A ‘revolutionary’ socialist-communist pact has boosted the chances of a Left victory in the Spanish general elections on March 13, writes Tom Gill
For a country accustomed to infighting between the principal parties of the Left, the recently announced socialistcommunist alliance came as a bit of shock. The last time the Spanish Left united was during the Popular Front Government and the bloody civil war of the thirties.
After the death of Francisco Franco in 1976, the socialists (PSOE) and the communists dedicated more time and energy attacking each other than the Right.
By 1996, Felipe Gonzalez had fallen out of favour. The Europe of the euro for which he was preparing Spain was no longer driving growth and prosperity but imposing austerity. Voters also rejected an increasingly cosy relationship with big business, apparent unconcern about the widening inequalities of wealth and widespread corruption.
While socialist Prime Minister Gonzalez ruled unchallenged, the country’s traditional forces of reaction rallied around the conservative Popular Party, which brought together “reformed” Francoists and Christian Democrats.
After 14 years of socialist rule and a renunciation of its fascist past the Popular Party had become a respectable Government in waiting. Five years ago next month, Popular Party leader Jose Maria Aznar ousted Gonzalez from power.
Opinion polls had pointed to a second term for the conservative Prime. Minister. But then the PSOE and the communist-led United Left agreed to a pre-and post-election alliance. The pact will involve joint candidates for the – Benatesnd,cornmunist participation in a socialist-led Government This “revolutionary” pact, as the Spanish newspapers have dubbed it, has got the Popular Party worried. It is now casting around for allies, notably the powerful Centre-Right Catalan nationaliSt party, Convergence and Union, the preferred ally of Gonzalez in the past.
Detente on the Left has been aided by the change in leadership.
Gonzalez and United Left leader Julio Anguita are said to have taken political divisions too personally. The PSOE’s new leader, Gonzalez protege Joaquin Almunia, is on the Right-wing of the party. But his personal views are not those of the majority in the party. Last year, he lost the PSOE leadership race to the Left-wing Jos6 Borrell, only taking the top job following Borrell’s resignation over corruption allegations.
The new United Left leader, Francisco Frutos, has a reputation as an uncompromising orthodox communist of the old school. But following his party’s poor showing at the June European polls of just 6 per cent, he has decided on compromise to revive his organisation.
The Left has its work cut out.
Aznar brought Spain into the euro and and is now presiding over a booming economy. He has been selling state-owned national industries like there is no tomorrow. Not surprisingly, this has been welcomed by the Madrid bourse. But Spain’s dole queues remain the longest in Europe.
A close European ally of Tony Blair on welfare and labour market reform, Aznar has also been promoting the internal market in the public sector and is gearing up to’ slash pensions, which are considerably more generous than in Britain.
In their bid to defeat the Popular Party, the Spanish Left has taken inspiration from the French socialist-communist administration. In France, growth is faster than any other major economy in Europe and the jobless queues are falling rapidly, while the Government has been introducing progressive policies for example, the 35 hour working week.
The PSOE and United Left have drawn up a common minimum programme They will “defend” state education and health, raise the minimum wage and basic pensions, promote a 35-hour week and “fairer” taxation, and call a halt to privatisations. The PSOE and United Left also intend to close nuclear power stations and legalise abortion on demand.
However, on PSOE’s insistence, the allies have promised to deliver their spending obligations while sticking to the budget constraints of the EMU’s growth and stability pact.