February 20th, 2021


On Spain's transition from dictatorship to constitutional monarchy

It’s been some time since the term “transition” was fully incorporated into day-to-day usage in contemporary Spanish. It refers to the process of political change that began during the second half of the 1970s, a process which transformed Spain from the Franco dictatorship to the parliamentary monarchy that governs the country today. The term was coined in the midst of the dictatorship, as if in its invocation it could foreshadow the horizon of its disintegration. It succeeded in connoting the way in which one regime gave way to another—not a violent cut, nor a democratic breakdown in the strict sense. Instead, it was a process negotiated by the leaders who had inherited the state apparatus of the dictatorship, and the leaders of the parties of the democratic opposition. While the first aimed to assert the weight, however trivial, of an obsolete and precarious power structure, the second aimed to channel the democratic impulse of a significant section of Spanish society.

That latter section was composed of men and women who resisted through illegal parties and organized social movements (worker’s movements, neighborhood associations, student unions, and feminist groups) capable of breaking the public order and revealing, between the cracks of the regime, the new alternatives. In their day to day, they developed forms of political participation, experimentation, and cultural innovation which themselves detracted from Franco’s hold on the popular imagination. In many ways, these early experiences were much more profound than the institutional restructuring later termed the transition. From this angle, the transition can be understood as a sfumato, that is to say, not only the fading of dictatorship into democracy, but as a sum of experiential layers each contributing to its atmosphere and offering a depth that we’ve yet to fully grasp.The interviews with Felipe González, Begoña San Jose, and Héctor Maravall contained in this book capture the texture of this historical moment.

On the other side of this politically active reality stood another very diverse and wide sector of society, predisposed to the consensus they were socialized into under Francoism. They were motivated by a timid desire for change, as well as by a deep fear of its consequences. Under- standing the Spanish transition requires gaining an awareness of these inherited social habits which were highly structured by authoritarianism, and the survival of its repressive legal, bureaucratic, and media institutions. It also requires acknowledging an international framework in which any action on the margin of society was limited by the areas of political influence that defined the Cold War period.

But understanding the transition also requires capturing that organic crisis in existing relations of power, the intuitive and automatic social responses which enhanced the appeal of new cultural attitudes and expanded the scope for political action. The much cited phrase of Manuel Vázquez Montalbán—which explains the negotiations behind the changing regime as “an alignment of weaknesses”—is useful if we recognize that, in moments of crisis, any alignment of forces is unstable and fragile. Understood through its underlying estatism, “an alignment of weaknesses” is a declaration that the transition happened in the only way that it could have. It’s an argument in which the real is transformed into the rational, the rational into the optimal, and the optimal into the venerable. But we know that narratives of the past tend to perform this argumentative transposition in the opposite direction: it is from the veneration of the present that earlier events are arranged in a way that inevitably leads towards some determined destiny.

 Full Article

February 20th, 2021

Feminism in the Union

An interview with Begoña San José

Begoña San José is a feminist activist and trade union leader.

Maya Adereth: Tell us about your introduction to political activism and feminism.

Begoña San José : I had a religious upbringing and went to school at a convent when I was very young. The first movement I participated in was around the Second Vatican Council, which was about renewing the commitment to working people and the poor. When I left my parents’ house at the age of eighteen, I started working as a house cleaner, and in 1970 I was hired by OSRAM, a multinational company producing light bulbs and lamps. Even before I started working, I wanted to join the CCOO. I knew priests who were involved with it, and I knew about meetings held in Orcasitas, a working-class neighborhood in Madrid. But union operations were clandestine, and I had to join the ORT, a Maoist organization, in order to join the union.

I finally joined the CCOO in 1971, when a collective agreement was being negotiated at my factory. In 1973 I got arrested during a CCOO meeting and imprisoned without a trial. Shortly before entering prison I joined the PCE, and after I was released I continued working for the same firm. In 1974 I was arrested again and this time I was fired from the factory. In prison, I met members of a feminist organization called the Democratic Movement of Women. They worked closely with the PCE to organize solidarity efforts for political prisoners; they brought us books, clothes, and food. In 1975, Franco died and the feminist movement erupted. A common platform was developed, demanding equal access to employment, universal access to early childhood education, the legalization of contraceptives, and the elimination of sex-differentiated criminal sentences. I was active in this through the CCOO. We would meet exactly at the location where the Atocha massacre occurred in 1977, and after one of these meetings I was invited to a DMW meeting. My boss, a man, said I shouldn’t go, and that is what drove me to attend.

That was the first feminist meeting I attended in my life. I vividly remember watching the wives of trade union leaders and politicians criticize their husbands for defending democracy in the street and ignoring it in their homes. This feminist call for equality and democracy in the home hugely impacted me. One or two years later, the CCOO created a Department of Women, and I became an active member in 1976. I’ve been active in the Spanish feminist movement ever since.

 Full Article

February 20th, 2021

New System, New Society

An interview with Felipe González

Felipe González was Prime Minister of Spain from 1982-1996.

Maya Adereth: Let's start with your experience in the anti-Francoist resistance.

Felipe Gonzalez: In the final years of the Franco regime I spent a lot of time getting prosecuted and detained—in 1971 I was detained three times. But I was never tortured, like some of my cellmates whose condition I lament to this day. For me, this period was about understanding clearly that I wanted an end to the dictatorship, and that I did not want to replace one dictatorship with another. I joined the PSOE in the 1960s because of its history of struggle over civil rights, and its commitment to social democracy. And I’ve stayed there ever since.

Javier Padilla: Did you have any political or ideological mentors?

FG: There was a group of us in Sevilla, sometimes referred to as the “Tortilla Group” which included Alfonso Guerra, Luis Yáñez, and Manuel Chaves. We were committed to ending the dictatorship, but we didn’t have particular political mentors. We regularly read Nouvelle Observateur, and we learned about models of workers self management and cooperatives in Yugoslavia. These ideas interested me from both a political and theoretical point of view because of the ways in which they distanced themselves from Soviet planning.

JP: Tell us about your process of becoming leader of the party. What was your opinion of the party leaders who were in Toulouse?

FG: We had an interesting situation in Sevilla. Alfonso Fernández Torres was an old socialist militant from Jaén who clashed with the leadership in exile when we met him. We didn’t know why, and we didn’t even know that Rodolfo Llopis had expelled the Andalusian organization because he considered it too rebellious. We were just a group of young people who were agitating at the University. We used the faculty and graduate students at the Law Department in order to build contacts with the CCOO and the UGT. At a certain point, we met an Andalusian socialist who invited us to the national congress of the party in Baiona on July 16, 1969. At this congress, we realized that the vision of reality held by the exiled party leaders was entirely distorted. They had an irreconcilable hatred for Santiago José Carrillo, and they had no idea what was happening on the ground.

 Full Article

February 20th, 2021

Revolution in the Long Run

An interview with Hector Maravall

Hector Maravall is a long time member of the PCE, a labor lawyer, and a leader of the Comisiones Obreras, the largest trade union in Spain.

Maya Adereth: Tell us about your political experiences at university. Who were your ideological influences at the time?

Hector Maravall: When I started university in 1966 at the Universidad de Madrid, it was the most politicized school in Spain. And yet, those who participated in anti-Franco activities were a minority. At the Faculty of Law we had fifty or sixty members of anti-Franco organizations out of 5,000 students. Many students had a desire for freedom and democracy, but few were willing to endanger themselves to get it.

The most important political organization at the height of the resistance to the Francoist Union was Partido Comunista de España (PCE). Although it had been powerfully repressed, it had rebuilt a cultural and intellectual presence. After the PCE was the Frente de Liberación Popular, which started as a Marxist-Christian organization similar to liberation theology, but ultimately developed currents influenced by Che Guevara and heterodox communism like that of Yugoslavia. Outside of the PCE and FLP were small anarchist groups, Maoists, and others. The socialists barely had a presence among the students.

Javier Padilla: Tell us about the Francoist student union.

HM: The union, named SEU (Sindicato Español Universitario), was created during the war by the falangists. During the 1960s, there was a movement to reform the fascist union through elections. The left ran for elections and won, forming a new union named Sindicato Democrático de Estudiantes de la Universidad de Madrid (SDEU). In 1967–68, the union was given some paralegal structures; they were tolerated but not legally recognized. This is the context in which May 1968 took place.

 Full Article

February 18th, 2021

François Mitterrand's Austerity Turn

The Rise and Fall of the French Road to Socialism

The history of French socialism is filled with famous and heroic dates: 1789; 1848; 1871 1936; 1968. But less well remembered is another date of great significance: 1981. It was in May of that year that the French left achieved its greatest electoral triumph of the postwar era, with the election of Socialist Party (PS) leader François Mitterrand as President of the Republic. That victory, which came after a quarter century of uninterrupted conservative rule, raised hopes for a new departure in French politics. Mitterrand’s election manifesto, the 110 Propositions for France, embodied the sweeping reform agenda he had promised since ascending to the leadership of the PS a decade earlier, when he memorably capped his speech at the Party’s 1971 Congress with a thunderous call for a “rupture” with capitalism. As head of the PS, Mitterrand’s decision to pursue an electoral agreement with his long-time his rivals from the Communist Party (PCF), which resulted in the 1972 “Common Program,” was both a milestone for the postwar French left, and an important step in his own rise to the Élysée Palace.

Mitterrand’s election in the spring of 1981, and the subsequent triumph of the left in parliamentary elections which followed immediately afterwards, led to the formation of a government under Prime Minister Pierre Mauroy that was more radical than any France had seen since Léon Blum’s Popular Front in 1936. For the first time since the start of the Cold War, Mauroy’s cabinet included four communist ministers.

 Full Article

February 18th, 2021

Objective Constraints

An interview with Anicet le Pors

Anicet le Pors is a French communist party politician who served as a member of the French Senate from 1977 to 1981, and Minister of Civil Service and Reforms from 1981 to 1984.

Maya Adereth: Tell us about your early political development.

Anicet le Pors: I was born into a family from the north of Finistère, known as “the land of the priests.” It’s a region that has lived under the influence of Catholic Church for centuries. My parents emigrated to Paris in 1929, and I was born in 1931 in the 13th arrondissement. My early political involvements were deeply influenced by Catholicism; my first trade-union membership was at the CFTC (French Confederation of Christian Workers), and I subscribed to several magazines in the tradition of liberation theology. I joined the CGT, which in 1955 was the largest trade union in the country. In 1958 I joined the Communist Party, the day after Parliament endorsed the Gaullist Constitution of 1958. I did so in defiance, against the Constitution of the Fifth Republic.

I changed my profession precisely as the left was ascending to power. At that time the Communist Party came up with an ideological innovation headed by Professor Paul Boccara called State Monopoly Capital- ism (Capitalisme Monopoliste d’État “CME”), which was a revival of Lenin’s idea of the integration of the state with monopolized capital. According to this theory, this integration is what enables capitalism to stave off the falling rate of profit. It was described at the time as over-accumulation-devaluation of capital.

This was an important ideological breakthrough in the mid-1960s which found its full expression in the 1970s. I was a well regarded economist in the Ministry of Finance and active in the Economic Section of the Central Committee of the French Communist Party. But these qualities made me “unusable” until the Communist Party had me elected Senator in 1977 in Hauts-de-Seine. Thereafter Georges Marchais asked me to work on his speeches directly with a view toward the 1981 presidential election. I sat on the Central Committee from 1979 to 1981, working with Georges Marchais and Charles Fiterman. The left won the elections of 1981 at the price of an internal rebalancing of the comparative political weights of the Communist Party and the Socialist Party. That is how François Mitterrand finally got elected— by weakening the Communist Party. Despite the unfavorable circumstances we carried on. We worked a lot on the Common Program of 1972, but there were tensions between the parties that were not easily resolved. The results of the 1981 presidential election were very contradictory: we were weakened at the very time when we were called to power. Those were the circumstances of the time.

With François Mitterrand in office, we had a smaller presence in the government than we were entitled to. We should have had six ministers, but we only got four: Charles Fiterman, myself, Jack Ralite for health and Marcel Rigout for vocational training. The euphoria lasted less than a year because Thatcher was elected in 1979, Reagan in 1980 and Helmut Kohl in 1982, meaning that the major developed capitalist countries had elected people with unquestionably liberal policies that cut across all the social democratic ambiguities that had existed before.

 Full Article

February 18th, 2021

Confronting Globalization

An interview with François Morin

François Morin was technical adviser to Jean le Garrec at the State Secretary for Public Sector Expansion from 1981–1982 and an adviser to Prime Minister Pierre Mauroy.

Maya Adereth: What kind of society did you envision when you first became politically active?

François Morin: When I was finishing my PhD thesis in Algeria, I spent two years reading Capital. And to this day, I think Marx has many insights into the nature of power relations in contemporary society. But when I returned to France, my supervisor, Henri Bartoli, encouraged me to situate Marx’s insights within a practical framework. I went to the Chambre Syndicale des Agents de Change, where I began studying the shareholder structure of large banking and financial enterprises. To my surprise, I understood nothing of what was in the files. So I spent years learning to penetrate this world of accounting and finance. In 1974, I published my first book, The Financial Structure of French Capitalism, which allowed me to participate in ideological debates surrounding the left’s Common Program. When the left gained power in 1981, I was asked to advise Pierre Mauroy on bank nationalizations, and from 1985 to 1994, I served as an adviser and member of the Council of the Banque de France. In my new book, I recount the unique period between May and September of 1981 and the internal government debates which took place. On the one side were hardliners who advocated a strong break with liberal globalization and a nationalized French economy. On the other hand were reformists who argued that it was necessary to account for the changing global context in which policies were being made. The reformists were more cautious about expanding the public sector through nationalizations.

MA: What were the characteristics of the French economy that you outlined, and how did they shape the contours of this early debate?

FM: The debate within the left was hardly rooted in the realities of the French economy. Structurally, the French economy had undergone significant transformations in the 1960s and 70s, primarily through the consolidation of large corporations. For some, this corporate consolidation represented an alliance of domestic capital that was necessary to prevent the advance of foreign capital, particularly from the United States. The employers alliance consisted of Paris-Bas and its allies in banking, industry, and nationalized insurance companies. On the other side was the Suez Group, also composed of banking and industry, which saw the prospect of an alliance with American capital as an enormous opportunity. This was the position of Giscard d’Estaing, then President of the Republic. The conflict between the Gaulish RPR and Giscard Re- publicans represented the divisions between the banking and financial elites in the country.

On the left, the issue was less about globalization, and more about increasing state influence over these consolidated corporations. These companies significantly shaped public life, and yet the public had no influence on them. This was the motivation behind nationalizations.

 Full Article

February 18th, 2021

Party Unity and Renewal

An interview with Roger Martelli

Roger Martelli is a historian of the French Communist Party.

I officially joined the Communist Party in November 1969, but I became a communist in May 1968. I was in a preparatory class at the Lycée Thiers in Marseilles, and I made friends with communist militants when we occupied our lycée that summer. By the time the Common Program was signed in June 1972, I had been a member for three years, and my political experience revolved around the Organization of Communist Students. I was in the communist students directorate and was appointed member of the national board of the student’s union, the Union Nationale des Étudiants de France (UNEF) in the spring of 1971. UNEF was split between the communists and the Trotskyists, so my appointment demonstrates the degree of democratic decision making we practiced at the time.

At heart of the split was a question of who would control the organization. We hated the international communist organization—Youth Alliance for Socialism (which Jean-Luc Mélenchon participated in at the time).

 Full Article

February 5th, 2021

The Italian Left After Keynesianism

From stagflation to the transformation of Italian left parties

In 1977, Eric Hobsbawm published a book of interviews with Giorgio Napolitano, a leading figure in the Italian Communist Party (PCI)’s gradualist wing, the miglioristi. Hobsbawm proclaimed himself a “spiritual member” of the PCI and intended this book to depict the path it was beating in between Leninism and social democracy. Yet his efforts appeared rather frustrated by Napolitano’s vocabulary. Though calling for the “reconstruction and renewal” of Italian society and insisting on the PCI’s “democratic commitment,” Napolitano did little to convey any clear socialist worldview. As he extolled the “perspective of the continuous, organic, balanced development of the Italian economy” and the “retailoring of [Italian] production for the foreign market,” Hobsbawm interrupted him, as if to draw him back on topic:

Hobsbawm: All this is very useful and positive…
Napolitano: But what does it have to do with the advancement of socialism?
Hobsbawm: That’s exactly what I wanted to ask you.
Napolitano: That’s a question whose answer is less simple than it may seem.

 Full Article

February 4th, 2021

Democracy or the Market

Third wayism and the problem of representation

The problem of democratic representation has always turned on the question of the “have-nots”—that is, not only those without wealth and property, but also those marginalized on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, origin, religion and education. Even in a world of full-fledged democratic rights, the democratic game tends to break in favor of the “haves.” They enjoy an easy affinity with political elites who are not so different from them, and they experience democratic politics as a hospitable and responsive place. When in doubt, they can back-channel, mobilize proxies and networks, and exchange cultural influence and economic power for political voice, cloaked in the comfort that what’s in their interest is in everyone’s interest. None of this means the powerful always get their way. But it means they operate on the assumption that their way is likely to prevail.

Before democratization, which in both Europe and the United States did not reach its full expression until the turn of the twentieth century, those without power were politically excluded by fiat. Even when some “have-nots” overcame formal exclusion, they had to further overcome efforts, both brazen and subtle, to impede the exercise of their political rights; if they managed to bridge the distance between rights-in-name and rights-in-fact, they still had to muster meaningful representation in a game that was not built for them. The achievement of both rights and representation for the powerless is difficult, rare and fragile—not least because formal rights, once achieved, can be used as a pretense for rendering representation practically meaningless. In this case, democracy becomes form without substance.

Three kinds of institutions were crucial drivers of the fitful, contested, imperfect construction of democratic rights and representation of the powerless between the 1850s and the 1920s: socialist and social democratic culture, mass political parties, and labor movements. Where the three converged, the result was a unique historical organization—the labor-allied mass party of the socialist and social democratic left.

 Full Article