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No Pasaran? Spanish Communists Decide Whether to Pass into History

September 4, 1991

MADRID, Spain (AP) _ Labor leader Marcelino Camacho joined the Communist Party in February 1935 at age 17. The devoted Communist spent much of the next four decades fighting in a bloody civil war, working at forced labor, or in prison.

As Camacho’s party prepared for a meeting Thursday to discuss whether to disband, it was easy to understand why the 73-year-old finds it hard to give up the hammer and sickle.

″Should Christians abandon their faith because the Inquisition existed?″ he said on the eve of the debate.

The list of Communist leaders of little faith has grown following the failed hard-line Soviet coup last month. As part of the backlash, the Soviet legislature suspended the party’s activities last week.

In Spain, many Communists want to disband their party and create a new, single party within the coalition group United Left. There has been talk of such a move since the United Left was created eight years ago, and the Soviet troubles have reopened the debate.

Juan Berga, one of the leading advocates of dissolution, said the demise of the Soviet party ″marks the end of a certain way of perceiving socialism.″

Members who support the idea plan to petition party General Secretary Julio Anguita to turn the party’s December congress into a funeral rite.

They include Nicolas Sartorius, a former party heir-apparent who did time with Camacho in prison, and Antonio Gutierrez, Camacho’s successor as general secretary of the Workers Commission trade union. Camacho is the union’s president.

Advocates of disbanding the party say they have the backing of as much as 40 percent of the party’s 60,000 rank-and-file members.

Confronted with the prospect of such a large defection, even Camacho sounded doubtful.

″There is not the slightest doubt that the Communist name has been discredited,″ he said. ″But I’m not to blame for what they’ve done.″

″They,″ he said, are the generations of Soviet leaders who took the party from ″bureaucracy to autocracy, and autocracy to corruption.″

The Spanish Communist Party renounced its connections to the Soviet party in 1968 and its top leaders quickly rejected the coup attempt as unconstitutional.

Party leader Anguita rejected new calls last week for disbanding the party. He is said to support a compromise between the reformers and the hard-liners that would keep the party’s organization intact within the United Left.

Berga, Sartorius and others say the United Left needs to become a full- fledged political party in order to pick up left-leaning voters disillusioned by the ruling Socialist Party’s growth-oriented economic policies.

The United Left was created following the Communists’ disastrous showing in the 1982 election, when their representation in parliament plummeted from 23 seats to just four.

The Socialists won that campaign and have maintained a parliamentary majority ever since. But they lost more than 2 million votes, many on the left, between 1982 and the last general election in 1989.

United Left parties, meanwhile, won 17 parliamentary seats in the 1989 election.

This is not the first, or even the worst, crisis faced by party veterans like Camacho, who fought to preserve the Second Republic in the 1936-1939 Spanish Civil War.

After rightist forces led by Gen. Francisco Franco’s military rebels won, Camacho spent years in labor camps. He later was imprisoned for more than a decade for his union and political activities.

″In those days, there was only one enemy - Franco,″ he said wistfully.

Ten days after Franco died in November 1975, he and other political prisoners were freed by the country’s new monarch, King Juan Carlos.

Camacho believes the social injustices that spawned the Communist Party still exist and worries that the demise of the party would leave a vacuum the United Left cannot fill.

″I’m not wedded to symbols,″ Camacho said. ″I did not struggle for the hammer and sickle. I struggled for social justice. But we cannot dissolve one organization without creating another to take its place.″

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