I ALWAYS REMEMBER the secret, almost conspiratorial air of the conversations of my Spanish friends halfway through the '60s, whenever they were discussing the true situation of the country on home ground. I remember how, in the bookstall-cum-bar in the Calle Balmes in Barcelona, a barman-accomplice would, after letting down the metal blinds at two in the morning, allow us a last drink and let us leave later from a side door.

Or, some years later, at the end of 1973, the excited mysterious mood of the friends who telephoned to pass on the news of the assassination of Admiral Carrero Blanco, head of Franco's government. Around that time, the establishment of the Spanish political model in Chile had, paradoxically, brought me to Barcelona where I set up my new home as an exile.

I remember, too, the voices at the regular gatherings in Calafell, a fishing village whose transformation under the avalanche of European tourism I had observed during successive summers. Voices that recalled how the anarchist fishermen had escaped to the hills at the end of the Civl War, when the Moorish cavalry entered the village from the beach. Voices that changed to another topic when the local pro-Franco chief came to have a drink with them, as was customary in small villages in Spain during those twilight years of the dictatorship.

At first sight, the totalitarian regime was not too troublesome for a foreigner during those final years. The bookstores were full of Marxist books and Latin American left-wing works, and the majority of European magazines and newspapers reached the kiosks. This was why Solzhenitsyn, in a series of declarations made on Spanish television in 1976, which managed to irritate the great majority of the population, asked if Spaniards knew what a real dictatorship was like. Solzhenitsyn had not bothered to find out that whenever foreign newspapers mentioned Franco, they were stopped at the frontier, and that many magazines replaced their stores on Spain, in the numbers destined to enter the country, with business news.

The regime was not bothered by ideological abstractions or denunciations of Latin American or other dictatorships. What was kept under the strictest control, on the other hand, was any specific reference of the Civil War or to the Franco regime. This is the reason that since Franco's death Spain has witnessed such an extraordinary outpouring of diaries, autobiographies, testimonies and memoirs of the most vaired kinds. The New Voices

AMONG THOSE TO open fire, when Franco was still alive, was the Barceloan poet and publisher, Carlos Barral, with his "Anos de penitencia ." Barral recalled those "years of national penitence" at the beginning of the Franco regime from the perspective of a child of the Catalan bourgeoisie educated at a Jesuit school.

He described the very difficult process of discovering literature, politics, and eroticism at a time when a book by Paul Eluard or Andre Breton circulated in an atmosphere of secrecy and excitement comparable to that which surrounds a pornographic postcard in the courtyard of a religious chool. Family Scribe

THE BOOM IN memoir-writing led to the discovery that Franco, quite unknowing, had a Saint-Simon of his won - a family member, right in his palace. General Franco Salgado proved to be very much in tune with the moment. He was mediocre, punctilious, lacking in imagination and literary talent, but devoted many years to his task of recording in a diary the numerous examples of pettiness and the total lack of greatness in Franco's court. For several months all Spain read the astonishing memoirs of the one who for many years had been the collaborator and confidante of his relative, Generalissmo Francisco Franco. Fact or Fiction?

BUT THE EVOCATION of life under the Franco regime has also moved into fiction in the recently published novels of Luis Goytisolo, Recuento ("Reckoning") and Los verdes de mayo hasta el mar ("The Green Shades of May Go Down to the Sea"), which form part of his series Antagonfa . Together they constitute one of the most ambitious and interesting literary projects currently under way in Spain.

In Recuento , the remembrance of the past is like a spiral which has its beginning in the novelist's subjective memories, yet is immediately linked to the historical memory of Barcelona and of all Catalonia.

Certain descriptions are used repeatedly throughout Recuento to depict particular very significant monuments - the Museum of City History with its Roman foundations, Gaudi's Temple of the Holy Family, the medieval monastery at Poblet. By incorporating the language of architecture into the language of fiction, the novelist alludes to essential moments in the culture of this part of the world: the Greek colonies, the Latin influence, the Catalan Middle Ages, and the 19th century. Jorge Semprun

PERHAPS THE MOST surprising of the recent literary revelations is in no way connected with the habits and abuses of totalitarian power. Rather, it deals with the family secrets of an institution which was equally secluded from public knowledge by the nature of the struggle against the Franco regime: the Communist Party. The book of the moment, in both Barcelona and all Spain, is the Autobiography of Fedrico Sanchez , by Jorge Semprun, the author of The Long Journey and of the scripts of several of Alain Resnais's and Joseph Losey's films.

(Federico Sanchez was the alias Semprun used while a clandestine leader of the Spanish Communist Party in the '50s and early '60s.)

Semprun's flexible literary style, which owes much to the cinema, allows him to take a nonstop tour through an individual memory. He relates here for the first time political experiences that range from membership in the executive committee of his party to his expulsion ordered by Santiago Carrillo (general secretary of the party) in 1963.

The Franco regime would never have permitted a public polemic of this kind. Semprun's analysis of domestic reality in the '60s shows that the so-called triumph of the party - its constant forecasting of the impending fall of Franco as a result of a peaceful national strike, the much bruited huelga nacional pacifica or HNP - was a rhetorical delusion.

Jorge Semprun, or rather Federico Sanchez - along with his friend Fernando Claudin, also a party leader, and the novelist Juan Goytisolo, who was no more than a fellow-traveller - could not accept the rhetoric. So he was cold-bloodedly sacrificed at the demand of the upper echelons of the party under Santiago Carrillo, described in the autobiography as cynical, cold, and above all undistinguished.

Semprun's book is one of the few eye-witness accounts of this kind written by an ex-member of the political secretariat of a Communist Party in the West. It comes as a dissenting voice at a time when the prestige of Santiago Carrillo is very high among the Spanish establishment (he recently became the first Communist secretary general in the West to visit the United States). Semprun Defended

MANUEL VASQUEZ MONTALBAN, a well-known journalist, writer and member of the Central Committee of the Catalan branch of the Communist Party, has written a tribute to Jorge Semprun. In it he criticizes the methods used by the party against Semprun. His tribute has just been published in Mundo Obrero ("Worker's World"), a Communist weekly that has only recently emerged from clan-destinity.

The Spaniards obviously want to demonstrate that they can go further than anyone else in the cause of Euro-Communism. The consciousness of the Spaniards is no longer purely ideological and supervised from above; its very foundations are being shaken, and it is transforming every corner of national life.