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International Socialism, February 1976


Notes of the Month



From International Socialism, No.86 (wrongly numbered No.85), February 1976, pp.7-8.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


As the reaction deepens in Portugal, with an intensified right-wing bombing campaign in the North, the arrest of Carvalho and the shooting of strikers, the Spanish heirs of Franco are putting the brakes on their ‘democratisation’ plans.

Eighteen months ago the dictator’s nephew expressed the need for haste felt by the ‘reformist’ wing of the regime.

‘We have so many things to learn; because it did not carry through evolutionary changes in time, Portugal .now finds itself faced with the uncertainties of a revolution.’

Now haste is the last thing the Arias government intends. An electoral law is promised – but the basis of the franchise is undetermined, as are the powers and composition of the proposed bicameral legislature. There may be an election in two years time. Meanwhile ‘the law of political association’ is to be revised – presumably to legalise parties – but the Communist Party is to remain ‘permanently’ banned.

The objectives of the ‘reformers’ are determined first of all by Spanish capitalism’s orientation on the EEC. To achieve integration, a bourgeois democratic regime of some kind is essential. Ideally, no doubt, the bourgeois parties and, at least, the PSOE ought to be legalised at once so as to give them the maximum chance of securing a popular basis. But faced with strong pressure from the fascist right, Arias has failed to legalise even the Christian Democrats. Powerful elements in the state machine evidently fear that the ‘democratisation’ process, once started in earnest, will prove uncontrollable.

They may well be right. For the economic situation is worsening fast. In the last period of Franco’s rule, firm political repression was combined with considerable economic concessions to the working class. The strike wave of 1973 actually pushed up real wages and throughout most of last year wages kept a little ahead of inflation. Moreover the regime made the sacking of workers (other than for political reasons) difficult and unemployment has been very low. Partly as a result, the slump came late to Spain.

It has come now. The slide in exchange rate of the peseta heralds an acceleration of inflation at a time when Spanish (and multinational) capital is determined to cut costs and shed labour. ‘Democratisation’ in 1976 and 1977 would go hand in hand with falling living standards and rising unemployment. It is an explosive combination.

Of course, what the Spanish bourgeoisie needs is a reformist trade union bureaucracy, clearly separate from the state machine and enjoying some degree of working class confidence, to help it put over ‘Wilsonian’ economic policies. But tacit toleration of illegal trade union machines will not meet the case and it is hardly possible to abolish the fascist syndicate structure and permit a legal federation or federations – which are certain to be CP or PSOE dominated – without legalising the parties too, if the sought-after cooperation is to be achieved, Wilsonian policies, where the working class is strong, need a social-democratic government or, at least, a government in which the workers’ parties are well represented. And so we are back to that ‘democratisation’ which, the right believes, is too hazardous just now.

There is no lack of will on the part of the reformist leaders. The PSOE, though a more genuine workers’ party than Soares’ SP, is led by men of the Wilson-Schmidt-Palme stamp. And the PCE is perhaps the most right-wing CP in Europe. Its programme calls for ‘a minimum agreement amongst the broadest selection of forces which will give formal expression to an undertaking to settle political quarrels within the framework of genuinely democratic institutions.’ Its instrument, the Democratic Junta, is claimed by General Secretary Carrillo to include ‘a wide sweep of social and political forces, from left to right, from the working class to the dynamic sectors of capital’.

These are the forces it is ‘too dangerous’ to unleash. Given a renewal of the strike wave later this year and the whole groundswell of discontent – and expectations aroused by Arias and Fraga themselves – the rulers of Spain may have left it too late to make the transition they need without releasing a movement that would be truly uncontrollable, in spite of the intentions of the reformist left.

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