The presence of the 101-year-old Communist Party of Spain (PCE) in Spanish politics has been so widespread that some of its penitent ex-members from the 1960s and 1970s keep turning up in unlikely roles: for example, as corporate representatives or speakers at Spanish-patriotic demonstrations denying Catalonia’s democratic right to self-determination.
To date the most extreme example of regression by a former PCE leader (and MP) must have surely been the March 21 appearance in the Spanish Congress of 90-year-old economics professor Ramón Tamames.
On that day Vox, the ultra-right party directly descended from the 1939‒75 dictatorship of Francisco Franco, presented this once-jailed PCE member as its prime ministerial candidate in a motion of censure against the government of prime minister Pedro Sánchez.
Mertxe Aizpurua, speaking for Basque left-independentist force EH Bildu, wondered why Tamames had consented to being a candidate for Vox: “I don’t know whether you’ve done it out of simple vanity or because they’ve deceived you.”
Yet there was no mystery: Tamames, a former PCE deputy-mayor of Madrid, placed himself under Vox’s banner because this reactionary and racist outfit champions what he most cherishes — the “eternal indivisibility” of Spain.
It was also an opportunity for the economics professor to hold a master class before a very large public on his opinions about everything — including issues where he actually disagrees with Vox.
A look at the titles of Tamames’s writings provides the clue to his decline: from a 1985 text Inevitable Socialism he moved to a 2014 offering Where is Catalonia Going? How to Escape the Independentist Labyrinth and most recently to celebrations of the Castilian monarchy’s golden age like The Half of the World that was Spain — A True, Almost Incredible, History.
In effect, over his career Tamames reworked the 1930’s motto of right-wing Spanish unionism: “better a red Spain than a broken-up Spain”, into a version for today’s left-wing Spanish Unitarians: “better a brown Spain than a broken-up Spain”.
Targets formal and real
A censure motion in the Spanish congress requires the party moving it to nominate an alternative candidate for prime minister, who is expected to outline a program for government.
However, the real target of the Vox censure motion was not the “progressive coalition government” of the Spanish Socialist Workers Party (PSOE) and Unidas Podemos (UP) but the right-wing opposition People’s Party (PP): the debate would highlight Vox as more valiant than the PP in fighting “the government that has surrendered to the enemies of Spain, to totalitarian lunacies and to plundering the nation” (Vox leader Santiago Abascal on presenting Tamames).
Turning to the PP benches, Abascal asked: “Are you willing to stand up against the extremist legislation of recent socialist legislatures? I’m referring to laws based on gender ideology, on the imposition of historical memory, on confiscatory tax policy and to money squandered by politicians and trade unions.”
Tamames presented a one-point “program for government”: early elections, the catch-cry of the entire right. His opening speech combined the familiar falsehoods of Spanish patriotism with some solution-free allusions to real social problems and the odd accurate shot against the PSOE-UP government’s worst betrayals (like abandoning former colony Western Sahara to Morocco).
Some examples: Catalan schooling represses Spanish with the connivance of the Sánchez government; the Law of Historical Memory is imposing a distorted standard version of the 1936‒39 Spanish Civil War; the electoral law overrepresents the Basque, Catalan and Galician nations; Spain is suffering deindustrialisation and low levels of research and development; women are not having enough children; housing is impossibly expensive; crime is on the increase, especially among migrants; and “Gibraltar is a colony in Europe that we cannot permit”.
These ramblings provided the PSOE-UP leaders with a feast of free kicks, an opportunity for Sánchez and UP spokesperson Yolanda Díaz to give detailed, statistics-backed recitals of their government’s achievements while painting Tamames as the reactionary fogey that he is.
Here too the real targets for Sánchez and Díaz were not their formal opponents but, firstly, the PP (which abstained on the censure motion while its leader Alfredo Núñez Feijóo chose to be absent in Brussels) and then each other as leaders of the forces battling for hegemony of the left.
For Díaz, there was an extra target — Podemos, which resists joining her project to unite all the heterogeneous forces to the left of the PSOE into a single ticket for the next general elections.
The two leaders spoke for a total of three-and-a-half hours, listing the gains achieved under their government and comparing them to the attacks on working people’s rights and living standards unleashed by the 2011‒18 PP government of Mariano Rajoy.
In her effort to project as prime ministerial material Díaz even took it upon herself to congratulate Sánchez and most of his ministers for their achievements in what an uninformed listener might have assumed was her government.
Sánchez explained why it is now old hat for the elderly professor and the PP to be criticising his government’s policies of intervention in private markets and unconcern for targeting government deficits: “The economic orthodoxy has changed, Mr Tamames, and the European Commission says it and the OECD affirms it, as does the International Monetary Fund. Even conservative governments in Europe proclaim it as when, for example, they speak out in favour of the European funds whose origin I and others believe started with the Government of Spain.”
After Sánchez and Díaz had blasted their hapless sitting duck, it fell to the PP to explain why it would be abstaining in the vote, especially after the party had, under previous leader Pablo Casado, opposed Vox’s last censure motion against the PSOE-UP government (in October 2020).
Speaking in place of the missing Nuñez Feijóo, PP parliamentary caucus spokesperson Cucu Gamarra repeated Vox’s litany of attacks on Sánchez, but at times with even greater fury, as if to prove that no far-right upstart could outdo the PP in bashing the old PSOE enemy.
Why, then, not support the censure motion? Because, according to Gamarra, “today we are not dealing with a censure of Sánchez, but with the gift of a parliamentary win for Sánchez when his social defeat is unstoppable. They [Vox] have handed him a smokescreen — that’s what Sánchez likes most of all — with which to cover up his scandals, and this when a prime minister of Spain never deserved censure so much.”
PSOE spokesperson Patxi López agreed with his PP counterpart — Tamames’s motion had been a perfect “three-in-one” gift for the government.
It had allowed Sánchez and Díaz to “demonstrate that there is a progressive project that connects with the social majority”; it had been “a boomerang motion” allowing unmasking of “the professional haters” of Vox; and it had confirmed that the right and the extreme right cannot do without each other.
And the real world?
It fell to the Basque, Catalan and Galician parties that give critical support to the PSOE-UP government and joined it in voting down Vox’s censure motion to remind Sánchez not to get to complacent about his easy win (201 to 53, with 91 abstentions).
For the Republican Left of Catalonia, Gabriel Rufián said: “Many of us think there are reasons for censuring this government. It’s because there are many out there who listen to these people [Vox] with a certain attention, and if its melody gets through to them it’s because they’ve been abandoned…
“Honourable members of the government, start worrying about the people you are disappointing and not so much about the executives of the corporate powers that are pressuring you.”
For the Galician Nationalist Bloc, Nestor Rego Candamil said: “There are many left and sovereigntist reasons for demanding that this government change course and fulfil its undertakings if it wants to prevent the real censure motion of the ballot box from taking place.”
And for EH Bildu Mertxe Aizpurua said: “It’s countdown time, and not to meet expectations created can produce disappointment, demobilization and disenchantment, the worst ingredients for the left and the best fertilizer for the far right we are advancing, yes, but this has to be more deep going.”
And Tamames’s performance? Basque National Party spokesperson Aitor Esteban summed up: “Perhaps you think that it’s you who has used Vox to satisfy your own narcissism, but the reality is that the signatories of your supposed candidacy have used you. The day after tomorrow, no-one, them included, will remember you.”
[Dick Nichols is Green Left’s European correspondent.]