Since they were given the chance to do so, the Spanish people have preferred to vote for left-inclined political parties. After the new Constitution of 1978, signed by all parties three years after the death of Franco, there have been thirteen years of PSOE rule under Felipe González, and nearly eight years of the same party in power with Zapatero as titular head. The Popular Party, founded by conservative Manuel Fraga and others, is not conservative or right-wing at all. It is a pure Social Democratic Party under another name. So is the Spanish Workers’ Socialist Party (PSOE): the two principal parties are social democrats but cannot learn to live or work together.
Political commentators (and satirists) will explain the reasons for this pinkish hue lying over Spain and her possessions: centuries (they claim) of ill-treatment of the lower classes by kings, the landed and irremediably proud aristocracy, and princes and prelates of the Church. But the Socialist/Marxist ideology was not always represented by the official Communist party or the PSOE. From 1908 to 1936 a truly socialist party was hard at work, called the Radical Republican Party, founded by the revolutionary working class movement in Barcelona by a Republican journalist and populist politician and essayist called Alejandro Lerroux.
Lerroux was a fire-eating, fire-breathing orator of the awe-inspiring kind, anti-Monarchy, anti-Church, anti-Establishment. His speechmaking turned him into a living myth. He claimed to have founded the first modern political party in Spain. His well-chosen words brought an abrupt end to the faction-ridden, pussy-footing politics of the Republican movement which had been wandering about trying to find a platform since the First Republic of 1873.
The Radical Republican Party was founded in 1908. The climate of opinion which led to the so-called ‘Tragic Week’ of July 1909 was effectively created by the enflamed anti-clerical rhetoric of this new party. Then, as always seems to happen in Spain, a great scandal over corruption broke out which undid the Radicals in Barcelona; they was expelled from the newly-formed Republican-Socialist Coalition – a major setback.
People change, often in peculiar fashion, and during the Great War Lerroux duly changed; he called for intervention on behalf of the Allies. This meant that he was calling on Spain to join with the King of England against the King in Germany though he was a Republican Radical. It is said that his pro-interventionist view was made to enhance the various business interests to which he and his Barcelona friends were surprisingly and increasingly involving themselves. It was not, of course, the first time that a radical socialist became suddenly fascinated by money-making ‘on the side’. Nor would it be the last time. It has been ‘the Mark of Cain’ for all socialist administrations in all countries for all time. Felipe González started his thirteen years of socialist power with the judicial robbery of the biggest capitalist concern in Spain at the time – RUMASA. Having used a Law Decree signed by the King to confiscate the holdings, he sold each of the companies to a previously chosen buyer for ludicrous sums, instead of nationalizing the holdings properly and making RUMASA a state-owned company, which would have avoided the mass sackings of thousands of employees, greatly increasing the statistics of the unemployed. Corruption in political parties seems to have become an integral part of them – expected and praised, not condemned and anathema.
In the 1920s two new Republican parties emerged as a reaction to the populist agenda of the Radical Republican Party – Republican Action (1925) and the Radical Socialist Party (1929). The call was to make things more progressive and modern, though on the declaration of the Spanish Second Republic in 1931 the Radicals were the oldest and most populated of the Republican parties. Left always bites Left, so the PPR left the Republican-Socialist administration in December 1931 because of the continuing participation and influence of the Socialists! From 1931 to 1933 it provided the hardest opposition to reforms by the Republican-Socialists led by Manuel Azaña. It was Lerroux himself who was preparing to become the civilian figurehead in a military regime, if the coup d’etat planned by General Sanjurjo had been successful.
Surprisingly, it was the Radical Party that ruled the Republic from December 1933 to October 1935, in alliance with the non-republican Right, and in exchange for carrying out a minute programme of right-wing reforms, the Radicals were given privileged access to the public sector (and purse). They went too far again by collaborating with the super-Fascist CEDA and the PPR split in May 1934. Unable to make constructive reform, and hindered by its own right-wing allies, the PPR collapsed in the midst of financial scandals, but not before playing an essential role in the destruction of the Second Republic. The inevitable result was the Spanish Civil War (q.v.).