Ten years ago, Felipe Gonzalez, as secretary general of the small, clandestine Spanish Socialist Party, was busy dodging dictator Francisco Franco's political police. This summer, as prime minister, Gonzalez went fishing aboard Franco's yacht, the Azor.

Franco died on Nov. 20, 1975, and of all the images of changing Spain during the past decade the one of Gonzalez aboard the yacht made famous by the dictator is one of the most startling.

Die-hard Franco supporters and left-wingers alike saw the prime minister's August cruise as an affront, but Gonzalez, 43, had a political purpose in mind. The sojourn on the Azor was "an attempt to overcome a negative symbolism," Gonzalez said in a recent interview.

In fact, there are very few symbols of Franco and his 40-year government left in Spain. Streets and plazas that used to be called Generalissimo Franco or 18th of July, this in commemoration of the start of the 1936-39 Spanish Civil War that brought Franco to power, have reverted to their old names.

One reminder of Franco that remains is his mausoleum. It is a basilica, as grim and gloomy as it is grandiose, called the Valley of the Fallen in the Guadarrama Mountains, a 40-minute drive from Madrid. A few thousand nostalgic Franco admirers gathered there Wednesday for a requiem mass on the 10th anniversary of his death.

There is a huge divide between the Spain of today and the Spain of 10 years ago. A glance at daily life in present-day Spain makes it unbelievable that Franco died just a decade ago.

In Spain today there is divorce, newspapers publish what they think fit, housewives flock to bingo halls, there are strikes and there are family planning clinics. There are also independent political parties, labor unions and democratic elections. The list seems endless. It is a list of activities and rights that are taken for granted in most other Western European countries but that were banned during the Franco years.

Recently Spain's state-owned television network ran a documentary on one of the controversial moments of Franco's rule: the courts-martial and execution of five left-wing terrorists two months before Franco died.

"The image of Spain in that documentary," said Gonzalez, "was irreconcilable for an important part of the Spanish population. That's to say people who are under 25 years old couldn't reconcile what they were seeing with what they know to be Spain."

How did the change come about so peacefully and so profoundly? Gonzalez responds with an analysis in which he describes Francoism as "a historical period" and delineates the changes from an alignment with fascism in the years just after the Civil War to an opening to the West in the 1950s.

A 1953 defense agreement with the United States that set up joint bases in Spain, together with a concordat with the Vatican the same year, were key dates in Franco's bid to gain international respectability and ensure his survival.

By the 1970s, the twilight years of Francoism, there were groups in Spain that had, according to Gonzalez, acquired "democratic habits." This was particularly true of his own generation, which was in college in the 1960s. They grew up at a time when Francoism was booming economically and disintegrating politically.

Gonzalez and his Socialist Party emerged as the main opposition party in the first elections after Franco's death, which were held in 1977. Those votes were won by a center-right party put together by reformists from Franco's party and political moderates.

By 1982, when elections were last held, Gonzalez had transformed the Socialist Party, the historic party of the Spanish left, into a pragmatic group welded together by a shared vision of modernity. Gonzalez won the elections by a landslide and his popularity ratings have barely dipped since then.

For all intents and purposes, Francoism has been replaced on the 10th anniversary of the dictator's death by a new political class, aged between 35 and 45, following the banner of Felipismo, named for Gonzalez, who is referred to everywhere by his first name. Felipismo stands for a commitment to democracy, modernization, identification with the rest of Western Europe, and youth -- all things Franco distrusted.

Symbolism aside, Gonzalez is obsessed with clearing up the hangovers of 40 years of Franco and his "corporatist" philosophy.

"The residues of that period will last, in my opinion, for at least a generation," Gonzalez said. In his self-confident and fast-talking manner, Gonzalez warmed to his pet subject, one that involves establishing what he termed "new rules of the game." Essentially, it means preaching the message that "Papa State," as he called it, no longer exists, that paternalism is over and that Spain is now adult.

Soon after he became premier, Gonzalez attended a meeting of businessmen who bombarded him with complaints about industrial disputes and salary demands.

"I tried to make a joke of it and asked them whether they expected me to send for the Civil Guard," the paramilitary police Franco used against strikers. "Then I told them they'd have to work it out for themselves through a democratic dialogue."

Labor unions were also problematical, for they sought to make use of liberties that democracy had brought while retaining the rigid Francoist labor system that ensured job security.

"The new rules of the game means that unions and employers must each assume their responsibilities and stop playing with marked cards," Gonzalez said.

Spain's scheduled entry into the European Community on Jan. 1 is widely viewed as being well timed to boost Gonzalez's plans.

"Isolationism and protectionism, which is what we have had in Spain for 150 years, have made dictatorship and underdevelopment into the norm," he said.

Such free-market ideas are at odds with what Europeans understand by socialism, and Gonzalez, although leader of Spain's century-old Socialist Party, which had its original party statutes endorsed by Karl Marx himself, readily agrees that he is unorthodox.

As far as Gonzalez is concerned, "the greatest error that a democratic socialist party can commit is the error of ideological conservatism."

But when it comes to economic problems, orthodox austerity is the only formula he knows to lift a nation out of economic problems, Gonzalez said.

"If anyone else has better ideas I'd like to hear them, but they don't," he added.

Gonzalez is emphatic on one point: "I don't accept that conservatives, that the right wing, are better placed than we are, we democratic socialists, to manage an economic crisis and to impose a rigorous economic policy."

What makes Gonzalez and his government socialist?

"The differences are in microeconomics and in social policy," he said. "Democratic socialism has priorities: education, health care, pensions and a redistribution of income."

Now Gonzalez is poised to stand his party principles on their head again by calling on Spaniards to vote in a referendum, which is planned for next March, in favor of continued membership in NATO.

Gonzalez vigorously opposed Spain's entry into the Atlantic Alliance under the previous center-right government, and he wrote a promise into the Socialist Party's electoral manifesto that if elected he would stage a plebiscite on continued NATO membership. The difference is that Gonzalez now has changed his mind and supports Spain in NATO.

Opinion polls are running strongly against NATO, and Gonzalez is under pressure to call off the referendum. But the electoral pledge, he said, stands.

"Of course I am worried about the referendum result. In a democracy you cannot guarantee a result. But I have the will to win the referendum, and I am convinced that it should be and can be won."