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"The Assembly Movement in Spain, 1976-78," Part One

NOT BORED! writes:

Commentaries about Wildcat Spain in the Run up to the Second Revolution

By Workers for Proletarian Autonomy and Social Revolution

"There is nothing more improbable, more impossible, more fantastic than a revolution one hour before it breaks out; there is nothing more simple, more natural, more obvious than a revolution when it has waged its first battle and gained its first victory." — Rosa Luxemburg, Der Kampf (7 April 1917)

CHAPTER ONE: The Social and Political State of Classes in Spain in the Hour of Francoism's Relief

It is somewhat trite these days to say that the general crisis in Spain is caused by the democratic evolution of Francoism. It is the same crisis facing every country of the world, bourgeois or bureaucratic, which is exacerbated for instance in Portugal, Greece or Poland — by a long period of stagnation resulting from a counter-revolution, as well as by the accelerated breakdown of the dominant political forms. We shall not, therefore, be examining the formation of a new society but rather the senile Iberian rebirth of a society that is everywhere in the process of dying. Francoism was the extreme defence of the Spanish bourgeoisie threatened by proletarian revolution, a triumphant counter-revolution that, through a state of siege, provided the first urgent rationalisation of Spanish capitalist society; and saved it by incorporating the State under its wing. But when Francoism became the most costly form of maintaining it, it was forced to leave the stage for the benefit of stronger and more rational forms of the same order.The preponderance of Catholic technocrats[1] in the State presided over an industrial growth, which took advantage of the expanding world market in the 1960s (and therefore of the investment of foreign capital), as well as tourism, eliminating the excessive labour force in the rural areas. Agrarian production lost its weight in the national economy and the rural bourgeoisie lost out politically to financial capital. But the greater the successes of the industrialisation programme of the Francoist technocrats the greater was the historic failure of the Spanish bourgeoisie that was necessarily contained within it. By accumulating capital, the bourgeoisie accumulated the proletariat and created its own negation on a far greater scale than in the past — that very past that it was trying to renounce.

The wage policy of the dictatorship reached its zenith in the 1970s, when the workers' movement had attained an important degree of radicalism and was abandoning the legalist reformism in which the Stalinists and Christians had tried to encase it. This was especially true given the recuperation of the primitive and limited forms of struggle — the Comisiones Obrera — which arose spontaneously as irregular strike committees during the Asturian and Basque strikes of 1962–64. At the same time, the energy crisis was proclaimed, bringing industrial expansion based on the refining of low-priced crude oil to an end; such a formula had been in decline since the end of classical colonialism. The increase in the cost of oil and raw materials provoked such economic and financial chaos that every State was forced to fall back upon economic protectionism in order to avoid modern economic anarchy. Francoist society, paralysed by the attempt to balance the proliferation of bourgeois private-interest groups, and by an overblown State bureaucracy (the result of Francoist management of power), was on the road to bankruptcy. Francoism was falling with the peseta. Having installed itself by virtue of arms, it was going to explode by virtue of money. Merely a few months of decline was enough to annul 35 years of victory.

The energy crisis, nevertheless, was only a partial manifestation of a crisis with far greater consequences: the economic crisis. Visible through the advance of individual and collective proletarian sabotage of the commodity and labour, the economic crisis acted as a gigantic anonymous force in the decolonisation of everyday life. Whether by absenteeism, stealing from supermarkets, defying management, consciously vandalising its own products, negativity towards consumerism, etc., and above all with wildcat strikes, the proletariat criminally appeared as the historical class, affirming its desire to bury this world while continuing to work within it.

Ever since the 1969 building strike in Granada, Francoism had to contend with serious, violent and extensive strikes that destroyed its system of union representation. On the other hand, illegality impeded the opposition unions. No organized mass union movement existed before 1976. There were big strikes, but the unions only existed as embryonic forms within the official Francoist union structure (CNS). For the workers the only choice was between State unions or wildcat strikes. The longer this situation lasted, the more difficult moderate union activity became. This situation favoured forms of autonomous and radical struggle such as assemblies, revocable delegates, strike committees and independent committees, even if these failed to overcome the ambiguous frontier between direct democracy and party recuperation.

If Francoism, weak and irresolute, uncertain as to whether it would live or die, reminds us of Maura's[2] maxim — "either we have to change from above or they shall give us a revolution from below" — it is because it was condemned by its decline and not inspired by its vitality. If Francoism had always presented itself as the reaction that had won, now it had to present itself as the cheapest and surest remedy for all the ills it had produced and as the only force capable of liberating society from itself. Democracy appeared in this way, as a reason of state and a political reconstitution of the bourgeois order directed by the Francoist state which, through some area of agreement between Francoism and the opposition, managed to prop up bourgeois society and make the proletariat an obedient, amorphous mass, chained by its new unions to the economic imperatives of the bourgeoisie.

After Franco, the false confrontation between fascism and anti-fascism disappeared from the scene like the lie it always was, and the social question blossomed like an old truth. The opposition, even before reconciling itself with its old enemy, had to confront a new one. The working class, in the streets and the factories, was occupying the terrain that the retreat of the dominant power had left open: the terrain of politics and unionism, which was to a large extent was void of parties and unions. Throughout 1976, the spectacle of unions offering their services at the gates of factories on strike was frequent. From the beginning of the strike movement in January 1976, the workers through the practice of direct democracy managed to formulate particularly subversive demands, such as management recognition of assembly delegates and general assemblies as the sole negotiating organ. Or, as in the general strike in Madrid, they demanded the joint negotiation of all the sectors on strike, through the election of a general strike committee. When the unions were finally able to organise, they found themselves facing workers already educated in the self-organisation of their struggles, convening assemblies, electing delegates and forming pickets.

The politico-union bureaucracy faced a particular difficulty: it had to cease to oppose Francoism in order to substantiate its power by developing its organisations. This occurred at the same moment at which in other capitalist countries this self-same bureaucracy was already engaged in decisive struggle against the revolutionary proletariat. In these countries, the political illusions of the politico-union bureaucracy had been superceded by the consciousness of the workers. In Spain, where the political poverty of Francoism, with its decomposing but refurbished institutions, coincided with the new political poverty of an opposition offering nothing essentially different (a consequence of Spain's economic integration into world capitalism), the modern opposition between the workers' bureaucracy and the proletariat existed. The Spanish workers' bureaucracy, like the bourgeoisie, thus found itself in opposition to the proletariat even before it constituted or organized itself as such. It has drawn up barricades without smashing what was in front of them, appearing puny without even the pretence of being heroic, and has continued its fight to be recognized as such by capital although it is not recognized by labour.

The historic weakness of the political opposition to Francoism is due to its double rejection by the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, to its role as mediator in the class struggle. So it had to wait for the revolt of the social layers that capitalism spawns one by one from below, frustrated by illusory ambitions: the intellectuals, students, priests, professionals of all classes and all the remnants of the middle classes. The anti-Francoist opposition has been the political sediment of all these layers and the general representation of their mediocrity. Even in the middle of 1976, the opposition only counted on one real party (the Stalinists), along with the rotten remains of another, the Social Democrats, plus the Maoist offerings scraped from the bottom of the barrel — all the others were small circles gathered around right wing individuals, mainly ex-Francoists.[3] They were unable to represent any general interest, only a reserve of old backstair whores whose hunger to occupy official positions was proportional to the duration of their covetousness.

The opposition parties — with perhaps the exception of the Stalinists — were launched onto the scene, not through their own efforts, but through a peaceful transaction with the Suarez government. As no one other than the government had opened the way to them, they had nothing to defend other than their own interests. In their eyes, the negotiated institutions were nothing more than a facade to hide their own interests and their corresponding political forms. Translated into constitutional language, this meant the preservation of bourgeois forms of government with fascist vertebrae intact. The opposition had scarcely been called to the palace when it stopped talking about an agreed rupture, and began speaking clearly about negotiation, dissolving all its united forms (regional committees, democratic coordination, the assembly of Catalunya), which were now seen as impediments to it. For the Stalinists, their entry into the Cortes[4] was dependent on the inability of the Social Democrats to destroy the organized autonomy of the proletariat. They were the plebeian detachment of the bourgeoisie. The greater their service to the bourgeoisie, the more valuable was their party and union in the latter's eyes. They gave as much service as they could and for much of the time they were absolutely essential, since it was impossible to break a strike without them.

But when the workers' struggle is primarily repressed by the unions and parties, this is the preliminary sign of a second and more profound proletarian assault against class society. Considering how in Spain the unions are organized to obstruct the strike movement, the union question can only be considered by the workers as a false question and as a new edition of the old vertical unions. In one fell swoop, the Spanish workers' movement will recover the past, which the last 35 years of Francoist unionism had kept from it. Finishing with Hispanic particularism in this way, it will prove to us that history does not create laws of exception.

CHAPTER TWO: The Workers' Assemblies as Negation and Prelude

Frondosa: Who killed the commander?

Mengo:Fuenteovejuna did.

Frondosa: It is just that you receive honours. But tell me, my loved one, who killed the commander?

Laurencia: It was Fuenteovejuna, my kind sir.

Frondosa: Who killed him?

Laurencia: My, but you astonish me: Fuenteovejuna did.

Lope de Vega: Fuenteovejuna.[5]

The actions that sparked off a movement involving hundreds of thousands of workers transformed everyday life to such an extent that things could no longer remain stationary. Once the battle has been joined, either the movement advances by extending the struggle throughout the working class, formulating the movement's precise objectives, or it has to retreat. The strike movement of January–March 1976 was confronted with the alternative of either making a new leap forward or beginning to withdraw. Divided because of the action of the Stalinist cadres that impeded the formation of radical organs of struggle as much as possible and that, when they were unable to do so, isolated or sabotaged them, the strike movement was forced into a disorderly retreat. When the unions called on the strikers to resume work, they did so without effective guarantees against sanctions and dismissals. There were beautiful exceptions, however, giving rise to exemplary actions like the attack by the workers of Terpel in Madrid on the tribunal, which was busy annulling their case. The bourgeoisie, courted continually by the parties, was able to determine every move of the unions, getting them to break the movement, factory by factory, the whole thing terminating with the promise of some apparent concessions or a promise not to take reprisals. The PCE [Spanish Communist Party] had tried to give the movement a bourgeois, democratic character by asking the bourgeoisie for support in order to press for joint negotiations with the moribund government of Arias and Fraga. Casting petitioning aside, the PCE decided to put an end to the strike movement and thanks, to an intelligent use of the forces at their disposal, were able to reduce it to a series of juxtaposed strikes, smashing them one by one. When faced with the totality of these strikes, the correlation of forces did not favour the PCE, as its manoeuvring ability initially affected less than 10% of the masses in struggle. All these methodical violations of the assembly agreements, with which the Stalinists in particular distinguished themselves, constituted their strongest weapon against the workers dispersed in their own assemblies, unable to conceive in days what only took minutes to carry out.

The Stalinists and the rest of the opposition in general sought to give to the State all kinds of guarantees of their good intentions. Whilst the workers wanted to settle accounts, the opposition only wanted to find a niche for itself. All confrontations with the bourgeoisie, all class struggle, had put the parties and unions in conflict with the radicalized workers. To the extent that they went beyond the parties and unions, the workers had to confront the riot police. These two truths were amply confirmed throughout the year. We can count the deaths from the latter. From the former, we can see how the opposition wagered the years of no daily bread on the small relief offered by the government. By not preoccupying themselves with organising the defence of the assemblies and separating their movement completely from the parties and the unions, the workers did not grant the assemblies the importance that they in fact possessed. The consequences of this were decisive in the defeat of all subsequent struggles.

One immediate result of the first strike movement was the loss of Stalinist supremacy, tired out from trying to represent the invisibility of the proletariat and to consolidate the central Social Democratic unions, which had been insignificant until then. The Comisiones Obreras had to abandon their project of one single union through their take-over of the CNS and coordinated themselves with the UGT and the USO in the COS in order "to achieve a unity of action amongst the organisations which compose it," i.e. by attempting to unite the workers behind the unions. Faced with the perspective that the workers might take the movement that was about to be unleashed in autumn into their own hands, the unions made unity of action their battle cry. Trade-union unity is inversely proportional to the isolation of the workers. The assemblies, breaking this isolation, pushed the unions into uniting against them, knowing full well the watchwords of Vitoria, all power to the assemblies, signified "no power at all to the unions."

Without a doubt, the highest point of class struggle in modern Spain of international importance has been the workers' assembly movement composed of authentic, modern workers' councils. If the parties, through the aid of the unions, managed to get greater control over the workers, the workers, by means of the assemblies, found it easier to express their autonomy.

Instead of waiting for favours conferred on them by the government, the working masses availed themselves of the only means that really leads to their emancipation: the struggle against capital. And the only means encounters its only form in strikers' assemblies that concentrate all the functions of decision and their execution, federate by means of delegates responsible to the base and revocable at all times. The strike assemblies, which have continued non-stop since the beginning of 1976, were not merely banal controversial unions concerned with the ins-and-outs of wage negotiations. Nor did they give support to the diplomatic contrivances of unions at those moments of high social tension. Rather they were the natural response of workers to the state of violence that has characterized their relations with capital, the root of the crisis that the Spanish bourgeoisie suffers from. They were the first response in a generalized struggle between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. The strikers' assemblies were not isolated acts but a moment of the class struggle, which is still far from finished. They liberated the living social forces of the modern revolution and inaugurated a period of the direct activity of workers, in which the confrontations with the unions and the police were only the accompanying music. The strikers' assemblies exhibited typical revolutionary characteristics, which for the time being cannot crystallise into a revolution; rather they are a prior phase before the real insurrectional strikes. They were not an artificial product of a deliberate tactic but a historic phenomenon of class struggle. The law of the assembly movement does not reside in the strikes themselves, nor in their technical peculiarities, but in their relation to the social forces of revolution. Strike assemblies were the form that the revolutionary struggle adopted in the actual historic moment. Any disequilibrium of class divisions or the situation of the counter-revolution immediately influenced the actions taken by the assemblies in various ways. Nevertheless, action is never contained; it merely takes other forms, changing its direction, aims and effects. It is the living pulse of the revolution and its most powerful motor.

The workers' assemblies, as they appear today, are not an ingenious method invented to reinforce proletarian struggle, rather, they represent the very movement of the class and the form in which the Spanish proletarian struggle manifests itself in the course of its second revolution. The consciousness of the workers is equal to the practical organisation of the assemblies, which is inseparable from the coherent intervention of the working class in history. In the assemblies, the proletariat destroys the notion of vanguard leaders external to the class, realising that any part of their own power left in the hands of party and union representatives only helps to reinforce capitalism. The secret, then, of this century's revolution is revealed. All external representation and specialisation of power is exposed as the class enemy. It is now clear that the revolution must leave nothing exterior to itself and that its emancipation proceeds through the destruction of parties and unions.

CHAPTER THREE: The Widespread Use of the Forces of Law and Order and the Disclosure of the Real Value during the First Autumn

"In this country, the people are always with the party most ready for action." — Letter from J. Mesa to Engels, 10 March 1873.

When Suarez came to power on 15 June 1977, the State trembled as much from the overtures of the proletariat as from the intrigues of the discontented Francoist factions. To be saved, Suarez had to be a saviour. If we examine the conditions of class struggle, we see that victory frequently goes to the class which, when conditions are against it, knows how to protect itself and then, when conditions are more favourable, knows how to take full advantage of the enemy. The bourgeoisie achieved the former in the autumn of 1976 and the latter in the autumn of 1977. It authorized Suarez to protect it from the blows that the workers rained down on it. Really, however, he was unable to protect it; this task was to be carried out by the parties and unions, which had set up the COS exactly for this purpose. The opposition, wanting to behave as though it was one, was willing to serve to the full. Suarez, picking up the threads from all sides, could choose the most useful combination of police and union action to conjure up a victory over the workers and so acquire that little extra fame needed for the magic of his future role.

The success of the unions in recuperating the negotiating committees elected in the previous strike movement and then removing them from the assemblies had led the unions to believe that they were capable of isolating all the workers in their respective factories and formulating in the name of the workers the unions' own demands and getting the workers to accept their agreements with the government. But it's not so easy to get away with the same game twice and in such a brief space of time. When an official of the CC.OO arrived at Leon intending to strengthen the local Stalinists by sabotaging the building workers' strike, the strikers expelled him from the assembly without giving it a further thought. Then it was the turn of the police and the politics of repression, which sometimes had put a brake on the movement, but managed to precipitate it here. In September, a number of long and hard assembly-led strikes broke out in which workers battled persistently with the police. These included the general strike in Tenerife and Euzkadi, the national strike in the post office, the metal workers' strike in Sabadell, the building workers' strikes in Leon, Coruna, Burgos, Palencia and Valladolid, etc. In Euzkadi, the killing of a worker provoked a strike of 60,000 workers who ignored the call of the unions to return to work. In Vizcaya, after a series of huge assemblies, an extremely significant form of organized anti-unionism came into existence: the unified co-ordination of factory assemblies, formed with revocable delegates and representing 120,000 workers. The massive participation in strikes and demonstrations, all of which the unions and parties condemned, shows the extent to which they had no control over the unfolding power of the workers. In Madrid, a new killing raised the tension to such a level that the parties and unions found themselves obliged to call a day of strike action, adhered to by 300,000 workers. It was called as an attempt to reduce the impact and so minimise the general upheaval that the Basque country was undergoing. The fear of the bureaucrats was turning into panic.

Wanting only the capitulation of the workers, the bureaucrats met instead with their rebellion. They had wanted a proletariat that would merely discuss ways to be obedient and not ways to go on the offensive. Not realising that they were swimming against the stream, their explanation employed the same dead language that washed-up fashionable authors use. "The workers' movement and the democratic forces will have to gauge exactly the forms and the timing of a response. Its success will largely depend on whether we move on to a resolutely pacific phase of the crisis that we've been experiencing for some years or whether we slide into incontrollable situations which will be tragic for everyone" (Triunfo, 16 October 1976).

But the bureaucrats were unable to remedy this tragedy by using the farce of a military coup. The workers could not be forced into supporting the democratic farce by reducing their struggles to symbolic actions. Reacting to this situation, returning blow for blow, ready for everything, the workers threw all their weight against the bourgeoisie and the State. In Viscaya, on 11th October 1976, the first big strike, the construction workers' strike, run completely by assemblies, began. The workers set up a solid network of daily assemblies: excavation assemblies, site assemblies (with 15,000 to 20,000 present) in which agreements were debated and then put to the general assembly, the motor of the strike. The co-ordinating committee of delegates received their authority only from these general assemblies, as did the alternative committee, the management committee, the pickets, the resistance fund and the editing of a strike bulletin. It was the first time that the unions were clearly acknowledged as the enemies of the workers and, accordingly, were stopped from speaking, prohibited from distributing propaganda in the assemblies, from displaying their symbols, and were even stopped from collecting money for the strike fund. "Everything is dealt with by the building workers and signed by them" the workers had decided in their first assembly. The bosses were ready to give in, provided that the COS or the STV were accepted as mediators; in the end they had to surrender unconditionally just so that the strike would end. The press amply took up the expressed hatred of the union bureaucrats for the strikers. As a prelude to their attitude towards other assembly-led strikes, the bureaucrats accused the assemblies of being manipulated, whilst the police carried out their job. This brand of ideological authoritarianism, which screams manipulation at any free discussion or politicisation not controlled by the unions, brings to mind the old days of Stalinist provocation. This type of interpretation — as had happened before at Kronstadt or in May 1937 — would shortly be followed up by repression: the police finishing in the streets what the unions had started in the factories.

The unions noted the profound impression that the struggle had created amongst the workers. As a result, humiliated in various strikes, their authority starting to flounder in districts formerly under union control, the prestige of the unions' Buddhas — liberally cultivated with all the demagogery of martyrs — finally collapsed. The effects of the long epoch of Francoist reaction, then marvellously suited to re-establishing these discredited charlatans as incarnations of the popular will, had now been used to the point of exhaustion. The atmosphere in the big cities became increasingly charged. Then the COS called for a day of strike action on 12 November 1976. Government and union bureaucrats, wanting to terminate the October strike movement and the continuing tension, organized a massive "therapy day." "Peacefully and responsibly we are going to legally ask for permission to hold demonstrations, we are going to speak with the military and ecclesiastical authorities so that they understand our plan and so that they do not see it as a subversive manoeuvre" (B. Vacas, head of the CC.OO in Valencia). "We are ready for a strike provided that it does not last longer than 24 hours and we are willing to explain to the employers the political labour motivation of the strike action" (E. Barban, Asturian leader of the UGT speaking to Cambio 16 number 257, 8 November 1976.) By not frightening anyone other than themselves, the bureaucrats were endeavouring to find their main reason for existing, by organising the defeat of the workers everywhere so as to save their own skins.

The Stalinists, particularly, distinguished themselves in action: "At the same time the atmosphere amongst the Madrid workers was becoming steadily more charged — the authorities should not forget that. The EMT strike was brought forward 12 days after the general 24 hour convocation launched by the COS. . . Important sectors of the metal industry and others could have come out in solidarity with EMT, unleashing a strike wave of massive proportions" (Triunfo, 16 October 1976). Instead of forcing concessions out of the government with the spectre of a revolutionary crisis, the crisis was a sword of Damocles with which the government obliged the Stalinists to make concessions. By such an inopportune strike, the Stalinists impeded solidarity; the urban transport system was militarized and the workers of EMT beaten and demoralized, and returned to work without any guarantees, leaving a total of 40 dismissed and eight on trial for treason.

The resolutely anti-proetarian attitudes of the unions and parties is easy to understand if we consider their relations with the bourgeoisie and the state. It is bourgeois politics which, in the last analysis, determine the programmes of the parties and their methods of struggle. The task of the parties in Spain was solely to instruct the working class in the guiding principles of bourgeois politics in this phase of the self-transformation of Francoism, and to play plebian music at the behest of the bourgeoisie. Throughout this stage, the bourgeois politicians in the government were the real masters of the opposition and their parties merely their humble executors, jointly protecting bourgeois society from social revolution. The one day strike of 12 November 1976 was, by then, a forced compromise between the unions' hostility to the strikes and the combative energy and impetuosity of the proletariat.

As it was impossible to dampen proletarian determination by other means, this one day strike was suggested as the only means of calming the masses, of extinguishing their combative enthusiasm and dislocating the strike movement. For the bureaucrats, it was a demonstration of the power of union control. The revolutionary proletariat made a mistake in following those who did not hold the initiative. The unions and parties, all of them without exception, are the enemies of workers' autonomy. After the day of strike action, the point of equilibrium between proletarians and bureaucrats was displaced little by little towards the latter; the strike movement was unable to generalise itself and lost any co-ordination. Everything had come to depend on the correlation of forces in the factories between the workers, separated and isolated, and the joint power of the employers, the unions and the state. All the subsequent strikes, those in the building industry in Zaragossa, Navarra, Tenerife and Valencia, those at Osram in Madrid, Roca in Gava, Tarabusi in Bilbao etc., occurred under these conditions.

The bourgeoisie had little to fear from a one day strike proclaimed as though it were a Holy Week procession, or from a strike that declared that it wanted nothing more than peace. The employers found themselves in a most favourable situation and used it to get rid of the most radical elements from those factories where they had been unable to do so. Thus strikes were threatened with just this objective in mind like, for instance, those in the Tarabusi and Roca factories. Management used everything against the strikers, given that the unions had condemned them: slander, prison, the police, the guardia civil, and the extreme right. The repressive forces besieged Roca militarily whilst the unions of the COS besieged it financially. The company wanted to negotiate with the unions and not with the workers' assembly delegates and risked everything for this. The Roca workers tried to link up with other struggles occurring at the same time, but the employers ceded and rapidly resolved strikes in order to keep Roca isolated (the most important one being on the docks of Barcelona). They broke the information blockage by publicising their strike throughout Spain and abroad, something which gave rise to a great display of financial solidarity on behalf of the proletariat, thus preventing the strike from collapsing through lack of funds. When the judgment of the labour Magistrate was favourable to the workers, the strike threatened to unleash a tremendous wave of solidarity strikes. Just then, a flagging strike became a strike against all Catalunian employers and the unions. Changing tactics, the latter organized a campaign of demobilisation by proclaiming a day of superficial solidarity strikes in Barcelona, thus allowing the unions to pacify the workers and calm the employers. As a result, the strike did not spread to the entire Catalunian working class. One of the first victories of the Roca workers was in provoking the parties and the unions into making pathetic declarations against the strikers. If we only knew beforehand where to dump this rubbish, there would be no problems about the publication of such ignominy. But accepting their aid at the last moment undid in a single day everything built up over weeks. If the unions organized demonstrations and stoppages in 'support,' it was to impede all real solidarity. Not to have thrown it back in their faces was to excuse all the preceding treachery. The Roca workers, solely by their radicalism, were able to scandalously declare to everyone what it was they wanted. To communicate this, they could only count on their own radicalism. The strike in Roca ended having exhausted every possible recourse, and cost 46 dismissals. It can be considered as a working class defeat because, unlike Vitoria, it had no effect on later events.

The conclusions of this whole period of struggle were admirably expressed in a manifesto written by the workers of the Representative Committee of the Assembly of Tarabusi. "All responsibility rests with the bureaucratic apparatus in our ranks, with the central unions, which are only concerned with procuring a privileged position in this bourgeois democracy and which negotiates with the employers and the government. We affirm from our own experience that these union alternatives favour the bosses and not the workers, and that the only organisations of the workers are those that we build in factory assemblies and that struggle with determination, uniting all the workers against the capitalists. We want here to put all the workers of Euzkadi and Spain on guard, because the dismissals at Tarabusi and Roca are only the beginning of a situation that is already becoming general. We do not avoid these problems by becoming affiliated with 'centrales' like Comisiones Obreras, UGTl, USO, ELA, STV. We can only solve them by struggle, organized and united by our interests, which are in no way served by agreements with capital or with the government." (Vizkaia, Euzkadi. February 1977.)

CHAPTER FOUR: Democracy as Index of Salvation and the Consolation of Everything Reactionary

"It is impossible to leave here without fighting; if we do not march, then the enemy will march and follow us as we are marching and continue on our trail. . . While I am convinced, as you should also be, that if we attack them they will not be expecting it, but that if we retreat we shall know the daring of those who follow us." Xenophon, Anabasis

In Spain, as elsewhere, we do not find ourselves in a conflict between two sides within a single society, between two political options — democracy or dictatorship — within the same society. Rather, it is a conflict between two societies, a social conflict that has thrown overboard all political forms; it is at once a struggle between the old bourgeois society and the new classless society struggling to be born, a struggle between the classes that both societies represent: the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. Between two powers only force can decide. No apparent solution of this conflict can be a real solution. It is a question of a social revolution whose scope is not extinguished with a defeat.

The proletariat responded to the political transformation of the bourgeoisie, situating itself on the terrain of revolution, by obliging the State to turn its democratic phrases into actions. The relative and uncertain successes of the employers and the State, helped decisively by the parties and the unions, were paid for with the destruction of all the chimeras of a happy democracy. The final illusion had to vanish when it became clear that the parties and unions had gone over to the side of the cops and had transformed themselves totally into the party of law and order. Profiting from the sensation caused by a combination of police excesses that resulted from the hesitancy of the State to reform the institutions of the Francoist state of siege (TOP, political police etc.) and the desperate actions of the extreme right expelled from power, the party of law and order declared its unconditional support for the government and signed a joint declaration. That day was a field day for bureaucrats. The killings in February meant the opposition could fabricate the rumour of a military coup, designed to frighten the middle classes and the less radicalized sectors of the proletariat, and to paralyse the advance of the workers towards autonomy. "The big central unions demonstrated their responsibility by trying to halt the extension of the strikes during these months that were so crucial for the country" (Cambio 16, 26 June 1977). What was happening was that Europe's most rapacious bourgeoisie and most miserable opposition were in constant fear of the rise of a new revolutionary period, but were incapable of actively terrorising the proletariat and were trying to invoke its own passive terror, its fear of the revolution. The proletariat had to be made to fear itself. The entire press collaborated in this operation, one of whose consequences was that the violence of the police remained well covered up and a law against pickets was promulgated.

Coups d'etat, like those in Chile and Argentina, have been immediate products of revolutionary situations that threatened to alter the strategic, defensive and economic interests of the American block, backed by the dominant classes of Chile and Argentina, for whom the only avenue for the recovery of their social predominance was a military coup. Those who see in the verbal excesses of some Francoist generals the prelude to a Spanish or Chilean style coup d'etat are unable to draw the right conclusions from 40 years of Spanish history. Francoism, after having rescued Spanish society from the reefs of proletarian revolution by establishing bourgeois predominance in all aspects of social life, could no longer maintain itself as the political expression of bourgeois domination. Through its democratic transformation, bourgeois society, knowing how to adapt itself according to its own interests, arrived at a normal existence. Francoism could not then prepare a coup against itself. The military was assured of its privileges and its role in post-Francoist democracy as in the preceding dictatorship. The provocations of the extreme right could not even prepare the terrain for a pre-coup agitation, still less create the driving force for a coup. A coup d'etat is possible only if the military solution is the only possible solution to the class struggle or if the proletariat seriously threatens the foundations of the Spanish bourgeois State, entailing a consequent alteration of the military status quo in Europe. When Santiago Carrillo, after being insulted by American strikers during his stay in the USA, complained that the unions in the US were manipulated by the CIA, he forgot that the object of his journey was precisely to guarantee to the American Government — and therefore to the CIA — that his party would respect the military agreements between the USA and Spain, which meant respecting the strategic position of the American military machine in Spain.

The distance that separated the strike movement from a revolution was the same as that which separated the assemblies from the militias. The roots of the crises lay elsewhere. The introduction of democracy as the most adequate form for the domination of the bourgeoisie was accompanied by a sharpening of the social question. The situation was painted black to hide the sad role of the opposition throughout this period. While the government promised it legality and elections, the opposition made the maintenance of the government the main aim of its behaviour. From a position of negotiation it passed to a position of support. But in order to justify its approval of the government fiasco, it had to deny that such a fiasco ever existed. The next step was to justify itself to the government, seeking not so much what separated it from the government as what it had in common. In this way, its politics became purely bourgeois, from which all oppositional half-heartedness had disappeared. With the opposition as its sure ally, the government was able to conclude its fight with proletarian autonomy and felt sure enough about its future to prepare anti-working class laws and create a union and party structure set up to consolidate class collaboration. In March, the COS was dissolved on the initiative of the UGT, which now felt itself capable of conducting its own anti-assembly political drive. The relaxation of the pressure of the workers was visible in the shake-up of the bureaucratic apparatuses. The unions and the Stalinists were fully legalized, although the ample tolerance that they already enjoyed was itself a form of legality. The bourgeoisie was unable to permit itself the luxury of maintaining them in opposition.

From the beginning of the year, the strikes had fallen in number but grown in duration and assembly consciousness. Resolute strikes, such as those at Induyco in Madrid and Acerinox in Cadiz are the best examples of how the workers resisted the disappearance of class action. But the majority of strikes were defeated. As one always seeks to avoid sure difficulties rather than probable ones, the unions easily deceived many of the independent assembly delegates. The latter were inclined towards peace, seeing how troublesome a struggle against the unions would be, forgetting that the unions themselves were provoking trouble. In this way they put themselves into the arms of the unions, leaving them to handle the strikes, which they quickly liquidated under one pretext or another.

In the building industry strikes in Barcelona, Valencia and Asturias, the workers were fooled by manipulative practices, which would have been inconceivable some months before, and which were carried out by the same people that had already tried them out in the building strikes of the previous year. The lack of co-ordination evident in these strikes was due to the influence and manipulative power of the unions at key points and in key factories (see the results of the disastrous Ford strike on the assembly movement in Valencia), that is after the assemblies had shown themselves unable to resist the corrosive action of the unions or overcome isolation and so imprint their stamp on the march of events. Even so, it was not easy to reap the fruits of the victory over the proletariat. The unions, not having any margin for social reform, could not use wage increases to steal the victory already gained. The strike assemblies had produced an [6] strikes were hardly under way when workers dared to do once again all they had dared to do previously. The revolutionary intensity of the period favoured the rise of assemblies in every conflict, which appeared more profusely than ever. The control of the government over the working class came from its existence as a solitary, uniform mass preserved in its personal misery. It was sufficient for the proletariat to unite, to break the barriers that everyday survival had erected around everyone, to allow them to verify that they did not depend on the system, rather that it depended on them. The assemblies were the material and evident sign of a process of unification within the working class. Arising everywhere they became a major fact of existence. They showed to everyone what used to be evident to only a few. Demonstrating on whose side real power lay, they determined from what direction victory would finally come.

The prohibition of the 'peaceful' May Day demonstration by the government was due to the government's fear of seeing more people assembled than the union bureaucrats could hope to control. In the eyes of the government, it was like gathering up smouldering tinder. The cowardly opposition, incapable of risking its neck while the workers could easily provoke a riot, in reality it only wanted an argument. Nevertheless, nothing could stop the demonstration in Euzkadi, the most solid revolutionary bastion, because no one risked trying to do so. The workers, having acquired the habit of imposing conditions rather than receiving them, ejected the unions. A periodical like Cambio 16, the conscience and bad conscience of the enterprising bourgeoisie, had to drop its eulogising and platitudinous tone, and became tragic and patriotic: "All the elements of a potential crisis of national unity are to be found there [in the Basque country]. And the worst of it is that such a crisis could drag down with it the rest of the country, diminishing our progress towards democracy" (23 May 1977). When there is a "crisis of national unity," which means when the power of the bourgeoisie is in question, a unique and inviolable law subsists: the survival of bourgeois power. "Our progress towards democracy" could not at the time signify anything more than bullets for the proletariat. The pro-amnesty demonstrations in the Basque country and Navarra were settled with six dead and many wounded. The reply of the workers was to call a general strike that hardly spread outside of Euzkadi because the unions — especially the Comisiones Obreras — called it off everywhere, thus saving the government. Order was solidly established in alliance with the opposition. Only a month previously, the Stalinists had celebrated the first anniversary of the Vitoria workers' battle in which workers had been massacred by the police (20 wounded) without defending themselves. Triunfo concluded, "and so for now the working class of Vitoria has managed to save itself, acquiring a consciousness of having done so, of its specificity and a consciousness of its limitations when faced with other forces round about it that attempt to suffocate it. It is conscious now that through unity and self-discipline it can peacefully confront these forces that it has to get along with." (12 May 1977).

For the Stalinists, as for the bourgeoisie and the parties, it was a matter of eliminating all strikes or demonstrations so as to allow the elections to go ahead. The fate of all of them depended on the incapacity of the proletariat to take up the offensive on a national scale. After the second week of May, the forces of law and order were in control of the situation. The bourgeoisie organized its ad hoc parties to prepare for its electoral victory. The political party composition of the Cortes reflected the division of the spoils of victory over the workers' movement. With the holding of elections and the considerable reinforcement of the government, the bourgeoisie had achieved its political objectives and prepared to resolve its economic ones.

[This essay continues here.]