Adolfo Suarez
Adolfo Suarez; drawing by David Levine

“Spain itself has won her new election”—so went the euphoric slogan on June 15. The Spaniards had not only brought off their first free vote in forty years but had satisfied their suppressed hankering for the new, the modern, the young. Juan Carlos, at thirty-nine, is a young king; President Adolfo Suárez—whose Center coalition (UCD) won with the slogan “vote Suárez, vote Center”—is forty-four. Felipe González, the Socialist leader of the opposition, is only thirty-five.

Suárez won—but then he did not win. His loose coalition of twelve small parties got 33.8 percent of the vote; but the three principal leftist parties together accounted for just over 42 percent. (González’s Socialist Workers Party [PSOE] had 28.7 percent, the Communists 9.2 percent, the Independent Socialists 4.3 percent.) Suárez knows, moreover, that he faces a more severe test when the municipal elections take place at the end of the year. The delegates just elected to the new Parliament, or Cortes, will be much occupied with a new constitution. The municipal elections will give voters a chance to sweep away much of the old bureaucratic apparatus which still heavily controls Spain; and here the Socialists may do better than even they would like.

Still Suárez won a remarkable victory—not against the left but against the right. He put together his assortment of twelve parties, most of them new, in order to have a convincing base from which to defeat the Alianza Popular led by Manuel Fraga. This is the well-financed party in which prominent supporters of Franco were most visible—the party that the London Economist last May estimated would get 20 percent of the vote. Suárez was brilliant in the way he demolished it. During the election the Popular Alliance was turned into the symbol of forty years of Franco. Fraga, Franco’s former ambassador to London, found himself in the role of the ancien régime villain; he lost control of his party, became bitter and strident, and during the last ten days underwent a collapse that reminded some American reporters of Richard Nixon’s.

Cast as Franco’s unpopular heir, Fraga no doubt wondered: why me? After all, Adolfo Suárez, only a few short years ago, was himself secretary of the Falangist party. But when Fraga was Minister of the Interior in Juan Carlos’s first cabinet, he was something of a bully. And running with him in this election were former Franquistas such as Arias Navarro, Franco’s brutal military prosecutor after the Civil War who was fired as premier by the king to make way for Suárez. Some of them openly defended Franco’s record. They could not shake off the smell of Fascism. The Spaniards took their revenge, giving Fraga’s party fewer votes than the Communists (8 percent).

Suárez is younger than Fraga, more quick-witted and agile, less compromised, far more dashing and handsome. More important, he is the king’s man, appointed president by him in 1976 and still one of the inner circle. Stendhal would have appreciated his rise to power. He comes from a modest family in the Castilian province of Avila, and worked his way up through the Falangist party organization. Much has been made of the way he attached himself to several reform-minded older officials, members of the lay-Catholic network called Opus Dei, who helped bring him to the attention of Juan Carlos. Quite as useful, it seems, was his friendship with Carmen Diez de Rivera, the beautiful blond daughter of a Spanish duchess, a determinedly modern young woman who took a job at the State Telephone Company in the late 1960s and there met Suárez. “She took him up,” a knowledgeable friend told me, “gave him advice on how to dress, introduced him around, gave him a new style, a shrewder sense of how the old cliques were changing, how one could have ‘class’ and be ‘progressive’ at the same time.” When Suárez was promoted to director of national television, Carmen went with him; when Juan Carlos appointed him president, Carmen became “special president” of his first cabinet.

Some of the old guard officials grumbled at this. Apart from her connections, her casual chic, and a few courses at the Sorbonne, how was she qualified to run the administrative affairs of the cabinet? Yet she soon became a popular figure, fitting in perfectly with the prevailing mood of “destape“—the spirit of social and sexual permissiveness that followed the dictator’s death. Recently, however, she moved off on her own, campaigning for Tierno Galvan’s small Independent Socialist Party, and Suárez was advised to ask her to resign. (Before he was appointed president, Suárez had been semi-officially separated from his wife. During the campaign all the candidates’ wives were noticeably kept out of the public eye, as if Spain were still Moorish.)


During the week following the elections Suárez met privately with the politicians of the Center coalition and insisted they face some hard facts. The Center could crush Fraga and the right—but in the coming municipal elections the Socialists could well demolish the Center. If they were to survive, Suárez said, the members of the coalition would have to act pragmatically and form a real party. The Center has no clear-cut base and no specific shape. Suárez and the twelve parties appealed to the widely different groups of Spaniards who, while having little or no affection for Franco, had not done badly under him: state employees, professional and business people, would-be entrepreneurs, rural voters, particularly from the center of Spain, and much of the “new middle class.” But during the campaign the Center coalition had to rely on paid help. The PSOE, roughly equal in membership to the Center coalition parties, was able to draw on a sizable pool of impressive young middle-class volunteers, and their party is evidently growing fast.

At the moment the Center coalition can be divided into two wings—one is led by the more civilized officials of the old regime who have now become respectable liberal conservatives; the more progressive wing includes social democrats like the economist Fernández Ordoñez and a scattering of bona fide Spanish Republican intellectuals. The well-known architect Fernando Chueca, for example, found that the small liberal party he belonged to was suddenly absorbed into the Center coalition. (Running for the Senate in the traditionally very conservative city of Toledo, he beat Blas Piñar, the fanatical leader of the small ultra-right-wing group called Fuerza Nueva.)

Suárez’s coalition, as he pointed out, will have to unite, recruit, and organize if it is to stay afloat. But meanwhile he has not only the king but also the army behind him; he no longer has reason to fear a military coup, as he apparently did during 1976 and early 1977. His technique for dealing with the army has been to shift around officers, making sure that the principal appointments in the lower echelons went to the men who would resist a coup. Whenever some of the hardline generals became obstreperous, Suárez confused them by taking even more aggressive steps toward liberalizing the system; his last such act was to legalize the Communist Party.

No one now expects a military takeover. The United States has promised Suárez substantial backing; the West Germans have already given much to the Socialists. Manuel Gutiérrez Mellado, now in charge of all the military services, is the most reasonable of the Spanish generals, close to both Suárez and Juan Carlos. Suárez is itching to appear as a man with a sophisticated foreign policy, one aimed at the Common Market countries, overturning what he has referred to as the “junk heap” of Francoist foreign relations. “Since Portugal worries about being poor cousin to Spain,” he said, “let Portugal enter the Common Market first. If France is worried about Spanish agricultural competition in the Common Market, then we won’t sell our melons in the Common Market. Why fight over melons?” The tone of cool reason.

The dilemma of the Socialists was made clear early on election night when the results from the major cities started to come in, showing them winning in Barcelona, Seville, Valencia; this produced a frisson of panic at headquarters, for the projected vote seemed dangerously high. A few of the Socialist strategists even tried to get some of the last minute voters to switch to the Communists.

In no way did the Socialists want to win this election. They are confident that they will be the main party in Spain’s future (as are the more perceptive writers in the Spanish press, e.g., in El País and the weekly Cambio 16). But their own strategists admit they have grown too fast. In May the polls predicted they would win 24 percent; just before the election the figures jumped to 28 percent. Early on the night of the election, it seemed they might win 30 percent—an upset and a potential disaster, for Suárez step by step restoration of democracy would be threatened; some in the army and the police might have taken the vote as an excuse to cause turmoil. Felipe González wants only to be able to be the strong leader of the opposition, leaving Suárez to deal this autumn with Spain’s urgent economic problems, including nearly 30 percent inflation, high unemployment, a large foreign debt, and the need to devalue the peseta. He does not want, moreover, to take on the entire task of undoing forty years of right-wing bureaucratic authoritarianism.


The strength of the Socialists, the embarrassing failure of Suárez to do better, probably accounted for the curious delay over the election results. After desultorily announcing some early returns, the Spanish national TV simply acted as if the election had never occurred. The Spanish weeklies and the international press were left to publish misleading figures giving the Center coalition 39.5 percent, the Socialists 26.9. During the week that followed, the industrial vote in Barcelona and the Basque country filtered in, showing clear-cut and by then wholly expected Socialist victories.

Madrid was something else. For the capital, the home of the government, with its thousands of bureaucrats, not to give Suárez a decisive victory was distinctly awkward. After a week of suspense, and much dispute over “mislaid” ballot boxes, the Center squeaked into the lead with 32.3 percent of the vote against the Socialists’ 31.6. So in Madrid Suárez is even more sharply outnumbered by the combined vote of the left parties than he is in the country at large, making the coming municipal elections a grave threat to his claims to national support.

Why did PSOE and Felipe González do so well? Some Spanish experts maintained their vote was in large part “accidental”—the workers, knowing little or nothing about the new PSOE, simply chose the party that seemed to stand against the Franco past and for the poorer wage earners. But this seemed far too simple an explanation why the PSOE was chosen out of the half dozen leftist parties on the ballot. The PSOE, after all, was the largest political party during the Spanish Republic, and many of its traditions remained alive. Suddenly, during the second week of the campaign, the International began to be played on the loud-speakers of the PSOE campaign cars as they drove through the Spanish towns. This was startling and much remarked on, as if people were hearing an echo from the old days.

The PSOE inherited much else. Since Spain is now a constitutional monarchy, it is illegal for “Republicans” to organize a separate party; they gave their votes to the PSOE, as did the remnants of the Anarchist movement. Many young and old Communists were furious at the Communist leader Santiago Carrillo for banning the Republican flag. This was no small matter, since the flag for which so many thousands died is still held as sacred. Yet Communists who carried it at some PCE rallies were beaten up by Communist special security police—causing resentment, mutiny, and the transfer of many Communist votes to the PSOE.

On the last day of the campaign I saw Felipe González drive through Vallecas, the working-class quarter of Madrid, to make his final speech. His motorcade played the International and carried the old Republican and Socialist Labor Union flags through the city that Suárez counted on winning. González’s chances in Madrid were often discounted, even by those who acknowledged his strength elsewhere. That the Madrileños have by now “gotten in the habit of supporting the established order” was taken for granted by some of Suárez’s supporters.

But Madrid was not always a proud Fascist city. As I remember it from the late 1940s, it was the most desolate, grim, and miserable place in Spain. The Basque and Catalan workers, because of the unifying regional passion for autonomy, could feel some kinship with the factory owners who employed them, some sense of security. The Madrid workers in Vallecas had nobody to protect them. When González’s procession arrived there on June 15 most of the people simply stared, then some in the crowd gave the old clenched fist salute of the Republican days, then hundreds did. A policeman directing traffic made a V for victory sign, and pulled a Socialist insignia from his pocket and waved it. Soon it seemed as if the whole quarter was literally running toward the stadium where González was about to speak. Not a few men and women were crying. It seemed hasty to conclude the Socialist vote is explained by opportunistic, ahistorical choices of the moment. In fact the voting pattern in the cities is proportionally fairly close to the one that prevailed in pre-Civil War Spain, although then the Communist Party barely existed.

Still Felipe González, a former labor lawyer, is something new—as good-looking as Suárez and with more enthusiasm, a populist who can behave as if he is in a Hollywood movie, campaigning throughout Spain in a Lear jet, eating on the run. When I talked with him a year ago he told me that he had no interest in visiting officials or impressing leftist intellectuals in the US—only the masses and the mass media interested him; and indeed within a year he became Spain’s first mass cult political hero.

His campaign was remarkably shrewd, and not only in reviving the old Republican socialist emotions. Unlike the older and more rigid Socialist leaders he displaced, he and his young allies never attacked the Communists, although some of the Socialist leaders regard the PCE as conservative and unimaginative; nor, after much talk about it, did they ever form a coalition with the Communists. The only coalitions González organized were with potentially threatening parties claiming regional autonomy. Barcelona, for example, has both a strong movement for Catalan socialism and large numbers of Andalusian workers who would automatically vote for González, who comes from Seville. The PSOE therefore joined forces with the Catalonian Socialists headed by Joan Reventós and won a heavy victory.

As the chief editor of the most respected publishing house in Barcelona, Reventós carried along with him most of Catalonia’s impressive group of writers, intellectuals, and artists. In late June he met in Madrid with the king, Suárez, and González in order to negotiate for autonomy, starting with the return to Spain of Josep Tarradellas, the exiled president of what was, under the Republic, the autonomous state of Catalonia. Now that Tarradellas is back the prospects for Catalan home rule seem likely and, if achieved, would set a precedent for a similar arrangement with the more intransigently separatist Basques. (In this election González made a coalition with the Basque Socialists similar to the one with Reventós.)

As for the Communists, they have done very poorly. Their “boom” was in the 1960s when they organized the underground unions called Workers Commissions and attracted many intellectuals. By 1964 two of the most gifted PCE leaders had been tossed out of the Party for revisionism—Fernando Claudìn, the Party theoretician, and Jorge Semprún, the Spanish novelist and scriptwriter (La Guerre Est Fini, Z, etc.). Semprún, who comes from one of the most distinguished political families in Spain, did much to rebuild the PCE underground in Madrid during the Fifties and early Sixties. His account of those days—The Autobiography of Federico Sánchez (his political alias)—will be widely read when it is published in the fall, and will not help the Communists.

Most of the intellectuals who were in the Party during the Sixties are now out as well, while the bureaucrats remain. For example, Alfonso Sastre, who could have been one of the principal Communist planners in Madrid, and was one of Carrillo’s closest friends, will never forgive the Party. When his wife Eva Sastre was arrested for subversion, the PCE lawyers were forbidden to defend her since she had been involved with Basques. (She was released during election week, having spent three years in prison without trial. She told me she was nearly tortured to death at first, and credits Amnesty International with saving her life.)

The PCE in fact has been in great difficulty since Carrillo secretly returned to Spain in early 1976. Most of the younger Communists would like to see him depart and the Party reformed from within. But the Party’s centralized structure is as tight as ever, notwithstanding Carrillo’s admirably independent stand against the USSR on the virtues of pluralism and Eurocommunism. He has chosen as his heir apparent the highly unpopular forty-four-year-old economist Ramón Tamames, who made a substantial fortune working for the government and was formerly a close friend of Fraga’s. The Workers Commissions, now dominated entirely by the PCE, face growing competition from the revived Socialist union organization, the UGT.

Unlike those of other Latin countries, Spain’s best-known writers avoid the Party. Arrabal loathes the Communists; the novelists Juan and Luis Goytisolo supported Joan Reventós. The Madrid novelist Juan Benet belongs to no group at all. For many young Communists, and indeed many old Communists, Carrillo’s arbitrary decision banning the Republican flag was a final intolerable sacrilege. The PCE is thus undergoing a crisis far more serious than even its low vote shows. The vote is expected to improve in the municipal elections but the party remains crippled by rebelliousness within its own ranks; and taking note of its vulnerable state, the Russians have launched an open attack on Carrillo. To form an alternative party, should he fail, they hold in reserve a man called “Eduardo García,” who now lives in Paris and is hardly known in Spain, except to a few top Communists or former Communists. But no one believes García has much future.

Still, the Communists are very much part of the self-congratulatory celebration that is now taking place in Spain. Only a year ago, they all risked jail or worse; so did many Socialists. Recently, even in a deeply conservative town like Toledo, where the Civil War fighting was most brutal, the leaders of both parties could meet with politicians of the Center coalition and drink two common toasts: first, to Toledo’s Communist hero Luis Lucio Lobato, who spent twenty-eight years in prison; and second, “to Spain—which won the election.” And it did. To keep up this happy mood, however, everyone must assume that the Socialists will only come to power in a few years—gradually, conveniently. But what will happen if the Socialists win the municipal elections toward the end of 1977 and the supporters of Suárez, and the Francoists to their right, find the edifice of privilege itself crumbling around them? The Madrid vote can only be mislaid once.

This Issue

August 4, 1977