15. Dictatorship

Although the failure of the Spanish Republic was due fundamentally to its disintegration from within, the military rebellion against it might have crumbled had it not been for the amazing ability of General Franco to weld the heterogeneous elements of the right into a strong, common mold.

In the beginning the military rebellion had no political policy except to overthrow the Republic and implant a dictatorship of the Spanish right composed of the army, the church, and the aristocrats. General Franco immediately saw that such an attitude was not enough. The people needed a political program. Therefore, he took over in toto the Spanish fascist party, the Fallange, incorporated it within the frame of his struggle against the Republic, made it his own official party, and in the end wound it up by rendering it completely submissive to his will.

The name Falange means Phalanx and was taken from the Macedonian army unit that was largely responsible for the overthrow of the Greek Republic in the fourth century B.C. The founder of the Falange party was José Antonio Primo de Rivera, son of the man who had been dictator of Spain just prior to the Republic. In 1934 José Antonio was elected to the national Cortes as the lone fascist party. Gil Robles, the Catholic rightist leader, spurned the young man’s political ambitions and referred to him as a señorito or “playboy.” But José Antonio, playboy or not, was a young man of great daring and of considerable personal charm. He was zealously anxious to vindicate the name of his father, and was adamantly opposed to the Spanish Republic. He also admired both Mussolini and Hitler, and imitated them by adopting a colored shirt as the party uniform; in this case the color was blue. The political ideal of the Falange party was Catholic, authoritarian, fascist. During the war it built up its own militia.

In those terrible weeks just prior to the civil war the Spanish Falange party was doing much the same thing in Spain that Hitler’s Brown Shirts did in Germany; its members were organizing riots and disorders, shouting provocative insults against the government, and engaging in all the methods of terror against those who opposed them most effectively. It was a party of violence and of assassination, despite the fact that José Antonio personally was strongly opposed to such tactics. In a period of about three months, forty Falangists and fifty Republicans were slain. A few weeks before the outbreak of the war José Antonio himself was arrested. In the fall of that same year he was tried before a Republican court and condemned to death. The young man was probably not guilty of the crimes attributed to him. He was simply a scapegoat, and of course he became, after his death, a martyr for all those who opposed the Republic.

With the death of José Antonio, the Falange became merely a pawn in the hands of General Franco. After the war the young man’s body was reburied in the place of honor in front of the main altar in General Franco’s Valley of the Fallen.

General Franco was born in the city of El Ferrol, in the province of Galicia, in 1892. The family was noted for its longevity. His father lived to be 93, and his grandfather reached 102. Franco entered the military academy in Toledo in 1907, and the army became his career. When the Nationalist revolt broke out in 1936 he was Chief of Staff in the army of the Spanish Republic. He was instrumental in bringing about the revolt, and he immediately became leader of the rebellious forces.

Franco formerly had served for many years with the Spanish army in Morocco, where he was regarded as a strong leader who never lost his temper. He was a good administrator, and an officer of great courage. The Moroccan troops, both Moorish contingent and the soldiers of the Spanish Foreign Legion, formed the core of his most steadfast supporters from the very beginning of his “glorious movement,” as he called the rebellion.

Franco was never simpatico, and he never enjoyed real popularity in Spain. He had cliques that would always shout for him, if this was deemed to be essential, but when he traveled to the various cities of Spain he was generally greeted with only perfunctory applause.

During his thirty-six years of rule, one of the longest in the history of Spain, the general and his regime were one and inseparable. HE was commander-in-chief of all armed forces, the chief of the government, and the leader of the party, the only party. His parliament, the Cortes, boasted only one right: to approve his decrees, that is, if Franco submitted them for approval. He generally did so out of that peculiar feeling that Spanish and Latin American dictators have for giving a mask of legality to everything that they do.

Spanish peseta coin with Franco 1963

The generalissimo’s first years in power were hardly an outstanding success. The national economy sputtered, lunged, tottered, almost halted. As soon as the Spanish war ended World War II broke out, and Spain had no way to replace her broken-down transportation equipment and her destroyed or worn-out machinery. After that World War ended Spain found herself isolated from both the democratic and communist camps. She was excluded from the Marshall Plan, from the United Nations, and from NATO. But in June 1950 the Korean War started, and the United States, upset and frightened, became anxious to strengthen its security by building a ring of bases around the communist bloc. General Franco, who up until this moment had been very solicitous about the possibility of U.S. bases in Spain, suddenly became aloof and waited for this country to approach him. In 1953 an agreement was concluded, and then for the first time since the civil war foreign aid began to pour into Spain, undoubtedly bolstering, and perhaps saving, her economy and her government. In 1955 the country was admitted to the United Nations.

In 1953 an agreement was reached between Franco and the Holy See concerning the Spanish church. Proceeding on his own, the general had already restored the Jesuits to their former position of influence and had canceled all the anticlerical laws of the Republic. But he needed very much to show the world that he was in respectable standing with Rome, hence the concordat of 1953. In the concordat the church was guaranteed state financial support, education was placed in its hands, Roman Catholicism was recognized as the sole religion of Spain, the clergy were given certain privileges in the courts which almost made them an independent community in the state, church property was free from taxation, the appointment of prelates was to be made by joint agreement between the Pontiff and the chief of state.

The more conservative side of the religious picture in Spain was represented by an organization known as the Opus Dei (God’s work), which came to exert a very strong influence on the government. It was founded in 1928 in Madrid by a wealthy ex-lawyer turned priest. It slowly acquired stature, money, influence, respectability. In 1950 Pope Pius XII granted the organization definitive official Catholic status as a secular institute.

Opus Dei cross

The ideological goal of Opus Dei was to revitalize the traditional values: make Spain more Spanish, return to the old Spanish and Christian ethics, re-establish the old virtues, restore the ancient dignity and the glory of Spain, combat the evil liberalism, rationalism, immorality. Opus Dei members took a vow of chastity, poverty, and obedience, but this vow could be revoked at will. Many members of the group were wealthy, and all members were expected to give any surplus personal income to the organization. Hence, Opus Dei accumulated considerable wealth and came to control many financial institutions, including one of the largest banks in Spain, the Banco Popular. It also controlled several newspapers in Madrid, Barcelona, Valladolid, and Leon, and issued several magazines.

In the field of education its influence was strong and very oppressive. Opus Dei took a clear stand in opposition to the ideals of the Free Institution of Teaching established in 1876 by Giner de los Ríos and a group of liberal professors.

Opus Dei also exercised great economic influence on the Franco regime, and in this regard its policies were not as traditional or as rigid as its religious and social ideas. Big business, especially international finance, does not speak a single language, and the Opus Dei men were anxious to get into the international swim. One might say that they were almost liberal, economically speaking. They were eager for Spain to participate in the Common Market, and saw great benefits in such participation. Thus, under Opus leadership Spanish capitalists began to emerge from their semi-isolation, and entered the arena where the big money was made.

The plain fact was that Spain was caught in the midst of powerful economic and political currents flowing in from all over Europe, and without realizing it one of the things that Opus Dei achieved was to prepare Spain for the post-Franco period that was sure to come. The Opus itself would then just fade away, but the economic bases that it had established would firmly remain.

Spain formally requested admission to the European Common Market in February 1962, with the hope of thus becoming a part of the mainstream of European development but her main exports of olives, olive oil, citrus fruits, and wine conflict with those of Italy and France. In 1984, many years later, Spain was still trying to join the Common Market, and by this time most of the opposition to her admission had softened. In the interim Spain had become an industrial power to be reckoned with, and her continued cooperation in NATO was needed more than ever.

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