Socialist Party
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20 March 2004

What We Think

Madrid Bombings Unleash Anti-War Anger

"THE REPLY of Iraq and Afghanistan is here" said one note left at Atocha station in Madrid. This summed up the mood of many throughout Spain just hours after the bombings which left 200 dead and 1,400 injured.

Over 12 million turned out to participate in memorial marches the day after the bombings. Within a few short hours, tens of thousands again took to the streets in spontaneous demonstrations in Madrid and other cities. This time the sombre mood had changed to anger and bitterness directed at Jose Maria Aznar's government and his right-wing conservative party, Partido Popular (PP).

The PP attempted to manipulate the bombings for its own electoral advantage by putting the blame for this brutal attack on the Basque nationalist terrorist organisation ETA and withholding information.

Following the bombings people searched in vain for rolling news programmes only to find Lion King cartoons and alien space invaders. Information services were blanked out, reawakening memories of the Franco dictatorship.

However, working people and youth in Spain were not prepared to be duped by the government.

The brutal bombings particularly hit ordinary working class Spaniards and youth. The largest numbers of dead took place on a double-decker train in the working class suburb of El Pozo. Large numbers of economic migrant workers from Latin America and Eastern Europe also live there. Amongst the dead were many trade union activists, students and workers.

Like millions of others in Spain, many of the victims had marched against the war with Iraq. 92% had opposed the war which was enthusiastically backed by Aznar's government.

The PP's attempts at a cover-up unleashed all of the resentment felt towards the government because of the war. This resulted in the first overthrow of a government which enthusiastically supported the war against Iraq. The defeat of the PP now haunts Blair and Bush. Both now ponder if they will face the same fate as Aznar, a personal friend of Blair.

Anger and rage

BEFORE THE Madrid bombings the PP and most commentators had taken for granted that it would be returned to power, albeit with a reduced majority.

This was despite a massive general strike in June 2002, mass protests against the ineptitude of the government's handling of the 'Prestige' oil spill, increasing bitterness by the Basque and Catalan people's towards the opposition by the government to their demands for greater autonomy and democratic national rights, and bitter strikes by some workers including the dock workers from Cadiz.

The PP seemed to be maintaining its support because of the economic growth which has taken place in Spain. Moreover, the main opposition party PSOE, which was 'New Labourised' before 'New Labour' was not seen as an alternative by the new generation of younger workers. It remained scarred by the corruption scandals, attacks against workers and the setting up of GAL, a legal 'hit squad' to assassinate known ETA activists. It is seen as a pro-capitalist party and part of the establishment.

The Communist Party dominated coalition, Izquierda Unida, also failed to offer an alternative and has sat in coalition with PSOE at a local level, implementing cuts.

However, all these questions were overidden by the anger and rage which swelled up amongst the masses against the government following the bombings. The PP's share of the vote fell from 44.52% in 2000 to 37.08%, losing over 690,000 votes.

PSOE increased its share of the vote from 34.16% to 42.64% winning 10,909,687 votes - the largest number of votes ever.

Most of the increase in PSOE's vote came from young first time voters - two million of whom voted for the first time. The vast majority of these had opposed the war. The much higher turnout of over 77% was largely because of the anti-war youth turning out to drive the PP from office.

Izquierda Unida saw its vote fall from 5.96% to 4.96% and its number of MPs reduced from nine to five. It has suffered a decline in each election since 1996.

Those areas recording the largest swing against the PP were the Basque country and Catalonia. The government has reacted to the demands of the Basque and Catalan peoples for greater autonomy and independence by refusing to even negotiate with the nationalist parties.

The Left Republican Party of Catalunya (ERC) has been the target of a campaign by the PP because it had been involved in talks with ETA. It was later revealed that the PP had known in advance about these talks and only denounced them afterwards. The ERC made important gains in the elections.

Opposing occupation

THE NEW government, led by Zapatero, has been compelled to reflect the mood which swept Spain, denouncing the war on Iraq and the occupation as "disastrous".

He has also threatened to withdraw Spanish forces from Iraq if power is not transferred to the UN and the 'Iraqi people' by the end of June. Spain's military presence in Iraq is minimal but this will help to further fuel the opposition to the continued occupation.

These events have already had international repercussions. The election of Zapatero has complicated the situation facing Bush and Blair and will help strengthen opposition to them in the USA and Britain.

The defeat of Aznar will also be felt within the inter-state relations of the European Union with Spain now more likely to ally itself more with France and Germany.

Within Spain itself it is also possible that Zapatero will begin negotiations with the nationalist parties in the Basque country and Catalonia.

However, these changes in policies do not represent an attempt to challenge capitalism by PSOE. Neither are they an attempt to introduce reforms in favour of the working class and the poor.

Although socialist in name, PSOE and its leaders wholly embrace capitalism. These changes in policy are put forward to try and manage the interests of capitalism better than the ultra-conservative policies of Aznar who, like Blair, adopted a subservient attitude towards US imperialism.

This was reflected the day after the election. Miguel Sebastian, the new finance Minister, the former head of the research department at BBVA, Spain's second largest bank, assured international investors that the new government would be "rigorous and orthodox" in its new economic policies. He promised a budget based on "... an orthodox economic programme based on budgetary stability, further liberalisation and a big overhaul of the tax system...We will be a market friendly government."

Izquierda Unida has announced that it will be 'loyal' to the new government and has clearly signalled that it will not offer any alternative to the 'market friendly government'.

Spanish workers and youth undoubtedly see the defeat of the PP government as a big victory. It has had significant repercussions internationally and is a warning to Bush, Blair, Howard and others who backed the war against Iraq.

However, the statement of the new government on the economy is a warning to Spanish workers and youth. Zapatero will move to implement policies defending the interests of capitalism. Further privatisations are being planned along with other attacks against the working class.

Following the defeat of the PP the task facing workers and socialists is to build a genuine socialist alternative to the existing pro-capitalist parties.