ISJ Index | Main Newspaper Index

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

International Socialism, November/December 1976


Nical Marks



From Notes of the Month, International Socialism (1st series), No.93, March 1976, pp.6-7.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Nical Marks writes: The Spanish ruling class is continuing its strategy of slow and controlled ‘democratisation’. The execution of a leading Basque Fascist, Juan Maria de Araluce, on 4 October in San Sebastian raised howls of protest from the right and a gang of fascist youths rampaged through the town in revenge, hut it did not deflect the ruling class. Four days later the Government announced its intentions to legalise free trade unions.

The basic concern of the ruling class is to allow the formation of political parties and unions committed to a ‘democratic’ Spain in order to move from rule by open terror to rule by bourgeois democracy. They, at least, have learned the lessons of Portugal. The Portuguese Socialist Party of Mario Soares hardly existed before April 25 1974 and had to build from scratch after the coup. The Spanish ruling class want the reformists to have a serious base and apparatus before they try any risky experiments.

The creation of trade unions committed to class collaboration is central to that strategy. The Francoist ‘trade union’ the CNS – has long been discredited in the eyes of workers. It contains bosses as well as workers and its function is to control the working class rather to give expression to their economic demands. The intensity of the class struggle over the last months have made it clear that the CNS could not continue. Negotiations between bosses and representatives of the illegal unions have been taking place for some time. All the government has done is to come into line with its paymasters.

The delays which surround the legislation of the unions is a vital part of the strategy. The trade union situation which is likely to emerge is one modelled on ‘French’ lines – a movement split between competing unions divided along political differences. Such divisions play straight into the hands of the ruling class. Setting up such splits has been one of the main tactics of the CIA in the labour movement.

This situation would not exist without the willing co-operation of the reformist leaders. The Spanish Communist Party (PCE), which is undoubtedly the strongest force in the working class with perhaps 100,000 members, has been particularly useful here. The PCE, like other Communist Parties, is devoted to a ‘stages’ theory which calls for a broad alliance of all progressive forces to achieve democracy. Part of the price to achieve this political class collaboration has been to allow the splitting of the working class.

Up until last year the trade union strategy of the PCE was to participate in the CNS elections, and by this means they gained considerable influence at the local level. The plan was to repeat the kind of operation carried out by the Portuguese CP in the Intcrsyndical and to emerge from clandestinity running a highly bureaucratic union movement as their private negotiating instrument.

In the last few months the CP has moved away from this strategy and has been building the workers’ commissions as a future trade union. They accept that this will be one among several unions and they now argue for federation at the level of the top leadership rather than rank and file unity.

One of the reasons the various capitalist parties dropped the idea of using the CNS was that they could see what the PCE was up to. So could the other reformist organisations. In particular the Spanish Workers’ Socialist Party (PSOE) and its trade union the General Workers’ Union (UGT) want their own mass base. Part of the price paid to cobble together a ‘united’ opposition centre – the Democratic Co-Ordination including capitalist parties, the PSOE and the PCE was precisely the PCE giving formal recognition to the UGT. which at present represents little more than a set of initials.

The make up of the Democratic Co-Ordination is even more scandalous. Alongside the PCE this contains many ex-Franco supporters and others with unsavoury political histories. This alliance, despite the goodwill of all parties, is very shaky. The government are trying to pull it apart by making concessions to the ‘moderates’ in order to isolate the PCE and those Maoist groups who they see as ‘extremist’. The current plan is that the PCE will be legalised only after the elections next year. For the time being, however, none of the other parties can afford to drop the PCE. If they allow it to remain as the only illegal force then their own credentials as noble opponents of Francoism will look very thin. So while the PSOE will hold an open conference in Madrid early in November and has already had private negotiations with the government, they cannot afford to be outflanked on the left.

The major obstacle to all of this sordid plotting is the Spanish working class. Since Franco’s death the workers of Spain have engaged in wave after wave of heroic struggles. In the first six months of this year 425,000 workers in Barcelona province alone have been on strike, for a total of 14 million man hours. Even the Municipal police of Barcelona have been on strike. (See also the table for Valancia province).

The summer saw a change in the struggle, with a series of bitter disputes fought out locally over the ‘labour amnesty’ – re-instatement of workers sacked for political and trade union activity. In the Pegaso factory in Madrid 3,000 workers struck for the re-employment of 125 workers sacked 11 years ago. The autumn has seen a switch back to mass struggles, for example in the Basque country on 27 September there was a complete one day strike for an amnesty for all political prisoners, including those terrorists’ excluded by the current government amnesty. That situation is likely to intensify in the next months as the annual wage negotiations come round again. Before Christmas more than 1,000 collective contracts are up for negotiation, involving more than two million workers.

These pay negotiations are likely to lead to tough fights. The Spanish economy is suffering badly from the world recession. There are up to one million unemployed; in Barcelona one in four building workers is out of work. Inflation, according to one estimate, is running at nearly 25 per cent a year and there is a huge trade defecit. Last winter the ruling class was forced to grant wage rises of 25-30 per cent – above the rate of inflation at the time. They cannot be so generous this time. Although they have promises of up to 2½ billion dollars from the USA and there are deals with France and West Germany in the pipeline, they need a ‘social contract’ very badly. The economic measures they took on 11 October indicate a negotiating figure of between 18 and 20 per cent.

The Spanish ruling class need time above all things. It takes time for the PSOE and the UGT to build popular support. More right-wing formations, like the newly formed Popular Alliance of ex-Francoists, need time to establish themselves a base among the middle class. Any premature explosion could mean that the working class emerged untrammelled by reformist politicians and carry things beyond bourgeois democracy.

The dangers of such an explosion are real. Strikes remain illegal and strikers and other activists are still likely to be arrested, tortured, and shot down in the streets. The reformists cannot agree to compromise on wages without some political concessions. The government cannot grant political concessions until it is sure that the reformist organisations can deliver the goods.

Can the revolutionary left in Spain measure up to the opportunities open to them? There are two major pressures on revolutionary socialists. One is to be drawn in the wake of the vastly larger PCE. This pressure has been strongest on those least theoretically prepared to break with the ideas of a ‘democratic stage’ separate from and proceeding a struggle for socialism. These are the Maoist groups like the PT (Workers’ Party) and ORT (Revolutionary Workers’ Organisation). One such grouping, Bandera Roja (Red Flag – a grouping heavily influenced by Avanguardia Operaia in Italy), actually broke up under this pressure, a large part of it going back to the PCE.

The other danger is of ultra-leftism in reaction to the ‘stages’ theory. There is a danger that in rejecting the idea of a democratic stage these groups reject also the struggle for organisations typical of bourgeois democracy. The trade unions, for example, are instruments for bargaining with capitalism and are features of bourgeois democracy, as in Britain. Even if the Spanish revolution has the possibility of going far beyond bourgeois democracy the working class in Spain is not yet convinced of that and the movement towards trade unions is a mass movement. (Indeed even in a workers’ state the trade unions will have their role).

In Spain it is the task of revolutionaries to be in the forefront of the struggle for free trade unions. Because the unions are not as yet fully formed there is still a wide scope for argument and decision as to whether they will be bureaucratic and reformist or democratic and fighting for the interests of the working class. Any hesitation or lack of clarity on these questions, even worse, any attempt to counterpose trade unions to building Soviets, can only mean that revolutionaries will cut themselves off from the mass of the class and thus strengthen the hold of the reformists.

In the Spanish situation the nature of the state and the current situation mean that there is no Chinese wall between economic and political struggles. There will be, in the next few months, a series of struggles which will raise questions about the future of Spain in the minds of masses of workers. The extent to which revolutionaries can provide the answers will be vital to the outcome of the present crisis.

Top of page

ISJ Index | Main Newspaper Index

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

Last updated on 3.2.2008