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Shaking Up Franco’s Spain

Nobody could have been more surprised than the Spanish left last December 20 when a splinter group of Basque ETA (with the reported help of the IRA) assassinated Premier Luis Carrero Blanco in a muddy street in Madrid, literally blowing up his car, which landed on the fourth floor of the church he had just left. The bizarre killing must have confirmed the worst nightmares of Santiago de Carrillo, the titular head of the Spanish Communist party, about irresponsible revolutionary violence. It occurred on the same morning as the opening of the trial of the “Carabanchel Ten,” the ten members of the illegal workers’ commissions who had been held in Carabanchel Prison for fourteen months, and who were being prosecuted simply for “illegal assembly” in a monastery at Pozuelo.

The Spanish center-left had wanted the case of the ten to be their great show trial, dramatizing the immediate and crucial issue: whether a modern, industrialized Spain would legalize the trade unions. Most of the Spanish establishment who were at least one degree left of Franco were backing the workers in this trial. The workers were represented by prominent lawyers, including Gil Robles, the former head of the conservative Catholic CEDA during the civil war, and Ruis Gímenez, Franco’s minister of education during the 1950s. Many lawyers in Madrid angled to get a seat in court; foreign observers and press were invited; factory demonstrations were planned throughout the country. The Spanish workers had every reason to be confident. They were at last becoming a coherent political force, after ten years of careful planning by both the workers’ commissions and Spain’s new-style Communist party. By breaking with Moscow over Prague in 1969, the Spanish Communist party (PCE) improved its position, reorganizing itself and its image along highly domestic and nationalistic issues, in effect “going respectable.”

The workers’ commissions movement, begun in the early Sixties, flourished for a variety of reasons. Many Spanish workers quickly became more radical when they went to work in the big automobile and industrial plants of Western Europe. For the new urban Spanish worker, the workers’ commissions, which were a loose trade union movement and not a political party, did not have bitter memories of the old-time competition between rival anarchist and socialist-communist trade unions. Though the heaviest support for the workers’ commissions comes from communists, liberal Christian Democrats, and socialists, nearly all groups and parties to the left of Franco maintain loose relations with the commissions.

Hundreds of members of the workers’ commissions have been arrested, jailed, beaten, tortured. Still, some officials in Franco’s regime as well as some Spanish factory owners have at times dealt with the commissions as though they were semilegal. Thus, by 1973, through a combination of aggressive organization, astute “brakings” of revolutionary action, and a center-left political image, the Spanish Communist party and the workers’ commissions helped achieve for the workers, with very moderate losses, a series of strikes that were more severe than any in other European countries. If Spain were to have any government other than a dictatorship, and barring a coup by the ultraright, the present Spanish Communist party might eventually occupy roughly the same relation to the working class as that of the Italian Communist party. But the PCE’s hopes for this trial were dashed by the assassination. All ten defendants, including one priest, were convicted and, by the end of December, received maximum prison sentences of twelve to twenty years. Many members of the Spanish left were immediately arrested.

The trial shocked foreign observers by its brevity and its almost complete lack of legal procedure. The ten defendants not only had ten of Spain’s most agile lawyers working for them but also had the unofficial help of Madrid’s “lawyers’ college”—the equivalent of our bar association. But under the system created by the Tribunal of Public Order—the court for political crimes—the prosecution is not obliged to produce any evidence other than hearsay against the defendants: no cross-examination is allowed, and the defendants cannot call their own witnesses. Cardinal Enrique y Tarancón, Archbishop of Madrid and the Primate of Spain, was not permitted to act as a character witness for Father García Salve, the worker-priest who got a nineteen-year prison sentence. The journalist Nicolas Sartorius, son of El Condé de San Luis, director of the powerful Bank of Spain and a member of one of Spain’s most prestigious and conservative aristocratic families, also got nineteen years. Marcelino Camacho, the acknowledged leader of the workers’ commissions—a fifty-five-year-old metallurgist who formerly was with the socialist-communist UGT—got twenty years.

What shocked foreign observers was that the defendants, whether innocent or guilty of having met in the monastery at Pozuelo, could receive such severe sentences for what, at the most, amounted to mild pressure for primitive labor rights for workers. In fact, the trial, though well-publicized, was by no means the worst of many Spanish political trials, some of which take place behind closed doors. (Former Attorney General Ramsey Clark, who observed the trial, heatedly attacked US government policy toward Spain, but might also have noted that the American press, unlike the British and European press, never reports on Spanish trials until they are over. This effectively reduces the chance of any American protest.)

American readers may well be puzzled by the recent news from Spain. Why was the Archbishop of Madrid, Enrique y Tarancón, attacked at the funeral of Carrero Blanco? Why is the Spanish Catholic Church, traditionally on the right, being vilified as “the red Church”? What is new is that the workers now can feel that they have a bourgeois Marx and a radical Jesus on their side, while a confused, albeit strong, rightist government has lost its best ally—the Church.

Two events, the split of the Catholic Church from the regime and the split of the Communist party from Russia, are largely responsible for the altered shape of the Spanish opposition. In September, 1971, the liberal and left wings of the Church gained ascendancy over the ultraconservatives when, in a convocation of 285 bishops and priests in Madrid, they announced, in effect, their separation from the regime and their support for social reform and human rights. By doing so they delivered a tremendous blow to Franco’s rule.

In a country without strong institutions, Franco has held supreme power. The police and army have power—and the Spanish Church is a mighty power. The Church formally denounced itself—an event unheard of in Spain for three hundred years—for the sins it committed against the people of Spain by taking sides in the civil war. The convocation’s moderate wing, backed by the Vatican, together with a radical left wing of younger priests made it clear that they had been on the wrong side during the civil war, and that it had been a war between opposing political interests, whose chief victims were the Spanish people. This electric statement had been preceded by rumblings of dissent in the Church, but it shocked most Spaniards. The Church had destroyed the regime’s ideological claim that the war was fought for Catholicism. Franco could no longer legitimately claim to rule Spain “in the name of God and the Cross.”

The Church split with the regime partly for pragmatic reasons: fights over money, over the Church’s desire to make all ecclesiastical appointments independent of Franco. Though old-fashioned violent anticlericalism has died down in Spain, the churches were also emptying. The Seat automobile had become the new deity. But especially among the younger priests—and among some of the leading bishops—there has been a genuine “crise de conscience” regarding the Spanish working class and the civil war. Clearly the Church wished to embark on no more political adventures to the right, particularly in the midst of a worldwide movement to modernize Catholicism.

But in Spain politics tend to become polarized quickly. What started out as an effort by the bishops to disentangle themselves from the regime is now fast becoming a full-scale war between the Church and the government, fought with a ferocity worthy of The Red and the Black. Willy-nilly the Church has put itself in the position of being known as Spain’s “red” Church. The bishops have backed the workers’ right to strike. At the trial of the Carabanchel Ten Father García Salve was brought to court more dead than alive after a two-month hunger strike in the clerical prison at Zamora. (The worker-priests wish to share regular prison conditions with the workers, and, at one point, García was transferred to Carabanchel, but was later moved back to Zamora.) The Bishop of Segovia denounced the regime for the prison conditions at Zamora. Clearly the Church cannot allow the regime to lock up or kill its own worker-priests, who have been involved in many of the left-wing worker movements. including the ETA.

That the Carabanchel Ten were accused of meeting at a monastery is typical of the situation in which monasteries and churches are now being thought of as “left” and in which once the aura and personal power of Franco are gone, the caretaker government of Carlos Arias Navarro will face severe problems. For one thing, dictatorial power is not handed over easily in a complicated, modern, and very European Spain. Moreover, most of the regime’s conservative adherents are devout Catholics, and are bewildered by the present situation. They are scandalized by the Church and feel betrayed by it. A conservative regime can, in the short run, maintain power in a country like Spain with the Catholic Church as its enemy. But, in the long run, matters are more complicated.

By stressing the importance of newleft Catholic tendencies and the newstyle communists, who have also made their peace with the Church, I by no means wish to suggest that these groups dominate Franco’s political opposition. They merely reflect tendencies of the Sixties and Seventies. If an open election were ever to be held, the socialists, who have not been able to gain much support while underground, would pick up a large following among the petit-bourgeoisie, some sections of the working class (traditionally they are the party of the Asturian miners), and many dissident intellectuals. The more sophisticated Spanish writers and intellectuals remain skeptical of the orthodoxy of the communists.

What has above all created a topsyturvy political situation in Spain since the mid-Sixties is the wholesale influx of the “children of the Falange” into left-wing movements. From being the official party of Franco’s insurgent state in the 1930s, the Falange had by the late Fifties degenerated into an impotent front group. In the Sixties the old Falangists who fought in the civil war became politically dispersed. Some moved to the moderate left, some kept “old-fashioned” right-wing ideas. But they did not reproduce themselves as a political force in the next generation. Second only to the factories, the universities were the battlegrounds of the Sixties. The bourgeois “children of the Falange” somersaulted into the left by joining a variety of Maoist-Trotskyite, communist, and socialist student movements, of which one of the earliest and most intelligent was the FLP in Madrid. Now there are FRAP (Madrid) and Red Flag (Barcelona), among others.

The children of the Falange were neither as worn-out nor as fearful as the traditional left; many of them are now leaders of the ultraleft. Talking to some of them, one senses that they have come out of a desperate political vacuum—they hardly know or want to know about the Spanish civil war. But the student movements in Spain should not be confused with radical rebellion in the US or France. In the university battles in Spain, students and professors were united against police surveillance of professors in the classrooms and the banning of books and subjects. The students’ cry was, “Where are our books? Where are our professors—dead or in exile?”

By making a “gift” of their children to the left, the Falangists unwittingly helped the opposition come out into “semi-openness.” The gift the new left has given the old since the Burgos trials of 1971 has been the use of the churches and monasteries for mass cit-ins and as places of refuge from the police. Though it shocked many “old left” dissident intellectuals to find themselves locked into churches together with priests, their discomfort is as nothing compared to the dismay of devout Catholic rightists who see no alternative but to attack the Church.

If during the period from 1965 until the death of Carrero Blanco essentially tame bourgeois Marxists and idealistic Catholic leftists have flowered, the coming months look far more troubled. Just after the conviction of the Carabanchel Ten the police demanded the death sentence at a trial of three young anarchists: a woman and two men, ranging in age from seventeen to twenty-six, who are members of a small group known as MIR. In mid-January one of the men, Salvadore Puig, was condemned to death. To shoot, or even demand the shooting of, three young anarchists in Barcelona is to risk causing in Catalonia the kinds of disruption the Basques created in Burgos. It is not that the general population believes in anarchism, Marxist-Leninist ideas, or even separatism—they don’t. Nor is there any mass sympathy for ultrarevolutionists. But once the government gets trigger-happy with the very young or the priests, the country becomes tense, and Western European newspapers and politicians become agitated.

Spain has not had a formal political execution since the communist Juan Grímau was shot in 1962. Now all sorts of tiny grupúsculos—“grouplets”—are beginning to spring up in Spain, and they are capable of sudden and violent actions. Where these groups come from nobody knows. But whether or not the government chooses to label their members as common criminals (particularly when the groups have a regional cast to them), mass sentiment sees them as political victims of the Sean O’Casey kind.

What will come as a shock to all who think of the Carlists as extreme rightists is the emergence of the new and rather strong “Carlist-Marxist-Leninist” movement. This group has the sympathy of the young Carlist pretender to the throne—the Infante Hugo Carlos de Bourbon-Parma, who wants a socialist monarchy in Spain. The left Carlists support the Basques in everything, having close ties to some segments of the ETA. Though Carlists, they are not limited to any one region. There are even some Carlist-Marxist-Leninists in the lower ranks of the army.

As for the communists, their feud with Russia has clearly worsened. They have recently announced they will not attend next year’s Soviet Congress of Communist Parties, claiming that they are officially pro-Chinese.* Although Russia now finds the PCE unmanageable and unpredictable, the highly nationalistic and bourgeois Spanish Communist party seems very well suited to Spain. I do not believe its present “respectability” is merely a “line.” Indeed, I think the Spanish communists behave very much the way they genuinely are, which is why they are doing so well. Santiago de Carrillos’s purported remark that Spanish communists want their socialism with mini-skirts and perfume has truth in it. The mixture in the party of genuine working-class members, glamorous upper-class fellow travelers, bullfighters, intellectuals, and Falangist drop-outs suits it—and, being also stylish, suits all of the Spanish left, which has a phobia against dowdiness. The rival communist group, the Soviet-backed “Listers”—named after their leader Enrique Lister—are a dour Bolshevik lot and have not attracted any serious following in Spain.

Since the PCE is now out of favor in Russia (and since being “pro-Chinese” is quite meaningless in Spain, not to be taken seriously), at least some of the onus formerly attached to the party has been removed. The liberal Christian Democrats, who have always known that some connections with the communists were inevitable, now feel a little less tense about them, as do others in the opposition. At least nobody is pretending any longer that the Communist party “doesn’t exist”—all of which gives the opposition a less ambiguous shape than it had some years ago. By stressing the opposition, however, I by no means wish to imply that the left is ready to take over. That would be absurd. But the opposition has to be reckoned with as the new cabinet of Carlos Arias Navarro takes power.

Ironically, Franco’s policy of letting no group, including his own followers, have power has left a political vacuum at what should be the center of his regime. During the Sixties he dismantled the power of his own Falange. In its place the cabinet was dominated by the Opus Dei—a group of lay Catholic financial technocrats who rose to power primarily through their agile and sometimes suspect financial wheelings and dealings. Whether or not they were as sinister as most Spaniards thought them, they had no popular following nor did they seek one. When they became too powerful within the government, Franco dropped them. His policy has been to run the country exclusively by personal control, and with the help of the one man he trusted, Carrero Blanco.

Juan Carlos, the royal heir apparent who, according to the Spanish law of succession, will become a titular monarch after Franco’s death, has also been kept in the shadow. This mildly liberal, gloomy, and not very forceful young man has no political power. (Indeed, since the death of Carrero Blanco he has become embroiled more seriously than before in a dispute with the monarchists supporting his father Juan de Bourbon over which of them will become king.) Franco simply has been unable to “let go.” Thus, liberalization, with gradual transfers of power, which should have begun by the mid-Sixties, before the country reached a boiling point, has been stupidly postponed until after Franco’s death. Since the mid-Sixties Americans have sat at the Madrid bargaining tables and helped bring heavy American industry into Spain (at shockingly high rates of amortization for the US). Could they have driven a harder bargain and pushed liberalization at a time when the Opus Dei government officials, anxious to maintain their power, were willing to give practically anything to the Americans?

Middle-class Spaniards are at the moment politically homeless. Most businessmen are “pro-Common Market.” The Falange is too antiquated and too dispersed now to have much appeal. Few modern Spaniards are to be found in street demonstrations singing the old Falangist hymn “Cara Al Sol.” Groups with more or less “liberal” tendencies are those that are seen from within the regime as “out of favor”—Christian Democrats, monarckists, former Falangists who converted to other groups for mixed motives of personal opportunism and genuine conviction. As one authentic republican-style leftist has observed, the opposition is becoming so crowded with refugees from the right that the word “left” is becoming a joke.

Though the caretaker cabinet of Carlos Arias Navarro is made up mostly of Falangists, it is a mistake to assume that a “Falangist cabinet” will be more “hard line” than the Opus Dei. The cabinet will probably zigzag between repressive and semirepressive policies depending on the unrest in the country. Since the assassination, it seems uncertain which line to take. Its power, of course, lies with the police and the army.

The army is not monolithic. During the Burgos trials it split into hawks and doves. The commander-in-chief of the general staff, Diez Alegria, is a moderate. So far he has managed to prevent General Iniestra from allowing his “ultra” followers to get out of control. After the assassination, Iniestra, without government permission, ordered the mobilization of his military police, but this attempt to get the army into the streets was quickly squashed. The ultras have segments of the army and police behind them. The best known faction among the ultras—now growing in numbers, like all fringe groups—is called the Warriors of Christ. Led by the fanatic Blas Piñar, they were responsible for the attacks on Cardinal Vincente Enrique y Tarancón during the funeral procession of Carrero Blanco. Its members have tied up students in sacks and dumped them on crowded highways, have slashed the Picasso exhibition, etc. They are connected to the Italian fascist group headed by Almirante and the French fascist Ordre Nouveau. Many of the up-and-coming young officers in the army who are not ultras are junta-happy and might eventually push for a left- or right-wing fascist military dictatorship. Military juntas are an old Spanish custom.

The new regime will have its hands full with thousands of Spanish workers returning home jobless as Europe enters a recession, with a mini-war with the Basques, “grouplets” on the left, small but fanatical bands of ultrarightists, and a Church that advocates the rights of workers. Nobody with any intelligence would want to make firm predictions about what will happen in Spain when Franco dies, because the truth is that no one knows.

As the country enters its most unstable period since the Thirties, one hears again and again the same contradictory predictions, none of which is either unlikely or inevitable. A creaky government of Franco’s appointed heirs could continue in power, veering between semirepressive and repressive policies. Fierce in-fighting could take place within the regime and this could lead to a takeover by a military junta with left-fascist or right-fascist tendencies. Or the opposition might slowly gain cohesion and force until it was given a place in some sort of coalition government. A terrible explosion of popular violence might even take place, but if it did it would probably be set off by mistake. For it is one fate that most of the political factions in Spain neither want nor deserve.

  1. *

    The feud with Russia started when the Spanish communists, with the firm and courageous support of La Pasionaria herself (who lives in Moscow), managed, in what was a very complicated struggle, to split the party away from the Stalinist wing in 1969, making the PCE the first Communist party to break with Russia over Prague. The incessant quarrel with Russia about Prague has in it some elements of Spanish backlash over Russia’s domination of the PCE during the civil war, as well as the pragmatic problem for the Spanish communists of Russia’s trade relations with Franco.

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