Hello 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.
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...
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
Parallels 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.
In 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.
Primo de 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.
At 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
Uniˇn Patriˇtica 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.
The 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:
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 democratic government.