the leader who founded a PSOE already divided and in crisis


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The socialist leaders and the UGT union paid tribute to Pablo Iglesias Posse this Wednesday, on the 95th anniversary of his death. The act took place in the Madrid Civil Cemetery, where the historic founder of the PSOE was buried in December 1925, two years after the triumph of the Primo de Rivera dictatorship, which he opposed with all his might. Something, however, that not all the party leaders did, some of whom advocated supporting the dictator so that union action was not prohibited.

Al Iglesias Posse was in the last moments of his life. And this was just one of the infinite disputes that he had lived and starred within his party since he founded it on May 2, 1879 in the tavern Labra House from Madrid. The current president Pedro Sánchez and his ministers do not seem to remember that the crisis and the division that his coalition government has been displaying, for months, on issues as disparate as the Monarchy, state budgets and crisis management of the coronavirus, is within the DNA of the PSOE for more than 140 years.

In Casa Labra there were, in addition to Pablo Iglesias, Jaime Vera, Antonio García Quejido, Emilio Cortes and a small group of intellectuals and workers among whom, during the first months of life, there were more differences than agreements when defining which strategy they should follow or how their program should be. And despite the strong opposition from Vera, in the end the idea defended by Iglesias and spread from France by Jules Guesde, who rejected any type of alliance with republican organizations, prevailed. Along with the opposite of what has happened today with Sánchez and Podemos, despite the fact that for thirty years the PSOE refused to agree or form electoral alliances with the republican parties of Pi y Margall or Nicolás Salmerón.

Legality or revolution

We are facing the first gap in the history of the PSOE, which is reflected in the writings of Iglesias Posse himself, where he argues that the notions of international socialism were not applicable to the reality of Spain, because the concept of “capitalism” against which he was fighting Marxism was not yet implanted in our country. But the truth is that this ideological struggle within the formation lasted many years and faced those who wanted the party to use official institutions to grow and those who thought that the improvements of the working class could only come through the revolution.

When the latter prevailed, the Socialists remained a small formation without representation in Parliament until, in 1910, they decided to ally with the progressive Republicans to enter Congress. That is how Pablo Iglesias was elected deputy, although even that did not bring the desired stability of the socialists. He did not get the union of his colleagues or used for decades all the means of communication at his disposal to spread his ideas. In fact, the founder of the PSOE born in Ferrol in 1850 always showed a great facility to send messages to the working class. That is why he soon understood that newspapers were an indispensable tool to spread his proclamations.

He had learned the job of typographer in the Madrid hospice where he had to enter due to the precarious economic situation of his family. In 1961, after turning 11, he began to collaborate in the production of “La Iberia”, a progressive liberal newspaper, prototype of the new and influential political journalism that occurred at the time. Then he made a pilgrimage to various printing presses and participated in the production of other newspapers and official gazettes, until, in 1870, he was elected delegate to the local council of the International Association of Workers – “La Internacional” – and, a year later, published his first article in the press. One of the first to analyze the consequences of the war for the State and its workers.

Spreading Marxism in the media

At that very moment he joined the Editorial Committee of “La Emancipación”, a weekly newspaper in which some of the writings of Marx that he admired so much were disseminated. Iglesias thus began a long journalistic work that he developed until the end of his life and that he used to disseminate the “benefits” of socialism at that time of persecution and violence. His political career was beginning to consolidate. And, in 1873, after the anarchists’ break with Marx, he applied for membership in the first major socialist organization, the General Association of the Art of Printing. A year later he became its president, constituting a new platform for his political ascent.

Iglesias Posse used countless newspapers to spread his message and secretly prepare the creation of the PSOE, the second oldest workers’ party in Europe, second only to the Social Democratic Party of Germany. From the beginning, its founder aspired to group the entire Spanish industrial proletariat under the Marxist ideology. A position that, in addition, the party did not abandon until the arrival of Felipe González in the Extraordinary Congress of 1979. A new division in the history of the party that failed to remain cohesive even in periods as convulsive as the aforementioned dictatorship of Primo de Rivera, the Second Republic or the Civil War

The Russian revolution of 1917 also altered everything within the PSOE. It led many of its leaders, such as Daniel Anguiano, Antonio García Quejido, Virginia González, Manuel Núñez Arenas and even an Óscar Pérez Solís who later joined the Falange and placed himself under Franco’s orders, that they should adhere to the Third International and abandon the opportunism of Iglesias. In the end they ended up splitting up in 1921 and founding the Communist Party of Spain (PCE), another of the great bankruptcies in the party’s history, but by no means the worst nor the most aggressive.

Largo Caballero vs. Prieto

In that same decade there was another of the most traumatic divisions in the history of the Socialist Party, when the supporters of Francisco Largo Caballero and those of Indalecio Prieto began a dispute over whether or not they should collaborate with Primo de Rivera. They even came to physical confrontation, since the former was convinced that it was necessary so that union action was not prohibited. The rupture was consummated when he accepted to enter the Council of State as a member and even undertook to study the repeal of the Constitution of 1876. Prieto considered that as a betrayal and resigned from the Executive Commission.

Largo Caballero, on the other hand, always had as a priority the construction of a socialist state in the style of the USSR, although this had to be erected in non-democratic contexts such as that of Primo de Rivera. In fact, for him democracy was nothing more than the “transit station towards socialism”, in the words of the historian Santos Juliá. That is why he came to swear that he would found in Spain the Spanish version of the USSR, which he would baptize as the Union of Soviet Iberian Republics (or Union of Iberian Socialist Republics, according to the source consulted), with which he further deepened the division of the PSOE.

That was the issue that produced the deepest division within the PSOE, its founder no longer living to tell about it. Nor did he experience the socialist division in the Civil War, on the way in which they had to face the conflict, nor during the years of exile and democracy. The unity of the party founded by Iglesias Posse seems like a utopia, as was evident in 1978, when another gap developed between those who thought it was necessary to continue with self-managed and Marxist-inspired socialism and those who wanted to move to the social democratic program. Or when in 1994 what they called “a new impulse of socialism” was approached, with the aim of redefining its identity and producing “a historical change”, which confronted the renovating sector of Felipe González and the one who believed himself to be the guarantor of the essences of the party, led by Alfonso Guerra.

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