Socialist Workers' Party of Spain

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(Partido Social Obrero Español, PSOE)

Early history (up to 1960s)

Established on 2 May 1879, it experienced slow growth in a country that was still barely industrialized and urbanized. Where there was economic change, notably in Catalonia, the workers had become mostly followers of anarcho-syndicalism. In contrast to this movement, which also had substantial support among the peasants and landless labourers (most notably in Andalusia), the PSOE suffered badly because of its inability to penetrate the countryside. After 1900, the party moved from a doctrinaire insistence on revolution to the gradualist advocacy of piecemeal reforms, but this caused the separation of the Spanish Communist Party (PCE) in 1920. Its freedom of action was severely limited under the dictatorship of Primo de Rivera. However, in marked contrast to the Communists and anarchists, the PSOE tacitly cooperated with him through its affiliated Unión General de Trabajadores (UGT, General Workers' Union), which assisted in the reform of labour relations.

The PSOE was organizationally in a strong position at the end of Primo de Rivera's regime, which enabled it to move to lead the republican coalition which won the 1931 municipal elections. However, the PSOE's insistence that the republic was merely a transitional institution on the way to a socialist revolution, and its consequent half-hearted support for the new regime in which it participated, fundamentally weakened the republic throughout. This became particularly apparent under Largo Caballero's leadership. During the Spanish Civil War, it gave way increasingly to the Communist Party as the principal defender of the republic.

Contemporary history (from 1960s)

During the Franco regime the party was outlawed in Spain, though a clandestine party organization began to grow in the 1960s. Led by González, it quickly reorganized after it was legalized again in 1975, and was transformed into a moderate, pro-European integration, social democratic party. Benefiting from the popularity and credibility of its leader, it won the 1982 elections and remained in power until 1996. In opposition, the party was cast into the shadows by Aznar's success at stimulating economic growth. It was also weakened by a legacy of scandals involving former ministers, such as the involvement of government ministers in illegal acts of state terrorism against suspected Basque terrorists. Under Joaquín Almunia Amman its share of the vote declined to 34 per cent in the 2000 general elections. Almunia resigned, handing over the party leadership to the young José Rodríguez Zapatero.

Although it trailed in the polls until the Madrid Bombings, the party won a surprise victory at the 2004 elections. Zapatero introduced cultural reforms such as the legalization of same-sex unions, and negotiated more autonomy for the provinces of Catalonia (which was subsequently recognized as a nation) and Valencia. The party's pacifism was recognized by a law passed in 2005, whereby military missions abroad subsequently needed parliamentary approval, as well as the consent of NATO, the EU or the country for which military aid was determined. These initiatives left the PP in disarray, so that in Zapatero's first years of government, the PSOE rode high in the polls.


Subjects: Contemporary History (Post 1945).

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