When in April 1995 the Partido Comunista de España (Spanish Communist Party) commemorated the seventy-fifth anniversary of its foundation, the party had few reasons, other than longevity, to celebrate the occasion. Electoral results have relegated the party to a very secondary role, its identity is largely diluted in an ambiguous coalition known as the United Left, and its survival appears under threat.
   The truth is that, numerically at least, the PCE was never a major force in Spanish politics, even though it did exercise considerable influence during certain periods. At the time of the Civil War, both Soviet support for the Republican cause and Franco's mythical anticommunist crusade afforded the PCE a prominence well beyond the size of its membership at the time. During the long years of dictatorial rule the PCE became the spearhead of the opposition movement. Though most of its grandiose projects to bring down Franco's regime—guerrilla warfare, the National Reconciliation Plan, or the call for a peaceful general strike—did not bring about the expected result, they did give the party a leading role in many areas of clandestine activity—student protest movements, intellectual circles, illegal trade unions, and so on—and endowed it with democratic credentials.
   The PCE, however, found it difficult to be accepted as a partner in the democratizing process which followed Franco's demise. Although the party had been unexpectedly legalized in the spring of 1977 and made a valuable contribution to the transition, it did not become a major protagonist in it. In the first democratic election in June 1977 it only managed to gain twenty seats—a meagre yield after so much struggle—and two years later only twenty-three. Worse was to follow. In the 1982 election they suffered a real débâcle, gaining only four seats in the new parliament. An ageing leadership out of touch with the new Spain, the difficult transition from clandestine struggle to open political contest, the ideological tensions generated by Eurocommunism, an electorate fearful of lending support to a party which might have produced radical changes in Spanish society, are some of the reasons which can be adduced to explain its failure.
   In consequence the veteran leader Carrillo was forced to stand down in favour of a younger generation represented by Gerardo Iglesias. He set up the new electoral coalition, the United Left, in 1986, with the PCE as its central axis, and two years later handed over power to Julio Anguita, a politician with greater charisma, authority and dogmatism. In 1996 the party gained twenty-one seats, but it is difficult to ascertain what electoral support the communists might have without the protective cover of the United Left.
   Further reading
   - González-Hernández, J.C. (1989) " El PCE en el proceso de transición", in J.F.Tezanos et al. La transición democrática española, Madrid: Sistema (a clear and succinct analysis of the PCE's role in the transition to democracy).
   - Hermet, G. (1971) Les Communistes en Espagne, Paris: Armand Colin (the first successful attempt at an objective history of the PCE; brief and informative).

Encyclopedia of contemporary Spanish culture. 2013.

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