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The United Left Unravels

John Sullivan

IZQUIERDA UNIDA (IU) the electoral alliance backed by the Spanish Communist Party (PCE) is collapsing amongst splits and expulsions. (See "The Spanish Communist Party and the United Left" in What Next? No.4). The main right wing component of the alliance, the Nueva Izquierda, has continued to move towards an accommodation with the Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE), which has resulted in expulsions and internal recriminations. The most acute disagreements were produced by the elections to the regional parliament in Galicia in north west Spain on 19 October, and over relations with the Catalan Communists.

In Galicia the regional leadership of IU, who are opposed to the PCE and its leader Julio Anguita, made a pact with the PSOE which would, it was hoped, topple the government of the conservative Partido Popular (PP), led by Manuel Fraga, Franco’s former Minister of the Interior. However, from Anguita’s viewpoint the electoral alliance was a capitulation. The PSOE was happy to make room for IU candidates on its electoral list, once they had broken from the PCE leadership. A national alliance with IU has its attractions, as the combined votes of both would have brought victory in the 1996 elections to the Spanish Parliament, which were won by the Partido Popular. The pact with the PSOE led to the expulsion of the Galician leadership and their co-thinkers in other regions. The PCE contested the elections with a hastily formed rump organisation which got 1 per cent of the votes. The result was also a disaster for the PSOE and IU. The great victor was the Galician nationalist BNG, whose vote was almost equal to the PSOE. Galician nationalism was never as strong as its Catalan and Basque equivalents, but Beiras, the BNG leader, has assembled an impressively broad alliance: its new members of parliament include both moderate Catholics and a member of a group formed by the formerly Trotskyist LCR and the formerly Maoist Movimiento Comunista. The PSOE have, until now, been unwilling to make electoral alliances with the BNG, but are likely to be more receptive in the future.

The internal politics of both the PCE and IU is complicated by the fact that, formally, the Catalan branch of the Communist Party, the PSUC, has been independent since its foundation in 1936. Similarly the wider alliance, Catalan Initiative, is not subject to IU discipline, although it participates fully and sends representatives to IU meetings. Its leaders favour the centre left model of the Italian Party of the Democratic Left, formed by the right wing of the old communist party, although the strength of the PSOE makes that an unrealistic option for Spain. They have, effectively, frozen the PSUC, which carries out almost no regular activity. Its congress which was scheduled for 1992 was postponed to May 1997, lasted only one day and had only 300 elected delegates, compared to 160 representatives of the central committee. The Catalan leadership does not wish to dissolve the PSUC into Catalan Initiative yet, as that would encourage others to create a new communist party.

On 29 November Nueva Izquierda and other right wing tendencies met in Madrid to launch a movement which will work towards convergence with the PSOE. They received messages of support from the leaders of both the main trade union federations who are alarmed by what they see as Anguita’s ultra-leftism. The PSOE is concerned that opinion polls show the PP well ahead of it, so members of Nueva Izquierda are likely to be welcomed on PSOE lists in future elections. As the party is constrained by its determination to participate fully in the European Community and NATO, and its adherence to the Maastrich criteria necessitates attacking pensions and workers’ conditions, its allies will have to accept that, but it is possible that Nueva Izquierda members, some of whom have long and distinguished records of defending human rights, might have an influence on improving the PSOE’s policy in that respect.

There is now very little unity in the United Left. Yet, although their remaining partners appear so insubstantial as to be ghostly, it is unlikely that the PCE leaders will disband it and stand alone in elections. PASOC has nowhere else to go as the PSOE cannot accept a partner which claims to be the real Spanish Socialist Party. The Republicans, to the extent that they exist, cannot object to Anguita’s criticisms of the King. The Greens have, inevitably, no clear project for human society and have sided with Nueva Izquierda. There are smaller groups who are free to argue for their positions, but they do not represent significant forces. Anguita’s need for new allies presents the left with great opportunities to intervene in a more left wing IU, but the tendencies originating in the revolutionary left who are keen on Green and alternative politics tend to search for a political space somewhere between the PCE and Nueva Izquierda.