welcome to the history page. Yes, it’s still the Spanish Civil War we’re dealing
with, and, yes, I do realize that these instalments are stretching on and on
like some interminable history lesson that refuses to end. Unfortunately, I’ve
become obsessed with the topic and cannot skim over it lightly. Each facet of
the story is like a missing piece to the puzzle of Spain, a country I have lived
in for over two decades but still find unfathomable in many ways. I remember
when I first arrived as a student in 1980. A recently-launched promotional campaign
sported the logo ‘Spain is different’, a succinct statement describing the fact
that, although Spain is geographically part of Europe, its cultural heritage
diverges significantly from the rest of the continent. The idea behind the ‘Spain
is different’ campaign seemed to be a positive reworking of the old disparaging
quip that Africa started just south of the Pyrenees. I don’t suppose I’m getting
anywhere with these ruminations, except to say that in reviewing Spain’s recent
history I feel I have found at least one of the connecting threads to its different-ness.
At any rate, interesting as this line of thought may be, it will have to wait
for another day. The decline of Primo de Rivera’s dictatorship beckons...
plunging headlong into the decline period, perhaps, in the name of fairness,
we should touch on a few of the regime’s successes. Without a doubt, the area
of greatest fruition was the economy. Political analysts however are quick to
point out that Spain’s prosperity during the years of the dictatorship (1923-30)
was simply a sign of the times: the Roaring Twenties, a decade in which the
whole of the western world was swept up in a tide of spectacular economic growth.
They argue, correctly, that it would have been difficult not to be carried
along on the international currents of progress in operation at that time.
as it may, Primo de Rivera invested much effort in the modernization of the
Spanish economy. To this end, in 1924, he set up the National Economic Council,
a board of technocrats that regulated the creation of industry in Spain. To
the dictator’s credit, some of the companies founded under the aegis of this
now-extinct council have survived to the present day, Telefónica, for
example, and the state-controlled petrol monopoly, CAMPSA.
Primo de Rivera’s merit lies less in the corporatist methods he used to stimulate
economic growth than in the commendable use he made of the revenues thus generated.
He stands out as the first Spanish ruler in many centuries to channel public
tax money into building up the country’s infrastructure. Hundreds of schools
were built and staffed with qualified teachers, over five thousand kilometres
of railway lines were laid including the first subway lines in Madrid, and irrigation
was made available to vast tracts of farmland.
material improvements brought to manifestation Joaquin Costa’s regenerationist
ideals of “a rich Spain that eats” and “an educated Spain that thinks”. However,
Costa also stipulated that his “new Spain” would be “a free Spain that governs”,
not a Spain that was governed. On this third count, Primo de Rivera did
not comply with regenerationist theory in that he had created a Spain that was
held in check by all sorts of arbitrary regulations, often invented for occasions
as they arose.
language was outlawed, for example, as were many avenues of Catalonia’s cultural
expression. Public exhibitions of sardanas, a circular folk dance that
was accompanied by singing, were prohibited on the grounds that they were politically
incorrect. Apparently a certain sardana that begins, “We are Catalans
if you like it or if you don’t” was considered dangerous propaganda against
King and Country. At one point, even the Barcelona Football Club (‘el Barça’)
was outlawed owing to heated incidents among spectators in their stadium. Little
by little, despite the climate of prosperity, which, in fact, was particularly
favourable in Catalonia, public sentiment began to sway in favour of a freer
form of government, one that allowed for unlimited cultural and linguistic expression.
another area in which Primo de Rivera exerted undue authority was in the academic
realm. Despite the fact that he was a champion of public education and that
his rule had not only brought about the steady decline of illiteracy but also
subsided the building of Madrid’s university campus, the dictator’s interference
in university affairs began to generate virulent resentment between himself
and the student body. Toward the end of 1925, opposition to the regime’s unwarranted
‘intellectual surgery’ led students to unite in associations against the dictatorship.
By 1927 a central association, the Federación Universitaria, had been
formed to coordinate the various student groups, allowing them to fight in unison
against the shackles of repression. And fight they did. In 1929, in response
to an unpopular measure instituted the year before, an angry mob of students
in Madrid stoned the Iron Surgeon’s residence as well as the offices of the
regime-friendly newspapers, ABC and El Debate.
the football incident, Primo de Rivera responded by simply closing the university.
At this outrage, the professors joined ranks with their students forming a solid
block of intellectual opposition that lasted not only until the downfall of
the dictatorship, but until the downfall of its enabler, the monarchy. Intellectual
currents of republican thought had, in fact, already coalesced into an anti-regime
faction (the Partido de Acción Republicana) back in 1925, and the university
shut-down only served to strengthen this cause.
the most surprising elements of plot in Primo de Rivera’s downfall is that the
dictator’s unbridled authoritarianism even managed to disgruntle several branches
of the armed forces, most notably the Artillery Corps. In 1926, in passive protest
against the new military meritocracy, all the regiments of this nationwide division
holed up in their barracks and refused to come out. With habitual calm, the
dictator dissolved the entire Artillery Corps. Even the King was shocked and
promised to annul the ruling, but never followed through. Two other incidents,
both armed uprisings, aimed not to change the dictator’s policies on specific
issues, but to overthrow the General himself. The first of these incidents,
known as the Sanjuanada (1925), occurred
in the early years of the dictatorship with the aim of instating a more representative
system of government. The second conspiracy, occurring in the crucial year of
1929, was known as the Ciudad Real Uprising. Although it failed, the episode
served the ultimate purpose of realigning the loyalties of many key army figures
on the side of the republicans.
Readers will not have failed to notice that several currents of opposition were
all coming to a head at once - in 1929 - which was also the year of the New
York stock market crash. What will happen next? Join us next week as the pace