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Andy Durgan


Going, going, gone?

(March 1995)

From Socialist Review, No. 184, March 1995, pp. :12–13.
Copyright © Socialist Review.
Copied with thanks from the Socialist Review Archive.
Marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

A series of scandals has rocked the ruling Socialist Party in Spain. Andy Durgan reports from Barcelona on the impact of this crisis on the Socialist leader Gonzalez and his government

For the last 13 years Spain’s Socialist Party (PSOE) has been Europe’s most successful social democratic party. While during the 1980s conservatives dominated governments in most European countries, Spain proved an exception. The PSOE, under the leadership of Felipe Gonzalez, has won four general elections since 1982, all of them, with the exception of the last in 1993, with a comfortable majority.

For many workers the PSOE represented the possibility of real change after nearly 40 years of deadening and repressive dictatorship. And once in government Gonzalez’s party oversaw a number of political and social reforms, albeit ones which probably any democratic government in Spain would have found itself forced to introduce at this time.

But now the PSOE’s popularity seems to be coming to an end. During the last year the PSOE government has been shaken by one scandal after another, the latest being its alleged involvement in the setting up and financing of a shadowy terrorist organisation to assassinate members of the radical Basque nationalist group ETA.

The government party had already been hit by scandals involving a spate of very damaging cases of financial corruption. The result has been the jailing to await trial of a number of very wealthy bankers and businessmen who have enjoyed government patronage at some stage or another, including the governor of the Bank of Spain who is accused of insider dealing.

Even more embarrassing for the government was the disclosure of widespread corruption involving building contracts inside the paramilitary Civil Guard. Attempts to bring its civilian head, PSOE appointee Luis Roldan, to trial led to his disappearance. Roldan, who is accused of making millions out of these deals, is now believed to be hiding somewhere in South America.

The icing on the cake was the reopening at the end of last year of the ‘GAL case’. The GAL (Anti-terrorist Liberation Groups) were active between 1983 and 1987, during which time they murdered 27 people, mostly alleged members of ETA living in exile in France. Once the French government finally agreed to remove political asylum for Basque militants and began extradition procedures, the GAL’s activities stopped. Eventually, two mid-ranking police chiefs, Jose Amedo and Michel Dominguez were imprisoned for being behind the GAL. Six years later, tired of jail, Amedo and Dominguez decided to tell all they knew – or at least some of it. One of the first things that emerged was their wives had been paid large sums of money from secret government funds through Swiss bank accounts.

Since these latest disclosures began, various former officials of the Interior Ministry, police chiefs and leading PSOE members have been brought before the courts and, in some cases, put in prison. The accused include the secretary of state, the former deputy minister of the interior and the former general secretary of the Basque PSOE.

Increasingly the finger is pointing to the then interior minister (home secretary) Jose Barrionuevo, and Gonzalez himself, who could yet turn out to be the ‘Mr X’ named by some of those involved in the case as the head of the GAL.

None of this is particularly surprising for those on the left who denounced the government as being behind the GAL from the start. But public support for the government has taken a nosedive since the case was reopened. In a recent poll, only a third of those asked said they believed Gonzalez’ denials that the government had nothing to do with setting up the GAL.

The PSOE has responded to these accusations by launching a furious campaign of legal obstruction and has attacked the judge who is carrying the case as being part of a plot to bring down the government. The same judge was elected as an independent on the Socialist Party list for Madrid at the last election but soon resigned his seat.

Such corruption of course, is inherent to capitalism itself as a brief look round Europe will show. A number of factors have combined, however, to produce the current spate of exposures in Spain. Partly, they are a by-product of the nature of the political structure that the PSOE has built up around itself since it was first elected into government. Given the fall of Franco’s dictatorship only a few years previously, a lot of jobs and patronage were up for grabs. This explains, in part, the massive expansion of the party in this period. Government ministers have included recycled former Francoist officials such as Barrionuevo and Carlos Solchaga, the finance minister who appointed the now imprisoned governor of the Bank of Spain.

The government’s inability to keep delivering the goods and overcome the country’s economic crisis has led to some of their former collaborators in high places turning against them. The principal opposition party, the conservative People’s Party (PP), (also up to its neck in illegal financial operations), has been quick to make the most of the situation to try and force Gonzalez to resign.

Of course for many people the latest corruption scandals are just another reason for wanting to see the government out. The constant attacks on working class living standards and rights at work have undoubtedly eroded the PSOE’s popular support.

Unemployment, at over 20 percent, continues to be by far the highest in Western Europe. Despite being the longest standing social democratic government in Europe today, Spain has one of the poorest records when it comes to welfare services. Less than 30 percent of the unemployed receive any form of state benefit.

Sooner or later the PP will find itself in government. It lost the last elections by the narrowest of margins and the PSOE only stays in government thanks to support from right wing Catalan nationalists. But the left cannot be indifferent to this situation, however unpleasant the PSOE government may be. The PP had its origins in those sections of the Franco regime which opted, often with little enthusiasm, for democracy. It represents some of the most backward and reactionary elements in Spanish society. It is the party of the rich, the bankers and the Catholic Church. However, despite its past, the PP is essentially a mainstream conservative party and not some vestige of fascism as some PSOE leaders have always tried to make out. It is above all, an even safer bet for Spain’s bosses than the Socialist Party – especially now the chances of the latter’s continuing to form a stable government are increasingly slim.

Faced with the real possibility of a PP government much of the left has reacted either by trying to bail Gonzalez out or by claiming that a conservative victory will change nothing. In an attempt to take the pressure off the PSOE, the leaderships of the two main trade union federations (the CCOO and UGT) have gone so far as to publish a joint statement with the employers’ organisation calling for an end to political infighting so that the ‘country can benefit’ from the supposed ‘recent improvement in the economic situation’.

The main, and virtually only, electoral option to the PSOE on the left is the Communist Party-led coalition, the United Left (IU). The majority of the IU, in particular its leader Julio Anguita, have been unrelenting in their attacks on Gonzalez and his government and have quite openly accused the prime minister of being the ‘Mr X’ in the GAL case. In contrast to the union bureaucracies, Anguita has continually called for mass protests against the government’s anti-working class policies and denounced the unions’ joint appeal with the bosses organisations as being like an agreement between ‘the wolf and its prey’.

The IU’s stand on these questions is welcome and clearly a large vote for it in any elections represents a vote against the injustices of the system and for real change. But at the same time a word of caution is necessary. Anguita is deliberately ambiguous in his attitude towards the PP. In the region of Andalucia, the local IU has already made deals with the PP in the regional parliament with the aim of undermining the PSOE.

The IU, despite all its verbal militancy, remains firmly wedded to the idea that change can only be brought about through parliament and it is here that most of its energies are therefore concentrated. Unfortunately, the confusion and demoralisation of the Spanish left following the fall of the Eastern bloc has led to an even greater reliance on the reformist strategy defended by the IU.

Yet despite the pessimism of much of the left, the Spanish working class still fights back. During the last ten years the trade unions have felt forced to organise four one-day general strikes against the government’s attacks. Although strike figures are not high, there is still a steady stream of disputes to defend jobs and conditions taking place which largely go unnoticed among, for instance, railway workers, miners in Leon and Andalucia, car workers in Barcelona and cleaners in Valencia. In January, the socialist journal Socialismo Internacional, with very modest resources, carried brief reports on 24 such strikes. It is here that a real fightback against both the PSOE government and their would-be Tory successors can be built.

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