The Mirage in Spain

From recent reports Spain appears to be well on the road already trodden by other European countries. Somewhat similar circumstances have thrown up similar groups and catchwords and the leaders of labour are making the same mistakes and marching to their doom with a blindness that would almost drive one to despair.

The economic development of Spain has been such that, until recent years, it has not favoured the rise of a strong capitalist class or a considerable body of proletarians in the modern sense of the term, although the mass of the people have been poverty stricken. The helm of state has been controlled by a small group of nobility in alliance with the Catholic Church.

During the 19th century the industrial and commercial development of Spain was unimportant. In fact, so backward was it that the mass of the people were illiterate, and even to-day half of them can neither read nor write. An economically privileged nobility and clergy had control of political power and reduced the majority of the population to a low level of existence by grinding taxes and tributes of various kinds.

There was a professional element that drew their ideas from the more advanced countries and strove to fit on to the country a political system out of harmony with the economic framework. Periodically there were revolts, sometimes instigated by dissatisfied sections of the ruling group, sometimes led by the professional element who wished to see Spain take its place with the more advanced countries.

One result of these struggles was the constitutionalist movement of 1868-76, during which a republic was proclaimed so weakly founded that, after an existence of three years, it ended with the Constitution of 1876 and the return of the Monarchy. In spite of the collapse of the republic, however, the constitution represented a real advance and was based on liberal views. But the old repressive measures and the control by the Church of education continued. However, the economic development of the country was beginning to gather energy and Bilbao in the Basque Provinces, Barcelona in Catalonia and Valencia were becoming the centres of considerable industrial activity.

The isolated industrial development in departments such as Catalonia, Valencia and the Basque provinces, combined with differences in language and the hopelessness of breaking the wall round the central government developed a movement towards local autonomy. Nationalist movements within the country aiming at separate and autonomous departments have arisen and anarchist and syndicalist movements have flourished. The nationalist sentiment was the mainspring of the federal constitution of 1931 and the anarchists and syndicalists who joined the unions were the despair of the leaders of the growing labour movement, who modelled their attitude upon that of the leaders of the other European Social-Democratic movements.

During the present century industrial development has made considerable progress and industrial and commercial capitalists have joined in the struggle to obtain political influence. The capitalists objected to the commercial competition of the Catholic Church (which took part in ordinary industrial ventures) and to its freedom from taxation. They also objected to the heavy cost of an overgrown and inefficient bureaucracy and mismanaged military expeditions. In short, they had reached the time when they wanted a political apparatus cleared of antiquated rubbish and fitted to meet the needs of modern conditions.

While the Monarchy existed it represented the tyranny of the past and people of all shades of opinion could unite against it under the slogan of Republicanism and settle their differences afterwards. The dictatorship of Primo de Rivera, in 1923, was a belated attempt to save the old order by keeping down some of the disruptive dements. But the dictatorship was expensive and it failed to keep down internal turmoil. It thereby lost what support it originally commanded outside the Church and the aristocracy. The franchise was sufficiently wide for the local elections to show that the aristocratic group were going to be swept away in the elections to the central Parliament, so they took time by the forelock and went before the storm broke.

The movement that ended the dictatorship was the result of an agreement reached at San Sebastian between the Regionalists (the advocates of local autonomy) the Liberals and the “Socialists” which united these groups in a common movement for a Republic.

The Spanish Socialist Party originated in the ’80’s before there was any large body of wage workers in existence, although there were plenty of poverty-stricken peasants. As the Democratic-Socialist Working Men’s Party it was formed at Barcelona in August, 1882, at the National Working Mens’ Congress. It was influenced by the movement in France and Germany and issued a Manifesto almost identical with that of the German Social-Democrats. This Manifesto proclaimed the necessity for the Spanish proletariat to seize political power “in order to transform individual and corporate property into common property belonging to the whole community.”

At the Annual Conference, in 1884, of the Spanish Working Men there were 120 delegates present, many of whom were representatives of agricultural labourers.

The growth of the movement was slow, but, in 1904, the party had 10,000 members and obtained 29,999 votes at the Parliamentary elections. The Anarchist and Syndicalist movement considerably hampered its development and there was a struggle for influence in the labour unions.

The industrial crisis following the Phillipine and Cuban wars gave the movement a bad setback. The membership of the party and of the labour unions declined.

The war and post-war economic development, during which rapid industrial progress was made in many directions, particularly in transport, coal, electricity and agriculture, gave the party a considerable push and, in the elections after the establishment of the Republic, they became the second largest party in Parliament, with a representation of 117 members out of 475 elected.

The quality of the support given to the party, however, has not taken long to show itself. In the recent elections it was only able to secure the return of 60 members ! The reason for its decline is quite simple. It was one of the supporters of the Government since 1931 and has had to carry the blame for the conduct of the Government—an inevitable result of alliance with avowedly capitalist groups.

The facts are that the original professions of the Manifesto remained pious ones, and the party occupied itself with the much lauded practical policy of reforms, losing sight of the object originally conceived—on paper, at any rate.

At the moment of writing it is threatened with the same fate that has fallen upon its Austrian counterpart and it is debating the fatal policy of armed resistance.

A situation closely resembling that which occurred in Italy in 1920 now exists in Spain. A minority of the population supporting the “Socialist,” Syndicalist and Anarchist groups are considering united action against the Government. The strike fever is spreading and an attempt is being made to bring about a general strike of all workers, with the object of overthrowing the existing system. The ground has been prepared, as it was fourteen years ago in Italy, for the rise of a Fascist movement, and two such groups have been organised and have made rapid progress during the last few months.

The view taken by the Government is illustrated by the following significant quotation taken from the Observer (March 18th, 1934): —

“A curious commentary on the trend of Spain’s Republic is the official announcement of the establishment of permanent concentration camps to hold 3,000 men. The gem of this announcement lies in the statement by the Director of Prisons that “a special camp to hold 160 persons is being erected on the Island of Hierro (Canary Islands), and which will be devoted to writers, authors, journalists, and suchlike persons.” About sixty social prisoners were removed from Madrid Prison this week, and it is understood, although no official statement has been made, that they are en route for the main concentration camp for 1,600 persons which is being hastily prepared on the Island of Lanzarote (Canary Islands), and which will be ready for occupation within fifteen days, according to the Director of Prisons.”

The Labour movement in Spain has manoeuvred itself into a hopeless position, and is simply asking for the fate that befell the Italian movement.


(Socialist Standard, April 1934)

Leave a Reply