The Partido Socialista Obrero Español (Spanish Socialist Workers" Party) was founded in 1879 in Madrid by a group of typesetters, led by Pablo Iglesias, a serious and austere man, who dominated the party until his death in 1925. The party initially grew slowly, particularly because it remained tied to its geographical base in Madrid. It thereby found it difficult to gain a foothold in the most industrialized region of Spain, Catalonia, where it faced strong competition from regionalist parties and the anarchist movement.
   Although by the time of the Second Republic (1931–6), the PSOE had become the dominant party in Spain, its progress remained hampered by its organizational rigidity and a tension between its theoretical pronouncements, which were drenched in Marxist revolutionary rhetoric, and its practice, which was fundamentally reformist in nature. This tension led the Socialist Party to misinterpret the socio-economic context of 1930s Spain with the result that they placed too much faith in their ability to push through progressive social and economic reforms by parliamentary means. When it became apparent that all reforms, however mild in manner, would be resisted ferociously by the established order, the PSOE was unable to provide a response which might have forestalled the military revolt which heralded the beginning of the Civil War. During the conflict itself the bitterly divided PSOE was sidelined by an increasingly dominant Communist Party (PCE) which benefited from the financial and logistical resources provided to the Republican government by the Soviet Union. By the end of the war the PSOE was split asunder by bitter divisions and recriminations leaving it a broken and defeated organization.
   The divisions which had split the PSOE apart during the Second Republic were transferred wholesale into exile with the result that the exiled Socialist leadership remained embroiled in bitter recriminations concerning the causes of the Civil War. As a result, it became increasingly isolated from the party's grassroots militants remaining in Spain. Their inability to respond to the changing reality of events unfolding within Spain became especially evident from the 1960s onwards when young socialist groups within Spain forming the so-called Seville-Bilbao-Asturias triangle, began to challenge the exiled leadership for control of the party.
   Once official recognition had been granted to these "young Turks" of the interior by the Socialist International in 1972 the renovation of the party began in earnest. Led by Felipe González, who was elected to the post of first secretary in October 1974 at Suresnes, and his right-hand man, Alfonso Guerra, the PSOE initially emphasized its radical Marxist heritage. At its XXVI I Congress in December 1976, the party adopted a radical Marxist stance and explicitly demanded a radical break with the present system. However, following a negotiated transition to democracy under the guiding hand of Adolfo Suárez and the first general elections in 1977, the party leadership quickly realized that its Marxist identity would be an obstacle to further electoral progress. In particular, the need to consolidate Spain's still fragile democracy, especially following the military coup in 1981, became the raison d'etre of the party and its main reason for dropping Marxism from the party's statutes. Electoral success could only be achieved by occupying the centre ground where the majority of the Spanish electorate placed itself and by adopting a catch-all strategy.
   The ideological transformation of the Socialist Party into one of the most cautious socialdemocratic parties in Europe was accompanied by a series of much less publicized, though arguably more significant, organizational changes masterminded by Alfonso Guerra as deputy Secretary General of the party. At the PSOE's XXVIII Congress the number of delegations was dramatically reduced (50 as opposed to 1,000) and a form of block vote was introduced. These organizational changes consolidated power within the leadership and turned the PSOE into a highly centralized, disciplined party machine. This unity and discipline is the key to explaining the PSOE's significant electoral success. By 1982 the PSOE had succeeded in becoming associated with the three things that seemingly mattered most to the Spanish electorate: moderation, modernization and democracy. It thus won its first absolute majority in 1982 when it moved to occupy the centre ground left by the dramatic collapse of the Union of the Democratic Centre (UCD) and its second absolute majority in the 1986 general elections. Its hegemony within the political system only began to fade in 1989 when it lost its absolute majority by one seat. In the 1993 general elections it lost a further seventeen seats which forced it into coalition with the Catalan nationalists. The PSOE's final defeat came in the 1996 general elections won by the right-wing Popular Party (PP). The PSOE's share of the vote remained substantial enough, however, to allow it to claim the election as a "sweet defeat".
   Throughout its period of hegemony, the PSOE made a positive contribution to the consolidation of democracy, particularly through its subordination of the armed forces to the authority of civilian governments, and the consolidation of the quasi-federal structure of the Spanish state, initiated under UCD with the establishment the autonomous communities provided for under the 1978 constitution. Its relatively successful economic policies transformed Spain into the fastest growing economy in Europe in the late 1980s. The PSOE also led Spain into the European Union and confirmed its membership of NATO, thereby ending the longstanding political and economic isolation of the country.
   On the negative side, the PSOE in power was accused of governing in a high-handed manner which fostered an atmosphere of corruption and abuse of power. The PSOE was also accused of neglecting its grassroots support and leaving a significant percentage of the centre-left electorate unrepresented due to its ideological shift to the right. The PSOE's right-wing economic policies earned it the nickname the "Marbella Socialists" and led to a breakdown in the party's relationship with its union, the UGT. A one-day general strike in 1988 successfully pressurized the party into a slight ideological shift back to the left, thereby setting in motion a process of ideological renewal within the party which was strengthened by its period in opposition following the 1996 general election defeat.
   Further reading
   - Gillespie, R. (1989) The Spanish Socialist Party. A History of Factionalism, Oxford: Clarendon Press (the most comprehensive and detailed account of the history of the Socialist Party in English).
   - Graham, H (1991) Socialism and War. The Spanish Socialist Party in power and crisis, 1936-39, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press (an excellent account of the PSOE during the years of the Second Republic).
   - Heywood, P. (1990) Marxism and the Failure of Organised Socialism in Spain, 1879-1936, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press (a comprehensive, well-documented account of the early development of the PSOE).
   - Mateos, A (1993) El PSOE contra Franco, Madrid: Editorial Pablo Iglesias (an excellent account of the PSOE's fight against the Franco dictatorship).

Encyclopedia of contemporary Spanish culture. 2013.

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