Francisco Franco, born on December 4, 1892 in Ferrol and died on November 20, 1975 in Madrid, was a Spanish military and statesman, who established in Spain, and then led for nearly 40 years, from 1936 to 1975, a dictatorial regime called Spanish State.
Born into a family of naval officers, Franco entered the Toledo Infantry Academy and in 1912 was transferred to the troops in Morocco where, while participating in the Rif War, he demonstrated his qualities as a leader and tactician and trained the units of the newly created Foreign Legion. Promoted to brigadier general at the age of 34, the day after the Al Hoceima landing, he was then posted to Madrid and appointed director of the new military academy in Saragossa. After the proclamation of the Republic in 1931, he was appointed Chief of Staff in 1933 and as such directed the repression of the Asturian Revolution of 1934.
On July 17, 1936, Franco, relegated to the Canary Islands by the Popular Front government, joined the military conspiracy to carry out a coup d”état at the last minute, following the murder of José Calvo Sotelo. The coup, which took place on July 18, 1936, failed but marked the beginning of the bloody Spanish Civil War. At the head of elite Moroccan troops, General Franco broke the Republican blockade of the Strait of Gibraltar and, with German and Italian help, landed in Andalusia, from where his conquest of Spain began. The National Defense Junta, a heterogeneous collegiate committee of the different military leaders of the nationalist zone, appointed him to the position of Generalissimo of the Armies, i.e., supreme military and political commander, in principle only for the duration of the civil war. With the support of the fascist dictatorships and the passivity of the democracies, the Nationalist army won the victory, which was declared at the end of March 1939 after the fall of Barcelona and Madrid. The toll was heavy (between 100,000 and 200,000 dead) and repression fell on the defeated (270,000 prisoners, 400,000 to 500,000 exiled).
As early as October 1936, General Franco had integrated the Spanish Falange and the Carlists into his army, and neutralized the disparate, sometimes opposing, currents that supported him, corseting them in a single movement. From 1939 onwards, the so-called Caudillo, the generalissimo or head of state, established a military and authoritarian dictatorship, corporatist but without any clear doctrine, except for a moral and Catholic order, marked by hostility to communism and “Judeo-Masonic forces”, and supported by the Catholic Church. Although initially supported by the Fascist and Nazi regimes, Franco wavered during the Second World War, maintaining Spain”s official neutrality, while supporting the Axis powers by sending the Azul Division to fight on the Eastern Front. With the Allied victory, General Franco dismissed the elements most compromised with the defeated, such as his brother-in-law Serrano Súñer and the Falange, and put forward the Catholic and monarchist supporters of his regime. The international ostracism of the immediate postwar period was soon tempered by the Cold War, while Spain”s strategic position finally ensured General Franco”s regime”s survival with the support of Argentina, the United States and Great Britain. Internally, the Caudillo played on rival factions to maintain his power and turned Spain back into a monarchy, of which he was regent, taking charge of the education of Juan Carlos, son of Don Juan, pretender to the Spanish throne. His successive governments were balancing acts, the result of a careful balance between the different “families” of the National Movement.
After the autarkic system, which prohibited foreign investment and imports, led to serious shortages, corruption and black markets, Franco agreed in the late 1950s to entrust the government to technocrats who were members of Opus Dei and who, with the economic help of the United States (which came to Madrid in 1959 with the visit of President Eisenhower), liberalized the Spanish economy, With economic help from the United States (which was given concrete expression during President Eisenhower”s visit to Madrid in 1959), the Spanish economy was liberalized through “stabilization and development” plans, resulting in a rapid economic recovery and extraordinary growth in the 1960s.
In 1969, Franco officially designated Juan Carlos as his successor. The last years of the dictatorship were marked by the emergence of new demands (workers, students, regionalists, especially Basques and Catalans), attacks (which cost the life of Prime Minister Carrero Blanco), the distancing of the Church after Vatican II, and repression against opponents.
Franco died on November 20, 1975, after a long agony punctuated by multiple hospitalizations and repeated operations. Juan Carlos de Bourbon, accepting the principles of the National Movement, was proclaimed king. Buried by decision of the new King in Valle de los Caídos, Franco”s remains were transferred in October 2019 to the cemetery of Mingorrubio, where his wife is buried, by decision of the government of Pedro Sanchez as part of the elimination of symbols of Francoism and to avoid acts of exaltation of his supporters.
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Birth and environment
Francisco Franco was born on December 4, 1892, in the historic center of Ferrol, in the province of A Coruña. Ferrol and its surroundings are perhaps one of the keys to understanding the figure of Franco. A sleepy little town with only 20,000 inhabitants at the beginning of the 20th century, Ferrol was home to the largest naval base in the country, as well as important shipyards. In the parish of Castrense, a perfect example of social endogamy, the military officers constituted a privileged and isolated caste, and their children, including the Francos, lived in a closed environment, almost foreign to the rest of the world, and populated exclusively by officers, usually from the navy.
The loss of Cuba in the Spanish-American War of 1898 helps to explain Franco”s rudimentary political ideas. Ferrol in particular, whose entire activity was based on sending troops and trading with the colonies across the Atlantic, was one of the cities most affected by this defeat. Franco”s childhood was spent in a city that had fallen apart, among retired or disabled soldiers reduced to poverty, where the professional communities had turned inward, locked in a kind of mutual resentment. In military circles and in part of the population, the resistance shown by an obsolete and poorly equipped fleet was considered the result of the heroism of a few soldiers who had sacrificed everything for their country, and the defeat was seen as the consequence of the irresponsible attitude of a few corrupt politicians who had neglected the armed forces. Franco”s later reflection on the disaster of 1898 led him to embrace the theses of regenerationism, an ideology that postulated the need for profound reforms and the rejection of the system inherited from the Restoration.
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Ancestry and family
Francisco Franco is the son of six generations of sailors, four of whom were born in Ferrol itself, in a community that only saw the existence of men as a life at the service of the flag, preferably in the war fleet.
After his death, rumors circulated about the Franco family”s supposed Jewish origins, although no concrete evidence was ever found to support such a hypothesis. Some forty years after Franco”s birth, Hitler commissioned Reinhard Heydrich to investigate the matter, but without success. Moreover, there is no record of any concern on Franco”s part about his origins.
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During his childhood, the young Franco was confronted with two contradictory models, that of his father, a free-thinker who disregarded conventions, deliberately impious and ostensibly a party animal and a runner, and that of his mother, a paragon of courage, generosity and piety. The father, Nicolás Franco y Salgado-Araújo (1855-1942), was a captain in the navy, and at the end of his career reached the rank of quartermaster-general of the navy, which is roughly equivalent to the rank of vice-admiral or brigadier general, and in this case represented a purely administrative function, but which seems to have been a tradition in the family. Having been posted to Cuba and the Philippines, he had adopted the habits of the colonial officer: libertinism, casino gambling, revelry and nightly drinking. While stationed in Manila, at the age of 32, he had knocked up Concepción Puey, a 14-year-old daughter of an army officer. In Ferrol, he had difficulty adapting to the self-righteous atmosphere of the Restoration, and spent his days drinking, gambling and talking, often coming home late, drunk and always in a bad mood. He behaved in an authoritarian way, bordering on violence, not admitting contradiction, and the four children – Francisco to a lesser extent, given his introverted and self-effacing character – suffered from these harsh ways. He used to invite his sons and some of his nephews for walks in the city, the port, and the surroundings while he talked about geography, history, marine life, and scientific subjects.
The father was to win all the titles to the hostility of his son Francisco: without ever going as far as a political or ideological commitment, he was willingly anticlerical, was resolutely hostile to the war in Morocco, had affirmed in Madrid his liberal convictions, and considered that the expulsion of the Jews by the Catholic Monarchs was an injustice and a misfortune for Spain. Politically classified as a left-wing liberal, the father declared himself hostile to the National Movement from the outset, and even after his son became dictator, remained highly critical of it both in public and in private. He failed to recognize the genius of his second son and never expressed the slightest admiration for him.
The confined atmosphere of Ferrol and the uneasiness of the couple undoubtedly led him to ask for, or accept, a posting to Cadiz in 1907, and then a transfer to Madrid, in principle for two years. However, Nicolás never returned, having married a young woman, Agustina Aldana, a teacher, who was the antithesis of his wife, and with whom he lived until her death in 1942. This abandonment of the marital home was the cause of the conflict between Nicolás and his son Francisco and the definitive break in the dialogue between father and son. Francisco”s brothers, now grown up and for whom the father had always had a predilection, visited their father from time to time, but there is no indication that Francisco Franco ever did so. Francisco was the one who was most strongly attached to their mother, and the character traits that would later manifest themselves – his disinterest in love affairs, his puritanism, his moralism and religiosity, his aversion to alcohol and feasting – made him an antithesis to his father and fully identified him with the mother.
Unlike his father, Franco”s mother, María del Pilar Bahamonde y Pardo de Andrade (1865-1934), who came from a family that also had a tradition of service in the navy, was extremely religious and very respectful of the habits and customs of the bourgeoisie of a small provincial town. Almost immediately after the wedding, the couple had no illusions about their affinity, and Nicolás soon returned to his habits as a colonial officer, while Pilar, resigned and debonair, was a dignified and admirable wife, ten years younger than her husband, who lived and dressed with great austerity and never had a word of reproach, took refuge in religion and in the education of her four children, inculcating in them the virtues of effort and tenacity in order to progress in life and rise socially, and exhorting them to prayer. Franco, more than any of his brothers, identified with his mother, from whom he learned stoicism, moderation, self-control, family solidarity and respect for Catholicism and traditional values, although, as Bartolomé Bennassar points out, he did not adopt her primary qualities of charity, concern for others, and forgiveness of insults and offenses.
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Siblings and clan
The siblings were of great importance to Franco, who always kept a sense of the clan, that is, the family, extended to some childhood friends. The Franco Bahamonde family was not the same as the common type of Ferrol and its social environment, as the family included :
In the family there were several orphaned cousins, children of a brother of the father, whom Franco”s father accepted to be his guardian, especially Francisco Franco Salgado-Araújo, known as Pacón, born in July 1890, with whom Franco shared the same games, the same leisure time, the same studies, the same schools and academies, who was by his side in Morocco and later in Oviedo, and who during the Civil War became the secretary and later the head of the military house, He was by his side in Morocco and later in Oviedo, and during the Civil War he became Franco”s secretary and later the head of his military household, as well as his confidant. Luis Carrero Blanco
Outside the family circle, the Franco clan included:
Franco did not renew his social environment and only extended this initial environment to a few comrades-in-arms he met in Morocco or to an occasional collaborator.
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As a child, and later at the Toledo Academy, Franco was the target of the other children”s mockery because of his small size (1.64 m at the Toledo Academy) and his high, lisping voice. He was constantly referred to by some diminutive: in his childhood he was called Cerillito (diminutive of cerillo, candle), then, at the Academy, Franquito (± Francillon), Lieutenant Franquito, Comandantín (in Oviedo), etc. In his Memorias, Manuel Azaña also let himself be called Franquito.
Despite the family”s lack of resources, the three brothers received the best private education available in Ferrol at the time, at the Sacred Heart School, where Francisco did not distinguish himself by any exceptional qualities, showing only some talent in drawing and mathematics, and also some aptitude for certain manual tasks. His teachers did not perceive any premonitory signs; the school principal, when interviewed around 1930, painted the following portrait: “a tireless worker, with a very balanced character, who drew well,” but all in all “a very ordinary child. He was neither studious nor dissipated. He did not fail any of the exams corresponding to the first two years of the bachillerato. According to the testimony of one of his classmates, “he was always the first to arrive and he was at the front, alone. He would dodge the others. All three Franco brothers, but Francisco to a greater degree, had an excessive ambition, which was encouraged by his family circle.
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When he reached the age of 12, Franco was enrolled – as well as his brother Nicolás before him and his cousin Pacón at the same time – in the preparatory naval school of Ferrol, directed by a lieutenant commander, in the hope of entering the navy later on. These naval academy preparation centers offered a much better quality of education, because there were, Franco himself observed, “several academies, with a limited number of students, directed by naval officers or military men. Among them, I chose the one directed by a Lieutenant Commander, Don Saturnino Suanzes” (father of Juan Antonio Suanzes, his senior and fellow student, future director of the National Institute of Industry). The classes at this institution were held on board the frigate Asturias, in the harbor of Ferrol. Pacón notes that his cousin was the youngest of all the students, and that he stood out especially in mathematics and for his excellent memory.
But while he was waiting for the invitation to the entrance exam, in the spring of 1907, the unexpected announcement came that the Ferrol Naval Academy was closing. After the defeat in Cuba, the naval command was left with a surplus of officers and immediately limited access to the Academy. Closed in 1901, the institution reopened in 1903 and closed again in 1907. Francisco attended the Toledo Infantry Academy as a substitute, while his brother Ramón, born in 1896, had a career in aviation.
Leaving his native Galicia for the first time, Francisco Franco travelled to Toledo at the end of June 1907 with his father to take part in the entrance exam to the Academy. He discovered a completely different Spain and will keep a precise memory of this initiatory trip that gave him a first and rapid vision of Spain, in this case of arid and depopulated Castile.
Franco, one of the youngest of his class, passed the exams “with great ease,” although the exams were of a basic level. Although the class that year was large (382 future cadets), a thousand others were deferred, including his cousin Pacón, who was two years older than him and who would not be able to enter the academy until the following year. From that moment on, the army had become Franco”s real family, especially since his biological family was disintegrating, since it was in that same year of 1907 that his father abandoned the marital home.
Nevertheless, Franco will remember with bitterness his incorporation in the Academy, having been the target of the hazing (novatadas), from which at that time no one could escape: “Sad reception that was offered to us, we who came full of desire to incorporate ourselves in the great military family”. The young Franco remembered the hazing as a “real ordeal” and criticized the lack of internal discipline and the irresponsibility of the academy directors in mixing cadets of such different ages, so much so that Franco formally prohibited hazing after he was appointed in 1928 as the first director of the new General Military Academy of Zaragoza, and assigned to each of the new candidates a personal mentor chosen among the older cadets. His childish appearance, his lack of physical presence, his diligent and introverted side, and his sour voice had made him one of the favorite victims of the older cadets. He was bullied twice by hiding his books under a bed. The first time Franco was punished for this; the second time he committed a crime, he was enraged and threw a candlestick at the heads of his persecutors. A brawl ensued and the young cadet was summoned to the principal. Franco explained that he considered this bullying an offence to his personal dignity, but he took responsibility for the brawl and kept the names of the provocateurs to himself, so that no other students were punished, which earned him the esteem of his classmates.
Franco would later be quite critical of the teaching he received and long afterwards would not spare some of his former teachers. This teaching was based primarily on memorization, and since Franco had a good memory, he had little trouble passing his exams, although his grades were not exceptional.
The predominant teaching came from old French and German military manuals that were already obsolete. The Provisional Regulations for Tactical Training published by the Toledo Academy in 1908, which was the bible of Franco”s generation, still considered the superiority of the infantry over the other arms to be self-evident, while all the other armies in Europe were paying great attention to the development of artillery and logistic support. The Spanish army, very weak in arms and equipment, was not prepared to operate at the same level as the best contemporary armies, and the Melilla campaign, launched two years after Franco entered the Military Academy, further accentuated the general feeling of inadequacy of the teaching for the combat required to defend the last colonial territories.
It seems that Franco already at this time showed a dilection for topography and fortification techniques and that he loved history, lamenting the lack of interest of the Academy”s cadres in Toledo”s illustrious past. Regularly, long treks were made, where the cadets left the city on horseback and with music, and then were lodged for the night in the modest homes of peasants, “where we began to know at close quarters the great virtues and nobility of the Spanish people.” In 1910, the graduation trip took the cadets in five days from Toledo to Escorial.
In July 1910, the solemn ceremony of awarding the certificates to the 312 cadets took place in the patio of the Alcazar. Francisco Franco was ranked 251st out of the 312 in his class. The fact that his final grade was in the lowest category was not the result of poor grades, but of the fact that the criteria for the ranking took into account age, stature and physical presence. It is worth noting that the valedictorian of his class, Darío Gazapo Valdès, was only a lieutenant colonel in 1936, at the time of the coup d”état, in which he participated in Melilla, while the number two of the class was only an infantry commander in Zaragoza. In the same class, the names of Juan Yagüe, who would become one of Franco”s strongest supporters during his conquest of power in 1936, and Lisardo Doval Bravo, future general of the Civil Guard and enforcer of Franco”s dirty deeds, stand out. Agustín Muñoz Grandes, another future collaborator, was part of the next class. Many of those who would play the leading roles in Franco”s long reign had been companions in his youth.
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Prelude: first assignment in Ferrol (1910-1912)
After his request to be assigned to Africa was rejected, because it was against the law, Franco requested and obtained to be assigned as a second lieutenant to the 8th Infantry Regiment of El Ferrol, in order to be near his family. Franco spent two years in his hometown, where his friendship with his cousin Pacón and with Camilo Alonso Vega was strengthened.
Having entered service on August 22, 1910, he soon felt the monotony of garrison life, which did not offer the slightest chance of achieving any reputation, although his superiors in Ferrol had noticed that Franco showed an unusual capacity for instruction and command, and was punctual and strict in the performance of his professional duties. Above all, Franco discovered that he took great pleasure in commanding the men, and demanded that they behave impeccably, while striving not to commit injustices. Therefore, in September 1911, at the end of his first year, he was appointed special instructor for the new corporals.
In addition, he showed an unusual piety: very close to his mother, he followed her in her pious exercises, joining in particular the group that practiced the nightly adoration of the Sacred Heart.
In 1911, Franco, Alonso Vega and Pacón once again requested that they be sent to Morocco, supporting their request with all possible recommendations; the most important support came from the former director of the Toledo Academy, Colonel José Villalba Riquelme, who had just been entrusted with the command of the 68th Infantry Regiment stationed in Melilla, and who obtained, after amending the law, that the three young officers be transferred to his regiment.
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First period in Africa: the indigenous Regulars (February 1912-January 1917)
In 1909, the Rifans attacked the workers who were building the railroad linking Melilla to the iron mines that were about to be exploited. Spain sent reinforcements, but had little control over the terrain and lacked a logistical base, resulting in the Barranco del Lobo disaster of July 1909. The ensuing Spanish reaction allowed the occupation of the coastal area from Cape Water to Point Negri to be extended. In August 1911, the President of the Council José Canalejas used the pretext of a Kabyle aggression on the banks of the Kert river to give a mission to a corps of troops to enlarge the borders of the Spanish zone, a new campaign against which the Spanish population protested with the insurrection of autumn 1911.
On February 17, 1912, Franco landed in Melilla and was assigned to the African regiment commanded by José Villalba Riquelme. Franco joined an army that was poorly organized and led, with deficient and outdated equipment, demotivated troops and an incompetent officer corps, most of whom were mediocre and many of whom were corrupt, repeating the tactics that had already failed in previous colonial wars. The troops were afflicted with diseases due to deficiencies and poor hygiene. Melilla was a city of bazaars, gambling dens and brothels, and the hub of all kinds of trafficking, including the clandestine sale of arms, equipment and foodstuffs to Kabyle insurgents, and the embezzlement by certain quartermasters of part of the sums allocated for the soldiers” food, all of which Franco was careful not to get involved in. Confronted with the turpitudes of the environment and the harshness of the relationships between men, Franco forged himself day after day a shell of coldness, impassivity, indifference to pain and self-control.
His first engagements in Africa were routine operations, such as maintaining contact between several forts or protecting the mines of Bni Bou Ifrour, but for Franco and his comrades-in-arms, who learned the rudiments of warfare in Morocco from the outset and lived through this colonial world with the same emphasis, it all took on an epic quality.
Franco, through his involvement in Morocco, was led to join the so-called Africanist caste, born within another caste, the military caste. In Africa, thousands of soldiers and hundreds of officers had already died; it was a risky assignment, but it was also one in which the policy of promotion for war merits allowed for a rapid military career. The frequency of the fighting and the heavy Spanish losses inflicted by the rebellious Rifans made it necessary to constantly renew the ranks and put young officers to work.
Assigned to his regiment as a deputy (agregado), on February 24, 1912, he reached the camp of Tifasor, an advanced post near the valley of the Kert River made insecure by the works of the formidable El Mizzian. On March 19, 1912, following an attack on a native police patrol, a counter-attack was decided upon, forcing the Rifans to abandon their positions and withdraw to the other bank of the Kert. It was then that Franco received his baptism of fire, when the small reconnaissance column under his command came under heavy fire from the rebels. Four days later, Franco”s regiment took part in a larger operation to consolidate the right bank of the Kert, involving a thousand men. The Spanish troops, unprepared for guerrilla warfare and not even having maps, were ambushed and suffered heavy casualties.
On May 15, 1912, Franco was part of the support force commanded by Riquelme that was to prevent the rebels from assisting El Mizzian”s men entrenched in the village of Al-Lal-Kaddour. The Spaniards succeeded in surrounding the rebels, and El Mizzian, though reputedly invulnerable, was killed on his horse and his troop destroyed. The indigenous regulars, who constituted the vanguard, had played the main role; impressed by the promotion to captain of two lieutenants of this unit, both of whom had been wounded, Franco resolved to apply in April 1913 for a lieutenant”s position in the regular indigenous forces. On June 13 of that year, Franco was promoted to lieutenant first, when he was only 19 years old, the only time he rose in rank by seniority alone, and received his first military decoration on November 16.
At his request, Franco was assigned on April 15, 1913, to the Regiment of the Regular Indigenous Forces, a shock unit of the Spanish army, recently created on the French model by General Dámaso Berenguer. The Moorish mercenaries who made up this still experimental corps had already acquired a great reputation for their bravery, efficiency and endurance, and were regularly assigned the most dangerous tasks. Only the best officers were chosen to command the Regulars. Franco possessed the main qualities – valour, serenity, lucidity under pressure, and aptitude for command – and had, by his actions in 1912, demonstrated the ability to keep a cool head and lead his men under enemy fire. Certainly, there was no need for him to develop a sophisticated strategy or elaborate warfare tactics, skills that were of little use in his military trajectory at the time. The Spanish command took the habit of engaging the new indigenous troops in different columns, in order to get the best out of them, which would result in a continuous presence under fire of the officers who commanded these troops, including Franco.
Franco went to the post of Sebt, near Nador, in the eastern end of the protectorate, where the only indigenous forces that the Spanish army possessed at that time were stationed, and where, among his superiors, were Dámaso Berenguer, Emilio Mola and José Sanjurjo.
For three years, Lieutenant Franco served constantly in the front line and participated in a number of operations, most of which were small in scale but often perilous. During the month of July 1913 alone, Franco was constantly on the front line and took part in four major operations. Proving that he knew where to concentrate fire during combat and that he had a talent for securing supplies, Franco attracted the attention of his superiors. His native troops respected him for his bravery and honest application of military rules. A purist of rules, he instituted iron discipline and was implacable to insubordination, but personally lived under the same code as his men. On one occasion, he called a firing squad together after a legionnaire refused to eat and threw the meal at an officer; he gave the order to shoot him and had the battalion march past the corpse.
In order to secure Tetouan, the Spanish had established a line of forts between Tetouan, Río Martín and Laucién. The operation of September 22, 1913, aimed at strengthening the position south of Río Martín, turned into a tragedy when one of the companies was attacked by a rebel detachment. Captain Ángel Izarduy was killed in the attack, and to recover his body, a company was dispatched, which a section of the 1st company of Regulars, under Franco”s command, had to cover with its fire. Franco carried out this mission perfectly, and the communiqué on this operation expressly mentioned Franco”s role and name, and on October 12, 1913, he was awarded the Cross of the Order of Military Merit, First Class, for his victory in this battle. Franco took part in several actions in the course of 1914, and in 18 months had become a full-fledged officer and had acquired a remarkable competence in the effectiveness of fire, but also in the establishment of logistical support, within an army that totally neglected this aspect. From that time on, he showed an unflappable and hermetic character, which he was to be known for throughout his life. In battle, he distinguished himself by his recklessness and combativeness, showed enthusiasm for bayonet charges designed to demoralize the enemy, and took great risks in leading the advances of his unit. In addition, the units under his command excelled in discipline and orderly movement, and he earned a reputation as a meticulous and well-prepared officer, interested in logistics, attentive to mapping and ensuring the safety of the camp, for whom respect for discipline was an absolute. On the battlefield, Franco never backed down and led his men to victory no matter what it took, because he knew that defeat or retreat would make them desert or turn against him.
In January 1914, he played a notable role in the operation against Beni Hosman, south of Tetouan, where the aim was to ensure the protection of the douars attacked and held to ransom by the Ben Karrich rebels. The communiqué made special mention of Lieutenant Franco, whose qualities were recognized by his leaders. In March 1915, at the age of 23, he was promoted to the rank of captain for “war merits”, which made him the youngest captain in the Spanish army.
By the end of 1915, Franco, shrouded in a halo of invulnerability, enjoyed an exceptional reputation among the Rifans who, seeing him disregard all precautions and walk at the head of his men without turning his head, believed him to be the holder of the barakah. At the end of 1915, of the 42 officers who had volunteered to serve in the regular indigenous forces of Melilla in 1911 and 1912, only seven were still unharmed, including Franco. No doubt this experience was the origin of his providentialism, that is, his conviction not only that everything was in God”s hands, but also that he had been chosen by the divinity to accomplish a special purpose.
Thanks to an agreement with the rebel leader El Raïssouni, an almost total peace reigned in the western part of the protectorate from October 1915 until April of the following year.
In April 1915, General Berenguer entrusted Franco with the organization of a new company, and on April 25, Franco, having carried out this mission with great diligence, gave him command of it.
In the spring of 1916, the relative calm ended with the rebellion of the powerful tribe of Anjra, a partially fortified position located on the hill of El Bioutz, in the northwest of the Protectorate, between Ceuta and Tangier. The operation against Anjra, the largest ever launched by the Spanish authorities, consisted of three columns advancing to a single point and involved exceptionally large forces; the corps reporting directly to Franco alone comprised a strength of nearly 10,000 Spanish men, in addition to the Regulars. The insurgents had more firepower than usual, including several machine guns. The Spanish troops soon found themselves in front of Anjra and the tabor (=battalion) of which Franco was a part was ordered to attack, which it did with determination. In the fight to take this position, the first two companies were immediately decapitated, and the commander of Franco”s tabor was killed. Leading by example, Franco took the rifle of one of the soldiers killed next to him, when he was hit by a bullet in the abdomen, which passed through the belly, grazed the liver, and exited in the back, causing a heavy hemorrhage. Judged untransportable, Franco was taken to the field infirmary and transferred to the military hospital in Ceuta only sixteen days later.
The Tabor communiqué stated that he had distinguished himself by his “incomparable courage, leadership skills and energy in this battle”, and a telegram from the Ministry of War dated 30 June congratulated Captain Franco on behalf of the government and both Houses. On February 28, 1917, General Berenguer gave Franco a favorable opinion and he was appointed commander, making him the youngest commander in Spain.
In the hospital in Ceuta, he was visited by his parents, who had immediately made the trip and were reunited for the first and last time since their separation in 1907. On August 3, 1916, Franco was able to embark at Ceuta for Ferrol, where he spent two months on leave. He returned to his corps of regulars in Tetouan on November 1, 1916, to take command of a company, but he only held this position for a short time, since there was no vacancy and he left Morocco at the end of February 1917, to be assigned as an infantry commander in the 3rd Prince”s Regiment, garrisoned in Oviedo.
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Interlude in Oviedo (1917-1920)
During the three years Franco was in Oviedo, an opposition began to emerge within the Spanish armed forces between peninsularists and Africanists. The former, highly critical of the profusion of decorations, metal awards and promotions for comrades serving in North Africa, considered the promotions for war merits abusive and formed the so-called Juntas Militares de Defensa, This was an illegal association that emerged during the crisis of 1917 to demand the renewal of political life, but also, to an increasing extent, to channel their categorical demands for the maintenance of the privileges of the officer corps and the application of an indexed promotion scale governed strictly by seniority. The latter, including Franco, considered these promotions necessary to reward the risky work of officers in Africa who were evolving in the “best, not to say the only, practical school of our army.
At the Oviedo barracks, he was significantly younger than many officers below him in rank, and only a handful of veterans of the Cuban campaign could match him in combat experience. Many of them, members of the Junta de Defensa, felt that his promotions had been too rapid and that a commander”s rank at 24 was excessive. His youth earned him the nickname Comandantín.
His main responsibility in Oviedo was, in addition to the routine of a provincial garrison, to supervise the training of reserve officers; but in truth, he had little to do. His cousin Pacón and Camilo Alonso Vega joined him after a year. The reserve officers he trained, often from the classes of the gentry, served as his introducers in the tertulias (salons) of good society, where he had the opportunity to make some connections with prominent figures in civil society and cultural life, such as the young professor of literature at the University of Oviedo, Pedro Sáinz Rodríguez, who was to become Minister of Education in the first Franco government for a brief period between 1938 and 1939.
Franco wanted a good marriage to complement his military career. Without being a dowry hunter, he specifically targeted young girls from good families and high social status, that is, a suitable lady, like his mother.
It was in 1917, on the occasion of a summer romería (traditional popular festival) that Franco met his future wife Carmen Polo, who was very religious, of distinguished appearance, belonged to an old Asturian noble family and had just turned sixteen. Her father lived comfortably off the land rent, but professed liberal ideas. The Polos resisted for a long time before agreeing to the affair, calling Franco an “adventurer”, a “bullfighter” and a “dowry hunter”. For Franco, this marriage meant social advancement and a supportive family environment, allowing him to erase the downgrading that his father had caused him.
Franco witnessed the general strike of August 10, 1917. The discontent caused by the high cost of living had united the two major trade union centers, the socialist UGT and the anarchist CNT, which signed a joint manifesto calling for “fundamental changes to the system” and the convening of a constituent assembly. The arrest of the signatories triggered strikes in all sectors of activity and in several large Spanish cities, including Oviedo. In Asturias, where the UGC union had a large membership, the miners succeeded in prolonging the unrest for almost twenty days. Although the strike was initially nonviolent, military governor Ricardo Burguete declared a state of siege, threatened the strikers with “wildcat treatment,” and sent the army and Civil Guard into the mining areas.
Franco, who happened to be in Asturias, was put in charge of the repression and headed a column sent to the coal basin. Although some biographers believe that Franco”s repression was particularly brutal, it seems that, however harsh it was, it was not more so than in other regions, since the documents of the time do not distinguish it from the repressive actions carried out elsewhere. Better still, it does not even seem that this troop carried out any military repression: Franco”s service record does not mention any “war operation” at that time. The Caudillo himself later assured that no reprehensible action was committed in the area he visited, which seems credible, given that his column returned to Oviedo three days before the violent phase of the strike began on September 1, 1917, which would provoke a very harsh and even bloody repression on the part of Burguete, with 2,000 arrests, 80 deaths and hundreds of injuries. Nevertheless, some people saw in this the first signs of a brutality that would be unleashed during the Civil War; others, on the contrary, saw it as an awareness of the difficult situation of the workers.
But, as Bennassar observes, however horrified he was by the workers” appalling working conditions, he did not conclude that the strike was legitimate and expressed his conviction of the need to maintain order and hierarchies in spite of social injustice; on the other hand, out of concern for his career, Franco was careful not to deviate in any way, especially since his career interests coincided with his political orientations. Franco”s sentimental attachments brought him closer to a caste of owners deeply hostile to popular movements that might threaten it directly. So Franco put down the Asturian miners” revolt as a convinced and disciplined officer. Shortly afterwards, Franco was once again sent to the coalfields, this time as a judge and in a state of war, to judge crimes of violation of public order, and pronounced prison sentences against several strikers, without taking into consideration the origin of the violence.
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Second period in Africa: the Legion (1920-1926)
Franco met Major José Millán-Astray during a shooting course in 1919 and frequented him thereafter. This colorful character, who had just spent time in France and Algeria studying the Foreign Legion, had a great influence on Franco and would later play a determining role in his professional career. In 1920, his plan for a Spanish Legion was finally approved by the Spanish government, which saw it as the best way to wage war in Africa without sending Spanish recruits. The Legion was distinguished by its iron discipline, the brutality of the punishments inflicted on the troops and, on the battlefield, by its function as a shock troop; on the other hand, as an escape valve, the abuses committed by legionnaires against the civilian population were treated with leniency, and the high command tolerated numerous irregularities, such as daily charivaris or prostitution in the barracks. The Legion was also known for its brutality against the defeated enemy; physical abuse and the beheading of prisoners followed by the display of the severed heads as trophies were regularly practiced.
Since Millán-Astray lacked organizational skills, it was quickly decided that Franco, known for his ability to train, organize and discipline troops, would be his collaborator. On September 27, 1920, Franco was appointed leader of his first battalion (bandera), and on October 10, the first two hundred legionnaires arrived in Ceuta. That same evening, the legionnaires terrorized the city; a prostitute and a guard leader were murdered, and subsequent scuffles left two more dead.
In a short time, the Legion (or Tercio) gained the reputation of being the toughest and best-prepared combat unit in the Spanish army. Franco imposed a relentless discipline on his men, subjecting them to intensive training in order to break their bodies to effort, hunger and thirst, and forging them an indestructible morale. He knew how to make himself feared, respected and even loved by the legionnaires, because he knew each of them and tried to be fair. In combat, he was ruthless, applying the law of retaliation without hesitation, authorizing the legionnaires to mutilate Moroccans who fell into their hands. He let his men loot the douars, chase and rape the women, gave orders to burn the villages, and never took prisoners. Franco recounts in Diario de una bandera :
“At noon, I got permission from the general to go and punish the villages from which the enemy was harassing us. On our right, the terrain descends in a rugged manner to the beach, below we find a wide strip of small douars. While one section, opening fire on the houses, protected the maneuver, another slipped through a shortcut and, encircling the villages, executed the inhabitants with knives. The flames rise from the roofs of the houses, the legionnaires pursue the inhabitants.”
Spain decided to fully occupy its protectorate and appointed Major General Manuel Fernández Silvestre to command Melilla. To control the territory, a network of interconnected forts was set up. In the western part, Berenguer deployed his troops, consolidating his positions as he advanced, in contrast to Silvestre”s vanguard posts, which were left without support or protection; Silvestre was emboldened to open the road between Melilla and Al Hoceima (Alhucemas in Spanish). In the meantime, the material and technical poverty of the army had become even worse, and the troops, without any military training, were totally demotivated. On the other hand, the resistance capacity of the Kabyles had multiplied under the leadership of Abdelkrim.
The Rifa attacks began on 1 June 1921, more violent than ever before, and on 21 July the most advanced Spanish positions began to fall like dominoes, forcing the Spaniards to retreat more than 150 kilometers from the limit of the zone under their domination, as far as Melilla. In anticipation of hard fighting, the Spanish command had pinned its hopes on the Regulares and the indigenous police, but almost all of the indigenous forces in the eastern zone deserted to Abdelkrim”s side. On July 16, 1921, a column was ambushed between Anoual and Igueriben; reinforcements sent from Anoual arrived too late and could not prevent the first carnage. Soon, the place of Anoual itself was besieged; the retreat, too late, degenerated into a stampede. More than 14,000 men were savagely massacred. The Spaniards, besieged in Al Aroui, finally surrendered on August 9, but were exterminated in their turn.
One of the first reactions of the high command was to transfer part of the Legion to the eastern zone, which was then in a critical situation. Franco, who was at the head of his bandera in the Larache area, was urgently called upon to defend Melilla under the command of Millán-Astray. Franco”s battalion first had to march 50 km to reach Tetuan, and several men died of exhaustion along the way; then all the men were transported to Melilla, to prevent the city from being invaded and sacked. Once the defense of the city was secured, the Legion units went on a limited counteroffensive on September 17. That same day, Millán-Astray, wounded in battle, handed over command to Franco, who entered Nador victorious at the head of the Legion. Franco participated in the reconquest of the territory until January 1922, when he took Driouch. He was awarded the military medal and promoted to the rank of lieutenant colonel.
In the meantime, these disasters had set the Peninsula ablaze and given rise to a vengeful fury directed in turn against Abdelkrim”s troops, against the incapable military, and against the monarchy. At the same time, the officers were called to account for the disaster, as they were deemed responsible for it through their imperialism. Franco was convinced that Freemasonry, an extraordinarily occult and dominant force, was behind these criticisms of the army, which he considered undeserved. On the other hand, the Legion saw its halo grow, and Franco found himself once again at the center of an event of great repercussion, thanks to which he raised his own prestige and became a hero in the eyes of public opinion.
During his various leaves of absence, which he used to travel to Oviedo and visit his future wife, Franco was welcomed as a hero and invited to banquets and the social events of the local aristocracy. For the first time, the press took an interest in him: on February 22, 1922, the newspaper ABC ran a cover story with a photo of the “Ace of the Legion”, and in 1923, Alfonso XIII awarded him a decoration along with the rare distinction of “gentleman of the chamber”. In Oviedo, Carmen Polo”s father finally agreed to his daughter”s marriage, which was scheduled for June 1922. That same year, Franco published a book entitled Diario de una Bandera, in which he recounted the events he experienced in Africa at that time.
Millán-Astray, following some statements in which he reacted flippantly to the appointment of a commission of inquiry to determine responsibility for the setbacks in Africa – the so-called Picasso Commission, named after Juan Picasso, author of the final report and uncle of the painter Pablo Picasso – was removed as commander of the Legion and replaced by Lieutenant-Colonel Valenzuela, who until then had been in charge of one of the banderas. Franco, disappointed that he was not offered the position of Legion Commander because he did not have the required rank, requested a transfer to the Peninsula and was transferred back to the Prince”s Regiment in Oviedo. However, after Valenzuela was killed in action on June 5, 1923, Franco, the logical successor, was appointed Commander-in-Chief of the Legion after being promoted to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel with retroactive effect to June 8, 1923, which meant that he had to leave immediately for Africa and postpone his wedding. Franco went back to Morocco and stayed for another five months, dedicating himself to reforming the Legion, with higher standards of conduct, especially for officers. On October 13, 1923, he returned to Oviedo, where his wedding was celebrated on October 22, a real social event. Francisco Franco and Carmen Polo were able to enter the church of San Juan el Real in Oviedo under a royal canopy. On the occasion of the ceremony, a Madrid newspaper published an article entitled The Wedding of a Heroic Caudillo, a title that Franco was given for the first time.
On September 13, 1923, a coup d”état inaugurated the dictatorship of Primo de Rivera, towards which Franco was cautious, since it was well known that Primo was in favor of Spain”s withdrawal from Morocco. Primo de Rivera entrusted Franco with the direction of the Revista de tropas coloniales, whose first issue appeared in January 1924. In it, Franco set out his conception of war, according to which it was appropriate to eliminate the adversary, as he believed that negotiation or politics could have no other effect than to prolong the confrontations unnecessarily.
Primo de Rivera had always been opposed to Spanish policy in Morocco, and since 1909 had advocated abandoning the ungovernable Rif; Franco, on the other hand, considered the Spanish presence in Morocco to be part of Spain”s historical mission, and considered the preservation of the protectorate to be a fundamental objective. Judging that Spain was practicing an erroneous policy in Morocco, made up of half-measures and very costly in terms of men and equipment, he advocated a large-scale operation capable of establishing a solid protectorate and putting an end to Abdelkrim. If Franco recognized the need for a temporary military withdrawal, it could only be with the aim of launching a definitive offensive to occupy the entire Rif and crush the insurrection for good.
Primo de Rivera aspired to end operations in Morocco, preferably through negotiation, but Abdelkrim”s intransigence prevented the signing of the desired peace. Abdelkrim, overcoming the tribal disunity, proclaimed himself emir, installed a kind of government and began in early 1924 to take control of the central part of the protectorate, and then penetrated the western part. These movements caused Primo de Rivera to change his mind and decide to fight Abdelkrim to the hilt, reinforced by the prospect of collaboration with France and his conviction that Abdelkrim embodied an Islamo-Bolshevik offensive.
Primo de Rivera then implemented an important reorganization of the military system, consisting of maintaining a limited line of occupation in the east, in anticipation of a future Spanish counteroffensive, at the same time as a more extensive retreat in the west, at the cost of clearing the many isolated positions in the hinterland. Operations began in August 1924, and Franco and his legionnaires were responsible for protecting the successive retreats of some 400 minor positions, and above all for carrying out the most complex and perilous operation, the withdrawal to Tetouan from the town of Chefchaouen, which was a sad and bitter experience for Franco. His troops, exposed to continuous attacks and ambushes by Abdelkrim”s men, carried out these operations with tenacity and skill, without disorder or panic. On February 7, 1925, the good progress of the maneuver brought him a new promotion, to the rank of colonel.
Abdelkrim, encouraged to carry out new attacks, made the mistake of launching raids on French positions, thus forging a Franco-Spanish collaboration against him. In June 1925, the two European powers signed a military cooperation pact to crush the Rifa rebellion once and for all. Franco attended the meeting between Pétain and Primo de Rivera, where the Spanish plan was finally adopted, the one that Franco had defended before the king and Primo de Rivera, and in whose elaboration he had taken part. It was agreed that a French army of 160,000 men would move from the south, while a Spanish expeditionary force would attack the rebels from the north. The key operation would be the amphibious invasion of the bay of Al Hoceima, in the heart of the insurgent zone.
As part of the operation, Franco, with the Legion, the Tetuan Regulars, and the Muñoz Grandes harkas, was charged with arriving by sea on September 7, 1925, and then pushing the offensive into the coastal mountains. The plan had a better chance of success because it benefited from the logistical support of the French fleet during the landing and the land offensive of French troops from the south. At the head of the initial attack force, Franco once again showed his determination: in defiance of the naval command, which had given orders to withdraw, he insisted on continuing the operation despite the poor sea conditions. As the landing craft could not cross the sandbanks, he jumped into the water with his men, continued on foot, and soon established a bridgehead on land. His troops first had to repel various attacks, then the final advance began on September 23, with Franco leading one of the five columns. Thus, by a gradual and steady advance, the heart of the Rifa insurgency was reached, while at the same time French forces advanced in the south, trapping Abdelkrim between two fires. The campaign continued for seven months, until the surrender of the Rifian leader in May 1926.
Franco was the only leader to receive a special mention in the official report issued by his brigadier general. His bravery and efficiency earned him a mention in the Order of the Nation. Promoted to brigadier general on February 3, 1926, at the age of 33, he became the youngest general in Spain and in all the armies of Europe, and the most famous figure in the Spanish army. He was chosen to accompany the King and Queen on their official trip to Africa in 1927. France also paid tribute to him by awarding him the Legion of Honor in February 1928.
For Franco, the struggle in Africa, especially the landing in Al Hoceima, was an experience that he would later recall with nostalgia and that would become his favorite topic of conversation for the rest of his life. Later, in Madrid and then in Zaragoza, in 1928, he wrote his Political Reflections, in which he outlined a project for the development of the Protectorate that would take into account the realities of the indigenous people, emphasizing the interest in creating model farms, insisting on the distribution of cereal seeds, on the improvement of livestock breeds, on the desirability of cheap credit, on the care to be taken in the selection of military administrators, etc.
The day Francisco Franco”s promotion to general was announced, his success was overshadowed by the spectacular coverage given by the national press to his younger brother Ramón, who was also welcomed as a hero, as the first Spanish pilot to cross the Atlantic in the Plus Ultra seaplane. At that time, Franco was much more outgoing, talking, telling stories, and even having a sense of humor, far from the cold cynicism he would later display.
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Stay in Madrid (1926-1927)
During his time in Africa, Franco joined the Africanists, who formed a close-knit group, kept in constant contact with each other, supported each other against the peninsular officers (or junteros, members of the Juntas de Defensa), and conspired against the Republic from the beginning. José Sanjurjo, Emilio Mola, Luis Orgaz, Manuel Goded, Juan Yagüe, José Enrique Varela and Franco himself were notable Africanists and the main promoters of the July 1936 coup. Aware of his privileged destiny, Franco wrote in his Apuntes: “Since I was made a general at the age of 33, I had been placed on the path of great responsibilities for the future.
Appointed to Madrid, he had taken up residence with his wife on the Paseo de la Castellana, in the beautiful neighborhoods of the capital. His two years in Madrid were a period of intense social life, although limited by his salary as a brigadier general, which was not very high. The Franco couple led a pleasant life, going to the theater and especially to the movies, the only art that Franco enjoyed intensely. But even in Madrid, his closest circle of friends consisted of former comrades from Morocco, such as Millán-Astray, Varela, Orgaz and Mola. Likewise, he integrated his cousin Pacón into his staff as his personal military assistant, the beginning of the long period in which Pacón remained in that position. In an interview, he said that his favorite author was the eccentric writer Ramón María del Valle-Inclán, but he immediately made it clear that his reading and research were mainly in the fields of history and economics. He built up a personal library, which was destroyed by revolutionary groups when his Madrid apartment was sacked in 1936.
At the same time, he took care to maintain his reputation as a competent technician, thanks to the Revista de tropas coloniales, which he continued to direct and where he welcomed specialists in Spanish colonial history. In 1927 alone, the journal devoted two articles with photographs to Millán-Astray. Franco showed a natural devotion to authority, as shown by the May issue, which was almost entirely occupied by a tribute to the king and Miguel Primo de Rivera, with an editorial in his hand. If Franco had joined Primo de Rivera, it was not out of affinity for the dictator himself, but because he preferred an authoritarian system to a parliamentary one. For the time being, however, he kept strictly to his status as a professional soldier, away from politics.
The generals opposed to Primo de Rivera were opposed not so much because of their attachment to the constitutional system as because of the dictator”s efforts to reform the armed forces, particularly to remedy the hypertrophy of the officer corps. He proposed to form a smaller, less expensive and more professional army. Another problem was the persistent opposition, already mentioned, between junteros and africanists, which, according to the conclusions reached by Primo de Rivera, was partly due to the fact that since 1893 four separate military academies had existed. Judging that the setbacks suffered in Morocco were due in part to the lack of coordination and rivalries between the different arms, he thought that it was necessary to improve both the training of officers and the relations between the different military academies, in order to homogenize the army and to fight against an overly marked esprit de corps. In February 1927, therefore, he thought it advisable to revive the General Military Academy, which had existed from 1882 to 1892, where future officers would receive a common basic education, without prejudice to later separate specialized training, according to the needs of the different technical corps. Finally, he felt that Franco was the right man to lead the said Academy; he was not only an experienced officer in combat, but also a professional of great dignity and rigor, capable of inculcating in the cadets the spirit of patriotism while improving discipline and professional skills.
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Director of the General Military Academy (1927-1931)
In March 1927, Franco was appointed by Primo de Rivera to head the commission that was to build the new military educational institution. Franco devoted himself body and soul to his task and closely followed the construction work. He visited Saint-Cyr, then directed by Philippe Pétain, and then made several trips to Germany to examine various military academies. During his stay in Dresden, he was deeply impressed by the German military culture and traditions. The basic orientation of the Academy will be in tune with the French and German military cultures, faithful to the Spanish tradition since the 18th century.
In December 1927, Franco moved to Zaragoza to assume his new position and was joined by his family two months later, and later by Felipe and Zita, his wife”s brother and sister. On January 4, 1928, Franco was named the first director of the Zaragoza Academy, which was a personal success, but also a victory for Africanists. The first course of study at the new Academy was inaugurated in the fall of 1928. The selection of candidates was severe, and Franco imposed an arduous entrance examination and instituted the anonymity of the papers. He stipulated that to be eligible, cadets had to be between 17 and 22 years old; of the 785 aspirants, only 215 were accepted in the first class. The institution attached great importance to moral and psychological training and placed the cadets in a training framework conducive to reinforcing discipline, patriotism, the spirit of service and sacrifice, extreme physical courage, and loyalty to established institutions, including the monarchy. This training, which was crystallized in the famous “Cadet”s Decalogue”, aimed at extending, through discipline and sacrifice, the esprit de corps to the whole army, and proscribed anything that could harm the constitution of this spirit, notably hazing. Sport was given a greater place: long mountain and ski marches were planned, which Franco himself often led. The teaching of the twenty teachers was subject to permanent coordination and control. The political project was not absent, since good readings were also provided for the aspirants, such as the International Anti-Communist Review, to which the Academy had subscribed and of which Franco was a faithful reader. It is noteworthy that religion does not appear in the aforementioned decalogue.
In Zaragoza, the new Academy had acquired great prestige and the Francos enjoyed a social life like never before. They were now part of the local establishment, and Franco, now a prominent provincial, sacrificed his social obligations, meeting the local intellectual elite at the military casino. A street in Zaragoza was named after him in May 1929. It was also at this time that a character who would play a major role in his life in the years to come, Ramón Serrano Súñer, a native of Cartagena, entered his life. He was the most highly regarded young man in the city, once considered the best law student in Spain, a brilliant lawyer with a passion for politics, who had befriended José Antonio Primo de Rivera during his studies in Madrid, and who married the younger sister of Franco”s wife, Zita Polo. The future cuñadísimo – a joking formation of cuñado, “brother-in-law” – had a determining influence on Franco”s political thinking from the first years of their meeting.
Franco began to show a great interest in politics. Under the influence of the Bulletin of the International Entente against the Third International, published in Geneva, to which Primo de Rivera had offered him a subscription in 1927, Franco had added communism to Freemasonry as a second danger of subversion threatening Spain and the Western world. But Franco was then more interested in economics than in politics and liked to proclaim himself “calm” in this field.
His whimsical brother Ramón, who was a keen writer, published three short autobiographical stories, and also had a passion for the world of art, with a predilection for the avant-garde, in sharp contrast to his brother”s traditional tastes. He became a Freemason, at a time when Franco had a radical aversion to Freemasonry. Ramón engaged in political subversion and, when the Republican military rebellion broke out on December 15, 1930, Ramón, together with a small group of conspirators, seized a small airfield near Madrid, then flew over the Royal Palace, scattering leaflets proclaiming the republic, before leaving the scene in a hurry. After the failure of this coup attempt, and after he was accused in October 1930 of preparing explosives and illegal possession of weapons, Ramón had to choose exile in Lisbon, where he found himself without means and asked his brother for help. Franco responded by sending a sum of 2,000 pesetas, which was all he had been able to raise in such a short time, but he accompanied it with a letter, which was certainly affectionate, but also full of admonitions, to bring his brother back to the “right path”. In it, he stated that “the reasoned evolution of ideas and peoples, democratizing within the limits of the law, constitutes the true progress of the country, and any extremist and violent revolution will lead it to the most odious tyrannies. This tends to show that Franco was not at all opposed to democratic reforms, as long as they were legal and orderly, preferably established under the monarchy. The nineteenth-century model of military rebellion seemed to him irrevocably outdated. It also appears from this letter that Franco tended to separate his political positions from the imperatives of family solidarity, demonstrating on this occasion, as Andrée Bachoud notes, “another trait of his personality: a clan spirit that outweighs ideological conviction. His experience in Morocco taught him to prefer personal loyalties to communities of ideas, always revisable”.
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Under the Dictablanda
Franco regretted the resignation of Primo de Rivera, who had become increasingly unpopular and had lost the support of King Alfonso XIII and most of the army”s top brass, and considered the Spanish people ungrateful to forget the dictator”s achievements, although he refrained from expressing his feelings in public.
The Dictablanda that followed – a play on the word dictadura, which can be translated as dictamolle – was marked by the Jaca uprising of December 1930, an episode in which Franco publicly sided with the regime. Residing in Zaragoza, and therefore very close to the scene of the events, he put his cadets in a marching column to block the road from Huesca to Zaragoza without waiting for orders. He then offered his services to the king and sat on the military tribunal in charge of judging the insurgents.
In the meantime, a republican coalition had been created, bringing together convinced republicans from left-wing and center parties, Catalan and Basque autonomists, and democrats from monarchist circles disappointed by the dictatorship of Primo de Rivera. In 1931, Alfonso XIII, faced with the discontent he could no longer contain, resigned himself to replacing Dámaso Berenguer with the old “apolitical” admiral Aznar, who organized a routine local consultation, the municipal elections of April 12, 1931, the results of which showed the majority anti-monarchism of the Spanish population. All the major cities and almost all the provincial capitals were swept up in a republican tidal wave, and a wave of demonstrators proclaimed the republic on April 14, 1931.
In Zaragoza, Franco was appalled, having imagined that the majority of the population continued to support the crown. He was the only one, according to Serrano Suñer, to consider the possibility of arming his cadets and sending them to Madrid in defence of the king, but when he told Millán-Astray of his intention, Millán-Astray shared with him a confidence from Sanjurjo, according to whom this option would not have sufficient support, and in particular that it did not have the support of the Civil Guard; this would make him give up.
Later, Franco reproached Berenguer for not having proclaimed the state of emergency that would have saved the monarchy, and also claimed that “the monarchy had not been rejected by the Spanish people. He considered the Republican seizure of power to be a usurpation, a kind of “peaceful pronunciamiento”, carried out in the absence of any organized opposition, since Alfonso XIII, for example, had done nothing to oppose the Republican seizure of power, so that legitimacy passed to the new regime through its renunciation. On the other hand, Franco admitted in his private correspondence that institutions were bound to change with the new times, which from a certain point of view would be regrettable, but at the same time understandable, and even, if the new regime proved to be just and honest, acceptable.
At the beginning of May 1931, Spain was in an insurrectionary situation, and in June 1931 a Constituent Assembly was convened to give the country a modern constitution.
During the Second Spanish Republic, Franco”s career would have a very different trajectory according to the three political phases that succeeded each other during this period: the biennial liberal-left phase (and the quasi-revolutionary regime of the Popular Front from February 1936).
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Liberal biennium (April 1931-November 1933)
Franco did not seek to gain favor with the new government and was not afraid to express his loyalty to the previous regime, thus cultivating an image of a man of convictions. He showed himself willing to go along with the new established order and maintained a position of disciplined apolitical professionalism, without regard to his personal feelings, until four days before the beginning of the Civil War.
In July, Manuel Azaña, the new Minister of War, proposed a reform of the military that would, among other things, reduce military expenditures. The Spanish army was a primary objective of republican reformism, and Azaña was determined to reorganize it from top to bottom, and above all to create a new institutional and political framework that would put the army in its place. One of his major concerns was the hypertrophy of the officer corps; by means of a generous policy of voluntary retirement, with a “golden parachute” in the form of an almost full pension, tax benefits and benefits in kind, the number of officers dropped in a little over a year from 22,000 to less than 12,400. Franco, for his part, maintained, both in his private conversations and in his correspondence, that it was the responsibility of patriotic officers to remain in office, and thus to safeguard as much as possible the spirit and values of the army. Azaña”s objective was also to democratize and republicanize the officer corps, to revoke Primo de Rivera”s star projects, and to favor the more liberal factions over the Africanists.
On the other hand, Azaña revised the system of promotions, checking the legitimacy of those granted in previous years, which did not fail to provoke bitterness, especially in Franco, who on January 28, 1933, saw his promotion to the rank of colonel confirmed, but his title of brigadier general invalidated. With these provisions, Minister Azaña intended to ensure promotion prospects for officers in the ranks, who by definition were more favorable to the regime.
In the same logic of economy and efficiency, the six existing military academies were reduced to three, but a new one was created for the air force. The sacrificed Zaragoza Military Academy was closed in June 1931, under the pretext that the institution cultivated a narrow caste spirit, which should be replaced by a more technical training. Franco publicly expressed his dissatisfaction when he took leave of the last class of cadets. In his farewell speech to his cadets on July 14, 1931, he openly opposed the reform, but he also insisted on the importance of maintaining discipline, even and especially when one”s thoughts and heart were in contradiction with the orders received from a “superior authority in error. He insinuated that “immorality and injustice” characterized the officers who today served in the War Ministry, and concluded with a “Long live Spain” instead of the de rigueur “Long live the Republic!
Azaña would later send him only a discreet warning, expressing his “displeasure” (disgusto) and attaching an unfavorable note to his service record. Once the Academy of Zaragoza was closed, Franco found himself on forced leave for the next eight months. In the summer of 1931 there were strong rumors of a coup d”état, with the names of Generals Emilio Barrera and Luis Orgaz and Franco himself being mentioned. Azaña wrote in his diary that Franco was “the only one to be feared” and that he was “the most dangerous of the generals”, which is why he was for a time under constant surveillance by three policemen, although he refrained (according to his personal papers) from any statement or attitude hostile to the government. However, Azaña was careful not to widen the gap he had created between himself and the military, and he continued to pursue his political line of integrating the army into Republican normality and placing reliable officers in command. Thus, Ramón Franco, who had made many pledges to the Republican cause, was appointed Director of Aeronautics.
Everything indicates that Franco accepted the Republican regime as permanent, even legitimate, although he would have liked to see it evolve in a more conservative direction. He noted in his Apuntes :
“Our wish must be that the republic should be victorious, serving it without reservation, and if by misfortune it cannot be, let it not be because of us.”
In December 1931, appearing as a witness before the Commission of Responsibility in charge of examining the death sentences handed down to the officers who had participated in the uprising in Jaca in 1930, he affirmed his conviction that “having received in sacred deposit the arms of the Nation and the lives of the citizens, it would be criminal at any time and in any situation that we, who are clothed in the military uniform, should brandish them against the Nation or against the State that grants them to us. Nevertheless, the establishment of the Republic marked the beginning of Franco”s politicization, and from then on he took political factors into account in every important decision he made.
The Franco siblings could be considered a sample of the different reactions to the republican reforms. Nicolás, a competent, cheerful and expansive professional, remained in a wait-and-see attitude, trying to make the best of his business; although he earned a good living in Valencia, he resigned to return to the navy as a professor at the Madrid Naval School. Ramón became a kind of star because of his outrageous political positions; for example, he militated in favor of a Federation of Iberian republics and ran as a candidate in Andalusia on the revolutionary republican list, whose program included regional autonomy, the disappearance of the latifundia, with the redistribution of land to the peasants, the participation of workers in the profits of the company, religious freedom, etc. It had electoral successes and represented Barcelona in Parliament, but eventually fell into disrepute. However, the disputes between Franco and his brother Ramón were always overcome by their concern for their mother, whom they both venerated, and by Francisco”s character, which made him give priority to his family and clan over his political convictions.
Franco spent his eight months without an assignment in Asturias, in his wife”s family home. This period of ostracism came to an end when his attitude of political abstention allowed him to finally return to service on February 5, 1932, as commander of the XV Galician Infantry Brigade, in A Coruña, which was worth a clear recognition of his person by Azaña. It seems that Azaña concluded that the new regime was consolidated and that Franco, despite his conservative views, was a reliable professional who should not be marginalized.
This new assignment was not more demanding than the one in Madrid, and the years 1931-1933 would be the last ones of a relaxed life, not burdened by responsibilities. He enjoyed the peaceful life of a nobleman in Galicia, with free time to devote to those he loved, including his mother, whom he often visited. He took his cousin Pacón as his aide-de-camp.
On August 10, 1932, the only attempt at military rebellion that occurred in the republic before the Civil War took place. The relatively favorable opinion of many officers toward the new regime had changed considerably by the end of 1931, but there was no organized dissent yet. José Sanjurjo decided to act before autonomy was granted to Catalonia. The poorly planned coup de force was supported mainly by monarchists, but also by conservative republicans. Sanjurjo later claimed that the goal was not restoration, but the formation of a more conservative republican government that would submit a draft for regime change to a plebiscite. Franco had frequent contact with him throughout the preparation of the plot, but it seems that, like almost all the senior officers in active service, he distanced himself from it from the start. Thus, in July 1932, four weeks before the Sanjurjada, Sanjurjo had a secret meeting with Franco in Madrid to ask for his support for his pronunciamiento; Franco did not give it to him, but remained so ambiguous that Sanjurjo may have been led to believe that he could count on him once the coup d”état was underway. However, at the time of the pronunciamiento, Franco was at his post in A Coruña, in command of the place, and did not join the rebels. When the coup was aborted, Sanjurjo was brought before the council of war and asked Franco to defend him, but Franco, aware that the penalty for rebellion would probably be death, declined and replied: “I could, indeed, defend you, but without hope. I think in justice that having risen and having failed, you have acquired the right to die “. In any case, reluctant to embark on uncertain adventures, Franco at no time adhered to or sympathized with the putsch and preferred to stay away from the political turmoil of the moment, but he would continue to visit Sanjurjo regularly in his prison.
In February 1933, after Franco had spent a year in A Coruña, Azaña, perhaps as a reward for his loyalty and in search of support in the face of popular violence, or reassured by his discretion, appointed him commander of the Balearic military region. Since this new assignment had the value of a promotion, since it was a position that normally belonged to a major general, this transfer could indeed be part of Azaña”s efforts to draw Franco into the Republican orbit, rewarding him for his passivity during the Sanjurjada. It is true that Franco”s attitude, which had not been involved in any of the multiple right-wing anti-parliamentary movements that had emerged in the last two years in Spain, might have appeared reassuring to the government. However, Azaña wrote in his diary that it was better to keep Franco away from Madrid, where “he would be more removed from temptations.
Franco, who felt that his transfer was tantamount to being sidelined, devoted himself entirely to his new position. Fascist Italy had shown a strategic interest in the Balearic Islands, and it seemed necessary to strengthen the archipelago”s defenses. The Spanish army was not especially prepared in the art of coastal defense, so Franco turned to France and asked the military attaché in Paris to provide him with technical bibliography on this subject. The attaché entrusted the mission to two young officers who were then attending the École de guerre, Lieutenant-Colonel Antonio Barroso and Lieutenant Luis Carrero Blanco, who made a series of proposals. In mid-May, Franco sent Azaña a detailed plan for improving the island”s defenses, which was approved by the government but only partially implemented.
Despite the uncertainties, the first Republican years were not a period of great tension for the Francos. They often travelled from Madrid, where they had bought an apartment and frequented theaters, cinemas, etc. In the Balearic Islands, Franco established relationships with a person who was a threat to the republic, the richest man in Spain, the financier Juan March, who since 1931 had been trying to protect his fortune from the social justice measures of the republican regime. It was probably during his stay in Mallorca that Franco was converted to political action without saying so, even though he would pretend for a long time not to be involved in it.
Franco read widely at the time and was concerned about the communist revolution and the Comintern, but his main fixation in those years was that the Western world was being eaten away from within by a conspiracy of the liberal left, organized by Freemasonry, all the more insidious because the Freemasons were not revolutionary proletarians, but mostly orderly and respectable bourgeois. He believed that the bourgeoisie and Freemasonry were allied with big business and finance capital, entities that, ignoring morality and political loyalty, had no other objective than to amass wealth at the cost of the ruin of the people and the general economic well-being. The world was threatened by three internationals: the Comintern, Freemasonry and international financial capitalism, which sometimes fought each other and sometimes collaborated and supported each other in order to undermine social solidarity and Christian civilization. But Freemasonry remained Franco”s main bête noire, and the anti-Masonic obsession was his guide to any attack on his value system.
Franco felt no affinity with the extreme right. Despite the creation of the Falange in 1933, Mussolini”s fascism, although it had a deep appeal to part of the Spanish youth, continued to be weak in Spain and Franco showed no interest in it, as fascism remained far from his deepest orientations.
However, Franco began to openly show his partisan preferences. In 1933 he was tempted to run for the CEDA, but his brother-in-law pointed out that a general could be more useful than a deputy in the present circumstances, so he limited himself to voting ostensibly for that party. He remained an intimate monarchist and Catholic; his marriage had brought him closer to a society of owners, where people thought and felt on the right, but faced with the political proposals of the moment, he showed a certain eclecticism in his choices. Later on, he would assert his debt to Victor Pradera, a traditionalist right-wing exponent.
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Conservative Biennium (November 1933-February 1936)
As a result of the disunity of the left and the electoral system, the CEDA, a right-wing coalition led by José María Gil-Robles, won the general elections of 19 November and 3 December 1933. After its victory, the CEDA, which as a whole was not tempted by fascism, set about undoing the reforms that had been timidly initiated by the outgoing socialist government. The bosses and landowners took advantage of this victory to lower wages, fire workers (especially trade unionists), dislodge tenant farmers from their land, and increase the amount of rent. At the same time, moderates within the socialist party were supplanted by more radical members, and Julián Besteiro was marginalized, while Francisco Largo Caballero and Indalecio Prieto took over all the decision-making power. The worsening of the economic crisis, the revocation of the reforms and the radical proclamations of the leftist leaders determined an atmosphere of popular insurrection. In areas where the anarchists were in the majority, strikes and clashes between workers and the police followed one another in rapid succession. In Zaragoza, it took the intervention of the army to quell the beginnings of an insurrection, with the raising of barricades and the occupation of public buildings. Like most of the Spanish right, Franco saw the revolutionary movements in Spain as the functional equivalents of Soviet communism.
Until April 1934, despite this turnaround, Franco remained aloof from politics, having been overcome by grief over the death of his mother on February 28 (the death notice made no mention of his former husband). In June he met the new Minister of War, Diego Hidalgo y Durán, who wanted to get to know his most famous general and who seems to have been very impressed by the rigor and thoroughness with which Franco carried out his duties and by the discipline he imposed on his men. Later, at the end of March 1934, after the constitution of the Lerroux government, the minister in charge elevated Franco, with immediate effect, to the rank of major general, at the same time as he reinstated Mola in the army, commuted Sanjurjo”s imprisonment sentence to exile in Portugal, and increasingly surrounded himself with hardliners in the army.
On September 26, 1934, a new executive was formed, again chaired by Lerroux, and joined by three other members of the CEDA. The revanchist attitude of the previous Lerroux government had increased popular discontent and prompted the revolutionary left to react. In addition, the left, worried about the rise of fascist dictatorships in Europe, equated the CEDA with fascist positions. When the new Lerroux government was announced on September 26, 1934, the UGT, the communists and the Catalan and Basque nationalists – but with whom the anarchist CNT disdained to join, except in Asturias – organized an impromptu insurrection on October 4 to overthrow the new government, which soon degenerated into a revolution. This revolution was effective in several areas of the country, such as Catalonia, the Basque Country and, mainly, Asturias. If in other places the movement was suppressed with relative ease by the local military comandancias, this was not the case in Asturias, where the libertarian miners united with their socialist, communist and para-trotskyist colleagues. Disciplined, equipped with explosives and weapons seized from the arsenals, the revolutionaries would form a force of 30,000 to 70,000 men, who managed to take control of most of the region, storm the Trubia arms factory, occupy the public buildings – in the case of a large number of them – and take over the government, occupying the public buildings, except for the Oviedo garrison and the command center of the Civil Guard in Sama de Langreo, and cutting off the route of General Milans del Bosch”s column, which had set out from León. The revolutionaries killed in cold blood between 50 and 100 civilians, mainly priests and civil guards, including several teenagers from the seminary, set fire to churches and ransacked public buildings. In addition, they looted several banks and took 15 million pesetas, which could never be recovered.
For the government, there was no other recourse than the army. Hidalgo Durán called on the most reliable officers, and decided that Franco, no doubt because of his knowledge of Asturias and his inflexibility, would remain at his side, with the unofficial mission of leading the counteroffensive and the repression. At first Hidalgo wanted to send Franco directly to Asturias, but Alcalá Zamora made him understand that the person in command should be a liberal officer who identified himself totally with the republic. Therefore, the chief of operations in the field was General Eduardo López de Ochoa, a sincere republican and a notorious freemason. Aware of his military incompetence and subjugated by Franco, Hidalgo installed him in his own office as a technical assessor. Although Franco directed the operations only as a direct advisor to the Minister of War, he had considerable initiative and power, made possible by his proximity to the Minister. Franco planned and coordinated military operations throughout the country, and was even authorized to use some of the powers of the Ministry of the Interior. For ten days, assisted by his cousin Pacón and two trusted naval officers, Franco did not leave the War Ministry, sleeping at night on the couch in the office he occupied, while martial law was declared throughout Spain. For him, the insurrection was part of a vast revolutionary conspiracy fomented by Moscow. José Antonio Primo de Rivera contacted Franco in April 1931 to plead with him in a pathetic tone to defend Spain”s unity and independence against the revolutionary coup. Franco, however, did not pay too much attention to the alarms of the extreme right, and did not respond to José Antonio”s letter.
To overcome the miners” fierce resistance, Oviedo had to be shelled by air and sea, and colonial troops had to be sent in. The key component of the repressive forces was in fact an expeditionary corps of two battalions of the Tercio and two Moroccan tabores, in addition to other units of the Protectorate, forming together a troop of 18,000 soldiers, dispatched by ship to Gijón. The leader of this troop, Lieutenant-Colonel López Bravo, had expressed his reluctance to shoot at his fellow countrymen, and had been taken ashore in A Coruña, on Franco”s orders, and replaced by Juan Yagüe, his old companion from Africa, who was on leave at the time, and whose troops worked to expel the revolutionaries from Oviedo and then reduce them to the coal-mining areas in the vicinity. The idea of transferring the elite units from Morocco to Asturias and sending them against the insurgents was undoubtedly Franco”s, but such a transfer was not unprecedented, since Azaña had already ordered it twice in the recent past. This decision was decisive, given that the regular units of the Spanish army were composed of conscripts, many of whom were leftists, and that they had limited combat capacity. Any officer suspected of lukewarmness was replaced, such as his cousin Commander Ricardo de la Puente Bahamonde, a liberal air force officer who was in charge of a small air base near León and had shown some sympathy for the insurgents, and whom Franco immediately removed from his command.
The repression was ruthless, and in the process of “reconquering” the province, the repressive troops, with the agreement of their leaders, engaged in unrestrained slaughter and pillage. There were undoubtedly many summary executions, although only one actual victim could be identified. Certainly, the miners of the Asturias basin had looted and killed religious and civil guards, but the Moroccan troops, in the words of Andrée Bachoud, “returned the blows a hundredfold”, with more than a thousand killed and a large number of rapes; “with the practice he had of these troops, Franco could not have been surprised by this murderous outburst, and no doubt he had wanted it to give a terrible exemplarity to the punishment, without the slightest qualms. For him, it was the only possible response to the danger facing Western civilization. As he declared on October 25, the war had begun:
“This war is a war of borders and the borders are socialism, communism and all those forms that attack civilization to replace it with barbarism.”
Franco, asked by Hidalgo to remain in the ministry to help coordinate the subsequent pacification, remained in Madrid until February 1935. López de Ochoa negotiated a cease-fire, as Alcalá Zamora had wished, in which the revolutionaries, led by Belarmino Tomás, among others, surrendered their weapons in exchange for the promise that Yagüe”s troops would not enter the mining basin. The commitments made by López Ochoa seem not to have been fully respected by Hidalgo, that is, by Franco, under the pretext that the miners themselves had not executed all the clauses of the agreement.
The cold political repression that followed was marked by the same excessiveness, and the responsibility for the clean-up belonged to General Franco; his henchman was the commander of the Civil Guard, Lisardo Doval, a former student of Franco”s at the Toledo Academy, who had already been in Asturias in 1917, and who carried out the repression with sadistic zeal, torturing and executing his prisoners. Appointed on November 1 as head of a special jurisdiction with administrative autonomy, Doval had 15 to 20 thousand political prisoners under his control, on whom he carried out harsh interrogations and torture in a convent in Oviedo, so much so that the governor of Asturias requested and obtained his dismissal at the end of December. Although attempts have been made to minimize Franco”s responsibility for these practices, archival documents leave no doubt about his intentions or his full support for Doval”s methods, whom he congratulated “affectionately for the important service he has just rendered,” which tends to attest that Franco did not change his convictions or methods much. In particular, a congratulatory telegram from Franco to Doval dated December 5 has been found, which indicates, according to Bartolomé Bennassar, that Franco, “convinced that he was fighting in Asturias against the revolution, on a front where the enemies were socialism, Communism and barbarism, discovering in Asturias the action of the Comintern, was ready to use any means, without the slightest scruple of conscience, not even wanting to remember the harsh living conditions of the Asturian proletarians, although he knew them. Indifferent to the death of others, he is not strictly speaking cruel, but at 42 years old he is insensitive, and already tending towards power.
The insurrection and its subsequent repression, causing more than 1,500 deaths, opened a rift between the right and the left that was never to be bridged. Guy Hermet notes that
“The deaths on both sides fueled hatred and resentment on both sides. The Asturias affair marked the central turning point of the Second Republic, already tracing the divide that would separate the two antagonistic camps of the Civil War. From that moment on, the working class and the left had not only shifted into a vengeful opposition to the conservative republic born of the 1933 elections; they had also ceased to conceive of democracy as a regime of compromise and alternation in power between distinct ideological currents, and no longer accepted any other outcome than that of an irreversible revolutionary government. On their left wing, the anarchists had become quite willing to collaborate with the communists on a continuing basis and even to establish certain organic links with them; in short, they were thinking of promoting a Spanish version of the October Revolution.”
However, none of the political organizations involved in the insurgency were outlawed, although in some provinces socialist sections had to be closed. Hundreds of leaders were tried under martial law, and several death sentences were handed down, especially to military deserters who had joined the revolutionaries, but in the end only two people were executed, one of whom had been guilty of multiple murders. While the CEDA began to slide toward a hard line, Alcalá Zamora, in keeping with his goal of “refocusing the Republic,” believed that it was necessary to reconcile with the left rather than repress it, and insisted that all death sentences be commuted. Franco, although horrified by the president”s policy of appeasement, stuck to his ordinanceist line of strict discipline.
On October 18, 1934, during the final confrontations in Asturias, General Manuel Goded, who had been a fervent liberal and then, disappointed with the Bienio Liberal government, an opponent of it, and General Joaquín Fanjul, suggested to Gil-Robles and Franco that the time had come for the right to seize power. Franco categorically refused, indicating that if anyone were to mention military intervention to him, he would cut the conversation short immediately. Likewise, he advised against another plan, which consisted of dragging Sanjurjo out of his Lisbon exile to carry out a military pronunciamiento in Spain.
Lerroux rewarded Franco for the decisive part he had taken in restoring order, awarding him the Grand Cross of Military Merit and appointing him Commander-in-Chief of the troops in Morocco on February 15, 1935, which Franco was delighted about. A whole section of public opinion and the right-wing press considered him to be the savior of the country, with ABC even welcoming the departure of the “young Caudillo” for Morocco. But only three months after taking up his post in Africa, and in the wake of a new political crisis that led to a new ministerial reshuffle, in which Gil-Robles entered the government as Minister of War, Franco returned to Spain following his appointment as Chief of the Central Staff of the Army, a position of the highest prestige that he would fill until the victory of the Popular Front in February 1936.
Franco, appointed on May 20, 1935 as head of the General Staff and fully adhering to the objectives set by the new Lerroux government, worked to establish a counter-revolutionary lockdown, that is, to reverse the measures taken previously by Azaña and to protect the army against soldiers suspected of sympathy for the republic. He ensured that commanding positions were given to reliable men, and that those who had been dismissed under Azaña”s government were reinstated in their positions and ranks: thus, General Mola took command of the Moroccan forces, and Varela was promoted to general. However, conservatism was not the only criterion, and high ranking officers who were known to be Freemasons, for example, were able to keep their posts and even be promoted, provided they demonstrated their professional competence and reliability, which indicates that in 1935 Franco”s anti-Masonic phobia was not absolute. The air force, which Azaña had placed directly under the authority of the president of the republic, was reintegrated into the army, and a number of other changes were made in various areas.
The collaboration between Franco and Gil-Robles was abruptly interrupted in mid-December 1935, when, following the Straperlo affair, which had exposed the corruption of the minority Lerroux government, the latter was overthrown in parliament and Alcalá-Zamora demanded his resignation. During the ensuing power crisis, Fanjul, who wanted the army to intervene, consulted Franco and other high-ranking officers. The chief of staff”s answer was categorical: the military was politically divided and would be making a serious mistake if it decided to intervene; there was no imminent danger of subversive revolution; an ordinary crisis such as the one under way did not require military intervention, which would only be justified if there was a crisis of national proportions threatening to lead to total breakdown or an imminent coup d”état by revolutionaries. According to some authors, however, Franco would have been won over to the idea of a pronunciamiento as soon as he was certain of success.
A part of the right, especially the CEDA and certain factions within the army, began to conspire with the aim of preventing the new electoral consultation or of annulling its effects through a coup d”état. Emissaries of Calvo Sotelo, generals who supported the idea of an uprising, monarchists, including José Antonio Primo de Rivera, urged Franco, whose support appeared indispensable, to join the putsch and to help prepare it. But they were met, if not with a refusal, at least with an ambiguous response; Franco, who was temperamentally reluctant to make up his mind without the certainty of victory, considered the moment ill-chosen and feared that failure was likely and its consequences very serious for the future of Spain.
In January 1936, the President of the Provisional Council, Manuel Portela, became aware of the insistent rumors about the preparation of a military putsch and Franco”s supposed participation in it, and sent Vicente Santiago to ask for a meeting with Franco, who was still Chief of Staff at the time.
The elections of February 16, 1936 were won by the Popular Front. According to Guy Hermet, “the Spaniards were not primarily concerned with the preservation of republican institutions, and were more preoccupied with settling the grudges accumulated since 1931. Both Franco and Gil-Robles worked tirelessly and in a coordinated fashion to have the ballot box decision revoked. On February 17, at a quarter past three in the morning, as soon as the results were known, Gil-Robles went to the Ministry of the Interior and, in conversation with Portela, tried to convince him to suspend the constitutional guarantees and declare martial law. He succeeded so well that Portela agreed to declare a state of alert and telephoned Alcalá Zamora to request authorization to impose martial law. At the same time, Franco called General Pozas, Inspector General of the Civil Guard, that same night to try to have a state of war declared to contain foreseeable disorder, but the caller was opposed to the initiative. He then pressured the Minister of War, General Molero, and later Portela to declare martial law and force Pozas to deploy the Civil Guard in the streets.
The next day, the government, meeting to discuss the proclamation of martial law, declared a state of alert for eight days and empowered Portela to declare martial law whenever he deemed it appropriate. Franco, taking advantage of his knowledge as Chief of Staff of the powers granted to Portela, sent orders to the different military regions. Zaragoza, Valencia, Alicante and Oviedo declared a state of war, while other capitaineries were undecided; however, it was mainly because the Guardia Civil refused to join the coup that it failed. Faced with failure, when Franco finally saw the head of government in the evening, he skilfully played both sides. In the most courteous terms, Franco told Portela that, in view of the danger posed by a possible Popular Front government, he offered him his support and that of the army if he decided to remain in power. He wanted to act against Republican legality only as a last resort. A few weeks after the victory of the Popular Front, he sent a letter to Gil-Robles in which he once again emphasized his determination and his refusal to join an illegal coup de force.
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The day after the elections, Manuel Azaña was appointed President of the Council. Although Azaña was aware of the plot, and of the conspiratorial atmosphere that existed in the right wing and in some parts of the army, he did not know the details or exactly who the conspirators were, and he did not attach much importance to this putschist effervescence, tending to play it down. Among the few measures he took to deal with it, one was to make important changes in the military hierarchy on his third day in power, in order to remove from the centers of power the conservative senior officers and those generals he considered most inclined to pronunciamiento: General Mola, on whom Azaña, however, believed he could still count, was removed from command of the Army of Africa and shipped to Pamplona, Navarre, a discarded province; General Goded was transferred to the Balearic Islands; and Franco, a few days after the elections, on February 22, was suspended from his duties as chief of staff and appointed in exchange as general commander in the Canary Islands.
Franco, very disappointed by this transfer, which he interpreted as a banishment, had a meeting with Azaña and told him that a suitable position in Madrid would allow him to better serve the government by helping it to preserve the stability of the army and even to avoid military conspiracies. Franco was to maintain this attitude for some time to come, in accordance with his professional principles. For a while he considered applying for a leave of absence until the situation became clearer, and travelling abroad for a season to escape the threats of the revolutionaries who were demanding his imprisonment. But he concluded that somehow active service would make him more useful.
Elections had been invalidated in the provinces of Granada and Cuenca, and since elections had to be re-run in these two districts, a right-wing coalition was considering participating in the by-election scheduled for May 5. Franco, under pressure from his brother-in-law, but probably also attracted by political action or wanting to acquire parliamentary immunity, or seeking to get closer to Madrid, asked the president of the CEDA to be allowed to appear on the list of the conservative coalition, but as an “independent. With the agreement of Gil-Robles and the CEDA leadership, the latter offered Franco a place on the Cuenca lists that would guarantee his election. However, José Antonio Primo de Rivera, who was on the same list, opposed the proposal because he considered Franco insidious, calculating and unreliable. Serrano Suñer made the trip to the Canary Islands, presumably to convince Franco to withdraw; in any case, the result of this trip was that Franco withdrew his candidacy. Franco and José Antonio had never had a very good relationship, especially since Franco had scuppered a putschist project conceived by the phalangist leader in December 1935, and Primo de Rivera”s refusal to share the same list in Cuenca with Franco would be the cause of the latter”s resentment towards the young politician. The split was real between the traditional right, to which Franco felt he belonged, and the neo-fascism that the Falange wanted to establish in Spain.
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In the rumors of a coup d”état, which had been incessant since the beginning of the Republic, Franco”s name had come up frequently, notwithstanding his care to avoid getting involved in politics. In fact, Franco had been asked to participate in these conspiracies, but he was always reluctant and ambiguous. The conspirators, who needed Franco”s participation because it would ensure the intervention of Moroccan troops, a decisive element, and the support of many officers, were exasperated by Franco”s hesitation and reluctance, especially Sanjurjo, who called Franco a “cuckoo. In June 1936, Franco”s indecision, procrastination and pussyfooting made Emilio Mola and the group of conspirators in Pamplona so angry that they privately called him “miss Islas Canarias 1936”.
After the victory of the Popular Front, these conspiratorial activities began to coagulate and gain strength. In the first days, the leader was General Manuel Goded, recently transferred to the Balearic Islands. His former post in Madrid was held by General Ángel Rodríguez del Barrio, who periodically gathered a small group of senior military officers in Madrid, some of whom were already retired. With five months to go before the putsch, no plans seemed to be fully developed. Efforts to have martial law declared and the elections annulled having failed, the conspirators increased the number of meetings to which Franco, who was constantly informed, was invited each time. On March 8, 1936, one day before leaving for Tenerife, Franco attended a meeting with conservative generals at the home of the stockbroker José Delgado, leader of the CEDA and friend of Gil-Robles. Among those present were Generals Mola, Fanjul, Varela and Orgaz, as well as Colonel Valentín Galarza, head of the Spanish Military Union. All those present agreed to form a committee with the objective of directing the “organization and preparation of a military movement that would avoid the ruin and dismemberment of the country” and “would only be set in motion when circumstances made it absolutely necessary. The movement was not to have any determined political label; nothing was fixed in advance as for the restoration or not of the monarchy nor as for the adoption of the positions of the parties of the right; the nature of the regime to be established would be decided in due time. It was decided that the coup would be led by Sanjurjo, the most senior rebel leader, if not the most capable of leading a military insurrection. Franco, without making any firm commitment, merely indicated that any pronunciation should be free of any specific label. At that time, he still considered it too early to take action against the government with any chance of success, but did not deny the principle of his participation in case of absolute necessity.
The Franco family arrived in the Canary Islands on March 11, 1936, and then embarked for Tenerife, where an unkind reception awaited Franco: the left-wing unions had declared a general strike day to protest his arrival on the island, and a demonstration greeted him with jeers. A guard force was set up, which, entrusted to cousin Pacón, escorted Franco and his family on almost all their trips. It seems certain that Franco was being watched, his phone tapped and his mail intercepted, so the only way he could communicate with his colleagues in the metropolis was through private messengers. Franco kept in touch with Mola and was updated on the progress of the conspiracy through secret communications.
In France, the preparations for the uprising continued without him. Personal enmities prevailed and paralyzed consultation. Franco, for example, did not like the old general Cabanellas, who was to be the leader of the conspiracy, because he was a Freemason. Franco was neither the inspirer nor the organizer of the conspiracy, this role being played by Mola, nicknamed “the Director” for this reason. Franco”s cautious attitude did not leave the most committed officers unmoved, and the main conspirators began to tire of what they called his “coquetry. However, Mola and other conspirators never considered doing without Franco, who was considered indispensable to the success of the pronunciamiento, given the prestige he enjoyed among the Spanish right and in the army. Contrary to what he later claimed, Franco was not part of the conspiracy from March onwards, but refused for many weeks to commit himself, proclaiming that the time had not yet come for drastic and irrevocable action, and that the situation could still be resolved in Spain. Moreover, he had no illusions about the outcome of an armed rebellion, which he saw as a desperate undertaking with a high probability of failure; he had never imagined that the movement would achieve easy success, and he was convinced that the affair would be long. It was not, therefore, primarily scruples that tormented Franco; he merely considered the enterprise too risky.
In April, faced with a wave of violence, disorder and widespread lawlessness, a handful of mostly retired military decision-makers met in Madrid. Calling their group the “junta de generales” (committee of generals), they put Mola in charge. Mola, like other officers, was obsessed with the communist peril, the term usually used to describe the revolutionary left. At the end of May, Sanjurjo agreed to take over the leadership role from Mola in order to organize the upcoming uprising. The revolt would be launched in the name of the republic, aimed at restoring law and order, and its only slogan would be “Long live Spain! After the left had been put under control, the country would initially be governed by a military board, which would hold a plebiscite among a previously purged electorate on the form of government – republic or monarchy. The pre-February 1936 legislation would be respected, private property would be preserved, and church and state would remain separate. Franco for his part, though a monarchist by training and tradition, cared little for the legal status of the state, and would have been willing to serve a conservative, bourgeois republic as long as it guaranteed the maintenance of law and order, social hierarchy, the role of the church, and the place of the army in the nation. For the time being, Franco remained on the sidelines and evaded the conspirators” proposals or firmly dismissed them, on the grounds that the project was premature, ill-prepared, that minds were not ripe, etc.
Mola”s plans became more and more complicated, and the insurrection was no longer conceived as a coup d”état, but as a military insurrection followed by a minimal civil war, lasting a few weeks, with the use of a few columns of rebel troops sent from the provinces and converging on the capital. By June, Mola had come to the conclusion that the garrisons of the Peninsula alone could not carry out the entire operation, and that the insurrection could only succeed if most of the elite units were transferred from Morocco, which Franco himself had always considered indispensable. Franco was offered the command of these forces, and by the end of June he seemed to want to participate. In order to transport him quickly from the Canary Islands to Spanish Morocco, the plan was conceived to rent a private plane.
During these same months, the social situation had continued to worsen. Unemployment soared and the difficulties in implementing the new government”s reforms frustrated the expectations raised by the Popular Front victory. Street clashes increased and the government proved unable to maintain law and order. The Falange, for its part, worked to create a climate of terror. Phalangists and anarchists practiced “direct action,” and a murderous fury, to which the times now added a suicidal dimension, seized the anarchists and poor peasants, while socialists and communists, freed from government responsibility, practiced demagogic one-upmanship. The situation was marked by multiple violations of the law, attacks on private property, political violence, waves of massive strikes, many of them violent and destructive, large-scale illegal occupations of land in the south, waves of arson, widespread destruction of private property, arbitrary closures of Catholic schools, sacking of churches and ecclesiastical property in some areas, the generalization of censorship, thousands of arbitrary arrests, impunity for the criminal actions of the Popular Front, the manipulation and politicization of the justice system, the arbitrary dissolution of right-wing organizations, coercion and threats during the elections in Cuenca and Granada, and a notable increase in political violence, resulting in more than 300 deaths. In addition, in the absence of elections, the government decreed the takeover of many local and provincial governments in much of the country. There was a pre-revolutionary climate of anarchy, lawlessness and increasing violence. Hatred and fear of the adversary took hold of the minds of both the left and the right. The government”s inaction in the face of violence and the catastrophism of the press and right-wing leaders fed the panic of the middle and upper classes in the face of the communist threat. In reality, the republic was dead by October 1934, the left having shown its contempt for constitutional legality, and the right its thirst for ruthless repression. Even before the February 1936 elections, these parties had proclaimed that they would not abide by the verdict of the ballot box if it went against them.
For fear of unnecessarily turning the army into an enemy, the government temporarily suspended the purges in the high command, remembering that in the previous four years there had been four revolutionary insurrections and that, if a new uprising were to occur, only the army would be able to neutralize it. On the other hand, not doubting that all the decisive reforms had been carried out in the armed forces, the government believed that it could now consider the army as a paper tiger, incapable of playing a major political role, and imagined that it was safe from military rebellion. The rumors of the conspiracy must have reached the ears of the government, but the government, as with the violence, constantly tended to minimize the dangers threatening the republic and refrained from showing the necessary firmness. In addition, some sectors of the left, including the moderate faction of Indalecio Prieto, had been asserting for months the necessity of a civil war, and for some weeks the socialist movement of Largo Caballero had been trying to precipitate a military rebellion. Socialists and anarchists believed that a decisive victory for the workers was only possible by means of an armed insurrection, which could only take the form of resistance to a military counter-revolution; all were convinced that they would succeed in crushing such a counter-revolution by means of a general strike, which in turn would bring them to power. The government of Casares Quiroga had been expecting a military revolt at any moment since July 10, even calling for it, convinced that it would fail like the sanjurjade of 1932, and therefore showed little zeal in preventing it, as it expected that it would allow it to “clean out” the army and thus strengthen the government”s position. Azaña wrote that the military uprising was a “favorable conjuncture” that could be used “to cut through the knots that normal peacetime procedures had not allowed to be untied and to radically resolve some of the issues that the republic was keeping in abeyance.
Franco, pretending to be correct with the government, was kind enough to warn Azaña of the unease and discontent within the army. He sent a letter to Casares Quiroga on June 23, 1936, stating that the officers and non-commissioned officers were not hostile to the Republic, and offering to remedy the situation; he urged the government to let itself be advised by generals who, “free of political passions”, were concerned about the worries and preoccupations of their subordinates in the face of the serious problems of the Fatherland. This letter, which was interpreted in many ways and which Casares Quiroga left unanswered, was, according to Paul Preston, “a masterpiece of ambiguity. It clearly implied that if Casares gave up command to Franco, he would be able to thwart the conspiracies. In this phase, Franco would certainly have preferred what he considered to be the restoration of order, with the legal approval of the government, instead of risking everything in a coup d”état.
By the end of June 1936, the preparations for the pronunciamiento were almost complete, and all that remained was to reach an agreement with the Carlists and secure Franco”s participation. Yagüe and Francisco Herrera, a personal friend of Gil-Robles, were commissioned to convince Franco to join them, and it is likely that Franco had given some assurance by the end of June, for on July 1 Herrera arrived in Pamplona to obtain Mola”s approval of the plan to hire an airplane to transport Franco from the Canary Islands to Morocco. Franco”s commitment at that time meant that he would only play a secondary role among the conspirators: after the uprising, Sanjurjo would become head of state, Mola would hold a high political office, as would the civilians Calvo Sotelo and Primo de Rivera, Fanjul would be captain general of Madrid, and Goded of Barcelona; Franco was to be High Commissioner for Morocco.
On July 3, Mola approved the plan to rent an airplane, for which the financier Juan March, based in Biarritz, issued a blank check on July 4. The plane, a Dragon Rapide, was rented in London and took off on July 11, piloted by the British pilot William Henry Bebb, who on July 12 stood by in Casablanca, waiting for the day of the pronunciamiento. But Franco, still doubtful, sent Mola the next day a cryptic communiqué stating a “small geography” – which clearly meant that he was not committing himself to the project – in which he announced his withdrawal, on the grounds that the time for the pronunciation, which could not be supported by a sufficient number of people, had not yet come and that he was not ready. This message, which was forwarded to Madrid, reached Mola late in the evening of the 13th and caused not only Mola”s anger but also great consternation, since messages had already been sent to the military in Morocco instructing them to begin the rebellion on the 18th. In response, Mola modified some of the instructions, and ordered that, as soon as the insurrection was launched, General Sanjurjo should fly from Portugal to Morocco to take command of the Protectorate forces there.
On the night of July 12-13, José Calvo Sotelo, for some historians the civilian mastermind of the conspiracy, was murdered in Madrid by members of the Assault Guard (loyal to the republic). A few hours earlier, their commander, Lieutenant Castillo, who had seriously wounded a right-wing militant, had been shot dead in Madrid. Immediately, storm troopers went to the Ministry of the Interior demanding authorization to detain a series of conservative leaders, including Gil-Robles and Calvo Sotelo, even though they had parliamentary immunity as deputies. Despite this, the Minister of the Interior, in violation of the law, issued a formal arrest warrant for them. Gil-Robles happened to be absent from Madrid, but Calvo Sotelo was illegally arrested by a motley crew of storm troopers, off-duty policemen and various socialist and communist activists, and then murdered in retaliation for Castillo”s assassination, and left at the entrance to the Eastern Cemetery.
The government, however, failed to take appropriate action, and the perpetrators of the murder either plunged into semi-clandestinity or strutted around arrogantly. The government”s only reaction was to arrest two hundred right-wing activists, without doing anything to protect the moderates and conservatives. The news of this assassination provoked general indignation, and fractions of the right, showing themselves particularly active, called for military rebellion as the only way to restore order. Many undecideds joined the conspiracy, and in the afternoon Indalecio Prieto visited Casares Quiroga to ask him on behalf of the socialists and communists to distribute arms to the workers in the face of the threat of pronunciamiento, which Casares refused.
On July 14, Mola received a new message from Franco communicating his decision to join the conspiracy. The historian Reig Tapia notes: “It is clear that on July 18, 1936, General Franco did not distinguish himself by his rebellious spirit or by his resolution, a circumstance that his hagiographers have made a point of duly ignoring. If Franco rose up, it was not because the situation had become unbearable, but because he understood that there was no alternative. In 1960, Franco stated in a speech that without this assassination, which decided many hesitators, the uprising would never have received the necessary support from the military. In particular, the ability of political killers to act under the cover of the state dissipated the scruples of the last undecideds. The borderline situation, which Franco always referred to as the only element that could justify an armed revolt, had finally occurred. At that moment it was even less dangerous to rebel than not to rebel. He communicated to Mola his total commitment to the cause and urged the others to start the uprising as soon as possible. He instructed his cousin Pacón to take passage for his wife and daughter on a German ship bound for Le Havre, so as to keep them out of danger.
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On July 14, the plane chartered from London landed in Gando, on Gran Canaria. After landing, Franco was to leave his residence in Tenerife and travel to the neighboring island to board the plane without arousing the suspicions of an alert government. Very conveniently, two days before the date of the uprising, the military commander of Gran Canaria, General Balmes, was shot (accidentally or not) in the abdomen, which allowed Franco to use the pretext of attending the funeral to take a boat with his wife, daughter, Pacón and other trusted officers, and travel to Gran Canaria, where he arrived in Las Palmas the next day, July 17. Franco attended the funeral and then made the final preparations for the uprising, which was to take place on July 18.
In Morocco, for fear that the plot would be discovered, and on the basis of rumours that the conspirators were going to be arrested, the legionnaires and the native tabors had brought their movement forward by a day, without waiting for Franco, and so it was on the afternoon of 17 July that the uprising was launched in Africa. On July 18, at four o”clock in the morning, Franco was woken up to inform him that the garrisons of Ceuta, Melilla and Tetouan had successfully risen up. That same morning, Franco, after having embarked his wife and daughter for France, boarded the Dragon Rapide around two o”clock in the afternoon, which took him to Morocco.
The Rapid Dragon stopped over in Agadir and Casablanca, where Franco shared a room with the lawyer and journalist Luis Bolín. The latter reports that in their common room Franco spoke volumes, referring in turn to the liquidation of the Empire, the errors of the Republic, and the ambition of a greater and fairer Spain; clearly, Franco was driven by the need to save his country. The next day, July 19, 1936, the plane flew to Tetouan, capital of the Protectorate and headquarters of the African Army, where, arriving at 7:30 a.m., Franco was enthusiastically received by the insurgents and walked through the streets filled with people shouting “Long live Spain! Long live Franco!”. He wrote a speech, later broadcast on local radio stations, in which he presented the victory of the coup d”état as assured (“Spain has been saved”) and ended by saying: “Blind faith, never doubt, firm energy, without procrastination, because the Fatherland demands it. The movement drags everything in its path and there is no human force that can contain it”. It was expected that the news that Franco was taking over the leadership of the insurrection in Africa would lead indecisive officers in the metropolis to join the pronunciamiento and would considerably raise the morale of the rebels.
The Protectorate fell completely under the domination of the insurgents between July 17 and 18. On the evening of the 18th, the rebels tried to take control of Seville, which made Casares Quiroga realize that all his calculations had been wrong. Around ten o”clock in the evening, the Casares government resigned en bloc. Manuel Azaña, inclined to try to find a compromise solution first, convinced Diego Martínez Barrio, leader of the most moderate of the Popular Front parties, around midnight to form a centrist government, excluding the CEDA on the right and the communists on the left, which would be conducive to reaching an agreement with the insurgents. On 19 July, at around 4 a.m., believing that civil war could still be avoided, Martínez Barrio contacted the regional military commanders, most of whom had not yet risen up in arms, to ask them not to break ranks and to promise them a new government of conciliation between the right and the left. Martínez Barrio”s telephone talks succeeded in aborting the military insurrection in Valencia and Málaga, but failed to convince most of the main senior rebel commanders. In particular, Martínez Barrio spoke to Mola, who ruled out any possibility of reconciliation and replied that it was already too late, since the insurgents had sworn not to back down once the rebellion had started, and that he was about to declare martial law in Pamplona and involve the northern garrisons in the uprising.
Around seven o”clock the next morning, a vast and violent demonstration began, bringing together the Caballerists, the Communists, and even the most radical wing of Azaña”s party. Shortly afterwards, Martínez Barrio, exhausted, tendered his resignation.
The government had calculated, wrongly, that most of the army would remain loyal to the republic and that the rebellion would therefore be easy to crush. By July 19, it appeared that the insurgency had spread to all the barracks in the north, and there was no guarantee that the troops that remained loyal would be sufficient in number to neutralize it. Azaña appointed a new ministerial cabinet headed by José Giral. He decided not to rely solely on loyal army units and security forces, but soon announced that he intended to “arm the people” and disband the rebel military units. In reality, he armed only the organized revolutionary movements, a decision that would guarantee a full-scale civil war.
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State of affairs in the aftermath of the coup d”état
By the time Franco arrived in Tetuan on the morning of July 19, the insurrection had spread to most of the garrisons in northern Spain. Some units did not rebel until July 20 and 21, and others never joined the uprising. The insurgents had seized a little more than a third of Spain, and immediate control of the rest of the territory seemed out of the question. In Morocco, Franco could rely on an insurgent and already victorious army, and Mola, with the support of the Carlists, had met no resistance in Navarre. Burgos, Salamanca, Zamora, Segovia and Ávila also rose up without opposition. Valladolid also fell after the head of the VII Military Region, General Molero, was arrested by rebel generals and the resistance of the socialist railroaders was crushed. In Andalusia, Cadiz fell the day after the uprising, thanks to the arrival of forces from Africa; and Seville, Cordoba and Granada pledged their allegiance to the insurgent camp, once the workers” resistance had been bloodily crushed.
Thus, in the aftermath of the coup d”état, a nationalist zone, made up of disjointed territories, faced a republican Spain, barely dented by rebel encroachments. Two-thirds of Spanish territory remained on the side of the government, with the most important provinces in terms of population and economy, Catalonia, the Levant, most of Andalusia, Extremadura, the Basque Country, almost all of the Asturias region except for Oviedo, and the entire Madrid region, almost all the big cities – Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia, Bilbao, Málaga, where the uprising failed and where the workers had marched against their hesitant authorities, seized arms and repelled the insurgents -, and the main centers of industrial production and financial resources. The militia in Madrid, after having suppressed the uprising in the capital, moved on Toledo to defeat it there as well.
The army, with some 130,000 soldiers stationed in the metropolis, and the Civil Guard, a force of some 30,000 men, were divided almost equally between insurgents and those who remained loyal to the Republic. This apparent balance, however, tilted in favor of the insurgents, taking into account the perfectly equipped Army of Africa, the only part of the Spanish army to have been soaked in the battlefield. It was above all a rebellion of middle-ranking officers, of the middle ranks, and of the younger ones. Of the 11 most important senior commanders, only three, including Franco, joined the rebellion, as did only 6 of the 24 major generals on active duty, including Franco (the last major general to join the conspiracy), Goded, Queipo de Llano and Cabanellas, and only 1 of the 7 senior commanders of the Civil Guard, but this percentage tended to rise considerably the further down the hierarchy one went. More than half of the active officers were in the Republican zone, although many tried to cross over to the other side. In the navy and air force, the situation was much less favorable to the rebels, with the left retaining control of nearly two-thirds of the warships and the majority of the military pilots, along with the bulk of the aircraft. Rebellion had occurred, in one form or another, in 44 of the 51 garrisons of the Spanish army, mostly by officers affiliated with the Spanish Military Union. The key element capable of explaining the success or failure of the uprising in the different areas was the position adopted by the Civil Guard and the Stormtroopers: where these corps remained on the side of the Republic, the uprising failed.
Even in Morocco, the situation of the nationalists was difficult: the republic benefited from the help of the navy”s non-commissioned officers, who prevented the insurgent troops from crossing the straits and landing in Spain. Without the slow reaction of the government, reluctant to distribute arms to the people, as the unions demanded, the vigor of the popular reaction could have made it a total failure. The government, because of its indecision in the face of the uprising, was soon overwhelmed by the revolutionary spontaneity of the anarchists and socialists, who without delay confronted the insurgents. This resolute reaction, which surprised the coup plotters, caused the coup to be aborted, even in areas where they had expected it to succeed. This was particularly true of Barcelona, where General Goded was in office, and which was one of the strongholds of the conspiracy. The paradoxical effect of the uprising was that in the areas where the putsch had failed, a social revolution broke out, that is, what the rebels were trying to avoid with their uprising. But at the same time, the popular forces became suspicious of the military leaders who had remained loyal, thus jeopardizing the government”s chances of putting an end to the rebellion quickly before the Moroccan army managed to cross the Strait of Gibraltar.
The relationship between Franco and Queipo de Llano was marked by mutual resentment, Queipo hating Franco as an individual, and Franco distrusting Queipo because of his early adherence to the Republic. In fact, Franco was ultimately preferred as leader, with Queipo de Llano and Mola, former Republicans, arousing strong reservations among those who financed the coup, namely the banker Juan March and Luca de Tena, the very wealthy director of the monarchist newspaper ABC, who acted as intermediaries between monarchists and financial circles and worked for the re-establishment of the royalty. According to Andrée Bachoud, “the conservatives, and even the Germans, preferred this small, silent general to any other leader. Moreover, Franco, despite his reserve, had a very strong influence on his comrades.
Although the putsch had partly failed, the insurgent generals were optimistic, some of them, like Orgaz, believing that the victory of the coup d”état was only a matter of hours, or at most of days. Mola believed, after the failure in Madrid, that victory would be delayed for several weeks, the time needed to carry out an operation in which Madrid would be pincered by the forces of the north and by African troops from the south. Franco was one of the closest generals to reality; but even so, he was overly optimistic in conjecturing that consolidation would not be achieved until September.
On July 27, Franco gave an interview to the American journalist Jay Allen, in which he declared: “I will save Spain from Marxism at any price”; and, to the question of the same journalist: “Does that mean that half of Spain will have to be killed?”, he replied: “I repeat: at any price”. That same August, the Seville newspaper ABC carried Franco”s proclamation: “This is a national, Spanish and republican movement that will save Spain from the chaos into which they are trying to plunge it. It is not a movement for the defense of certain determined individuals; on the contrary, it has the welfare of the working classes and the humble in mind.
On August 15, he had the old flag of the monarchy, proscribed by the Republic, raised in Seville, although the uprising had been launched under the motto “Save the Republic” and with the primary goal of restoring law and order. The regional commanders were almost unanimous on these preconditions and promised that all the “valid” social legislation of the Republic (which essentially meant the regulations issued prior to February 16, 1936) would be respected, just as Mola”s original political program stipulated absolute respect for the Catholic Church, but also the maintenance of the separation of church and state. Soon the insurgents referred to themselves as “nationals” (nacionales, but they would be commonly referred to as nationalists in the foreign press), thus affirming their patriotism and respect for tradition and religion, and quickly gaining popular support, especially among much of the middle class, as well as among the Catholic population in general. The insurgents saw the civil war as a confrontation between “true Spain” and “anti-Spain,” between “the forces of light” and “the forces of darkness,” and named the uprising and the subsequent civil war the “Crusade.
The outbreak of war gave free rein to the hatreds that had been simmering for many years. In the republican zone, the revolutionaries set about killing all those they identified as enemies. In particular, priests and monks were persecuted, and in the large cities the paseos, a euphemism for extrajudicial executions, became widespread. In the rebel zone, hatred was combined with strategic considerations; Yagüe, after having taken Badajoz and proceeded to a ferocious repression, which cost thousands of lives, commented to a journalist: “Of course we killed them, what do you suppose? That I was going to take 4,000 red prisoners in my column, while I had to advance against the clock? Or that I was going to leave them in the rear guard so that Badajoz would become red again? From the first day, the hatred was palpable in the proclamations of the insurgents. Queipo de Llano, on the very day of the coup, declared on Radio Sevilla: “The Moors will cut off the heads of the communists and rape their women. The scoundrels who still have the pretense of resisting will be shot like dogs.
Thus, the beginning of the insurrection brought about the beginning of summary judgments and executions. A few days before the uprising, Mola had already given his instructions: “We must warn the timid and the hesitant that whoever is not with us is against us, and will be treated as an enemy. For the comrades who are not comrades, the victorious movement will be inexorable. Generals Batet, Campins, Romerales, Salcedo, Caridad Pita, Núñez de Prado, as well as Rear Admiral Azarola and others were shot for not joining the uprising. In the Republican zone, the generals Goded, Fernández Burriel, Fanjul, García-Aldave, Milans del Bosch and Patxot were executed for having risen up against the State. When Franco arrived in Tetuan, his first cousin Ricardo de la Puente Bahamonde, commander of the airfield, was to be shot for standing by the Republic and sabotaging the aircraft in his custody; Franco, pretending to be ill, relinquished command so that someone else could sign the execution order.
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First months of war
In the meantime, Franco had difficulty transferring his troops to the Peninsula, because the war fleet, of which almost all the operational vessels remained loyal to the government in Madrid, prevented, at least until August 5, any movement from Morocco and allowed the government to blockade and bomb the coastline of the Protectorate. The only way to transport troops to the other side of the Straits was by air, but Franco had only seven small, outdated planes, which he had already used to fly dozens of legionnaires to Seville to assist Queipo de Llano, who had taken the city in a daring move. However, it was essential for him to be able to rely on a more powerful air force, and therefore on foreign support, which is why Franco immediately turned to Italy and Germany. Even before his arrival in Tetuan, several hundred men had been transported by sea to Cadiz – a decisive factor in the capture of the city – and to Algesiras; soon, however, the ships” crews had mutinied and the transport of troops had to be limited to what the small Moroccan feluccas could provide. On the other hand, General Kindelán, founder of the Spanish air force and participant in the uprising, had proposed to Franco to transport his troops by air and had set up an air bridge, which, however, was not yet sufficient to transport the more than 30,000 African troops.
For the time being, therefore, he was blocked in Tetouan with his troops, and while waiting for the material means to reach the Peninsula, Franco devoted himself to propaganda work, especially by radio, a means he would use extensively throughout his life. His first speeches were still vague in their political orientation, in which the army, “the crucible of popular aspirations”, was given a crucial role. He promised that the Movement would look after “the welfare of the working and modest classes, and that of the sacrificed middle class”. His declaration on the Tetouan radio on 21 July ended with a “Long live Spain and the Republic”, attesting to the fact that the rebels had agreed not to take any position whatsoever on the legal nature of the regime they intended to establish. Religious references were also absent or almost absent.
One of Franco”s first actions after his arrival in Tetuan was to ask for international help. By means of the Dragon Rapide, he sent Luis Bolín first to Lisbon, to inform Sanjurjo, and then to Italy, to ensure the support of that country and to negotiate the acquisition of combat aircraft. On July 22, 1936, the Marquis of Luca de Tena and Bolin met with Mussolini in Rome. A few days later, on July 27, the first squadron of Italian Pipistrello bombers arrived in Spain.
Franco decided to ask Germany for help as well, and sent emissaries who eventually secured a meeting with Hitler, which took place in Bayreuth on July 25 and brought together Hitler, Goering, and two Nazi representatives in Morocco, bearing a letter from Franco, which outlined the situation as of July 23, took stock of the meager resources available, and asked for technical aid, mainly aviation equipment, payable within an unspecified time. Within three hours, after the German reluctance, caused by the impecuniosity of the Spanish rebels, had dissipated after the invocation of the common struggle against the communist peril, Hitler decided to double his aid, under the label of Operation Magic Fire (Unternehmen Zauberfeuer, by reference to Wagner), by sending twenty aircraft instead of the ten requested (Junkers Ju-523m model aircraft), admittedly on credit. This support, although very modest, was the starting point for the internationalization of the Spanish war. The aid was channelled secretly through two private companies created for this purpose. It was thus through Franco and on his initiative that German and Italian aid reached the nationalist camp.
By the end of the first week of August, Franco had been able to take delivery of fifteen Juncker 52 aircraft, six old Henschel fighters, nine Italian S.81 bombers and twelve FIAT CR.32 fighters, as well as other weapons and equipment, partly paid for by the banker Juan March. An air bridge was then organized between Morocco and Spain, allowing the transport of 300 men each day. At the same time, the air force pounded the Republican fleet that controlled the Strait of Gibraltar. As the transport capacity continued to be insufficient, Franco, who had been waiting for the right moment to be able to transport troops by sea, decided to do so on August 5, as soon as satisfactory air cover had been achieved. On that date, while the Italian air force neutralized the resistance of the Republican navy, Franco managed to transfer 8,000 soldiers and various equipment by the so-called Victory Convoy, despite the blockade of the Republican fleet and the reluctance of his collaborators. The next day, Germany joined the Italian air cover by sending six Heinkel He 51 fighters and 95 volunteer pilots and mechanics from the Luftwaffe. From that day on, the rebels received arms and ammunition from Hitler and Mussolini on a regular basis. Rebel transport ships were now crossing the Straits of Gibraltar at regular intervals and air transport also increased. Over the next three months, 868 flights carried nearly 14,000 men, 44 pieces of artillery and 500 tons of equipment, a groundbreaking military operation that helped boost Franco”s prestige. By the end of September, the blockade had been completely broken, and 21,000 men and 350 tons of equipment had been transported by air alone. Franco had probably realized that the crews of the Republican ships had refused to obey their officers and had massacred them; the Republican fleet, disorganized, would therefore not be able to oppose the transfer of its troops. According to Bennassar, “it was not the Italian and German planes that essentially made it possible to cross the Straits; they were useful, but not much more.
On July 20, 1936, a crucial event occurred for Franco”s future rise to the position of head of state. In Estoril, the plane that was supposed to take Sanjurjo to Pamplona was too heavily loaded (Sanjurjo had taken a large trunk with uniforms and medals for his solemn entry into Madrid) and crashed shortly after takeoff. Sanjurjo, who was to have led the coup, was burned to death. Paradoxically, his death was a stroke of luck for the National Movement, since it left the way clear two months later for a younger and more capable commander-in-chief. It is doubtful that Sanjurjo would have had the capacity to win a long, cruel and complex civil war.
Since Sanjurjo”s death, the fragmentation of the Nationalist zone had led to the emergence of three leaders: Queipo de Llano on the Andalusian front, Mola in Pamplona, and Franco in Tetuan. On July 23, Mola created the National Defense Committee (Junta de Defensa Nacional), composed of himself and the seven main commanders of the northern Nationalist zone, and presided in theory by the old general Miguel Cabanellas, a former deputy of the Radical Party, a centrist and a Freemason, whom his seniority designated to the presidency, but in fact by General Dávila. Franco was not a member of the Junta, but on the 25th the Junta recognized his fundamental role and appointed him General-in-Chief of the Army of Morocco and Southern Spain, that is, commander of the most important contingent of the Nationalist army. Queipo de Llano, Franco and Mola worked together, although each had a certain degree of autonomy. From the outset, Franco had acted as a leading leader of the Movement, not as a regional subordinate, issuing orders to the southern commanders and sending his representatives directly to Rome and Berlin.
The crossing of the Straits of Gibraltar by the African troops was a cause of some discouragement in the Republican zone, where the memory of the brutal repressive action of these troops during the Asturias revolution in October 1934 had been retained. This transfer of troops, a difficult challenge that Franco was able to meet with great success, allowed him to consolidate the rebel positions in southern Spain, which was a success on both the diplomatic and military levels.
On August 7, 1936, Franco flew to Seville and set up his headquarters in the luxurious Yanduri Palace. From there, together with Queipo de Llano, he began the conquest of the Andalusian territory, as well as Extremadura. His objectives were to join the northern zone controlled by Mola and then to take the capital. As soon as the situation in western Andalusia was sufficiently stabilized, it was possible to organize two first assault columns, each with 2,000 to 2,500 men, and then a third column of some 15,000 men. These columns, composed of legionnaires and indigenous troops and under the command of Juan Yagüe, then a lieutenant-colonel, set out on August 2, 1936, through Extremadura towards the north and Madrid, and managed to advance 80 kilometers in the first few days. The defense of Madrid took up a large part of the Republican forces; the militias that Franco”s battle-hardened troops encountered on the road to Madrid were no match for them. Thanks to the air superiority provided by the Italian and German air forces, the rebel troops took many villages and towns on the road from Seville to Badajoz at little cost. The left-wing militiamen and all those suspected of sympathizing with the Popular Front were systematically exterminated. In Almendralejo, a thousand prisoners, including a hundred women, were shot. In just one week, the rebel column advanced 200 kilometers; the rapid advance of the Moroccan troops worked wonders in open country against poorly commanded, undisciplined and inexperienced militias.
On the northern front, on the other hand, after a week of fighting, Mola”s advance towards Madrid had stalled. His troops and volunteer militias, outnumbered by the enemy, were running out of ammunition. Mola even considered retreating to a defensive position along the Duero River. Franco insisted that he would not retreat or cede any territory, one of his basic principles throughout the conflict. Mola managed to hold his position, but could not push forward.
On August 11, Yagüe”s three columns took Mérida, and on August 14, they entered Badajoz to clear the border with friendly Portugal. The battle in the city lasted only 36 hours, after which most of the city”s fighters, numbering almost 2,000, were shot in the Plaza de Toros by Moorish troops. This carnage, which came to be known as the Badajoz massacre, discredited Franco, who was responsible for the entire operation, more than Yagüe, his executor. It was a question, in accordance with Franco”s strategy, of physically destroying the Republican enemy in cold blood. This type of exactions would be repeated throughout the conflict, and a state of war would be declared in each conquered city. Moreover, the international disapproval left Franco unmoved. Paul Preston notes that the terror spread by the advance of the Moors and legionnaires was one of the best weapons of the nationalists in their march on Madrid. Given the iron discipline with which Franco directed military operations, it is unlikely, Preston believes, that the use of terror in this case would have been a mere spontaneous side effect of the war, unnoticed by Franco. According to Andrée Bachoud:
“The victorious march of his men spread terror. The methods of the military leader have not changed since the Moroccan war or the repression in Asturias. A leader”s deliberate desire to make an impression, and the desire already expressed in the first Moroccan campaigns that negotiation or forgiveness would give the enemy a chance to regain his strength and the advantage. This type of reasoning does not belong to Franco”s troops alone: violence is exercised everywhere with the same frenzy, never repressed nor condemned in these battalions led by officers who have no other experience than the war in Africa. Colonial wars have taught them the primacy of the law of the strongest over the respect of men. They will not change their methods on national territory. It is certain that the single command does not yet exist and that it is difficult to impose a behavior on men placed under multiple commands; it is no less certain that no military leader is concerned with giving instructions for moderation; massacres are part of an accepted and never regretted order of things.
Yagüe”s difficulties in capturing Badajoz prompted Italy and Germany to increase their support for Franco. Mussolini sent a volunteer army, the Corpo Truppe Volontarie (CTV), composed of some 2,000 Italians and fully motorized, and Hitler a squadron of Luftwaffe professionals (the 2JG88), with about 24 aircraft.
Thanks to the discipline of the troops and the lack of unity of command in the Republican camp, the rebels of the two zones, north and south, succeeded in joining forces in early September. The initial situation had thus been reversed; by October, western Spain, with the exception of the northern coastal areas, formed a single territory under Nationalist rule. Increasingly, Franco acted as the titular leader of the insurgency. He re-established the use of the two-coloured blood and gold flag without requiring the consent of his peers. He diverted the sympathy of the immense monarchist and tranditionalist cohort to his own benefit, while distancing himself from the fascist gesticulations. The only one to enjoy international recognition, he was the recipient of foreign aid and the leader of the decisive fighting forces. While Mola generally accepted his initiatives, his relations with Queipo de Llano in the south remained more strained.
On August 26, Franco moved his headquarters to the Golfines de Arriba palace in Cáceres, where he created an embryonic government, something neither Mola nor Queipo de Llano had done. They were: his brother Nicolás, a rough political secretary in charge of political matters; José Sangroniz, assistant for foreign affairs; Martínez Fuset, legal advisor, in charge of military justice; and Millán-Astray, head of propaganda. He was accompanied by the inevitable Pacón, by some old friends from Africa, by Kindelán, in charge of aeronautics, and by Luis Bolín, in charge of propaganda. Juan March, who acted as a link between Franco and the business world, also played a leading role. He was soon joined by Serrano Suñer and his brother Ramón, who soon renounced his previous convictions. Franco had thus reconstituted his familiar world around him.
On September 3, Franco”s troops took Talavera de la Reina. As the ferocity of the Moorish troops in Badajoz became public knowledge, part of the population fled the city, as did part of the Republican militia, even before the battle. On September 20, the columns arrived in Maqueda, some 80 km from Madrid.
By this time, Franco had already passed over the other Nationalist leaders, including Mola, while Cabanellas, the president of the Junta, was little more than a symbol in the political and military structure. At the same time, the Nationalist commanders of the different zones had retained considerable autonomy. Franco had strengthened his relationship with Rome and Berlin, receiving all Italian supplies and much of the German ones, and then redistributing them to the northern units. The three friendly governments that supported the military – Italy, Germany, and Portugal – considered him the principal leader. On August 16, he flew for the first time to Burgos, seat of the Junta, to plan and coordinate the military campaign with the northern general, Mola, who was open and cooperative.
In the meantime, in the Protectorate, Franco”s lieutenants had reached an agreement with the native chiefs, which allowed the Nationalist camp to turn Morocco into a copious reservoir of Muslim volunteers, whose strength would reach 60 or 70 thousand men.
In Maqueda, almost at the gates of Madrid, Franco diverted part of his troops to Toledo to disengage the Alcazar, which was under siege by the Republicans. This controversial decision, which left the Republicans free to strengthen Madrid”s defenses, earned him a great personal propaganda success. The Alcázar was a hotbed of nationalist resistance, where in the first days of the uprising a thousand civil guards and phalangists had gone to entrench themselves with women and children, and from which they put up a desperate resistance to their assailants. After liberating them on September 27, 1936, Franco”s supporters made a point of transforming this operation into a legend, further strengthening Franco”s position among the rebel leaders. His photo showing him with José Moscardó and Varela walking through the ruins of the Alcázar, and very moved as he hugged the survivors, would be shown all over the world and would serve to make him recognized as the leader of the military insurrection.
The strategic choice of giving priority to the besieged in the Toledo Military Academy over Madrid has been criticized, but Franco was fully aware of the delay that this decision would cause. He wanted to take advantage of the effect that saving the Alcázar would have on his prestige, at a time when the advisability of a single military leadership was being debated and the nationalist generals had to make a final decision on the unification of the military command, and by extension, on the nature of the political power that was to be established in the nationalist zone, a political power of which Franco aspired to become the depositary; political reason dictated that he should rescue the besieged heroes of Toledo and thus appear to be the liberator. In addition, the city, long the imperial capital of Spain, was a key symbolic issue. Other authors have seen in this the manifestation of Franco”s Machiavellianism and the carefully considered decision to prolong the war in order to have time to establish his power definitively: the capture of Madrid would have been too early and would not have made it possible to totally crush the adversary; to achieve this objective, the war had to last. To achieve this objective, the war had to last. If Franco was committed to organizing the victory of his side, he would do so without undue haste, because he had to let his prestige mature and establish his power. The capture of Madrid at the end of September would probably have meant the end of the war, making it unnecessary to create a single command; the Directory of Generals would probably have had to resolve the problem of the nature of the state without delay, before Franco had obtained the privileged position he wanted.
Other authors disprove the argument that Franco made a very serious operational error in delaying the march on Madrid by a week. Certainly, in early October Madrid had no strong defenses and could have been taken easily, before the military situation changed a week later, when Soviet weapons and military specialists had come into play in significant numbers. However, it seems doubtful that a determined advance on Madrid in September, with poorly protected flanks, with weak logistics, and with total disregard for the other fronts, would have allowed Franco to quickly seize the capital and thus put an end to the Civil War. In practice, it was unlikely that Franco would adopt such a bold strategy, as it went against his principles and habits. The delay of a month was not only due to the liberation of the Alcázar, but also, and mainly, to the limited resources of the nationalists; at the end of September, Franco, who had to allocate reinforcements to other fronts that threatened to succumb, could not rely on a sufficient concentration of troops. Moreover, Franco”s election by the Junta de Defensa was not in fact conditional on the liberation of the Alcázar. Finally, by giving priority to the conquest of the northern, landlocked Republican zone, which had most of the heavy industry, the coal and iron mines, a skilled population and the main arms industry, to the detriment of the assault on Madrid, Franco tipped the balance of power in his favour.
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Access to power
With the accidental death of Sanjurjo, the uprising was decapitated, and the failures of Goded in Barcelona and Fanjul in Madrid had left General Mola without competitors in the race for the status of leader of the insurrection. On July 23, 1936, Mola created a seven-member Junta de Defensa Nacional headed by Miguel Cabanellas, in which Franco did not yet figure. Franco was not admitted to the Junta until August 3, when the first units from Africa had crossed the Straits of Gibraltar and Franco had established privileged relations with Italy and Germany. In the negotiations for Italian aid, Franco had taken the initiative and brought them to a successful conclusion. Mussolini and his Minister of Foreign Affairs Ciano had an undeniable preference for Franco over Mola. In Germany, too, contacts were increasing with Franco, who was fortunate to have the support of active Nazis living in Morocco. On August 11, in a telephone conversation, Mola and Franco had agreed that it was not effective to duplicate efforts to obtain international aid, and Mola had since ceded to Franco the care of maintaining relations with those who were already their allies and, by the same token, overseeing supplies of materials.
The composition of the Junta de defensa reflected the division of the insurgents. It included four opportunist or politically ill-defined officers, Generals Mola and Dávila, and Colonels Montaner and Moreno. It had two monarchists in its initial composition, with Saliquet and Ponte. General Cabanellas was disliked by the extreme right because of his republicanism and his membership in the Freemasons. The division was further complicated by the inclusion of Franco on August 3, and then of Generals Queipo de Llano (Republican) and Orgaz (Monarchist) on September 17. In this context of discord, it soon became clear that the Junta was unable to give coherence to such a disparate coalition, let alone create a new state in the face of the Republican apparatus. This Committee, in which the military leaders of the rebellion, to the exclusion of all civilians, made decisions on an equal footing, did not have sufficient authority to put an end to the de facto independence enjoyed by its members, who were geographically dispersed and each acted as the absolute master of their respective territories conquered by arms. On July 26, 1936, in the absence of a real agreement, they resigned themselves to entrust the presidency to their oldest member, General Cabanellas.
Franco, like Goded, enjoyed greater popularity than his colleagues, and although his candidacy was defended by his monarchist comrades, who were misled about his intentions, Franco was not linked to any clan and posed as the man of wisdom and the middle ground. Although he was not really one of the founding members of the conspiracy, he had saved his colleagues from getting bogged down in a situation that could have been fatal for them, and he appeared well placed to impose himself as their providential arbiter. From September onwards (i.e. after only two months), he was already the strongest candidate to lead the uprising. On August 15, Franco took an initiative that may be inferred from the fact that he was already considering this possibility and that probably helped to consolidate his position even more: without having consulted Mola, Franco adopted the red and gold flag in a solemn public ceremony in Seville, so that later the Junta, which Franco had forced to accept this initiative, could only officially endorse the flag. With this initiative, Franco secured the support of the monarchists, whereas only two weeks earlier Mola had bluntly rejected John of Bourbon, the heir to the crown, when he wanted to join the uprising. Franco could now count on a group of military men – namely Kindelán, Nicolás Franco, Orgaz, Yagüe and Millán-Astray – who were willing to manoeuvre to elevate him to the position of commander-in-chief and head of state.
On September 4, 1936, the first unified government of the Popular Front was formed, presided over by the socialist Francisco Largo Caballero, who was joined two months later by four anarcho-syndicalist representatives. By mid-September, this government began to build a new, centralized and disciplined Republican army. The first Soviet weapons arrived in early October, along with a large group of Soviet military advisors, hundreds of airmen and tank drivers, soon joined by the International Brigades.
On September 14, 1936, the Junta held a meeting in Burgos where the problem of a single command was discussed. This initiative came not so much from Franco, but rather from the monarchist generals Kindelán and Orgaz, who believed that a single command was essential to victory and aimed to move the military regime towards a monarchy. Franco had the support of his closest advisers, and Italians and Germans saw Franco as the key man in the nationalist camp. The issue grew in importance as Franco”s columns approached the outskirts of Madrid. The friction that Franco had been unable to avoid with Queipo de Llano in the south, and the few disagreements between Mola and Yagüe, leader of the assault columns against Madrid in the center, had made the need for a commander-in-chief increasingly apparent. Kindelán therefore urged Franco to call a meeting of the entire Junta to submit the proposal for a unity of command. On September 12, 1936, in a secret meeting in Salamanca, the Junta first prepared a draft decree specifying the terms of a unified political and military command. The text, drafted by José de Yanguas Messía, a professor of international law, provided for the dissolution of the Junta de Defensa, the establishment of a single command for all the army corps, entrusted to a generalísimo, “head of the government of the state for the duration of the war”, exercising authority over “all national political, economic, social and cultural activities”. The decisive meeting was set for September 21, in a small wooden building on the outskirts of Salamanca, where a small airstrip had been improvised, since most of the participants had to arrive by plane. At this meeting, called by Franco on the agreed date, Kindelán, with the support of Orgaz, repeatedly insisted that the problem of the single command be dealt with. The meeting opened at 11 a.m., was suspended at noon, and when it resumed at 4 p.m., Kindelán insisted again: “If a general-in-chief has not been appointed within eight days, I am leaving. After Kindelán had proposed Franco”s name, he was appointed Generalísimo, i.e., supreme commander of the army, as he appeared to be the least compromised by previous political commitments, had achieved the most military successes, and could count on the support of Mola as well. He did not have the support of Cabanellas, who advocated a collegial leadership and remembered Franco”s hesitations until the last moment before deciding to join the uprising. The meeting ended with a commitment by the participants to keep the decision secret until General Cabanellas made it official by decree; however, the days passed without the President of the Junta making an official announcement.
It was also on this day that Franco, delaying the march on Madrid, decided to divert his troops to Toledo to free the Alcázar. On September 27, the Alcázar was liberated and a demonstration in honor of Franco was held in Cáceres. The next day, September 28, a new meeting of the Junta was held in Salamanca to decide on the powers of the single commander, and Kindelán brought a draft of the decree he and Nicolás had drawn up the day before, under which Franco would be named supreme commander of the armed forces (Generalísimo) with powers that included “head of state” “for as long as the war lasts. Faced with the reluctance of the other members of the Junta to combine military command and political power in one person, Kindelán proposed a lunch break, during which he and Yagüe lobbied the other members of the council to support the proposal. When the meeting resumed, the proposal was accepted by all except Cabanellas, and with reservations by Mola, and then the Council was charged with drafting the final decree. At the end of the meeting, Franco declared that “this is the most important moment of my life”.
The decree, written by Yanguas Messía, stated in its first paragraph that “in execution of the agreement reached by the Junta de Defensa Nacional, His Eminence Major General Francisco Franco Bahamonde was appointed head of government of the Spanish State, who will assume all the powers of the new State”. If in Kindelán”s proposal it was presupposed that this appointment would only be valid for the duration of the war, this restriction was not retained in the decree finally adopted. Ramón Garriga, who later became part of Franco”s press service in Burgos, said that Franco read into the draft decree that he would be head of government of the Spanish state only on a provisional basis “for as long as the war lasted” and that he crossed it out before submitting it to Cabanellas for signature.
The decree that Cabanellas finally issued on September 30, 1936, proclaimed Franco “head of the government of the Spanish state,” thus without the clause about limiting his powers to the duration of the war. Thanks to this omission, Franco was to assume a power unlimited in scope as well as in duration. The decree also demilitarized power, creating in effect a Technical Committee whose members were for the most part minor civilians called upon to play the role of ministers. In Mola”s view, these measures were emergency measures intended to apply only for the duration of the war, after which the original plan would be returned to, namely, a political process involving a national plebiscite, subject to careful scrutiny, which would determine the future regime of Spain. The members of the Junta did not envisage a permanent political dictatorship by one man. Symptomatically, Franco, notwithstanding the fact that he had been named only “head of government,” began to refer to himself as “head of state. The next day, Franco”s media published the news that he had been invested “head of state”, and that same day Franco signed his first order as “head of state”.
Franco”s investiture as head of state took place on October 1, 1936, in Burgos, and was celebrated with great pomp and circumstance, in the presence of representatives from Germany, Italy and Portugal. On this occasion, the Generalísimo declared: “Generals and chiefs of the Junta, you can be proud, you have received a broken Spain and you are handing over to me a Spain united in a unanimous and grandiose ideal. Victory is on our side”; and again: “My hand will be firm, my wrist will not tremble, and I will try to elevate Spain to the place it deserves, given its history and the place it has occupied in past times”. If, in this speech, he sketched an ill-identified regime quite close to the existing totalitarian regimes and made it clear that he was not thinking of a limited term of office, it was not until the course of the Civil War that his ambition to be a dictator for life became apparent, with Franco revealing political appetites that were mostly unsuspected.
As soon as General Franco was appointed head of state, a cult of his personality was established, and a fascist-style propaganda campaign was launched, in which the insurgent zone was inundated with posters bearing his image and newspapers were required to carry the slogan “Una Patria, un Estado, un Caudillo,” which was different from Adolf Hitler”s “Ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Führer. Franco took on the epithet of Caudillo, a medieval title meaning “warrior leader”, more specifically “guerrilla leader”, used for the first time in 1923 and for which he had a dilemma from the beginning, because it was rooted in the medieval past of Spain and the Reconquista, and it was part of an epic tradition, of the national and Catholic gesture. Precisely, a caudillo is a charismatic character, a gift of Providence to a people, a messiah invested with a redemptive mission, which Spain, perverted by Marxism, anarchism, and freemasonry, needed. Thus, he became the object of an adulation orchestrated by an increasingly disciplined and controlled press, an adulation that soon exceeded that of any other living figure in Spanish history. As he passed by, in his speeches and in public gatherings, he was acclaimed with “Franco, Franco, Franco”, and his supposed virtues were extolled in abundance: intelligence, willpower, justice, austerity… His first hagiographers appeared, calling him, among other things, “Crusader of the West, Prince of the Armies”. His expressions, quotations, words and speeches were taken up in chorus in all the media, and since then, one of his obsessions will be to have the upper hand on these media. On the other hand, on September 30, 1936, the bishop of Salamanca, Enrique Plá y Deniel, published a pastoral letter entitled Las dos ciudades (literally, the Two Cities) – in allusion to St. Augustine”s City of God – in which the uprising was described for the first time as a “crusade” (although in this respect the clergy was ahead of the Carlist leaders, who had inaugurated the use of the term). A whole quasi-religious ceremony accompanied his character, and Franco lent himself to this representation, whether by conviction or by calculation. On October 3 he moved to Salamanca and, accepting the offer of Bishop Plá y Deniel, took up residence in the Episcopal Palace, thus combining, as he was to become accustomed to do, functions with symbolic places – albeit for a stay that he expected to be of short duration, until he moved to the capital soon and definitively.
Since that time, too, his religious fervor had intensified, and he attended mass daily in the early hours of the day in the chapel of his official residence; on some afternoons he recited the rosary at his wife”s side; and finally, from that time on, he would have a personal confessor. There is no doubt that he was a Catholic, even though his public expression as a young officer was limited. The Civil War brought him to an intensive religious practice, not unrelated to the sense of a providential destiny that he was beginning to develop. The concept of religion was to be, above that of nation, the main moral support of the National Movement; his new state was to be confessional. The dimension of a fight for Christianity – of “crusade” – will not cease to serve it. Andrée Bachoud explains:
“It was the guarantee of an identity that many Spaniards feared to lose. It is true that in the early days he used neo-fascist phraseology adapted to the Spanish way, but it is in the restitution of an ancient ritual that most of his followers recognize themselves. His speeches show that he is naturally on the same level as the syntax of an archaic, creative and symbolic right, in keeping with the political imaginary of a sociological group that is out of step with what can be called the “modernity” of the moment. His conformity with a large part of his environment is one of the keys to his success, and the testimonies of support undoubtedly comfort him in the idea that he is designated to fulfill a higher mission.”
Thus, all Spaniards threatened by the Popular Front revolution, from monarchist aristocrats to middle-class people and small Catholic farmers in the northern provinces, rallied around Franco as their leader in a desperate struggle for survival. The nationalists set in motion a vast right-wing counter-revolution embodied in an unprecedented cultural and spiritual neo-traditionalism. Schools and libraries were purged not only of left-wing radicalism but of almost all liberal influences, and Spanish tradition was enshrined as the compass of a nation that was said to have lost its way by following the principles of the French Revolution and liberalism.
While he conceded considerable autonomy to his subordinates, from the beginning he exercised full personal power and firm authority over all military commanders, so much so that some of those who had voted for him were surprised by his distant and impersonal manner and the extension of his authority. The political activity of groups and parties ceased to exist in the national zone; all left-wing organizations were banned under martial law from the beginning of the conflict, and Gil-Robles ordered in a letter dated October 7, 1936, one week after Franco”s seizure of power, all members of the CEDA and its militia to submit completely to military command. Only the Phalangists and Carlists retained their autonomy from the new authority, but when the Carlists attempted in December to open their own independent officers” school, Franco immediately closed it and sent the Carlist leader, Manuel Fal Conde, into exile. On the other hand, if the phalangists were allowed for a time to have two military training schools, Franco took care to unify all the militias under one regular command. To the few military leaders who had asked him to urge Franco to adopt a more collegial system of government, Mola replied that for him the main thing was to win the war and that at such a time it was necessary to be careful not to compromise unity.
In Salamanca, Franco had a henchman, Lorenzo Martínez Fuset, whose mission was to destroy anything that might harm the Franco order, such as Freemasons, liberals, anarchists, republicans, socialists or communists, and by this means he obtained a large number of rallies to the Falange and enrollments. Franco, notes Andrée Bachoud, “took pleasure in the role of the apparently good-natured patriarch, constantly practicing distributive justice, but which he combined with the reality of a ruthless repressive action.
Franco sent telegrams to Hitler and Rudolf Hess to inform them of his investiture in a cordial tone. Hitler replied through the German diplomat Du Moulin-Eckart, who, in a meeting with Franco on October 6, offered him German support, but postponed recognition of the rebel government until the expected capture of Madrid. Du Moulin informed the authorities in Berlin of Franco”s attitude: “The friendliness with which Franco expressed his veneration for the Führer and Chancellor, his sympathy for Germany, and the delicate and warm reception I received do not leave the slightest doubt as to the sincerity of his attitude towards us.
Ramón, who remained in regular contact with Nicolás, had decided in mid-September 1936, two weeks before his brother became generalissimo, to break with the Republican zone. When Ramón presented himself in Salamanca on October 6, 1936, Franco forgave him all his former political sins, and in order to protect him from possible retaliation, he reinstated him in the family group and ordered a fast-track judicial trial, from which Ramón emerged innocent on November 23. At the end of the month, Franco made him a lieutenant-colonel and appointed him head of the important air base in Mallorca. On November 26, Kindelán, who had not been informed of this, sent Franco what was probably the most incensed letter he had ever received from a subordinate. Ramón, putting himself at the service of the insurgents” cause, earned the respect of his colleagues by his commitment and professional competence, and above all by his example, personally leading many actions and carrying out 51 bombing missions on the Republican cities of Valencia, Alicante and Barcelona. He died in a plane crash on October 28, 1938.
Franco”s position was further consolidated after José Antonio Primo de Rivera was executed by the Republicans in Alicante on November 20, 1936, which brought the Falange into Franco”s orbit. It was also at this time that Franco set up a flamboyant Moorish Guard for his personal protection.
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Consolidation of Franco”s authority and creation of a single party (April 1937)
In the first months of his rule, Franco concentrated on military affairs and diplomatic relations. Political activities were prohibited and all right-wing forces supported the new regime. Only the Falange continued to proselytize, although it was careful not to interfere with the military administration. From April 1937, Franco worked to consolidate his political position, with the valuable help of Ramón Serrano Suñer, who arrived in Salamanca on February 20, 1937. Serrano Suñer, an experienced and skilful politician, much better able than Franco and his brother Nicolás to solve the problems posed by the construction of a new state and by the unification of the disparate, heterogeneous, and sometimes opposing forces that supported Franco, soon replaced Nicolás as Franco”s political advisor, and tried to give nationalist Spain the appearance of an organized state, taking inspiration from the Mussolinian system. In 1937, Franco”s main task was to annihilate the quasi-autonomous power that some of his military colleagues still exercised in various regions, especially in Seville and Andalusia, which had been subject for months to the goodwill of Queipo de Llano. He also had to discipline and integrate into the army the militias of the extreme right-wing organizations and the Carlists. Only after these internal operations had been completed could Franco carry out his governmental action, in particular by promulgating, on January 31, 1938, an organic law that put an end to the functions of the Technical Junta, reorganizing it into a government composed of classic ministerial departments.
Franco”s second great political coup was to impose a single party and to commit, in the words of Guy Hermet, a “coup d”état within a coup d”état. The anti-republican coalition encompassed a diverse and sometimes antagonistic set of aspirations: monarchists (expecting the restoration of the Bourbon dynasty), the CEDA (at that time still a right-wing republican movement), and the Falange (the dominant party, with 240,000 militants in 1937). Most saw Franco”s tenure as an interim, at best a regency, until the end of the war.
At first, Franco tried to found a political party based on the CEDA, similar to the one created by the dictator Primo de Rivera, but the reluctance of some Phalangists and Carlists, whose movements had acquired considerable power since the uprising, made him give up and change his strategy. In general, the Falange differed significantly from the reactionary thinking that dominated national Spain, especially in religious matters, with many Falangists professing outright hostility to established Catholicism, as well as to the classical-style military. However, realizing that the logic of the circumstances required a move towards a new, large political organization, in February 1937 the phalangists began to negotiate the conditions for a possible merger with the Carlists. The latter, however, were ultra-traditionalist Catholics and very sceptical of fascism, and an acceptable agreement on fusion could not be reached.
Serrano Suñer proposed to create a kind of institutionalized equivalent of Italian fascism, but more rooted in Catholicism than the Italian ideology was. This meant founding a state political party based on the Falange as the main force, because, according to Serrano Suñer, “Carlism suffered from a certain political inactivity; on the other hand, much of its doctrine was included in the thought of the Falange, and the latter had the social and revolutionary content that would allow Nationalist Spain to ideologically absorb Red Spain, which is our great ambition and duty. In order to establish this neo-fascist system, Serrano Suñer set about putting order into the magma of contradictory aspirations that was the nationalist camp, enclosing it in a single party under Franco”s leadership, which would make it possible to create a “truly new” state, different from previous constructions, while at the same time preserving partisan balances, without granting primacy of influence to any of the supporters of the nationalist cause.
As for José Antonio Primo de Rivera, he was incarcerated in the provincial prison of Alicante. Franco could not be expected to be particularly enthusiastic about the release of José Antonio, who was likely to become a political rival, but he could not reject the requests of the Phalangists either. He put at their disposal means and a considerable amount of money to try to suborn the Republican jailers. Paul Preston hypothesizes that Franco voluntarily delayed the steps taken by the Counts of Mayalde and Romanones with Leon Blum to obtain José Antonio”s pardon, and observes that the execution of José Antonio in November 1936 served Franco, who had the greatest interest in using the Falange as a political instrument, but who would have been unable, in the presence of his leader, to manipulate it to his liking.
Nevertheless, the only real obstacle to the formation of such a single party devoted to Franco remained the Falange. The Falange had grown enormously, but it appeared vulnerable, for its principal leaders had been murdered by leftist repression, and its surviving leaders, including the new leader Manuel Hedilla, lacked prestige, talent, clear ideas and leadership ability, and were divided into small groups. With the help of his brother Nicolás and Commander Doval, he took control of the Falange in ten days: first, by teleguiding Hedilla against the Aznar-Dávila-Garcerán group that accused Hedilla of having sold out to Franco, and then by relegating the victorious Hedilla to a subordinate position; the latter, having rebelled on April 23, 1937, was arrested on April 25 as a result of a manipulation orchestrated by Doval and his services, tried by an ad hoc military tribunal for conspiracy and attempted murder of Franco, and sentenced to death on April 29, then pardoned at the intervention of the German ambassador and under the pressure of Serrano Suñer, but demolished politically; and simultaneously, the Primo de Rivera clan, very reluctant to the idea of a subordination of the Falange to Franco, was marginalized.
The decree of political unification, which Serrano Suñer finalized and which was made public on the radio on April 19, 1937, established a single party called Falange Española Tradicionalista y de las Juntas de Ofensiva Nacional-Sindicalista, abbreviated PET y de las JONS. Traditionalists or Carlists, phalangists and other neo-fascists now formed a whole under the strict control of the head of government. It remained for the Caudillo, who had already adorned his power with a certain international legitimacy and endowed it with a suitable administrative efficiency, to adorn his regime with a legitimacy built on an ideological foundation tailored to his own measure; the solution came, according to Guy Hermet, in the form of a single party “without a clear doctrine, a collection of contradictory tendencies canceling each other out, impotent enough to reassure the Catholics, but sufficiently coated in totalitarian verbiage to please the young right-wing extremists as well as the German and Italian protectors of the national state. Although the new official party, the only one authorized, and the state adopted as their credo the 26 points of the fascist doctrine of the Falange, Franco emphasized that this was not a definitive, absolute and unchangeable program, but remained subject to modification in the future. The new structure did not rule out a possible monarchical restoration. All other political organizations were dissolved, and it was expected that their members would join the FET y de las JONS, placed under the leadership of Franco, who appointed himself national leader. The organization would have a General Secretary, a Political Committee as an executive body, and a larger National Council, whose 50 members Franco, with the help of Serrano Suñer, chose in a subtle mix of the various tendencies.
Thus, unlike what had happened in fascist Italy or Nazi Germany, Guy Hermet points out, “the Spanish single party became the subordinate appendage of the dictatorial state instead of ruling it like a master. Franco”s regime was never totalitarian in practice”; indeed, “if the Caudillo thought it appropriate to flatter his German and Italian allies by supporting his power with a fascist-style party, he was deep down hostile to the pseudo-revolutionary impulses of the Falangists. Moreover, the good society found the Falange vulgar and popular, and would not have accepted that the dictatorship made it the only leadership structure offered to the Spaniards. The single party would therefore be semi-fascist, not a simple imitation of the Italian party or some other foreign model. Although Franco stated that he wanted to establish a “totalitarian state,” the model he invoked was, however, the political structure of the Catholic Kings of the fifteenth century, which attests that what Franco had in mind was not a system of absolute control over all institutions, i.e., true totalitarianism, but a military and authoritarian state that would dominate all public spheres but allow for a limited and traditionalist semi-pluralism. If, through the creation of a single party and the subsequent confiscation of all doctrinal speech, Franco found himself in a position of head of state equal in power to that of the Führer or the Duce, with a similar number of fighting militias at his disposal, the whole operation was accomplished through a watering down of the fascist discourse, amended by an injection of conservatism and traditional clericalism. The function of the new FET was, in its own words, to incorporate “the great mass of the non-affiliated”, in view of which any doctrinal rigidity became detrimental. Similarly, a month after political unification, he had to convince the Catholic bishops that the FET would not propagate “Nazi ideas”, their main concern.
At the signing ceremony of the Unification Decree, Franco gave his famous Speech of National Reconstruction, in which he informed the population about the form of government he proposed to establish after the war. This speech was repeated many times over the years by the dictatorship”s propaganda media.
“A totalitarian State will harmonize in Spain the functioning of all the capacities and energies of the country, in which and in the National Unity, work – judged to be the one among all the duties from which it is least licit to evade – will be the only exponent of the popular will. And thanks to it, the authentic feeling of the Spanish people will be able to manifest itself through those natural organs which, together with the family, the municipality, the association and the corporation, will make our supreme ideal crystallize into reality.
– Francisco Franco
Unification was not welcomed by either the phalangists or the Carlists, but given the extraordinary situation of total civil war, the vast majority nevertheless accepted the imposition of Franco”s authority, apart from Hedilla and a small group of influential phalangists, who allowed themselves to express their reservations. The senior army officers, very few of whom were phalangists, and who considered themselves to be the repositories of the true spirit of the National Movement, were not satisfied with this reform either, but were absorbed in their warlike duties. No one in the national camp was emboldened to express their misgivings, for fear of compromising the momentum of victory, so the prolongation of the war served Franco”s plans.
Franco”s action in the first year of his power showed the autocrat that no one had suspected until then. It was in Salamanca and in the family that the decisions of government and foreign policy were taken. Legal forms were given to summary executions, imprisonments, dismissals of suspicious officials, etc. In Salamanca, the government also set up a cultural and propaganda office to counterbalance the commitment of Western intellectuals to the Republic, an attempt that ended in failure.
Franco dismissed the heir to the Spanish crown, but he was careful not to offend the monarchists who supported him: when John of Bourbon wanted to join the movement again on January 12, 1937, taking a command in the navy, he diplomatically held him back at the border, arguing that it was better for the heir to the throne not to take sides in the war and that it was not desirable to put him at risk. Later, he justified his attitude as follows: “I must first create the nation; it is afterwards that we will decide if it is a good idea to appoint a king”; it was to give at the same time vague pledges on a future restoration of the monarchy and to remove any occasion to the prince to acquire some recognition of the nation.
In 1937, Franco was the absolute head of the state, defining all the structures of its functioning and controlling all the wheels of political life. He had established a ritual that institutionalized and sacralized his authority; July 18, the anniversary of the uprising against the republic, and October 1, the date he was made Caudillo, were declared national holidays. Less than a year after the beginning of the Civil War, Franco”s system was thus in place as a specific totalitarianism rooted in tradition and religion and supposedly reflecting the aspirations of the vast majority of the people in his camp. There were attempts to get Franco to adopt a variant of the Italian political model, and he was advised to do so, but this only led to the assertion that the Spanish regime had a national singularity and that it would be a mistake to force it.
In the meantime, Franco had taken up residence in Burgos, in the Palacio de la Isla, soon followed by Serrano Suñer and other close relatives of Carmen Polo. The Franco family adopted a provincial lifestyle, and visitors were struck by the “boarding house” style that characterized this tribal grouping. In the official ceremonies, the provincialism of the regime was even more obvious, with its rituals of masses, parties, and bloated speeches.
Between 1937 and 1938, the Civil War entered a phase of war of attrition, in which the nationalist forces gradually gained ground. On June 3, 1937, General Mola, perhaps the only political rival in the high command capable of counterbalancing the Caudillo”s influence, died in an airplane accident, further strengthening Franco”s position as the undisputed leader of the Movement. According to the German general Wilhelm Faupel, the German ambassador in Salamanca, “without a doubt, the Generalísimo feels relieved by the death of General Mola”, but Mola”s collaborators could not find any proof that his death was anything other than a fatal accident. The command in the North was then passed to General Dávila, a man who had become absolutely loyal to Franco. Hitler commented: “The real tragedy for Spain was the death of Mola; he was the real brain, the real leader. Franco came to the top like Pontius Pilate in the Creed.
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Guarantee of the Church
The Caudillo was able to obtain the unconditional support of the Spanish Church and to overcome the initial reluctance of the Vatican, until he also obtained its support. Franco was proud to have received a telegram from the Pope on the day of victory. In view of the growing Catholic feeling among the leaders and the population of the nationalist zone, Franco, by conviction or strategy, was led to seek the support of Pius XI as a matter of priority, and especially that of Cardinal Pacelli, then Cardinal Secretary of State, who defined the foreign policy of the Holy See.
However, the Church initially feared a German-style drift, but the mass of the Spanish clergy had given moral support to the insurgent military from the outset, and the bishops had endorsed the sacralization of the struggle as a “crusade. On December 29, 1936, Franco and Archbishop Isidro Gomá reached a six-point agreement that guaranteed complete freedom for all clergy activities and agreed to avoid any reciprocal interference in the spheres of church and state. The old public subsidies were not immediately restored, but many measures were taken to enforce Catholic precepts in culture and education, and all future Spanish legislation was to be compatible with Catholic doctrine. Franco restored the Church to its pre-Republican prerogatives and pledged to rebuild the destroyed religious buildings. The only anti-clerical note came from the most radical faction of the Falange.
Finally, his regime received the sanction of the Church through a collective pastoral letter entitled To the Bishops of the World, written by Cardinal Gomá, signed by all but five bishops (and excluding those murdered in the Republican zone), and published with the approval of the Vatican on July 1, 1937. The document, in which the position of the prelates of the Spanish Church was set out in detail, recognized the legitimacy of the nationalists” struggle, while reserving its approval of the specific form taken by Franco”s regime. If it compromised the Church in Spain for decades, this text also acts as a revelation of the divisions that the sacralization of the Civil War had begun to generate among Catholics, since some bishops had abstained from signing it, and some elements indicate that Pius XI did not appreciate it very much. Significantly, the first regular government prepared the Labor Charter without consulting the episcopate, and a decree of April 21 of the same year imposed union unification, which also affected the Catholic unions.
On November 23, Cardinal Gomá published a pastoral letter in which he equated the nationalist cause with the defense of Catholicism against communism and Freemasonry, and then undertook a tour of Europe to persuade the Catholic world. Pius XII sent his apostolic blessing to Franco, endorsing Franco”s total personal identification with the Church, and confirmed Cardinal Gomá as the official representative of the Holy See. This endorsement by the Pope opened up a third way between fascism and communism, that of defending the values of the West and of Christianity, and earned Franco support among Catholics in the Western democracies. But more generally, Andrée Bachoud notes, by ostensibly favoring the three great revealed religions, Franco went against the grain of the dominant ideologies, but also, “his attitude towards the Jews of Morocco, the aid provided during the war to Sephardic Jews and then the effort made in the direction of the Arab world and Islam show the concern to anchor himself in an anhistorical space and to affirm the permanence of a religious spirituality that makes all political positions contingent and banal.
The Church granted Franco the privilege of entering and leaving churches under a canopy, as a person of sacred essence. After the fall of Málaga on February 7, 1937, Franco took the right hand of St. Teresa, a relic that would accompany him throughout his life.
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Failed offensive against Madrid
Franco had devoted himself entirely to strengthening his position of power during the two weeks following his appointment, so his troops had to wait until October 18, 1936, before they were sufficiently prepared for the offensive against the capital. On October 15, the first Soviet weapons had begun to arrive in the port of Cartagena: 108 bombers, 50 tanks, and 20 armored vehicles, which headed for Madrid, briefly putting the army of the Republic on a par with Franco”s forces. From then on, a new type of warfare would be practiced: previously, the African troops had advanced against poorly equipped militiamen and an army with some components that had little military experience – a type of warfare not unlike the colonial wars, of which Franco, the Legion and the regular indigenous troops had long practice. After the arrival of Soviet armaments and the presence of Italian and German troops, it was now a war of fronts, in which these armaments played a leading role. It seems that Franco, stuck in the strategic world of the Great War, was unable to adapt to this new situation. On November 6, Franco”s army was in front of Madrid, ready for the final assault. That same day, the government of the Republic left the capital in a hurry for Valencia, and in Franco”s camp it was prophesied that it would only be a matter of hours before the troops arrived at the Puerta del Sol, the emblematic center of the city.
In fact, fatigue began to make itself felt in the nationalist columns, as well as the need for better armament and reserves. The ammunition shortage could not be solved until October. On the other hand, Franco”s military intelligence was poor, and it is likely that he was unaware that the Republican side was building infantry brigades as part of a new regular army, or that a considerable quantity of modern Soviet weapons, with specialists to handle them, were about to arrive on the Madrid front. Franco opted for the most direct route, from the southwest, while some of his commanders, including Juan Yagüe, would have preferred to head north or northwest first, and then attack the capital from the mountains.
On November 8, 1936, the Battle of Madrid began, in which Franco”s army, commanded by General Varela, faced a heterogeneous conglomerate of fighters under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Vicente Rojo Lluch. Although Franco”s army managed to cross the Manzanares River and seize several outlying neighborhoods, it was finally pushed back in hand-to-hand combat, mainly in the University City. On November 23, after several attempts from the west and despite the support from November 12 of the German planes of the Condor Legion, Franco had to order a halt to the offensive and acknowledge its failure. Thanks to the resistance of Madrid, the Republic was able to contain Franco”s advance for more than two years. The defense of Madrid was the first, and in fact the only, victory of the People”s Army, and it gave a hint that the Civil War would turn into a long war of attrition, scuttling the Nationalists” plan to achieve a relatively quick victory.
Franco had boasted too much about an imminent triumph for the thesis of a calculated defeat to be accepted. The fact remains that this defeat will finally serve him, on the one hand on the military level, since his Italian and German allies could only envisage the rout of a side for which they had been involved, the Germans resigning themselves to sending additional equipment and the Italians to signing a military cooperation agreement, Secondly, on the political level, since this defeat favored the establishment of a state apparatus that in the case of an immediate victory would have been unthinkable, and gave Franco the time to cut short any hint of political opposition and to carry out a purge; Finally, the Carlist and Phalangist militias, resistant to Franco”s control, were forced to merge.
This defeat at Madrid also led to the definitive internationalization of the conflict. The Germans were concerned about the way in which military operations were being carried out, especially since the Caudillo did not consult them and was practically alone in the political and military direction of his zone, relying on a few reliable advisers. Above all, he strove to create structures and alliances that would protect him from excessive interference in the affairs of the Spanish state by foreign powers and by the political parties that supported the regime. Toward the end of October, Germany sent Admiral Wilhelm Canaris and General Hugo Sperrle to Salamanca to determine the reasons for Franco”s difficulties in his attempts to conquer Madrid. As a result, the German War Minister sent Sperrle to make Franco understand “energetically” that his “routine and stubborn” combat tactics prevented him from taking advantage of his air and ground superiority, which could jeopardize the positions he had conquered.
From that moment on, Germany increased its military aid under the condition, accepted by Franco, that the German forces be under the command of German officers. At the beginning of November, the Condor Legion was already in Spain, under the command of General Sperrle. One of its first missions during the siege of Madrid was the massive bombing of working-class neighborhoods, as the Germans wanted to assess the terror that this bombing produced on the population, and it also played a role in the bombing of Guernica, where, acting independently of Franco”s staff, the Germans had selected this totally unprotected target, in order to test their capacity to demoralize. More German troops, equipped with tanks, fighting vehicles and bombers, arrived in Seville, and on November 26, units consisting of 6,000 men, aircraft, artillery and armored vehicles were landed in Cadiz. Mussolini, who also stepped up his support, blamed Franco for the failure of the latest operations and, on December 6, 1936, unilaterally appointed General Mario Roatta as commander-in-chief of all Italian armed forces operating in Spain and of those who might come to assist them in the future.
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Diplomatic maneuvers and internationalization of the conflict
During this period, Franco tried above all to transform the wait-and-see attitude of the other nations into official recognition, in particular trying to obtain the qualification of the nationalist zone as a belligerent, which would ipso facto have as a legal consequence its recognition as a state. On November 18, 1936, Hitler and Mussolini recognized Franco”s new regime as the only legitimate government in Spain. Ten days later, Franco signed a secret treaty with Mussolini, in which the two sides promised mutual support, advice and friendship, each pledging never to allow any part of its territory to be used by a third power against the other. This treaty marked the beginning of Italian support, which would continue to grow thereafter, although Franco asked only for arms and air power and resented the arrival of increasing numbers of infantry troops of dubious quality. Hitler stood on the sidelines because, unlike Italy, he had no concrete interests or ambitions in the region. At the end of 1936, Hitler commented that for Germany the most useful aspect of the Spanish War was that it diverted the attention of other powers from German activities in Central Europe, and that it was therefore desirable that the conflict be prolonged, provided that in the end Franco emerged victorious.
The Republic, for its part, had lost its natural external supporters, who were concerned about its lack of authority in the face of fanatical revolutionary fighters in the grip of a murderous madness. The position of the European democracies, established in the autumn of 1936, was to avoid taking any risks, to temporize and to let the Spaniards settle their differences among themselves, on the grounds that the experience of Primo de Rivera had shown that fascism was not taking well in that country. In France, militant groups within the armed forces and part of the middle classes were determined to oppose by force any support for the “reds. The republicans, thus abandoned by the democracies, were reduced to relying on Soviet support and tutelage, which worked in Franco”s favour. He was able to exploit the attitude of the United Kingdom and the French hard right by talking up the formation of a conservative front, and set himself up as the architect of an anti-communist and Christian geographical entity. When Leon Blum”s France proposed, under British pressure, that the states sign a non-intervention pact in the Spanish conflict, most of the democracies concerned were relieved. Franco could therefore count on the commitment of friendly countries and the passivity of his enemies.
In addition to Germany and Italy, Franco could also rely on the Holy See. The collective letter of the bishops, published on July 1, 1937 and followed by the recognition of the regime by the Pope, had an international repercussion and, without convincing all the Catholics outside, contributed to instilling doubt in their minds and to weakening their benevolence towards the Spanish Republicans.
At the same time, Franco worked for the recognition of his government by England and France, whose government he expected to change: “the parties of the right are in close contact with me, Petain is our friend, my friend and my revered master,” he declared. From June 1937 onwards, playing with the balance of power, he proposed the return of all foreign volunteers to their respective countries and demanded the neutrality of the least committed countries, France and Great Britain, on the pretext that this would allow him to easily overcome his adversaries and perhaps also to free himself from certain alliances he had contracted; in this way, Franco played on France”s fear of having an ally of Germany on its southern flank. He thus multiplied the demonstrations of appeasement to the democracies, while Cardinal Pacelli assured that Franco was in favour of the withdrawal of foreign volunteers, hostile to Hitler”s infiltration into Spain, and attached to the independence of his country.
After England had sent an official representative to Burgos, and the Duke of Alba had been accredited in return, the collaboration of the United Kingdom with Franco had become undeniable. “Franco”, writes Andrée Bachoud, “pulled the threads of a whole that he obviously felt well, skilfully dosing, on the national and international levels, the satisfactions that he granted to some and to others. He has a global vision of the different levels of interaction, added to a science of the deep intentions of his interlocutors and the limits they will not cross. He has several spokespersons to whom he leaves a certain margin of expression and whose main function is to satisfy the expectations of their interlocutors.” In the opposing camp, on the other hand, the Republicans continued to be penalized by the reluctance of the Soviets to be on their side.
The sale of coal to Britain was followed on October 9, 1937, by a decree cancelling all mining concessions made to foreigners before 1936, which gave Franco back control of this crucial sector and allowed him to collect foreign currency essential for the war, while expanding the scope of his international relations.
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Italian and German reviews
Franco was in no hurry to conform his new regime to the standards of fascism and had a strained relationship with the German ambassador Wilhelm Faupel, who exasperated him with his “excessive and often unwelcome interest” in Spanish affairs. The interest of Germany and Italy was to force the Spanish nationalists to commit themselves to their side, and this by contributing as ostensibly as possible to their victory and thus becoming more and more involved in the Civil War. The war lasted beyond all military logic, and the uncertainty of the outcome of the fighting prompted Italy and Germany to increase their involvement, in defiance of the conventions of the Non-Intervention Committee. At the same time, Franco sought to pass himself off in the eyes of the democracies as the apostle of a reconciliation that would eventually push these two allies aside.
On the military level, Mussolini and the Italian and German commanders criticized Franco for the slowness of his operations, but the Caudillo could not act differently, since his military organization never had the efficiency necessary to act with greater speed and agility. Besides, in the Spanish Civil War, there was not only the opponent on the battlefield, but also a considerable enemy population. Franco could not, therefore, limit himself to striking the enemy on a single front, and had to proceed step by step, methodically, and consolidate each advance, province by province. The Italian strategy of forcing a quick victory therefore clashed with Franco”s, who favored a slow advance and a systematic occupation of the territory, accompanied by a necessary clean-up and a very good consolidation of the positions acquired, rather than a quick defeat of the enemy armies that would leave the country infected with adversaries. The German general Wilhelm Faupel commented that “Franco”s military training and experience did not make him suitable for directing operations on the present scale”; and the Italian general Mario Roatta indicated in a telegram to Mussolini that “Franco”s staff was incapable of organizing an operation suitable for large-scale warfare. In private, the Italians not only sarcastically attacked General Franco on the military level, but also denounced the intensity, in their eyes inhuman and unjustified, of the repression in the national zone. According to Paul Preston, “to judge Franco on his ability to develop an elegant and incisive strategy is to misunderstand the subject. He achieved victory in the civil war in a way and within a time frame he wanted and preferred. More than that, he achieved with this victory what he most aspired to: political power to remake Spain in his own image, unhindered by his enemies on the left and his rivals on the right.
Later, in January 1937, Franco would be forced to accept a joint German-Italian staff and to admit ten Italian and German officers to his own staff, as well as to adopt the military strategies drawn up for him mainly by Italian generals. Franco accepted all these injunctions with reluctance. Faced with the demands of the Italian lieutenant colonel Emilio Faldella, he declared:
“All in all, they sent Italian troops here without asking my permission. First, they told me that companies of volunteers would come to be incorporated into the Spanish battalions. Then they asked me if they could form independent battalions on their own behalf, and I agreed. Then high ranking officers and generals arrived to command them, and finally, already formed units began to arrive. Now you want to force me to allow them to fight together under General Roatta, when my plans were very different.”
The German and Italian critics were joined by Spanish generals who were very close to him, including Kindelán. Both sides agreed that Franco, in crucial moments, took decisions slowly, out of an excess of caution; all also agreed to criticize his tendency to divert troops from important strategic objectives. General Sanjurjo had already declared a few years earlier that “he was far from being a Napoleon”.
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Continuation of the war and nationalist advances
In the first six months, Franco tried to maintain his advantage by relying on the best units of his army, the Regulares and the Legion, some 20,000 men. Like the Republicans, the Nationalists mobilized contingents of militiamen, especially Phalangists and Carlists, and on August 5, 1936, incorporated into their ranks all those called up from the contingent of 1933 to 1935; in addition, new officer training programs were set up.
Once they had taken control of a certain territory, Franco”s troops carried out harsh repression, which even the German and Italian allies took exception to. As a result of the protests, the indiscriminate killings were exchanged for summary executions after a council of war, which hardly made any difference. Serrano Súñer and Dionisio Ridruejo later established that the Caudillo arranged for petitions for clemency for these death sentences to reach him only after they had been carried out. On the other hand, Franco gave in to Cardinal Gomá”s demands that the executions of Catholic priests involved in Basque nationalism be stopped.
Between March and April 1937, the battle of Guadalajara and the bombing of Guernica took place. The first was an initiative of the Italian Corpo Truppe Volontarie (CTV), carried out with the aim of relieving the Madrid front with an attack on Guadalajara, but which ended in a disastrous defeat. Franco authorized the operation, promising to join the offensive, but – in revenge for the Italian arrogance in the conquest of Malaga – then postponed his help to the Italian volunteers, who had to retreat after suffering heavy losses. This failure helped Franco to free himself from foreign tutelage, while the CTV, reduced and reformed, ceased to act as an autonomous foreign army corps and became integrated under Franco”s general command.
The bombing of Guernica, intended to demoralize the enemy, was carried out in April 1937 by the German Condor Legion under the orders of Colonel Wolfram von Richthofen and was part of the offensive against the Basque Country; the operation resulted in the destruction of the city of Guernica and a toll of 1,645 civilian victims. The attack on a defenseless population caused an international scandal and was immortalized by Pablo Picasso in his painting Guernica. This action, while undermining the honor of the German army, also damaged the cause of the nationalist camp. Franco himself had no prior knowledge of the attack, since the details of the daily operations of the northern campaign did not necessarily reach his headquarters, although they must have been known in Mola and Kindelán. But instead of acknowledging the facts, the Nationalist authorities evaded the question, or even denied that the bombing had taken place, claiming that the fires that had destroyed most of the city had been set by the anarchists as they retreated (as had happened in Irún in September 1936). While Hitler insisted that Franco exonerate the Condor Legion, Franco ordered Kindelán to send the following message to Commander Richthofen:
“On the indication of the Generalissimo, I inform Your Excellency that no open locality without troops or military industries shall be bombed any longer without express orders from the Generalissimo or the General-in-Chief of the Air Force. The immediate tactical objectives of the battlefield are naturally excepted.”
On June 19, 1937, the Nationalist army entered Bilbao, with little resistance, and was able to take over the powerful Basque industry and strengthen its military supplies. Franco then moved his headquarters to Burgos. On August 26, Franco”s forces took control of Santander, and that same day the Basque army, which had retreated to Cantabria, surrendered to the Italian troops on the promise that they would not suffer reprisals; however, despite the fact that the Basque nationalists were generally conservative and Catholic, Franco forced the Italian general Ettore Bastico to hand over the prisoners, who were later sentenced to death. This duplicity and cruelty of Franco horrified the Italians.
After the conquest of Biscay and Cantabria, the Nationalists invaded Asturias and, on October 21, 1937, took Gijón and Avilés. During this phase, Franco”s air force dropped a mixture of incendiary bombs and fuel, a prefiguration of the future napalm. On October 16, 1936, Franco sent a battalion of the Foreign Legion and Regulars to liberate Oviedo, which was surrounded by the Republicans. On this occasion, Franco issued an instruction that showed what would be his strategic and tactical line throughout the war: no secondary front should ever be abandoned. The long and slow conquest of Asturias, a characteristic Franco operation, allowed him to achieve an absolute victory with very few losses and was followed by a strong repression. Although the rigorous system of military tribunals that Franco had instituted at the beginning of 1937 reduced the number of mass executions, there were nevertheless at least 2,000 executions in Asturias, proportionally much more than after the conquest of the Basque Country and Santander.
Thanks to the victories in the North, which were largely achieved with the help of the German air force, Franco was paradoxically able to free himself from Hitler”s tutelage, because he had been able to get his hands on the coal of the great mining basins of the region and was now able to sell it to the British, who were very much in demand, and thus begin to renew relations with them.
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First government (January 1938)
On January 30, 1938, Franco composed his first regular government, intended to replace the Technical Junta. Franco had taken care to include the different components of the nationalist coalition, with the eleven ministries divided between four military, three phalangists, two monarchists, one traditionalist and one technical. Nicolás Franco was sent as ambassador to Portugal and Sangróniz as minister in Caracas. Serrano Suñer, who also had the press and propaganda under his control, enjoyed an authority that far exceeded his functions as Minister of the Interior and Secretary of the Council of Ministers. The post of vice-president and minister of foreign affairs was given to retired general Francisco Gómez-Jordana, a former member of Primo de Rivera”s military directorate and a fervent monarchist. For the rest of the government, Franco proceeded with the sense of political mix that he would show throughout his career, and with a concern for rewarding old loyalties; thus he placed a Carlist, the Count of Rodezno, at the Ministry of Justice and appointed his old friend, Juan Antonio Suanzes, to the Ministry of Industry and Commerce. Other members of the ministerial cabinet included Fidel Dávila, Minister of National Defense; General Severiano Martínez Anido, in charge of Public Order; the monarchist Pedro Sáinz Rodríguez, in charge of Education; and the phalangist Raimundo Fernández Cuesta, who held the portfolio of Agriculture, in addition to his duties as Secretary General of the FET and the JONS. The ministerial team that took office on January 31 was the first example of Franco”s policy of balance, the result of a careful balance between the “different political families” of the National Movement, in which each one was given representation according to the influence of the moment.
A new administrative law on the structure of the government stipulated that “the Head of State had the supreme power to issue legal norms of a general nature” and defined the function of the Prime Minister, who “was to be united with that of the Head of State. On July 18, 1938, on the second anniversary of the uprising, and at the initiative of the new cabinet, Franco was appointed Captain General of the Army and Navy, a rank formerly reserved for the king, and from then on he sometimes wore the uniform of admiral.
Franco had few political problems during the last two years of the Civil War and was generally able to avoid conflict, citing the need to put politics on hold and concentrate on military matters.
On March 9, 1938, the new government promulgated a kind of constitution called the Fuero del Trabajo (drafted in an austere military and religious style, the new statute, which was to guarantee Spaniards “the Fatherland, bread and justice,” included legal provisions guaranteeing everyone”s right to work, instituting old age and health insurance, and establishing the principle of family allowances. This text, inspired both by the Falange, phagocytosed by Franco and whose last distinctive feature remained the social claim, and by the social Catholicism stemming from the encyclical Rerum novarum, was consequently similar, by the style and the content of the adopted provisions, The last distinctive feature remained the social claim and by the social catholicism stemming from the encyclical Rerum novarum, was consequently similar, by the style and the content of the adopted provisions, to the ambient fascist regimes, but included especially an originality of conception by its links with the catholic tradition, which will be worth to this system the denomination of national-catholicism, and also by the influence of a corporatism inherited from an archaic right and from the social catholicism.
The Charter was intended first of all to protect the family, an organic whole that the State “recognizes as the natural primary cell and foundation of society,” and therefore under the direct responsibility of the State. The affirmation of the right to employment was mainly directed at the Spanish man, whom it protected against dismissal; women and children enjoyed special protection, especially in that night work was prohibited. As for the married woman, she was “liberated from the workshop and the factory” and therefore confined to the home. The manager and the worker had to put themselves at the service of the fatherland. The Charter limited the rights of the boss as well as those of the worker; the former would be responsible to the State and would have to allocate a part of his profits to the improvement of the well-being of his employees; in return, strikes were severely sanctioned. A dirigisme was established that was contrary to the market economy and the right to social protest. The state, while affirming the right to private property, reserved the power to substitute itself for the employer if the latter lacked initiative or if national interests so required. The Charter established the vertical union, “constituted by the integration of all the elements which devote their activity to the execution of a determined service or in a branch of production, under the direction of the State”, thus rendering the defense of categorical interests irrelevant; this vertical unionism, a system in which employer and worker sections were thus grouped together in the same union, offered a certain security of employment, since neither the freedom of dismissal nor the free disposal of the company”s profits by the employer were allowed. This first text, amended and modernized, remained in force until Franco”s death.
Also read, history – West Germany
Last phases of the war
At the end of 1937, Franco, to the dismay of some of his staff and the commanders of the Condor Legion, postponed and then cancelled his plan to liberate Madrid, and, disdaining a telegram from Mussolini urging him to take decisive action to end the war, ordered his forces to retake the unimportant city of Teruel, which had just fallen to the Republicans. Franco had no intention of allowing the Republicans to seize the only province that the Nationalists had conquered in the early days of the conflict.
In the final phase of the war, Franco made several strategic mistakes: on April 4, 1938, the city of Lleida fell, leaving the way clear for Barcelona, which was then, after the capital, the main Republican stronghold; However, against the advice of Yagüe, who had entered western Catalonia with his army corps and asked Franco to be able to continue advancing to definitively occupy the whole region, Franco, declining this easy triumph, decided to push towards Valencia, following a more difficult trajectory, south-eastwards, through mountainous terrain, along a narrow coastal road, which had the effect of prolonging the conflict by several months. There is no conclusive explanation for this decision, but it has since been argued that Franco promised himself additional foreign exchange from the export of citrus fruits from Valencia (the Valencian region in fact produced a food surplus, unlike Catalonia, which was home to a dense, starving population). Moreover, the conquest of Valencia, which could deal a fatal blow to the resistance in the central zone, would leave Madrid isolated. In the meantime, the Republican army strengthened and fortified the narrow front north of Valencia, creating the strongest defensive position since the Battle of Madrid. On May 26, 1938, Kindelán sent Franco a note in which he suggested that, in view of the slow advance and mounting losses, the current operation should be cancelled in favor of an immediate offensive on Catalonia, which had hardly any means of defense. Franco, however, refused to admit that the attack on Valencia could be a mistake and persisted. The Nationalists gradually approached Valencia at the cost of many casualties, and the war slowed down considerably between May and July 1938.
In July the Battle of the Ebro began, a bloody four-month confrontation that resulted in some 21,500 deaths; despite the limited strategic importance of this battle, Franco suspended the Valencia campaign and put all his efforts into destroying the Republican forces on that front. His military initiatives did not always sit well with his partners, who continued to question his skills in military strategy or even political management. His attitude enraged Mussolini in particular, who declared that “either the man does not know how to make war, or he does not want to. The Reds are combative, Franco is not. The commanders of the Condor Legion did not understand the slow progress and criticized Franco”s lack of innovation, which sometimes affected the morale of the German fighters. Wilhelm Faupel stated of Franco that “his personal knowledge and military experience are not adequate to lead operations of the present magnitude,” and General Hugo Sperrle considered that “Franco is clearly not the type of leader capable of handling such large responsibilities. By German standards, he lacks military experience. Since he was made a general at a very young age in the Rif war, he has never commanded large military units and, therefore, is no better than a battalion commander. Galeazzo Ciano, for his part, noted: “Franco does not have a synthetic vision of the war. His operations are those of a magnificent battalion commander.
For three days in March 1938, on Mussolini”s express orders, Italian planes based in Mallorca bombed Barcelona, killing nearly a thousand people and injuring 3,000, almost all of them civilians. Franco, who had not been informed initially, was, according to some historians (but in this matter the documents are contradictory), at first furious because Mussolini had not consulted him, and then chagrined because Pius XI, in his protest, also lectured the Spanish nationalist camp, instead of focusing his criticism on the Italian dictator. As a rule, and apart from several air raids on Madrid in November 1936, Franco”s bombings were limited to military and supply targets. It should be noted that the brother Ramón Franco participated in this raid.
When he learned of his brother Ramón”s death on October 28, 1938, he showed no emotion. In December, Franco visited Galicia, where the authorities of A Coruña had given him the gift of the Pazo de Meirás manor house, after a popular subscription.
The Franco-Spanish Chamber of Commerce, founded in May 1938, was able to attract within a few months almost 400 French companies that wanted a more realistic trade policy, while Franco was hostile to France because of its support for the Republicans. On the other hand, Franco tried to give himself an image of neutrality and to make France believe that he was a bulwark against both the Nazi frenzy of the Falange and the fundamentalism of the Carlists.
The tension that reigned in the period between the Anschluss and the Munich Agreement made Franco fear the occurrence of an international conflagration that would have made him lose his superiority over his Republican opponents, tearing them away from their isolation, since in the event of a conflict, Negrín”s government would have immediately chosen the camp of the Western democracies and would have inevitably placed Franco”s Spain in the Axis camp, so as to truly internationalize the Spanish War, Red Spain”s last and only chance; However, the news of the Hitler-Chamberlain-Daladier agreement, signed on September 30, made Negrín despair and put an end to the Caudillo”s anxieties. The delay of the world war gave Franco time to complete his victory, while the declaration of war by France and England at the beginning of September 1939 gave him the opportunity to maintain a successful neutrality.
In 1939, the last Republican retreats fell, and on April 1, Franco issued his last war communiqué: “Today, the Red Army, now captive and disarmed, the national troops have reached their final military objectives. The war is over”. At the beginning of 1939, the only hope left to the Republicans was an honorable surrender. But the mediations, including that of the Pope, to reach a negotiated peace, came up against Franco”s intransigence, because he, carried by the conviction that he was fighting against evil, missioned by Providence or by God, wanted to push his victory to the eradication of evil. Methodically, Franco took back one by one the pieces of territory held by the Republicans, insensitive to any attempt at compromise.
Historians have questioned the extent to which Franco contributed to his side”s victory. Franco was not a genius of strategy or operational tactics, but he was a methodical, organized and efficient general. Every operation he carried out was logistically well prepared, and none of his attacks ended in retreat. He was able to maintain an efficient civil administration and a home front that preserved morale, mobilized the population, and stimulated economic production at a higher level than the opposing side. Finally, his diplomatic action enabled him to obtain the neutrality of Great Britain, guaranteed that France would lend only limited support to the republic, and ensured an almost uninterrupted flow of supplies from Italy and Germany.
The desire of the democracies to keep Spain neutral allowed Franco to keep control of the situation. Franco imposed draconian conditions on France prior to any resumption of trade, including the return of property seized by the “Reds” as well as gold deposited in the Bank of France and weapons and property seized from Republican refugees at the border. The French government thought it could “capture” the Caudillo by sending him the most prestigious Frenchman in its eyes, Marshal Pétain, as ambassador, without much benefit.
Also read, biographies – Ptolemy II Philadelphus
The post-Civil War era: repression and the “hunger years
On May 19, 1939, the Victory Parade was held in Madrid, where 120,000 soldiers paraded in front of Franco and where the most prestigious of Spanish military decorations, the laureate cross of the Order of Saint Ferdinand, which had been denied to Franco in 1916, was awarded to him by General José Enrique Varela “for the direction and execution of the liberation campaign. Franco had carefully thought out the smallest details of the festivities. The monumental stand in the shape of a triumphal arch, erected on Madrid”s main avenue, the Paseo de la Castellana, renamed the Avenida del Generalísimo Franco, bore his name in giant letters under the word “victoria”, repeated six times, and chanted by the crowd: “Franco, Franco, Franco! According to the press release, “General Franco”s entry into Madrid will follow the same ritual as that observed when Alfonso VI, accompanied by the Cid, took Toledo in the Middle Ages. The next day, the celebration continued with a new ceremony, this time of a religious nature, celebrated in the Church of Santa Barbara in Madrid. Franco entered the church under a canopy, an honor reserved for the Blessed Sacrament and the royal couple. The central ceremony, in which Franco placed the sword of victory at the feet of the Great Christ of Lepanto, which had been brought in ex profeso from Barcelona Cathedral, seemed to recreate a medieval war ceremony.
During the Civil War, the number of political executions exceeded the number of deaths on the battlefield. Horrified Italian commanders refused to hand over prisoners to their Spanish allies, protested the degree of indiscriminate repression and threatened to withdraw from the war. After the capture of Malaga in February 1937, where the nationalists had carried out a massive repression and provoked a bloodbath with, according to estimates, between 3,000 and 4,000 executions – but it is true that the person directly responsible for the killings in Andalusia, including Malaga, was Gonzalo Queipo de Llano -, Franco reacted by expanding and regulating the role of the military tribunals throughout the nationalist zone; he forbade other authorities and forces from carrying out executions, and created in Malaga five new military courts. On March 4, 1937, he communicated to the Italian ambassador that he had given strict orders to stop all executions of prisoners (also with the aim of encouraging desertions from the Republican ranks), and that death sentences should be limited to left-wing leaders and perpetrators of violent crimes, and, even then, that half of the death sentences should be commuted. Toward the end of March, Franco announced that he had relieved two judges in Málaga whose conduct had been inappropriate and excessively harsh, and he ensured that death sentences handed down by the courts were first ratified by himself as a last resort before they were carried out. However, Franco rarely granted clemency to those convicted in the national zone, although he did pardon a number of anarchists. Repression remained officially in the hands of the military tribunals for many years, and Spain lived under martial law for an entire decade until it was lifted in April 1948. One of the most sensitive issues Franco faced during his first weeks as head of state was the complaint of the Primate of Spain, Cardinal Gomá, against the summary trial and execution of 14 Basque nationalist priests; Franco immediately ordered that no more Basque nationalist priests be executed.
Bartolomé Bennassar notes that Franco had
“He congratulated Yagüe after the Badajoz massacre and never disavowed the executions except for the thirteen Basque priests after a protest from the ecclesiastical hierarchy. He recruited Lisardo Doval for the special services and appointed a psychopath like Joaquín del Moral as director general of prisons. He let several of his former companions be executed, starting with his cousin Ricardo de La Puente Bahamonde, and did not do the impossible to save Miguel Campins, his most valuable collaborator in Zaragoza, whose death Queipo de Llano had decided, and took petty revenge by refusing him the pardon of General Batet. For his part, Mola had given explicit instructions to “propagate an atmosphere of terror” and Queipo de Llano multiplied his calls for murder on Radio Seville. The tragic episodes in Badajoz and Malaga were by no means isolated horrors. Even in the areas where the Movement won without a fight, many of the “misfits” were killed without mercy.
In a communiqué from Franco”s headquarters of February 8, 1939, which set out the final conditions offered by Franco to speed up the surrender of the last remaining units in the Republican zone, it was promised that “neither the simple fact of having served in the Red Camp, nor the fact of having been active simply and as an affiliate in political currents contrary to the National Movement, will be the object of prosecution for criminal responsibility. Only political leaders and those guilty of violent crimes “and other serious crimes” (without further specification) would be brought before the military courts. Between 1937 and 1938, more than half of the prisoners joined the Nationalist army.
On April 1, 1939, as soon as the Civil War was over, 400,000 to 500,000 Spaniards went into exile, 200,000 of whom would become permanent exiles. Up to 270,000 people were crammed into Franco”s jails in 1939, in subhuman conditions, and to the estimated 50,000 executions must be added those who died in the jails as a result of these conditions. Of course, as Jorge Semprún points out, “Franco”s repression, which was brutal, cannot be compared to the Stalinist repressions”, nor to those of the Nazis, but any other point of comparison can serve as a yardstick for measuring the outrageous repression that Franco carried out once the war was over. Franco”s 50,000 executions are not comparable to the hundreds of executions committed in the aftermath of World War II in France, Germany or Italy.
Two days before the fall of Catalonia, on February 13, 1939, he passed the Law of Political Responsibility (LRP), which sanctioned all forms of political subversion as well as voluntary assistance to the war effort on the Republican side, including cases qualified as “serious passivity,” and which allowed him to judge and condemn This law allowed the government to judge and condemn, retroactively, for acts that occurred from October 1, 1934, more than a year and a half before the start of the Civil War, “all those who contributed to the 1934 uprising or to the formation of the Popular Front, or who actively opposed the National Movement”, thus providing the means for ruthless repression. The law automatically criminalized all members of left-wing or revolutionary political parties (but not rank-and-file activists in left-wing unions), as well as anyone who had participated in a “people”s court” in the Republican zone. Membership in a Masonic order was also considered treason. Under this law, purges were carried out among cultural workers, especially journalists, and from then on all newspaper and magazine editors were to be appointed by the state and had to be phalangists; Franco was almost always ruthless towards journalists or intellectuals. Supplemented in 1942, this text remained in force until November 10, 1966. Andrée Bachoud notes that Franco “had not changed his doctrine since the time when he commanded the Legion in Morocco: he did not tolerate a living enemy. For him, the struggle was not over and would last at least until 1948, when the state of war was finally officially lifted. Repression was exercised in many spheres: in addition to executions and long prison sentences, a society was established in which the defeated were excluded from political, cultural, intellectual and social life. Francoism in those first years of peace was characterized by the systematic elimination of the adversary, practiced without passion, with the calm certainty of defending the necessary order, sometimes taking the form of banishments, dismissals, and always through prison. Progress in the understanding of repression made it possible to perceive it as a structural phenomenon with a scope that went beyond executions and assassinations, and to make the new social reality that the regime had set out to shape more and more intelligible. Franco”s plan was not only to complete the construction of a new authoritarian system, but also to carry out a vast cultural counter-revolution that would make a new civil war impossible, which meant that the repression of the left had to continue, following its own logic.
Penal brigades and punitive battalions were also created – as in Valle de los Caídos – where the prisoners, subjected to forced labor, were often used as free labor for the benefit of many companies, with the aim of “redemption through work. More than 400,000 political prisoners were exploited as slave labor. In addition to this, economic repression, which in the first phase of the regime and as a war booty, took the form of state favoritism for the benefit of the victors and penalized the defeated.
The historian Javier Tusell observes that “the lack of a well-defined ideology allowed the shift from such dictatorial formulas to such others, grazing on fascism in the 1940s and developmentalist dictatorships in the 1960s. Franco”s ideology was defined as a national-Catholicism characterized by its centralist nationalism and by the influence of the Church on politics and on other spheres of society. Catholicism (as well as the army) was not only a partially autonomous sphere vis-à-vis the state, but was its very essence, underpinning the political system; it claimed to be the most upright, pure and omnipresent on earth, and invented a kind of extra orthodoxy that gave it a supposed superiority over the rest of national Catholicisms. According to A. Reig Tapia, “Franco was defined politically and ideologically above all by negative traits: anti-liberalism, anti-Masonic, anti-Marxist, etc.”. The term “paragon of fascist regimes” seems inappropriate. It was a military dictatorship in the historical tradition of Spain, but exceptional in its duration. On the one hand, Franco”s rudimentary ideology often coincided with the military barracks mentality that Franco transposed into the different spheres of Spanish society; on the other hand, the main qualities that Franco demanded from his entourage were loyalty and obedience, and no one better than a military man was able to satisfy this fundamental demand for loyalty to the Caudillo and his distrust of intrigues. An absolutely decisive factor in explaining the regime”s durability was the memory of the Civil War, from whose trauma Spanish society took such a long time to recover.
Miguel Primo de Rivera is to be designated as the model of his regime, and some of his key ideas resurfaced as the regime became institutionalized: creation of a single party, corporatism, Hispanicism, dirigisme, etc. Another reference could be Salazar, who had constituted a new Catholic and technocratic state in Portugal, where he was an enlightened dictator and where a national Catholicism had also developed. Another reference could be Salazar, who had created a new Catholic and technocratic state in Portugal, where he was seen as an enlightened despot and where a national Catholicism had also been developed.
From his position of absolute power, Franco tried to control all sectors of Spanish life. By means of censorship, propaganda and school education, according to Alberto Reig Tapia, “one of the most hallucinatory hagiographies that contemporary history has ever known was set in motion. A commonplace man, although most skilful and relentless in taking advantage of his particular circumstances, was covered with totally excessive praise and was, for many of his followers, not only an exceptional ruler, but the greatest of the last centuries”. During the Civil War, the fascist style prevailed, the Caudillo”s name was painted on the facade of many buildings throughout the country, his picture was placed in all offices and public buildings, often flanked by that of José Antonio Primo de Rivera, and his effigy appeared on postage stamps and coins. Franco worked to popularize his image by traveling throughout the country, especially in the northern regions, in the months following the victory. Each of these trips was a ceremony of public worship around his person.
During the Civil War, the national doctrine had postulated that the true identity of Spain lay in the “Empire”, a concept that had to be revived if Spain was to become fully Spanish again. One of the first measures taken by the government in January 1938 was to choose a coat of arms for the new state, in this case the imperial crown and the coat of arms of the Catholic Kings, with the columns of Hercules and the legend Plus Ultra of Emperor Charles V. The announcement was made by Franco in May 1939 in the Church of Santa Barbara in Madrid, in order to combine the idea of Empire with the reign of Christ in Spain.
Once the Republicans had been defeated, it remained to convince Spanish opinion that the regime established in 1936 should be maintained. Franco based his authority on certain ideological fractions of society, known as “families”: the military, the Church, the Falange as a single party, the monarchist, Carlist and conservative sectors, and the supporters of the Catholic Church. This coalition – a composite of groups with different, and in some cases divergent, interests that had collaborated in the 1936 coup – remained deeply divided, however, as the Civil War had created a unity of reason more than passion around the person of Franco. For many, the restoration of the monarchy through the coronation of Don Juan de Borbón was an alternative to fascism. The influence of the Nazis, with 70,000 Germans living in Spain, was all the more feared because there was no longer a Spanish head among the Phalangists, and the increase in membership at the end of the Civil War had turned them into an uncontrollable motley crew.
These main pillars would be represented in successive governments in proportions that varied with each ministerial reshuffle, each of these components, embodied by a man or a group of men, expressing themselves as they saw fit. Franco knew how to use them, relying sometimes on some, sometimes on others, according to his interests of the moment, and putting each one in the front line when it coincided with his project of the moment. Franco reserved the right to change the functions of the representatives of these pillars or simply to dismiss them whenever the need for a change of course arose. In the words of historian Paul Preston, “his way of governing would be that of a plenipotentiary colonial military governor. For some historians, one of the deepest motives of the Caudillo”s action, outside of any system or doctrine, seems to be his primary objective of satisfying the desires of a middle class that had been excluded from welfare for decades by a penniless state and a contemptuous oligarchy, and of calming its fears about the workers who were demanding.
The Holy See was not hostile to the emergence of this fourth way between communism, fascism and liberal democracy. Whether Franco was a Catholic by conviction or by interest, his relationship with the Catholic world and the Holy See was of primary importance in defining his internal and external policies. Franco was “the instrument of God”s providential plans for the homeland,” in the words of Cardinal Gomá, in keeping with the image of Franco being dispatched by divine providence to save Spain from chaos. Throughout his regime, Franco did not cease to aspire to obtain from the Church this legitimacy of divine right. If the Vatican was sometimes led to protest against measures that went against the interests of Catholicity and the freedom of the Church (such as the banning of the Catholic press, censorship in religious matters, etc.), it was not conceivable for the Church to see Spain leave its orbit. Franco knew how to make the most of the concessions he made to the Holy See in order to consolidate his political position both in Spain and in international opinion.
Franco wanted the renewal of the Concordat, which had lapsed since the republic, and which had made the Catholic religion the official religion of Spain, while defining the respective prerogatives of the Holy See and the monarchy. In particular, the renewal of this pact would allow Franco to reject the nominations of Basque and Catalan nationalist bishops proposed by the Pope. The agreement signed on June 7, 1941, gave Franco a say in the appointments of prelates, and in exchange, the Papacy, worried about the infiltration of Nazi theories into Spain, obtained that the cultural agreement reached in Burgos between Germany and Spain on January 24, 1939, would never be ratified; moreover, the Minister of Education gave the desired guarantees on February 4, 1939, by assuring that Nazi ideology was incompatible with official doctrine.
As for the second pole of Franco”s political action, fascism, it was at first, but for a short time, in a para-fascist register. Thus, in the trade union field, the principles of collaboration between social classes and corporatist organization of the world of work contained in the Labor Charter, which instituted the single compulsory union, were applied. In Franco”s entourage, fascism was embodied in the person of Ramón Serrano Súñer, who was both ostensibly in favor of fascism and opposed to “any political dependence on Rome. Because of his former relationship with José Antonio Primo de Rivera, he appeared to many phalangists as the natural repository of the orthodoxy of Spanish fascism. Since 1937, he had not left Franco”s side and played a decisive role in the regime, to the point of giving the impression that the country was not run by Franco but by the tandem he formed with his brother-in-law. He represented the fascist and especially the warmongering temptation of Spain during World War II, but he had the others against him, that is, the conservatives, the military, the Catholics, the monarchists – all those who considered the entry into the war premature and dangerous for Spain, and all those who wished for the restoration of an old order. In the new government formed in August 1939, Franco gave Serrano Suñer the post of Minister of the Interior and allowed him to act and express himself, because he satisfied Hitler and Mussolini, but at the same time allowed him to expose and compromise himself; Jordana was relieved of his duties as Minister of Foreign Affairs and replaced by Juan Luis Beigbeder, who was more favourable to the Axis, and the conservative political staff was removed. Although everything seemed to be moving in the direction of a fascization of the regime and some people called this cabinet a “Phalangist government,” it showed that Franco”s policy would always try to find a balance between the different ideological “families” of the regime, according to the phases and circumstances. The most competent administrator in the new government was the Minister of Finance José Larraz López, who came from the CEDA.
As for the monarchist pole, Franco had from the outset frustrated the aspirations of the monarchists to restore Alfonso XIII to the Spanish throne. Yet Franco loved and admired the monarchy; at no time in his life did he deny its legitimacy and was always committed to its restoration. In 1948, he re-established the creation of the nobility, with the same concern as Alfonso XIII to give the military a special place. According to him, the monarchical regime had been undermined by plots and by “internal enemies”, supported by powerful international forces: liberals, then communists, Judeo-Masons, or, from 1945 onwards, Freemasons. His concern was to ward off the resurgence of these deleterious forces, in order to allow in all security this restoration, which he pushed back to an ever more distant future.
The single party FET had 650,000 members in 1939. Membership was very useful as a means of professional advancement, and the number of members grew in the following years, reaching its peak in 1948. The FET”s mission was to indoctrinate the population, and it supplied many of the system”s political and administrative personnel: almost all the new mayors and provincial governors were members, but most of them were passive, and active mobilization remained fairly low. The main task that Franco assigned to the Falangists was the establishment and development of national unions, the so-called “vertical unions,” which brought together employers and workers in the same institutions.
Until the end of 1937, the nationalist camp was fighting a war and was not concerned with rebuilding a state. Nevertheless, from October 1936, Franco had begun to consolidate the institutional framework of his power, creating his political staff, whose nucleus was originally family, friends and professionals, and setting up a structure that still lacked a defined form. This institutional arrangement evolved through successive additions, which made the legislation more cumbersome by means of veneer effects, but always in accordance with Franco”s objective of remaining at the head of the country and with his own certainties. In 1937, Franco”s absolute authority was proclaimed and elevated to a point where he was not accountable for his actions except to God and history.
The leaders of the new Spanish state were firmly convinced that they were in the vanguard of history, that they were part of a new system of “organic”, authoritarian and national regimes that represented the most modern and innovative thinking of the time. Franco, who had led his government as if it were an army corps, saw his prerogatives as head of state further increased by the Ley de Jefatura (Law on the Direction of the State) of August 9, 1939, which expanded the powers defined in the previous decree of January 29, 1938. With this new law, which stipulated that all government powers were “permanently entrusted” to the current Head of State, he held “permanently the functions of government” and was categorically exempt from the obligation to submit new laws or decrees to the Council of Ministers, “Franco was given the instrument to dispense with any personal or institutional consultation and the power to enact laws and decrees as he saw fit. In this way, Franco was given more power than any other ruler in Spain had ever had before. In a document of December 20, 1939, which outlined his economic ambitions, Franco stated that the success of his program required “the creation of a police and public order instrument as vast and extensive as the circumstances demand, for there would be nothing more costly to the Nation than the disruption of the internal peace essential to our recovery. Therefore, laws, decrees and, in general, all governmental and legislative actions stemmed from his personal decisions. At the same time, however, Franco seemed to want to keep the provisional and the ambiguous going, in order to avoid any hindrance that might limit his political pre-eminence in the face of the Phalangists and the monarchists.
On July 17, 1942, the slow process of establishing the regime”s institutional architecture reached a new stage with the promulgation of the Basic Laws and the second organic law establishing the Cortes, a Spanish parliament conceived as a kind of corporatist parliament, roughly modelled on the Mussolini Chamber of Factions and Corporations. These laws were the second building block of an institutional set-up that had been progressively constructed from 1938 onwards and completed in 1966, establishing the principles that governed the dictatorship, while adapting them to the national and international needs of the different periods; the impression of a veneer of pseudo-democratic principles on an indisputably authoritarian regime has given rise to the term “cosmetic constitutionalism”. In fact, this relative openness is a fiction, for if this law restored the old name of Cortes, it was to designate a corporatist assembly, composed of 563 parliamentarians or procuradores, many of whom were members by right: the ministers and mayors of the 50 prefectures of Spain; cardinals and bishops, university rectors, etc., appointed directly or indirectly by the head of state; and representatives of families, municipalities or unions. This assembly, which did not disappear until 1976, had only an advisory role. The imposition of the single union paralyzed workers” demands, despite the marginal progress made in terms of job stability, family allowances and medical protection for employees.
The institutional repressive panoply was further enriched by: the law of January 1940, which muzzled Catholic youth by forcing them into a single structure, the SEU; and the law of March 1, 1940, which, in accordance with Franco”s deepest convictions, defined and repressed a whole series of crimes: Freemasonry and communism, propaganda against the regime, separatist propaganda, and crimes of “social disharmony. Anarchists, socialists, communists, and Freemasons were considered criminals.
The post-war economic situation was one of total scarcity, especially of grain, as a result of the near destruction of agriculture, and was also marked by a lack of fuel, making it impossible to distribute basic commodities to the population. Malnutrition and disease caused at least 200,000 more deaths than before the Civil War. The economic shortage, accompanied by rationing, led to a black market and an increase in prostitution and begging, as well as epidemic diseases. The joint expenditure of both sides in the Civil War amounted to more than 1.7 times gdp, to which must be added the disappearance of the great gold reserve and Spain”s $500 million debt to Italy and Germany. This debt and destruction, which prevented a dramatic situation from being rectified, were the cause of the so-called years of hunger. This situation of severe deprivation and suffering for the majority of the population would continue, especially in the rural areas of the south, for several more years. However, for Franco, the suffering endured was, to a large extent, punishment for the spiritual apostasy of one half of the nation, as he expressed it in a speech in Jaén in March 1940.
Nepotism and institutionalized corruption, widespread in 1940, only made postwar conditions worse. The most common criticism of Franco by the monarchist military, especially Kindelán, was the Phalangist malfeasance in the central and local governments and their open corruption. Many were dismayed at how little Franco was interested in ending corruption; it may be that Franco saw it as an inescapable accompaniment to the system of development that was being put in place.
Franco”s economic and social policy was both reactionary and nationalistic. The circumstances of the war had condemned Spain to scarcity and autarky, but the government turned this handicap into a factor for promoting national independence. In 1939, legislation was passed that drastically limited the rights of foreign companies and their investment opportunities. In economics, the new regime never put into practice the national-unionist revolution of the orthodox phalangists, but combined cultural and religious ultra-conservatism with a number of ambitious reformist plans. Franco, convinced that liberal economics and parliamentary democracy had become totally obsolete, believed that the government should provide a concerted solution to economic problems and insisted on a policy of state voluntarism. He had adopted a rather simplistic Keynesianism and, impressed by the achievements of state policies in Italy and Germany, believed that a program of economic nationalism and autarky was feasible. Accordingly, he announced on June 5, 1939, that Spain should begin its reconstruction on the basis of economic self-sufficiency, thus inaugurating the period of autarky that would be maintained for some twenty years. Franco was also inclined to judge the health of the country”s economy by the balance of trade alone. Yet the only effective and urgent remedy would have been a large-scale injection of foreign capital, and after the outbreak of war in Europe, such financing could only come from the United States. By the principle of autarky, the government forbade itself to seek foreign funds, so only minor trade agreements with the Western democracies were signed, with a small credit from London. Franco claimed that Spain could achieve its goals by putting large amounts of money into circulation for investment in the national economy, and that “a lot of money had to be created to do great works,” insisting that printing money to finance public works and new enterprises would not cause inflation, because it would stimulate production, which would benefit the state in the form of increased tax revenues, followed by the repayment of loans. As for the foreign debt, Hitler demanded that the debt to Germany be repaid on the spot, while Mussolini unilaterally wrote off more than a third of the Italian debt.
The basic ideas of the economic policy were set out in a long document entitled “Foundations and Guidelines of a Plan for the Reorganization of our Economy, in Harmony with our National Reconstruction,” which detailed the economic recovery plan and which Franco signed on October 8, 1939. The plan, which was autarkic in conception and only aggravated the shortage, was based on a vague ten-year development process, which was supposed to bring modernization and self-sufficiency, and which proposed both to increase exports and to reduce imports, and, in order to avoid dependence on foreign investment, imposed restrictions on international credit, in addition to maintaining the peseta at an overvalued exchange rate.
The National Institute of Colonization was created in 1939 in response to one of the recurrent problems affecting Spanish agriculture, namely drought. Through state subsidies, a policy of irrigation was implemented, which allowed for the development of land, which in return was partially requisitioned for the installation of new farmers; the results of this policy, however, would be minimal during the following two decades. On the other hand, by a law of March 1940, the State, in order to return to the pre-1932 land situation, applied an agrarian counter-reform by which the expropriated or occupied estates were returned in a few months to their former owners.
The state, feeling obliged to take charge of sectors with low or no profitability, took the initiative in some areas, such as the railway network with the creation of RENFE in January 1941, and stimulated public investment through the National Institute of Industry (INI), a kind of state holding company founded in September 1941, with the task of “stimulating and financing, for the service of the Nation, the creation and resurrection of our industries”, partly based on the Italian model of the IRI. The objective was to meet Spain”s defense needs, promote the development of energy, chemical and steel production, shipbuilding and the manufacture of cars, trucks and planes. Through privatizations or capital participations, an enormous mixed economy complex was created. Franco chose Juan Antonio Suanzes, a naval engineer officer and childhood friend, to organize and direct the INI. The increase in military influence was conducive to the development of state capitalism, and the INI became a key institution of the regime, absorbing more than a third of public investment. The lax and conservative fiscal policy of this phase, however, limited state revenues.
On the other hand, the implementation of the program was hampered by individual behaviors: excessive bureaucratization, the obligation to sell all wheat production to a public agency, to declare all stocks of products, to carry out the transportation of goods under supervision, which multiplied the number of intermediaries and local authorities, and increased the opportunities for fraud.
Franco maintained a permanent confusion on the deep objectives of his diplomacy; however, speeches and documents show his more and more marked commitment towards the Axis powers, even if, eager to seize the opportunity of the future war to realize the old dream of an African empire, in which he claimed Morocco and sometimes Oranía, Franco will condition to the sharing of North Africa any action on his part on the side of the Axis or any perspective of participation of Spain in the war.
At the end of March 1939, Franco signed a treaty of friendship with Germany, in which both sides pledged to help each other in the event of an attack on one of them. He also signed the Anti-Komintern Pact, which had been concluded three years earlier between Berlin and Tokyo. On the other hand, in order to avoid being reduced to the role of a satellite of the Axis, the regime also aimed to raise Spain to the rank of an international power. This required a major military upgrade, so the first proposals presented by the Navy Staff in June 1938 and April 1939 foresaw a gigantic naval construction program spread over eleven years. It was expected that in a future European war, the Spanish fleet would play a decisive role, as Spain would break the balance between the Axis and its enemies and become the “key to the situation” and “the arbiter of the two blocs”. However, none of the above-mentioned plans became a reality, nor did they even begin to take shape. In fact, Franco was convinced that Spain was not in a position to engage in a new war and would not do so for a long time.
The policy of rapprochement with Italy, of which Serrano Suñer appears to have been the driving force, went through several stages, including a trip by Franco to Italy in May 1939, and secret conversations with Mussolini and Ciano on the sharing of the French colonial empire in North Africa and on the recapture of Gibraltar by Spain after a delayed entry into the war, while it completed its economic and military recovery. In his speech in San Sebastian in July 1939, Franco officially expressed his support in principle for fascism and his enthusiasm for Mussolini, but no agreement was signed.
In order to keep Spain neutral, the Western democracies strove to enjoin Franco, reaffirming their common Christianity and emphasizing what separated Spain from the Axis powers, especially its religious nature. On July 28, 1939, France agreed to return the gold that the Spanish Republic had deposited in the branch of the Bank of France in Mont-de-Marsan to pay for future purchases from the Soviet Union.
Britain, with its dominance of the seas, and the United States were in a position to decide whether or not to supply the Spanish with essential food and fuel. Rather than provoke Franco”s downfall by exacerbating the misery of the Spanish population, these countries chose to help Franco to ensure his neutrality, as they saw him as preferable to the divided Republicans. After tension mounted in Europe in the spring of 1939, Franco pursued a policy he called “skillful prudence. The regime also worked to establish closer relations with Spanish-American countries, the Philippines, and the Arab world, in order to gain more weight internationally. Germany wanted, or at least hoped for, a sympathetic neutrality from Spain.
Also read, biographies – Germanicus
World War II
In March 1939, Franco had signed, together with Hitler and Mussolini, the anti-Komintern pact, and later the German-Spanish friendship treaty. On May 8, Franco withdrew Spain from the League of Nations and scheduled two visits for that summer, one to Mussolini and the other to Hitler, which had to be postponed because of the outbreak of war. Hitler expressed to Franco his wish to see him join the Axis, but Franco pointed out that Spain needed time to recover militarily and economically. In the meantime, on August 9, 1939, he reshuffled his government by bringing in phalangists and Axis sympathizers, including Juan Luis Beigbeder, who was appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs, replacing the Anglophile Francisco Gómez-Jordana. Hitler declared that Franco was, with Mussolini, the only sure ally.
However, following the signing of the German-Soviet pact, the military, the Catholics and the majority of the population had become even more hostile than before to Spain”s entry into the war. Until then, Spaniards had assumed that anti-Sovietism was consubstantial with Hitler”s policy, as it was with Franco”s. The German invasion of Poland caused consternation, for that country was a Catholic and authoritarian national state, which had much in common with Franco”s regime. After Britain and France declared war on September 3, 1939, Franco, regretting that the war had been launched so early, adopted a position of neutrality the very next day and initially appealed to the great powers to do the same, an appeal intended to help the Axis by discouraging the other powers from coming to Poland”s aid; although Franco publicly condemned the destruction of Catholic Poland, his main concern was the Soviet threat. In Spain, some were inclined to follow the triumphal march of the Nazis and fascists, and others to reaffirm Catholic values of resistance. The Spanish press, although highly controlled by the Nazis, did not hide the army”s unease. In reaction to the protest demonstrations of the Catholic Youth against the invasion of Poland, Franco issued a decree on September 23 banning the Juventudes de Acción Católica movement, integrating it into a single student union, the SEU, led by the Falange, and subjecting its press organ, Signo, to censorship.
Despite its neutrality, Spain granted the German submarines permission to use the Spanish ports of Cadiz, Vigo and Las Palmas as a repair and refueling base, which allowed them to extend their range. Similarly, German aircraft were allowed to use Spanish airports for the same purpose, which the United Nations Security Council proved were used by the German air force for missions against the Allied fleet. The Germans had their aircraft repaired at Spanish airports and were allowed to inspect Allied aircraft when they were forced to land on Spanish soil. German espionage and sabotage against Allied targets in Spain was facilitated by the Spanish authorities. These supply operations, begun in January 1940, came to the attention of British intelligence, and in the face of protests from Paris and London, Franco temporarily halted them. They were resumed on 18 June after the defeat of France, and continued for another 18 months, until in December 1941 one of these submarines fell into the hands of the British Navy. After the government in London threatened to cut off the supply of oil and other vital commodities to Spain, Franco had no choice but to cease these supplies.
Until the French debacle, Mussolini had approved of Hitler”s offensive, but without participating in it, hiding behind his economic weakness and insufficient military preparation. He sought to form a southern European subset with Spain around common political and cultural objectives. But on June 10, 1940, after the meeting he had with Hitler at the Brenner Pass, and faced with the defeat of the French and British armies, Mussolini, now convinced that the Franco-British were on the verge of being defeated, took the plunge and, renouncing the status of “non-belligerent” in which Italy had taken refuge until then, officially declared war on the Allies. However, he knew that Spain was too weak to do the same, and urged it to adopt the non-belligerent position. Serrano Suñer, a supporter of rapprochement with Italy and of involvement in the world conflict, who dealt with Ciano, Mussolini, Ribbentrop and Hitler over the head of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, aroused the open hostility of the military and Catholics in Spain. On June 10, 1940, when Mussolini decided to enter the war, Franco, who was in a hurry to join the conflict, seemed to be tempted; however, it was the formula of non-belligerence that was adopted on June 12, 1940 by the Council of Ministers, a formula which, although it did not exist in international law, sought to express both the impossibility of intervening materially in the conflict and a moral support for the Axis cause. Franco”s policy remained under this status for the next three years, until October 1, 1943.
Franco saw in Hitler an instrument of divine providence, a historical avenger and a vigilante whose mission was to revolutionize the international order, to avenge the offenses caused by France and Great Britain, and to restore worthy European peoples like Spain to their rightful place. Reacting to the French defeat of June 1940, Franco congratulated Hitler in these terms:
“Dear Führer: At the moment when under your leadership the German armies are leading the greatest battle in history to a victorious end, I would like to express to you my admiration and enthusiasm and that of my people, who are watching with deep emotion the glorious course of the struggle which they regard as their own. I need not assure you how great is my wish not to remain on the sidelines of your labors and how great is the satisfaction for me to present to you on any occasion the services you may consider advantageous.”
In the following two years, as a minimum precondition for any engagement in the war, Spain would not cease to demand from Hitler the means to retake Gibraltar and to occupy the whole of Morocco. Franco wanted to take part in the bloodbath and redress what he considered to be an injustice in the division of North Africa between the colonial powers. He paid a high price for his intervention, at the expense of France, in addition to considerable supplies of food, energy and arms. This imperial thirst of the Spaniards was mixed with the neo-traditional religiosity of the regime and its desire to revive the “civilizing mission” of Spain in the world, all expressed in the rallying cry of the Falange “For the Empire to God”.
Two days after the announcement of the non-belligerency, on June 14, 1940, taking advantage of the situation, Franco ordered Moroccan units of his army to occupy the Tangiers area, then under international mandate, which was accomplished without firing a single shot. This operation, the only territorial expansion action ever decided by Franco, led Hitler to pay more attention to the services that Spain could render him, especially since the offensive on Gibraltar had become an emergency. The second step was to prepare, in the wake of the fall of France, the invasion of the French protectorate of Morocco. Large reinforcements were therefore sent to the Spanish zone and agents infiltrated the French zone to stir up opposition to France, both in Morocco and in northwestern Algeria, where the European population included a significant number of descendants of Spanish immigrants. However, the Spanish units were no match for the military reserves that France kept in Oranie, further reinforced by numerous aircraft that arrived from the metropolis. Moreover, Hitler, in order to orient France towards collaboration with Germany, decided for the time being not to act to the detriment of the French colonial empire. Nevertheless, the idea of territorial expansion with German support never ceased to be a priority for Franco.
Despite these setbacks, Franco, in a letter to Serrano Suñer in September 1940, declared that he “blindly believed in the victory of the Axis and was totally resolved to enter the war”. On October 16, 1940, Franco carried out a governmental reshuffle in which Serrano Suñer took the place of Beigbeder in the Foreign Affairs Department, who was considered too favorable to the Allies.
On October 23, 1940, after leaving San Sebastian, Franco went to France with Serrano Suñer to have a meeting with Hitler in Hendaye. Although Franco had left well in advance, he arrived five minutes late for the meeting, which caused some exasperation on the German side. According to Reinhard Spitzy, Hitler came to the meeting with the idea that it was Franco”s duty to join the German side in the war, given all the favors Germany had done for Franco during the Spanish Civil War, and he hoped to persuade Franco to enter the war as an ally of Germany. Serrano Suñer reports that Franco spoke to Hitler about his ambitions for an hour and a half and that Hitler only yawned during this time. It is known, despite the lack of documentation on the content of this meeting, that Hitler was in favor of the French position with regard to Spanish territorial claims. Being prepared to attack in the Mediterranean and convinced that France was much more capable of defending North Africa against the Allies, Hitler refused to engage in any negotiations on Morocco in the absence of France, but nevertheless still intended to involve Spain in the attack on the Mediterranean front. In any case, Hitler”s interest in a Spanish intervention was limited. His political and military advisors believed that Spain, too weakened, was not a reliable partner, and Mussolini, reluctant to find Spain at the table for sharing the Mediterranean spoils, had suggested to the Führer that Spanish intervention was inappropriate. Moreover, almost all of the senior Spanish officers were very aware of Spain”s military reality, and even those who were in favor of intervention were aware that Spain was in no way prepared for such a conflict. The meeting lasted several hours: Franco”s colonial demands were not taken into account by Hitler, and he was unable to obtain any relaxation of his demands from Franco. Both were to comment later on the meeting in depreciatory terms. Hitler said that “with these guys there was nothing to be done” and that he would rather have three or four teeth pulled than to converse again with Franco, whom he called a “Latin charlatan. Later, he commented to Mussolini that Franco “only managed to make himself Generalísimo and head of the Spanish state by accident. He was not a man equal to the problems of political and material development of his country. Joseph Goebbels noted in his notebook that “the Führer does not have a good opinion of Spain and Franco. They are not at all prepared for war; they are noblemen of an empire that no longer exists. For his part, Franco told Serrano Suñer: “These people are unbearable; they want us to go to war in exchange for nothing. In addition, Franco was worried that German troops would enter Spanish territory to attack Gibraltar.
The protocol of agreement proposed at the end of the meeting, having been drafted in advance, took no account of the meeting that had just taken place or of Spanish demands, and was refused by Spain. Franco proposed a conciliation protocol, which included adherence to the tripartite pact (which he wanted to remain secret for the time being) and a commitment to enter the war on the side of the Axis powers, if circumstances required it and if Spain was in a position to do so. The final version of the secret protocol signed by both parties on 23 October stipulated:
If the protocol seemed decisive, it was not in reality, since no precise date was specified and everything was placed under the seal of secrecy. In fact, notes Andrée Bachoud, “by rejecting his aspirations regarding Morocco, by refusing the slightest territorial concession, Hitler had touched the sensitive point. Franco now leaned towards the British, who had been using the soft method for several years with regard to him, and moreover had a formidable weapon: control of the seas. Nevertheless, in November 1940 Franco took several dangerous initiatives, especially military ones, to meet the conditions of the Memorandum of Understanding, which could only be interpreted as indications of his readiness to enter the war on the side of the Axis; moreover, on 3 November 1940, the international administration of Tangiers was dissolved and the city was officially integrated into the Spanish protectorate. The general staff drew up a new mobilization plan, which in theory would increase the number of troops to 900,000, but which was not implemented. This plan foresaw that the attack on Gibraltar would be carried out by Spanish troops only, with the Germans acting only as reinforcements in case of a strong British response. The Germans, however, considered the Spanish troops unfit to carry out such a conquest and stationed in the Jura region assault troops capable of intervening in a joint land and airborne operation. In addition, the economic situation in Spain appeared desperate and forced the Caudillo to ask for help from the United States, in the form of a few shipments of cereals sent through the Red Cross, but conditional on Spain maintaining its neutrality. Franco then began to bet on both sides and to apply delaying tactics.
In the meantime, Commander Luis Carrero Blanco, Chief of Operations of the Naval Staff, had written a report on 11 November, in which he argued that the capture of Gibraltar was not a decisive factor, because the Royal Navy would continue to dominate the North Atlantic anyway, and thus allow Great Britain to strangle Spain economically by means of a total blockade. Hitler, meanwhile, increasingly preoccupied with other problems, had ordered that preparations for the Gibraltar operation be halted for the time being. Franco, for his part, reiterated his faith in Germany”s victory and his readiness to enter the war as soon as circumstances permitted. Carrero Blanco, a fundamentalist Catholic and resolute opponent of the Falange, was incorporated into Franco”s staff in May 1941, and from then on Franco had at least two meetings a week with Carrero Blanco, who helped him to define his political orientations and allowed him to become intellectually less dependent on Serrano Suñer.
By December 1940, because of British resistance and Italian setbacks, Spain had ceased to be a third-order priority for Germany, and Goebbels now regretted that Germany had given up on gaining control of Gibraltar. In January 1941, Admiral Canaris was sent to Madrid to request permission for German troops to cross into Spain, but Franco cleverly insisted that he be allowed to lead the attack himself, while requesting time to prepare. While the Spanish procrastination exasperated Berlin, Hitler finally admitted that the date of the Gibraltar operation was null and void and decided to postpone it indefinitely so as not to disrupt the initiatives that Germany was planning to take in the east, so that the Hendaye protocol remained a dead letter.
However, according to Javier Tusell, the allegiance of the Spanish rulers to the Axis was not feigned; willing to enter the war, they would have done so if the conditions had been favourable. They believed in the need for a “New Order” in Europe, although their conception included a new model of international equilibrium, with Spain in the role of dominant power in southwestern Europe, defender of a kind of Hispanic-Catholic civilization, and Germany in the role of figurehead, not absolute master, of the said New Order. In reality, Spain did everything in its power to serve Germany, apart from going to war. This included refueling German submarines, providing a small number of ships to supply German forces in North Africa, active collaboration with German espionage, sabotage operations against Gibraltar, and hosting the Nazi press in Spain. This collaboration allowed Germany to sink several Allied ships.
On February 12, 1941, the only meeting between Franco and Mussolini took place in Bordighera, requested by Hitler to try to bring Spain into the war, but in which Franco made the same promises to Mussolini as to Hitler. Ciano described his speech as “pompous, disjointed and lost in minutiae and details or in long digressions on military matters”; for others, the meeting was very cordial: Mussolini heard the Spanish arguments and came away with the certainty that Franco could not and would not go to war. But once again, an agreement was not reached that would reconcile the claims of both sides. Hitler, after receiving Mussolini”s report on the meeting, gave up for good, and neither his ministers nor other leaders made any further efforts to convince Spain to enter the war. Although there were voices in Germany advocating direct German intervention in Spain, such an operation soon appeared impossible in view of the urgent need to help Italian troops in the Balkans. Nevertheless, the fear of a British landing in Spain led the Germans to conceive in April 1941 a plan called Operation Isabella to face this eventuality. The meeting with Mussolini was followed by a meeting with Pétain in Montpellier, but the two men did not get along.
Franco”s last great temptation came in April 1941, when Hitler had won another lightning victory in the Balkans, which coincided with Rommel”s first spectacular victories in Libya. At that time, there was an order from the Ministry of the Navy addressed to all the captains of the merchant navy concerning the attitude to adopt in the event that they received the news that Spain had entered the war.
After the dismissal of General Beigbeder (who, moreover, learned the news from the newspapers), the discontent of the military, who felt dispossessed of their victory and humiliated by being left out, was reflected on Serrano Suñer, who became increasingly unpopular. He thought of taking Franco”s place and tried to discredit him abroad. The monarchist supporters of Juan de Borbón, the traditionalists, and the Carlists also began to demand an end to Franco”s interim rule. During this period, the military”s criticism was stronger than ever: the generals denounced the corruption, the chaos of a proliferating bureaucracy, the extreme scarcity of the most basic goods, and above all the influence and plans of the Phalangists, whom they considered irrational, incompetent and corrupt. However, Franco was reassured by the knowledge that his power lay in forces that pulled in opposite directions, and that cancelled each other out.
A kind of military party was formed whose most notable figures were Generals Kindelán, Orgaz and also José Enrique Varela. This party was clearly opposed to the Phalangist ideology and to the influence of Serrano Suñer. In May 1941, the rivalry between the military staff and the Falange, as well as the rumors about the growing ambition of Serrano Suñer, who had shortly before given an unusually aggressive speech in which he asked for more power for the Falange, led to a small ministerial reshuffle wanted by Franco: Colonel Valentín Galarza was appointed to Internal Affairs, and Carrero Blanco entered the government as Undersecretary of the Presidency, in addition to several other notoriously anti-phalangist figures appointed to important positions. Serrano Súñer threatened to resign as Minister of Foreign Affairs, but Franco refused to resign, so he remained in his post, albeit in a marginal position. However, Franco was determined not to get rid of the fascist trump card, but to domesticate this movement, appointing to important posts three phalangist personalities loyal to Franco, not likely to cause dissension. Thus, the obedient José Luis Arrese was appointed secretary general of the FET, thereby creating a rival polarity to that of Serrano Suñer, who had to cede some of his powers to Arrese. This appointment allowed Franco to convert the Falange more and more into a simple bureaucracy, a platform for popular support and an apparatus for organizing mass demonstrations in support of Franco, while at the same time fading its revolutionary impulses.
But the most important appointment was that of Carrero Blanco, who seized some of the influence lost by Serrano Suñer and would become Franco”s right-hand man, his closest and most loyal collaborator for more than three decades, becoming in a way his political alter ego. Carrero Blanco was moderately monarchist and cautiously pro-German, but also a devout Catholic and highly critical of what he called “Nazi paganism.” His promotion unequivocally marked the end of the era of the beau-frissime, who also had to endure the failure of his totalitarian Phalangist constitution project, before losing his ministerial portfolio in September 1942 and being replaced by Jordana, a leading figure of the anti-phalangist clan and reputedly pro-Allied.
In the summer of 1941, Franco continued to have full confidence in the Axis victory:
“I would like to carry to every corner of Spain the anxiety of these moments, where, along with the fate of Europe, the fate of our nation is also at stake, and not because I have doubts about the outcome of the conflict. The fate is cast. It is in our countryside that the first battles were fought and won. The war was ill-conceived, and the Allies lost.”
– Speech to the ETF National Council, June 17, 1941.
Juan de Bourbon, after his father”s death, played the German card and sought Hitler”s political help for a restoration. On several occasions, his representatives negotiated with Goering and with German diplomats, going so far as to propose that the restoration adopt Phalangist principles and that a pro-German general be appointed as prime minister to ensure that Spain entered the war.
On June 23, 1941, Germany invaded the Soviet Union. The next day, the Spanish government called an urgent meeting, where Serrano Suñer proposed to organize a corps of Spanish volunteers to fight alongside the Wehrmacht on the Russian front. Opposing voices were heard, especially from Varela and Galarza, who argued that, however desirable the destruction of the Soviet Union was, the war had become more complicated and Germany was in a weakened situation. Nevertheless, and despite Spanish neutrality, Franco accepted Salvador Merino”s proposal to send volunteer workers to Germany and agreed to the creation of a unit of volunteer fighters as a symbol of solidarity and as Spain”s contribution to the fight against the common enemy. In a short time, a large combat unit of 18,000 Phalangist volunteers was formed, which, called the Blue Division (in Spanish División Azul) and led by the pro-German Phalangist general Agustín Muñoz Grandes, was sent to Russia under Nazi command. The Russian campaign gave rise to renewed optimism that the Axis would win, and on July 2 Serrano Súñer told the Deutsche Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper that Spain was moving from “non-belligerence” to “moral belligerence”. In his official communiqué of June 24, 1941, Franco declared:
“God has opened the eyes of the statesmen and for 48 hours they have been fighting the beast of the Apocalypse, in the most colossal struggle recorded in history, to bring down the most savage oppression of all time.”
On July 17, 1941, Franco gave the most pro-German speech of the entire war to the National Council of the ETF. He harshly condemned Spain”s “eternal enemies,” in clear reference to Britain, France, and the United States, who persisted in carrying out “intrigues and actions” against the Fatherland. He concluded by praising Germany for having engaged in “the battle for which Europe and Christianity had longed for so many years and in which the blood of our youth will join that of our Axis comrades, as a living expression of solidarity” and by reproaching the democratic powers for exploiting Spain”s need for basic commodities as a means of pressure to buy its neutrality. These words alerted the Allies, so much so that the British made plans to occupy the Canary Islands. Another consequence was that several high military commanders (Orgaz, Kindelán, Saliquet, Solchaga, Aranda, Varela and Vigón), most of whom were monarchists, began to hatch plans to overthrow Franco. However, the growing economic difficulties and the first setbacks suffered by the German army in Russia and North Africa made Franco cautious, making him give up his imperial dreams and think first of all about keeping himself in power. Moreover, Operation Barbarossa had the advantage of shifting the war eastward, far from the Mediterranean, so that Germany stopped focusing on Gibraltar and the pressure for Spain to enter the war eased; Franco had again the opportunity to affirm his friendship with the Axis at a lower cost.
The extreme scarcity of the country forced Franco to try to obtain better economic and trade conditions with London and Washington, which Spain achieved through the mediation of the able ambassador Juan Francisco de Cárdenas. A rapprochement with the United States took place in May 1942, when President Roosevelt personally chose Professor Carlton J. H. Hayes, a friend of his, a liberal democrat, a Catholic, as the most likely to get along with Franco and convince him to return to neutrality. Hayes soon became Franco”s most trusted advocate with the Allies, struggling to convince them that the Caudillo was not a fascist. By this time, Franco could consider that he was enjoying the passive benevolence of the United States.
The monarchists became more active; if in 1940-1941 they had sought the support of Germany, now, in the first half of 1942, they turned to Britain. But others, such as Yagüe and Vigón, juggled with the idea of a “phalangist monarchy” supported by Hitler as the best solution to the country”s divisions.
In August 1942, one of the most serious political crises of Franco”s regime broke out, culminating in a long confrontation between the army and the Falange: at the end of a commemoration ceremony for the Carlist fighters who died on the field of honor held in Begoña, a suburb of Bilbao, and attended by the ministers Varela and Iturmendi, a group of Carlists and monarchists, who had left the Basilica shouting against Franco and the Falange, were attacked by a group of Phalangists, and the two groups exchanged slogans, then insults, and finally blows, until hand grenades were thrown from the group of Phalangists. Varela, unharmed, lodged a vigorous protest with Franco. After the meeting he had with him on September 2, 1942 to ask him to act against the Falange, but in which it appeared that Franco had no intention of doing anything, Varela presented his resignation. Carrero Blanco told Franco that if the two announced resignations took place (Valentín Galarza”s in addition to Varela”s), and if Serrano Suñer was kept in his post, the military and other anti-phalangists would claim that the Falange had obtained a complete victory. In the serious governmental crisis that followed, Franco dismissed the Minister of the Army, Varela, and then reshuffled his government, removing the Minister of the Interior, Galarza, and replacing him with Blas Pérez González, one of Franco”s most loyal collaborators in the future, but in return, in order to keep the balance between the Falange and the army, he also dismissed the Phalangist Serrano Súñer and replaced him with Jordana, the main change in this reshuffle. The most difficult thing was to find a replacement for Varela, who was supported by almost the entire military hierarchy. Franco finally offered the position to Major General Carlos Asensio Cabanillas and decided to assume the presidency of the Political Committee of the Falange personally. According to Paul Preston, “for Franco, Begoña was politically the coming of age. Never again would he be so dependent on one man as he had been on Serrano Súñer.
The purpose of these changes was to calm the internal conflict in the government and to strengthen Franco”s authority, who thus surrounded himself with the best team he had had up to that point. On the external front, Franco, despite the appointment of Jordana, had no intention of changing his apparent attitude towards the Axis and appointed the pro-German Asensio to convey assurances to the Reich government. However, there was a softer turn: Jordana, who was not an Anglophile but had come to the conclusion that the most likely outcome of the war was a victory for the Allies, wanted to put an end to non-belligerence and return Spain to neutrality, despite a discourse in which principled anti-communism continued to predominate. Jordana would become, after Franco, the most important person in the Spanish government during the Second World War.
By the end of 1941, General Kindelán, a monarchist and convinced of the final victory of the West and the USSR, was urging Franco to prepare and carry out a monarchical restoration and not to compromise himself too much with the Axis, in order to retain power and save the essential gains of the Civil War victory. After the German and Italian failures of 1942, Franco discreetly took some precautions, asking for the replacement of the Reich”s military attaché and demanding the expulsion of two other German diplomats. Spanish authorities intervened in Italy to remove Sephardim from compulsory labor, and Franco was firm with Italians accused of violating Spanish airspace during bombing raids on Gibraltar.
Franco had received, only a few hours in advance, personal letters from Roosevelt and Churchill assuring him that the landing in Algiers in November 1942 would not give rise to any military incursion into the Moroccan Protectorate or the islands, and that they had no intention of intervening in Spanish affairs. Having been informed for weeks of the Allied offensive on North Africa, Franco did nothing to thwart the concentration of troops in Gibraltar, and even made a hostile gesture towards Germany by refusing on 26 October 1942 to grant supply facilities to its submarines. However, this was the most dangerous phase of the war for Spain: Hitler responded to the Allied initiative by occupying the free French zone and transporting troops to Tunis. This new strategic situation only accentuated political tensions in Spain, and, probably for the first time, the left was emboldened to give signs of support to the Allies in some Spanish cities.
Franco meanwhile was trying to maintain his original strategy. Still believing that Germany would survive the war in a relatively strong position, he remained convinced that one way or another the war would produce great political and territorial changes from which his regime would eventually emerge advantaged. However, he notified Ribbentrop on December 3 that he had come to the firm conviction that for political and economic reasons it was not desirable for Spain to enter the war. In any case, it was vital for the Spanish and Portuguese regimes not to take the wrong side, and during 1942 Franco continued to bet on both sides, giving pledges to both sides in order to spare the future, while maintaining his allegiance to the Axis powers and his confidence in their victory. At the end of that year, he relieved the philonazi Muñoz Grandes – from whom it was whispered that Hitler was trying to put him in the place of the Caudillo – of the post of commander of the Blue Division, replacing him with Emilio Esteban Infantes. In the following years of the world conflict, Franco continued his duplicitous diplomacy, for which he conceived his “two wars” (or “three wars”) theory: according to him, there was a war between the European powers, against which he claimed to be neutral, and another against Bolshevism, in which he claimed to be a belligerent alongside the Germans, postulating in effect the primacy of the fight against communism, which should have and should have generated a sacred union of the Allies and the Axis; Finally, in the third war, which pitted Japan against these same Western democracies, Spain was won over to the cause of the United States and Great Britain, and this theory allowed Franco to justify certain seemingly incoherent behaviors and speeches to the British and the Americans.
Juan de Borbón approached England with a plan that the Allies, with the help of the monarchists, would invade the Canary Islands and proclaim a provisional government of national reconciliation under his leadership, a project that would have had the consent of Kindelán, Aranda, and the Captain General of the Canary Islands. Franco, informed, ordered the arrest of the conspirators, but most of them escaped him. Nevertheless, in May 1942, Franco proposed to Juan de Borbón to take over the Spanish State and to start a new path that would take into account the work already accomplished by “identifying with the FET y de las JONS”, with the promise of the throne in return.
From November 1942 onwards, Franco began a change in his foreign policy. The landing in Algeria had changed the balance of power in North Africa, and the consular authorities in Tangiers and the Spanish zone of Morocco, and later the Moroccan residence, rallied to the French authorities in Algiers. Franco then de facto recognized the Free French authorities by having himself represented to General Giraud in June 1943 by Sangróniz, known for his sympathies towards the Allies. As Spain was an obligatory passage for Frenchmen wishing to join the Free French, the Algiers Committee was willing to come to terms with Franco”s regime. However, Spain did not officially break with Germany and the Vichy government, but continued to trade with the Axis. In January 1943, Arrese concluded a new trade agreement with Germany, in which the latter committed itself to exporting goods worth at least 70 million marks.
The hunger of the population forced the regime to seek grain supplies, which the United States, England, and South America were willing to provide, but not without implications for the regime”s foreign policy. Only the United States was in a position to provide Franco with loans to purchase essential commodities. The Import and Export Bank advanced him funds, but only on the basis of economic and political guarantees.
The dismissal of Mussolini in July 1943, which caused such a sensation in Madrid that the general secretariat of the Movement was left abandoned for several days, and the Allied landing in Sicily in July 1943, prompted Franco to shift his foreign policy even further, in small steps, towards neutrality, but without an abrupt break with the Axis. The Spanish administration, faced with the turning point of the war, began a slow process of dephalangization or de-fascization in August, and the SEU forbade its members to draw any analogy between the Spanish regime and the “totalitarian states,” foreshadowing what would soon become the official policy of gradual de-fascization. In 1943, the National Propaganda Delegation issued very specific instructions:
“Under no circumstances, under no circumstances, in collaborative articles, editorials or commentaries, will reference be made to foreign texts, ideas or examples when discussing the political characteristics and foundations of our movement. The Spanish State is based exclusively on strictly national principles, political norms and philosophical foundations. The comparison of our State with others that might appear similar will not be tolerated under any circumstances, nor will the making of deductions from alleged adaptations of foreign ideologies to our homeland.”
Inside, Franco”s main opponent was now Juan de Bourbon, who was working to win the support of the future victors and also had the support of the Catalan nationalists. A good part of the military and the Phalangists remained in Franco”s favor, a group that was now threatened, especially after the fall of Mussolini, and therefore devoted. On March 8, 1943, Don Juan wrote to Franco that the time had come to “bring forward the date of the restoration as much as possible” and to put an end to a “provisional and uncertain regime”, to which Franco replied that he was not opposed to the monarchy provided that it embraced the principles of the Movement, that it did not fall back into the errors of liberalism, and that it carried out an “enterprise of concord”. A majority of lieutenant-generals at the top of the military hierarchy agreed with the monarchists. A manifesto, known as the “Manifesto of the 27 signed in the summer of 1943 by 27 members of the Cortes (procuradores), including the Duke of Alba, Juan Ventosa, José de Yanguas Messía, Africanist soldiers, and 17 Carlist figures, suggested that Franco should take a step aside in favour of restoration as the only way to avoid a return to political extremism. Franco retaliated by summoning all the signatory lieutenant generals separately, telling them that it was not appropriate to leave power in the hands of an inexperienced king, especially since the country was not monarchist, fining them all, and dismissing them or transferring them to other places, while the signatory procuradores disappeared almost silently from public life.
The regime continued to disguise its appearance and to correct some of its political positions. On September 23, 1943, it was ordered that the FET cease to be called a party and be referred to as the National Movement, a generic name free of fascist connotations. The doctrine of the movement became increasingly moderate, leaning towards Catholic corporatism, with the gradual abandonment of the fascist model. Jordana was able to persuade Franco to withdraw the División Azul, a decision that was finally made on 25 September, followed by its official dissolution on 12 October 1943. The policy of “non-belligerence” was adopted as a closed policy, although it was never officially repudiated, Franco referring in a speech on October 1, 1943 to a policy of “vigilant neutrality. The Falange aligned itself with Franco”s strategy, and Arrese constantly explained that the Falange had nothing in common with Italian fascism, and that it was an “authentically Spanish” movement.
In the final phase of the war, Franco leaned more and more toward the Allies, although he continued to help Germany until the end, in particular by continuing to host on Spanish soil German observation posts, radar installations and radio interception stations, an essential component of certain explosives and tank armor, of which Portugal and Spain had been the main suppliers to Germany. On the other hand, he waited until November 17, 1943, before effectively withdrawing the Spanish forces from Russia, but left some 1,500 volunteers behind. For these reasons, in addition to the detention of Italian ships in Spanish ports, the United States decided at the end of January 1944 to stop supplying oil to Spain. However, the Spanish press was careful not to mention the reasons for this embargo, and made it appear that the Allies were aiming to break Spanish neutrality. In May 1944, an agreement was reached with Washington and London in which the Spanish government committed itself to stopping all shipments of tungsten to Germany, withdrawing the Azul Legion, closing the German consulate in Tangiers, and expelling all German spies and saboteurs from Spanish territory (this last measure was never implemented). However, Franco continued to hope that Spain, and not Italy, would be Germany”s main ally and still did not consider the possibility of a total defeat of Germany, an idea he would not admit until after the Normandy landings.
Jordana, who died unexpectedly in August 1944, was replaced by José Félix de Lequerica, a notorious philonazi, which would have an impact on relations with the Allies. However, Lequerica”s mission was to reshape foreign policy in order to ensure the survival of the regime and at the same time approach the Allies. He emphasized Spain”s “Atlantic vocation,” the importance of its relations with the Western Hemisphere, and Spain”s cultural and spiritual role in the Spanish-speaking world.
In October 1944, Republican troops invaded the Aran Valley and were easily repulsed by General Yagüe. The elimination of this invasion was an unhoped-for opportunity for Franco to show his monarchist and Catholic opponents in the interior the reality of the dangers still facing Spain, and to show the Allies the persistence of a communist threat, and at the same time to reinforce the purge. The latter received the tacit approval of the democracies, who saw in this attack the confirmation that Franco”s worries were well founded.
John of Bourbon, realizing that the Allies would do nothing against Franco, tried to destabilize Spain from within: on March 19, 1945, in an appeal launched from Lausanne, known as the Lausanne Manifesto, he condemned the contacts that Franco had maintained with Nazi Germany, called for the restoration of a democratic monarchy, and invited the monarchists to resign from their posts. But only the Duke of Alba, ambassador to London, and General Alfonso d”Orléans were among the leading monarchists to resign. This failure confirmed to the Allies that John of Bourbon did not have a sufficient audience in Spain to take over. However, to satisfy the monarchist faction, Franco announced in April 1945 the creation of a Kingdom Council to prepare his succession.
With the end of the war and the defeat of Germany and Italy, Franco”s imperial aspirations vanished, as did his totalitarian project. Alberto Reig Tapia, “although the nascent Franco political regime was fully committed to its decision to create ex novo a totalitarian state as an alternative to the liberal-democratic regime, like its natural allies, Italian fascism and German national socialism, He was unable to realize his dream, and the defeat of Hitler and Mussolini, and then international isolation and the Cold War, forced him to abandon his objectives, forcing him to abandon the “totalitarian ideal” in favor of “pragmatic authoritarianism”. In the following decades, in an attempt to reconnect with postwar European democracies, Franco would strive to describe his regime as “authentic democracy,” achieved through “organic democracy” based on religion, family, local institutions and union organization, as opposed to “inorganic” democracies with direct elections. In November 1944, he declared in an interview that his regime had maintained “absolute neutrality” throughout the conflict and that his government had “nothing to do with fascism,” because “Spain could never unite with other governments that did not have Catholicism as their essential principle.
In Great Britain, there were two conflicting tendencies: Anthony Eden, who was hostile to the Caudillo, and Churchill, who continued to assert that Franco was not a fascist and feared that too severe sanctions would upset the European balance. In January 1945, there was some consensus that Franco should remain in power, provided that he was excluded from the peace conferences and that certain forms were preserved. In April 1945, a new period of ostracism began when, after Roosevelt”s death, Vice President Harry Truman, a Freemason who was more opposed to Franco than his predecessor, came to power in the United States, while the Soviet Union was incessantly calling for his removal. Franco, once again in trouble, nevertheless continued to show unwavering loyalty to a crumbling Germany. Spain was one of the few European countries to pay tribute to Hitler on the occasion of his death on April 30, 1945. But Carrero Blanco had relegated the Falange to the background at the right time, that is, before Germany”s decisive defeats; however, during the July 1945 reshuffle, Franco did not put the Falange on the back burner; it remained useful to him, either as a scapegoat or as an agent for mass mobilization.
The Mexican government, strongly opposed to Franco, presented a motion at the inaugural session of the United Nations to exclude Spain, which was passed by acclamation. The ostracism reached its peak at the end of 1946, when almost all the ambassadors were withdrawn from Madrid, and continued until 1948, when, as a result of the Cold War, the course of international politics began to change in Franco”s favor.
Bartolomé Bennassar notes that “there were no provisions for racial discrimination in contemporary Spanish legislation, nor was there any body comparable to a General Commission for Jewish Questions. The approximately 14,000 Jews in Spanish Morocco, whose nationality was reaffirmed, were not bothered. Franco once intervened publicly to stop an outbreak of antisemitism in the Protectorate during the Civil War. Spanish Jews served in his army under the same conditions as other soldiers, and there were no regulations issued by his government to impose restrictions or discrimination against Jews. According to Gonzalo Álvarez Chillida, General Franco had been a “philosofarad since his war years in the Rif, as evidenced by the article Xauen la triste published in the Revista de tropas coloniales in 1926, when he was 33 years old. In this article, he highlighted the virtues of the Sephardic Jews with whom he had dealt and with whom he had developed a certain friendship – Jewish virtues that he contrasted with the “savagery” of the “Moors”; some of these Sephardim had actively helped him during the national uprising of 1936. His screenplay for the film Raza (written under the pseudonym Jaime de Andrade at the end of 1940 and beginning of 1941, autobiographically inspired but tinged with romanticism, and later brought to the screen by José Luis Sáenz de Heredia) includes an episode in which this philosophical view of Sephardism comes to the fore, when the character visits the Santa María la Blanca synagogue in Toledo with his family and declares: “Jews, Moors and Christians found each other here, and through contact with Spain they were purified. Álvarez Chillida argues that “for Franco, the superiority of the Spanish nation was manifested in its capacity to purify even the Jews, transforming them into Sephardim, very different from their other co-religionists. Some people have tried to explain Franco”s philosofaradism by his supposed Judeo-converted origins, but there is no evidence to support this thesis. In any case, General Franco”s philosofaradism did not affect his policy of keeping Spain free of Jews, except in its African territories.
The same Álvarez Chillida states that “Franco was much less anti-Semitic than many of his comrades-in-arms, such as Mola, Queipo de Llano or Carrero Blanco, and this undoubtedly had repercussions on his regime”s policy towards the Jews”. In his speeches and declarations during the Civil War, he never used anti-Semitic expressions, as they only appeared for the first time after the victory in the war, specifically in the speech he gave on May 19, 1939 after the Victory Parade in Madrid:
“Let”s not delude ourselves: the Judaic spirit that allowed the great alliance of big capital with Marxism, that made a pact with the anti-Spanish revolution, will not be extirpated in a single day and is simmering in many consciences.
In his speech at the end of the year, when Hitler had just invaded Poland and began to confine the Polish Jews to ghettos, he said he understood
“We, who by the grace of God and the lucid vision of the Catholic Kings, have been delivered from such a heavy burden many centuries ago. We, who, by the grace of God and the lucid vision of the Catholic Kings, were freed from such a heavy burden centuries ago”.
During the war, Bennassar could not be blamed for a systematically hostile attitude towards the Jews, while Serrano Suñer recommended a passive attitude to Spanish diplomats abroad so as not to interfere with German policy, and his successor at the Foreign Office, Jordana, showed no leniency towards the threatened Sephardim. Until the summer of 1942, a few thousand Jews fleeing from Nazism, probably some 30,000, passed through Spain on their way out, and there is no evidence that any of them were turned over to the Germans. Franco tolerated, but did not encourage, the initiatives of his consular representatives to protect the Jews, whom he called Sephardim, in order to emphasize their Iberian origin, and the Spanish government agreed to repatriate the Sephardim (the “ladinos”) from occupied Europe or to give them a Spanish passport, especially those from Salonika, restoring to them the Spanish nationality they had lost in 1492, as well as a small number of other Jews. Spain made no concrete effort to rescue non-sephardic Jews, and the rescue of potential victims that took place in Greece, Bulgaria, and Romania depended, at least initially, on the humanitarian efforts of Spanish diplomats in those countries.
According to Yad Vashem, during the first part of the war, Spain allowed between 20,000 and 30,000 Jews to pass through Spain. Then, from the summer of 1942 to the fall of 1944, 8,300 Jews were rescued by the Spanish regime: 7,500 succeeded in crossing into Spain where they were given temporary asylum and 800 Spanish Jews (out of the 4,000 living in Nazi-occupied Europe) were admitted to Spain.
Franco”s most virulently anti-Semitic statements are to be found in two articles signed with the pseudonym Jakin Boor, which he wrote in 1949 and 1950 for the newspaper Arriba, in which he associated the Jews with Freemasonry and described them as “deicidal fanatics” and “an army of speculators with a habit of breaking or circumventing the law”. In particular, in the article entitled “Acciones asesinas” (Murderous actions), published on July 16, 1950, which was a web of incongruities based on the anti-Semitic booklet Protocols of the Elders of Zion, to which Franco gave full credence and through which, according to him, the conspiracy of Judaism “to seize the levers of society” had been revealed, Franco recounted Jewish crimes in fifteenth-century Spain, including the ritual murder of children. In view of these writings, it seems likely that the protection of the Jews that he had allowed to be organized had been inspired by his antipathy for Hitler, or by his brother Nicolás; from the end of 1942, one can also see the pressure of Pius XII, who denounced “the horror of racial persecutions” and asked him to support priests or institutions that acted in favor of the Jews. According to Álvarez Chillida, these writings resulted in Israel voting against the lifting of the international sanctions against Spain in 1946 at the UN.
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Spain in the post-war period
The period between the summer of 1945 and the fall of 1947 was the most difficult for the regime. Franco had to fight on several fronts: the monarchist opposition at home, the opposition of Republican exiles abroad, and the opposition of the allied powers around the UN. He also had to deal with the guerrillas of the anti-Franco maquis, who were active until 1951, especially in the northwest (Galicia, Asturias, Cantabria), although Franco was confident that a new offensive by the revolutionary left would not be followed by any real support from the great mass of the Spanish people – the regime had created a vast and solid network of mutual interests with the whole elite of society during the first years of its absolute power, but also with a good part of the middle class, including the rural Catholic population – and on the other hand deeply convinced that at the end of a period of twenty years the political systems of Western Europe would resemble more that of his Spain than that of the states that were hostile to him.
Franco had begun a political cosmetic operation in the fall of 1944 to give his regime a more acceptable façade. After the fall of the Third Reich, directives were sent out to make the defeat look like a victory for the regime. According to these directives, Spain had kept its distance from the war and had always been concerned with peace.
In 1945, the newly founded UN refused Spain membership, and the following year recommended that its members recall their ambassador. Roosevelt declared that “there is no place in the United Nations for a government based on fascist principles,” and in December 1945 the United States recalled its ambassador, who would not be replaced until 1951. France closed its border with Spain in February 1946 and broke off economic relations. The Allies (and their public opinion) disapproved of Franco and preferred a return to the monarchy or republic, but at the same time feared that a restoration without popular support or a divisive republic might bring back unrest to Spain that could lead to a victory for unstable revolutionaries and, beyond that, for communism.
Franco had linked his destiny with that of Spain: by claiming that the international isolation was directed not against him but against Spain, Franco ceased to be the cause of Spain”s ills and could be seen as the champion who defended it against its ancestral enemies, while at the same time he was able to blame the “international blockade” for the country”s difficult economic situation, which was in fact due mainly to the government”s self-sufficient policy. The international campaign against the regime was characterized as a foreign “anti-Spanish” conspiracy of the liberal left to smear the country with a new “black legend,” and the campaign of the Western powers was labeled by Franco as a conspiracy of a world “Masonic superstate. Thus, he was careful and calm in thwarting external threats, while making the most of them, since he believed that the ostracism of the regime was the reason for all its misfortunes. Nevertheless, Franco had given pledges to the victors: in April 1945, Spain had broken off diplomatic relations with Japan, and that same month, the Minister of Justice, Eduardo Aunós, had informed the American and British embassies that war crimes were amnestied. On May 2, the regime arrested Pierre Laval, Marcel Déat and Abel Bonnard, who had taken refuge in Spain, and handed them over to French justice.
Franco, who showed great insolence towards the international environment and did not even try to give the impression that he was doing so, responded to the international ostracism by calling a large demonstration in Madrid”s Plaza de la Oriente in support of the regime, as he would do again and again when international pressure demanded that he demonstrate his popular support. Although the Spanish people suffered the consequences of the isolation imposed on the regime by countries such as France, the United Kingdom, and the United States, the majority of moderate opinion closed ranks around the regime throughout this period. The strata least favorable to Franco were the workers and day laborers; virtually all Catholic opinion approved of the regime, which included the majority of the rural population in the north and much of the urban middle classes.
Franco received some discreet assurances from certain leaders of the European right. De Gaulle even sent a secret message to Franco to assure him that he would not break off diplomatic relations with Spain; like his partners, de Gaulle did not want to hand Spain over to communism, which was now perceived as the major danger. Franco, meanwhile, exhibited documents and testimonies to demonstrate his neutrality and the specificity of his “anti-communist” and “Catholic” regime, and referred to the guarantees that Roosevelt had given him on November 8, 1942, in exchange for his passive assistance during Operation Torch. Alberto Martín-Artajo, appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs in July 1945, could count on being well received in the Vatican and by Christian Democrat politicians in the West as President of the National Committee of Catholic Action.
Truman”s and many Americans” dislike of Franco was tempered by the need to ensure that the eventual removal of the Caudillo would not result in a “red” government that would be hostile to them and by the fear of provoking Hispanic solidarity among Latin Americans. Francis Spellman was sent to Madrid in March 1946, with the mission of delivering to the Caudillo a comminatory note drafted jointly by France, Great Britain and the United States, which condemned the regime and called for the formation of a provisional government. But in the same month, during the victory parade, the crowd showed its devotion to the Caudillo, which reinforced in the United States and Great Britain the idea that nothing should be done against a regime that did not threaten world peace. Franco”s determination and the number of his supporters made them fear, in case of intervention, a new civil war whose outcome could go against the interests of the Western world. In fact, no state in the world went so far as to break off relations with Spain completely; all left diplomatic attachés in place and embassies remained open. The measures of ostracism, which encouraged a large part of Spanish society to close ranks around Franco, were counterproductive.
A report issued by a UN subcommittee on May 31, 1946, stated that the Franco regime owed its existence to Axis aid, was fascist in character, had collaborated with the Axis during World War II and later provided safe haven for war criminals, and exercised harsh repression against its domestic opponents; the report concluded that the regime “represented a potential threat to international peace and security. It is true that during these years, Franco”s regime helped many Nazi fugitives, fascists and Vichy collaborators, such as the Belgian SS general Leon Degrelle, the Italian general Gastone Gambara, or the German Otto Skorzeny. In all, more than a thousand collaborationists, most of them low-ranking, had found refuge in Spain, but among them were no prominent Nazi leaders. At the end of the war, almost all of the German military and civil servants in Madrid were temporarily interned and then deported back to Germany.
It became increasingly clear that the great powers would not lend themselves to armed intervention in Spain, and would be content to ostracize the country. At the UN, the camp of Franco”s opponents began to weaken: on the one hand, a Latin front emerged that rejected sanctions against Spain, and a little more than half of the Latin American countries refused to adhere to the US proposal to isolate Spain diplomatically; on the other hand, some of the most powerful Muslim countries decided to abstain. Nevertheless, on December 9, 1946, on the recommendation of the United Nations, the Western capitals, except for Lisbon, Bern, Dublin and the Holy See, recalled their ambassadors, provoking a tidal wave of fury in Spain. Hundreds of thousands, perhaps a million, of demonstrators poured into the Plaza de Oriente to reaffirm their support for Franco. Famous writers without Francoist ties, such as the Nobel Prize winner Jacinto Benavente and the scientist and man of letters Gregorio Marañón, also participated.
At the United Nations, the vote of the South American republics could represent significant support. To counterbalance the influence of Mexico, around which a pole of rejection of Franco”s government had formed, Franco tried to build a network of Latin American countries that refused to accept sanctions against the Spanish regime. During the war, Franco had tried to pursue the policy of rapprochement with Latin America as developed by Miguel Primo de Rivera, but after the war, concern for his political survival led Franco to sacrifice his ambitions in the Americas to the need to maintain good relations with President Roosevelt. Only Juan Perón”s Argentina signed a trade agreement in January 1947, which was ratified in June of that year during the visit of Eva Perón, who was charged by Perón with revitalizing the emotional concept of “Hispanicity. Argentina and Spain signed trade agreements and took common political positions, with Argentina committing itself to regular exports of grain to Spain; these imports, including fertilizers, constituted, at their peak in 1948, at least a quarter of all goods imported into Spain, and for two crucial years, the supply of various basic necessities could be assured. When on December 12, 1945, the UN called for the recall of ambassadors, Spain escaped economic and political isolation only thanks to the support of Portugal, the Vatican and, above all, Argentina. Relations with Argentina began to deteriorate in 1950, and Franco sought the reason for this in the influence of Freemasonry and the strong Jewish community in Argentina. Respecting Islam as well as all the great monotheistic religions, Franco also tried to establish a rapprochement with the Arab countries and was receptive to their demands. Later, he was able to exploit to his advantage with the countries of the Arab League the votes of Israel hostile to Spain during the UN conferences.
The situation of ostracism ended in part when the geostrategic needs of the United States led that country to cooperate with Spain. The United States tried to include Spain in the North Atlantic Treaty (NATO), but faced with the opposition of European countries, mainly the United Kingdom, had to settle for the signing of a bilateral treaty.
Although the resolution adopted by the UN on November 17, 1947, did not rehabilitate the regime, it did not renew resolution 39, which in 1946 had excluded Spain and which this time did not obtain the required two-thirds of the votes. Great Britain signed two agreements with Spain in March 1947 and April 1948, and France resigned itself to following in the footsteps of its partners, but did not resume relations with Spain and did not reopen its borders until May 1948.
Franco”s strategy was to cement his political base by relying on three main axes: the Church, the army and the Falange. To win the loyalty of these supporters, he created the image of a Spain beset by the “Masonic offensive”, which required more than ever to maintain order and national unity. In August 1945, he commented to his brother Nicolás: “If things go wrong, I will end up like Mussolini, because I will resist until I shed my last drop of blood. I will not run away, as Alfonso XIII did.
If the Falange was now the elite commando for Franco, safe, disciplined, numerous and which he had been able to bring to heel, he also multiplied the concessions to the Church, and each speech repeated the same statement: “All the acts of our regime have a Catholic meaning. This is our specificity”. Each of his trips to the provincial capitals was an excuse to celebrate a Te Deum in the cathedral. Catholics feared that Franco would be replaced by less secure rulers, or that the Catholic community would be split between supporters of Franco and supporters of the restoration, since Catholics were torn between their principled loyalty to the traditional monarchy and their interest in supporting a regime as explicitly Catholic as Franco”s. They insisted that Franco was a “Catholic” and that he would not be “a Catholic”. They insisted that Franco should weaken his overly visible links with the Falange and further strengthen the Catholic orientations that had already won him sympathy abroad. This tendency was stimulated by Pius XII, whose stated aim was, according to Céline Cros, to “promote the restoration of a Christian civilization reminiscent of the Christian order that reigned in the medieval West. Monsignor Pla y Deniel, now Archbishop of Toledo, published a pastoral letter on August 28, 1945, The Truth about the Spanish War, in which he tried to mobilize European Catholics in favor of the Caudillo.
On July 18, 1945, Franco reshuffled his government, ousting those of its members most closely linked to the Axis: Lequerica was replaced as Foreign Minister by Alberto Martín-Artajo, and Asensio Cabanillas by Fidel Dávila as Minister of the Armed Forces; the portfolio of Minister-Secretary General of the Movement was eliminated. The significance of this reshuffle was the appointment of Artajo as Foreign Minister, an exponent of the Catholic world and a key element intended – but mainly symbolic – to accentuate the Catholic identity of the regime and to generate Catholic support for it. In addition, a Catholic was appointed to the Public Works Department. Arrese had to leave the government, leaving behind, as his main achievement, the total domestication of the Falange and the reduction of its fascist cosmetics. The new cabinet contained a sufficient dose of “political Catholicism” to give it a new appearance and to protect the regime from UN attacks. With this new government, the Catholic phase of the regime officially began, which would last until 1973, that is, until the death of Carrero Blanco. By placing their representatives in Franco”s government, the Catholics pursued two objectives: to supplant the Falange and “to incorporate Franco”s Spain into international society”, and they could count on the sympathy of parties newly formed in Europe on the same ideological and religious basis. At the same time, in August 1945, a government in exile was formed, presided over by José Giral.
For the rest, the changes made were partial and minimal, and in many respects purely cosmetic. The balance within the government was always more or less maintained, with the military, the phalangists, the monarchists and the Catholics sharing the portfolios in identical proportions; Franco did not take the risk of giving prominence to any particular political current, nor of discouraging any of the components of Franco”s party by reducing its representation in the government too abruptly. The uninterrupted presence of Carrero Blanco, who became the symbol of continuity in the running of the country”s affairs, also dates from this time. Moreover, contrary to popular opinion, there were never many members of Opus Dei in the government, even in the one described in 1961 as monochrome. Moreover, Laureano López Rodó always maintained that members of Opus Dei participated in the government only in their individual capacities. However, Opus Dei was represented in power by strong personalities such as Mariano Navarro Rubio, Alberto Ullastres, López Rodó and Gregorio López-Bravo. Classical Catholics always remained reserved towards Opus Dei, and the Phalangists were generally hostile to it.
The Phalange, on the other hand, saw its institutional presence reduced and passed into the background. The Roman salute was officially abolished on September 11, 1945, despite the opposition of the Phalangist ministers. The bureaucratic apparatus of the Movement, however, continued to function in an underground manner. Franco commented to Artajo that the Falange was important for maintaining the spirit and ideals that had driven the National Movement of 1936 and for educating public opinion. As a mass organization, it channeled popular support for Franco. In addition, it provided content and administrative frameworks for the regime”s social policy and served as a “bulwark against subversion,” since since 1945 the phalangists had little option but to support the regime. The Caudillo cynically observed that the phalangists acted as a lightning rod and were “blamed for the government”s mistakes.
The communist left, which tried to organize an internal insurrection, was met with ruthless repression. Franco”s constant concern was not to give his enemies any sign of weakness, so he was insensitive to pressure from any quarter, and on February 12, 1946, he had Cristino García, a communist activist and hero of the French resistance, executed after he had entered Spain clandestinely to organize guerrilla actions. However, the communist and anarchist guerrilla movement continued to be active, but it continued to weaken after 1947. Its most serious actions were the attacks on the railroads, 36 in 1946 and 73 the following year, in which the Guardia Civil lost 243 of its members and almost 18,000 people were arrested for complicity. However, none of these attacks had the slightest resonance in Spain, since the orders were given to keep an absolute silence about them. On the other hand, new strikes were called in 1946 and 1947, but they were quickly dulled by strong repression.
Martial law, which had been in effect since the end of the Civil War, was abolished by decree in April 1948, although all political offenses of any significance continued to be tried before military courts. Summary judgments against political opponents tended to moderate since the entry into force of the new penal code, promulgated on December 23, 1944. The nuncio had urged all Spanish bishops to sign a petition for clemency, which was delivered to the Minister of Justice Eduardo Aunós, but the increase in executions was not to be halted until the spring of 1945, when it became clear that Spain would not face any military attack; Indeed, there was no indication that a foreign intervention in Spain was about to take place, and the only demand that was made of Franco was that he withdraw from the city of Tangiers, which he did on September 3, 1945.
In order to give the system a more objective legal structure and to provide some basic civil guarantees, a set of so-called fundamental laws was enacted. The aim was also to strengthen the Catholic identity of the regime and to attract Catholic political figures, in order to gain the support of the Vatican and to mitigate the hostility of the Western democracies. To this end, the regime would rely less on the National Movement, without suppressing it, and without allowing the emergence of a rival political organization. With these new laws, the regime acquired the fundamental characteristics of an authoritarian, corporatist and Catholic monarchy, based on a structure of indirect and corporative representation, as opposed to a direct representative system, and in accordance with Franco”s refusal to “hang on to the democratic chariot”. Thus, on July 17, 1945, the Charter of the Spaniards, the third of the Fundamental Laws (following the Charter of Labor of 1938 and the Law of the Cortes of 1942), was adopted. Based in part on the Constitution of 1876, it defined the “rights and duties of the Spaniards,” with the ambition of bringing together the historical rights recognized by traditional law. It guaranteed some of the civil liberties common in the western world, such as the right of residence, the secrecy of correspondence, and the right not to be detained for more than 72 hours without being brought before a judge. Castiella was responsible for Article 12, which provides for freedom of expression, subject to not attacking the fundamental principles of the state, and Article 16 on freedom of association. However, these freedoms could be suspended, especially under Article 33, which stipulated that none of the rights could be exercised at the expense of “social, spiritual and national unity”, and although the text loosened some of the locks installed during the Civil War, each of the openings was at the same time accompanied by restrictions that made them inoperative.
On October 22, 1945, the law on the Referendum was promulgated, which established the obligation of a direct popular consultation for texts concerning the modification of the institutions, but only at the initiative of the Head of State.
The implementation of what some have called “cosmetic constitutionalism” was completed by the new electoral law for the Cortes of March 12, 1946: it maintained indirect, controlled and corporatist elections, but strengthened the representation of the provincial consistories and union participation. None of these reforms involved any fundamental change, but they were a façade of laws and guarantees that the regime”s spokesmen could use, however great the gap with reality. Franco would not stop referring to the regime as an “organic people”s democracy,” a phrase that would be repeated, with many variations, for the next three decades. The Cortes, composed of three categories of members (procuradores), were elected by restricted suffrage and by degrees, and, not having the initiative of the laws, only approved, with a few amendments, all the projects of the government.
One of the first measures Franco took as representative of the monarchy was to create in October 1947 a large number of new noble titles, which would attest to his new royal stature. Franco also adopted the custom of walking under a canopy carried by four priests when he entered a church, a special prerogative of Spanish kings and the most visible symbol of the special relationship between the two institutions, despite the bishops” reluctance to grant him this privilege.
Franco realized that the most viable outcome for his regime was a monarchy that combined traditional legitimacy with authoritarian features. He never publicly attacked the royal principle and never failed to proclaim himself a monarchist. However, Andrée Bachoud points out,
“It is in the name of an ideal vision of the monarchy that he challenges the count of Barcelona or questions the management of Alphonse XIII. He willingly presented himself as the guardian of a sacred orthodoxy against the recent deviations of the parliamentary monarchy. The royalty according to Franco seems to come from an imaginary borrowed from the novels of chivalry, which mixes the respect of the royal filiation with the requirement of exceptional qualities, acquired and verified on the occasion of tests that mark the king of a religious seal. “
A broad anti-Franco front was formed, bringing together personalities from the left and the right, with financial support from Joan March. In February 1946, following rumors of an agreement between Don Juan, who was now living in Estoril, and Franco, a collective letter of support for the Count of Barcelona, in which the signatories disassociated themselves from the Caudillo”s totalitarian policies, was written and signed by 458 members of the Spanish social and political elite, including two of Franco”s former ministers, 22 university professors, etc. In response, Franco called a meeting of the High Council of the Army, where he reaffirmed that a properly prepared and structured monarchy, established by him at the appropriate time, should be the logical successor to his regime, provided that the said monarchy respected the principles for which he had fought, and that in these delicate and perilous times stability and security could only be guaranteed by the continuation of his political leadership. It seems that he was able to count on the support of the military, the majority of whom respected his authority; indeed, no one could have had an interest in discouraging his commander-in-chief in view of this or that political experimentation, in the midst of international hostility and the offensive of the exiled left. For the rest, Franco was content to talk one-on-one with each of them in turn, and to keep the monarchist leader of the military, General Kindelán, a scapegoat for a few months, confined to the Canary Islands, and then expressed his ostentatious contempt for the ungrateful and useless aristocracy. Franco had his brother Nicolás communicate that relations with Don Juan were broken off, given the incompatibility of their positions.
On April 7, 1947, Don Juan published the Estoril Manifesto, in which he denounced the illegality of the new Law of Succession, disassociated himself from the regime, and reiterated the need for the separation of church and state, regional decentralization, and a return to liberal parliamentarianism. The only support these words received was from a group of “Spanish grandees”, a minority elite. Moreover, Franco”s victory in the referendum on the Law of Succession formally denied the exiles the weapon of popular consultation. By his Manifesto, Don Juan had, according to Paul Preston, eliminated himself as a possible successor to the Caudillo.
Nevertheless, on August 25, 1948, Franco had a meeting on the high seas with Don Juan on board his personal yacht, the Azor, moored in the Gulf of Biscay. During the meeting, which lasted three hours, Don Juan agreed that from November 1948 his son Juan Carlos, then ten years old, would continue his education in Spain. On the other hand, Franco got closer to Don Jaime, Don Juan”s elder brother, who, deaf and dumb, had had to renounce the crown but was now threatening to withdraw it in order to preserve the future of his two male descendants. Thus, for Franco, brandishing the Law of Succession, the number of candidates for the throne continued to grow. However, the main thing for him was that he had a potential king under his tutelage who would allow him to establish the ideal monarchy, around a child of royal blood, trained by the best masters, with himself as mentor.
Also read, biographies – Pablo Picasso
1950s: from isolation to international openness
The decade of the 1950s began for Franco with a happy event: the wedding of his daughter Carmen to Cristóbal Martínez-Bordiú, which was celebrated on April 10, 1950, in the chapel of El Pardo, in the presence of hundreds of guests, with the appearance of a royal ceremony. The son-in-law, a brilliant 27-year-old doctor from Jaén, a specialist in thoracic surgery, was a descendant of a noble Aragonese family and had held the title of Marquis of Villaverde since 1943. This alliance would lead to the formation of a group of influence known as the Pardo clan, a term that covered the control of the Villaverde family, especially his three brothers and other relatives, over a number of positions in large companies during the last 25 years of Franco”s life.
According to Ramón Garriga Alemany, it was from this marriage that the spirit of lucre took hold of all the Francos, especially the wife Carmen Polo, who began to have a passion for jewelry and antiques. Rumors of embezzlement and swindling targeted all members of the family, especially Franco”s brother, Nicolás, and his son-in-law. The autarky adopted in the early years of Franco”s rule, with its monopolies, the administrative rigidities of the post-Civil War era, and the need to obtain permits and subsidies for the exploitation of coveted sectors such as mining, had served as a breeding ground for influence peddling and brought profits to a privileged caste and to some of those close to the regime. Franco, though undoubtedly informed, allowed his brother to act, and took little interest in the behavior of his ministers in this regard, reacting only when untimely revelations were made.
Franco himself never indulged in financial speculation because, confident in his public policies, he invested his own money almost exclusively in state-owned companies, such as the Canal de Isabel II company, the Campsa oil company, RENFE, the National Institute of Colonization, Banco de Crédito Local securities and Treasury bonds. In the period from 1950 to 1961, the total of its funds oscillated between 21 and 24 million pesetas, divided in almost equal parts between savings books and investments. No one has been able to provide any evidence that he had an account in Switzerland or in a tax haven.
He was spared chronic health problems until old age. Parkinson”s disease was diagnosed around 1960, shortly before his 70th birthday. Although the symptoms were initially manageable with medication, in the following decade his hands could not be prevented from shaking strongly, although his lucidity was never affected.
His main hobby was hunting, and his interest in this pastime earned him many invitations from wealthy people or those in need of influence. According to some authors, the Caudillo”s hunting activities, usually financed by businessmen, were real business exchanges in which “adulatory hunters” – industrialists, traders, importers and large landowners – obtained favors, These maneuvers constituted a system of institutionalized corruption, from which Franco took advantage of by informing himself of the underground practices, more or less avowed, but also of the men who held power at the local level; For others, on the other hand, these “adulatory hunters” always came back empty-handed, as Franco refused to be bothered with economic questions.
Despite his austere customs, by the 1960s Franco had become an avid consumer of television and would spend hours in front of two televisions turned on at the same time. He read quite a bit, mostly at night, and according to his grandson, his personal library eventually numbered around 8,000 volumes. During the day, he read the files prepared by his ministers and occasionally glanced at the New York Times, which he considered the unofficial voice of Freemasonry.
For 37 years he spent his summer vacations in the Galician castle of Meirás, and enjoyed sailing on the Azor, an old dredger, slow but comfortable, converted into a pleasure boat and moored in the port of San Sebastian. He was also a painter, creating mostly still lifes (of hunting or fishing trophies), which, although they were born in the Pardo, were hung by Franco not in the great ceremonial halls of the Pardo, but in the castle of Meirás.
Despite his many travels, he was unable to be truly well informed, speaking with only a few people, who almost always told him what he wanted to hear. Even in the army, his contacts were becoming fewer and fewer, and his only personal collaborators, apart from Luis Carrero Blanco, were close relatives and a handful of old friends from childhood and youth.
In the 1950s, the climate created by the Cold War favoured the Franco regime”s rapprochement with Western powers, especially the United States, whose government was preoccupied at the beginning of the decade by the Soviet atomic bomb and the victory of Maoism in China. With Spain”s membership in NATO blocked by the refusal of the European democracies, Franco concentrated on developing a bilateral relationship with Washington and placed his hopes for a rapprochement with Washington in the hands of his former foreign minister, The affable José Félix de Lequerica, sent in 1948 to the American capital as “inspector of embassies”, did an effective job there, his Spanish lobby gaining more and more support among conservative and Catholic congressmen, against the hard line of Secretary of State Dean Acheson.
Franco could play three cards: anticommunism, Spain”s geostrategic position, and Catholicism. Faced with the expansion of communism in Europe and Asia, the U.S. military increasingly disagreed with Truman”s hostility toward Franco. Soon, concern over communist advances around the world between 1948 and 1950 led to the resumption of formal diplomatic relations. Franco was conciliatory on issues the Americans considered essential, including the intolerance of Protestantism in Spain; on this point, Franco promised to implement the Spanish Charter, which established religious tolerance, to the fullest extent possible. On defense, he preferred bilateral agreements with the United States to a collegial system. In November 1950, Truman granted Spain a loan of 62 million dollars. In the following years, with each new advance of communism, the Americans would have an additional reason to associate Spain with the defense of the West, especially during the Korean War, which greatly increased the tension of the Cold War and was the occasion for Franco to offer his help to Truman; the world believed itself to be on the verge of World War III, which made the stability of Spain and its geostrategic position a point of the utmost importance for the Western powers.
On November 4, 1950, the United Nations General Assembly voted to repeal the 1946 resolution urging states to break off diplomatic relations with Spain, marking the definitive end of the ostracism. Spain became a full member of the UN and achieved a relative normalization of diplomatic and economic relations with the social democratic governments of Western Europe. On December 27, the United States finally sent an ambassador to Madrid, Stanton Griffis, which was tantamount to recognition by the world”s greatest power. Admiral Sherman, Chief of Staff of the United States, who visited Madrid in February 1948 and established a lasting relationship with Carrero Blanco, largely represented American military opinion in his desire to give Franco a special role in the Cold War. Thus, Franco was able to emerge from his diplomatic isolation without having made the slightest concession to the Western democracies, the imperatives of the Cold War having prevailed over ethical considerations.
The Eisenhower administration, more sympathetic to Franco, established a new relationship with Spain, with American training and specialization programs for Spanish officers, involving at least 5,000 military personnel. An alliance was finally reached with the United States in the form of the Madrid Accords, signed on September 26, 1953, after three years of arduous negotiations. Under these agreements, Spain received modern armaments to replace the equipment of the army and the air force, the latter of which had hardly been renovated since 1939. Economic aid amounted to $226 million, in return for which Spain undertook to take steps to liberalize its still highly regulated economy, something the new ministers appointed in 1951 had already begun to do with hesitant steps. The third pact provided for the right of the United States to establish four military bases on Spanish territory, including three air bases and a submarine base. The bases would fly the Spanish flag and be under joint Spanish and American command. This agreement was the coup de grâce for the Republican opposition, although a government in exile, which was renewed periodically but which France stopped subsidizing in 1952, would continue to exist in the shadows in Paris.
On December 21, 1959, Eisenhower visited Franco, the first visit by an American president to Spain and a further boost to the Caudillo”s international standing. Eisenhower was received by Franco at the joint air base in Torrejón, after which the two dignitaries entered Madrid in a convertible car, cheered by a crowd of one million people. Eisenhower was impressed by Franco”s ability to mobilize such multitudes. As they parted, the two embraced, which was conveniently captured by a photographer. Thus, Franco had transformed himself from a “fascist beast” into a “sentinel of the West,” according to the title of his latest unofficial biography.
In June 1951, after the arrival of a right-wing majority in parliament, France also changed its attitude: Antoine Pinay worked to reconcile France with Spain, and soon the Pleven government agreed to make concessions. At the fall of the Fourth Republic, Franco declared:
“With the collapse of the French Fourth Republic, it is not the forms of free political life that have lost their prestige, but an ideology and a political technique that pretend to expand at the expense of authority. The parliamentary game is incompatible with the most elementary necessities of national life in any country.”
Two months after the accession to power of de Gaulle, with whom Franco felt some affinity (by his career, by the way he had risen to power, by his relationship with the state and the people, by his assertion of national independence), détente was established between the two countries; in particular, an agreement was signed on the joint exploitation of the Saharan deposits. Franco demonstrated his solidarity with French policy in Algeria by refusing an audience to Ferhat Abbas. At the same time, notes Andrée Bachoud, “everyone was looking for an honorable exit, that is to say, a negotiated one, in North Africa. Neither of them had the means to oppose head-on the American positions, which were favorable to decolonization. Neither one nor the other wanted to lose influence in the Arab countries by engaging in lost battles. From 1958 onwards, on the initiative of Carrero Blanco and Castiella, territorial concessions were granted (in particular, from 1958 onwards, to Mohammed V, through the restitution of the Tarfaya area), although Franco remained intractable on the presidia and on Ifni.
Franco had established and maintained permanent contacts with most of the countries of the Arab League, and had refused to recognize the new State of Israel, then protested in 1951 when Jerusalem became the seat of the Israeli Foreign Ministry. Franco, in one of his articles published under the pseudonym of Hakim Boor, said that the efforts of the papacy to obtain international status for Jerusalem should be supported. Such ideas had the effect of exacerbating tensions between his regime and Israel, with whom normal relations could never be established as long as the Caudillo lived. Franco sent a warm message to the Arab peoples, emphasizing their historical ties to Spain and their common rebirth: “Our generation is witnessing a parallel resurgence of the Arab and Hispanic peoples that contrasts with the decay of other countries.
Franco had come to accept that the Protectorate would one day gain independence, although he thought it would not happen for several decades. Spain had 68,000 soldiers in Morocco at the time. If between 1945 and 1951, under the mandate of José Enrique Varela as high commissioner, Moroccan nationalism had been repressed in cooperation with the administration of French Morocco, Varela”s successor, Rafael García Valiño, instead provided protection and means of action to Moroccan militants, as long as they directed their violent actions only against the French zone. When France deposed Sultan Mohammed V in August 1953, Franco, taken by surprise, showed his disagreement by granting an amnesty to all the political prisoners of the protectorate and by granting an audience to the Moroccan nationalists a few months later in which he blamed the French decision. He allowed the Moroccan nationalists to use Radio Tetouan to address their compatriots. At this time, Franco still hoped to exploit France”s mistakes and difficulties in Morocco to extend his influence there, but underestimated the strength of anti-colonialism in France. After the reinstatement of Mohammed V in the fall of 1955, García Valiño continued his double game, under the illusion that Spain enjoyed some special consideration. Given Soviet pressure in the Mediterranean and the Middle East, the United States urged France to act quickly. In the meantime, the Moroccan claim had spread to the Spanish zone, using the same methods (bombings, etc.) as those used against the French protectorate. After the independence of the French zone on March 2, 1956, the Spanish high commissioner closed the borders of the Spanish zone to prevent any possible attack, while Franco was torn between his youthful convictions and the political realism that led him to give in to the demands of independent Morocco. The policy of resentment against France had thus turned against Spanish interests in North Africa. At the first warning signs that France was about to give up its protectorate, Franco had no choice but to assure John Foster Dulles that Spain would do the same. Franco privately expressed great chagrin, if not outrage, at the prospect of losing the centerpiece of what remained of Spain”s overseas possessions.
Mohammed V landed in Madrid on April 5, irritated the Spanish authorities with his arrogance, and refused to recognize the northern caliphate imagined by Franco. The Caudillo was forced to accept the fait accompli and signed the Moroccan independence treaty on April 7, ceding the Cape Juby area to Morocco, but keeping, under the pressure of his entourage – Muñoz Grandes, Carrero Blanco, and the foreign ministers Artajo and then Castiella – the Ceuta and Melilla presidencies, the small area of Ifni (until 1969), and the Río de Oro (until 1976). In contrast to France, which had been able to adapt in time, establish positive relations with Morocco and include this young country in the franc zone, Franco had handled this affair very badly and came out of it disappointed.
Franco, aware that Ifni would be impossible to keep in the long term, was able to maintain the status quo for another eleven years, but in June 1969 the Spanish flag was definitively brought to Sidi Ifni. Another consequence of these events was the dissolution of the Moorish Guard, which was replaced by volunteers from the cavalry regiments of the different captaincies.
Franco achieved a mutual identification between Church and State, a close alliance between political and religious power, which the popular historiography of the time illustrates abundantly, especially through photographs in which the bishops appear in the same way as the Caudillo and the victorious generals in the front row of public ceremonies. The links between the Church and the dictatorship were almost functional, and were clearly affirmed in the “oath of fidelity to the Spanish state” taken by the new bishops before the Caudillo. Although not all the prelates were enthusiastic supporters of Franco”s regime (see, for example, the case of Cardinal Segura, who abhorred fascism but professed an old-fashioned fundamentalism), the Catholic hierarchy was firm and sincere in its support, and the main support during the years of international isolation. If the benefits for the Church were obvious, reciprocally, the links with the Church served Franco and his regime in many ways. The main benefit was to help the regime establish its legitimacy and broaden the popular base that supported it. In addition, the ideology of the regime was largely developed by the Church, and the representatives of the Church personally assisted in the work of doctrinal legitimization of power by outbidding the other ideological arm of the dictatorship, the Falange. Catholic Action also collaborated in the justification of the established power, transforming itself into a complementary or rival supervisory apparatus of the Phalangist organizations. Finally, these links with the Church provided a source of new cadres from which to draw level political personnel. Emphasizing Catholicism was also the first strategy to obtain international legitimacy.
On August 27, 1953, the Concordat with the Vatican, demanded by Franco since the end of the Civil War, was finally signed, which consolidated Spain”s international openness. Shortly afterwards, Pope Pius XII decorated Franco with the Order of Christ. This was, according to Andrée Bachoud, “the first great consecration of Franco, the natural outcome of an exceptional agreement, even in the history of very Catholic Spain, between the head of state and the Church. Everything that had been granted to the Church since the beginning of the Civil War was maintained and amplified: tax exemptions, payment of salaries to priests, construction of places of worship, respect for religious holidays, freedom of the press for the Church and ecclesiastical censorship of other publications, whereby the Catholic press enjoyed greater freedom than others. Members of the clergy enjoyed judicial immunity; none of them could be prosecuted without the authorization of the ecclesiastical authority, and the judgment could not be public. The state undertook to support religious schools and to make the teaching of religion compulsory in all establishments, public and private. Franco displayed his religious fervor, accompanying doña Carmen to church services and constantly recalling the role of Divine Providence in her lasting success.
At home, protests against the economic situation and the high cost of living were growing. One of the first tests of the regime was the strike of streetcar workers and public transport users against the increase in fares in Barcelona in March 1951, which was accompanied by a demonstration of hundreds of thousands of people and revealed the existence of an opposition capable of organizing. Public transport fares were reduced to their original level, and a general strike was called as a result of this first victory. Franco sent troops to quell the disorder, but the military prefect of Barcelona, the monarchist Juan Bautista Sánchez, decided to confine them to their barracks, thus avoiding a bloody confrontation. After the prefect was replaced by General Felipe Acedo Colunga, and more than 2,000 arrests were made, work resumed, but the participation of a new Catholic-inspired organization, the HOAC, showed that the Catholic front had cracks. The following month, the Basque Country was paralyzed by a strike affecting almost 250,000 people. Once again, phalangists and Catholics, and even some employers, sided with the strikers. Franco realized that only greater economic prosperity, albeit within the conservative framework of the regime, could correct certain imbalances.
The new team, whose mission was to achieve economic development in Spain without altering the fundamental nature of the regime, began a timid opening of the economy to the outside world, in a gradual process that was accompanied by a growing discord between Franco and his regime. Arburúa in particular initiated the liberalization of the foreign market, especially imports, granted the private sector credit facilities previously reserved for the public sector, and tried to establish complementarity between the INI and private companies in the industrial sector. Girón made the mistake, in the hope of obtaining the support of the workers for the regime, of imposing by decree, at the least opportune times, large wage increases, which resulted in a surge in inflation, cancelling out the benefits of the wage increases despite the price control measures and triggering sporadic strikes in Barcelona in March 1956.
In November 1954, restricted municipal elections were held in Madrid, the first since the Civil War. This timid attempt at democratization was made possible by new provisions that required that the election of one third of Madrid”s city councilors be subject to the votes of heads of households and married women. The electoral list of the Movement was confronted with an Independent list and another created by the monarchists. The monarchists had some notable successes, with 51,000 votes for the monarchists and 220,000 for the Movement. At the time when the Falangists clashed with the Monarchists, who were better organized and growing in the high aristocracy and among some Catholics, Franco still favored his true supporters and chose, for example, to celebrate the anniversary of José Antonio”s death in Falange costume. Moreover, and in contrast to the defascization that had begun in 1943, Franco re-emphasized the “hidden” Movement, considering its support as an active element of mobilization to be indispensable. The Movement maintained its official position, even though it continued to lose members and its most orthodox core declared itself “against the bourgeois and capitalist monarchy”.
The Economic Affairs Commission, which Carrero Blanco chaired, had to submit its decisions to the Caudillo for approval, despite its official autonomy from the powers of the head of state. The Caudillo, for example, vetoed a proposal by Carrero Blanco that he appoint 150 members to a National Council to verify the conformity of any new law with the principles of the Movement, because if Franco agreed to delegate, he wanted to continue to have the final say, so that decisions would be in accordance with his own fundamental principles. However, Franco tended to distance himself more and more from active politics, preferring to focus, as head of state, on ceremonial occasions, while at the same time indulging more in his favorite pastimes. From October 1954 onwards, Cousin Pacón wrote down his conversations with the Caudillo; his notes show the discontent of many senior officers who reproached Franco for turning away from the affairs of state, and above all for having left their world. Each minister did as he pleased and Franco seemed to care little for the actions of the people he had put in place. Muñoz Grandes, in particular, was not very rigorous or effective in his task of managing the Spanish armed forces, which continued to falter until they received American aid. Many complaints about Muñoz Grandes” negligence reached Franco, but his main criterion was political loyalty, which, in the case of Muñoz Grandes, was not in question. Moreover, since the end of the Civil War, and even more so after the Second World War, Franco showed little interest in military institutions.
In the 1950s, passionate debates were taking place among the Phalangist, Catholic and monarchist youth, and groups were forming outside the official framework, including the New University Left and the Popular Liberation Front (FLP, known as el Felipe). While the young Catholics militated for a democratic monarchy, the Phalangist students professed their preference for an authoritarian republic and their refusal of any restoration, and were impatient to see social justice, a central element in the doctrine of José Antonio, finally implemented. On February 4, 1956, the Falange lost the university elections, and on February 8, at the Faculty of Law in Madrid, scuffles broke out in which a young Falangist was injured, apparently by another Falangist. Pretending to ignore this last detail, Franco, who was particularly irritated by youthful dissent when it originated in the families of regime figures (children and nephews of the victors of the Civil War, such as Kindelán, Rubio, etc.), took matters into his own hands, suspending the few freedoms set out in the Charter of the Spaniards, and sacking the Minister of Education as well as the Secretary General of the Movement – Franco”s typical way of dismissing the protagonists back-to-back. According to Javier Tusell, Franco “no longer needed the Catholic collaborationist group that had accompanied him from the July 1945 crisis onwards” and which had ensured his respectability outside. The ministerial reshuffle of February 1956 resulted in an arbitration in favour of the Falange, by which Franco intended to satisfy the Falange youth while bringing it back into line, and to consolidate his regime in a situation where the Falange, despite its bellicose airs, was becoming weaker and weaker, and where the monarchists were intensifying their activity, as were the Catholic leaders, and where even the left-wing opposition was beginning to show signs of life. The most important change in his new government was to return Arrese to the post of secretary general of the Movement. In addition, a group of young leaders of the Movement were promoted on this occasion, including Jesús Rubio García-Mina, Torcuato Fernández-Miranda and Manuel Fraga Iribarne.
On January 26, 1957, Carrero Blanco submitted a report to Franco outlining his solution to the crisis. In his view, the Movement should be further relegated and new, highly qualified ministers should be appointed to deal with such complex issues as economic growth and development. Franco, in a kind of headlong rush, chose to appoint a team of experts who were followers of economic liberalism. On February 22, 1957, a far-reaching government reshuffle took place, a “new deal” (as Bennassar put it), in that it consecrated the arrival in important positions of so-called technocrats, most of whom were linked to Opus Dei, and who were charged with liberalizing the Spanish economy and allowing for greater openness: Camilo Alonso Vega, appointed Minister of the Interior, Antonio Barroso, appointed Minister of the Armed Forces, Fernando María Castiella, appointed to Foreign Affairs, Mariano Navarro Rubio, to Finance, and Alberto Ullastres, to Trade. These technocrats were called because, according to Ullastres, “we were not phalangists, Christian Democrats or traditionalists. We were called because the politicians did not understand economics, which was then practically a new science in Spain. In addition, an Office of Economic Coordination and Planning was set up under the direction of Laureano López Rodó, a member of Opus Dei, who had the advantage of being Catalan, at a time when Carrero Blanco was trying to calm the situation in a troubled Catalonia, and who, in collaboration with the economic ministries, tried to give the Spanish economy a boost, which would result in the 1959 Stabilization Plan. Carrero Blanco, who was increasingly leading the regime”s policy, was undoubtedly responsible for the choice of the new ministry. The usual mix of forces in the regime had been shaken up at the expense of the Falange, which retained only the second-rate, and this reshuffle marked the end of the appointment of figures from the old Falangist guard to the major ministries. Thus, Franco dismissed Girón after 16 years as Minister of Labour, and relegated Arrese to the new Ministry of Housing, where he remained for only one year. Reluctant to favour another power group, such as the monarchists or the Catholics, Franco composed a government in which the holders of key ministries were chosen on the basis of their professional competence, not their political allegiance. With the definitive downgrading of the Falange-Movement, Franco set aside the original political-ideological basis of the regime, and over time the regime tended to lean more and more towards “bureaucratic authoritarianism”, without a clearly defined political and ideological basis, and without clearly defined perspectives. Nevertheless, in June 1957, at a meeting of the FET National Council, Franco confirmed the central role of the Movement in the structures planned for his succession.
The arrival in government of Navarro Rubio and Ullastres, and the plans of 1957 and 1958, gave the signal for an economic takeoff in which Franco did not believe and whose mechanism he had not understood. For Bennassar, “the appointment of the technocrats is indicative of Franco”s way of governing at that stage of his career: he did not know what to do, but he knew how to find those who could do it. It was these almost subterranean transformations, the full extent of which Franco himself did not appreciate, that made the success of the democratic transition possible. For Andrée Bachoud, the change of government in February 1957 was the first and last opportunity for Franco to intervene as a true statesman; thereafter, the new team had the skill to surreptitiously remove him from many of his prerogatives.
Ministers and top officials almost always had freedom of movement to run their departments, provided they followed the regime”s directives. Lequerico, for example, opined that “a Franco minister was like a kinglet who did whatever he wanted without the Caudillo interfering in his policy. This relative autonomy was matched by Franco”s blindness to administrative infractions and corruption, at least in the early stages of the regime. In general, Franco was correct in his manners, but rarely cordial, except in informal meetings; he acquired an arrogant and stern demeanor with the passage of years, and his humorous remarks became rarer and rarer and his words of praise more and more sparing. When Franco provoked a government crisis or dismissed a minister, those concerned were informed by a terse notice delivered by a motorcycle dispatch rider. The austere behavior he had displayed for decades in the army had finally rubbed off on his way of dealing with delicate situations. He never got angry, and it was extremely rare to see him get angry.
The meetings of the Council of Ministers followed a rigorous and agreed-upon etiquette, which established a distance between Franco and his ministers reminiscent of that between the monarch and the great vassals, and became famous for their marathon length and Spartan style. In the 1940s, he led the discussion and spoke at length and intensely, launching into perorations and wandering from one topic to another. But he gradually became more taciturn, and eventually fell into the opposite extreme, speaking very little. Franco”s interest and knowledge in governmental matters was very uneven. In the last years, his attention was very variable. Ordinary administrative matters did not seem to interest him at all, and he intervened very little in discussions, however lively. On the other hand, his interest was keenly aroused by certain other matters, such as foreign policy, church relations, public order, media problems, and labor matters.
May 1958 saw the resurgence of important social movements, first in Catalonia and then in the Basque Country, led by the Workers” Commissions, clandestine unions originally formed by Catholic workers, soon joined by communist militants. Other demands worried the regime, such as the affirmation of a Basque and Catalan identity, which was supported by local clerics.
Valle de los Caídos, the great monument of Franco”s regime, was inaugurated on April 1, 1959. In a lavish ceremony, Franco gave a rather revanchist speech, recalling that the enemy had been forced to “bite the dust of defeat” and also pointing out that it was there that he himself wished to be buried.
On May 17, 1958, the Law of Fundamental Principles was promulgated, inspired by the doctrines of Karl Kraus, to replace the 26 points enacted by José Antonio when the Falange was created. It reaffirmed divine law and Spain”s adherence to the social doctrines of the Church; unity, Catholicism, Hispanicism, the army, the family, the commune and the union remained the foundations of the regime. Franco resigned himself to delegating his powers only in economic matters.
In 1956, Arrese, who had been given carte blanche by Franco to design new fundamental laws, presented a constitutional project that gave the Movement exorbitant powers, causing an uproar and exposing deep contradictions within the regime. In this draft, all the initiative fell to the active forces of the Falange and the National Movement, which would become the backbone of the state and the repository of sovereignty. The strongest critics of this proposal were the leaders of the army and the Church, but there was also strong criticism from the monarchists, the Carlists, and even from some members of the government. To López Rodó”s dismay, Franco publicly reiterated his support for Arrese. What finally led Franco to renounce the project was the disapproval expressed in early 1957 by three Spanish cardinals, led by Enrique Plá y Deniel, who declared that Arrese”s project violated papal doctrine. The proposed projects, they said, were not based on the Spanish tradition, but on foreign totalitarianism, and the form of government envisaged was “a true one-party dictatorship, like fascism in Italy, Nazism in Germany and Peronism in Argentina”. Artajo, on the other hand, mobilized several personalities of Catholic Action to defeat the project. Franco, under the tutelage of the ecclesiastical authorities, finally vetoed the project.
During the same term, the following were also passed: the Law of Public Order, which was basically an adaptation of the Republican legislation of 1933 and modified the jurisdiction of the courts, so that even crimes, sabotage and so-called political subversion would fall under the jurisdiction of the civil courts, and not the military courts; and, in May 1958, the Law on the Principles of the Movement, a successor to the Arrese project, conceived mainly by Carrero Blanco, López Rodó and the young emerging diplomat Gonzalo Fernández de la Mora, which defined a new doctrinal body with the possible aim of providing the regime with another ideological basis, one that would complete its defascination and dissociate the regime from the Falange, even though it still contained phrases by José Antonio.
Franco was a regenerationist who sought to achieve the economic development of his country, but at the same time to restore and preserve a conservative cultural framework, however contradictory these two objectives might be. From 1945 onwards, the government agreed to liberalize its previously dirigiste policy little by little. But despite some liberalization, the domestic economy continued to be strictly regulated, international credit remained limited, and foreign investment, discouraged by the autarky policy, was non-existent. Inflation and autarky combined to prevent the improvement of the productive apparatus, which was forbidden to import the necessary tools. The balance of payments deficit brought Spain to the brink of bankruptcy. Only in 1951 had the country recovered its 1935 level of per capita income.
In the meantime, relations with the United States had improved substantially and new credits were made available to the Spanish economy. Now assured of American support and thus of foreign aid to straighten out the most loss-making sectors, Franco was close to abandoning the autarky that had produced negative results and to embarking on a new economic direction. However, the policy of openness practiced especially from 1956, the year in which Laureano López Rodó entered the government as Technical Secretary of the Presidency, did not meet Franco”s natural inclinations and aroused his reluctance.
The technocrats” method was to bring foreign currency into Spain by any means possible: by keeping wages low; by encouraging foreign investment through tax incentives; by developing tourism; and by facilitating the export of labor to the industrialized countries. These techniques were often employed against the wishes of Franco, who often misunderstood them, but who, in view of the initial results, soon gave in. The freezing of wages and the reduction of public expenditure, applied at the expense of the government”s social promises, unleashed repeated strike movements, as well as the disapproval of the political parties in exile. The reforms of the Opus Dei ministers also met with the hostility of the Phalangists, but the members of Opus Dei, supported by active elements of Spanish capitalism, persisted in transforming legislation and the productive apparatus: “One by one,” wrote Andrée Bachoud, “laws were proposed, submitted to the Caudillo, sometimes accepted, sometimes rejected. Franco appeared as the arbiter of all initiatives. Everyone presented him with reports and projects. He listened for a long time, sometimes answered, took the project, amended it or buried it. Whatever the reception he gives to a proposal, his authority, his verdict, even tacit, is never discussed.
In the agricultural field, measures were taken to consolidate the territory, which partially solved the problems caused by excessive land parcelling, especially in Galicia, and the so-called law of parcel concentration provided for the establishment of a system of cooperatives to rationalize the exploitation of land. Another major achievement was the development of tourism, which would soon be the main source of foreign currency, together with foreign aid.
One controversial issue is the respective share of the economic environment and the management of Franco”s government in the “Spanish economic miracle”. There was certainly a buoyant Western economic environment, and one of the most important factors in Spain”s development was the prosperity of Northern Europe, which exported its growth, invested in promising areas, absorbed underemployed Spanish labor, and sent thousands of tourists to the country. But on the other hand, there was Franco”s decision to replace some of the Phalangist ministers with technicians and economic experts. The economic boom had in fact been wanted and led by López Rodó, and the new team appointed by Franco was able to correctly negotiate the turn to liberalism from 1957 onwards and transform the regime”s economic doctrine without an abrupt break with the credos of the old team. One of Franco”s chances was that he had the support of men whose intellectual stature, culture and talent were far superior to his own.
The monarchist opposition had little weight and was further weakened by a series of inopportune initiatives, such as that of François-Xavier de Bourbon-Parme, the Carlist pretender, who proclaimed himself king of Spain, thus reviving dynastic quarrels and discrediting the monarchical principle. In the following years, however, the monarchist cause was able to increase its number of supporters, including among the youth. Franco recognized the legitimacy of the monarchy as part of his mental heritage, regardless of his judgment of the suitors. He had set his sights on Juan Carlos as the only guarantor of continuity, and he worked to make him an ideal monarch.
On December 29, 1954, against the advice of his main advisors Gil-Robles and Saínz Rodríguez, Don Juan had a new meeting with Franco in a villa in Extremadura. Franco demanded that Prince Juan Carlos receive military training and education based on the principles of the Movement, on pain of being excluded from the line of succession, to which Don Juan agreed. It was therefore decided that Juan Carlos would receive his higher education in Spain, including military studies at the Academy of Zaragoza, reopened by Franco. But Gil-Robles and other advisors to Don Juan objected that this would associate the monarchy too closely with the regime, and tried to convince him to send Juan Carlos to complete his education at the Catholic University of Louvain. Faced with Don Juan”s refusal on this point, Gil-Robles stopped working for his cause. Franco assured Don Juan that Juan Carlos would be his successor, even though at the moment the monarchy had little support, but in time “everyone would end up being a monarchist by necessity. The moment would come when the functions of head of state and head of government would have to be dissociated “by the limitations of health on my side or by my disappearance. This meeting made a strong impression on the Count of Barcelona, who was now convinced that Franco was really planning to restore the monarchy. However, the complete and definitive identification of Don Juan with the regime was never to occur.
Franco continued to take care of the prince”s education and to choose the military academies, universities and religious training best suited to prepare him for the supreme role, making sure that the terms he imposed were respected, and that the dual allegiance, that of the monarchy and that of Franco”s regime, was maintained. In fact, the theory of the double legitimacy, that of the dynastic filiation, and that of the coup d”état of July 18, 1936, which Don Juan resigned himself to admit, was more and more prevalent. In Franco”s personal archive, we read: “A skilful propaganda should be made about what the Monarchy should be, undoing in the country the concepts of aristocratic and decadent Monarchy, anti-popular, of camarilla of privileges and potentates subordinated to the nobles and bankers”.
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1960s: political reforms and economic development
In January 1960, Franco told Pacón: “The regime will give rise to a representative monarchy in which all Spaniards will be able to elect their representatives to Parliament and thus intervene in the government of the state, as well as that of the municipalities. Yet the institutional stagnation of the 1950s would continue well into the following decade. A fundamentally bureaucratic system had been established, an authoritarian government that was politically immobilist and, thanks to the success of the new economic policy and the impotence of the opposition, had little to fear from the future, except the disappearance or incapacity of the Caudillo. Fraga and López Rodó had meetings with Franco, in which they presented him with plans for an institutional framework to be in place by the time of his death to avoid major confrontations. If Franco was accessible to their arguments in favour of liberalization, he was held back not only by his natural reluctance, but also by an intransigent Carrero Blanco. Franco found himself, explains Andrée Bachoud, “at the center of opposing forces, some frankly conservative, others timidly liberal; faced with these pressures, he moved as little as possible. The councils of ministers were held in the shadow of this head of government, who was both present and absent, often walled in by age and a lack of understanding of the increasingly complex mechanisms of the economy, but sometimes with brilliant intuitions.
In 1962, along with a wave of mining strikes in Asturias, anti-Franco sentiments intensified throughout Europe, and took shape at the Fourth Congress of the European Movement held in Munich on June 6 and 7, a gathering that the newspaper Arriba pejoratively called the “Munich contubernio” (concubinage). The congress invited a wide range of Spanish opposition figures, numbering about a hundred, both resident in Spain and living in exile, including monarchist and Catholic factions, to discuss the conditions for democratizing Spain. This was the first formal meeting between the different opposition groups to Franco”s regime, with the exception of the communists. At the end of the discussions, all of them signed a joint declaration demanding that Spain”s membership in the EEC be conditional on the existence of “democratic institutions” approved by the people, namely: the guarantee of human rights, recognition of the personality of the regions, trade union freedoms, and the legalization of political parties. Franco cried Judeo-Masonic conspiracy and suspended Article 14 of the Spanish Charter, which allowed for free choice of residence; the government notified signatories residing in Spain that they had the choice of voluntary exile or deportation upon their return to the country; many chose exile.
Don Juan, some of whose advisers, including two leading monarchists, Gil-Robles and Satrústegui, had attended the meeting, was in trouble. Franco was convinced that the pretender would always play both sides, and, not satisfied with Don Juan”s explanation that he himself had no responsibility for the Munich affair, nor with Gil-Robles” resignation from Don Juan”s Privy Council, decided to cut all ties with him and from that moment on ceased to seriously consider appointing Don Juan as his successor. Significantly, Franco noted in his private papers: “the worst thing that could happen is that the nation falls into the hands of a liberal prince, a bridge to communism.
On July 10, 1962, Franco made another cabinet reshuffle, appointing for the first time a vice-president, Agustín Muñoz Grandes; bringing into the government Gregorio López-Bravo, a member of Opus Dei, as Minister of Industry, who, together with Ullastres and Navarro Rubio, both of whom remained in their posts, further strengthened the technocratic team; calling into the government Manuel Lora Tamayo, Minister of Education, and Jesús Romeo Gorría, Minister of Labour, also from the same sphere; and replacing Arias-Salgado in the Ministry of Information and Propaganda with Fraga, a Phalangist, whose dual mission would be to prepare a press law with less strict censorship, in keeping with the new tone of the regime, and to stimulate the tourist industry in Spain. The choice of Fraga, who had a reputation for being “liberal”, brought a small dose of openness. Arrese, who since 1957 had been there only to represent the permanence of the Movement, and whose economic success had made him a useless symbol, was thus left out. The appointment of Muñoz Grandes as vice-president of the government was intended to reassure Franco”s old guard, giving them hope that a presidential regime would be established rather than the monarchy envisaged by the Law of Succession. This reshuffle showed Franco”s usual sense of proportion, appointing some emblematic figures from the past to reassure, as well as some men to make Spain evolve in the desired direction, and whom Franco reserved for himself to put into play if necessary. As it was, this 1962 government, like the next one, was divided into two antagonistic factions: on the one hand, the ministers of the Movement, who wanted to perpetuate the regime and rejected monarchic succession, and on the other hand, the technocrats, who believed that the problem of succession had to be resolved through the person of Juan Carlos. In the midst of the commemoration of 25 Years of Peace, Franco declared in April 1964 that “our doctrine is best suited to the monarchical system and our principles are best assured. From then on, Franco acted more as head of state than as head of government, granting audiences, receiving foreign dignitaries, awarding prizes and medals, or inaugurating public infrastructures.
Franco accepted Don Juan”s proposal that the Duke of Frías, a learned aristocrat, become Juan Carlos” new tutor, but insisted that Father Federico Suárez Verdaguer, a legal historian and one of the most important figures in Opus Dei, be his new spiritual director. Juan Carlos was trained as an officer in each of the three branches of the Armed Forces, attended law school, and had the opportunity to observe the workings of each of the ministries.
In September 1961 the engagement of Juan Carlos and Sofía was announced. Franco was a passive spectator to this princely intrigue, as Don Juan had purposely kept him on the sidelines. Franco informed Juan Carlos that he would award him and Sofía the Great Necklace of the Order of Charles III, and he let Don Juan and the prince know that by declining the Golden Fleece offered by Don Juan, by awarding noble titles and great decorations, he was using the prerogatives of a monarch without being a king. Then, after a previous meeting with the Pope, but without informing Don Juan, the princely couple decided to pay a long visit to Franco, and then to leave Estoril and settle in Madrid. Franco was seduced by Sofía, by her intelligence and culture. In February 1963, Franco placed the Zarzuela Palace at the couple”s disposal, along with all the services needed to ensure the prince”s prestige.
Franco reaffirmed the doctrinal bases of his state on the Day of the Caudillo, October 1, 1961:
“The great weakness of modern States stems from their lack of doctrinal content, from the fact that they have given up maintaining a conception of Man, of life and of History. The greatest error of liberalism is its refusal of any permanent category of reason, its absolute and radical relativism, an error that, in a different version, was also that of those other political currents that made “action” their only requirement and the supreme norm of their conduct. When the juridical order does not proceed from a system of principles, ideas and values recognized as superior and prior even to the State itself, it leads to an omnipotent juridical voluntarism, whether its organ is the so-called “majority”, purely numerical and manifesting itself inorganically, or the supreme organs of Power.”
In his year-end speech in 1961, Franco argued that the rulers of this world did not govern, but were governed by an immanent justice in which God knew how to recognize his own and punish his enemies; Franco, appointed by God to carry out his purposes, was by nature destined to receive God”s blessings and could not be suspected of complicity with Hitler”s Germany, which fought against God and therefore belonged to a camp irreducibly opposed to his.
In an interview with CBS, Franco acknowledged that inorganic democracy could work in the United States, because of its two-party system, with two complementary parties, but that it had not worked in countries such as Spain under the Republic, with a fragmented, multi-party system. Moreover, he insisted that it was a matter of historical experience, since Spain was a very old country that had already passed through the democratic phase, a phase that he prophesied would not be permanent in the Western world: “Even you Americans, who think you are so sure, will have to change. We Latins have burned the stages, we have engaged in many things before democracy and consumed it before, and have had to go to other forms more sincere and real”.
The only substantive change Franco accepted without reservation was economic development, despite some difficulties in understanding the new management techniques. He therefore renounced the old team that had conducted the policy of dirigisme and autarky – especially Suanzes, his childhood friend, who ended up resigning irrevocably, due to the gradual abandonment of ultradirigism and the approval of López Rodó”s first Development Plan for the years 1964-1967, He was not even consulted on the plan, and soon boasted to the Spanish people about the success of the new team, applauding the economic progress made at the beginning of each year in his greetings to the nation. On the other hand, when Solís Ruiz made a proposal to allow some political representation, permitting the existence of different “political associations”, albeit within the framework of the Movement, he was met with skepticism by the Caudillo, who feared that such innovations might reduce the authority of the government and open up a Pandora”s box.
As Catalan industrialists were the main beneficiaries of the economic dynamism brought about by the Catalan López Rodó, relations with Catalonia had relaxed. The authorities had stopped repressing the use of Catalan, as long as the principles of state unity were respected. The dark side was the increasingly critical attitude and new social and democratic positions of the Church; indeed, under the influence of the reformist and liberalizing tendencies of Vatican II, especially the encyclical Pacem in terris, issued on April 11, 1963, by Pope John XXIII, which urged the defense of human rights and political freedoms, several bishops began to be critical of the regime, and the young clergy in particular intended to conform to the conciliar doctrines. The key players were the Catholic unions HOAC and JOC (Catholic Worker Youth), targeted by communist entryism, which took part in illegal strikes and could count on the support of many members of the Catholic hierarchy. Although arrests were made, the government”s reaction was moderate, and in August a significant increase in the minimum wage was approved. In December 1964, the Catholic opposition managed to unite and form a Christian Democratic Union, with a radical program of reforms that included the nationalization of the banks and collaboration with the PSOE. This change in the course of the Church, eager to win back the masses, was the most destabilizing factor for Franco, upsetting the commitments made between Franco and the Holy See. The concordat was called into question, and in February 1964 the Council asked the States to renounce the privilege of “presentation” of bishops, which Franco was reluctant to give up; as a result, there were soon fourteen vacant episcopal seats, which the Vatican made up for by naming “auxiliary” bishops, which it could do without the “presentation” of the Spanish government, and these auxiliaries were almost always committed to the conciliar doctrines. At the closing of the IX National Congress of the Movement, Franco recalled how he had saved the Church from the “lamentable state” in which the Second Republic had put it, and denounced “the progressive influence of the Communists in certain Catholic bodies.
The international rejection of the regime regained force in 1963, following the trial and execution of communist leader Julián Grimau. By order of the PCE Central Committee, Grimau had been sent to Spain, where he recklessly exposed himself and was apprehended. Having been at the beginning of the Civil War a police inspector in the Criminal Investigation Brigade, and then towards the end of the war head of the secret political police in Barcelona, Grimau had been instrumental between July 1936 and the end of 1938 in the assassination of right-wing opponents as well as POUM members and anarchists. He was indicted and tried not for his clandestine activities as a member of the PCE leadership, but for his alleged war crimes, and sentenced to the maximum penalty. The international press portrayed him as an innocent opponent, an activist about to be executed for the sole crime of having been a political opponent, and set in motion a massive media campaign of protest against Franco”s regime to demand leniency; in France, in particular, great names of literary and artistic creation were mobilized. Franco, however, was implacable, and international pressure only served to lock him into his decision and his desire to demonstrate his total sovereignty and independence. This execution was a double blow to the regime: the governments of the EEC countries decided to postpone the agreements in progress with Spain, and the Holy See disassociated itself from the regime, but the international consequences turned out not to be very serious for Spain; with de Gaulle at the head of the Fifth Republic, Spain enjoyed better relations with France, to which the execution of Grimau and the asylum granted by some phalangists to the putschist general Salan for six months between 1960 and 1961, did not constitute a serious obstacle. The government team, appalled by the consequences of Grimau”s execution – although López Rodó made it clear that the majority of the ministers consulted in the Council of 19 April 1963 had declared themselves hostile to the pardon – realized that it was in the country”s interest to avoid such excesses, and sought, and obtained, until 1973, pardons for opponents. The affair also hastened the reform of the judiciary, transferring jurisdiction over such cases to the civil courts, and on May 31 the regime created the Tribunal of Public Order, before which defendants would no longer be tried militarily, but civilly, and decreed that convicts would henceforth be executed by the garrote vil (strangulation lace) instead of being shot.
That same year, 1964, Franco showed the first signs of Parkinson”s disease, in the form of hand tremors, body rigidity, a frozen facial expression, and concentration and memory defects. Due to the control of information, the censorship and self-censorship of the media, and the fear of the political consequences of the disappearance of the Caudillo, the discretion about this subject was maintained, and it was instead the signs of vitality of the Caudillo that were insisted upon. Deliberately, in the government, the illness was never taken into account, and no one in the government team dared to refer to it, nor to show signs of impatience with the slowness of its decisions. The economic development had broadened the social base of the regime and increased the number of middle-class people, who did not want political adventures. His family, on the other hand, especially Carmen Polo and the son-in-law Villaverde, believed that their illness authorized them to intervene in the affairs of state and increased their influence, although for some years Franco, wrote Andrée Bachoud, remained “the effective master of a game in which he continued to agree to one proposal or to remain deaf to another, following this half-active, half-passive method” and to reserve for himself the question of the succession and the education of the prince.
In 1965, Franco again reshuffled the cabinet, as in fact had been planned by Carrero Blanco: Navarro Rubio was replaced as Finance Minister by Juan José Espinosa San Martín after nine years in government, Ullastres was replaced as Trade Minister by Faustino García-Moncó, Federico Silva Muñoz became Minister of Public Works, and Laureano López Rodó became Minister without Portfolio. This reshuffle, the last of Franco”s typical balancing acts, was only intended to confirm existing policies, since the rest of the technocrat ministers would continue along the same lines, with López-Bravo, one of Franco”s favourites, continuing as Minister of Industry, and López Rodó keeping his post at the Development Plan.
On March 18, 1966, a press law, drafted by Fraga and approved by the Cortes on March 15, was enacted, which abolished a priori censorship, but made journalists and editors responsible for what they wrote. Franco had always been skeptical of this project, and Carrero Blanco, Alonso Vega, among others, were reluctant. Fraga, supported by several “civilian” ministers, including López Rodó and Silva Muñoz, had to use all his powers of persuasion to win Franco”s support. The Caudillo reluctantly agreed to the law, declaring: “I do not believe in this freedom, but it is a step that many important reasons oblige us to take. The official explanation was that Spain had become a more educated, cultured, and politically cohesive country, so the old regulation of Serrano Suñer had become superfluous; censorship would now be voluntary, without official directives imposed, although the government reserved the right to impose sanctions, fines, confiscations, suspensions, and even imprisonment. Without establishing freedom of the press, the law considerably relaxed the previous severe restrictions.
“Democracy, which, if properly understood, is the most precious civilizing legacy of Western culture, appears to be linked to concrete circumstances in every era. Parties are not an essential and permanent element, without which democracy could not be realized. As soon as parties become platforms for class struggle and factors of disintegration of national unity, they are not a constructive or tolerant solution.
At the end of the 1960s, protests and unrest grew in the universities, especially in Madrid and Barcelona, where several professors were expelled from their faculties, and in the industrialized areas of the north, under the impetus of the Workers” Commissions. Apart from a few energetic actions, the degree of police repression was generally quite limited, as Franco did not want to repeat the experience of Miguel Primo de Rivera, whose policy had led the universities to unite against his regime. Carrero Blanco held the 1966 Press Law and Fraga”s lax administration responsible for the student rebellion. Franco also doubted Fraga, but, unlike the ultras, did not believe that it was possible to return to the old situation. Faced with rising social conflicts and nationalist agitation in the Basque provinces, the government responded with renewed severity and, in particular, with a new decree that transferred to the military courts jurisdiction over cases of terrorist attacks and political offenses. On the other hand, in April 1969, on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the end of the Civil War, a definitive amnesty was approved.
Franco, old and out of touch with reality, was increasingly susceptible to influence and ever more dependent on the collaboration of his group. He was slowly withdrawing from the game, but still very jealous of his powers. The dissensions, which were expressed in the open, paralyzed the governmental machine. Franco added to the confusion by alternately switching to one trend or another.
The political battle in the Council of Ministers was reduced to an opposition between the Movement on the one hand, embodied by Muñoz Grandes, already in his last months as vice-president of the government, and Opus Dei on the other, represented mainly by Carrero Blanco. The struggle was unequal: the Movement was internationally isolated and denounced for its past commitments; moreover, Muñoz Grandes was unfit for political intrigue and seriously ill. Opus Dei, on the other hand, had increased its influence in the Catholic world and in capitalist circles. On one occasion, the Church was also critical of Opus Dei, whose members were reminded of the importance of obeying the bishops and living in accordance with the vows of poverty. Carrero Blanco, fearing that a declared anti-monarchist might prevent the restoration of the monarchy after Franco”s death, tried in vain to convince Franco to relieve Muñoz Grandes of his duties.
In a period of confusion and the rise of a trade unionism with apolitical demands, it was decided in July 1967 to reshuffle the government, apparently at the instigation of Carrero Blanco, who, while he sought to continue the economic opening, also sought to revoke the concessions granted. Franco lucidly rejected the proposal to entrust the Ministry of Justice to the ultra-reactionary right-winger Blas Piñar. The other changes proposed by Carrero Blanco and accepted by Franco tended to reinforce the influence of a liberal and conservative Catholicism, strongly marked by Opus Dei, whose number of members in key positions was doubled. Each of the men surrounding Franco embodied possible directions between which he reserved the right to choose, slowly arbitrating between the pressures and arguments of one side and the other. Another of Franco”s significant decisions in 1967 concerned the vice-presidency of the government: on July 22 he finally removed Muñoz Grandes from that post, with the official explanation that, according to the Organic Law, a member of the Council of the Realm could not serve as vice-president. The real reasons were his poor health (he had cancer), his age, his disagreement with Franco over the Spanish atomic bomb, and above all his strong opposition to the monarchy. On September 21, confirming a long-established situation, Franco appointed Carrero Blanco as vice president, to whom the aging Caudillo would later delegate more and more power.
As for the Movement, it was no longer clear what its role really was. In public ceremonies, Franco assured the members of the Movement that he stood by them and that their organization continued to be essential, stressing that “the Movement is a system, and there is room in it for everyone. Franco blamed the Movement”s weakness on the intransigence of the old shirts, who wanted to maintain the original radical doctrines and had not been able to update their postulates to attract new militants. Franco increasingly resented the new positions of the Church, as expressed in the last encyclical Populorum Progressio of February 1967, to which were added the commitment of Basque and Catalan priests to regionalism and their involvement in social demands. Franco reacted by leaning towards those he had always considered his own, the Movement, and therefore supported its positions, refusing that political pluralism could be expressed outside the associations that were part of it. A law to this effect, which was very restrictive regarding freedom of association, was officially approved on June 28, 1967. In 1968, Franco authorized his Minister of Justice to create a special prison for priests in Zamora, where 50 clergymen were imprisoned. In April 1970, a law was passed by which the name of FET y de las JONS was changed permanently to National Movement.
On July 21, 1969, Franco presented Juan Carlos”s appointment to the Council of Ministers, and the next day to the Cortes. On July 23, Juan Carlos signed the official document of acceptance in a small ceremony at his residence in La Zarzuela, and then went with Franco to the Cortes in the afternoon for the ceremony of acceptance and swearing in. In the plenary session of the Cortes, Juan Carlos swore “loyalty to His Excellency the Head of State and fidelity to the principles of the Movement and to the other fundamental Laws of the Kingdom”. The appointment was approved by the Cortes with little opposition: 419 votes for and 19 against. While the law designating the Prince as his successor was being drafted, the Count of Barcelona issued a declaration in which he expressed his disapproval of an “operation that was carried out without him and without the freely expressed will of the Spanish people”; he declared his intention not to abdicate and maintained his own candidacy for the throne. He returned to his open anti-Franco opposition of 1943-1947, and engaged in several conspiracies, all of them unsuccessful, until the death of the Caudillo.
For the rest, Franco never tried to indoctrinate Juan Carlos directly and never answered peremptorily the questions the prince asked him on certain political subjects related to the future. He preferred that the prince not make political statements or comments to avoid complications and to keep his hands free for the future. Nevertheless, in early 1970, Juan Carlos allowed himself to be quoted in the New York Times as saying that the future Spain would need a different type of government from the one that had emerged from the Civil War.
At the end of the 1960s, the Matesa financial scandal broke, named after a loom factory whose CEO, Juan Vilá Reyes, who had close ties to Opus Dei, had been given large sums of money in export subsidies, which were discovered in July 1969 by the Director of Customs. The exceptional publicity given to this scandal seems to have been a set-up against Opus Dei by the Movement, which, resenting the preponderance of technocrats in most national economic bodies, exploited the affair to discredit Opus Dei”s economic ministers. It was also an opportunity to point out the dangers of the liberalism practiced over the past decade. The 41 newspapers of the Movement denounced Opus Dei”s business dealings and complicity in the government. The embezzlement, together with a huge case of currency evasion in which many industrial and financial figures were involved, soon became a political settling of scores, in a press campaign that required the tacit agreement of Ministers Solís and Fraga, who, despite Franco”s orders to stop the campaign, made sure that the media gave the case maximum coverage. In July 1970, the Supreme Court indicted both the outgoing ministers and the former Minister of Economy Navarro Rubio, as well as seven other senior officials, and handed down a judgment without appeal, denouncing the preferential treatment given to Matesa, the lack of control and guarantees to defend public interests, the flight of capital, etc. In September, Franco announced his definitive position and confirmed the court”s sanction. Vilá Reyes, tried and sentenced to three years in prison and a heavy fine, sent a blackmail letter to Carrero Blanco, threatening to reveal cases of currency evasion involving more than 450 high-ranking personalities and companies, many of them very close to the regime. Carrero Blanco persuaded Franco that if the case was not closed definitively, it would cause irreparable damage to the regime itself. On October 1, 1971, taking the opportunity of the 35th anniversary of his ascension to the head of state, Franco granted his indult to all the main people involved.
On October 16, 1969, Carrero Blanco sent Franco a memorandum in which he analyzed the political situation, indicted the troublemakers and made a number of proposals. He was able to convince Franco to open a ministerial crisis, so as to dampen the social reaction and restore calm to the cabinet. He asked for the departure of men with very different political options, but with the common denominator of having enjoyed Franco”s trust for a very long time. The new government of October 1969 was a complete victory for Carrero Blanco and put an end to the deepest crisis in twelve years. The new team was called the “one-color government” because almost all the ministers were members of Opus Dei or the National Catholic Association of Propagandists (ACNP), or were declared supporters. José María López de Letona took over the Ministry of Industry, Alberto Monreal Luque took over the Ministry of the Economy, Enrique Fontana Codina took over the Ministry of Trade, Camilo Alonso Vega was replaced in the Ministry of the Interior by Tomás Garicano Goñi, and Fraga was replaced in the Ministry of Information by Alfredo Sánchez Bella. Also, the main ministers from the Movement, including Fraga, Solís and Castiella, were dismissed, as were the technocrats in the economic ministries who had been tainted by the Matesa scandal. The main technocrat ministers and members of Opus Dei, such as Gregorio López-Bravo, who moved to the Foreign Affairs portfolio, and López Rodó, remained in the government. For the portfolio of president of the Movement (which had the rank of minister at the time), Franco appointed the former tutor of Juan Carlos, Torcuato Fernández Miranda, from whom he expected a profound reform of the Movement. Franco had thus bowed to almost everything, marking his independence only by refusing to give the Foreign Affairs portfolio to Silva Muñoz, preferring another member of Opus Dei, López-Bravo. Although some of the statements made by the dismissed ministers suggest that the Caudillo, although consulted, had not taken an effective part in the reshuffle, the simultaneous punishment of a liberal, a Phalangist and a member of Opus Dei was, according to Andrée Bachoud, “quite in keeping with Franco”s style; in the past he had always practised distributive punishment, which consisted of sending back to back and punishing all the troublemakers in equal measure, without questioning their respective responsibilities. In his Christmas address this year, Franco said nothing about the Matesa affair, declaring, in a phrase that has become famous, that for “those who doubt the continuity of our Movement, todo ha quedado atado y bien atado”, or ± “everything is now tied up and tied up well”.
The governmental monolithism generated friction within Franco”s government between: the so-called immobilists (also known as Bunkers), linked to the extreme right, who rejected change and advocated Alfonso de Borbón y Dampierre, the future husband of Franco”s granddaughter, Carmen Martínez-Bordiú, as a successor; the continuists, i.e., technocrats and supporters of the monarchy of Juan Carlos; and the aperturistas (lit. ouverturists), in favor of political reforms, led by Fraga. At the hardest end of the spectrum were the ultra-right group Fuerza Nueva, led by Blas Piñar, and the parapolitical group Guerrilleros de Cristo Rey. The public showed its bad temper against the theocratic group, while the Caudillo seemed unable to assume full powers, which no one ventured to contest. At the cost of paralyzing the institutions, the ministers continued to respect the letter of Franco”s decisions, who appeared alternately indecisive and authoritarian, with great lucidity or rehashing old credos.
Franco was traumatized by the fact that he was now being disowned, and even opposed, by a Church on which he had based the continuity of his regime, and he interpreted as a negative judgment on his action the instruction given by the Pope in June 1969 to promote social justice. During 1969, 800 strikes broke out, which Franco saw as manifestations of the Spanish people”s ingratitude.
In June 1969, Charles de Gaulle decided, after his resignation from the presidency, to make the trip to Spain that, as a representative of France, he had never been able to make before. After a trip to Asturias, de Gaulle and his wife were received in Madrid at a half-official, half-family lunch, together with López-Bravo. Afterwards, de Gaulle had a half-hour conversation with Franco, the content of which is unknown. On his return to France, de Gaulle wrote a letter to Franco on June 20 in very complimentary terms, including the following sentence: “Above all, I was happy to get to know you personally, that is, the man who is ensuring the future, the progress, and the greatness of Spain on the most illustrious level.” De Gaulle, who had always been concerned with maintaining cordial relations with the Caudillo and with Spain, was the only European head of state to show admiration for Franco and his career, first through his trip and then through his letter, even though in public the French president was more reserved.
In the last 25 years of Franco”s regime, the economic expansion and rise in living standards were the greatest in Spanish history. Franco had from the outset stated his determination to develop the Spanish economy, but the policies that would eventually achieve this goal would differ significantly from those adopted in the aftermath of the Civil War. The modernization that Franco had in mind was to be directed toward heavy industry, outside the capitalist market, rather than toward a consumer and export economy. He worked for social development, but in the form of basic welfare and under the aegis of a national patriotic consciousness and a Catholic neo-traditionalist culture, not under the sign of individualism and materialism. Franco believed that the liberal market economy had been the cause of the relatively slow growth of the Spanish economy in the nineteenth century and that the new autarkic dirigisme of contemporary dictatorships was destined to supplant that model. During the Civil War, the economic policy of his government – statist, authoritarian, nationalist and autarkic – had been quite successful, especially in comparison with the failures of the Republican government. After the victory, a policy of autarky was imposed on the entire economy, using the same techniques as before, but in a stricter manner and with a wider application. Post-war economic policy gave priority to new industry, especially heavy industry, and by 1946 production was two percent above the 1935 level.
Towards the end of 1957, Luis Carrero Blanco put on the table a coordinated plan to increase national production, which tended to further strengthen autarky, in defiance of the powerful current coming from Western Europe and pushing towards international cooperation. The new economic ministers and their collaborators were, on the contrary, much more attracted by the opportunities of the international market. After an initial phase of reluctance, Franco was persuaded by Navarro Rubio to accept a new model in order to balance the economy and maintain Spain”s prosperity. Thus, after the autarkic model had brought Spain to the brink of bankruptcy, the regime finally consented – not without the grumbling and opposition of the phalangist sectors and Franco himself – to a slow liberalization of the economy. The American aid, which began after the signing of the bilateral treaty, had made it possible to face this critical economic situation. The blanket of protectionism was then gradually lifted: successive lists of export and import bans were lifted, and foreign capital was invited to invest in loss-making sectors, as they benefited from a preferential regime, derogating from the very protective common law for national companies. In the early 1960s, the technocrats” economic reforms began to bear fruit, which strengthened their position and led to a gradual shift in power in their favour and away from the phalangists, and, as a result, to an even greater dissociation between the Caudillo and day-to-day political affairs.
Efforts to pass on growth to the Spanish people”s standard of living eventually followed, partly because social justice had been constantly invoked by Franco since 1961, and partly for economic reasons, since industrial development could not take place without strengthening the domestic market. Although some of the resources normally destined to modernize the economy ended up in the pockets of those close to the government, it is clear that a good part of the population benefited from an improvement in their standard of living, as the Catholic hierarchy and the Phalangists tried to ensure that prosperity would also benefit the poorest. The workers” demonstrations were supported by the most prominent members of the Falange and also mobilized many clergymen, following the encyclical Mater et Magistra. In the construction sector, for example, since the end of the Civil War, only about 30,000 houses had been built each year for a population that had grown by 300,000 people per year. A conflict broke out between José Luis Arrese, the spokesman for the Movement”s social theories and Minister of Housing, who proposed the construction of one million social housing units, and Navarro Rubio, for whom this proposal was incompatible with the economic policy he was pursuing at the time. Franco sided with Navarro Rubio and Arrese was forced to resign. In May 1961, during a trip to Andalusia, the civilian governor of the province of Seville, Hermenegildo Altozano Moraleda, took Franco to see a shantytown, which the head of state was horrified by, a clear demonstration of his lack of understanding of the realities of the country. On May 8, on his return to Madrid, he spoke to Pacón about it, adding that the attitude of the large Andalusian landowners was revolting, because they were letting the day laborers affected by the harsh seasonal unemployment starve to death. In any case, he demanded that his ministers, especially Navarra Rubio, find ways to remedy the situation.
Agriculture began to receive more attention in the 1950s, and in fact some positive efforts were made in this area, including an increase in the agricultural budget. More than 800,000 hectares were reforested, nearly 300,000 hectares of marshland were drained, and the laws on land consolidation, including the consolidation of unproductive minifundios, began to bear fruit. Extensive reforestation in Spain was one of the most ambitious projects of its kind in the world, and in the 1970s Franco succeeded in transforming much of the desolate landscape that had so surprised him when he first traveled through central Spain in 1907. The construction of reservoirs increased the country”s water reserves tenfold. Likewise, irrigation expanded considerably. The National Institute of Colonization granted land to more than 90,000 peasants, and Franco himself invested a small personal sum in this enterprise. However, the institute”s policy had little effect.
The middle classes almost doubled in size, and the lower classes were reduced by at least a third; in this sense, Franco”s goal of creating greater social equality was partially achieved. In just two decades, Spain changed fundamentally from a society that was still largely proletarianized to one with a large middle class. Along with an increase in welfare and an improvement in the country”s infrastructure, contact with the outside world led to the adoption of more liberal lifestyles and customs: miniskirts, long hair for men, casual dress, bikinis, pop music, etc., as well as a change in sexual mores: the sale of contraceptive pills surpassed one million units in 1967. These transformations had repercussions on social and cultural psychology, with the result that the materialistic mentality, the consumer society and the mass culture of the contemporary Western world were adopted, collateral effects of the economic success that the Caudillo did not want nor had foreseen. The original nuclei of support for Franco during the Civil War, namely the small towns and rural society of the north, would slowly but systematically erode. Despite the maintenance of a somewhat relaxed censorship, foreign influences crept into Spain through mass tourism, large-scale emigration, and the intensification of economic and cultural contacts, exposing Spanish society to styles and behaviors totally at odds with traditional culture. After Franco”s death, the new rulers discovered that the society and culture on which his power was based had practically ceased to exist, making it impossible for the regime to continue.
Castiella sought to develop a more autonomous foreign policy, less dependent on the United States, and to establish closer and more stable economic and cultural relations with the countries of Western Europe. Franco, for his part, was opposed to the idea of a united Europe and criticized the concept of “Europeanism”; however, his pragmatic sense made him realize that Spain should apply for membership, and he finally authorized it in 1962. The EEC countries held out to Spain for political reasons, but in reality their reluctance was due more to their scepticism about the process of liberalization of the Spanish economy, its customs regulations, and its backwardness in development.
The year 1964 marked the beginning of the slow integration, in small steps, into the EEC. In June 1970, the Spanish government signed a preferential agreement with the Common Market, which was very favourable to Spanish exports, since it did not call into question the protectionist tariffs. Despite his conflicting feelings on the subject, Franco was pleased, because it represented a decisive step towards economic integration and consecrated his policy of liberalization and rapid growth.
In the summer of 1965, the U.S. government sent Franco a classified memorandum informing him that the United States intended to block the Communist takeover of Vietnam, and requesting Spain”s symbolic participation in the form of medical assistance. Franco responded with a letter to President Johnson, predicting defeat and representing that the United States was making a fundamental mistake in sending troops, while Ho Chi Minh, although a Stalinist, was seen by many Spaniards as a patriot and fighter for his country”s independence. In keeping with his Third World sensibilities, which he shared with many Spaniards, he advised Johnson not to engage in the war and to follow a more flexible policy more in tune with the complex world of the 1960s. However, Franco continued to believe that ties with Washington were the backbone of his foreign policy, for reasons of prestige, political support and international security, but also for economic benefits.
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Last years: the tardofranquism
In the early 1970s, the regime”s ruling class was divided into continuists and immobilists. Among the actions of the immobilists was the attempt to replace Juan Carlos as Franco”s successor with Alfonso de Bourbon, the groom of Franco”s granddaughter, the “Blue Prince”, who was favoured by the extreme right, especially by Franco”s wife and son-in-law. The provincial governors were asked by the Movement to give less importance to Juan Carlos” visits and to highlight those of Alfonso de Bourbon.
While the government had to confront both the Movement and the proponents of democratization, Franco remained, by virtue of his past and his age, above the fray. The Spanish episcopate, torn between long-standing political loyalties and submission to papal guidance, slowly resigned itself to disassociating itself from the regime and following Paul VI in his project of national reconciliation. The government and Franco considered the new orientations of the Church as “an attack on Franco”s regime and on the centuries-old tradition of the country. In September 1971, in an unprecedented meeting, the joint assembly of bishops and priests publicly asked for forgiveness for the errors and sins committed during the Civil War. Vicente Enrique y Tarancón, president of the Episcopal Conference since 1971, presented a real book of democratic demands: abolition of special courts, protection against torture, trade union freedoms, and recognition of ethnic and cultural minorities. In addition, many young priests were engaged in political activities with extreme left-wing groups, and even involved in violent and terrorist actions, such as those of the ETA, which necessitated the creation of a special prison, called the “concordat prison”, where the inmates, in accordance with the concordat, received special treatment. Franco expressed his incomprehension for this “submission to the demands of the moment, inspired by Freemasonry and Judaism, the declared enemies of the Church and Spain”. In November 1972, Franco sent a letter to Pope Paul VI, written by Carrero Blanco and López-Bravo, in which he pointed out that the growing hostility of the Church towards his regime had not prevented “the Church from making systematically fastidious use of its civil, economic, fiscal and concordat rights, economic, fiscal and concordat rights, as demonstrated by the 165 refusals to allow trials of ecclesiastics in the last five years, many of these refusals concerning very serious cases and involving real complicity with separatist movements.
“He reasoned in terms of past reciprocal commitments and, in an archaic view of the union of the throne and the altar, did not admit the defection of the Holy See, which called into question the whole institutional edifice provided for by the various organic laws. This rupture was for him a collapse, in front of which all the rest faded away. The attitude of the Church was one of the reasons that, added to the Parkinson”s disease, were going to sink him in an abulia, dramatic above all for the government that, confronted with a crisis that reached all the sectors of the public life, was not able to intervene anymore, because having to wait for the decisions that didn”t come from the old man.
In September 1970, Franco received a visit from Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger, a visit that strengthened the image of the head of state inside and outside Spain, but which also represented the point of maximum tolerance of the Western democracies towards Franco. The following month, he had a meeting with General Vernon Walters, to whom the Caudillo appeared “old and weak. His left hand sometimes trembled so badly that he had to restrain it with his right. Sometimes he seemed absent, other times he reacted appropriately to what we were dealing with.
Two months after Nixon”s visit, the Burgos trial, which ended with the death sentence of six ETA members, set Spain”s international standing back thirty years. Military jurisdiction was seen as archaic by many Spanish and European democrats, as well as by the Spanish Church. The affair had important repercussions in the army, with many officers no longer wishing to assume this repressive role, while others, more numerous, rediscovered the solidarity of yesteryear against international Hispanophobia and called on Franco to be mercilessly severe. Faced with such differences, Franco immediately convened an extraordinary Council, to which Juan Carlos was invited for the first time; after a short deliberation, it was decided to respond to the army”s appeals and to suspend Habeas Corpus. The debates in the UN on this subject had the paradoxical result of consolidating Franco”s regime, and the hardliners of the Movement (the Bunker) organized a demonstration in support of Franco in the Plaza de la Oriente on December 17, 1970, the pretext of which was to retaliate against the anti-Spanish propaganda and the internal protest led by the democratic opposition, and which, according to the Spanish press, was attended by 500,000 people; But in reality, as some of the slogans that directly attacked the government, especially those of its ministers who belonged to Opus Dei, showed, it was a demonstration of the Bunker”s capacity to mobilize in the service of its plan to oust the technocrats and continuists from positions of power. As for Franco, he was strengthened in his conviction that he was as indispensable to Spain as he had been in the past, and dissuaded from handing over. According to Fraga, the image of Franco being cheered by the masses and his physical deterioration had the paradoxical effect of keeping the democratic opposition from trying to precipitate his downfall, and of making the members of the Bunker accept that “as long as Franco lived, nothing would be done against them. In the meantime, Franco received messages from several foreign dignitaries, including Pope Paul VI, asking for clemency. Perhaps he gave in to his brother Nicolás”s appeal, or perhaps he thought it appropriate to disavow the hardliners, and on December 30 he called a meeting of his Council of Ministers for consultation, and then, on the strength of the huge plebiscite in his favor, decided, after the majority of ministers had voted in favor of commuting the death penalty, and, in the last instance, at the insistence, mainly, of López Rodó and Carrero Blanco, concerned about the inevitable international repercussions, to pardon the Burgos condemned. In his end-of-year speech, Franco took pains to explain the international protests in terms of his fixed idea of persecution: “The peace and order we have enjoyed for more than thirty years have aroused hatred in the powers that have always been the enemy of our people”s prosperity.
In the 1970s, workers” and students” mobilizations tended to become more widespread. Some political factions, such as the Christian Democracy, which had been close to the regime, were now taking a stand against Franco; opposition groups were emerging in the phalangist movement itself; in the army, a clandestine association, the Unión Militar Democrática (and its greatest ally, the Church), appeared divided. To make the situation untenable, ETA and other terrorist groups increased their actions. Franco reacted to these tensions by taking a turn toward the immobilist position. On October 1, 1971, during the celebration of the anniversary of his appointment as head of state, which was accompanied by new rallies in the Plaza de Oriente, Franco made clear his intention not to step down. The Continuist faction began to fear the predictable loss of Franco”s physical and mental faculties, which might occur before the transfer of power became effective.
Franco”s last years illustrate his extraordinary difficulty in relinquishing the bits of power he still held. In January 1971, Carrero Blanco gave him a copious report in which he urged him to appoint a president of the government in order to preserve his own forces and keep his prestige as head of state intact. Another proposal, of a more political nature, was to allow some political associations within the Movement. López Rodó then took charge of specifying the conditions of the succession, and on 15 July 1971 a decree was issued conferring on Juan Carlos the powers that were due to him as the officially designated heir to the throne, as stipulated in the Organic Law. Among these powers was the right to temporarily assume the powers of the head of state if Franco became physically unable to perform his duties.
In early June 1973, having come to accept that he was no longer physically fit to lead the government, Franco resigned himself, at the urging of López Rodó, to consummate the separation of the functions of head of state and head of government, and thus set in motion the mechanism for appointing a government president for the first time. The Special Law of Prerogatives, passed on July 12, 1972, established the dual functions of head of state and president of government. The law stipulated that the Council of the Realm should present Franco with a list of three names, from which he should choose one. Franco asked that Carrero Blanco”s name be included in the list, and the Council added the names of Fraga and the early Phalangist Raimundo Fernández-Cuesta. On June 8, Franco officially appointed Carrero Blanco as president of the government. For the rest, the new cabinet was Carrero Blanco”s work, and the only name Franco imposed was that of Carlos Arias Navarro, one of the prosecutors in the 1937 Málaga repression, who had a reputation for toughness and replaced Garicano as Interior Minister. The vice-presidency went to Torcuato Fernández Miranda, Juan Carlos” former tutor and minister-secretary of the Movement, a title he kept. Most of the members of Opus Dei, as a result of the Matesa affair, were excluded from the new team, with the exception of López Rodó, who moved from the Ministry of Planning to Foreign Affairs. Like Franco, Carrero Blanco chose to enhance the role of the Movement, after the setbacks suffered in the Holy See. Carrero Blanco”s desire to make the institutions last was reflected in the program he presented to the Cortes on July 20, 1973, so that Carrero Blanco”s appointment was interpreted as a sign of immobility, in the sense of a continuation of Franco”s rule after Franco.
Franco”s intellectual faculties and stamina were declining. For three years now, the Council meetings, which used to last until late at night, were being cut short and sometimes interrupted in the late morning to accommodate the Caudillo”s fatigue. In the last three years, it was not uncommon for Franco to fall asleep during the debate.
In 1973, the world oil crisis broke out, which also affected Spain. The economic miracle came to an end, giving way to a period of stagnation and crisis that lasted more than ten years. In April, a striker was killed by the police in Barcelona, and on May 1, Labour Day, a policeman was stabbed. On May 2, Tomás Garicano, disappointed by the immobility of the regime, resigned. Franco appointed Carrero Blanco to form a new government, the composition of which indicated a hardening of the regime: Fernández-Miranda was named vice-president, as well as secretary general of the Movement; López Rodó was appointed to External Affairs, which was considered “exile”; two hard-line Phalangists, José Utrera Molina and Francisco Ruiz-Jarabo, were given the portfolios of Housing and Justice, respectively; and Arias Navarro was named minister of the Interior.
Fernández-Miranda served as interim president, but Franco considered him primarily an intellectual and a supporter of openness, and he was unanimously rejected by the regime”s old guard. Franco was leaning towards Alejandro Rodríguez de Valcárcel, but he declined the offer. Another candidate, Pedro Nieto Antúnez, a man of great confidence, but old and almost deaf, with no political experience, and involved in a real estate scandal, was strongly rejected at a meeting of the National Council of the Movement. In the end, the choice fell on Arias Navarro, a proven loyalist, a strict Catholic, a good administrator, well-educated, the owner of an extensive library, and with long experience in the service of the regime. In Spain, there is a theory that Franco, influenced by the camarilla of the Pardo – a term that included personalities such as Carmen Polo, Villaverde, Vicente Gil, etc. – decided to pursue the line of the Pardo. -The public felt that Arias Navarro was the only one who could be considered as a good candidate for this position. The public felt that the Caudillo was strongly dominated by his wife, who was very friendly with Arias Navarro”s wife, and more generally by his family, while Juan Carlos was not consulted. According to other authors, the said camarilla did not form a cohesive group, and the decision was taken by Franco himself. This appointment of Carrero Blanco”s replacement would be Franco”s last important political decision. Franco”s increasing propensity to sob accredited the conviction of the political class that he had lost a large part of his autonomy of appreciation and decision.
In 1974, labor unrest intensified, with a record number of strikes, which were reported by the press, which was becoming less and less submissive and controlled. In March, the Catalan anarchist Salvador Puig i Antich and the common law offender Heinz Chez were sentenced and executed despite international mobilization for their pardon. These successive executions by a dying dictator horrified the democratic world and sent the Arias Navarro government into isolation.
At the beginning of July 1974, Franco contracted a deep vein thrombosis, which, according to Vicente Gil, required hospitalization. Before leaving the Pardo, the Caudillo ordered Arias and Valcárcel to prepare the documents and keep ready the decree of transfer of powers in accordance with the Organic Law, although without requiring to put the said decree into operation. Despite a gastric hemorrhage, Franco mustered his last energies to remain in charge, and pushed by those who wanted to manage the time he had left to live in their best interests, submitted to the various treatments. The year 1974 would be a back and forth between the Council of Ministers and the operating room.
Villaverde”s son-in-law opposed informing his father-in-law of the seriousness of his condition, in order to prevent him from delegating his powers to Juan Carlos. An altercation occurred on July 19, 1974, after Franco had finally authorized the transfer of power. Arias entered Franco”s hospital room to give him the documents for the handover, but was afraid to present the matter to the Caudillo; Gil offered to do so, but was opposed by Villaverde, who tried to cut him off, forcing Gil to push him aside roughly. Gil then spoke to Franco in a direct and clear tone; the Caudillo listened to him and then, turning to Arias, said: “Let the law be fulfilled, President”.
When Villaverde demanded that Gil be dismissed, he was replaced by Dr. Vicente Pozuelo Escudero, who quickly reduced the dose of anticoagulants, the possible cause of the hemorrhage, and ordered a new treatment, thanks to which Franco”s condition improved rapidly. By the end of the month, he had recovered and was allowed to leave the hospital. He ran to attend the Council of Ministers, and then left for the month of August to convalesce in his manor house in Meirás, where he was cared for by a new team of doctors formed by Villaverde around Dr. Pozuelo.
Since July 20, Juan Carlos was the acting head of state. His first act in this capacity was to ratify the Spanish-American agreement, co-signed by Nixon in the United States. In August, he presided over a Council of Ministers meeting at the Pardo, in the presence of Franco, and another at the Meirás mansion. In the meantime, Villaverde had established himself as the head of the family and a sort of substitute for his father-in-law. He consulted with Girón on the best way to frustrate the government”s plans and encouraged Franco, who was recovering quickly, to resume his duties as soon as possible. Franco, who was hesitating between proceeding with Juan Carlos” coronation or reassuming his powers, chose the second option, after he received an (exaggerated) report from Utrera Molina at the end of August revealing plans to dissolve the Movement, return to the political parties, and even declare Franco physically and mentally unfit, in addition to rumours of telephone conversations between Juan Carlos and his father and of the prince”s contacts with political opponents, including Santiago Carrillo. On September 1, after an eclipse of 43 days, Franco contacted Arias to inform him laconically that he had recovered and was taking over the reins of power.
Pozuelo, who was in charge of Franco”s physical rehabilitation, wanted during those weeks to get the Caudillo to prepare his memoirs, and at first Franco agreed to this request. Pozuelo recorded the conversations on tape, which his wife then transcribed. The autobiographical account does not go beyond the year 1921, since Franco, for unknown reasons, abandoned the project. The text shows that Franco”s idea of being an instrument of divine providence had not faded: “I have no merit whatsoever in what I do, because I am carrying out a providential mission, and it is God who helps me. I meditate before God, and in general, the problems solve themselves for me”.
Arias called a press conference on September 11, 1974, in which he announced his intention to “continue the democratization of the country from its own constitutional bases, with a view to broadening the social base of participation and with a view to entrenching the monarchy,” a veritable declaration of war for the ultras. On October 24, Franco, concerned about the debates in the press about political associations and disapproving of the communication policy, dismissed the minister Cabanillas, suspected of excessive liberalism. Utrera Molina, the last true Phalangist left in the government, drew up a bill authorizing political associations, but only under the aegis of the Movement, and subject to strict and complex conditions. This plan was approved by the National Council and promulgated by Franco, and approved by the Cortes in January 1975. Franco was aware that his regime would collapse after his death, but still wanted to believe that the institutions, to which the men in power were bound by oath, would endure.
By the end of 1974, Franco was showing clear symptoms of senility: his mandible was always hanging down and his eyes were watering, which is why he started wearing dark glasses, and his movements had become hesitant and spasmodic. According to Paul Preston, “those who spoke with him noticed that he had lost the ability to think logically. From his 80s on, he felt tired and unfit for work for much of the day, and he rarely had anything to say at Cabinet meetings. During the Victory Parade in May 1972, he had to use a folding seat to pretend to stand during the review of the troops. In the meantime, hopes that the government would take the initiative to open up more had faded. The cabinet was divided, and Franco, barely able to lead it, seemed content to stand still, while public opinion saw Juan Carlos as the only hope for progress.
The only answer the government, frozen by Franco”s illness, could give to Spain”s many problems was repression. After the councils of war sentenced five of them to death, the Pope interceded to obtain their pardon. In the respectful and devout letter that Franco sent to the Pope, he expressed “his regrets for not having been able to accede to his request, because serious reasons of an internal nature prevent it”. The resignation of the Minister of Labor over the blocking of a more liberal law on labor relations led to the governmental crisis of February 24, 1975. Franco”s last government was formed, in which Fernando Herrero Tejedor was appointed Minister-Secretary General of the Movement as the main innovation. Arias, knowing that Franco had no choice but to give in, put his own resignation on the line to demand the dismissal of two ministers linked to the Movement, including Utrera Molina, and replace them with more moderate figures. For the first time in the annals of the regime, Franco had to give in, a clear sign of the weakening of his authority. Utrera came to the Pardo to take his leave, where Franco fell sobbing into the arms of the last minister in whom he had full confidence. Tejedor, a man of openness, chose the young Adolfo Suárez as his secretary.
In addition to the conflict with Morocco over the Western Sahara, the key issue in the last months of Franco”s life was the negotiations with the United States on a new treaty on military bases, with the discussion centering on the mutual defense guarantee. On May 31, 1975, to speed up the talks, U.S. President Gerald Ford visited Franco, who seemed able to focus on the central issues and appeared more alert than in December 1973. Ford received a less warm welcome than his predecessors, and spent more time with Prince Juan Carlos than with Franco, a clear signal of what the future held.
By the summer of 1975, there was a general feeling that the regime was crumbling. Franco was now in the background, and the press implicitly testified to Franco”s slow slide into the wings of the political theater. Franco continued to preside over the Councils of Ministers, but, by López Rodó”s own admission, they were no more than a formality; the ministers met the day before, debated and made decisions under the direction of the head of government, so that the presence of the Caudillo the next day served only to endorse them.
On August 22, 1975, the government increased the penalties for terrorism and once again transferred jurisdiction for such cases to the military courts, while four days later a new anti-terrorist law came into effect, which prescribed the death penalty for the murder of a police officer or any other public servant. On September 27, 1975, the last executions of Franco”s regime took place: a total of five people (three FRAP militants and two ETA political-military militants) were executed by firing squad, in accordance with sentences handed down by four councils of war. Six other people were also sentenced to death, but their sentences were commuted to imprisonment by Franco. These decisions, which were opposite in the granting of pardons – the one in 1970 on the one hand, and the ones in 1974 and 1975 on the other – are indicative of the Caudillo”s dependence on his ministers and reflect the internal struggles of the regime and the divergent attitudes of the Openers and the Bunkers; in 1975, as in 1974 and 1970, it was the majority of the Council that decided, not Franco, who merely “consulted. These executions, the last of Franco”s dictatorship, aroused a wave of disapproval within and outside the country. Fifteen European countries recalled their ambassadors, and there were protests and even attacks on Spanish embassies in most European countries. In response, crowds gathered on October 1 in Madrid”s Plaza de la Oriente to celebrate, for the last time, the anniversary of the Caudillo”s rise to power, but could barely catch a glimpse of him. Dressed in the gala uniform of Captain General of the Armed Forces, and flanked by his wife, the royal couple and the entire government, Franco appeared on the balcony and, in what would be his last public appearance, repeated his long-standing speech to the crowd, denouncing once again, in a quavering voice, amidst the general fervor, the Judeo-Masonic plot against Spain and calling for the fight against “communist-terrorist subversion.
On September 22, Franco ordered his foreign minister, Pedro Cortina Mauri, to sign the new agreement on military bases, and to roughly accept the American conditions, since Franco understood that the present international crisis could lead to a new period of ostracism and sought to protect himself by maintaining solid relations with Washington.
Franco”s last appearance was on October 12, 1975, at a ceremony at the Institute of Hispanic Culture, presided over by Alfonso de Bourbon. Franco contracted a cold, at best a mild flu, but despite the recommendations of his doctors, did not want to suspend his activities, and suffered a mild heart attack. Since then, he was surrounded day and night by a medical team of 38 specialists, nurses and assistants. Since Franco was opposed to being hospitalized again, several rooms in the Pardo were converted into a clinic. On October 18, he wrote his will, which he entrusted to his daughter Carmen and which was to be read to the Spanish people after his death.
The Western Sahara affair led the government to meet in the Pardo on October 17. Despite Dr. Pozuelo”s advice, Franco, hooked up to cables and sensors through which doctors monitored his vital parameters, presided over his last Council of Ministers meeting. The meeting lasted no more than 20 minutes, and Franco barely spoke. Even Villaverde recognized that the time for the transfer of power had arrived, but Franco, when told that the doctors advised against continuing any activity, feigned surprise and said he was doing very well, which meant that he would not transfer power until he was completely prostrate. At the end of November, his condition worsened considerably, and Arias and Valcárcel went to Juan Carlos to offer him the role of head of state, but the prince refused to take on the role again, if only temporarily.
From October 17 to 22, Franco suffered an attack of angina, atherosclerosis, acute cardiac insufficiency and pulmonary edema. On October 25, 1975, the Bishop of Zaragoza brought Franco the cloak of the Virgin of the Pillar and administered extreme unction in the improvised operating room where he was being treated in the Pardo Palace. The team of practitioners was led by his son-in-law, the Marquis of Villaverde. On October 26, his condition deteriorated further, and on October 30, after a mild heart attack and peritonitis, Franco ordered the implementation of Article 11 of the Organic Law and the transfer of all powers to Juan Carlos. Commentators doubt that the initial refusal to transfer power was personally of Franco”s will. In early November, Franco had another episode of massive gastric hemorrhage due to a peptic ulcer and was operated on (successfully) by a team of surgeons in the Pardo infirmary. Against his wishes, Franco was taken to the hospital of La Paz in Madrid, where he had two thirds of his stomach removed. The rupture of one of the sutures, causing a new hemorrhage with peritonitis, required a third operation two days later, followed by multi-organ failure. On November 15, he underwent an operation for the third and last time, and on November 18, Dr. Hidalgo Huerta announced that he would henceforth refrain from operating on the patient, who was placed in “hibernation. On November 19, at 11:15 a.m., the tubes that connected him to the machines and kept him alive were disconnected, which finally caused Franco”s death from septic shock at 4:20 a.m. on November 20, 1975. The world press and the Spanish people followed the agony of the Caudillo for a month. The problems of succession and the survival of the regime explained the medical means used, which were later described as therapeutic obstinacy. The death was announced to the press by means of a telegram written by Rufo Gamazo, the National Movement”s senior media officer, which was sent at around 5 a.m. and contained the phrase “Franco ha muerto” (Franco is dead) only three times. At 6:15 a.m., the news was broadcast for the first time on national radio, and at 10 a.m. the President of the Government, Carlos Arias Navarro, delivered his famous televised message: “Spaniards…, Franco… is dead.
It was calculated that during the 50 hours that the Burial Chapel in the Hall of the Columns of the Palacio de Oriente remained open to the public, between 300,000 and 500,000 people came to pay their last respects, forming long lines of several kilometers. A large crowd also followed the funeral procession from Madrid to Valle de los Caídos, where Franco”s body was buried in a majestic tomb next to that of José Antonio Primo de Rivera. However, only three heads of state attended the funeral: Prince Rainier of Monaco, King Hussein I of Jordan, and General Augusto Pinochet of Chile. Thirty days of national mourning were declared.
After his death, the mechanisms of succession were set in motion and Juan Carlos – accepting the conditions set by Franco”s legislation – was invested King of Spain, but greeted with skepticism by the supporters of the regime and rejected by the democratic opposition. Later, Juan Carlos would play a central role in the complex process of dismantling Franco”s regime and establishing democratic legality, a process known as the Spanish Democratic Transition.
Exhumation and reinhumation took place on October 24, 2019.
Franco acquired more power than any other ruler in Spain, and he used that power to intervene in all areas of Spanish society. However, as Brian Crozier has observed, “no modern dictator has been less ideological,” and Franco was distinguished above all by his pragmatism; the different tendencies that supported him had greater or lesser weight in his governments according to the interests of the moment. According to Javier Tusell, “the absence of a well-defined ideology allowed him to switch from one dictatorial formula to another, inspired by fascism in the 1940s and developmentalist dictatorships in the 1960s,” depending on the national and international situation.
Nothing is known about the political ideas that Franco had in his youth. Only later did he reveal the influence of the most nationalistic and authoritarian forms of regenerationism of the first years of the 20th century. The private conversations testify to Franco”s elementary certainties, based on a few key convictions, visceral, unchanging, and very basic; the universe is of a simplicity that his own history has shown, which he identifies with that of Spain. According to Alberto Reig Tapia, “politically and ideologically, Franco is defined above all by negative traits: anti-liberalism, anti-Masonicism, anti-Marxism, etc.”. With a few exceptions, it has not been possible to find in the numerous published accounts a thought of great scope, a political project that suggests the stature of a great man; at most, some good intuitions can be perceived. In the immobility of his thought, he wanted to be the guardian of an archaic Spain and saw himself as the sentinel of the Western and Christian world. These positions were accompanied by the belief that he had been elected to save Spain from all “perils”. In the last moments of his life, he returned to the speeches about external Judeo-Masonic plots and to the professions of patriotic and religious faith, the letter and spirit of which he never changed. The glory of Spain was the only constant in his discourse; for the rest, he could be sometimes philosemitic, sometimes anti-Semitic, he could advocate a national socialist economy and then a liberal one, he could change from a colonialist discourse to an anti-colonialist one, etc.
Franco”s seven years under the dictatorship of Miguel Primo de Rivera left a lasting imprint on his political thinking and offer points of reference for understanding some of his later decisions. He was dependent on Primo de Rivera for the design of national institutions and the single party: Franco”s idea of bringing together in an assembly “the representative classes, that is, the universities, industry, commerce, the workers, in short, the whole of Spain that thinks and works” had been formulated as early as 1924, and in 1926 took shape in a project for a corporative parliament, It included “representatives of the different activities, classes and values”, as well as members by right, recruited from among the bishops, the prefects of the military regions, the governors of the Bank of Spain, and a number of high ranking officials from the judiciary or the administration. In 1929 he supplemented this Italian-style corporatist system with a constitution that gave the king a leading role in the form of legislative and executive powers and established a new advisory body, the Council of the Realm. In addition, Primo de Rivera established a kind of single party, the Unión Patriótica, on the model of the Fascists, whose program, prefiguring that of Franco, was anti-parliamentary and articulated around the concept of “organic democracy” the themes of property, Catholic morality, and the defense of Spanish unity – all of which, Andrée Bachoud points out, later served as Franco”s model. In the economic sphere, Primo de Rivera, a dirigiste as well as a nationalist, did not make property an absolute, but subordinated it to the necessities of progress and the economic power of the country, as well as to the imperatives of greater social justice and social stabilization through economic development.
Francoism was, according to Hugh Thomas, “a system in itself rather than a variety of fascism. According to Bartolomé Bennassar, it was a skilful compromise between Spanish fascism (phalangism), militant Catholicism, Carlism, Alphonso legitimism, ultranationalist capitalism (in its first version) and Bismarckian-style patriotism in its relation to the workers. Unlike Hitler or Mussolini, Franco did not tie his fate to that of a party and did not allow the Falange to play the role of a Nazi or Fascist party; this, says Bennassar, is one of the secrets of his political longevity. His rejection of parliamentarianism is well known, including that prior to the 1930s. In the 1950s, he showed his contempt for democracies that were subject to their public opinions and economic interests, and he opposed the affirmation of eternal values to liberal and democratic erring ways. In his conception of organic democracy, it was a question of privileging the social cells – family, professional corporations, etc. – at the expense of individual expression. – at the expense of individual expression.
After his victory in the Civil War, Franco”s first task was to establish a totalitarian state of the fascist type in Spain; this was a time when Italian fascism and German national socialism were in vogue. However, Franco”s regime, even in its first decade, was not confused with fascism, even though Franco allowed a fascist discourse to develop and did not deny his deep ideological links with Mussolini, and even though he was able to estimate the strength that a single party gave him. He showed himself to be rather resistant to the person and ideas of José Antonio Primo de Rivera, founder of the Falange, but understood the interest of assuming the heritage and symbols of this party, in order to ensure the control and support of numerous and militant militias. But it is more inclined, by training and by nature, to impose an order of military essence, and to look for its models further back in Spain”s past. More than Italian fascist corporatism, his conception of an organic democracy or his dream of a Spanish-American solidarity, for example, were based on a nostalgia for an archaic and sovereign Spain subject only to the laws of God. His model was the Habsburg monarchy and, even more so, the authoritarian and powerful reign of the Catholic Kings. Moreover, Franco”s so-called single party was a fiction, for it was in reality a conglomeration of different and often opposing forces; the monarchists, many of them military, opposed the Falange, and the Church competed with it for control of society and especially of youth; and massive adherence to Catholicism was not compatible with classical fascism. Franco arbitrated between these forces by limiting the Falange”s appetite for power. In March 1965, Franco declared: “I, I know it well, have never been a fascist and we have never fought for the victory of this ideal. I was a friend of Mussolini and Hitler because they helped us fight the communists.
Another constant in Franco”s thinking was the idea of a foreign plot against Spain. Thus, during the Civil War, the Reds would have been helped by France, Great Britain and the whole world (the International Brigades), but without Franco making the slightest reference to the German and Italian help received by the nationalists. This naturally led him to draw a parallel between 1898 (explosion of the battleship Maine) and 1936. More specifically, he had accumulated grudges against France in Morocco. It was obvious to him that certain banks and traffickers had organized the smuggling of arms to Spanish Morocco in order to foment and maintain the rebellion. But he extends his grievance against Spain itself: “The country lives apart from the action of the Protectorate and considers with indifference the role and sacrifices of the army and of these self-sacrificing officers. If we add to these phobias his admiration for all that is military and his tenacious religious sense – after his nomination as leader of the insurgents, he took a personal confessor, began the day with a mass and prayed a rosary almost daily -, we could undoubtedly trace the contours of his ideological framework.
In economic matters, Franco believed in Spain”s autarky, that is, in Spain”s capacity to be self-sufficient, and in state direction. From the beginning of the Civil War, his proclamations announced the construction of a new order in which the economy would be organized, oriented and directed by the state. With this in mind, he promoted the creation of the National Institute of Colonization in 1939 and the National Institute of Industry (INI) in 1941. The INI was at the origin of important industrial enterprises (petrochemicals, shipbuilding, power plants, aluminum, etc.), a work with which Franco identified himself completely, being enthusiastic about the INI”s achievements and enjoying attending its inaugurations.
In 1938, Franco was already convinced that he was an instrument of Divine Providence, endowed with special powers, and believed in his predestination. His Manichean vision of the world and of history predisposed him to consider himself as a providential man, as the “finger of God”. The early references to his “guardian angel”, his stubbornness in keeping the relic of Saint Theresa”s hand close to him, testify to this belief in a providential mission, which was ratified by the repetition of his successes. The accumulation of small strokes of luck at decisive moments in his life was perceived by Franco as a special attention from Providence. During his years in Morocco, the young lieutenant Franco had acquired a reputation for invulnerability, successfully playing the role of the deceiver, so much so that his troops attributed to him the baraka. On July 16, 1936, the timely accidental death of General Balmes gave him a plausible excuse to go to Gran Canaria. Afterwards, accidents, assassinations and executions contributed to the elimination of his potential rivals. Then two other high-ranking military men were eliminated: Joaquín Fanjul in Madrid and Manuel Goded in Barcelona, who were shot by the Republicans on July 19 and 20, 1936, and then Emilio Mola in a plane crash in 1937, to whose death Franco reacted with a coldness bordering on indifference. Goded in particular did not like Franco, and would not have lent himself to the maneuver that made Franco the generalissimo and at the same time head of state. His victory in the Civil War served to legitimize his power, and he constantly celebrated it, attributing it to divine help rather than that of the Axis, and from this conviction he strengthened the Catholic anchorage of his politics. Later, in his speeches as head of state, he often presented himself as a “missionary”, a savior “by the grace of God”. He set himself up as a solitary statue in the face of history, and went so far as to identify the destiny of Spain with his own; very early on, in fact, from the years of Zaragoza (1928-1931), Franco was inclined to identify himself with Spain, the homeland of duty and sacrifice. From then on, he became the master of this duty, the only one able to define its nature and to fix its obligations. His narcissistic temperament would soon lead him to identify the cause and service of Spain with his own cause and service.
The strength and continuity of Franco”s rule was largely due to the protection he received from the traditional Church, which legitimized his power internally and guaranteed his morality externally and the continuity of the regime. On May 19, 1939, Franco declared, after reaffirming the organic links between Church and State, that he intended to “banish the spirit of the Encyclopedia to its vestiges. Moreover, by remaining scrupulously faithful to the official and unchanging thought of the Church, he no longer had to fear the vagaries of political time in a society in constant evolution.
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The pages Franco wrote before or after the war and his speeches show a narrow mind; the lack of signs of genius contradicts the uncommon strategic finesse he showed later on. However, “despite his systematic detractors,” Bennassar writes, Franco “was an intelligent man. There was a discrepancy between his physical appearance and his military and political reputation. Nevertheless, during the Civil War his authority acquired genuinely charismatic dimensions; the status of Caudillo was never defined in theory, but was based on the idea of charismatic legitimacy.
The young Franco had a slender build, so much so that he was called Cerillita, that is to say, Allumette, which would explain his shyness at the time. His voice, at once soft and high, not very masculine, sometimes shrill, which produced a false note without warning, would have been Franco”s nightmare from the time he was in high school in Ferrol and one of the main reasons for his withdrawn character. In Toledo, he probably did not have much confidence in himself. His father held him in low esteem, and his classmates didn”t see him as a phoenix, a leader, an entertainer, or an enviable macho. He had not received any admiration or consideration from others that could reassure him about himself, except for his mother Pilar. In his short novel Raza, he gave vent to his secret frustrations under the mask of fiction. His biographer, the psychiatrist Enrique González Duro, believes that he nurtured dreams of glory and grandiose projects from a “heroic vision of Spanish history” and that he came to idealize Spain as if it were his true and great family, since his own had broken up – a form of compensation. The strong devotion to his mother, and the feeling of protection that he devoted to her, were transmuted for the first time into a new ideal of service to the motherland, a psychological transfer that would have occurred in Toledo. Despite his successes, the fifty-year-old Franco had not fully digested the frustrations of adolescence and youth, and the Civil War not only allowed him to conquer power, but also to create a cult of his own that exacerbated a latent narcissism that had finally been fulfilled. In Morocco, having discovered that the first power is the one that one exercises over oneself, he had trained himself to be impassive, to seemingly disregard danger; he had acquired absolute control over his body, eluded the temptations of alcohol, of venal love, acquired an inflexibility, a cruelty without hatred but cold and insensitive to individual dramas. He had realized that the power he had over himself was somehow transmissible, for his authority had very quickly become undisputed, even inspiring a kind of fear. He also learned to camouflage his shyness with an appearance of coldness and indifference, although when he was relaxed and more animated, he was as expansive as anyone. Throughout his life, he was uncommunicative in his personal affairs, but his coolness could turn into a surprising liveliness if he felt comfortable. Once he became dictator, he used coldness and aloofness as tools of power. He did not imitate his mother for her gentleness and resignation, nor for her capacity for indulgence and ability to work selflessly for others, nor for her human warmth, generosity and Christian charity. Franco became an adult of unmistakable austerity, great self-control and unflappable determination, great respect for family, religion and tradition, but also a person who often showed himself to be cold, arid and implacable, with a limited capacity to respond to the feelings of others, a personality capable of arousing admiration and respect, with a surprising ability to impose his command, but who limited his human warmth to a small circle of close relatives and friends. Impassivity (whether intentional or natural) in the face of the unexpected and distrust prevail in his personality. His relationships with the world were guided by an elementary code whose key words were reward and punishment, gratitude and resentment, services to be paid and offenses to be avenged.
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Manipulation and the art of dosage
Pacón writes that “the Caudillo plays with some and others, he does not promise anything firmly and, thanks to his skill, confuses everyone”, and goes so far as to claim that Franco was able to ruin Muñoz Grandes” ambitions by appointing him Minister of the Army on purpose: he turned out to be a disastrous administrator, thus proving his incompetence.
His favourite method of exercising power was to divide and rule and to arbitrate between rival factions, whose conflicting ambitions and aspirations he exacerbated as necessary. Lacking firm ideological convictions – he was half indifferent to the structure of the state and never took the idea of vertical unions seriously – and satisfied with simple ideas, he was well placed to occupy the position of referee for a long time after he had gained supreme power. Moreover, the Caudillo was careful to place in each ministerial cabinet personalities with no clearly defined political option (Arburua, Peña Boeuf, Blas Pérez, Fraga) whom he could tilt one way or the other to obtain a majority. Since he could not get rid of the Falange, he made a Falange of his own, composed of “Francophalangists”, with a Muñoz Grandes or an Arrese, and from which he drew the fuses of service: Arrese, Solís, and Girón. Thus, in exchange for the bribes of public office that came as a price for abandoning the national-unionist dream, Franco reduced the Falange to a mere conveyor belt for his government.
López Rodó reports that “the Council of Ministers was for him a sort of pocket parliament, where he could attend closed debates on political, economic, international issues, etc., and thus get to the bottom of things. He did not get angry if a minister contradicted him, which was not uncommon, e.g., if it was a question of liberalizing foreign trade. This ability to listen was one of his basic principles in dealing with people. In day-to-day practice, since he did not try to impose the means to achieve the objectives and was only interested in the results, he left a great deal of room for action to his ministers (especially his economic ministers, who from 1957 onwards enjoyed considerable freedom), and if the experiment was successful, as was the case with the new economic policy from 1957 onwards, Franco allowed it to continue and kept the ministers in their posts, while claiming a large part of the successes obtained for himself; If it met with strong opposition or failed, as in the case of Arrese”s Basic Laws project, Franco dismissed the minister or assigned him another portfolio. When Franco judged that he had exhausted the possibilities of a minister, or that a new policy needed to be implemented and embodied in another person, he had little feeling; thus, in 1942, when the Axis victory became doubtful, he separated from Serrano Suñer, who was an apologist for the alliance with the Axis. The qualities that Franco sought in his ministers were, first, loyalty, then competence and efficiency, discretion in the political game, and finally, skill in managing opinion and maintaining public order. He excelled in time management, skilled in the use of delaying tactics: in Bennassar”s words, “Franco had so often won through delaying tactics that he ended up concluding that it was urgent to wait”; whatever the urgency, he waited, sometimes in a way that was unbearable for his interlocutors.
Franco did not take control of the state”s finances on his own behalf, but his entourage and certain dignitaries of the regime did. Franco, who was well-informed, was not unaware of these practices, embezzlement and, above all, influence peddling, did not like to be told about the immorality or venality of his relatives or ministers; in fact, corruption, as long as it was under his control, was part of his system, since the man involved in a corrupt act remained at his mercy.
His handling of events during the Second World War is indicative of his customary method. A detailed chronology of these years reveals the tortuous course of Franco”s diplomacy and the changes in official vocabulary (neutrality, non-belligerence, neutrality) that accompanied it. The defeat of the Axis led Franco to put the Falange in a state of relative hibernation, from the summer of 1945 to the spring of 1947, and to highlight the Catholic and monarchist references of his regime.
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Franco”s religiosity was linked to the Spanish tradition, formalist, based on liturgy and ritual, and not particularly on personal meditation, study or practical application of doctrine. The weakness of his theoretical formation reduced him to repetitive steps such as the daily recitation of the rosary. He scrupulously attended Sunday Mass and practiced spiritual exercises from time to time. Like his brothers and sisters, he accompanied his mother to Mass or on her visits to the hermitage of the Virgin of Chamorro. His mother”s influence in this area came later, when Franco was sent to Ferrol as a second lieutenant after graduating from the academy in Toledo. It was undoubtedly to please his mother, the only one in the family whose piety was genuine and deep, that Francisco Franco became one of the faithful of the Night Adoration in Ferrol in June 1911. But even then, his mother”s influence was not decisive, and in Morocco, a few months later, these mystical impulses were no longer in season and Officer Franco no longer showed any religious fervor. He was even credited with a motto: “No women, no masses!” The serious injury of 1916 and the convalescence in Ferrol may have marked a turning point. It is worth noting that religion does not appear in the Decalogue, the set of precepts written by Franco for the use of the Military School of Zaragoza.
According to Guy Hermet, who gives several testimonies of Franco”s strong secular convictions, he changed his attitude only later, either out of political interest or because he suddenly discovered his faith around 1936. According to Andrée Bachoud, however, these hypotheses do not fit well with what is known about Franco”s character, since one hypothesis assumes a kind of unscrupulous political genius who, in order to secure power, feigned religious convictions, while the other assumes a capacity for passion or sudden enlightenment that is at odds with what is known about him otherwise; The author recalls that Franco belonged by nature to a society where religion was a bulwark against revolutionary excesses and a mark of adherence to the established order, and he could, when the time came, in perfect agreement with all the official conformisms of the time, find it useful to better affirm a faith that most of his supporters shared. In short, if Franco was religious, it was more by virtue of his aversion to Freemasonry than because of any real piety.
Therefore, apparently indifferent to religion until October 1936, Franco, from the moment he took power, assumed the appearance of an edifying piety, going to mass several times a week, surrounding himself with religious, mostly Dominicans, soon spreading beatific rumors about himself, and taking on a personal chaplain. He did not fail to pepper his speeches with references to God and to participate in grandiose religious ceremonies. In his speech on January 1, 1937, he announced that the new state would conform to Catholic principles. On July 21, in the midst of the battle of Brunete, he presided over the celebrations of Santiago de Compostela, recognizing the apostle as the patron saint of Spain. In Morocco, he showed sympathy for the Jews and, in general, a certain benevolence towards the three revealed religions.
If Franco was little concerned with service to others, it happened that, at the height of his power, he manifested genuine social concerns, undoubtedly marked by paternalism, but real. Franco confided to Dr. Pozuelo some details about his childhood that attest to a certain awareness of social inequalities in a “very hierarchical” society:
“I remember what impressed me as a child – the very low standard of living of the water carriers who provided water to the houses. After waiting in line for a long time in front of the public fountains, exposed to the elements, they were paid fifteen centimos to carry the 25-liter buckets of water upstairs on their heads. Or that other case of women who, in the port, unloaded, for a peseta a day, the coal from the boats.”
Franco, like Luis Carrero Blanco, was preoccupied all his life with social problems. For some authors, such as Juan Pablo Fusi, this concern was sincere. This concern is said to have manifested itself as early as 1934, when Franco became aware of the iniquitous working conditions of the Asturian miners, which inspired him to develop a social doctrine that combined a social-Catholic paternalism with an authoritarian conception of social peace. This explains why he promulgated social legislation that founded job security and made dismissals very difficult, and later created family allowances, compulsory insurance against illness, old age, etc., imagining that this legislation was one of the most advanced in the world. Bennassar notes a contradiction between the “cold resolution of this man towards his adversaries, his inability to forget offenses, his indifference towards the death of others, and his real indignation towards the most obvious manifestations of social misery.
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Private life and leisure
Little else is known about Franco”s private life other than what is officially sourced and made public, and he himself never revealed anything of his intimacy. He married Carmen Polo, with whom he had a daughter, María del Carmen. His son-in-law was Cristóbal Martínez-Bordiú, Marquis of Villaverde, and one of his great-grandchildren was Luis Alfonso de Borbón y Martínez-Bordiú, son of Alfonso de Bourbon and his granddaughter Carmen Martínez-Bordiú y Franco. The Franco family spent their summer vacations either in the Pazo de Meirás manor house, not far from A Coruña, or in the palace of Aiete, near San Sebastián; during Holy Week, they used to go to their house in La Piniella, in Llanera, Asturias. Franco was not passionate in his personal affections, but he was stable and devoted and was a faithful and considered husband. It was a happy household, and there was never any sign of instability in this union, which in almost every respect was very conventional and typical of the Spanish elite of that time.
Until the end of the 1940s, the Francos led a simple life, without ostentation, except when it came to political staging. Franco himself had no mistresses and does not seem to have had any desire to have them; he lacked vices and passions, and was not even attracted by small pleasures; he had ordinary tastes, dressed without fuss, avoided gastronomic excesses, drank very moderately, did not smoke; he did not seem to enjoy the joys of conversation, except perhaps in his early youth, when he frequented the tertulias. His court of adulators, for lack of anything else, sometimes pretended to be ecstatic about the size of a fish caught or the number of pieces shot during a hunting party. The atmosphere in the Pardo was heavy, staid and lacking in spontaneity. Pacón, for example, deplored the coldness of his cousin, so cold that “he often freezes the best of his friends,” and the indifference with which he reacted to Pacón”s departure affected him greatly. Although he liked to show off his poverty, Franco tolerated the frenzy of wealth and ostentation that his brother, his wife, and later his son-in-law or some of his followers displayed around him. He never appeared scandalized (at least publicly) by the abuses that made the headlines. He certainly had a taste for beautiful houses; later, it would take all the energy of his brother-in-law Ramón Serrano Súñer to dissuade him from living in the royal palace, and to convince him to go and live more modestly, on October 18, 1939, in the castle of Pardo, 18 km from Madrid. Perhaps he had a taste for pomp and circumstance, but in any case he did not have a passion for art or luxury. His son-in-law Villaverde, a superficial and frivolous playboy, was surrounded by a family with rapacious morals, who considered Villaverde”s marriage to Franco”s daughter as a conquest. He gradually ousted the Franco and Polo clans from the Pardo, and created an artificial courtier climate that displeased the Caudillo, who felt uncomfortable in it and took refuge more and more in solitude. Franco read little then, less than in the past, but he was affected by reading Hugh Thomas”s book The Spanish War, which he constantly discussed with Pacón. He generally confined himself to press articles selected by his entourage from the French, English and American press.
Among his favorite hobbies, golf, hunting and fishing stand out; these hobbies were often exploited for propaganda purposes, as the press liked to show his prowess, and to make him appear with abundant hunting trophies and, even more often, catching large fish. He often played cards endlessly.
He had at his disposal a pleasure boat, the yacht Azor, on which he went tuna fishing, and even managed to catch a sperm whale in 1958. He hunted on weekends or sometimes for weeks on end during the high season. Many times, the catch was lured with bait beforehand, so that Franco would “accidentally” find it. According to Paul Preston, hunting was an “escape valve for Franco”s outwardly shy, sublimated aggressiveness.
His conversation tended to return to his favorite theme, Morocco. He was a total stranger to the world of culture: he had nothing but disdain for intellectuals, a disdain that he expressed with expressions such as “with the pride of intellectuals”. He was passionate about sports, especially soccer, and was an avowed supporter of Real Madrid and the Spanish national soccer team. He played the trifecta and once, in 1967, won a million pesetas. Another of his passions was cinema, especially westerns, and private screenings of films were held at the Pardo. He also had a passion for painting, which he had begun in the 1920s and resumed in the 1940s; in fact, few of Franco”s paintings survive, as most were destroyed in a fire in 1978. He preferred to paint landscapes and still lifes, in a style inspired by 17th century Spanish painting and Goya”s cartoons. He also painted a portrait of his daughter Carmen in a style reminiscent of Modigliani.
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