A short history of the PSOE (Spanish Workers’ Socialist Party)

Spain as a modern country is naturally bent towards Socialism, as a direct result of centuries of oppression of workers by the Monarchy, the Church and the Nobles on whose huge estates serfs toiled every day all their life, often starting work at six years old. The natural inclination of any Spaniard is a hatred of any kind of boss, and a surge towards Communism/Socialism after the success of the Russian Revolution was inevitable.

   Spanish Socialism was led by a Madrileño printer called Pablo Iglesias until 1925. This rather dour man had formed the PSOE before the end of the nineteenth century (1879), as well as a union called the UGT (Unión General de Trabajadores, 1888).

   In 1910, pacted with the republicans, Iglesias became the first Socialist deputy in the Spanish Parliament – the Cortes. First use of the favourite socialist weapon – the General Strike – came in 1917. The strike was revolutionary and violent, and failed. It was followed by the usual harsh repression which unleashed a bloody three-year struggle between reformists, and thoughtless supporters of the Bolshevik Revolution. The inevitable result had the violent revolutionaries who wished to topple the Monarchy, Government, Church and Nobles abandoning the socialists to form their own Spanish Communist Party (PCE).

 In the 1920s the UGT trade union found itself collaborating with Primo de Rivera’s dictatorship, attempting to consolidate its position within the state. This move cost the anarchist and Communist members in the union even more repression by the regime. But the purer Socialists distanced themselves from the dictatorship in time in time to join the almost totally anti-Monarchy coalition embodied in the San Sebastian Pact of 1930. (Primo de Rivera appears above with King Alfonso XIII)

The Second Spanish Republic lasted from 1931 to 1936 and the PSOE was the most prominent party on the Left. It was itself divided between  the ‘worker corporatists’ who wanted improvement in trade union conditions, and the ‘political reformists’ whose target was the permanent establishment of ‘liberal democracy’. This last term is difficult to explain because a ‘democracy’ is either that – a democracy – or it isn’t. Use of the adjective ‘liberal’ here is suspect, and needs to be ratified by better brains than mine.

   From 1931 – 1933 the PSOE proved to be the backbone of reformist Republican/Socialist administrations trying to modernize Spain, a country difficult to modernize, as it is dominated by traditions and traditionalists. The latter groups had no wish to be modernized.

 Many Socialists were angered by the failure of parliamentary reform, which could not be achieved thanks to the conservative classes. They withdrew from the Republican/Socialist ranks, and then lost more than fifty seats in the 1933 General Election.

   Socialists became more militant during 1933-35 when most of their achieved reforms were overturned. There was an agricultural strike in 1934, a general strike and an uprising in Asturias in October of that year (put down fiercely). Leadership hardened between the revolutionary stand of Largo Caballero and the pure parliamentarianism of Indalecio Prieto. This division in the Socialist camp prevented the moderate Prieto from accepting the Premiership in 1936. It is on the cards that had Prieto been elected, there might not have been a military rising in 1936 which led to the atrocious Spanish Civil War.

   After the outbreak of this horrible war, Caballero formed a Socialist-dominated government in September. But the Socialists were badly divided betweeen themselves, and were rapidly overshadowed by a united and disciplined Communist Party, whose reputation was enhanced by  close relations with Stalin’s Soviet Russia, and encouraged by the cautious lack of support from either Britain or France. Largo Caballero resigned as President of the Government in May, 1937, outraged by concerted opposition from Communists, Socialists and Republicans, but it was another Socialist, Juan Negrín who becme Premier. He relied on the PCE and the guarantee he obtained in Moscow of Soviet military aid, partly bought by giving the Soviets Spain’s gold reserves, which incidentally have never been returned. It was said at the time (in other European countries) that Negrín had both bought and sold Spain to Stalin. Hitler meanwhile, aided the Nationalist forces finally led by General Franco, with gifts of fighters, their pilots, arms and ammunition. It became mujch more of a ‘European War’ than a mere ‘Civil War’ as a result. Even the United States, still firmly held back by Monrovian Doctrines (q.v.) sent an ‘International Brigade’ to fight (and die) in Spain.

 Defeat in the three years of the Civil War devastated the Socialist movement in Spain for decades. PSOE held a 25th Congress on foreign soil in Toulouse in 1972. There was another one in 1974, at which Felipe González was elected Secretary General. Two years after Franco’s death in 1975, the PSOE was made official opposition in the Cortes and Senate. Shortly afterwards the PCE was declared legal again in Spain, and its leader invited to return from exile in Paris.

   At the Congress of 1979 González resigned because the Party would not abandon Marxism. He was oburate on this subject. ‘Leave Marxism to the PCE’ he said. What he wanted was modern, progressive thought and actions. The young Andalusian leader got his way in the extraordinary meeting of Congress in September of that year, re-elected as Secretary-General because the Party swore to separate itself from Marxist dogma and creed.

Then, on 28 October 1982 González led the PSOE to victory in the General Election. He won again in 1986, much to the delight of socialist Spain – and then again 1989 but then news was leaked to the press that González was actively involved in Spain’s internal battle against the Basque terrorists ETA. It seems he was the Number One in the ‘GAL’, a murderous organisation, state-funded, that was trying to kill members of ETA on Spanish soil, or even abroad. Not even PSOE’s expert public relations experts could save him or his Party, and the PSOE was defeated by a narrow margin by the Popular Party in 1996. Spain now had a conservative President of the Government, José María Aznar, but Felipe has never taken a back seat. He backed José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero in his successful bid to become the new Secretary General.

It was while he was leader of the Opposition that José-Luis made a mortal enemy of the United States by not standing up from his seat at an internationally attended ceremony in Madrid while the Stars and Stripes passed.

Zapatero (ZP) won the Election (much to his surprise and shock) in 2004, and again in 2008. His ineptitude, in-the-clouds grin and calm non-acceptance of vote-losing facts presided over the quick collapse of the Spanish economy. As President of the Government he was cold-shouldered at international meetings of leaders, often left to brood by himself while the others chatted amicably, occasionally casting a wry glance at the Spanish leader.

 The humilliation was complete when in 2011 Mr Pérez-Rubalcaba declared that he was now the effective leader of the PSOE. No Congress had put him there, but it seems there was general agreement with him. Then Rubalcaba lost the General Election of November, 2011, leaving the Popular Party to win with an enormous majority.

   The PSOE must now wait until the near future, when it will be elected again by the people of Spain, who have shown that they prefer a Socialist Government. It will happen even if Mr Rajoy manages to put Spain back on the economic map, and reduce the present figure of five million unemployed. It will happen if the King abdicates or dies and the Prince of Asturias becomes King. It will happen even if the condition of Bien Estar returns again to the Spanish people. Spain is ‘Rojo’ after centuries of bad leadership and appalling ill treatment of all classes below the aristocracy and Monarchy. The Church has little or nothing to do with modern Spain. There is also a history and tradition of anti-Catholicism in Spain that is centuries old. During the Republics and the Civil War the Communists tried to kill off the bishops, priests, monks and nuns and burn churches, monasteries and convents. Not even this worked. Ordinary Spanish people dislike politicians and frequently go to Church. They also vote Socialist, as we will shortly see.

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