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Spanish Socialist Workers' Party

The Spanish Socialist Workers' Party (Partido Socialista Obrero Espanol--PSOE) is the oldest political party in Spain. Founded by Pablo Iglesias in 1879 as a Marxist proletarian party, it evolved alongside the trade union UGT, which was the basis of its support. The goal of both organizations was to obtain a voice for the working class in the political arena. As the party began to win parliamentary seats in the 1920s and the early 1930s, its membership began to broaden to include intellectuals, writers, and teachers. The PSOE's first experience as a governing party was during the turbulent Second Republic, but its time of leadership was short-lived. The party experienced severe repression under Franco, and its leaders went into exile, primarily in France.

In the early years of the Franco dictatorship, the PSOE within Spain was almost obliterated. In succeeding years, the party's leadership in exile gradually lost touch with what was evolving inside the country. In the mid-1950s, socialist groups began to organize within Spain; and, in the 1960s a small group of activists, led by two young labor lawyers from Seville (Spanish Sevilla), Alfonso Guerra and Felipe Gonzalez, revived the PSOE and began to agitate for changes within the party.

The leaders in exile had fought in the Civil War, and they had strong feelings against compromising the ideological purity of their cause by collaborating with other forces opposing Franco. Conversely, the younger activists, with no personal memories of the Civil War, were willing to work with other antiFranco groups to the left as well as to the right of the PSOE. These young socialists, who had been strongly influenced by Social Democrats in the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany), also favored a more moderate ideology than the rigid Marxism of the old guard. By 1972 the struggle for power between these two groups had been won by the younger generation, and Gonzalez was elected secretary general of the PSOE at its Twelfth Congress in 1974.

During the transition to democracy, the PSOE essentially cooperated with the reform plans set forth by Suarez, as did the other major leftist groups. When the country's first free elections since the Civil War were held in June 1977, the PSOE became Spain's leading opposition party. While growing in popularity, however, the party was beset from within by profound ideological tensions. Although the Socialists had gained support by presenting an image of moderation to the electorate, this stance was vehemently attacked by the more radical members of the party, who criticized Gonzalez and his supporters for placing more emphasis on gaining votes than they did on advancing the interests of the workers.

This rift came to a head at the party's Twenty-Eighth Congress in May 1979. When Gonzalez failed in his effort to remove the term Marxist from the party's constitution, he resigned. Gonzalez was successful in his gamble that most PSOE members considered his leadership invaluable, and at an extraordinary congress held in September 1979, he was re-elected on his own terms. The party no longer defined itself as Marxist, and policies of moderation and pragmatism prevailed, thereby enabling the PSOE to appeal to a wider spectrum of society. This broader electoral base was a key factor in the Socialists' victory in 1982, when they increased their popular vote from 5.5 million in 1979 to 10 million.

Nevertheless, Gonzalez continued to emphasize economic modernization rather than traditional socialist policies, which resulted in increasingly vociferous opposition from his historical base of support, the labor unions (see Political Developments, 1982-88 , this ch.). A poll taken at the end of 1987 revealed a steady, albeit not dramatic, decrease in popular support for the Socialists. Even so, in mid-1988 the PSOE, as governing party, had no serious rival.

Data as of December 1988