United Left

United Left
   The launching of the United Left (Izquierda Unida — IU) in April 1986 was brought about by the convergence of three needs amply felt among political groups standing to the left of the socialist PSOE, when the latter was reaching the end of its first period in government. These were: to provide a common platform to unite and strengthen the many small left-wing groups in existence at the time; to revive the Spanish Communist Party (PCE) after their abysmal performance at the 1982 elections; and to offer some kind of progressive alternative to a socialist government already committed to a middle-ofthe-road programme.
   The referendum held on 12 March 1986 to decide the future of Spain's membership of NATO was to provide the final impetus for the creation of IU. At the behest of the government a majority of Spaniards voted in favour of remaining in the Atlantic Alliance, but most left-wing and progressive groups in the country wanted Spain out of NATO, and having commanded nearly 40 percent of the vote they felt encouraged to carry their united struggle through to the forthcoming elections. IU was thus born on a wave of enthusiasm and improvisation: an electoral coalition was quickly set up with the PCE—the dominant partner by far—as the central axis, and orbiting around it a number of small parties of varied left-wing hues and an assorted group of independent political figures.
   Since its foundation IU has altered considerably, without ever acquiring an identity of its own. What began as an electoral coalition later became a sociopolitical movement, and subsequently a loose federation of political parties and groupings. But all these transformations have not endowed IU with a clear image, separate from that of the PCE. In spite of official denials, there is a widely held view that IU is no more than an electoral disguise for the communist party—an impression reinforced by the fact that Julio Anguita, PCE's secretary general, is also the leader or co-ordinator of IU. The relations between the two organizations and the possible—though for the time being not probable—dissolution of the PCE in order to allow IU to become a political party in its own right have been the source of frequent and acerbic disagree-ments among their leaders. The collapse of the Soviet Union and communism in Eastern Europe exacerbated the situation causing serious confrontations in the ranks of IU at the beginning of the 1990s. The third Federal Congress, held in May 1992, was particularly controversial, with the so-called "renovators" strongly demanding that IU should be allowed to become an independent party —the corollary being, of course, the disappearance of the PCE—while the official line, supported by Anguita, defended the maintenance of the status quo. The latter won the day with 60 percent of the vote. Since then a fragile calm has been maintained though it must be interpreted as a postponement rather than a solution of the real problem.
   By the mid-1990s, IU was the third political force in Spain, but despite an improved electoral performance, they still fell short of their initial aspirations. In the March 1996 elections they received 2.6 million votes and won 21 seats in Congress. They have some 100 deputies in the seventeen regional assemblies, more than 3,500 local councillors, and 9 representatives in the European Parliament. Their numerical presence in Spanish politics is significant, but not important enough to threaten the two major contenders, the PSOE and the conservative PP, still less to bring about the hoped for breakthrough which would turn IU—following the Italian example—into the major political party on the left, ahead of its socialist rivals. In fact, IU's influence in Spanish public life is considerably reduced by their inability or unwillingness to reach agreements and form coalitions with the PSOE. The antagonism between communists and socialists in Spain has deep historical roots, but the inflexible attitude of Anguita and his followers is making impossible any form of cohabitation on the left.
   Further reading
   - Amodia, J. (1993) "Requiem for the Spanish Communist Party", in D.S.Bell, Western Communists and the Collapse of Communism, Oxford: Berg, pp. 101–19 (a study of the decline of the PCE and the role of IU as possible saviour).
   - Jáuregui, F. (1992) Julio Anguita, Madrid: Grupo Libro 88 (IU seen through the eyes of its leader; some documentary appendices).
   - Taibo, C. (1996) Izquierda Unida y sus mundos, Madrid: Libros de la Catarata (a critical assessment of IU from the extreme left).

Encyclopedia of contemporary Spanish culture. 2013.

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