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Spain's Socialist Surrender By: Michael Radu
FrontPageMagazine.com | Thursday, March 25, 2004


The election of Spanish socialists on March 14th is a major setback for the fight against terrorism, both within Spain and around the world. The Spanish Socialist Workers' Party, whose leaders once colluded with Josef Stalin, are now threatening to become the allies of the worldwide Islamist jihad. If their history is chilling, their plans for the future are even scarier.

On March 14, the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (Partido Socialista Obrero Español – PSOE) won a relative majority in Parliament, and is likely to form a government coalition with Catalan and Basque left-wing parties. It was an unexpected victory, due to extraordinary events -- the Madrid bombings of March 11th -- and goes against the general trend of European politics where, in country after country, the Left did poorly the last few years. (This is demonstrated most recently by the defeat of the long ruling Greek Socialists.) But the PSOE had had a rather peculiar history from its beginning in 1879, which makes it the oldest Spanish political party. Its leader, Prime Minister-elect José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero seems to be an odd character himself.

The PSOE began as a Marxist party, and for many decades it lived a precarious existence in the shade of anarchists -- Spain was the only European country with a strong and lasting anarchist movement. Its newspaper, El Socialista, only began publication in 1886, and a trade union, the UGT (General Workers' Union), was first taken over, in Barcelona in 1888. The first Parliament deputy, party founder Pablo Iglesias, was not appointed until 1910. Throughout the convulsed period leading to the Second Republic and the 1936 election, the PSOE was intensively infiltrated by Marxist-Leninist elements, and the massive nationalization of industry was its main political stand. When the PSOE leader,Francisco Largo Caballero became Prime Minister in September 1936, the country was already in the midst of civil war, with the Communists -- hence, Stalin’s --influence growing. It is indicative of the ideological state of the party at the time that Largo Caballero, leader since 1925, was a relative moderate. Bear in mind, Caballero has called for "the conquest of political power by the working class by whatever means possible" and the "dictatorship of the proletariat organized as a working-class democracy." When this rhetoric made him too moderate for his party, and for Stalin, he was replaced by fellow socialist Antonio Negrín, who, under Communist control, led the Republic to its final defeat in 1939.

Following Francisco Franco’s nationalist victory, the PSOE in Spain was virtually destroyed for decades, and the exiled leadership further marginalized itself by retreating into dogmatic Marxism. It was during the 1960s, following a relative liberalization of the regime, that young activists led by Seville lawyer Felipe Gonzalez began the reorganization of the party. Under the moderating influence of the West German Social Democrats, the internal leadership went beyond Marxist dogma and ideological purity and established links with non-leftist opposition to the regime. At the party’s 1974 Congress, Felipe Gonzalez was elected Secretary General. Following the first free elections since the Civil War, held in June 1977, the PSOE became the main opposition party, with a little more than 29 percent of the vote.

Nevertheless, the old dogmatism continued, as did the historic attachment to Marxism, even when the Communists themselves became more moderate “Eurocommunists.” It was only at the 28th Congress in May 1979 that the issue came to be openly debated, and Gonzales’ efforts to renounce Marxism -- 18 years after the German Social Democrats did the same, one may add -- were temporarily defeated. He resigned in protest, but an extraordinary Congress (in September 1979) reversed the previous decision, reelected Gonzalez and dropped Marxism from the party’s constitution.

In 1982, the PSOE won the elections and formed a government under Felipe Gonzalez, who retained power until 1996. The Gonzalez regime had some clear accomplishments -- Spanish membership in NATO and the EU, economic progress and most importantly, the transformation of Spain into a “normal” Western democracy. It was also increasingly corrupt, inefficient and its foreign policy often failed to support pro-Western forces. This is especially true in Latin America, where Gonzalez cozied up to Fidel Castro.

Faced with continuous Basque terrorism, Gonzalez did take a hard line -- including the use, or tolerance of secret operations in France, through the Antiterrorist Liberation Group (the Grupo Antiterrorista de Liberacion, or GAL) -- admittedly as a result of persistent French refusal to crack down on ETA’s activities.[1]

By 1996, the PSOE was clearly compromised in the eyes of the electorate. Corruption scandals and the GAL issue raised questions over its honesty and respect for law, and the party lost the elections to a reconstituted conservative force, the Popular Party of José Maria Aznar -- a defeat repeated, in even worse dimensions, in 2000.

The 2000 defeat concentrated minds, and that year the by-then “old guard” around Felipe Gonzalez was replaced by younger leaders of the “Nueva Via” (”New Way”), apparently influenced by the “Third Way” center-left style of Tony Blair and his New Labour Party in Britain. Zapatero became their representative.

José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero was born in Valladolid, on August 4th 1960. His grandfather was a captain in the Republican Army during the Civil War (1936–1939), and was killed in combat. His father was a lawyer; his mother a doctor. Involved in politics since age 16, he joined the PSOE in 1978. A lawyer, he taught constitutional law at Leon University from 1982 to 1986, was elected to parliament in 1988, became secretary-general of the Leon Region branch and in 2000 was somewhat surprisingly elected PSOE national leader.

With no government experience whatsoever, Zapatero has no memory of the old internal fights within the PSOE. What he does have is an idealistic and dogmatic attachment to fashionable notions prevailing in the European Left, with a clear dislike of America and, most especially, of George W. Bush. Nor is his political judgment in general something to encourage hopes for pragmatism and adaptation to reality.

It does not help that he does not even understand the political landscape of Spain. Case in point, this quotation: “WHOEVER wins Madrid, will win the general election in March.” So said José Luis Zapatero, leader of Spain's opposition Socialists some months ago. Now that the center-right People's Party has regained control of Madrid,  Zapatero has modified his position: “he had expected a far worse result, and his party is in better shape than ever for the spring elections.”[2]

Both his dogmatic attachment to the ideas of the European Left and his lack of political judgment were demonstrated by his statements following the recent elections. “I said during the campaign I hoped Spain and the Spaniards would be ahead of the Americans for once,” he said in an interview on Onda Cero radio. “First we win here, we change this government, and then the Americans will do it, if things continue as they are in Kerry's favor.”

“Fighting terrorism with bombs, with Tomahawk missiles, isn't the way to beat terrorism, but the way to generate more radicalism,” he said.

First, for a Prime Minister-elect of a NATO ally to openly express support for the U.S. opposition candidate is unheard of, undiplomatic, and imprudent, to say the least. It is also arrogant. Second, whether de facto capitulation to Islamist terror means “being ahead” of the Americans is doubtful; and the notion, shared by others in Europe that fighting terrorism produces terrorism is close to inane. Partisans of this view include European Commission President Romano Prodi, who stated, “It is clear that using force is not the answer to resolving the conflict with terrorists.” And rolling over for them is?

This is, however, a notion that permeates the PSOE as a whole, as demonstrated by its electoral program, which claims that global terrorism, proliferation of WMDs, organized crime, environmental problems, inequality, illegal immigration, all demand…the eradication of poverty! Problems of such magnitude, said the wise men of the PSOE, “cannot simplistically be reduced…as neoconservative ideologies claim,” to transnational terrorist groups, and even less by “recurring unilateralism, preventive attacks, regime changes based on military occupation under the pretext of recuperating democracy.” This is an unmistakable assault on U.S. policy and, most clearly, a demonstration of how deeply entrenched political correctness is in the party ranks, from the top to the bottom. It appears that the Marxist nonsense courageously rejected by Felipe Gonzalez in 1979 has returned through the back door in its adulterated form of political correctness. The promise to withdraw the Spanish troops from Iraq, reiterated after the election -- unless, of course, there is a UN blessing to keep them -- acts upon these innocent premises. Never mind that the UN itself has fled Iraq after last year's attack on its headquarters.

In Europe, Zapatero made it clear that Spain will join and support the Franco-German axis in a  “clear European option”; globally, it will support “international legality, represented by the United Nations” (as opposed to the “illegality” of the United States?) and regionally a “just and lasting solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict” -- whatever that means. A rapprochement with Castro, friendly relations with Hugo Chavez in Venezuela and withdrawal of Aznar’s support for the Alvaro Uribe government in Colombia are all in the cards, as well.

In domestic terms, the PSOE record on the most pressing issue, separatism in the Basque Country and Catalonia, is ambiguous. Under Felipe Gonzalez, the PSOE joined the national consensus that separatism is condemnable and violence in its name criminal. But when its Catalan branch, Partit dels Socialistes de Catalunya, came to power in Barcelona last year, and its Catalan separatist leftists engaged in secret talks with the (Marxist) terrorists of ETA (Euzkadi Ta Askatasuna--Basque Motherland and Freedom), the Socialists’ reaction was quite tepid. On the other hand, PSOE’s Basque branch, Partido Socialista de Euskadi - Euskadiko Ezquerra (Socialist Party of Basque Country -- Basque Left) is in active opposition to the ruling nationalists of the region, and has paid a bloody price for it.

All in all, PSOE’s victory is bad news -- bad news for Spain, where the successful anti-terrorist, economic and foreign policies of the Aznar era might well be overturned; bad news for the international struggle against Islamic terror, which has seen its greatest political victory ever on March 14th; and bad news for bilateral Spanish-U.S. ties. The fact that even John Kerry, Zapatero’s favorite American politician (or is it Howard Dean or maybe even Dennis Kucinich?) felt obliged to ask him to reconsider the troop withdrawal from Iraq suggests that the new Spanish leader is so far off American interests and opinions that normal, let alone friendly, relations are unlikely. Only the terrorists could benefit from this arrangement.

ENDNOTES: 

[1] For details, see Antonio Rubio and Manuel Cerdan, El origen del GAL, Grandes Temas, Madrid, 1997.

[2] “The battle of Madrid. Foreshadowing the next election,” The Economist, October 30th, 2003.


Michael Radu is Senior Fellow and Co - Chair, Center on Terrorism and Counterterrorism, at the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia.


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