For hundreds of years, Spain was one of the most powerful kingdoms in Europe. Its monarchical system produced rulers that changed the course of human history. The great number of Spanish speaking people around the globe attests to this fact not to mention the number of nations under its colonial rule. But in the latter part of the 19th century its power and influence began to wane. At the turn of the century things went from bad to worse and it culminated in the Spanish Civil War. It was during the war when General Francisco Franco tried to save Spain from the conflicting forces that tried to torn her asunder.
And when the war was over, the new despot established a new Spanish government which will be known in history as the Francoist regime. This paper will detail the rise and fall of the Francoist regime. This is possible by using the Spanish Civil War as some type of a historical landmark that will be used to understand why the nation was forced into a Civil War and at the same time use the said event to retrace the early success of General Francisco Franco and his inability to sustain what he started.
As a result the tyrannical rule of a military general was later on replaced with the more familiar rule of kings and when Juan Carlos ascended the throne in 1975, the decades old Francoist regime bid adieu. Background Between the 16th and 18th centuries Spain was one of the members of the European superpower club. During those times, membership into this elite group requires a stable kingdom, great wealth and powerful armed forces. Spain has all the needed requirements and some more. This was a remarkable achievement for a nation with a relatively small size.
But in the latter part of the 18th century, Spain did not have what it takes to compete in the new world economy. The old style kingdom stubbornly held on to antiquated systems, especially in the rigid social stratification where the poor remains poor while the rich continue to enjoy their affluent lifestyle. In the international scene Spain continued to have more problems. The rise of the United States as a new global power threatens Spain’s ability to hold on to its colonies. By losing its colonies Spain is not only saying goodbye to power but money as well.
In the ensuing Spanish-American War, the Kingdom of Spain lost Cuba, the Philippine Islands, Guam and Puerto Rico. They year 1898 marked the time of the great decline and the debacle in the colonies went back to the heart of the Spanish government like a powerful instigator for reform. And the country was torn into fragments by the many numerous dissenting forces that tried to change it from within. Leading up to War It can be said that for the Francoist regime, everything began with the Spanish Civil war. But war was just a climactic ending to a decades old struggle for reform.
In the years previous, the stage was set for the bloodiest chapter in the history of the Spanish Kingdom. Cary Nelson provides insight into what would have sparked the violent revolt and she wrote, “Spain was a country in which landless peasants cobbled together a bare subsistence living by following the harvests on vast, wealthy agricultural estates. The hierarchy of the Catholic Church, identifying more with wealthy landowners than with the Spanish people… ” (par. 1). With such grinding poverty and crushing hopelessness it was very easy for radicals to inflame the passion of the people.
It would have been very easy for charismatic leaders to take over and sway the hearts of people. An angry mob or men and women requires but a leader to lead them to a place where they can vent their frustrations. Spain was being carved out by extremists and other left wing groups that were intent in forcing the King to agree to their demands. Some of the more popular anti-establishment groups were the Anarchists, Syndicalists, and the Socialists. It must be noted that socialism and communism although distinctly different can also be considered in the same boat as both ideologies can be traced back to Karl Marx.
The Anarchists wanted to bring Spain back to when life was more idyllic. Where it is simpler and not made complicated by imperfect laws and flawed leadership. There is an emphasis man being free and not shackled by the dictates of others (Brenan, 135). Considering the political mess that Spain was embroiled in the 1930s it is easily understandable why there are those who wanted to join this group. A major influence for the rise of such an ideology is the fall of the Empire and the failure of the monarchy to guide Spain to new heights. The Syndicalists, like the Anarchists wanted reform.
But they differ in their methods. While the Anarchist would have nothing to do with authority and rule of law, the Syndicalists will not mind the presence of strong government as long as they get what they wanted and usually it is to give more privileges to the working class (see Brennan). The Syndicalists wanted to find meaning and reform through the unity of workers and use the strength of their numbers to force the government and the employers to raise wages. The Socialists have a more refined ideology and it is patterned after Karl Marx’s ideas. In this third view one can find elements of Anarchism and Syndicalism.
And this is evident from the Socialist’s desire to overthrow the present system of government but instead of a free society unencumbered by laws and authority the Socialists can see the value of authority as long as it serves the people. Now, if someone disagrees with all three ideologies then they will go to the Conservative group who likes nothing else than to preserve tradition. This group would love to maintain the status quo and most of its members are those from the nobility and the clergy. These people were set to loose so much if the more popular groups will be in power.
And so the members of the privileged class worked hard to block the any kind of progress with regards to radically changing the present monarchical system. But social unrest continued and became very difficult to manage especially with armed uprising. In the first few decades of the 20th century the crowned ruler, King Alfonso XIII was besieged with political and economic problems and he was forced to step aside and allow a professional soldier, General Primo de Rivera to avert a catastrophe. He was given full decree powers by King. It would have been an understatement to say that the monarchy was desperate to save the kingdom.
Stanley Payne described what happened next: Miguel Primo de Rivera, carried out a pronunciamiento, in September 1923. The pusillanimous Liberal government in Madrid resigned, and King Alfonso XIII appointed Primo de Rivera as prime minister … He thus became a quasilegal military dictator and appointed a Military Director of generals to run the government, all the while claiming he was taking power for only ninety days to solve a severe crisis (138). In January 30, 1930, King Alfonso XIII obtained Gen. Primo de Rivera’s resignation (Payne, 139).
But with the short lived military type rule, the nation was being prepared for the coming of another charismatic and strong-willed military leader in the person of Francisco Franco. But before Franco could come in a second intermission was necessary and interestingly it was the son of Gen. Miguel Primo de Rivera that tried to right the ship so to speak. And so, a few years before the Civil War, a 30 year old Jose Antonio Primo de Rivera established a fascist type of organization called the Falange or “phalanx” and the charismatic young leader made clear that “The Twenty-Six Points” of the Falange aimed to strengthen the Empire (Cowans, 167).
But just like his father, the son’s time in the spotlight was short-live; he was killed by the Republicans at the onset of the Civil War. Spanish Civil War As the nation continued its downward spiral to political instability in the first half of the 1930s, two major political groups began to emerge. The popular bloc belongs to the Republicans while those who wanted to retain the former ways were now generally known as the Nationalists.
There is no need to elaborate that the military generals sided with the elite and so they became guardians of the Nationalists. The political mess was ready to go into the next level of chaos and instability when the popular group was elected in February 1936 and for the first time Spain was under the rule of the people. With the promise of true land reform the conservative forces – the Nationalists were made up of clergy and the ruling class – feared the worst and so they supported a plan to overthrow the newly formed government.
In other words, the world is witness to a rare event where the established order is staging a coup attempt to unseat a popular government. It was at this point when Gen. Francisco Franco began to rise to the top. He was one of the five generals that formed the nucleus of the coup and his genius in warfare and his charisma made it easy for him to break-away from the group. His overwhelming success over the inexperienced rag tag army of the Republicans allowed for the creation of a new government created in the mold of fascist regimes popular in Europe at that time.
But when Franco did not join Hitler and Mussolini in World War II historians believed that he was not really a fascist but after the Civil War he had no working ideology that can rally his troops and most importantly the Spanish people. And so he was forced to use whatever is available for him. The Francoist Regime In a nutshell Simonis, Forsyth and Noble described the Francoist regime by stating that: Franco kept hold of power by never allowing any single powerful group – the church, the Movimineto Nacional (the only legal political party), the army, monarchist or bankers – to dominate.
The army provided many ministers and enjoyed a most generous budget. Catholic orthodoxy was fully restored, with secondary schools entrusted to the Jesuits, divorce made illegal and church weddings compulsory. Despite endemic corruption among the country’s administrators, Franco won some working-class support with carrots such as job security and paid holidays, but there was no right to strike (47). The above-stated description of the regime could not have been said better than saying that it was going back to the traditional paths.
But it must also be said that Franco was the epitome of a dictator for he ruled absolutely. The Cortes, the institution he set-up to pass laws was merely a “rubber stamp” for laws that he deemed as necessary to achieve his vision for a new Spain. On the other hand it was not all bad news for Franco. In 1959 Spain experienced an economic miracle that saw an an upsurge in some key Spanish industries. The key factor of course is the generous amount of US Aid that came after Franco decided an alliance with the U. S. government is more beneficial to Spain.
Best, A. International History of the Twentieth Century. New York: Routledge, 2004. Brenan, G. The Spanish Labyrinth: An Account of the Social and Political Background. New York: Cambridge University Press. Cowans, Jon. Modern Spain. Pennsylvania: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2003. Nelson, Cary. “The Spanish Civil War: An Overview. ” Accessed 25 April 2008 from http://www. english. uiuc. edu/maps/scw/overview. htm Payne, Stanley. A History of Fascism. Wisconsin: The University of Wisconsin Press,1995. Simonis, Damien, Forsyth, Susan & John Noble. Spain. CA: Lonely Planet Publishing, 2007.