and welcome to our continuing saga on the Spanish Civil War. We left off last
week in 1923 just as Primo de Rivera had seized power and was beginning to institute
the changes that he - and broad swathes of the Spanish population - felt were
necessary for the country's social and economic wellbeing. The three mainstays
of his credo, Patria, Religion and Monarchy, ensured him a warm welcome from the
conservative sectors of society, namely the Church, the army, the landed gentry,
and the bourgeoisie. The common man also embraced the new regime in the hopes
that it would restore law and order to Spain's turbulent social situation. Newspapers
of the day - excepting those of marked leftist tendencies - reflected the country's
overwhelming acceptance of Primo de Rivera's iron rule. The political climate
following the coup could be described as one of collective relief mingled with
the desire for change - under any banner.
Opposition to the
regime was minimal, consisting of communists (whose party was outlawed), anarchists
(whose numbers were not high enough to pose a threat) and the intelligentsia (whose
most vocal members were either banished or otherwise stifled). Even the politicians
who had been ousted by the new order did not publicly deride the new power-holders.
The eerie silence notwithstanding, small tributaries of republican thought continued
to trickle under the hot lava of fascism. In due course, the ideas they carried
would swell into a river of freedom, untainted by bloodshed and joyously elected
by the voting public. But now we are getting ahead of ourselves...
Wins Advocates in Latin Lands
When considering Primo
de Rivera's dictatorship, it is helpful to keep in mind that the General's rise
to power occurred in the post-WWI years, when fascist ideas were free-floating
around Europe. The authoritarian concepts that fascism advocated found their most
fertile ground in countries where liberal governments had failed owing to a dearth
of solid democratic tradition. Spain and Italy were two such countries. Also worrying
were the rampant spread of Bolshevism and the growth of ethnic nationalism within
the larger political unit. Again, both Spain and Italy were significantly affected
by these movements, and many of their inhabitants perceived the need to bolster
the internal mechanisms of state with a strong military backbone.
between Il Duce and the Iron Surgeon
Primo de Rivera
was, in fact, a great admirer of Mussolini (who had come to power in Italy only
the year before), and referred to him as "the apostle of the campaign against
corruption and anarchy". Like Mussolini, Primo de Rivera was genuinely interested
in the social welfare of the working classes. To this end, he set up a corporatist
state, roughly similar to the one in Italy, though not as extreme.
Spain, for example, the right to assemble and to go on strike was respected, while
in Italy, striking was illegal. Various labour unions co-existed freely within
Spain's 27 corporations, while in Italy, only one union was allowed, that of the
state. In Spain, the government's role in the running of the corporations was
minimal, and worker-employer relations were carried out without the surveillance
of Big Brother. In Italy, the primary posts in the corporations were occupied
by members of the fascist party, who supervised all interactions. In effect, with
monarchical sentiments still deeply embedded in the Spanish psyche, the new ruling
elite did not see corporations as the basis of statehood. In Italy, on the other
hand, corporatism was the fundamental premise upon which statehood rested, ergo
the inflexible dogma imposed in this area.
Rivera's Single Party: the Patriotic Union
It was in
the political sphere that the Church seized its chance to wield even more influence
than it already did. As we have already observed, Primo de Rivera and his army
of civil servants were hardly experienced politicians. The months ticked by and
still the regime had no organized system of government - which, in view of the
General's purported esteem for the democratic process, was indeed a conspicuous
absence. What was needed, and badly, was a central organism through which to institute
policies and filter them down to the municipal level.
this time in Spain, a movement within the Church known as 'social Catholicism'
had become extremely influential. The idea sprang spontaneously from these circles
to form a party that would replace the defunct parliament, and without further
ado the Unión Patriótica was born. After all, the Church had been
organizing people's affairs for nearly two millennium and had become rather expert
at it. In April 1924, the party was legally instituted and one of Primo de Rivera's
top honchos was placed at its head.
Patriotic Union, however, was not militant in the same way that Mussolini's Fascist
party was, in that it did not ban the formation of other political parties (except
the Communist Party), nor did it possess a well-defined ideological platform.
Primo de Rivera merely stipulated, in one of his vague pronouncements, that he
would accept the membership of any and all who adhered to the ideas expressed
in the Constitution of 1876 - a bill of rights that he himself had suppressed
with his authoritarian regime. Curiously, during the six years of its existence,
the Patriotic Union's function within the national panorama vacillated between
constituting the sole party of the dictatorship, and being an independent movement,
albeit supportive of the regime. Primo de Rivera defined the party in these terms:
Patriotic Union] endeavours to bring together people of healthy ideas and men
of good faith in a central party that is moderately monarchical and serenely democratic.
In fact, nothing could have been further from the truth.
What does come to light from these words is that the dictator would have fared
very well as a poet, living serenely in his private fantasy bubble. Whatever the
case, the Patriotic Union enjoyed the membership of nearly two million Spaniards
at its outset in 1924, a figure that by 1929 had plummeted to only 60,000.
will carry on next week with the multiple crises of 1929 that finally brought
an end to Primo de Rivera's increasingly unpopular regime. Join us then as we
approach the exciting threshold of the Second Republic, precursor to Spain's current