Spanish new left overtaking social democrats


By Norm Dixon

MADRID — "In Spain we are living in the final part of a period that began in 1982, when the Socialist Party [PSOE] came into government. In the beginning, people had many illusions, many hopes for change. Those illusions are gone. The PSOE betrayed its promises of reform and implemented harsh neo-liberal economic policies", Jaime Pastor, a leading member of Alternative Left, told Green Left Weekly.

Alternative Left (AL) is an important component of the United Left (UL), a left front with the Communist Party of Spain (PCE) at its core together with a wide range of other left and ecological forces. The AL's origins were in the Trotskyist Revolutionary Communist League.

The UL is set to make significant gains at the expense of the compromised PSOE, Pastor predicts. This follows an important part of the PCE leadership being convinced of the need to build a real political alternative to the social democratic PSOE rather than simply being its permanent left-wing junior partner.

The left's rupture with the PSOE became definitive after the 1986 referendum over Spain's entry into the NATO military alliance. A huge, diverse anti-NATO movement developed.

The working class also came into increasing conflict with the PSOE. "Since 1988, there were big general strikes against the economic policy of the government. Most importantly, these general strikes were organised not only by the PCE-aligned Workers Commissions but also the Socialist Party trade unions, the CGT."

Under PSOE rule, Spain has been plunged into an economic and social crisis; 24% of the active population is unemployed. Since 1987, companies have been closing their plants and leaving as Spain suffers the consequences of the restructuring of the European economy.

"In relation to Germany or France or Benelux this is a less developed country", Pastor pointed out. Spain's agricultural exports have also been damaged by the limitations imposed by the European Union.

Despite social movement and trade union opposition to the PSOE, electorally there remained no left alternative. The PSOE "continued to win elections in 1989 and 1993. Only after 1993 did the United Left win an important part of the electorate of the PSOE", Pastor explained. "Now we are in the final period of the absolute majority of the PSOE. The new right is stronger, but also the new left is strong and it has good relations with the workers' movements and the social movements.

"At first UL was a coalition of the PCE and a few very small parties. The extreme left, and the majority people who were in the movement against NATO, were not involved in the foundation of the UL. The hegemony of the PCE was clear. But the evolution of the PCE in the UL was to the left."

The UL took a very strong stand against the 1991 Gulf War and maintains a very critical attitude to the "New World Order". The UL also opposed the Maastricht Treaty and the neo-liberal project of the European Union.

The UL developed "a more critical attitude against the Socialist Party government. As a result, the UL began to attract more people from the left. Its support in elections grew and UL began to increase its influence."

At the same time the far left was going through an evolution of its own, Pastor added. "The extreme left was an important part of the leadership of the campaign against NATO, yet electorally it had no support. After 1991, the two most important groups of the extreme left, the [formerly Maoist] Communist Movement and the Revolutionary Communist League, fused into a new organisation, but this new organisation did not develop and the fusion failed. A part of the Revolutionary Communist League began to discuss relations with the United Left. The product of this debate was the affiliation to the UL by the Alternative Left in 1993."

While the "political and organisational tradition of the Communist Party continues to be very important within the UL, there is another current that is more and more open to the left, to the social movements, and more critical of imperialism. The central leadership of the UL is in favour of the leftist turn."

The UL is not a party "but a social and political movement which respects the right to build currents and tendencies within it. We think we can participate in this organisation with our ideas and with our practices. We have a good influence in UL", Pastor told Green Left Weekly.

AL has differences with the UL leadership, Pastor noted. The most important is on the national question. "Spain is a multinational state. The Basque country, Catalonia and Galicia do not have the right to self-determination. We defend this right. The leadership of the UL are not against the right to self-determination, but in practice they defend the federal state and the constitutional framework. We think that that is a contradiction."

A correct position on this question is essential if UL is to become a real left alternative throughout Spain, Pastor insists. "We must not forget that the UL is strong in Spain except in the Basque country and Galicia. In Catalonia, the UL has an influence. Unless the UL changes its attitude on self-determination, it will be very difficult for UL to have more support in the Basque country and Galicia."

Because of this, AL comrades do not join the UL in all regions. "Our co-thinkers in the Basque country are not in the UL, and in Galicia they are in a bloc of the nationalist left. In Nafarroa, a Basque province excluded by the Spanish constitution from the Basque Autonomous Community, there is another specific front where we work with ecologists, feminists and other radicals."

Pastor explained that while the fusion between the Communist Movement and the Revolutionary Communist League failed, it was successful in the Basque country. These comrades have also declined to join the militant nationalist organisation, Herri Batasuna. "They are critical of Herri Batasuna, but when the elections arrive they call for a vote for Herri Batasuna. While they are not generally against armed struggle, they are critical of the non-discriminatory nature of the armed actions taken by ETA. We think that, at this moment, the ETA's strategy of armed struggle has no positive effects."

Despite their differences, relations are cordial between AL and Herri Batasuna. "In the last elections for the European Parliament, Herri Batasuna proposed to our comrades that they nominate some members to join the list of candidates of Herri Batasuna. There was an internal discussion, and the majority decided not to accept.

"The problem is that the organisational culture in Herri Batasuna is very monolithic. When some leaders are critical of ETA, they are expelled or marginalised. It is very difficult to live in the same organisation while ETA continues to exist. The political dependence of Herri Batasuna on ETA is clear. Maybe in a new context of a cease-fire by ETA and a more open attitude by Herri Batasuna, there could be a convergence."

Pastor estimates that the UL nationally has 70,000 members. In the June 12 European elections, it won 13.4% of the national vote. In Madrid, the UL polled 19%. On the same day, in the Andalusia regional elections, the UL won almost 20%, compared to the PSOE's 23%.

General elections are due in May. "Recent opinion polls say the UL will win more votes than the PSOE in Madrid. In Andalusia, the same may happen. We cannot exclude a big crisis in the PSOE. At the national level, the UL could win 15-16% and the PSOE 28%."

Pastor believes that a UL-PSOE coalition is unlikely. The UL will insist that the PSOE drop its neo-liberal policies. In any case, "The PSOE leadership is not interested in an alliance with the UL. They prefer to have an alliance with the bourgeois parties of Catalonia and the Basque country [the Basque National Party — PNV] because these parties are neo-liberal in economic policy."

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