05 Oct 11 Lessons from the Spanish Civil War: Part II
The Coup and the War
The 1936 election was a watershed for the Spanish Right and enabled antidemocratic forces to bring their ideas into mainstream political discourse. The Falange, Spain’s fascist party, provided a framework in which disaffected conservatives could unite in preparation for the inevitable civil war. Some 15,000 members of CEDA defected and joined the Falange. Despite the growth of the party, Jose Antonio Primo de Rivera, Falange’s founder, was arrested and the Falange banned.
In addition to the rise of the Falange, peasants and Carlists began their own violent uprisings. In the midst of these insurgent movements the Spanish Left was emboldened and began to move for a dictatorship of the proletariat. These overtures pushed the military high command to unify the Right in the common cause of overthrowing the republican government. Once Jose Antonio Primo de Rivera gave his blessing to the military’s cause, the pieces were set for war.
Lesson 6: As conservatives, Traditionalists, and other right-wing dissidents begin to recognize the futility of attempting work within the framework of the liberal state they begin to gravitate towards one another. In this phase charismatic leadership and an intensive program are essential in maintain collective focus and discipline.
Many of Spain’s military officers had been sent to remote outposts to stave off any future military coups. One such officer was General Francisco Franco who had been posted to the Canary Islands. General Emilio Mola, the chief strategist of the military coup of 1936, planned for Franco to lead the Army of Africa into southern Spain where he would secure a beachhead. Mola would lead troops stationed in northern Spain and meet Franco in the south thereby controlling the western half of Spanish Iberia. The Republic’s government acted unwisely when it posted Franco so close to the Army of Africa, which he led in battle in Morocco, and Mola in the conservative region of Navarre.
On July 17, 1936, before Franco could arrive in Africa, military units in the Spanish protectorate in Morocco took control of government posts. Franco arrived by charter plane soon after and took command of the Army of Africa. The republican government assumed it could easily stamp out the rebellion, but Franco transported his troops to Seville on German Luftwaffe aircraft. Mola and Franco quickly gained control of great swaths of the countryside and the Republic reeled from its losses.
Workers armed themselves and defeated the rebellion in most of Spain’s industrial cities preventing any chance of rapid victory. The workers took their rifles to the barricades to defend a Spain that would not only be republican but revolutionary. There was no way to prevent the war that would ravage Spain for three years. There was no room for negotiation or compromise. It could only be civil war.
In the initial weeks of the army uprising the Republic’s forces proved ineffective and incapable of stemming the tide of Nationalist advances under the leadership of Franco. The government relied largely on undisciplined militias to fight against the armies of Mola and Franco. By September 1936 Franco and Mola had effectively cut Spain in half, controlling the western portion of the country.
Lesson 7: The forces of the Right will always have the advantage of discipline. While the Left may control the government and have a claim to democratic legitimacy, whatever that may be, the Right can overcome these obstacles by moving quickly, taking important beachheads (in the metaphoric and literal sense), and demonstrating overwhelming force. Leaders with strong conviction and iron-clad courage are essential in this phase. A sense of the heroic is needed and must be cultivated.
On September 21, 1936 Franco was chosen as supreme military commander of Nationalist forces and given the rank of Generalissimo. Later that month Franco proclaimed himself Caudillo and forcibly unified the forces of the Right, namely the military, Falange, Carlists, conservative republicans, and Alfonsist monarchists.
A critical moment in the late months of 1936 was the execution of Primo de Rivera, the founder of the Falange. Still in prison while the military coup took its initial actions against the Republic, the government felt that Primo de Rivera was still a threat even behind bars. On November 18 at 2:30 AM he was found guilty of treason and sentenced to death by firing squad. The sentence was carried out early in the morning of November 20, 1936.
The death of the Falangist leader opened the door to Franco to use the movement’s aesthetics to his advantage. The Falange had earned the respect of many Nationalists due to its discipline and role in reprisals against Republican sympathizers behind Nationalist lines. However its program was also distasteful to conservatives, Traditionalists, and monarchists, who made up the bulk of the Nationalist camp. Falangism, like fascism in general, smacked of paganism and revolution.
After Primo de Rivera’s death Franco removed the new Falangist leader from his post and sentenced him to a death. Franco appropriated the Falange and its imagery without adopting its ideology. The Generalissimo instituted a cult of personality around Primo de Rivera. Notwithstanding the apparent veneration by Franco, Primo de Rivera’s passing had removed a dangerous opponent to Franco’s aims of restoring a traditional Spain. Franco fused the Falange with all right-wing parties thereby neutralizing its revolutionary potential. With the Falange now firmly under Franco’s control, the Nationalists continued their advance across Spain.
Lesson 8: The Right must coalesce around Tradition and eschew any revolutionary doctrines. While the imagery of the Falange was aesthetically useful, its fascistic aims at overthrowing the traditional order stood at odds with the Franco’s goal of resurrecting a traditional Spain. We must also be on guard against ideologies that cloak themselves in the imagery and rhetoric of Tradition but are internally revolutionary and therefore ideologies of the Left.
In 1937, the Nationalists established their dominance on the battlefields of the Spanish Civil War. Franco’s forces were bolstered by aid from Germany and Italy including thousands of volunteers. The Republic was aided by the Soviet Union and communist volunteers from a variety of nations including the United States, whose own Marxists formed the Abraham Lincoln Battalion. Infighting within the Republic also began to swell between anarchists and communist organizations. The communists grew tired of the lack of organization within the Republican ranks and sought to take command of the Republic and its military. However by October 1937 the republican government was in retreat and abandoned Valencia for Barcelona.
By 1938 the Nationalists had all but secured victory. In April Nationalist forces broke through to the Mediterranean Sea cutting Republican held territory in half. The government tried to sue for peace but Franco was committed to unconditional surrender. Franco turned his attention to Catalonia and in a whirlwind campaign conquered the territory by February 1939. On February 27 France and the United Kingdom recognized the Spanish State with Franco as head of state. Only Madrid and a few other Republican stronghold continued to resist the inevitable.
Madrid fell to Nationalist forces on March 28, 1939 and Valencia fell two days later. Victory was proclaimed on April 1 when the last Republican forces surrendered. Following the end of hostilities between 10,000 and 28,000 leftists were executed. Many more were imprisoned to prevent uprisings against the newly victorious Nationalist forces.
Lesson 9: As the “moderate,” “centrist,” Republic began to crumble its true radical character began to reveal itself. Communists took the opportunity to show that they alone could muster the disciplined resolve necessary to overcome the Nationalist threat. However by the time that the communists came to the fore it was too late, and the Right was able to achieve its objective. This episode teaches the Traditionalist that labels of “reactionary” should be worn with pride; they are epithets thrown out by the emaciated forces of the Left. Those with stronger resolve will not resort to words but bullets. If they are not shooting at the forces of the Right they have already lost the battle.
The Triumph and Failure of Franco
Following the end of the war Franco, the Caudillo of Spain, sought to rebuild his nation. Having repudiated all leftist ideologies Franco sought an ideology for his own party, the Falange, which had been forcibly unified with all rightwing parties in 1937. Officially the party’s program would follow the ideas of Primo de Rivera, however the ideology of the party would be supplied by the Catholic Church and groups associated with Catholic causes.
Franco’s reliance on the Catholic Church was his eventual undoing. While the Church and right-wing Catholic organizations had provided a crusading fervor to the Nationalist cause, they also provided cover for left-wing Catholic organizations that would have otherwise been disbanded had they not been connected with the clergy.
The Caudillo’s reliance on the Church led him to entrust the Spanish educational system to the priesthood. All books, films, periodicals, and other cultural activities were forced to undergo a strict ecclesiastical screening. It is telling that Marxist classics and texts of Frankfurt School authors were allowed to be published, while texts by Nietzsche, Spengler, and Heidegger were prohibited.
The Roman Catholic Church was given a privileged place in Spanish society that included recognition as the official church of Spain, financial support to the Church by the State, and guaranteed representation in the press and radio. The Spanish State and Church also fostered a deeply symbolic relationship whereby both had a unified vision of their respective roles in post- war Spain. For instance Franco was given the power to help select bishops for Spanish dioceses.
The generals that led the rebellion against the Spanish Republic bet everything on an alliance with the Catholic Church. They never discovered or only discovered too late the wolf that had been allowed to roam freely among the flock. It was only when the Francoist regime fell that the destructive effects Franco’s reliance on the Church produced became apparent.
The alliance of altar and sword was dismantled following the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), the purpose of which was to define the role of the Catholic Church in the modern world. Its conclusions, supporting the defense of human rights and religious and political freedom, rocked the very foundations of both Church and state in Spain. Falange-aligned bishops stood at odds with the Vatican and leftist clergy, many of whom were members of Opus Dei. Dissident clergymen felt at ease airing their grievances with the Spanish State. The crusade against communism was over and with it the virtues of God, Church, and King.
Lesson 10: While traditional religion, the Roman Catholic Church in Spain’s case, plays an important role in the restoration of any traditional society, the Church cannot be used as a means of hiding leftist forces under the guise of sacerdotal immunity. The Church (Mosque, Synagogue, Temple, Agiary, etc.) must be cleansed of Enlightenment teachings and the taint of modernity. The Second Vatican Council was a retreat by the Catholic Church into the hands of the Kali Yuga. Franco could have not foreseen its destructive effects, but had he been on guard against leftist forces within the Spanish Church he could have staved off the Council’s impact on Spain’s future.
The Church, which had supported Franco and his Nationalist cause, turned course. In the years immediately following the close of the Second Vatican Council the situation had changed sufficiently for a joint assembly of bishops and priests to issue a public statement: “We humbly recognize and ask forgiveness for the fact that we failed to act at the opportune time as true ministers of reconciliation among our people who were divided by a war between brothers.” The Church that had aided Franco in defeating leftist-secularist forces had betrayed the Caudillo.
Franco immediately reminded the Church that he fought the Spanish Civil War in defense of the church and that the Nationalist cause had the blessing of the episcopacy as a crusade. But by 1973 the forces of modernity within the Church had run their course. Another statement “expressed support for profound changes in our institutions to guarantee fundamental rights for citizens, such as the right of expression and association.” The Church also repudiated its privileged place in Spanish society and sought to reconcile dissident leftists with the Spanish State.
On November 20, 1975 Generalissimo Francisco Franco, Caudillo of Spain, died. He left control of the Spanish State to King Juan Carlos I, Franco’s hand-picked heir to the Spanish throne. The King did not continue Franco’s policies, but began to transition Spain from an authoritarian state into a constitutional monarchy. In 1978 Spain adopted its current constitution marking the close of the Francoist period.
In the decades that followed Spain’s transition to democracy Falangist elements in the military staged a final coup attempt that was easily thwarted. Communist and socialist parties were legalized, which gained footing in political society. Gradually Spanish culture drifted leftward until the present day. The monarchy that was overthrown by the Republic and reestablished by Franco rests on an unsure foundation: will Spain once again overthrow its King and become a republic again? Only time will tell if all the gains made by the Nationalists will be reversed and replaced by the system they fought against.
Lesson 11: Seeing that the cause of Tradition had been betrayed by the institutions most benefited by its pursuit, the Traditionalist must seek to ensconce as much of the traditional order as possible in society so that it would not be easily dislodged. Traditionalists must therefore remain on guard against those forces of the Left, which once they gain power will seek to erase the memory of the gains made during the period of restoration.