40 years ago today, the Spanish Constitution was approved after decades of brutal dictatorship under Franco. But as Alan Woods (himself a witness to these historic events) explains, the so-called Transition to Democracy was a colossal betrayal cooked up by the leaders of the Spanish working-class, which left the main pillars of the reactionary old order intact.
"For things to remain the same, everything must change." (Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, The Leopard)
For the past four decades, Spain has suffered from a kind of national amnesia. Powerful vested interests wish to keep Spain’s past under lock and key. But the working class and all the living forces of Spain demand the truth and will not be satisfied with anything less. The period known as “the Democratic Transition” was a gigantic fraud.
The monarchy that had been arbitrarily installed by Franco was retained, although the overwhelming feeling of the majority was for a republic. The Civil Guard and other repressive bodies were retained.
Overnight, the people of Spain were supposed to forget the one million who were killed in the Civil War, the thousands who perished in Franco’s prisons, the violent suppression of the workers’ movement for decades. All these crimes were supposed to be wiped from the common consciousness as if by the wave of a magic wand.
Not a single person was punished for the crimes of the dictatorship. The murderers and torturers who had operated with impunity under the old regime remained equally untouchable under the new “democracy” and walked freely in the streets where they could laugh in the faces of their victims.
The history books were rewritten in such a way that none of this was supposed to have happened. The mass graves, where thousands of nameless corpses lay beneath olive groves and mountain passes, were to be left undisturbed so as not to prevent tourists from admiring the view.
The long night
The savage repression that began in the nationalist zones during the Civil War continued unabated after the war. The fascists took a terrible revenge on the workers. Republicans, Communists and Socialists were arrested and interned in concentration camps and countless numbers were tortured, murdered or disappeared in Franco’s prisons.
Every year, hundreds were executed by military tribunals. While the official executions stood at “only” 35,000, some historians estimate that the figure could be closer to 200,000. The real figure will probably never be known. The aim was to terrorize the working class into submission. Strikes, demonstrations and free trade unions were banned. The only “union” was the fascist “vertical” union (el Sindicato Vertical), which contained both workers and bosses. The only legal political party was the fascist Movimiento.
It took a long time before the proletariat could recover, but the gradual reawakening of the working class was already seen in the heroic strikes in the Basque province of Vizcaya in 1947 and 1951, and in Barcelona in 1952. But the Asturian strikes that began in 1962 marked a decisive change in the situation. Between 1964 and 1966 there were 171,000 working days lost due to industrial action. Between 1967 and 1969 the figure rose to 846,000, and from 1973 to 1975 there were 1,548,000.
The Workers’ Commissions, an oppositional grassroots labour movement, emerged from these struggles to become became the principal opposition to government-controlled “Sindicato”.
The workers by now were losing their fear of the regime. Instead of cowing the workers, repressive acts only served to increase their anger, pushing them toward greater and even more radicalised struggle. The Spanish workers’ consciousness was rising by leaps and bounds. They were learning fast in the school of the class struggle. There is no better school.
Splits at the top
I participated in my first May Day demonstration in Spain in 1973. It took place in Barcelona in one of its most proletarian cities: Hospitalet. The serried ranks of the workers filled the streets with placards and banners and chanting Viva la Clase Obrera! (Long live the working class!).
The demonstration lasted approximately 10 minutes, as far as I can remember. The sound of police sirens was soon heard above the chants of the workers. People rapidly dispersed, running into side streets and bars to escape the truncheons and tear gas of the hated grises (police).
The immediate question was the issue of democracy. But many people wished to go further. The advanced workers felt that power was within their grasp. They felt instinctively that the overthrow of the Franco dictatorship was not the end, but rather the beginning of a profound transformation of Spanish society. The movement was beginning to acquire a clearly anti-capitalist character. That was revealed most graphically in the general strike in Vitoria in March 1976.
The spirit of revolt was strongest among the youth, as one might expect. On the walls of every town and city in Spain, graffiti appeared denouncing the dictatorship in the name of one or other of the workers’ parties and revolutionary organisations.
I vividly remember the explosive mood that existed at that time. Virtually every wall in Santa Coloma – the working-class city next to Barcelona where I began my clandestine activity in 1972 – was filled with graffiti from different left-wing groups: Communists, Maoists, anarchists and Trotskyists.
The police had their work cut out attempting to eradicate the voice of the revolution graphically expressed on these walls. Some were painted over, others had the letters joined up so that it was difficult to read the slogans. But all this was in vain. The voice of the revolution could no longer be silenced in this way. Slogans that were wiped out one day immediately reappeared overnight.
Practically all strata of Spanish society were opposed to the regime. Under the influence of the workers’ mass strikes, artists, singers, theatre actors, film directors and playwrights entered the fight against the dictatorship. At a Madrid theatre, the actors interrupted a performance to announce that they were joining a strike, and were enthusiastically applauded by the audience.
A female activist, who was a sociology student at the Complutense University in Madrid, recalls the mood at that time:
“The University was buzzing with irrepressible political life. There were always discussions in the canteen. Every day a member of one group or other would come in with a bigger roll of paper which he would stick on the wall. It would contain lengthy statements, protests, appeals or manifestoes that would be read with interest by the students. Naturally these paper manifestos did not last long. The police would rapidly descend on the canteen and tear them down. But the next day some other notice would reappear, with the same consequences. The police would try to establish the identity of the culprits, questioning members of the canteen staff, but to give them credit they never let on.
“The police suppressed every sign of protest with the utmost savagery. I have seen students jump through plate-glass windows in a desperate attempt to escape brutal beatings at the hands of the police. The police had blocked all the entrances and the only way to get out was by throwing chairs to break the windows. Many students were injured in this way, suffering severe cuts from the shards of shattered glass. This fact alone shows that the alternative at the hands of the police was even worse than this.”
The revolutionary turmoil in Spanish society found its expression in deep divisions at the top, which were only a distorted reflection of the colossal pressures building up at the bottom. Some demanded measures of liberalisation in order to stave off the coming revolution, while others advocated even greater repression. All were aware of the storm clouds on the horizon.
The death of Franco
On Thursday 20 November, 1975 the people of Spain turned on their radios to hear the sound of solemn music. That moment will forever remain in their memories. Francisco Franco, the man who had tyrannised Spain for 36 years, was dead.
The regime had made desperate attempts to keep the 82-year old dictator alive, not because of any belief that they could succeed, but because of the fear and uncertainty about the political upheaval that would inevitably follow Franco’s death. But in the end, nature took her course. In the workers’ districts, from Bilbao to Seville, in innumerable flats and houses, there were celebrations. And in a question of hours, all over Spain, the supplies of champagne ran dry.
The death of Franco opened the floodgates and unleashed a wave of strikes and demonstrations. The ruling class now understood that change was inevitable if it was not to be swept away by the tide of revolution.
Before he died, Franco had named Carlos Arias Navarro as Prime Minister, nicknamed “the Butcher of Málaga” on account of the role he played in the bloody repression inflicted on Málaga following the Civil War. At first, Arias tried to stamp out the revolutionary movement by repression. But this failed to stem the tide of revolt. By the beginning of December 1975, 25,000 metal workers had already declared a strike in Madrid and the mines of Asturias were at a standstill.
In early January 1976, the Madrid Metro workers went on strike. They were followed by strikes of workers in the Postal and Telecommunications sectors. Strikes then spread to the rail network (Renfe), taxi drivers and hundreds of other companies in Madrid’s industrial belt, forcing the government to call in the military to keep the metro and postal services running.
In that month, about 21 million working hours were lost to strike action. Some of the most important companies in the country, such as Ensidesa, Hunosa, Standard Eléctrica and Motor Ibérica, among others, were on strike for months. Throughout the month of December, a wave of mobilisations broke out demanding full amnesty for all political prisoners. On the streets, the cry was heard: “Amnistía y Libertad!” (Amnesty and Freedom!).
Arrival in Madrid
In January 1976, I was living in Carabanchel: a working-class suburb of Madrid, where there was a notorious prison where oppositionists and workers’ leaders were detained. From the window, we could see the high red brick walls, patrolled by armed police. In my first report to the Militant, I wrote:
“Practically every section of the workers has been involved in the labour disputes of the early part of the month: metal workers, building workers, railwaymen, postmen, workers in the Telephone Exchange, the banks, the Metro, the car workers and even insurance agents.
“Starting with the factory workers, some of whom, like those at Standard Electric-ITT have been out for a month, the strike wave spread immediately with the start of the New Year and every day it seemed as though new layers of the working class were being enrolled in the mighty movement, which literally lit a fire under the backside of the new government.
“Alongside the 15,000 Standard workers came 12,000 Chrysler operatives, 3,000 in telecommunications industries, 3,200 in Getafe metal, 5,000 in Pegaso. The total number of strikers was officially given by the Madrid newspaper Informaciones (9th January) as 100,000. Unofficial estimates give double that number. In reality, Madrid has come very close to a general strike situation in these few weeks...
“The key telephone company remains strike-ridden up to the present time of writing. An attempt to arrest a workers’ leader at the Telefónica was met with an immediate walk-out which soon secured his release. In general, most workplaces which have not been on strike have been downing tools every day for a set period of time—normally two hours.
“A few days ago, I was buying stamps in a shop and asked the man behind the counter where the nearest post box was, ‘you needn’t bother,’ he assured me, ‘They won’t be sent.’ When asked what he meant, he almost shouted out with ill-suppressed glee: ‘BECAUSE THEY’RE ON STRIKE!’ And it was true. The postmen had joined in.
“On January 14th the front pages of Madrid papers were emblazoned with the banner: ‘POST OFFICE MILITARISED.’ The next day, the papers carried news of the arrest of eight postal workers, ‘in accordance with the decree of militarisation.’ This decree meant that all post office workers above the age of 18 were placed under military command and jurisdiction. Like their brothers in the Metro, the postmen were forced back to work.”
"The electric atmosphere in Madrid had been given concrete expression in a series of massive demonstrations in which the wage demands became mixed with political slogans. The transition was even more easily made in Spain at present because one of the first acts of the new-style 'liberal' regime was to introduce a wage freeze. 'Down with the wage freeze!' and 'Down with the cost of living!' are among the most popular cries on demonstrations, along with “Amnesty!”, and demands for democratic rights."
Massacre in Vitoria
Everywhere the struggle was gathering an irresistible impetus. It reached its high point in Vitoria at the beginning of the month of March 1976. This heroic struggle impacted the entire country, reaching up to the very heart of the government. I was present at the most critical point, and remember it as if it were yesterday.
I travelled to Vitoria on 2 March in a car full of young socialists who were active in the underground and were in contact with the striking workers in Vitoria, carrying a duplicator for the UGT there. We narrowly escaped arrest, having been halted at the police control at the entrance of the town. The whole place was swarming with armed police, like an occupying force in enemy territory.
The strike movement was run on extremely democratic lines. The most important innovation was the election of Representative Committees in each factory. These organs of struggle were composed of the most militant workers, many of them with revolutionary ideas, who provided extremely good leadership from start to finish.
The representative committees were responsible for coordinating the struggles and negotiating with the bosses. They answered to the assemblies and could be recalled by them at any time. In turn, the delegates to the assemblies were recallable at any moment.
I attended a mass meeting of strikers and their families. It was the nearest thing to a soviet I have ever seen. The mood was electric. One woman said: “If my kids have only bread to eat, we must continue the strike to the end.” That was typical of the general atmosphere.
The following day, on 3 March, after 54 days of uninterrupted strike action, a call went out for a general strike across the whole of Vitoria. The strike was observed by the entirety of the working class. That evening, more than 5,000 people attended the general assembly in the Church of St. Francis. That was when disaster struck.
The police surrounded the building, then fired tear gas canisters and smoke bombs that shattered the windows of the church, which was packed with men, women and children. The panic was indescribable, as the gas and smoke made it impossible to breathe in such a confined space.
The crowd made for the exit. But as they struggled through the doors, gasping for breath, the police opened fire with automatic weapons. Three workers were killed instantly, more than a hundred fell wounded and two workers died later in hospital. These events provoked a wave of anger and revulsion throughout Spain.
The events in Vitoria had an electrifying effect on the consciousness of hundreds of thousands of workers across the entire country. Strikes and spontaneous demonstrations broke out in various parts of the country. This brutal massacre was a turning point in the struggle against the Franco dictatorship. If the workers’ leaders had issued a call for a general strike, it would have met with a total response.
The dictatorship – already badly shaken and weakened by divisions – would have been brought to its knees. But no such call came from the organisations of the working class. The Communist Party in particular was hostile to the workers of Vitoria, who were not under their control. They were implacably opposed to the idea of a general strike, although this had earlier been part of their own programme. Their policy was to negotiate a deal with the existing regime.
Crisis of the regime
By this time, Arias was already a spent force. In July 1976, Spaniards woke up to the surprising news that the King had decided to sack the Prime Minister. Most Spaniards were astonished to learn that the new man was a virtually unknown career politician called Adolfo Suarez, who had spent many years in the shadows, climbing the slippery ladder of the fascist bureaucracy and finally becoming secretary of the Movimiento.
For decades, the legend has been carefully cultivated that Suarez and King Juan Carlos “brought democracy to Spain”. This is a lie. The key role in the overthrow of the dictatorship was played, not by Suarez and certainly not by Juan Carlos, but by the Spanish working class. Wave after wave of strikes, general strikes, demonstrations and street protests gradually wore down the regime just as the waves of the ocean crashing against the cliffs eventually wear down even the strongest granite.
Layer after layer of workers were drawn into the struggle: miners, car workers, printers, telephone workers, bank employees, railwaymen, air controllers, postal workers, dockers, government clerks, typists, actors and many others. Through their strikes and general strikes, they demonstrated their power to bring the whole of society to a grinding halt. They defied the state and its repressive forces with impressive courage and determination.
Yet in the final analysis, all this counted for nothing. The future of Spain was determined by a tiny handful of individuals who really represented nothing but themselves. Reformist labour politicians and a small clique of former Franco bureaucrats decided everything behind the backs of the masses.
The central problem was a problem of leadership. The leaders of the Spanish Communist Party argued that the balance of forces was not favourable for a general strike. They had absolutely no confidence in the ability of the Spanish workers to take power into their own hands and were anxiously seeking somebody to whom to hand that power that they were terrified to assume.
The real balance of forces was revealed by the fact that Suárez could not do anything without basing himself on the support of the leaders of the Socialist and Communist parties... He leaned on them and on the working class. But instead of basing themselves on the power of the working class, these leaders were hypnotised by the spectre of state power, even though that power was rapidly disintegrating before their very eyes. They behaved like a frightened rabbit blinded by the headlamps of a car.
They were frightened of everything: the regime, the army, the church, the masses, and even the sound of their own voices. They saw the mass movement not as a power, but merely as a bargaining chip in their negotiations with the regime. They were ready and willing to sacrifice it in exchange for whatever was offered to them. They were not even good negotiators in narrow trade union terms.
At the centre of these sordid backstage intrigues was the monarchy – that discredited institution, which was decisively rejected by the Spanish people in 1931, and had virtually no support, was now hastily pushed to the forefront, and was to be refurbished with the colours of democracy.
Juan Carlos was presented as a symbol of “democracy” before the people of Spain. But his democratic credentials were completely bogus. A willing tool of the dictator, Juan Carlos lived a life of idle luxury, fawning at the feet of Franco. His one and only claim to ‘legitimacy’ was that the dictator had named him as his successor.
Juan Carlos was a modern Bourbon, with all the characteristics of the Bourbon family historically. These characteristics were similar to those that Trotsky attributes to the Russian Romanovs: “passive, patient but vindictive treachery, disguised with a dubious kindliness and affability.” These words adequately describe the character of the new Spanish King.
Nobody in their right mind could have supposed that the leaders of the PCE and the PSOE would accept a monarchy, and much less under a man who had been personally appointed by Franco as his heir. In all the intense debates among the activists of the workers’ movement following the dictator’s death, such an abomination was never even mentioned as a theoretical possibility. Yet that was precisely what occurred.
The meetings of Adolfo Suárez with the political leaders of the opposition formed part of a carefully worked out plan. He aimed to break the common front of opposition parties (which was already sufficiently frayed by mutual rivalry and the scramble to obtain maximum advantage), and above all to marginalise the Communist Party. Part of the plan was to promise the most seductive advantages if they agreed to participate in this cynical manoeuver. The plan worked.
All this time, talks had been conducted in secret between Suarez and Felipe Gonzalez (Secretary-General of the PSOE). The Socialist Party leaders were continuously looking over the shoulder, nervously wondering whether their collaboration with Suarez would compromise them in the eyes of the masses and their own members. If they left the Communist Party out in the cold, would this not be held against them? But they need not have worried.
From September 1976, Adolfo Suarez and Santiago Carrillo (General Secretary of the Communist Party) were in regular, though secret, contact. The PCE leader had already jumped into bed with Suarez and was hardly in a position to criticise Felipe Gonzalez from the left. The stage was set for the great betrayal.
Seven days in January
Even while secret negotiations were taking place at the top, the violence of the regime was being unleashed mercilessly to repress the opposition on the streets. Fascist gangs were allowed to roam the streets, kidnapping, beating and murdering people with complete impunity.
Other sinister forces began to appear. A couple of days before a constitutional referendum was to take place, José María Oriol – a leading figure of the Spanish oligarchy and the Franco regime – was kidnapped by a mysterious terrorist group calling itself GRAPO. Then General Villaescusa was also kidnapped by same people.
A fascist operating under the control of the state security forces murdered a young leftist, Arturo Ruiz, in the centre of Madrid. The murder sparked a wave of fury, with virtually uninterrupted demonstrations and acts of protest. The mood was especially strong in Madrid's universities, which were practically paralysed, with around 100,000 students on strike, and more than 30,000 participating in assemblies and rallies. Approximately 115,000 took part in the demonstrations that occurred throughout the morning.
On one of those demonstrations, a young student, Mari-Luz Nájera was killed by a smoke canister fired by the police. The daughter of a poor family from the working-class district of La Alameda de Osuna in Madrid, she was just 20 years of age. It had been her first demonstration.
These heavy metal canisters were intended to be fired upwards in order to disperse demonstrators by releasing clouds of smoke. They ought never to be fired horizontally, which is what happened here. Fired directly at demonstrators, these instruments become lethal weapons.
Mari-Luz received the full impact of this murderous missile in her face, which was completely shattered. Her comrades rushed her to the clinic of La Concepción, where she was placed in a coma. But it was too late. She died from her terrible injuries. The person who performed this vicious action knew perfectly well what he was doing. This was nothing less than cold-blooded murder. But like all the other murders committed by the regime, nobody was ever charged or brought to trial.
The air was thick with electric tension, like the suffocating atmosphere before the storm. On that same fateful day, 24 January, a far-right group with connections in the army, police and information services, calmly walked into the offices of the labour lawyers of the Workers’ Commissions in Atocha No. 55 in Madrid. They riddled with bullets everyone that they found.
The victims were the lawyers Luis Javier Benavides, Francisco Javier Sauquillo and Enrique Valdelvira; the student Serafín Holgado and the administrative worker Ángel Rodríguez Leal, who was the first to die. Theses murders sparked a wave of indignation that swept through the population. The mood was so explosive that a single spark would have sufficed to ignite it.
The role of Carrillo
The serious representatives of big capital were thoroughly alarmed. They saw that they could only save themselves by calling on the help of the workers’ leaders, especially the Communist Party, which at that time had a dominant hold on the workers’ movement. And they were not mistaken.
At this decisive moment, the CP leaders acted as very effective firefighters, pouring water on the blazing anger of the masses. The huge demonstration that accompanied the funeral of the murdered lawyers was strictly controlled by Communist Party stewards, who prevented any chanting of slogans or waving of banners or placards.
The silent demonstration was very impressive. But the discipline was really meant as a message to the government: “You see how we can control the masses and keep them quiet? You can rely on us to keep order on the streets! But now we expect you to make concessions…”
The reformist leaders renounced any idea of a socialist program, presenting instead the idea of a “consensus” that would allegedly unite contradictory class interests, submerging the interests of the working class in a general, vague and amorphous movement for “democracy”.
Santiago Carrillo, the General Secretary of the Communist Party, had for some time been indicating his willingness to enter into a dialogue with elements in the regime. So it was really a very simple matter for the latter to enter into contact with him. In fact, it only had to lift its little finger for the leader of the PCE to come running.
Before returning to Spain, Carrillo gave a press conference in Paris to Spanish journalists. He spoke of the need to forget the past, to ensure there are no acts of revenge, and that all "progressives" should work towards "national unity" for the good of the country. He also spoke of the role that the army would play in its contribution to the political future of Spain.
Finally, Carrillo got his reward. On 9 April 1977, the Communist Party of Spain was legalised. From that point on, the powerful PCE became a tool in the hands of Suarez. Carrillo recognised the monarchy and the national flag, and preached moderation and “national reconciliation.”
Many CP members were stunned and resentful, but decades of Stalinist authoritarianism had eliminated any spirit of criticism. They tried to console themselves with the idea that “our leaders know what they are doing”, that it was all just a tactic, and that eventually the party would find the correct road. But the only road before the PCE led to a bottomless abyss.
In the Book of Genesis, Esau sold his birthright for a mess of pottage. That was not a bad deal compared to the one arrived at by Carrillo and Gonzalez, who surrendered the power that had been conquered through the action of the working class in exchange for a fake democracy. Herein lies the secret of the so-called democratic transition.
Santiago Carrillo and the other leaders of the PCE stood for a “historic compromise” between conservatives and Communists. In reality, it was the former who gained all, while the Communists lost everything.
Carrillo and the other leaders of the PCE played a key role in undermining the revolutionary movement of the working class and helping the bourgeois restore control when it slipped out of their hands. This betrayal came at a high price, for Carrillo and his party. The leaders of the PSOE were not one whit better, but they did not command the kind of support that was in the hands of the PCE and the Workers’ Commissions that they controlled at that time.
The party’s vote fell sharply, while that of the Socialist Party, which benefited from getting much more media exposure and had more resources at its disposal, increased. Of course! If there are two workers’ parties, one big and one small, with similar policies and programmes, the workers will vote for the former. In this case, the PSOE which appeared bigger in the eyes of the masses. The PCE lost out badly to the Socialists in Spain’s first democratic elections, in 1977 and again in 1982, with four deputies elected compared with 202 for the Socialists.
In the years that followed, the PCE saw its influence decline, its membership and vote slump. It became a shadow of its former self. Carrillo's resignation as general secretary was now inevitable. In 1985, following a power struggle, he was expelled from the party. In the end, the self-styled realist Carrillo succeeded in completely destroying the powerful Spanish Communist Party. He ended up in the political wilderness in the last years of his life as a result of his betrayal.
This once-powerful party, built through the heroism and self-sacrifice of a generation of working-class militants who risked their lives in the clandestine struggle against the Franco dictatorship, was virtually dissolved into the United Left (Izquierda Unida).
When Santiago Carrillo died, the liberal bourgeois press published the most flattering tributes to the man who saved them. A grateful Juan Carlos came to visit his deathbed just two hours after he had died, saying that the former general secretary of the PCE had played a “fundamental role” in the establishing of democracy in Spain. The Independent wrote:
“Juan Carlos said after visiting Carrillo’s family to pay his condolences only two hours after his death, at 97, the Communist leader was ‘a fundamental person for democracy’ – almost certainly a reference to the key role played by Carrillo, as head of the Communist Party until 1982, in the period of political transition and reconciliation following the death of General Franco.”
That is the plain truth. At least, one cannot accuse the Spanish ruling class of ingratitude.
The PSOE and the unions
Up to 1976, the Socialist party adopted a policy that in words was to the left of the PCE. In reality, however, this verbal radicalism was merely an attempt to conceal the fact that the PSOE was organisationally and politically far inferior to the Communists. In order to make up this deficiency, it needed money – lots of money. And it found a willing banker in the form of the German social democracy.
It was an open secret at the time that Felipe Gonzalez was receiving large sums of money from Bonn. Needless to say, this money came with strings attached. The German Social Democrats demanded that the Spanish Socialists abandon their leftist demagogy and accept the policies and principles of “moderate socialism”. Also needless to say, Gonzalez and co. accepted this generous offer with alacrity.
Gonzalez entered into regular contacts with Adolfo Suarez. The party dropped its radical verbiage like a hot potato, abandoned Marxism, expelled the left wing, liquidated the Young Socialists and moved sharply to the right. It became an acceptable party of government, totally subordinated to the interests of the bankers and capitalists of Spain. It even accepted Spain’s entry into NATO – something that would have been considered anathema only a few years earlier.
This degeneration was mirrored by a parallel process in the trade unions. The old militancy was replaced by a cowardly spirit of compromise and so-called realism that was merely a fig leaf to conceal a policy of class collaboration, retreat and betrayal. The union leaders – both those of the workers’ commissions and the UGT, put forward the slogan of “service union”: that is to say, a union that replaces class struggle and militant action to defend workers’ rights and living standards with one that takes membership subs in return for certain services, such as insurance and so on.
This in turn deepened the disillusionment of the rank and file, leading to a collapse of union membership and a loss of authority of the unions in the eyes of the mass of the workers. The membership of the Workers’ Commissions suffered a decline, although not a catastrophic one. On the other hand, the more moderate UGT initially grew in membership, as the new layers of workers, under changed circumstances, looked for practical solutions to their pressing everyday problems.
The leaders of the Workers’ Commissions came to the conclusion that this was the way to go. For a whole period, there was a competition between the leaders of the Workers Commissions and the UGT to see who was the more moderate, the more reasonable, and the more willing to compromise – that is to say, who would capitulate to the employers most completely.
The trade union leaders attempted to justify their conduct on the grounds of “realism”. In fact, it was precisely the opposite. For every step back that the union leaders accepted, the employers demanded three more. Weakness invites aggression. In the end, the hollowness of so-called moderate trade unionism led to a general collapse of trade union membership and even the discrediting of the idea of trade unionism among broad layers of the Spanish working class.
A turning point in the situation was the approval of a new constitution. Spain had been without a constitution from 1936 to 1978. The new Spanish Constitution was submitted to approval by referendum on 6 December 1978. This was yet another product of consensus between the representatives of the old regime and the workers’ leaders.
It defined Spain as a “parliamentary monarchy” – a somewhat mystifying phrase that was calculated to conceal the capitulation of the PCE and PSOE and their abandonment of republicanism. It abolished the death penalty, although workers were still being tortured and killed by the police. It naturally left intact all the repressive bodies of the dictatorship. An “amnesty law” forbade the prosecution of civil war crimes as well as the crimes of the regime. A pact of silence was imposed that gagged the people of Spain for decades.
As late as 1977, the PSOE was continuing to agitate for a republic as opposed to the monarchy. But this last trace of “radicalism” would soon be diluted until it too finally disappeared – in early 1978 the party fully accepted the principle of a “constitutional” monarchy headed by Juan Carlos.
The PSOE furthermore insisted that the constitution would guarantee "the right to work, to adequate housing, to freedom of speech and free elections" etc. The bourgeoisie was more than happy to guarantee and promise anything, as long as its rule over society was not threatened or undermined. At any rate, it installed numerous “safeguarding clauses” of a Bonapartist character into the text of the constitution, just in case the workers’ leaders proved incapable of containing the working class at any given moment.
The referendum was approved the same day, on 6 December 1978, although abstention reached 35 percent of the population. This result in itself was no great surprise. It reflected the profound and understandable desire of the Spanish people to put an end to the long years of dictatorship and to establish a representative democracy.
The government held in its hands all the necessary instruments for shaping public opinion: a massive campaign for a yes vote filled the airwaves on television and radio, and found overwhelming support in the press. The opposition by the right-wing, though extremely vocal, found no point of support in a public opinion, as the public was well aware of who was behind all that hullabaloo. After 40 years, they had had enough of that.
Those who wish to sell a product are well aware of the importance of effective slogans that shout out the virtues of what is on sale, irrespective of whether these claims have any basis in reality. It is true that these products must by law contain a written explanation of their contents. But it is well-known that such explanations are printed in such small letters that hardly anybody bothers to read them. That was also true of the Spanish Constitution.
People were constantly bombarded with propaganda that presented the constitution as the last word in democracy, and after 40 years of dictatorship, democracy was what people wanted. But very few people took the trouble to read what was in the text. To use an old Spanish expression, they were sold a cat instead of a hare.
In reality, the constitution was a compromise that satisfied nobody. The only reason it could be imposed upon the people of Spain was that the leaders of the opposition had abandoned any pretence of fighting for a full and complete democracy in exchange for recognition, and the possibility of obtaining lucrative ministerial positions in the new parliamentary system. Had the leaders of the Communist Party and the Socialist Party organised a campaign to expose the blatant flaws in the constitution, the result would have been very different. But they had no intention of doing anything that would embarrass Adolfo Suarez.
A fraudulent document
In the old German legend, Faust sold his soul to the devil in exchange for worldly pleasures. When he finally realised the price he had to pay, he was filled with remorse, but by then it was too late. In Spain, the new version of the Faustian legend had a somewhat different ending.
The leaders of the opposition entered into a diabolical bargain with the old regime and were rewarded very substantially by comfortable parliamentary careers. Unlike Faust, very few, if any of them, ever expressed the slightest regret for what was a highly unsatisfactory deal from the standpoint of the Spanish people. But it was the latter, not the former, who had to pay the bill.
The document contains lots of pious hopes. For example, Section 35 informs us that:
“(1) All Spaniards have the duty to work and the right to work, to the free choice of profession or trade, to advancement through work, and to a sufficient remuneration for the satisfaction of their needs and those of their families. Under no circumstances may they be discriminated on account of their sex.”
It may come as a surprise for millions of Spaniards who are now unemployed that the constitution guarantees them the right to work. It may also be a surprise to millions of female workers who are receiving less than the wage of male workers that such treatment is explicitly forbidden by the constitution.
Similarly, Section 47 states in all seriousness that:
“All Spaniards have the right to enjoy decent and adequate housing. The public authorities shall promote the necessary conditions and establish appropriate standards in order to make this right effective, regulating land use in accordance with the general interest in order to prevent speculation.”
Tell that to the millions of Spaniards who have no home, and who have been brutally evicted by the banks, who have repossessed their homes in order to make even more money from their unbridled speculation.
Is it actually possible to win a case against the government in the constitutional court on the grounds that its policies ran contrary to these clauses? The very idea exposes the absurdity of the “principles” enshrined in the constitution.
To be fair, however, although this conduct may not quite be “in accordance with the general interest”, it is very much in the interests of the tiny handful of wealthy parasites who own and control the wealth of Spain, just as they did in 1978. Their interests are certainly guaranteed by the constitution. But for the great majority, it is a scrap of paper, no more and no less.
The national question
The reactionary nature of the constitution was glaringly revealed in the clauses on the national question – a question of fundamental importance for Spain, as the recent events in Catalonia have clearly exposed. Section 2 reads as follows:
“The Constitution is based on the indissoluble unity of the Spanish Nation, the common and indivisible homeland of all Spaniards; it recognizes and guarantees the right to self-government of the nationalities and regions of which it is composed and the solidarity among them all” (our emphasis.)
How is it possible in one sentence to “recognise and guarantee” the right of self-government, while in another sentence to speak of the “the indissoluble unity of the Spanish Nation”? The right of self-determination means that a nation can decide its own future freely, up to and including the right to separate from another state. This is an elementary democratic right, comparable to the right to divorce.
But the Spanish Constitution places such limits on this right as to render it meaningless in practice. By avoiding all reference to the right of self-determination, it denies the right of the Basques, Catalans and Galicians to determine their own future. In essence, it is a repetition of Franco’s old slogan: “España, una, grande y libre” (Spain, united, great and free).
The reactionary consequences of this were exposed by the repressive actions taken by the Spanish state against the people of Catalonia when they attempted to exercise the right of self-determination. This in turn, has released the forces of reactionary Spanish nationalism, thus playing straight into the hands of the extreme right wing with its vicious racist, anti-Catalan and anti-immigrant demagogy.
As a sop to the Basque and Catalan nationalists (and also to the Socialists and Communists who, let us remember, at that time supposedly supported the right of self-determination), the authors of the constitution resorted to an act of transparent trickery in failing to describe the Basque country, Catalonia, Galicia and the rest as “nations”, instead calling them “nationalities” (nacionalidades). But such verbal acrobatics by no means eliminated the national question, which has continued to poison Spanish politics ever since.
Symbols in politics represent a very potent force. This was particularly true of Spain, where a bloody Civil War was fought behind two flags: the tricolour flag of the Republic, and the flag of fascist reaction. Which flag was to fly over the future Spanish democracy?
In all demonstrations against the regime, alongside the red flag of the working class, Republican flags were commonly displayed. But when the workers’ leaders betrayed the struggle against the dictatorship, they accepted what many people regarded as something that was absolutely unthinkable.
Section 4 informs us that:
“(1) The flag of Spain consists of three horizontal stripes: red, yellow and red, the yellow strip being twice as wide as each red stripe.”
In other words, the old flag of the dictatorship.
This was a body blow to millions of Spaniards with suffered under the repressive regime whose flag was now to be adopted as the national symbol of Spain. This was a very bitter pill for many people to swallow – particularly members of the Communist and Socialist parties. But it was a demand imposed by the pseudo-democratic monarchist elements as a condition for reaching a deal.
All parties now had to accept the red and yellow flag of reaction. Under pressure from its general secretary Carrillo, the Communist Party was particularly zealous in applying this new norm. Anyone now displaying the Republican flag at Communist Party rallies could expect to have that flag seized, and to receive a thorough beating up by the stewards for their audacity.
The army and the state
But a symbol necessarily reflects particular content. And so it was in the case of the flag. The flag of monarchist reaction was a very accurate expression of the nature of the state that would emerge from the so-called democratic transition. If there were any doubts over the question, we have a further explanation in Section 8:
“(1) The mission of the Armed Forces, comprising the Army, the Navy and the Air Force, is to guarantee the sovereignty and independence of Spain and to defend its territorial integrity and the constitutional order.”
Let us remember that the armed forces referred to here were taken over in their entirety from the dictatorship. True, a number of extreme fascist officers who refused to accept the new situation were removed or retired. But the bulk of the officer corps remained intact. Their reactionary nature was revealed in the attempted coup d’état of 1982.
Like the army, the old bureaucracy, judiciary and police remained virtually untouched in the so-called new democracy. The Spanish people were advised to forgive and forget the terrible crimes that had been committed against them. Not a single one of those responsible for murder, torture, beatings and massacres were ever put on trial for their crimes against the Spanish people. They remained at their posts, immune from all prosecution by the so-called law of silence, until they retired on comfortable pensions.
Yet another scandalous lie is contained in Section 16, on religion, which states that:
“(3) No religion shall have a state character. The public authorities shall take into account the religious beliefs of Spanish society and shall consequently maintain appropriate cooperation relations with the Catholic Church and other confessions.”
For decades, the Roman Catholic Church was closely identified with Franco’s dictatorship. It acted as the spiritual arm of the regime, which it supported 100 percent. 40 years later the Roman Catholic Church continues to enjoy a privileged relationship with the Spanish state.
In theory, the links between the Catholic Church and the state were to be liquidated. But in practice, as we see 40 years later, the Church continues to enjoy a most privileged position in Spain, absorbing a huge amount of taxpayers’ money.
The European Secular Association has calculated that the Spanish church is financed through the state to the tune of more than 11 billion euros per year, through a section of the declaration of income, tax exemptions, charter schools, social work, hospital centres, and the “maintenance of patrimony” and other subsidies.
Indirectly, the Church receives 100 million euros from funds for “social purposes”; 2 billion in “exemptions and bonuses”; 4,9 billion in salaries to teachers of religion and for church-run education; 2 billion for healthcare; 900 million for church-run hospitals; 50 million for salaries for chaplains; 600 million for “heritage conservation”; 300 million in grants, donations of public land, registration; and 10 million from the government’s co-participation with entities such as Obra Pía (“Pious Works”).
Not content with plundering the public finances for its own purposes, the Church has resorted to blatant theft of public property. Basing itself on a law passed by Franco in 1946, the Church has leased thousands of buildings, public squares, fountains and other properties that belonged to local municipalities and other public entities, paying ridiculous sums (20 or 30 euros). The present Socialist government has announced that it will try to reverse this robbery, but is meeting with ferocious resistance from the Church.
These are just a few examples to prove that the separation of the church from the state announced by the 1978 constitution is as fraudulent and false as every other aspect of that infamous document.
Now we come to the key point:
"PART II – The Crown:
"The King is the Head of State, the symbol of its unity and permanence. He arbitrates and moderates the regular functioning of the institutions, assumes the highest representation of the Spanish State in international relations, especially with the nations of its historical community, and exercises the functions expressly conferred on him by the Constitution and the laws."
We are informed that the person who stands at the head of state is decided, not by a democratic process, but by an accident of birth. Precisely what this feudal rubbish has to do with democracy is a mystery comparable to that of the Holy Trinity itself. And just like the mystery of the Holy Trinity, we are asked to accept it as truth, precisely because it is absurd.
(2) The person of the King is inviolable and shall not be held accountable. His acts shall always be countersigned in the manner established in section 64. Without such countersignature they shall not be valid, except as provided under section." (My emphasis, AW)
"The Crown of Spain shall be inherited by the successors of H. M. Juan Carlos I de Borbón, the legitimate heir of the historic dynasty. Succession to the throne shall follow the regular order of primogeniture and representation, etc. etc.
Not only is the King made the head of state as the result of an accident of birth, but by the same accident, he is placed above the law. His words and actions are not to be questioned or criticised by anybody. In fact, people in Spain have been sent to trial for the very act of criticising the ruling monarch. Such “democratic” legal principles were highly popular in France before the overthrow of the Bastille. The Spanish Bastille, however, is still waiting to be overthrown 40 years after the approval of this most democratic of all constitutions!
Section 62 specifies the rights of the Spanish monarch:
"It is incumbent upon the King:
"a) To sanction and promulgate the laws.
"b) To summon and dissolve the Cortes Generales and to call for elections under the terms provided for in the Constitution.
"c) To call for a referendum in the cases provided for in the Constitution."
These are important powers, not at all symbolic, as some naïve people like to believe. The monarchy is an important bulwark against democracy in general and socialism in particular. It is a reserve weapon of reaction. For decades there has been a conspiracy to present Juan Carlos as a “saviour of Spanish democracy”. The leaders of the Socialist and Communist parties were particularly insistent in peddling this myth. In fact, however, the exact opposite is the truth.
This is not the place to explain the role of Juan Carlos in the coup d’état of 1982 that aimed to restore the Franco dictatorship. At the time, I wrote articles that accused the king of active participation in that fascist plot. Suffice it to say that since then there has been a mountain of evidence that proves this assertion beyond all reasonable doubt.
Yet despite this fact, the people of Spain pay a very large amount of money to the Royal family for services that are not very clear to any reasonable person. Section 65 informs us that:
“(1) The King receives an overall amount from the State Budget for the maintenance of his Family and Household and distributes it freely.”
That the King of Spain distributes the huge sums donated so generously (if involuntarily) by the Spanish people, there can be no doubt whatsoever. It has kept him and his family in a state of luxury for many years. Juan Carlos used it for expensive elephant hunts in Africa, together with his no-doubt numerous mistresses.
This escapade took place in the middle of the most severe economic crisis in recent Spanish history. Only weeks before, he told a reporter that he was so upset about the growing number of unemployed that he was having trouble sleeping. Maybe this insomnia was what persuaded him to seek a peaceful night’s sleep in the African savannah. Or maybe it was the company of one of his girlfriends that provided him with the necessary conditions for bedtime.
Either way, the story did not go down well with the Spanish public. In times of austerity, when people are informed that everyone must make sacrifices to solve the crisis created by the bankers, the spectacle of the head of state enjoying a €10,000-a-day hunting safari was too much for even the strongest stomach to take.
Nor was the Spanish public impressed by the spectacle of the royal family’s image being further tarnished by a long-running corruption scandal involving Princess Cristina, and her husband Iñaki Urdangarin. One would imagine that the royal family already possessed sufficient wealth as a result of the generosity of the Spanish people not to have to get involved with illicit money deals. But involved they were – and on a lavish scale.
Many Spaniards, particularly young people, began to draw dangerous conclusions from all this. They started to draw a connection between the sumptuous lifestyle enjoyed by the king and his family, and the economic and political interests that had sent Spain into the abyss of economic crisis. At the time, a poll by El Mundo revealed that nearly two-thirds of Spaniards thought the king should abdicate.
The very existence of the monarchy was in danger. The only solution was to sacrifice Juan Carlos. In a desperate attempt to save the monarchy, the old man stepped into a very comfortable retirement (also generously subsidised by the taxpayers) and handed the throne to his son Felipe, Prince of Asturias, who retained a level of support of around 66 percent.
Announcing the King’s abdication, the leader of the ruling, right-wing Popular Party, Rajoy, praised Juan Carlos, calling him a "tireless defender of our interests". However, he did not say exactly to whose interests he was referring.
This operation was accomplished as smoothly as changing the sheets on the royal bed. No referendum was called. The opinion of the people was not consulted, except in the persons of their elected representatives, who, as could be predicted, fell over themselves to pledge their undying loyalty to the new King of Spain. Thus, the will of Franco was confirmed, sanctified and faithfully carried on under the convenient fig-leaf of democracy. In this royal farce, we see the full meaning of the comically misnamed Transition to Democracy.
“Freedom of the press”
One should bear in mind that any criticism of the King and Queen is actually illegal under Spanish law. The following is an extract from the Royal Decree of April 1, 1977, ironically entitled “On Freedom of Expression”:
"Paragraph 2 of Article 64 of the Press Law will be replaced with the following:
"2A. When the administration receives information of an act which could constitute an offence committed by written or spoken means of communication they will notify the prosecutor or the relevant magistrate who will immediately proceed to seize the publication.
"2B. The administration may only order the seizure of written or spoken means of communication if they contain news, comment or information:
1. Which are contrary to the unity of Spain.
2. Which constitute an attack on, or disrespect for, the Monarchy or Members of the Royal Family.
3. Which in any way attack the institutional prestige or respect – before public opinion– of the armed forces." (My emphasis, AW)
It may have escaped the attention of the authors of this document that free speech does not mean that one is free as long as one does not offend the sensibilities of the powers that be. This is the kind of blatant hypocrisy that covers up the continued existence of objectionable laws and restrictions that Spain has directly inherited from the Franco era.
The old state is preserved
To sum up: behind the superficial façade of democracy, this constitution preserved all the essential elements of the old regime. It was later modified in 1992. But in all essentials, it retains the same old deceitful character, and includes:
- The maintenance of the Senate, which permanently threatens to veto any progressive decisions of the Congress;
- The entrusting of important emergency powers to the King, which at any given moment could serve as a point of reference for all the forces of reaction;
- Denial of the right of self-determination for the nationalities;
- The power for judges to suspend the rights and liberties of individuals and parties considered a threat to the capitalist system;
- The recognition of the power to declare a state of emergency or of siege if bourgeois “national security” were ever threatened, which would see all democratic rights immediately annulled.
In the class struggle, there are winners and losers. But who were the winners and who were the losers? On the surface, all was sweetness and light. An artificial carnival mood was deliberately cultivated by the media, which presented the abortion of the transition as a great victory for all concerned. Yet thinking people could see that it was not so.
Although it is true that the working class, and even its most advanced elements, did not have a clear idea of where they wished to go, they nevertheless felt keenly that their leadership had let them down. In their hearts, they knew that they could have gone far further and achieved far more. If they did not do so, it was not for lack of will or because it was impossible to do so, but because at every stage, their leaders were applying the brakes, putting their relations with the Suárez wing of the regime before all other considerations.
The endless pacts and compromises at the top produced a mood of bewilderment among the activists that eventually communicated itself to the masses. The period of revolutionary floodtide was replaced by a gradual and debilitating ebb of the movement. Deafened by the chorus, in which the voices of former enemies were united with those of leaders that previously enjoyed their full confidence, the workers began to lose faith in themselves. The mood became increasingly confused, anxious, even fearful.
The result was a wave of complete demoralisation among the active layer, who instinctively felt that they had been betrayed. While the politically inexperienced masses celebrated, the old workers of the underground and the revolutionary youth were bitterly disappointed.
Among this layer, there was a thoroughly depressed mood and feeling of helplessness in the face of what seemed to be irresistible forces. In reality, however, there was nothing irresistible or inevitable about this outcome, which was entirely the product of unprincipled pacts and deals arrived at by the leaders behind the backs of the working class. Many activists abandoned their trade unions and political parties in disgust.
I remember an even more tragic case. An old comrade called Rafael (I do not recall his surname – in the underground one never knew the name of a comrade) had been a member of the Socialist Party and the UGT in Navarra since the 1930s. He had the number one membership card of both organisations in that province. That was at a time when Navarra was a hotbed of fascist reaction. He remained a loyal member of the Socialist Party throughout the hard years of underground work. After the fall of the dictatorship, he was made Chairman of the Casa del Pueblo, the Socialist headquarters of Pamplona, the capital of Navarra. The betrayal of the leaders broke his heart.
One day, without consulting with anybody, this old man walked quietly into the Socialist Party offices in Pamplona and, without saying a word, placed his party card on the table and walked out, never to return. He then went to the UGT offices and with the same, quiet, proletarian dignity, placed his UGT card on the table and walked out. It is hard to know just how much this meant to that man. In those two little cards was contained his entire life: his struggles, his sacrifices and those of the class to which you belonged. Was all this for nothing in the end? One can just imagine the thoughts that were going through his mind that day.
This was not an isolated case. An entire generation of proletarian militants, the flower of the working class, the men and women who had fought the dictatorship to a standstill and brought about its downfall, were shamelessly cast to one side, thrown onto the scrapheap and forgotten as if they had never existed.
Their names are not mentioned in the history books. They were never elected to the Cortes and they never enjoyed what are known as the fruits of office. They have no monuments, no statues were erected for them, no streets are named after them. Yet these men and women are the real heroes and heroines of the so-called Democratic Transition in Spain.
This collective amnesia was what led to a kind of historical limbo in which the truth was buried under a mountain of saccharine falsities, lies and half-truths. We owe a duty to these true heroes to restore their memory and their honour, just as we have a duty to expose those leaders who brought about this terrible tragedy. The memory of the class fighters will be covered with honour by future generations, the leaders covered forever with shame.
The way forward
In the first few months of 1976, or even later, it was entirely possible to have carried out a revolution in Spain. Moreover, with correct leadership, this revolution could have been achieved in a relatively peaceful manner. The balance of forces was decisively in favour of the working class and against the regime, which in really lacked any kind of mass base and was split and completely rotten from the inside.
But the revolution was aborted from the top. By their actions, the leaders of the socialist and Communist Parties created an abortion in the form of the “Democratic transition.” Of course, it was no such thing. 40 years later, the old state power, despite certain modifications, still remains in control: the bureaucracy, the Church, the civil guard, the old Franco politicians – everything remains, more or less, as before. The former fascists removed their blue shirts and became members of the Popular Party, under whose protective wing, the old corrupt methods continued and acquired even more monstrous dimensions.
The task of overthrowing this old order is still pending. Only the working class and the youth of Spain can accomplish this task. They can only do so by breaking with the old reformist leaders: their policies, illusions and prejudices.
Following these leaders, the masses took what appeared to be the easy way out: the line of least resistance. They paid a very heavy price for it. It is above all the youth of Spain that has to pay this price, and it is refusing to do so. A new spirit of revolt has arisen – a spirit that rejects the cowardly spirit of compromise, of pacts and deals with the ruling class, and is striving to find a revolutionary way out. That is, in fact, the only way possible.
The problem in 1976-77 was that the most class-conscious and militant elements of the proletariat were acting under the influence of the reformist leaders, especially those of the PCE, and therefore were working on false assumptions. However, the authority of those leaders is now only a pale shadow of what it was then. The workers and youth are tired of being manipulated and deceived. They are critical of the old leaderships and sceptical, even hostile, to the old organisations.
The new generation is no longer satisfied to be fed an unending stream of myths and legends. They demand the truth. After decades of living a lie, people are questioning the very nature of the “Transition to Democracy.” Republican flags are again flying defiantly on demonstrations. They are seen by many in the Communist movement and in United Left as a symbol of struggle against a bankrupt and reactionary regime that was imposed on the people as part of a “democratic” swindle. They are quite right. No further progress is possible until this swindle is exposed and overthrown.
The historical process proceeds as a remorselessly as that of natural selection in evolution. In the past three decades there has been a relentless process of selection. Many of the older generation have fallen away, tired and disillusioned. They are being replaced by a new and fresh generation of fighters.
Four decades after the Great Betrayal, Spain is moving once again towards a revolutionary upsurge. The country is now faced with huge unemployment and the deepest economic crisis for decades. After a long period of relative quiescence, there are clear signs of a revival of the class struggle.
The revenge of history
For four decades, the people of Spain have been subjected to endless propaganda in books, at school and in the media, which portrays the Transition exclusively as the work of a handful of wise and courageous protagonists: the leaders of the main organisations of the working class (the PCE and the PSOE) and the equally wise and courageous Adolfo Suárez and Juan Carlos.
In 2011, we had the impressive movement of the revolutionary youth, with hundreds of thousands of indignados occupying the main squares of the cities in Spain. Over six million people, according to an IPSOS opinion poll, said that they had participated in one way or another in the movement.
In 2012 alone, there were two 24-hour general strikes. There have also been massive movements against education cuts, a successful movement against privatisation of health care in Madrid, huge demonstrations and direct action to resist evictions and repossessions, the victorious movement in Gamonal, Burgos, against urban redevelopment, and the all-out strikes of Balearic teachers, Coca Cola workers and Panrico workers.
On 8 March 2018, on international working women’s day, six million came out on strike, and there were mass demonstrations of millions on the streets of many Spanish towns, cities and villages.
However, in order to succeed, these movements require an organised political expression. The new generation of activists is searching for ideas, a banner and an organisation. But the leaders of the main workers’ parties have learned nothing and forgotten everything. It is, therefore, hardly surprising that the young display distrust and scepticism towards the leaders and parties that provide no clear alternative to the injustice, chaos and criminality of capitalism.
The young people are looking for answers to the many unanswered questions left over from the past. The new generation instinctively feels that the privileged position of the Church and the Monarchy are an intolerable violation of basic democratic rights, and they seek to return to the genuine traditions of Communism, to the ideas of Marx and Lenin.
They are saying: “The regime of 1978 is finished.” Yes! But what is necessary is a thorough and honest debate about the past and an analysis of the mistakes that were made. It is necessary to break completely with the policies of “consensus”, pacts and alliances with the bourgeoisie.
In August, Spain’s new centre-left administration of Pedro Sanchez introduced legal amendments to a 2007 law to allow the removal of Franco's corpse from a tomb in the huge basilica the Valley of the Fallen (El Valle de los Caídos) outside Madrid. This monstrous cross was built by the slave labour of 40,000 victims of the Civil War, many of whom lost their lives in the process.
Since 2009, the site has been closed to general visitors, except for those attending mass. But with or without Franco, this monument to fascist barbarism remains a stain on the face of Spain: a permanent, mute rebuke to those who wish us to forgive and forget.
The people of Spain cannot forget and must never forgive. The memory of slavery is still alive in countless towns and villages where streets and squares still bear the names of the old oppressors. In Madrid alone, someone has calculated that there are still more than 150 streets and squares named after Franco’s ministers and generals, and four decades after the country was supposed to have embraced democracy. But the "pact of silence" is now over. The people of Spain will not be gagged forever.
For a whole historical period, the revolutionary vanguard found itself isolated from the class. But that is now rapidly changing. In the coming period of mass struggles in the factories, on the streets, on the land, in the schools and universities, new fighters will emerge. In fact, they are already emerging. This is the hope for the future of Spain and the world.
Today, the revolutionary movement of the workers in the 1970s remains a source of immense inspiration. Trotsky said that the Spanish working class was capable of making not one but ten revolutions. They displayed tremendous courage, initiative and élan. But in the last analysis they failed, and the people of Spain paid the price for that failure. It is therefore essential that the new generation pay careful attention to the reasons for that defeat.
The reformist leaders no longer have the same stranglehold over the working class that they had in the past, while anarchism in Spain is a mere shadow of what it was. The world crisis of capitalism will once again place on the order of the day the socialist transformation of society. It is the duty of all conscious workers to study the lessons of the Transition and of the Spanish Revolution. This is a necessary precondition to carrying through the struggle to a victorious conclusion. In the words of George Santayana: “He who does not learn from history will forever be doomed to repeat it.”