘social pact’ – or even a ‘social contract’. And if they could not be quite relied on, then there were the even more overt social democrats with finance from Jack Jones himself. On only one thing have the bourgeoisie insisted. In the change from ‘fascism’ to ‘western democracy’ there must be no dismantling of the Francoist state machine. The whole of big business, from the unreconstructed fascists of the Madrid banks through to the ‘liberal’ factory owners of Barcelona, have depended upon the 100,000 paramilitary police and the thousands of secret police and informers, to intimidate workers. So they have demanded that ‘reform’ of the system stops short at a ‘break’ (ruptura) which might unleash uncontrollable forces.

By continuing to negotiate with the government while it uses the institutions of Francoism against the left, the opposition – and the Communist Party – have shown their acceptance of this condition. They have done more. They have agreed to the division of the workers movement into rival trade union federations – something the CIA only achieved after great effort and expense in post-war Italy and France.

It is such acts which have earned the apostles of Eurocommunism so much praise in the ‘liberal’ papers of the west.

Unfortunately, none of these books provides a full account of the processes that have brought these changes about. Edouard de Blaye’s book is a typical piece of journalism: readable, full of nice stories, dotted with interesting facts, but unreliable and ignorant of the dynamo of the whole process, the working-class movement.

Jose Amodia used to be a lawyer – and his book reads like it. Although there are not blatant inaccuracies as in de Blaye, the focus is on the institutional mechanisms of Francoism (complete with a reprint of the constitution), and the struggle hardly gets a look in.

By far the best of the three books is the collection of essays edited by Paul Preston. The writers are hardly Marxists, but they tend to be honest and accurate. They do not fully understand the workers’ movement, and are almost completely ignorant of the revolutionary left. But if you read this book you will be a little nearer understanding Spain today.

Last updated on 16 November 2009