Communist leader who aided Spain's transition to democracy
SANTIAGO CARRILLO: A KEY player in the transition to democracy in Spain, Santiago Carrillo Solares, who has died aged 97, was the longest-serving secretary general of the Partido Comunista de España (PCE).
However, the changes he was keen to promote in the country’s political system ultimately marginalised the party. He was left a commentator outside it, respected by some, hated by others, notably for his controversial involvement in the darkest episode of the republican defence of Madrid during the civil war.
While the dictatorship of Francisco Franco had governed unchallenged since the end of that conflict in 1939, its response to the social problems caused by the 1973 energy crisis proved inadequate. Carrillo, leader of the PCE since 1959, had been in exile, mostly in France, and during Franco’s illness of 1974 he attempted to ensure communist dominance of a broad opposition front.
He also published two works, Demain l’Espagne (Spain Tomorrow, interviews published in Paris in 1974, though banned in Spain until 1976) and Eurocomunismo y Estado (Eurocommunism and the State, 1977), aimed at proving his moderation. They established him as a leading theorist of Eurocommunism.
Franco died in November 1975, King Juan Carlos became head of state, and the following February a heavily disguised Carrillo returned secretly to Spain. By the time the police detained him for eight days in December 1976, he had already played a crucial role in pushing Adolfo Suárez’s interim government in the direction of reform.
The PCE was legalised in 1977, and that June Carrillo was able to lead his party into Spain’s first democratic elections since 1936. It won 9 per cent of the vote, coming third after Suárez’s Unión de Centro Democrático and the Partido Socialista Obrero Español (PSOE). Carrillo became a member of the congress of deputies.
This was a considerable achievement, but Carrillo had already passed his zenith. In October 1976 he had called a general strike in the hope of provoking what he called the “ruptura democrática” (democratic break) – a scenario resembling the one that had seen the collapse of the dictatorial regime in Portugal. The failure of the strike had opened the way to the more moderate scenario of the “ruptura pactada” (negotiated break), advocated by the socialist leader Felipe González.
In fact, the transition to democracy proceeded along the lines of negotiated consensus between the democratic opposition and the most progressive elements of the Franco regime. In response to proposals for the reincorporation of the reformists (known as “renovators”) whom he had previously expelled, Carrillo resigned as secretary general in summer 1982.
He formed a new workers-communist unity party, the Partido de los Trabajadores-Unidad Comunista, but it met with no success and in 1991 was incorporated into the PSOE. He did not go with it on the grounds that his long track record as a communist prevented him from playing an active role in the PSOE. However, his wife, Carmen Menéndez, did join.
Carrillo, who was born in Gijón, had in fact started his political life in the PSOE, in which his father, Wenceslao, was a prominent figure. The teenage Santiago was drafted into the party’s youth movement, the Federación de Juventudes Socialistas (FJS), and was a vocal advocate of ultra-revolutionary responses to right-wing obstruction of reform in Spain’s Second Republic. In 1934 he was elected FJS secretary general.
The most dramatic fruit of socialist radicalisation was the uprising by miners in Asturias in October 1934. After it was defeated, Carrillo was jailed. When he was released from prison after the victory of a new PSOE-PCE alliance known as the Popular Front in the February 1936 elections, Carrillo was invited to visit Moscow, where he was brought into the communist orbit.