Spain: New president offers no respite from austerity

On 31 May, the Spanish conservative president Mariano Rajoy lost a parliamentary vote of no confidence and was forced out of office. His fate was sealed when the Basque Nationalist Party joined the anti-austerity Podemos and the two biggest Catalan parties in supporting the motion put by the social-democratic PSOE. The vote followed new evidence of widespread corruption in Rajoy’s People’s Party (PP). On 2 June, the leader of the social democrats, Pedro Sanchez, was sworn in as president. Juanjo Rivas reports from Madrid.

In late May, the Spanish courts ruled over the long-running ‘kickbacks-for-contracts’ Gürtel case, concluding that Rajoy’s PP had carried out fraudulent funding and accounting since 1989, and systematically accepted bribes from entrepreneurs in return for licences to manage public works. It became evident that Rajoy himself had lied in court. The PSOE rushed to present a vote of no confidence and started talks with all the parties to oust Rajoy. This led to some unprecedented events. For the first time a vote of no confidence succeeded in the substitution of a president and the formation of a new cabinet with members of the opposition, led by a leader who was forced to resign by his party as MP only a few months ago.

Sanchez immediately offered reassurances to the capitalists that the country’s financial commitments to the European Union would be fulfilled and that he will mantain the general budget presented by the conservatives earlier in the year. The PSOE has proved itself a loyal supporter of austerity measures, and in 2011 agreed with the PP a constitutional reform prioritising the payment of interest on Spain’s debt and forbidding provinces from having a deficit, imposing cuts as the backbone of their policies. No significant change can be expected with regard to the economic policies of the new cabinet.

Who are the ‘socialists’?

Despite the PSOE’s misleading name – Socialist Workers’ Party of Spain – the political party now led by Pedro Sanchez is heir to a long-term neoliberal and imperialist organisation. After the death of fascist General Franco in 1975, Spain was at a crossroads. Underground parties emerged into the open, and wide sections of the working class demanded that those involved in torture and executions during the dictatorship be brought to trial. There was a need for the capitalist parties to establish a clear break with the past. At its 1979 Congress, the PSOE eradicated any traces of Marxism and elected a new leadership prepared to play a decisive role in the re-establishment of bourgeois democracy in Spain. The Spanish establishment, the monarchy, diplomats and international agents saw in the PSOE a tool to undermine the influence of regional nationalists and communists. The working class had to be diverted into a capitalist parliamentary system which could fit in the European Economic Community, protect the oligarchy and guarantee immunity for the armed forces so as to avoid a military coup.

The PSOE obtained a landslide victory in the 1982 election, having emerged as the surprise main opposition party in the first post-Franco general election of 1977. The ‘socialist’ Felipe Gonzalez ruled as president until 1996, despite the party increasingly becoming tainted with allegations of corruption. During this time Spain became a member of NATO, supported the war on former Yugoslavia, privatised state-run energy enterprises, signed the Maastrich Treaty, changed labour laws to introduce agencies of temporary work, cut salaries and undermined the unions. Felipe Gonzalez has been a highly-paid adviser for a multinational company he privatised, has strong ties with right-wing Colombian and Venezuelan entrepreneurs and has viciously attacked the Bolivarian Republic.

After two right-wing and conservative mandates, the PSOE returned to office in 2003 with president Jose Luis Rodríguez Zapatero. The era of real estate speculation was fuelled by bank debt and PSOE did nothing to stop the predictable disaster. Moreover, the ‘socialists’ have systematically supported the austerity measures imposed by the EU and the IMF and US-led imperialist wars. Zapatero withdrew Spanish troops from Iraq only to deploy them in Afghanistan.

Treading a fine line

Despite a few headline concessions to a more progressive policy, Pedro Sanchez is continuing in the same tradition. He has been feted for appointing a record number of women to his cabinet, for allowing the Aquarius migrant ship to dock in Spain when Italy and Malta closed their ports to it and for having the remains of the General Franco removed from a prestigious mausoleum near Madrid. But the real business of the Spanish state continues as usual. Having promised early elections, Sanchez now says he will remain in post until 2020. A proposed tax on banks has never materialised. In September Sanchez did a U-turn on his government’s promise not to sell weapons to Saudi Arabia, going ahead with the sale of 400 laser-guided bombs, which will undoubtedly be used against civilians in Yemen. The massacres perpetrated by Saudi Arabia are profitable for Spain: this deal alone amounts €9.2m and the sale of weapons to the Saudi regime reached €270m in 2017, making Spain the world’s fourth-largest arms exporter to Riyadh.

Major Catalan parties supported the appointment of Pedro Sanchez because they expected the social democrats to take positive steps towards resolving the impasse that has existed between the nationalists and the Spanish state since October 2017. He has overturned the application of Article 155 of the constitution, which had seen Catalan autonomy suspended since last year’s independence vote and was a condition of their support. But his government is continuing to require monthly financial reports on the regional government’s use of funds; separatist political prisoners remain in jail and Catalan politicians who have gone into exile still face legal persecution. Spain’s new foreign minister, Josep Borell, is deeply hostile to independence for Catalonia, and has been accused of support for GAL, an anti-Basque paramilitary group, in the 1980s. The new interior minister, Fernande Grande-Marlaska, is a former conservative judge known for handing down harsh sentences to separatists and for his refusal to investigate allegations of torture against political activists. The PSOE needs the support of regional nationalist parties to stay in power, while reassuring the Spanish ruling class that the party is still capable of governing in its interests. Pedro Sanchez is treading a fine line.

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 266 October/November 2018


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