Only 3 days after winning the general elections, the Spanish Socialist Workers Party (PSOE) celebrated its 140 years anniversary on 2nd May. It was the first electoral victory of PSOE in 11 years. Both events coincided in the same week: a cause of joy and hope for the Spanish – as well as for the European – Social Democrats. We are celebrating this victory humbly but also with the satisfaction of having served Spain through all this time, promoting our core values: freedom, equality and social justice.
The history of Spain over the last century and a half cannot be understood without the Socialist Party. The PSOE, founded in 1879 by Pablo Iglesias Posse, lived through all the turbulent years of the last third of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century together with our country: monarchy, restoration, republic and dictatorship.
The civil war, triggered by the fascist-minded military uprising of 1936 against the legitimate Government of the Second Republic, marked the beginning of a lengthy exile that, in spite of condemning Socialist leaders that survived the war to secrecy, did not manage to break a strong political organisation which, upon the dictator’s death and the restoration of democracy, was able to appear before the Spanish citizens with a project for the modernisation of the country, which they overwhelmingly trusted as from 1982.
The satisfaction of having served Spain through all this time, promoting our core values: freedom, equality and social justice.
The PSOE took part in the drafting of the Spanish Constitution of 1978, the consolidation of the newly established democratic institutions, the development of a decentralised territorial model (the system of autonomous communities), the establishment of the pillars of the Welfare State (public, universal, free and quality health care and education, pensions, social services and care for dependent adults) and the achievement of social, labour and civil rights, where we have been an international benchmark: feminism, integration and diversity.
The jump from a dark Spain emerging from four decades of dictatorship to the forward-thinking bright, supportive and free Spain that we know today would have been impossible without the commitment, responsibility and struggle of the men and women who made up the socialist governments of Presidents Felipe González, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero and, currently, Pedro Sánchez.
A setback due to the crisis
The global financial and economic crisis that broke out in 2008, whose effects have not yet been overcome, marked a break in this positive line of evolution, in Spain, Europe and most parts of the world. The exponential growth of inequality, the impoverishment of the middle classes, the suffering of the most vulnerable sectors of the population, the cutbacks in essential public services (known as austericide – death by austerity) and the migration flows resulting from armed conflicts, poverty and famines in Africa and the Middle East gave rise to nationalist movements of a xenophobic and protectionist nature in many countries of our old Europe: Sweden, Denmark, Poland, Switzerland, Germany, United Kingdom, Austria, France, Hungary, Italy and, now, Spain too.
From the era of the Restoration all the way to democracy, the Spanish political system had been a faulty two-party system: two big parties – a conservative versus a progressive one – that took turns in government, supported by regional nationalist parties with some representation in the Spanish Parliament (made up of 350 seats) and small parties with no real ability to tilt governance towards one side or the other.
However, since the outbreak of the crisis, and while far-right parties were flourishing all around Europe, a political party called Podemos emerged in Spain – rooted in a movement of popular outrage – and was able to win over 5 million voters. It was an intergenerational, urban, educated vote, largely from people disenchanted from PSOE, which led to the political fragmentation of the left and escalated electorally to 71 MPs in 2016, against just 84 for PSOE. At the other end of the scale, the People’s Party (PP) managed to continue gathering the entire conservative vote. Therefore, in the elections of 2011 and 2015-2016, the PP secured the necessary majority to form a government.
Acting fast and efficiently
However, it all changed as from May 2018, now just one year ago. In that month, the Spanish Supreme Court sentenced the PP for its involvement – for lucrative purposes – in the massive corruption and irregular financing case known as “Gurtel”. The PSOE, led by Pedro Sánchez, filed a motion of censure, which resulted in the ousting of Mariano Rajoy and the downfall of his government. Sánchez was appointed President with the trust of the Chamber and undertook an intense government activity which, for 10 months, implemented a huge social agenda aimed at reversing the cuts in public services and social benefits and the regression of rights, as well as setting the basis for the new Social Democratic project for the future of Spain: coexistence and dialogue, cleanness against corruption, social justice against inequality, feminism, fight against climate change and ecology.
With the background of this short time in government, the PSOE stood in the elections of 28th April against a new backdrop: the fragmentation in three different parties of the conservative block – the PP (under a new inexperienced, reckless and radicalised leadership), Ciudadanos (by now devoid of their ‘liberal patina’ and fully embracing the postulates of the right) and Vox (a far-right neo-Francoist party, which did not exist in previous elections).
‘Self-defence’ of progressive voters
The message conveyed by PSOE for these elections had a two-pronged approach: defending the government’s action, while projecting it to the future in order to achieve the Spain we want; and warning about the real risk that a parliamentary arithmetic allowing for the sum of the three conservative groupings to form a government presided by the PP leader would imply. This strategy triggered a massive mobilisation of the citizens (75% turnout), which led to a broad socialist majority (123 seats out of 350) which now gives us the certainty that a new progressive government can be formed.
The arrival of the far-right to the Spanish Parliament, though new and worrisome, is far from the numbers of their counterparts in other European countries. However, it’s striking that their radical, xenophobic, chauvinistic, anti-European and largely pre-constitutional ideas, have imbued the ideological discourse of the two other conservative parties, particularly when it comes to the Catalan independence process. The stream of insults, discrediting remarks and ad hominem attacks against President Sánchez has caused, it seems, a ‘self-defence’ reaction of the progressive voters, who are not willing to give up on the social and labour conquests and civil rights that it has taken so long to achieve and consolidate. It remains to be seen whether, for the next local, regional and European elections taking place next 26th of May, the Spanish far-right will consolidate itself as a political reality with which we’ll have to coexist, or it’s just a temporary illusion, resulting from the anger of the conservative voters against their party of reference, the PP.