Voters swing behind the PCE on its 90th anniversary

November 14, 2011 12:41 am Published by Leave your thoughts

This year the Partido Comunista de España (Communist Party of Spain) celebrates its 90th anniversary on November 14th, just under a week before Spain holds its general election. The PCE could have reasons to celebrate because whilst the centre right Partido Popular (Popular Party) will probably become the government, the communists, now part of the Izquierda Unida (United Left) coalition, could well pick up seats in parliament as the PSOE vote collapses.

The Communist Party in Britain (CPB) has never enjoyed the success of its counterparts in France, Italy or Spain. Communist MPs in Britain have been far and few between with just Walton Newbold, Shapurji Saklatvala, Willie Gallacher and Phil Paratin. The CPB has always been to the left of the Labour Party representing the working class in the UK, with communists often opting to run on the Socialist ticket. True, the PCE in Spain has had to reinvent itself and now forms the key component of Izquierda Unida (IU) coalition. However the far left grouping has numerous councillors, controls major town halls and has MPs in the regional parliaments. At the 2007 elections it returned 2033 councillors but this year that increased to 2628 giving it 58 mayors and hence control of that number of town halls. This makes the IU the third largest political union in Spain and the PCE is at the heart of the political process with two MPs and two Euro MPs.

I am giving a potted history of the PCE. There will be disputed versions given its fractious, often violent, history – no surprise given the Spanish and international political scenario over those years. A raised fist salute along the way to Rafael Moreno Marín, the PCE organiser in Arriate, who has given me facts and figures.

The PCE is not only an integral part of Izquierda Unida but also plays a major role in the giant CCOO (Comisiones Obreras or Workers’ Commissions union). It was born of a schism in the PSOE Partido Socialista Obrero Español or Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party by members unhappy with the social democratic stance of the party who also wanted to partake in Lenin’s Third International. The PCE was a coming together of the Partido Comunista Español and the Partido Comunista Obrero Español. It was formed on November 14th 1921 and duly became a member of the Third International hosting its first congress in Sevilla in March 1922. By September 1923 the party was repressed, though not dissolved, by the Miguel Primo de Rivera dictatorship.

In November 1925, PCE leaders joined with Comintern officials and leaders of the Catalonian-separatist Estat Català party in endorsing a revolutionary program. By the time the Second Republic was declared in 1931, the PCE was in a much weakened state but its first parliamentarian was elected on December 3rd 1933. Cayetano Bolívar Escribano was in prison at the time and was released to take his seat.

The PCE remained a small party but started to grow with the formation of the Popular Front government in February 1936, of which it was an integral part. Following the start of the Spanish Civil War in July of that year the PCE, led by José Díaz and Dolores Ibárruri ‘La Pasionaria’, worked tirelessly for the Republic and the Popular Front government. The communists found themselves at odds with the popular social revolution and were seen as one of the major movers behind the Barcelona May Days in 1937 when the POUM (Partido Obrero de Unificación Marxista or the Workers’ Party of Marxist Unification) was suppressed. It is said the Soviet Union wanted the Spanish Revolution put down so as not to upset Britain and France who felt they were facing a Soviet threat. In the early days of the war, the PCE is estimated to have grown from 30,000 to 100,000 members and founded a branch of the International Red Aid.

Needless to say after Franco defeated the Republic in April 1939, the PCE was persecuted and became a guerrilla organisation in some parts of Spain. After the signing of the Molotov – Ribbentrop Pact in 1941, the PCE viewed Germany’s aggression in a neutral mode until it attacked the Soviet Union. A large number of the PCE membership was forced in to exile; many joined Russia’s Red Army. France was also home to other Spanish communists where they started organising during the later period of the Franco era. It was at this time it started organising the CCOO which with the PCE became the backbone of opposition in Spain.

Dolores Ibárruri ‘La Pasionaria’ played a major role in the PCE, leading it as General Secretary until 1960. Santiago Carrillo then took over the post, which he held until 1982, and it was he who steered the PCE away from its Leninist routes onto the Euro Communist path, in the process accepting Liberal democracy and a constitutional monarchy in Spain. Many party members regarded this as “treason” and formed breakaway organisations, yet the party held together and was legalised in April 1977, being one of the first steps in the Spanish transition to democracy. Within weeks the PCE had 200,000 card holders.

In the 1977 elections, the first after the transition, the PCE received 10 per cent of the vote and repeated this feat in 1979. However, in 1982 its share of the vote went down and three years later, Carrillo was expelled because of his attempts to follow a social democratic path and the party moved away from Euro Communism.

It was in 1986, during the anti-NATO protests, that the PCE joined with other left wing groups to form the Izquierda Unida, which included environmentalists. From 1982 to 1988, the General Secretary of IU was Gerardo Iglesias followed by Julio Anguita, from 1988 to 1998. This post was then held by Francisco Frutos until 2009 when he was succeeded by José Luis Centella.

Izquierda Unida, which is still dedicated to restoring the Third Republic, now finds itself at the heart of the debate in the economic and financial crisis. The opinion polls indicate that the centre-right Partido Popular will crush the socialist PSOE on November 20. The result will be a massive blow to the left in Spain, yet the IU may well become an electoral home for those on the left who reject the widespread political corruption that has gripped PSOE (as well as the PP). The IU is also at one with those who support the 15M movement, Los Indignados, as well as those battling to have the law changed with regard to property repossessions. This involves those who have lost their homes after they were reposed by the banks – but although homeless they still face massive repayment debts to the mortgage companies.

What is clear is that 90 years on the PCE is still at the heart of the debate and could be one of the big winners on November 20, when it could return between 10 and 15 MPs to Congress, Spain’s lower chamber of parliament.


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This post was written by David Eade

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